The Freelance Diaries: The laid-off marketing consultant whose income has skyrocketed

Starting a Freelance Business Diary by a former technology employee in San Francisco who was laid off and Make more money now as a full-time freelancer. Earn more

Ramit Sethi

We’re in the final week of a 3-week course on earning more money (see all posts on earning more money).

Today, a Freelance Diaries by a former technology employee in San Francisco who was laid off a year ago, and is now a full-time freelance marketing consultant. Below, you’ll notice:

  • Her work/life balance is blurred: She works out every day and takes a 2-hour lunch with no worries, but also works past 10pm many nights
  • How there’s lots of “meta-work,” including administrative work, billing clients, and keeping them updated with her work
  • She earns a $6,000 check — which is a 300% freelancer raise in less than 3 months (and a 30% raise from her former full-time job)

Once you’re done, take 5 seconds to sign up to learn specific strategies and tactics to earn more money at

* * *

Day 1 (a Monday)

9 a.m. Wake up and open my laptop. A year ago, I’d be rushing to my desk at this time, probably with some free breakfast in hand. Ah, the good days of free breakfasts… as a freelancer working from home, I don’t get that benefit anymore, nor do I get to chitchat with my coworkers every morning. Work pretty much starts as soon as I let it, but not having to rush off, commute or deal with a ‘manager’ makes it worth it.

10 a.m. Monday mornings I send a weekly update to a major client. I spend a full hour working on this single email because it’s where I talk about what I’ve done and why they should keep paying my fee.

Lesson Learned: Spending an hour on what seems like an administrative email seems long, but it’s turned out to be one of the most important ways to keep my client happy. My client gets almost no face-to-face time with me, so this is my way of showing up. I recap everything I accomplished in the previous week in terms of the objectives we set at the beginning of our relationship, and I outline my plans for the coming week. I make sure to emphasize results, not just tasks. I’ll use this email later when it’s time to raise my rates (“Last month, I accomplished XYZ. This month will be even bigger….”) This is the longest email I send to anybody all week.

11 a.m. Daily workout session. It’s so great to have the freedom to go to the 11:00 session — I don’t have to get up early and it’s never crowded. My friends think it’s weird / sketchy that I can go to work out in the middle of the day for 2 hours, especially since they’re not sure how I actually make money to afford stuff like this. I love perpetuating the mystery for them.

1 p.m. Time to get back to work.

4 p.m.: I’m feeling a little distracted, or maybe just tired from an intense afternoon of writing, so I decide to take a short walk. Not having in-person coworkers or a watercooler to distract me means that work can get surprisingly intense.

Lesson Learned: Giving myself intentional breaks away from the screen – and not just mindlessly surfing Facebook – are really helpful in restoring my mental energy, but don’t make me feel like I’ve been wasting time.

7 p.m. Dinner out with my boyfriend. Saves time on cooking / cleaning that I’ll use to do some work for a third client I’ve recently brought in.

9 p.m. Back in front of the screen, I switch to client #2. I always get a ton done between 9 p.m. and midnight, most people’s t.v. time. It can be annoying to work late, or to have stuff to do when everyone else is having fun, but then I remind myself that I already had my fun time – in the middle of the day while everyone else was at their cubicles.

Day 2

9 a.m. Sometimes I check my email on my phone from bed. I know everyone says this is bad, no boundaries, blahblah, etc. I tend to agree, but for some reason I always get a ton of emails from one client between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., so I’m a bit anxious to see what’s up.

My client appreciated the weekly update, but didn’t respond specifically to any of the questions / requests I put in it. Still no answer on the website budget from this client, but the deadline hasn’t changed. I usually like emails because they’re safe and allow me time to craft my communication, but some in some situations a phone call works best. I hate phone calls, but in this case I call my client to get a final answer on this so I can move on.

Lesson Learned: Because I get almost no face-time with clients, the immediacy of a phone call can be just as important as the long, detailed weekly emails I put together.

11 a.m. Work out again. It’s daily!

