In July of 2012, I was looking for a job. I got a second interview for an entry-level marketing position, which would have paid around $30k. I was desperate for a job, but looking back I am so incredibly grateful that they did not offer me the job.
Instead, after sending out resumes and filling out applications for weeks, I decided to put up a portfolio website and try to get freelance work. I had done some casual, part-time freelancing in the past, but this would be my first time diving in head-first, actually trying to make a full-time living as a freelancer.
My portfolio site consisted mostly of projects I had done in school as a Graphic Design major. I created a profile on oDesk (now UpWork), and started browsing for jobs that I thought I could do.
My first job on oDesk paid $10 per hour. I undercharged in order to get my foot in the door and quickly develop some positive ratings on small jobs. Within a month, I was working full-time from home. I steadily increased my rates as I developed my skills and built up a reputation.
I worked extremely hard to make enough money to live on. My rates still weren’t very high, but I found a few long-term clients who hired me on monthly retainers, and I had a constant stream of new and returning clients from oDesk. I wasn’t making tons of money, but I was making about the same as I would have made working an entry-level design job at an agency.
The key to my success early on was an intense focus on billable hours. I wouldn’t stop work every evening until I knew I had billed $150 that day. As I raised my rates, that number went up to $200, then $300, then $400.
My first six-figure year was 2014, and I’ve been able to steadily increase my income each year since.
2014 was also the year that my wife and I moved abroad; in January of 2014, we moved to Mexico and spent the year between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. In 2015, we split our time between Ecuador and several countries in South East Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.
During our time abroad, we took advantage of the tax benefits that come with working outside the USA. By living outside of the USA, we didn’t have to pay federal income tax on the first ~$100k of income (by claiming the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion). Our tax savings basically paid for our traveling expenses, so we were effectively traveling the world for free.
I feel incredibly lucky to have found myself in this situation. There aren’t many jobs where you can work from your laptop while exploring the world, earning enough to live comfortably while saving a significant portion of your income at the same time.
I feel extremely fortunate to have the freedom to work from anywhere in the world while making a decent living. I make my own schedule and pick which projects I want to work on or turn down. I split my working hours between my home office and coffee shops. I occasionally take a morning or afternoon off if I feel like it to spend time with my wife.
Starting a consulting or freelance business isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to work hard, it can be an incredibly fulfilling and freeing lifestyle. I want to help other people reach their goals of working independently, so this blog is the start of my efforts to do that.
Stay tuned for more articles on freelancing, building online businesses, personal finance and investing, and lifestyle design.