I'm a freelancer and mother who's made $75,000 this year working less than 20 hours a week. Here are 7 strategies that help me land flexible gigs that pay well.

  • When Sheri Baker left her communications management job at a Fortune 500 company in 2010, she knew she needed a flexible but sustainable career once she had children.
  • Since landing her first gig on freelancing platform Upwork in 2014, Baker's maintained a steady income and zero gaps in work while only working 15 to 20 hours a week.
  • She shared with Business Insider her best strategies for earning a lot of money as a part-time, independent professional.
  • When picking out jobs, she says to consider value over pay, be upfront about your personal commitments, and pivot your skills and services to fit your life. 
  • When it comes to knowing your worth, Baker offers a simple formula to help you determine your hourly rate, but also recommends working on fixed-price arrangements to rack up earnings early on. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

After leaving my role as a communications manager at a Fortune 500 company in 2010, I set out to pivot my career in a way that would provide me with ultimate flexibility once I had children.

I accepted my first content writing jobs on the freelancing platform Upwork while I was on maternity leave in 2014, sitting on the floor of my daughter's nursery while she napped. 

Fast forward six years, and I haven't had a single gap in work. I've also never missed a ballet class or yoga show (yes, it's a thing). While I always hoped establishing an Upwork profile would help me create a great work-life balance, I never imagined it would enable me to support my children in every way they need — academically, financially, and emotionally — during a pandemic, but here we are. 

According to a US Census Bureau survey from July, approximately 30% of women ages 25 to 44 with children have left the traditional workforce due to a lack of childcare during COVID-19 school closures. I'm one of the millions of women who's reduced my work hours due to childcare needs, but have still been able to earn $75,000 in the past 12 months mostly on Upwork while only working 15 to 20 hours per week — and almost exclusively outside of the normal 9 to 5 hours.

While this amount is in line with what I've earned in the past, each year I'm able to increase my hourly rate and reduce my hours, earning myself more time with my children and more flexibility as my business grows.

It's not just working parents who are choosing independent work. Upwork's "Freelance Forward 2020" report found that one in three professionals are actively choosing self-employment as a way to increase their income and flexibility and diversify their work in this uncertain job market.

Here are seven strategies that have helped me earn a solid income for my family as an independent professional while working part time and on my terms:

Consider the overall value of the job, not just how much it pays

When assessing opportunities, gauge how much value the job offers, not just the dollar sign next to it. 

I'd choose a $1,000 job that I can complete any hour of the day and is aligned with my skill set over a $2,000 job that regularly requires meetings and isn't exactly in my wheelhouse. If the opportunity is high-stress or will require you to be tethered to your email 24/7, it may be worth far less on closer reflection. 

Set clear goals to stay motivated

Whether you're trying to bring in $10,000 a month or $100 a month, using this simple formula can help you determine your hourly rate: 

Earnings / weeks / hours = Your hourly rate

For instance, if you want to make $100,000 this year, take off 10 full weeks, and only work about 20 hours per week, $100,000 / 48 / 20 = $104 an hour. 

Additionally, tying your monetary goals to personal goals can be powerful. I've set a goal to donate 5% of my revenue to nonprofits. Knowing that my work is helping me support causes I care about increases my confidence in my rate and propels me every day.

Switch to a fixed-price rate structure

If you want to increase your earnings fast, work on fixed-price arrangements. 

Here's why: When I first started freelancing, I was charging $60 an hour. It took me approximately six hours to write a standard funding press release for a startup, earning me $360. Today, I charge $115 an hour, and the same press release would take me about three hours to write, bringing in only $345 if I were charging by the hour — for a better press release!

Instead, by charging a flat rate of $500 to $1,000 per press release, depending on the job requirements and turn-around time, I'm able to provide quality work at a cost that feels like a bargain for something that could generate millions of dollars in future funding for my client.

In my experience, fixed-price projects also tend to be well-defined and less collaborative because the exact deliverables are often delineated when the job is created. This often makes it easier to accomplish them during a condensed work week and at odd hours.

Be transparent

Economist Emily Oster encourages parents to "parent out loud" because "parenting secretly" does a disservice not just to ourselves and our families, but to our clients who want to retain us. 

In six years of working on Upwork, I've never once met a client who minded when one of my daughters interrupted our meeting. In fact, being open about my commitments to my family and demonstrating vulnerability has had a tendency to foster a closer working relationship, resulting in more work, not less. 

For example, after telling one potential client that I have two little girls at home that might pop into our meeting, he told me that he appreciated the value I brought to his consumer brand because I'm an important part of his target audience — busy millennial moms — and immediately hired me.

Sell a product or service that fits your life

I love PR, but thinking I can be responsive enough to offer it as a service right now as I navigate Google Classroom for my kindergartener while keeping my three-year-old out of trouble is unrealistic. 

However, blog writing, which leverages similar skills, can be done at 4:30 a.m. — or whenever I want — before a set deadline. Pivot your skills in a way that solves your customers' biggest challenges and fits your life well, and your work will be much more sustainable.

Under-promise and overdeliver

Do you think something will take you three days? Tell your client you need a week to turn it around, and then send it back to them 72 hours later. Did you promise a 500-word blog post? Toss in five social media posts along with it. 

Taking an extra few minutes to make sure your clients know how much you value them will go a long way toward helping them feel taken care of — and helping you retain them so you don't need to spend any time searching for new clients.

For instance, I recently designed and included an infographic in a blog post I wrote for a long-term client, who told me it meant a lot to him that I took the extra time to deliver extra value. 

Know your worth 

As we face an economic downturn, there's little margin for error. Social proof that you'll help a client succeed is arguably more valuable now than it's ever been before. 

After you have a few great reviews under your belt, keep increasing your rates and offer your clients your best. While there are some clients who prioritize value, there are plenty of others on Upwork who will pay more for someone with a proven record of success. Wouldn't you?

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