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On quitting my job, moving to Maui, and building a freelance writing business

  • $4,500monthly revenue
  • $4,000monthly profit
  • All info self-reported by interviewee
  • Published December 12, 2019
  • Reviewed and edited by Rita Epps

Who are you and how do you make money online?

My name is Kat Ambrose, and I’m a freelance writer. 

I write and ghostwrite value-packed blog content for eCommerce and SaaS companies that positions them as a resource in the industry, and educates their audience.

I’ve written for several top companies that specialize in email marketing, shipping and logistics, CRM, PPC, and more. I also offer editing and proofreading services to clients in various niches.

I love being able to help my clients find the right words to help grow their business.

💻 Editor’s note: see our full list of ways to make money online.

All of my clients pay me on a project-fee scale.

There are a few ways writers charge clients, but I find that charging on a per-project basis eliminates any awkward conversations come invoice time. Not to mention, it takes the pressure off of totally nailing the word count. 

Currently, here’s a breakdown of my blog post writing rates:

  • 1000-1500 words: $575
  • 1500-2000 words: $675
  • 2000-2500 words: $775
  • And so on…

My rates for editing are dependent on what the client needs to be done. If a piece needs more extensive editing, that will cost more than basic proofreading. It’s all on a case-by-case basis. The same thing goes for website copywriting; it’s all dependent on what the client is looking for.

I don’t have a set schedule of when I raise my rates, either. For the clients I work with consistently, I do so when I feel like I’ve proved to the client my value or if I’ve learned something new. 

My business is unique because I’ve created something that truly aligns with my lifestyle and career goals.

It didn’t start that way, though.

I began my career at an advertising agency in Denver and worked my way up to a content producer role.

I learned a ton from that experience, but I reached a point where I knew I was ready to move on to something else.

This came at a time when my boyfriend and I were thinking about moving, and I knew I didn’t want to start a new job only to leave. 

Before I quit my 9-to-5, I did a little freelancing on the side.

I always loved the idea of working independently, picking who I work with and when, and working remotely. 

But I didn’t have any grand plan when it came to building a freelance business.

I wasn’t even sure if that was something I wanted to pursue full-time.

But one thing led to another, and a few short, crazy months later, I found myself writing blog content for a few clients out of my Maui apartment.

I’m about to hit my two-year mark as a full-time freelancer, and I’m currently making about $4,000 per month in profit and about $4,500 in revenue.

Some months exceed that, and others fall a little below. It depends on how much work I decide to take on that month.

I have very few operating expenses: 

  • Quickbooks Self Employed: $17 per month + processing fees
  • Grammarly Premium: $140 per year
  • Squarespace hosting & website: $224.64 annually

Yup, that’s it for recurring costs! I like to keep things low-tech, and due to the nature of my work, I don’t need a lot of fancy software. Google Docs is my BFF.

I also invest in courses and educational opportunities.

That’s where I like to spend my money. I spent roughly $2,070 on educational materials, courses, and one retreat in 2019.

Investing in things that have not only made me a better business owner but have helped me connect with other freelancers and learn how to refine my skills have been the most significant cause for my success.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

My most productive days are the ones that are the most structured. However, no day looks the same. That can change depending on my workload or travel plans.

Here’s a glimpse at my schedule:

  • 6:00 a.m. – 7:00 a.m.: Wake up, make coffee, meditate, and pick my work playlist all before turning on my computer. 
  • 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.: Work on my biggest tasks for the day. 
  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.: Step away from my computer and take a break.
  • 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m: Work on the rest of my to-do list.
  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Lunch break.
  • 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. or 4:00 p.m.: Finish up any outstanding tasks and write my to-do list for tomorrow.

Because I sit a lot during the day, I try to get up and stretch throughout those more extended work periods.

I also make time in my day for a workout – gotta take care of yourself! 

My old job required that I spend a lot of time online…

…so I feel that by working for myself, I’m able to control how much time I spend on my computer.

I have a “policy” with myself where if I finish my to-do list early, I call it a day.

I won’t sit at my computer for any longer than I need to.

That’s easier to do some days more than others, but I try not to spend my entire day on the computer. 

On average, I’d say I work anywhere from 30-40 hours per week.

But that fluctuates.

I had a super busy summer – like 60-70 hours per-week – so I made a point to slow down in the fall and give myself some time to rest.

