How Much Does an eLearning Freelancer Earn?
I was recently asked by somebody who was thinking about quitting their job, what can they expect to earn as a freelance instructional designer or a freelance elearning developer? What's the typical salary over the first 12 months?
Now that question is extremely difficult to answer and obviously there's so many factors involved right through from how much experience you have, to what skills you have, to where in the world you're located, how many people you know in the industry that might be able to refer work your way etc.
But saying that "this is a difficult question to answer" isn't really helping anyone! So what I thought I'd do in today's video is lay out exactly what I earned in my first 12 months of freelancing and then dig into that information a little bit.
Now as I was doing the research for this video, I took a look at my accounting software and I realised that the first 12 months of my freelance career are a really good example to talk about because they're pretty typical for anyone who's about to start freelancing. And what I mean by that is that I did lots of different types of projects, I worked with in those projects in different roles, some of the projects I did were directly with my own clients and some were subcontracting roles with agencies.
So I think what I'm going to share today will be quite good for you to benchmark against if you're thinking of starting to freelance or maybe you've already started and you want to just draw some comparisons.
Now before we get started, I thought it'd be useful to give you a bit of context. When I started freelancing I was 34/35 years old. I was living in London which was an advantage because it meant I could attend the on-site meetings with clients and agencies who were potentially going to work with. I have about I think up to about 15 years experience in learning and development and approaching 10 years experience in elearning. And I'm not saying that to try and scare anyone but because I think that the quality of your experience is far more important than the quantity. But it's obviously important to be aware of that if you're starting to compare yourself against me based on what I talked about in this video.
It may also be interesting for you to know that I don't have any formal qualifications when it comes to training or learning and development or instructional design. I do have a degree which was in computer-aided design which obviously is design related. But I have no formal qualifications around the type of freelance work that I was doing.
So let's get into the detail. I looked at my profit and loss sheet for the year 2015, 2016 which was the first full accounting year as a freelancer. And my business revenue for that year was pretty much bang on £60,000.
Now it's important that you recognise that I used the word 'revenue' there, because I think one of the problems when we start freelancing is that we think that all the money that comes in is profit and that's not true because you're going to have costs. So within my first year I had to pay for access to a coworking space, I had to buy a computer, I had to buy software to use on the computer to deliver the projects. I attended some conferences, I bought some subscriptions to training modules and access to things that were going to help me learn how to run a business. So all of that obviously comes out of the revenue that you're taking from your business.
But I would say that that first 12 months my costs were relatively low. So all the numbers I'm gonna be talking about today, you can probably, I don't know, shave off 10/20% and that will give you an idea of my costs.
And if you're interested in seeing a breakdown of my business cost, so I'll pop a link to the video in the description.
So let's start off by taking a look at how I actually earned this money. And the breakdown is quite interesting actually, it's about 50/50 split between money that I earn directly from my own clients versus money that I earned through subcontracting via an agency. And if you're not quite sure about the difference between freelancing and subcontracting and consulting, I'll pop a link to a video where I talked about this in the description.
But that money came from 12 different companies. And so essentially six of those were my own clients and six of those were agencies. Now if we take a look at the breakdown of what I was actually doing to earn that money, £39,000 of that came from content development work. So that's almost two-thirds of the £60,000. So that was doing things like content development in PowerPoint, Keynote, Articulate Storyline, Camtasia Studio, I need some video work in VideoScribe as well, but it was that physical hands-on design type work.
I earned £12,000 from doing instructional design work, so that was working with SMEs to write storyboards, things like that.
I made another £5,000 through consulting style engagements. So that was where I was offering more strategic advice, talking to clients about things like, whether they needed a new learning management system. Or what style of training they should create that was going to achieve their objectives. Or whether they should be creating their training in-house or outsourcing it to an agency. But helping them with that more strategic level type work.
And the remaining £4,000 pounds came from doing classroom training where I was actually working with businesses to train their staff on how to use rapid authoring software and the video editing software, things like that. So that they could maybe create the training in-house rather than actually outsourcing it to a third party.
