Do you think that earning money online is just a scam? Think that people who say they “work online” are just making up an excuse to stay home all day? Well we’ve found two professionals who work exclusively online, and make a comfortable living doing it.
Maybe you’ve been at a family party and someone announces that they work as a “blogger”, or someone says they work in the field of online marketing. You look around and notice that most of the family members are rolling their eyes. A few may even mumble snide comments under their breath about the person being lazy or needing to find a “real job”. Heck someone (usually the mother-in-law) may even say it right to their face.
The whole field of online work carries a very heavy stigma, despite the fact that there are an inordinate amount of people making significant income only working over the Internet. You can see the many ways that it’s possible to make money online just by reading James’ manual on monetizing your blog, or the infographic about 200 ways to make money online. According to one study conducted by Intuit, by 2020, over 40 percent of Americans could be working for themselves as freelancers.
Are people that freelance on the Internet from home just sitting around in their pajamas and dawdling around while their spouse works overtime trying to support the family? Is there any truth to the work-from-home stigma? I would like to introduce two examples of today’s “online workers” and you can decide for yourself.
Crystal Schwanke – Freelance Writer, Editor and Publicist
After working for several years as a sales manager, Crystal quit her full-time job to embark on her online writing career. While the start was rough, today Crystal runs a successful online business working as a ghost writer, an editor, and a writer.
MUO: How long ago did you start working exclusively online?
Crystal: I quit my management job in 2005 to write full-time after doing a little writing here and there for about a year. I still wasn’t making a “full-time” income when I made the switch, but it was a supplement to what my husband was making and allowed me to focus on growing as a writer, searching for new clients, and figuring out the ropes of the whole freelance writing world.
I started out writing a few $15 articles about fashion and relationships. It occurred to me then, “Hey, I could probably expand this and do what I’ve always wanted to do for a living — write!” I found the book, The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, and that really gave me the tools and the pep talk I needed to take the leap. I recommend that book to everyone who asks me how they can get started.
I got up around 5:30 every morning, made some tea, and looked for new clients on job boards. If you’re just starting out, sorry, you’re going to have to get up early to find the best clients. You know the saying about the early birds.
MUO: How long did it take until you felt like you were actually earning a real income?
Crystal: Sadly, that’s only been within the past six or seven years, if that. Sometimes, small businesses I was writing for would collapse and I’d lose clients that way, and sometimes there just weren’t enough clients in my areas of expertise. There are dry spells unless you have a handful of steady, reliable clients. You just have to learn to work around them and plan for them. I wish I had known that during my first December as a “serious writer.” I spent the whole holiday season stressed out, frustrated, and feeling like a failure. I thought I was going to have to give up. As soon as January 2nd came around though, I had more options than I could handle! It took me a few years to feel secure.
MUO: Did family or friends ever give you any flak or consider what you were doing “not a real job”?
Crystal: My mother-in-law called me lazy because I “don’t work” more than once, but never to my face. That stung and it took me a long time to get over it. I tend to try to overcompensate when someone close to me says something like that. I do more, work harder, and then tell those people what I accomplished and how little I slept all week. She found out I’d written a book (it isn’t published yet, but it’s on paper, at least) and I think that got her attention. I don’t think she has the same mental image of me lying on the couch eating chocolate and watching TV all day while her son’s out working himself to death, at least.
Sometimes I think people don’t really get it, that I need quiet, I need to be able to focus, and I can’t just blow off work to go hang out. Overall, though, I have pretty understanding friends and family members who know not to even call me during the last few days of the month when I’m trying to meet my deadlines. I’ve realized that the only thing I need to worry about as far as whether I have a “real job” goes is making sure that I treat it as such and carry myself as a professional who takes pride in delivering quality work, and that my clients see my work as “real” and worth paying for. No one else’s opinion really matters.
MUO: What kind of tools or technology do you use to work faster or find better paying work?