2 p.m. Today I have an in-person meeting with a potential client. I don’t like commuting around to in-person meetings, but sometimes these are the best way to pitch yourself. I know I’m much better in-person than on the phone, so if there’s a new client I really want to work with, I always try to get an in-person with them.

5 p.m. I’m back at home and doing some publicity work for a client. This means researching past news on competitors, writing stories, and calling up journalists to pitch them.

Day 3

9 a.m. Work, work, work. People tend to think freelancers can do whatever we want, whenever we want. It’s pretty much true – I could do that, but I actually need structure in order to get stuff done. When I first started freelancing, I loved the flexibility, but sort of lost sight of structure. I didn’t get a whole lot done each day, and I would always wonder why. Getting up and starting work at the same time every day gives my whole day structure so I can be productive.

11 a.m. You-know-what.

1 p.m. My client is sponsoring a big conference this week, so I spend the rest of the afternoon running around and making sure everything is in place.

Day 4

1 a.m. I am falling asleep when I hear a “bzzz. bzzz. bzzz.” Oh no… a series of text messages. No one ever texts me at this time of night just for fun. I wish I could just pretend I hadn’t heard it, but I drag myself out of bed to see what’s up.

My client has a public image emergency. Business journalists and bloggers rarely work on a 9 to 5 schedule, so that means I don’t either. I’m told that a huge last-minute story about my client’s company is going to break in less than an hour. They need me to produce a public statement and letter to my client’s customers. I am on Skype with the co-founder and corporate counsel well into the wee hours of the morning.

Here’s where being a freelance consultant hurts me: I’ve done a good job, so I’m close with the company. But, I am still a freelancer, so I’m not that close from a legal and business perspective. For legal reasons, it’s common for me not to hear about developments like this until they’re already happening. Like at 1 a.m.

10 a.m. I am tired. This would never have happened at my old job, which, despite its many shortcomings, always ended with the regular workday.

11 a.m. Somehow I still manage to go to work out. Maybe this freelancing deal is not so bad after all — I’d be stuck at my desk looking at a spreadsheet if it were my old job.

1 p.m. Lunch with a friend who’s also a freelance consultant. It feels great to be sitting around at this restaurant in the middle of the day. Neither of us looks at our watches.

3 p.m. This week has been heavy for one client, so I devote the remainder of my afternoon to monitoring press reactions and preparing for their conference.

7 p.m. All I want to do is stare at the ceiling, but I need to spend some time tending to my other clients. It’ll be a working dinner tonight.

Day 5

7 a.m. Ah, Friday. Friday still feels like Friday to me, even as a freelancer making my own schedule. I’m helping my client at their big conference today so I’m up early.

2 p.m. I’ve spent all morning running my client’s booth, making sure speaking spots have gone well, and meeting new people. Here’s my thinking: my contract with my current client will inevitably end, so attending industry events like this one makes sure that I get visibility with other potential clients. It can be exhausting, but it works better than sending ‘cold’ emails to people I don’t know very well–emails are pretty easy to ignore, while face-to-face conversations are hard to forget.

An extra note: I do marketing, so one way I get through these conferences is by thinking of them in terms of audiences. Here, my primary audience is my client. For me right now, that’s the person I need to impress most. But actually, it doesn’t stop at that person. I have a secondary audience: my client’s peers and/or competitors. These people might turn into clients if they see and like the results of my work. In my view, I even a tertiary audience – people who will never become my clients, but who might talk about me to potential clients if they’re impressed with what they see.

These are some of the things going through my head as I walk around and talk to people at this conference. I actually get really nervous talking to people I don’t know well, but I know I have to do it if I want to make my freelance consulting thrive. I pretend that I’m somebody gregarious – and I make sure I have a set of things to talk about that I can fall back on.

By the end of the day, I’m all talked-out and just want to go home and stare at the wall. The good thing is, I did have a couple of decent conversations and people that I’ll follow up with via email (I never use business cards – remind me too much of a used car salesman, but that’s just my take on it).