It did the trick because I’m ready to finish out 2019 strong (and meet my income goal for the year!).

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea for your business?

I have always loved to write.

It sounds cheesy, but I knew from a young age that whatever career path I chose would have something to do with writing. 

It’s a tale as old as time: I was sick of my 9-to-5 job and knew I had to make a change.

That was the fuel that started my freelance fire.

My background in marketing and social media helped pave the way to my first few clients.

My financial situation was, honestly, probably not as stable as it should have been when I quit. I wanted to wait until I could afford a new computer and build up my savings before I gave my notice.

I also took on a freelance gig here and there not only to make extra money on the side but to get a feel for what freelancing full-time would be like. 

At some point along the way, I realized I wanted to pivot away from all things social media and focus solely on copywriting.

I’m still learning and evolving, but I love being able to say that I write for a living.

It’s a dream come true. 

The moment my business took off was when I started investing in education and coaching.

Kaleigh Moore’s Freelance Writing Coaching was the first serious money I spent on my business, and it has paid off more than I ever imagined.

Kaleigh not only helped me figure out the direction I should take my business, but she also connected me with other freelancers, clients, and opportunities.

And to top it off, we’re friends now!

It was during this time when I started working with Kaleigh that I learned how vital building genuine relationships is as a freelancer – not just for finding clients that fit, but for staying sane. 

How did you prepare to launch the business?

I’ve always loved the idea of working for myself, but I wasn’t sure if that was feasible for me to do.

As it turns out, if you want something bad enough and are willing to work hard, you can do pretty much anything. 

Luckily, I had a brief role as an account coordinator in my previous job, so I had built up a solid foundation for client relationship management.

But I knew I had a lot to learn from that end in terms of setting boundaries (and sticking to them).

At the start of my freelance career, I was primarily managing social media channels for several different brands and editing long-form blog content.

When I realized I wanted to move away from social media and write blog content, I knew I needed to learn how to write engaging, SEO-driven posts. I had written a few posts for my past employer, but nothing of this caliber or volume.

Kaleigh Moore’s Freelance Writing Coaching program was the catalyst for my freelance writing career, and I’ve been trying to learn everything I can about business and writing ever since.

How much money did you have to spend to get started?

My startup costs weren’t nearly as daunting as I remember. At the time, it felt like I was racking up major debt on my credit card without a stable way to pay off the balance.

My startup costs included:

  • 2018 MacBook Air: $1,000
  • FreshBooks Lite: $15/month
  • Squarespace domain + GSuite: $50 (GSuite) + $16/month (hosting)
  • Website design and photoshoot for website: $575

As I said, I like to keep things pretty low-tech.

I had a solid grasp of what I actually needed to get my business off the ground, thanks to my background, and only invested in the software I knew I would use every day.

I took advantage of free demos, read product reviews, and figured out ways to cut costs wherever possible. 

Talk us through your first few months (or first year) in business.

My first year in business was a wild ride, that’s for sure.

I experienced the typical obstacles many new freelancers have like self-doubt, anxiety around money and client work, planning for retirement, and balancing personal life with building a sustainable freelance business.

On top of that, my boyfriend and I were getting ready to move from Denver to Maui, which was not the cheapest thing in the world, as you can imagine! But we made it work, and I’m so glad we did. 

My friends and family have been super supportive from the start.

Although it was (and still is sometimes) difficult to explain to them what I do and who I work with, they have been nothing but loving and encouraging since I began this journey.

I can wholeheartedly say that I would not be in the position I am without them. 

In the beginning, my hours were pretty similar to my hours at my 9-to-5 job. It was difficult for me to give myself permission to work different hours – in other words, when I was most productive.

I secured my first two clients through past connections.

One of my clients was an old coworker of mine who runs his own agency, and my other client was a public relations firm I interviewed at during my senior year of college.

In a way, these first clients felt more like two part-time jobs rather than freelance projects.

It was then when I realized that genuine connection and networking were going to be a huge component of securing recurring freelance work.

Editor’s note: check out The Billboard Method and Door-To-Door Method for more info on how to find clients via your existing network.

I tried job boards like Upwork, but I never found them to work for me.

I know some people have had a lot of success with them, but I decided early on to focus my energy trying to get clients through other avenues like networking, referrals, and through my website.

Shortly after we moved to Maui, I decided to pivot away from social media to pursue blog content writing. 