Crystal: Networking within writing communities, whether it’s on Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Twitter is one way to find work. I also used to use FreelanceWritingGigs.com a lot, especially when I was first starting out. You can have some luck on Craigslist, too, but you have to weed out the ones that don’t pay well (don’t write for exposure or pennies!). The cool thing about looking for work on Craigslist as a writer is that you still have access to cities with tons of opportunities, like LA and NYC; you’re not limited to local listings the way you might be in other fields. On Twitter, I follow @write_jobs and they post a lot of quality leads. I’ve heard that Skyword.com is a good place to look for work, but I’ve never tried it. As far as tools and technology go, I’m pretty old school. I find that those types of things distract more than help me. However, on days when I find myself getting distracted, I will turn on a program called Cold Turkey, which locks you out of your social media accounts.
MUO: Are you paid exclusively through Paypal?
Crystal: I still have a couple of clients who send checks every month, but I do use Paypal most often. It’s really convenient because you can build your invoices and send them straight from there. There’s one bad thing: Paypal takes a cut of what you make (understandable, but still not fun). If you’re billing a lot through there, you’re probably going to have a split second of depression right after the elation you feel when you realize you got paid because you’ll see how much the amount in your account differs from what you actually billed. I think they take three percent, but I know it can vary based on the type of transaction, etc.
MUO: What would you say your success level is today financially, or do you have some other measure of success?
Crystal: Ah, the tricky question! Success! What is it? I have a BA in psychology, which is basically useless unless you go to school for a few more years to earn an additional degree, so I’m making as much as—if not more—than I probably would be if I were working outside the home. For the amount of time and energy I put into my work, I feel like I should be making more, but I’m not getting paid for those hours I’m reading a book or watching a movie and thinking about work. Ha! That’s a personal work-life balance problem that I have.
It’s hard to remove myself from work, and there are some parts that I don’t get paid for (like searching for new clients, writing and sending queries, or researching how to get my own personal projects off the ground), so at some level, I feel unsuccessful financially. However, if you measure success on a different scale that uses flexibility and control over your own time and life, I’m doing well. Scheduling is hard because you feel like you need to be doing work, spending time with family, and cleaning the house all at the same time. You really have to learn how to turn work off when it’s time since it’s just in the other room and not another building a few miles up the interstate. Once you can master that, your only challenge is getting your work done for the month in a smaller window of time. It’s rare that you’ll have to coordinate with someone else’s schedule or ask for time off, which is nice. In some ways, I’m still the starving writer; in others, I’m as rich as I could possibly hope to be.
MUO: Can you share what you feel are the pros and cons of working online like this? Any advice for someone considering it?
Crystal: Flexibility and some level of control over your life are both pros. You also have to think that there is no limit to your income. It depends on how hard you want to work, how many hours you want to put in, your areas of expertise (boy, do I wish I could talk about technology, finance, and business!), and the clients you’re able to work with. Another pro is that you can seek out work in new fields you become interested in, so you’re never bored. The cons are the flip-sides of all those things. You have flexibility and control, but if you’re a workaholic or just want to make as much as you possibly can, it’s hard to turn work off and do other things.
You forget to enjoy life (and sleep…and eat…) because you’re working around the clock. And because there’s no limit to your income and no store or office that closes at a certain time, there’s no set reason to say, “Okay, I’m done for the day.” You may tell yourself you’ll do one more article, one more query, one more round of searching for clients. Before you know it, you’ve missed out on a whole afternoon or evening. It can interfere with your relationships (any kind).
As far as advice goes, move into this career gradually. Don’t quit your job and say, “I’m going to be a writer tomorrow!” Become a writer first, in your spare time, build up a base of steady clients and a decent income that you know will grow as soon as you quit your day job and free up more time. Save the money you get from writing while you’re still at your day job so that you have a cushion in case things don’t take off as quickly as you thought they would. Don’t try to force yourself into becoming an expert in a field you care nothing about just because you think that’s where the money is. It’s not worth it. Write about some of the things you love or at least have some interest in learning more about and the money will come. I wish I had tips for achieving work-life balance, but I could use some of those myself!
Nicholas Pell – Blogger and Writer
Nicholas Pell’s writings appear all over the place, including VICE, Salon, LA Weekly, OC Weekly, GOOD and AlterNet. Previous to working full time as a writer, he worked as a warehouse clerk, steelworker, boutique manager, advertising salesman, draftsman and telephone fundraiser. According to his online bio, he’s even spent time “working in a porn store across the street from a middle school in Portland, OR”. If that doesn’t give a hint as to the type of unique character Nicholas Pell is, nothing will. Nick is most active on his Twitter account.
