(Guest Post by Leah Manderson as part of our Side Hustle Series)
After basking in the glow of a fairytale engagement story, my now-husband and I had to sit down and get serious about how we were going to pay for a wedding.
My immediate thought – being the personal finance nerd that I am – was to have a tiny ceremony for our immediate family. We’d marry under a tree to the sounds of an acoustic guitar. We’d have our reception at a local barbecue joint and I’d smash a scoop of apple cobbler into my husband’s face. The whole PF world would applaud my willingness to rebel from the “wedding industry complex!”
However, I knew in my heart that my husband and I really wanted that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have our friends and family together at one very cool party. We wanted a live band, a filling Southern meal, a delicious cake, and beautiful fresh flowers. I wanted a dress worthy of something slightly nicer than a barbecue joint.
When we looked at how much we could budget over the course of our 9 month engagement, we found that we could save ~$7,500 if we pushed hard. While that was a great start, we knew that to throw a the party we wanted for our 80 person guest list that we would need a little more.
To pick up the slack, I started working as a freelance web copywriter. My husband started selling homemade bacon – but that’s another story for another day.
How I Got Started
I’ve written professionally for my entire marketing career, and have hosted some online passion projects at various points along the way. Through those experiences, I’ve gotten pretty good at writing for the web and for business.
To sell my services, I sent email pitches to women-owned businesses in my area, telling them how I could help them improve their sales. I gave them three specific critiques of their websites that they could use right away, even if they didn’t hire me. Being that generous helped me establish my credibility and land business within two months of getting started.
After I had impressed a few clients, I leveraged my newly formed network. At the end of each project, I asked each of my clients to respond to a quick survey about my services and areas I could improve. Then I not-so-covertly asked them for referrals to other women-owned businesses that could use help in improving their websites and online sales.
This was a winning strategy for me. I found that everyone liked helping me get started. My clients also liked knowing that I had a purpose with my business – paying for a wedding. They felt like they were part of the experience with me and took a vested interest in my success.
How Much I Charged
Starting out, I offered my copywriting services on the cheap, around $100 per 500 words.* Four months into business (and six months into my engagement), I doubled my price.
Depending on the month’s workload, I earned anywhere in the range of $500 up to $1500 per month – all while holding down my day job.
*Note: This looks like a lot to freelancers who write blog posts, magazine articles, and similar types of content. However, when you write content that directly ties to increasing sales, you can command a higher price.
Pros & Cons To Freelance Writing
The best part about being a freelance writer is that it plays well to my strengths. I love filling blank pages with content that my gets my clients more sales, higher conversions, or just a more vibrant presence online. I also adore the business process. I find it tremendously fun to talk to prospects, turn them into clients, learn about their businesses, and find unique marketing angles that work.
More practically, I love that I can work whenever and wherever I want. I’ve been known to hustle in my apartment, in coffee houses, in airports, and even in my car.
The cons are obvious to anyone who freelances. First, it’s often feast or famine. You never can tell exactly what your pipeline will look like from one month to the next.
A second downside is the occasional difficult client. It’s important to learn how to manage clients of all types, but it’s no fun when the client asks for free work, or changes their mind a lot, or forgets that you’re a human who needs to eat and sleep.
Lastly, there are those pesky taxes, which I know J. Money loathes just as much as I do!
How You Can Freelance Too!
If you think you’d be a great copywriter, start building your portfolio and network as soon as possible. Pick a niche you like working with (and whose businesses have enough money to pay you well!) and email people with a short introduction about how you can help.
Your email can be something like, “Hi, My name is Bob and I recently started a copywriting business. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send you three suggestions as to how I can improve your website. Thanks, Bob”
Or, if you’re new and don’t have a portfolio, you may want to do a couple of free projects to get experience. In exchange for free projects, request either a testimonial or referral to further your business in a non-monetary way. This was a huge factor in helping me ramp up my business and network quickly.
[Editor’s note: We did this when launching our consulting services earlier too, and it ended up working well! You can even ask for testimonials from PAYING customers too who are happy with your work ;)]
It’s a rollercoaster of emotions in the beginning (it took me 2 months to get my first client!), but so worth the effort when you finally get a ‘yes!’
How The Story Wraps Up
Over the course of seven months I helped 15 women businesses sell more of their services online, which has since paved the way for my business to last long after our wedding was over. I ended up making $5,000+ which went toward both our wedding and our honeymoon in Antigua.