It was a big, scary decision to part ways with the clients who had provided me with such stability for the first few months of freelancing full-time…

…but I knew that it was the only way I was going to grow.

In my first year, I learned a lot about setting boundaries with clients, confidently setting and raising my rates, and saying no to clients that weren’t a good fit.

It took some time, and I’m still learning, but I’ve come a long way since those early days! 

How did you make your first $100 online?

Before I started freelancing full-time, I helped a small Denver jewelry business with her holiday marketing. Her husband was my coworker at the time (again, the power of professional relationships!), so I was already familiar with her brand.

We met at a bar down the street from my office and talked for two hours about her goals for the holiday campaign and how I could help.

After a few pages of notes and an IPA…

…I couldn’t wait to get started.

I charged her $500 for social media strategy, content creation, and ad spend. I think I took home $200 of that when it was all said and done.

It was my first taste of what working for myself would be like, and I loved it.

About three months later, I quit my 9-to-5 job and started freelancing full-time.

How does the business make money today?

A lot of my business comes from referrals from other freelancers, which is fantastic!

I love referring work out to my freelance friends, too.

Most of my traffic comes organically, but a lot of it also comes from my work with Brian Clark’s Unemployable. I’m a regular contributor to the Unemployable blog, I have my own section of the newsletter called Curated by Kat, and I’ve appeared on the podcast a few times.

Writing for Unemployable is a nice change from my typical workload of eCommerce and SaaS posts. Plus, I love helping other freelancers navigate this world. 

I haven’t felt the need to run ads just yet.

Maybe I would if I get into creating products. But for now, I’m rolling with the word-of-mouth approach I have going on. 

Aside from Unemployable, I write long-form blog content for eCommerce and SaaS companies.

That’s my primary source of income.

I also offer editing and proofreading services, but those projects aren’t as consistent as my blog post writing work.

I’m currently enrolled in Belinda Weaver’s Copywriter Masterclass, where I’m learning all kinds of amazing things about writing and how to get into the mind of the customer. Because of this course, I plan on offering website copywriting services in 2020!

In fact, I’m currently running beta-pricing for all website copywriting services…

…so if you need help with this, let’s chat!

It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I’m not the best at keeping up with my blog.

I’m working on ways to make posting regularly more feasible in 2020, so stay tuned for some new posts coming next year. 

Also, I’ve been working on a newsletter concept for a while now, and I think I’m finally ready to share it with the world soon. It’s totally unrelated to what I typically work on, which has been great for my creativity.

What are some of the challenges particular to this kind of online business?

Currently, I’m finding it difficult to reach the income level I wish to be at, but I have a plan!

I know that it’s possible to make six-figures writing blog content, and there’s a sort of long-game with raising rates. I’ll get there eventually!

Newbies, remember this: you don’t have to make a million dollars overnight.

If you do, that’s amazing, and I want to know everything.

But your business isn’t a failure, and more importantly, you are not a failure if you’re not where you want to be just yet.

It takes time.

Keep your head down and put in the work.

If you were starting the same business today, from scratch, how would you do it?

Honestly, I don’t think I would change anything about the start of my business.

Maybe I would have said no to particular clients or broken things off with ones that I wasn’t a good fit for sooner, but that’s hindsight.

At the risk of sounding super cheesy, I feel like every mistake I’ve made has helped me reach the point I’m at now, and I’m grateful for that. 

Editor’s note: you might also enjoy our interview with Matt Rudnitsky, who built a ghostwriting business in the book publishing industry and earns $5500/month while traveling the world.

What books, podcasts, courses or other resources would you recommend to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Blogs + books:

Podcasts + videos:

Courses:

📚 Editor’s note: see our ultimate list of the best books for online entrepreneurs.

What are your top business tools?

Like I said, I keep things pretty low-tech, but here are a few of my favorite tools:

  • Trello: Keeps me SANE. No joke. This is how I keep track of all projects, due dates, and status updates.
  • Canva: Who doesn’t love an easy-to-use, free content creation tool?!
  • Squarespace: It’s quick to learn, and the customer service is awesome!

Where can we go to learn more?

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1 Comment

  1. Great interview!
    Kat’s path is inspiring to me, and I’m glad to see it clearly laid out with pertinent details and abundant resources.
    Thanks as always, Niall.
    Pete

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