Day 6

11 a.m. I get up late! Unlike some freelancers and consultants I know, I don’t do any official work on Saturdays or Sundays. I do, however, work on experimental projects that often end up netting me more income. I also catch up on stuff that supports my business, but isn’t directly income-generating. Stuff like reading industry blogs, reading people’s Twitter feeds, maybe writing a blog post.

1 p.m. A fat check arrives in the mail. It’s for over $6k– more than 3 times fatter than the checks I used to get as a freelancer 3 months ago.

7 p.m. I go to a dinner party with a client who’s now also become a friend. Lots of people in my industry are at this party, so there’s plenty to talk about and ideas to throw around. I’ve developed social relationships with a lot of the people I work with, and have found it be a big source of new projects. All else being equal, most people would rather work with friends than with random strangers.

Day 7

11 a.m. Catching up on administrative stuff. Working for myself means that I spend my own time to take care of business essentials like billing, accounting, marketing and sales. That’s all stuff I don’t get to invoice somebody for, so it often ends up getting done in my ‘off’ time, on the weekends.

6 p.m. The workweek for me really starts on Sunday evening. It’s my time to ready myself for the coming week and queue up stuff to launch on Monday morning.

8 p.m. Dinner with friends from my old corporate job. They complain about their jobs and their executives and tell me how lucky I am not to work there anymore. Nobody really gets what I do all week, and they’re continually confused as to how/why I have money. I don’t tell them that I actually make 30% more as a freelancer than I did when I was working next to them. I tell them they could be freelancers too, or at least start it on the side, but their eyes just glaze over. Shrug. I guess that means less competition for me, but fewer 3-hour lunch buddies.

* * *

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  1. Emma Chace

    Working out at 11am is perfect timing – between 11am and 1pm, many people are taking their lunch breaks, maybe some of her clients depending on time zones, etc. I bet this is the most low-volume time for her as far as emails and phone calls are concerned.

  2. Joseph Rivera

    Another interesting post.

    Having access to a gym that isn’t crowded is a fantastic reason to freelance in my book.

  3. BenSS

    Great story, but that 30% raise might actually be a paycut depending on the numbers. I know that in my specific case, a 30% raise and switch to freelance would be a pay cut overall between healthcare, 401k and other benefits.

  4. Jeff Slobotski

    Great story and love the “Diaries”…another solid way of both envisioning and seeing that there are others out there doing it.

    The last few posts have been amazingly & eerie similar to what I’ve been toying with and maybe just the motivation I need!

    Thanks again Ramit!

  5. Zack

    I can picture Ramit pounding his head against the wall reading comments like BenSS haha

  6. Peter Yaworski

    I think this is a great post – I can’t read enough about success stories and people actually making the move to entrepreneurship/freelancing.

    I also think the post made a great point about freelancing, that people like to work with friends. I’m starting to dabble with freelance web development and so far my only work has been with friends who needed work done but didn’t know where to turn. I know you’ve written some stuff related to getting started Ramit but I’d like to see more on techniques people (or you) have employed to actually start freelancing, how they/you found your first customer and kept the momentum going, lessons learned, tips on building your reputation (besides blogging), etc.

    Just my two cents… Keep these great posts coming.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Peter, I’ll cover all that in the Earn1k program. In extreme detail.

  7. BenSS

    Hah, wasn’t my intention. If I had a flexible schedule doing something I enjoyed it would totally be worth a minor paycut. Managing healthcare is a major concern though, especially with a family.

  8. duddes02

    Hmm, when I was unemployed-the gym was ALWAYS crowded in middle of the day. In fact, sometimes it was more crowded at 11 a.m. than 6 p.m.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Haha, when I go to the gym in the middle of the day, I always look suspiciously at other people, like “…get a job.” I’m sure they do the same to me.

      Except I’m Indian so they may just automatically assume I’m running a company.

  9. HollyS

    My favorite part is her friends wondering how she affords to go to the gym at 11 a.m. I’m pretty sure my housemates just assume I’m a bum/lazy student, which is awesome.