Bash the big wedding if you will, but I couldn’t have been happier to spend that time with my closest family and friends. And working for it made it that much sweeter!
Leah Manderson is a freelance copywriter and personal finance nerd. She believes that earning more money is the most fun and rewarding way to get everything you want – whether that’s a great big wedding or an early retirement.
**Do you have a Side Hustle to share with us? Let me know! :)
(Photo courtesy of Leah also)
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I don’t know what we’re going to end up doing but hopefully we won’t be spending a ton of money. That is very cool that you used a side gig to make up the difference for you though. Congrats on getting the money to spend on what was important to you.
Good for you! You wanted a big wedding, and you got it. The most important part is that you PAID for it. Congrats on getting what you wanted and for your successful side gig!
This is great! I plan on throwing a lot of my side hustle income towards our wedding.
You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of with your big wedding. You knew what you wanted and you were willing to work hard to get it. I see conscious spending and resourcefulness there. Nice job making it happen.
This is so awesome!! I have some friends who recently re-tooled their website objective to not making a LIVING for the both of them just yet (a lofty goal that left them crestfallen after a couple of years) but to just making enough money for them to both go on a cruise next year and I am in love with the concept of short-term goals to motivate your additional work habits. Such a great idea and I love your incredibly practical tips, even down to how much you charged for your work at the beginning! Great post, I look forward to more though I know this is a guest post!!
In other words you’re a copywriter :) Awesome income, it’s neat that the women you pitched to wanted to help you achieve a goal – income for your wedding. That in itself should be a sales tactic to ponder over. Do you think you’d be able to get away with charging more from the start?
Leah, thanks for sharing your story. Being a copywriter has always been on my goals list, but wasn’t sure how to go about getting started. Your journey has sparked the creative juices and wheels turning!
That’s amazing! Congrats!
Thanks ladies and gents for the kind words!
@Michelle–I found that having a purpose for my freelancing (and cash) was super rewarding when it came to paying for stuff. I wanted to tell everyone, “I paid for this and it is awesome!!” I hope you feel the same!
@Jenn–So true about starting side gigs. It’s fun to think about how you could ditch your day job and do the fun side thing forever, but it does take a ton of work to build that kind of income. So, in the meantime, use the income to keep yourself excited and in love with what you’re working on! And I hope the tips are useful!
@Veronica–Yes, I am a copywriter :) To answer your question, I don’t know if I could have charged as much starting out because I needed to prove it to myself FIRST that I could hack it. Then, I wanted to test how much I could charge. At some point along the way, I starting quoting $10-15 higher than I quoted the last client, until I ended up doubling my prices!
@Leslie–GO FOR IT! Pick up some books (The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert Bly is awesome!), and get started. I think you’ll be surprised by how many people need and want copywriters for their businesses!
Thanks again Leah! And congrats on getting that dream wedding of yours too :)
Leah (and J. Money), thank you so much for sharing this story. It’s very encouraging, on several levels. The folks in my life have always strongly urged me to try my hand at writing, yet I’ve been a harsh critic of my ability. Your idea would afford a fledgling writer the opportunity to receive first hand, honest critiques, even if that comes in the form of simply getting a slew of “no”s. And being moved to action by something so essential and dear to you (such as a wedding) is a priceless means of motivation. I was sitting here, having gone through ALL of my money today on absolute essentials – broke ! I said to myself: “Self, Google ‘how to make money when you’re cold broke'”. That little lightbulb over my head lead me to your enlightening article. Just shows to go ya, never know from whence the “push” you need will come ! Great idea ! Thanks again.
So glad this helps you!
Here’s 60+ other ideas for making money on the side too if you really want to kick it into high gear :)
Sounds like the key is the personal email to connect with clients. I like the idea of giving a free tip to start off the conversation!
I am a writer at heart and yes I love writing. But I’m scared that my writing is not good enough to be a freelance writer to make a living out of it. Do you have any recommendations for people who are interested but scared to give it try?
I say start a blog up and just pour your heart out! Hit up WordPress.com and start one for free, and then commit to writing weekly in it… You’ll get better over time and learn how the online world works more which will help immensely in landing gigs :) Then you have a portfolio of work to show too! If it makes you too nervous, go under a pseudonym as well so only people that will find it are those who know it exists (until you get super popular overtime and it spreads like wildfire ;))