I Earned $1,400 in 7 Weeks With My New Side-Hustle

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on September 15, 2020 in Make Money

I am “Out of the Office.” Not for you—I mean, you are reading this column, so I did, in fact, write it. But for all those people out there who want me to edit and format their screenplays, I’m actually not around at the moment.

And let me tell you why: There are only so many hours in a day. When you have obligations for your primary gig, the side-hustle—even as it’s trending—has to take a hiatus from time to time.

Over the last number of months, I’ve been writing to you with tales of the various ways I bring in a bit of extra income in my free time. Too often, I read similar stories from people extolling the virtues of this side-hustle and that, and they make it all sound easy-peasy. Then, you give it a go and realize those folks weren’t telling you the whole story. Because the truth is, not all side-hustles are what they’re cracked up to be, or they’re not for everyone.

So, let me fill you in today on freelancing as well as a strategy I’ve mentioned in the past: thin-slicing your skill set. And maybe that’s where we begin—the thin-slicing.

Back in the spring, I decided I was no longer just a jack-of-all-trades writer on one of the freelance sites where I list my services. I thought I’d attract a larger base of potential buyers if I specialized. So, I pulled from my background as a screenwriter.

Over the years, I’ve submitted my screenplays to various agents, studios, and especially contests. I know from personal experience, and from “readers” (those assigned to initially weed through hundreds of screenplays) scripts get tossed immediately because of typos, mangled punctuation, and improper formatting (crucial to a script). It’s the easiest way to quickly thin the pile.

The challenge for a writer is that you’ve read through your script hundreds of times in the writing process. Thus, when you reach the final-read phase, your brain knows what’s coming, so you naturally read past misspelled words and goofy punctuation. 

I’ve relied on one of my best friends (an exceptionally good newspaper editor) to read my scripts before I submit them. But not everybody has such a friend. So, I figured there must be writers like me who need a final set of eyes to ensure everything is copasetic.

And, wow, was I unexpectedly right.

I’ve brought in just under $1,400 in about seven weeks, though two of those weeks I was “Out of Office,” as I am now, because I had so much going on in my main job that I couldn’t devote enough time to the side-hustle to meet those deadlines (and I am hellbent on maintaining my 100% on-time delivery rating).

But there’s more to this story than dollars.

There are the “things I’ve learned,” which might help others who are new to freelancing or the digital nomad space.

Lesson 1: Patience.

My initial order didn’t arrive until several weeks after I created my specialized, screenplay profile. And, frankly, during that quiet period I figured I’d been wrong all along—that people weren’t interested in this particular service.

But then, about two months later, my first order arrived. 

The writer left a five-star review. And the floodgates opened—which, it turns out, matches the experience of so many other freelancers I’ve chatted with. The going is often super-slow early on, and then you land a gig or two, and you earn a positive review, and suddenly everyone wants to work with you.

At first I was excited…but that quickly morphed into worry as multiple 50- to 120-page scripts began landing in my inbox. Could I turn all of them around in the one to three days I’d allotted myself? All while working my normal job? I had lots of late nights.

That led to Lesson 2: Limit the quantity of projects you accept.

When I first started out, I set no limit on the number of orders that could amass in my queue. That’s a mistake when your skill set involves potentially large projects that demand you read and revise 10,000 to 20,000 words. When three or four of those land at once, and you have three days to complete them (two, if someone pays for a rush order) your work-life quickly spirals out of balance.

All of which brought me to Lesson 3: Don’t underprice your services.

Early on, I felt like I had to compete with others on pricing to win gigs. But, honestly, even as I was working on those first few projects, I knew I’d cheated myself. I knew my knowledge and my skills were worth more than I had charged. Then again, I thought, maybe it’s a balancing act. Maybe if I’d priced my services higher from the start I would not have landed those early gigs. But that’s a counterfactual game, so who knows?

But I do know this: I used my multiple five-star ratings and the rave reviews as justification for raising my prices. Across the three screenplay-editing packages I offer, I increased my prices by 50% to more than 100%. I thought that would serve to not only price my skills adequately, but to naturally limit the number of buyers. 

I was half-right.

My income increased…and so did the number of buyers.

So, I guess, the big takeaway is this: Freelancing works. And it can work well. It gives you access to, literally, the whole world. To this point, I’ve edited scripts for Americans, Canadians, Brits, New Zealanders, Swedes, and a Nigerian.

You just have to be patient and you have to think about how to thin-slice your skills, because based on comments I’ve received, lots of buyers want to know they’re working with a specialist rather than a generalist.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare to return to the office on Monday…

By Jeff D. Opdyke