  10. Mike

    “I tell them they could be freelancers too, or at least start it on the side, but their eyes just glaze over. Shrug.”


  11. primely

    So is this 6k a week or 6k a month. Or better question what does the yearly salary of this look like?

    Would like to get into freelancing and loving your articles Ramit. However can’t think of an idea to begin it. Those schedules seem much more to my liking

  12. Ian

    @Peter (#6)- to build on your requests/questions, I’d also be curious to learn about how to start charging for a service. Especially as many freelancers start off by working for friends. For instance, I’ve dj’ed a lot of weddings and parties for friends or friends of friends without the expectation of getting paid. Sometimes I do, most times not- that’s ok, but is starting to get old, especially when you’re asked 6 times in a summer. How do you make the transition from working for your friends as a favor to working for money? It’s not always easy just to say “no.”

    • Ramit Sethi

      Ian, it’s SO GREAT that people know about you and are asking for your services (even if they expect it to be free). That means you have a reputation. It’s easier to turn free–>fee than to get people interested in the first place. So congrats.

      Even better is that you have multiple people asking, which lets you test responses, prices, and offers to see which one resonates best with paying customers.

      We’ll be covering this more in the Earn1k course.

  13. Robert

    I’ve lived that life…it’s a balance for sure. It takes some mental fortitude to maintain but offers awesome freedom. Ramit’s comments at the top were spot on in my experience. The part that’s missing that can be a grind at times…is getting those clients…for some gigs, it can be a whole other job. Try to automate that part as much as possible. Use assistants or templated e-mails, or creative ways of contacting new clients!

  14. cory huff

    This is a great insight into a financially successful freelancer’s week, but there’s one thing that stands out to me – she works a ton. Does she have any plans to automate any of her work so that she doesn’t have to work all the time?

    For those of us who have families, freelancing has to take a back seat when it’s family time.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Good question. The first goal is to earn more. Then you can automate.

      Too many people come up with delusional dreams of passive income from day 1, which is virtually impossible for 99% of people at first. I wrote about the delusion of passive income here.

      Earn money via freelancing first, then automate and delegate. People don’t like to hear this but it’s almost always true.

  15. cory huff

    Ah, yes, the startup hustle. Well, off I go.

  16. Christina Gremore

    I think this is one of my favorite posts EVER on IWTYTBR…I’ve never wanted to sign up for your other private courses, but this one looks really compelling! Can’t wait for it to start!

  17. Angela

    Health care costs are a major consideration- especially for those of us with “pre-existing conditions.” Millions of full-time would-be entrepreneurs are stuck in jobs b/c they absolutely must have health insurance. I really, really hope that this topic is addressed in Earn1K.

  18. Tyler WebCPA

    I’m continuing to love the series about earning more money. I know that the whole “Diaries” thing is about people telling us what their week is like but you should consider following up with some of them and digging a little deeper into their business. You know, like what was her spark to get her out of the office, how she got her first clients, what she does for insurance and that kind of thing.
    For me it was very interesting to read about her using her time representing her client also as a networking opportunity. I guess there would be a fine line to walk while you work the room. It seems to be working for her so congratulations.

    • Ramit Sethi

      We definitely will in the Earn1k program. In fact, we’ll be offering freelance experts to give their feedback on each Freelance Diaries, including what the person could do differently to improve their income and streamline their time.

  19. Menandro Tomas

    It’s great to stumble upon your post, and you. Thanks for the story…

  20. Sara

    @Ian (#14) Ian – I’ve done occasional freelance photography for awhile, including weddings, and I feel your pain. I’ve had several people ask me (or even pressure me) to do it for free, which I resented because it’s so much work. I would start by telling everyone you’ve DJed for in the past that you are starting a side business as a DJ and you would really appreciate it, since you lent your services for free in the past, if they’d spread the word on your behalf. Since you did them a big favor, most people will be happy to do this for you.