He lives in Los Angeles and is a self-described “anarcho-cynic”. He’s about as edgy a writer as you’ll be able to find anywhere on the Internet.
MUO: How did you get started working online?
Nick: I started working exclusively online in November 2009. I was working as a clerk in a pretty seedy porn store in Portland, OR and I found out that I could make $15 a page writing for Demand Media. Some quick math told me that I only had to write a few of those per day to make what I was making at the porn store, so I quit.
MUO: How long did it take until you felt like you were actually earning a good income?
Nick: It was always kind of sink or swim for me, but some time in 2011, I started making a pretty decent living at it. This year is the first year that I’ve really had a lot of excess cash to play with, which is really, really nice.
MUO: Did family or friends ever consider what you were doing not a “real job”?
Nick: My parents are always nervous nellies about whatever it is that I’m doing. They suggested that I drop my hours down at the porn store, if you can believe that. My dad still doesn’t really get that I like having flexible hours and that there’s literally nothing that I could get from a full time “real” job that I’m not already getting from this.
MUO: What kind of tools or technology do you use?
Nick: I prefer Google Docs to MS Word, but that’s about it. I don’t really shop myself around anymore, as I have a bit of a reputation for quality work and a lot of contacts. I should pitch more upscale publications like glossy magazines or whatever, but I’m kind of over it and more into corporate comm and copywriting these days. Ghostwriting and copywriting are more where I see myself in the future. Editorial is really, really boring at its best, and irritating at its worst. Journalists in general are a smug and painfully stupid lot. It’s sad what’s happened to that great profession.
MUO: Are you paid exclusively through Paypal?
Nick: Almost no one pays me through PayPal anymore. It’s about 50/50 direct deposit and checks.
MUO: What would you say your financial success level is today? Close to 6 figures yet? Or do you have some other measure of success?
Nick: I’m closing in on six figures, though not as close as I’d like. The goal is really just to make piles of money so that I can be even more obnoxious. I kind of can’t believe people actually drive to an office and sell their time — not their work, mind you, but the time they spend doing it — every day with someone lurking over their shoulders. It sounds like hell to me. I’ve got some stuff lined up right now that I think is really going to help me take off.
MUO: Can you share what you feel are the pros and cons of working online like this?
Nick: Some of the biggest pros: Working when I want, though I mostly get started around 9AM anyway. Working from home or wherever I feel like working. I have my own office now, which is really nice. How many people working in the decaying carcass of journalism can say that? I can spend time with my wife (who doesn’t work) whenever I want. I can get socially inappropriate tattoos and no one cares. The part about not getting paid for my time is a big deal to me. I always hated that I could finish 40 hours of work in 30 hours, but I still had to pretend to work for the other ten. I work probably between 20-30 hours a week, often condensed into three or four days. I take a lot of four-day weekends. Who’s going to tell me not to? Also, no bosses. As you can gather, I have a little problem with authority.
Cons are not having a steady paycheck, but I suppose there were some slaves who felt a little insecure when the plantations closed. The trade off is totally worth it. I’ve had lean months, but not “calling dad for the rent” lean.
My Online Success – And Maybe Yours Too?
My own experience with working online actually started as an online business selling antiques on Ebay. I eventually realized my true earning potential online could come from using my love of writing to generate extra income. I was never as brave as Crystal or Nick, so I have kept my day job and struggle to balance both. However, a writer is what I will always be, even after I retire.
So what is your passion, and could it become an online business? Could it be a source of income just as sufficient (or maybe even better) than your current “traditional” job? What Crystal and Nick’s experiences prove is that working online is in fact a “real” job, and should be regarded as such. It is fast-becoming one of the more popular ways to earn an income — whether you’re a graphic designer, web programmer, or writer. There is probably something that you can offer online, to earn good income.
Do you work online? Have you ever considered it? Share your own experiences, successes, and failures with Internet work in the comments section below!
Image Credits: chispita_666 Via Flickr