As an independent contractor, I get asked a lot on how I make a living. The easiest answer is “I work from home.” If that doesn’t satisfy the interviewer, however, I’ll usually say “I’m a writer,” which is only partly true.
In many ways, I’m a jack of all trades. Writing and developing content for others is my forte. But I also enjoy critiquing software and games, moonlighting in online advertising, content marketing, and one-off projects that present a unique but hard-to-screw up challenge.
That said, I never over promise. I’m quick to tell a potential client or existing client “I don’t do that” when asked about other disciplines and send them on their way—mostly because I do crappy work when I’m not passionate about it. That and I refuse to engage in work I don’t like doing, regardless of how well it pays.
(Seriously, doing stuff you don’t enjoy solely for money or status is the epitome of living a lie. I realize some people have no choice in the short-term and often have to take one for the team to make ends me. But EVERYONE has a choice in the long term. It just takes planning, sacrifice, and guts.)
Anways, long story short, here’s how I became a thousandaire last year:
What does it all mean? Here’s the key to help you understand:
- Editorial consulting. This largely consists of commercial writing and the best way to present it. In other words, setting up custom publishing (and sometimes writing it) for private companies, established media, and organizations that want to use good editorial (or expand it) to further attract people to their websites. It pays well and lets me consider writing, editorial, and digital user interfaces from a high-level and strategic perspective, which is a lot of fun.
- Video game reviews. By that I don’t mean slaving for 10-20 hours in exchange for a byline on IGN and a measly $400 check. I mean critiquing near-final games for game publishers, which they then use to either make last minute improvements or legitimize their messaging (i.e. reconcile what they were hoping to promise to the consumer with what they actually are capable of promising). Feature writing and editorial consulting bring out my inner critic as well, but not as much as when I’m evaluating whole games. As you can expect, these are a lot of fun. Not quite as fun as digging ditches or filling out TPS reports, but close.
- Feature writing. This is byline stuff for CNN, Fox, Wired, MSNBC, and others. This used to be my primary source of income for a few years until a few months into The Great Recession, at which point freelance budgets were cut across the board. Although it doesn’t pay as well financially, byline feature stories pay very well in the currency of credibility. That and I’m able to trick editors into financing my curiosities (which I then turn into feature stories, as seen here). Also fun.
- Special orders. These are mostly small, one-off marketing or consulting projects, usually after someone reads something on Smooth Harold (pretty cool, no?) and reaches out to pick my brain further. I’m liberal when it comes to dolling out general information, but if someone wants me to spend a few hours to specifically analyze something they feel I can contribute to, I charge them a few Benjies and file it under this category in my Quickbooks. I don’t make a lot of money here, and should probably say “no” more often to focus on stuff that pays better, is more consistant, and is more rewarding. But I enjoy the spontaneity and variety these little projects bring to my professional life.
- Online advertising. I publish a few small websites that combined enjoy upwards of 5,000 daily visitors. Consequently, Tribal Fusion, Google Adsense, and the occasional one-off advertiser pays me for access to those visitors. I could make a lot more if I said “yes” to gambling, alcohol, porn, and tobacco advertising inquires. A lot more. But I don’t for personal reasons. It feels good to turn down money on principle. Suckers.
Since my interests slowly evolve every 5-6 years, I don’t expect to make a living the same way this year, or even next year, as I did last year. Nevertheless, that’s how I afforded my rock ‘n roll lifestyle last year while supporting a family.
On behalf of all you devilishly handsome Smooth Harold readers, here’s to a prosperous (but more importantly, rewarding) 2012. To that I say, “To the cyberspaces!” Or for those who work offline, “To the analogs!”