    From then on, if someone still asks you to do it for free, just tell them you actually have a business doing it now and can’t do it for free, but you’d do it for a reduced price in exchange for them providing you a customer testimonial and helping spread the word since you’re just starting out. For example, if you’re eventually going to charge $1000 to DJ, charge $500 for your first few customers. Once you have a more legitimate business up and running and some paying customers, even your friends will have a hard time asking you to do it for nothing since you’ve put a specific value on the service you’re providing.

  21. Fabio Povoa

    Very insightful ideas from her daily activities.

    As an web entrepreneur who also deals with freelance projects (and also goes to the gym at 11 am :-), I really enjoy the freedom of a freelancer, but miss the recurring revenue of a traditional job.

    That’s why I have developed some tactics to reach both (yes, it IS possible indeed). Some freelance tasks CAN be converted to recurring revenue, either as online ongoing projects, long-term paid contracts featuring cheaper hourly costs, shared risks (aka equity) by making me a PARTNER in online endeavors, and so on.

    I think it would be interesting to suggest that the diary writers cover such goals, in addition to only describing their daily tasks. These tactics would also be interesting content for Earn1k.

    I may also write a post about my personal experiences as a contribution.

    Keep the good work, Ramit.

  22. Lian

    I would love to work for someone like her for free for a couple of months; take off some load off her shoulders. Im in Latin America, and I major in Marketing, and It would value how much I’d be learning.

    Im seeing that here where I am, only marketing business do marketing. Id like to break that standard and jump in the market, and since you dont get to see that here very often, insights from her would be worth more than a couple of hours a week of free assistance on projects.

    How can I reach her?

  23. Ed

    I love this post for the following line”I love perpetuating the mystery for them.” I am not freelancing yet but have set myself up in the corporate world to perpetuate my own mystery. We have small homes in two different states and we bounce back between the two whenever we want. I have never told my boss we do this – as it really doesn’t matter as long as the job gets done right. Our friends can’t figure us out to save their lives which is kind of fun.

  24. Anil Thombre, Dubai

    Ramit, Firstly congrats for your efforts. Myself and surely many others are motivated to go out there and earn more.
    Offering your services free for initial period, is a good way to attract potential clients. But, how do you draw the line when the paid services shall start, and how to convince the clients?
    Regards, Anil.

  25. Lalitha Brahma

    Excellent way of explaining the freelancer/solo preneurer’s life/business style. A couple of drawbacks/challenges that we need to become aware and address-
    1. Difficulty in delegating tasks (because we psychologically feel that we are our own boss.). We must start delegation/automation as soon as we learn to create our first 1K
    2. While freelancing, we are so much caught up in timely delivery of quality service that we tend to ignore creating duplicatable systems, which can go a long way in acceleration of business growth

  26. Alexis Abel

    This are really great to read about and learn from! Thanks!

  27. Quest

    Definitely an interesting read. I’m looking forward to reading more case studies like these. I know length and privacy may be an issue but it would be interesting to see more details as to what types of tasks are accomplished during work periods.

  28. Oli B

    Nice Idea if you can pull it off, I’ve been freelance for 30 years on and off, Whilst I was single it works well, once you have children the game changes, you need a very large float to smooth the financial ups and downs and if you work to fit the family the income is limited. Now my children are older I’m beginning to be able to put in the hours that need to be put in and the income is going up again.

    Make no bones about it if you factor in all the extra hours you need to do to cover the accounting, marketing, selling, website development, office cleaning, networking, and you’ve paid for the actual costs of owning and running a buisness, as well as the actual job in hand. The hourly rate compares to a full time job. Its just that you don’t have to do all the other stuff, or pay the overheads in a big company.

    Although you are free to choose the jobs you do I find it a fallacy, you end up working when you are asked to do so, as you don’t want to let a client down. Learning when and how to say no is a skill I’ve yet to learn. My experience is that if you are not available someone else soon fills the gap.

    Having said that. I’ll never work for anyone else again if I can help it. I think the variety of the work and the demands of achieving a good result, without the support of a well resourced company give me the satisfaction I crave.

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