I Saved Almost 50% of my Income in 2018. Here’s a Look at my Year.

by gigigriffis

This post is part of a series about how I make money while traveling the world. I’ve been on the road for over six years. For a deeper look at how I started my business and began traveling full-time, start here.


First, in case you’re new around here, a quick introduction:

My name is Gigi. I’m a location independent writer and strategist. I’ve been working with words and the web for over 15 years, self-employed for about eight, and traveling the world full-time for nearly seven.

Every quarter, I do a behind-the-scenes post about my business. I tell you how I make money, what kind of marketing I’m doing for my business, how I’m doing on my savings goals, etc.

And now I’m here to sum up 2018.

Because I realized that quarterly isn’t a good enough measure. Some quarters are very good (Q4 2018 for instance) and some are very bad. A much better way to look at the health of my business, the breakdown of the kinds of work I do, and how I’m doing on my savings goals is to look at things yearly.

So, today I’m going to tell you about my 2018. How I made money while traveling full-time. And how I saved almost 50% of my income before taxes.

Here we go.

Income Sources: How I Made Money in 2018

:: Copywriting and content strategy (76%)
I always say this is my primary income source. But is that true once we shake out the numbers for the whole year?

The answer is clearly yes. Content work (primarily for companies in tech or healthcare) makes up 3/4 of my income, which makes sense as it has been my specialty for over 15 years now.

:: Travel writing (8%)
The vast majority of this income came from a travel guide I authored in 2017 and got paid for in early 2018. Other than that, I took on a smattering of smaller articles whenever other work got slow throughout the year.

:: My unique series of local-centric travel guides (7%)
A few years ago, I authored a series of travel guides for destinations like Switzerland and France.

At the end of the day, they didn’t feel lucrative enough to continue churning out, but the good news is that books are a long-term investment. You put in the time and they keep on paying you as time goes on. They aren’t a huge source of income for me, but it’s always nice to have a little extra I can count on every month (especially in slow months or during vacation when I’m not actively putting in billable time).

Attempting to work in a Harlem cafe.

:: Website consulting (7%)
I’m surprised this number isn’t higher, as it felt like I did a lot of consulting this year (which might just mean I need to raise my consulting rates or reevaluate the types of projects I’m taking on if I’m spending more time and making less percentage wise). This category includes everything from teaching a client how to use Google Analytics to building a website from scratch.

It’s also worth noting that I have a big invoice going out to one of this year’s clients in the new year, though most of the work on their project happened this year.

:: Affiliate sales/advertising/donations here on the blog (1%)
I’ve been blogging since my teen years, but the truth is that it was never about money. In fact, until this year, the blog really hadn’t made any. I blogged because I loved it and because I thought it was helpful and because it benefitted me in other ways.

Sure, I used affiliate links, took (and still take) donations, and occasionally made a few bucks here or there. Probably just about enough to cover the cost of hosting the website each year.

But this year, I tried something different. I joined an ad network halfway through year. I wanted to see if A. people would be bothered by the ads and B. I’d actually make any money. I didn’t get my first check until the fourth quarter of the year (ad networks take 2 – 3 months to pay out), but was delighted to find that I’d multiplied my average blog earnings by about 2000% (if I’m doing that math correctly), which is kind of insane.

I’ve had one complaint (and, as a result, turned the ad saturation down a bit), but otherwise no one has said a thing. (And if ads do bother you but you love this blog, you can always subscribe by email. The ads won’t show up in emailed posts.)

:: My DIY Website Workshops (1%)
In the end, my DIY Website Workshop experiment wasn’t really worth continuing. I had a few people go through the paid program and the feedback on both paid and the free sessions I ran was positive, but I suppose people who want to do their websites themselves also aren’t willing to pay to be walked through the process.

C’est la vie. At the end of the year, I decided to turn it into a free completely self-guided program and hope that it pays me in website views (e.g. via ads) or in actual client referrals. We’ll see how that shakes out in 2019.


Putting in a few hours of work in a Prague restaurant.


Sales & Marketing in 2018

Things I did to try and rustle up new business in 2018 included (positive results in parentheses):

:: Checking Facebook & Slack business/industry groups weekly for gigs (worth my time and has resulted in work)

:: Checking LinkedIn monthly for gigs

:: Making a list of 200+ small businesses to send a targeted sales letter out to 

:: Reaching out to several other freelancers to let them know I was open to referrals (probably worth it; has not yet resulted in work but I’m optimistic)

:: Attending in-person networking events in NYC

:: Planning lunches and meet-ups with colleagues in NYC (has resulted in work inquiries, not yet signed)

:: Sending introduction letters to companies I’d like to work with

:: Attending conferences in NYC and Minneapolis

:: Adding a section to this post series inviting people to contact me if they’re interested in working together (worth it! Has resulted in work and inquiries)

Working on a train.

