Solving the Cash-Flow Conundrum
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Freelance Writing Success

Solving the Cash-Flow Conundrum: The Three-Tiered Approach to Income Diversification

This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) The Writer’s Life, a free newsletter that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on how to live the life you’ve always dreamed of. For a complimentary subscription, visit here.

Building a consistent cash flow is probably the single biggest challenge facing new copywriters.

There are three questions I often hear:

“If I’m working a full-time job, when do I find time to build up my freelance income?”

“If I dive into the writer’s life without significant savings, how do I quickly generate income to stay afloat?” And …

“If I’m working part-time and freelancing part-time, how do I balance them both?

Jumping off the boat without a life preserver

From 1990 to 2009, I had a paycheck twice a month that I knew I could count on. Even when I was on straight commission in direct sales, there was never a time I didn’t get paid. Not once.

So when I quit my job in March of 2009 to become a full-time freelance copywriter, I naturally expected that track record to continue.

I had one client on a small monthly retainer, and I figured it would just blossom from there. Kind of like spontaneous combustion.

A month later after two other small projects barely paid for groceries, it hit me.

“What was I thinking!?”

I didn’t have a safety net of a huge savings account. My wife didn’t have a salaried income (she’s a freelance mural artist, so we’re in the same situation.) We have four kids in school and the normal expenses that any family has.

Can you relate?

Does the idea of going from a steady paycheck to the unknown land of freelancing scare you just a bit? You’re not alone.

Whether you’re a part-time or full-time copywriter, building up a consistent monthly income is job number one.

The three-tiered approach to diversifying your income

First of all, this isn’t a “zero to six figures in six months” strategy. Those examples are out there, and I wish I had a great story like that.

No matter how much planning and implementing I could do, it’s not in my nature to radically change overnight. I’m more of a methodical, long-term thinker. In my case, the “tortoise approach” has given me a steady income and a solid foundation from which to build on.

It’s also given me peace of mind. Since I’ve diversified my income, I won’t have to be an employee again unless I choose to be.

There are three steps to building a solid income foundation and solving the problem of ongoing cash flow:

  1. Getting immediate cash flow projects to keep you afloat.
  2. Going after “stretch” projects for short-term income boosts and long-term potential.
  3. Building back-end passive income.

Let me explain …

1. Get immediate cash flow projects

The idea is to get as many quick, small projects as you can.

Don’t worry about the size or perceived “quality” of clients. Just build up work fast, turn some of them into ongoing monthly clients, and worry about getting bigger projects later.

I’m not going to get into detailed marketing systems here, that’s a whole other topic. (See Cindy Cyr’s article, “How to Get All the Clients You Need From People You Already Know,” which I followed loosely.)

You’ll also find a ton of information on getting clients in the online Accelerated Program, pages 521-552.

This is more of a philosophy than a marketing strategy.

Instead of going after the big clients whom everyone wants to work for, target prospects who don’t have copywriters beating down their door. For example, small businesses who can’t afford top writers, but still need good copy.

My first client was a sales training company with about ten employees. The projects weren’t huge – print brochures, website copy, and email marketing messages. But it was steady work for six months, because the little they invested in me paid off well.

People you know are another source of quick cash flow. When I started telling everyone I was a copywriter, doors started opening. A Facebook friend who worked at an insurance company hired me to rewrite their website, develop five brochures, and write an online video script.

These two clients alone kept me busy for months, and I did most of the work while I was still working a full-time job. From there I got referrals and expanded, but this provided my base, and enabled me to eventually quit my job.

You can also get projects online at places like,,, and I haven’t used those particular sites, but they’re recommended along with a few others on page 544 in the Accelerated Program. I’d also encourage AWAI Members to check out

So, the first step is to get immediate cash flow coming in.

Step two is to …

2. Go after “stretch” projects

Developing quick cash flow will set your mind at ease, but it may not be enough to quit your job or pay all your monthly expenses.

That’s why you need to go after bigger projects, while still maintaining your smaller, ongoing clients.

I didn’t get any of these types of projects until I started freelancing full-time, but there’s no reason you can’t do it as a part-time copywriter.

The idea is to stretch out of your comfort zone and try to land clients that maybe intimidate you a little (and of course, pay more than your smaller clients!)

For me, that meant snagging a number of projects in the $1,500 – $2,500 range. Not superstar money yet, but good projects that gave me some experience and boosted my short-term income.

Where do you find projects at this level? I found them in four places (with no marketing expense whatsoever):

  • Client referrals. When your copy produces results, clients will send others your way. This has been my main source of new business.
  • Personal networking. I continued to tell everyone about my new career, and it led to new business a couple times.
  • Submit proposals at Direct Response Jobs. There are plenty of postings, so something is bound to match your skills and interests eventually. I just landed a project here, and wish I would have pursued this avenue earlier in my career.
  • Upgrade your current clients. This is my favorite method of securing “stretch” projects, because it requires the least effort. You already know your client. They know you. Why not make suggestions that will help them earn more profits?

Think about it. Let’s say you have five small clients paying you $300 a month each. Then through consistent effort you land two extra projects a month for $900 each. All of a sudden you’re at $3,300 a month, or just under $40k a year, which may be the point you decide to launch things full-time.

The beauty of this three-tiered approach is that you’re building a solid foundation first, then working upward.

Finally, step three will give you “income insurance” …

3. Build back-end passive income

Confession time: If I was just starting my copywriting career right now, I’d start with this step.

Passive income is doing something once, and getting paid over and over on it.

You could earn royalties on a sales letter, or write and sell e-books or your own information products.

Even better? Build your own money-making website.

Nick Usborne is the master of this, and I’m currently using his program, How to Write Your Own Money-Making Websites.

I hope to have my website published sometime in January, and be making money on it by July. Within two to three years, my plan is for my passive income to cover all my expenses, with my copywriting income pure bonus (a rather hefty bonus by that point!).

It’s a juggling act

Okay, all this is easier said than done, I’ll admit. But here’s the point: If you can balance your time among all three strategies, you’ll be building a rock-sold income foundation.

You won’t tumble if you lose a big client. You’ll be more creative because you’re not worrying about paying the bills. And as time goes on, you can continually focus on getting bigger and better projects.

The three-tiered approach to income diversification isn’t designed to immediately rocket you to the copywriting stratosphere. But it will position you for long-term success.

And that’s what counts, right?

Steve Roller

Author Steve Roller

I'm a business coach, author, copywriter, world traveler (32 countries on five continents so far), and professional speaker. In addition to helping companies get more customers and make more money, I help other writers turn Big Ideas into profitable businesses. I offer one-on-one coaching, professional copy critiques, and three-day business-building immersion retreats. When I'm not writing, coaching, or speaking, I enjoy nothing more than hanging out with my wife and four kids and planning my next adventure.

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