Now let's get a bit more granular and talk about the amount I actually earned for each project. And if we start off with the content development work. I did content development both for my own clients and for agencies as well as a subcontractor. Now for my own clients, I worked on a project rate where I charge the client a fixed fee to deliver a piece of training. And when I look back it was pretty terrible, I was really bad at estimating how much time it was gonna take to deliver a project. So I massively undercharged these clients for the work I was doing. So my effective hour or day rate was extremely low.
But if I look at a comparison of that against the subcontracting work I did where I was doing both instructional design and content development work. My day rate was anything from £200 pounds I think the lowest earned, £200 a day that is up to £400 a day was probably the highest I earned for that type of work.
Now the consulting work that I did was with my own clients. I actually charged the day rate for that because it was very much, it was very difficult to charge a project rate for that. And I was able to charge a lot more for that type of work and I think I charged anything from £600 to £800 a day for that type of work. So obviously that type of work was a lot more lucrative and you're selling your brain essentially rather than your hands and obviously that was a lot more profitable.
But I found it really difficult to find a lot of that type of work and actually I made a video all about how I failed in my transition from freelancer to consultant. So I'll pop a link to that video as well in the description.
Now you might be interested to know where I actually found this work. And I would say that almost 50% of that work came from referrals. So when I quit my job and started work with myself, I set up a website and I told everyone I knew pretty much. Friends, family, I posted on LinkedIn, I sent cold outreach email to people who I've met at conferences, people who I work with in the past. Just telling them what I was doing and putting a link there to my website and explaining what type of work I was looking for.
This was brilliant when I started off because I think this is something you can do in the first 12 months but then once you've done that you pretty much exhaust all your options to do that. So in that time you need to build up other ways of finding work. But to begin with this was a great way for me of finding work.
Another technique that I use that brought in probably 25% of the work throughout that 12 months was actually contacting agencies directly. So what I did is I went to a couple of conferences and I took a list of all of the elearning agencies that were exhibiting there because I figured that they were probably big enough to need freelancers to help them and then I contacted them directly. So I did the same thing, I wrote an email, put a link to my website. And I spent some time making sure my website looked good and I had some nice examples there. And this gave agencies the confidence to recruit me and I was able to do a lot of subcontracting work like that.
Now most of the client work that I did directly with my own clients, they came through inbound marketing, so they somehow found my website and contacted me directly. And I think I can attribute most of that to the fact that I was writing quite a lot of blog posts and that really helps exposure within Google. So I think using lots of good keywords in your blog's and writing about very relevant topics is a great way for people to find your website and then contact you. But I think that's more of a long game, and I think in the first 12 months you need other strategies to try and help you generate some business.
The last part of this that I wanted to talk about was location. And within that first 12 months I would say 80% of the work I did was remote versus 20% of onsite work.
Now I've proved to myself that working remotely is completely viable. And actually the last two years as many of you know I've been over here in Bali. So you don't need to be in a capital city or attending onsite meetings with clients or with agencies to be able to make a success of a freelance career.
But I think when you're getting started it does really help because you can attend meetings, you can show your face, you can show people that you are who you say you are and you're trustworthy and you dress smartly and you can look people in the eye and talk confidently and build trust, that's the important thing. So I'm not saying that working remotely isn't possible but I think for me having just a little bit of contact with people in that first year was very, very helpful.
So there's quite a lot to digest there. I hope that was useful. If you've got any questions. If I missed something that was kind of would have been useful that I include in this video and you'd like to know, please drop your question in the comment section below the video and I'll be more than happy to answer you.
This is actually the last video you're gonna see from me here in Bali because next week we're going to be going over to Australia to spend some time with my wife's family. So you know pretty sad to be leaving Bali but pretty excited about the adventures that lie ahead.
But I hope that was useful. If you've got any questions as I said, drop them in the comment section below the video. I'll see you in the next episode.