New Business: How I Actually Got New Clients in 2018

:: Referrals (4 new clients signed)

:: LinkedIn (1 new client signed)

:: Blog & online presence (1 new client signed)

:: Newsmodo (1 new client signed)

:: Conference networking (1 new client signed)

(This is in addition to existing, ongoing clients who I was already working with before 2018.)

Luna’s working hard in our fav Zagreb coffee shop.

Savings: Did I Hit My 2018 Goals?

As you may already know, it’s my very aggressive goal to save 50% of my income over the course of the year. This is before taxes and includes both retirement savings and emergency savings.

So, now that the year has come to its close, I’m very pleased to tell you that I came in at almost exactly 50% (49.07% to be exact). After taxes, this number should fall somewhere around 37% (final number on that is pending, as I’ve only done quarterly tax math and haven’t done the full enchilada for the year yet).

All in all, very close to my original goal, though obviously it would have been great to go over instead of falling a smidge under.

Keep in mind that this is all based on a part-time work schedule. After a pretty epic illness a few years ago, I realized I couldn’t work full-time and take care of my physical and mental health. My hours have varied since then, but I shoot for a half-time schedule of 15 – 25 hours per week.

Luna helping Chad work in Brasov, Romania.

Location Independence: Where I Worked

As I mentioned at the top of this post, my business is location independent. This means I can work from anywhere in the world as long as I have a laptop and a good Wi-Fi connection. This year, I worked from:

:: Pagosa Springs, Colorado

:: New York City

:: Rennes, France

:: Prague, Czechia

:: Budapest, Hungary

:: Brasov, Romania

:: Zagreb, Croatia

:: Innsbruck, Austria

:: Interlaken, Switzerland

My least favorite of the bunch was Prague and the places I felt best were France, Austria, and Switzerland.

Oh, here’s a website I launched.

Need Some Content, Strategy, or Web Help?

As of this writing, I may have space for one more client in my roster. If you need someone like me, please reach out!

I’m particularly great at:

:: Writing content about technical topics (tech, software, healthcare, economic development, history, etc.) for a a non-technical audience

:: Inbound marketing/content marketing

:: Developing writing guidelines for your team

:: Helping experts translate their knowledge for the layman

:: Coming up with headlines, taglines, and brand campaigns

:: Making your website clearer, simpler, and more strategic

:: Managing blogs (from the writing to the tech side to everything in between)

Tech businesses I’ve worked with include Dell, BestVPN, ComplyData (oil and gas compliance software), and Lytics CDP. Healthcare clients have specialized in orthodontics, vein care, and sexual health. And agency clients have included Atlas Advertising, Fractl (the infographic masters), and Time for Cake.

If you’d like to chat about what I can do for your business, drop me a line.

Bedroom/office in Innsbruck, Austria.


Are you a freelancer or business owner? Tell us about your quarter! Feel free to drop any questions you might have in the comments. And you’re welcome to join my Facebook business group where we talk all things entrepreneurship, business, and web.

Is there something you wish I’d cover in these quarterly reports? Please let me know! I want them to be as useful as possible, so if you have a suggestion, drop it in the comments or reach out to me on Facebook anytime.


I saved almost 50% of my income in 2018

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4 comments

Ali February 7, 2019 - 9:20 am

Congrats on saving almost 50% of your income! It’s interesting to see the many different ways you look for new clients & what does & doesn’t seem to work. I hope 2019 is even better for you!

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gigigriffis February 7, 2019 - 12:10 pm

Thanks!

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Willow March 16, 2019 - 6:12 am

I find these reports so useful, Gigi! It’s so generous of you to share the information. I didn’t even know Slack had business groups. I just started using it recently.

I am curious about the letters you wrote to small businesses. Did you have to follow up more than once? What kinds of work projects did you get out of those conversations? Did they refer you to other business owners?

Finally, congratulations on meeting your ambitious goal. I can’t believe it’s already March. I had a financial goal and actually beat it. But with freelance work, as you mentioned, nothing is stable. So, I need to continue looking for more virtual assistant clients. I’ll be thinking of your success and I hope this year is already going well for you!

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gigigriffis March 16, 2019 - 10:00 am

So glad the posts are helpful!

The business letters actually did not result in any work for me. I find that cold-emailing rarely does, but I wanted to try something new this year, so I gave it another go. I know other writers have success with cold emailing, but it’s just not my jam.

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