How Long Does It Take to “Make It” As A Freelancer?

By David

When we first set our sights on living abroad, teaching English was the only option we thought we had. It remains a very viable option. Many, many people do it all the time. Alexis is doing it right now. But it’s not the only option.

I planned on teaching English when we moved to Thailand as well, but had a bit of a life-defining crisis the day I got offered a job. I turned it down and that same day created a profile on

That was in July of 2014.

Work was slow at first. My first paying job was for $2 an hour. I was eager to get some positive reviews under my belt, so I accepted.

Six months later, I am not only making what I would have been had I accepted that teaching job, I am making double that amount. 


I started freelancing in July but my first paycheck didn’t come until August. I made $516 that month. Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 5.00.53 PM

September was actually a little worse; only $448 that month. Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 5.00.34 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-27 at 5.00.20 PM

October was slightly better, $488.
Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 5.00.04 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-27 at 4.59.36 PM

November was when business started to gain momentum. Positive reviews from low paying jobs were paying off and clients were starting to seek me out instead of the other way around. I made $695 that month. That’s 92% of a traditional English teacher salary in Chiang Mai.
Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 4.59.20 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-27 at 4.59.05 PM

December proved to be a holiday miracle. I had made it. Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 4.58.38 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-27 at 4.58.17 PM

$1,213. That’s how much I made in December. Now, that’s still nothing compared to an American salary, but it’s nearly double the 25,000 baht ($750 USD) that most government school English teachers get in Chiang Mai.

January is proving to be even more fruitful than December as well. I’ve read enough and experienced enough to know that the workflow of a freelance writer has its ups and downs, but for the moment at least, things are looking up.

Here Are My Top 3 Pieces of Advice

I listed a few tips here, but here’s a consolidated, updated list of my top pieces of advice for oDesk success.

1. Take low-paying jobs at first. Potential clients want to see three things: 1) Glowing reviews from other people who have hired you, 2) Hours logged on oDesk, and 3) A complete profile that shows how awesome you are. Taking low paying jobs accomplishes the first two items.

2. Be timely and diligent. Most people are looking to hire someone as soon as possible. I wouldn’t recommended applying for a job that’s been posted over 24 hours ago. This means that in the beginning, you’ll need to be checking the new postings every single day. Also, once you’ve begun communication with a potential client, respond quickly. They want to know you’ve available and not a flake.

3. Keep at it. I know this is cliche, but after a few months of doing the above two points, people started contacting me. At least once a week, I would wake up to an email about a client directly reaching out to freelancers on oDesk. This is how I get the vast majority of my jobs/earnings now.

Bottom Line

1. Teaching English is far from the only option if you want to live abroad. Not everyone is made out to be a teacher. I apparently was not.

2. You can make money freelancing online and have a completely location-independent lifestyle if you just stick with it. Certainly living in an inexpensive country like Thailand will help. Also working in my favor was my wife already having a job that was earning enough to feed and shelter both of us.

If you want a location-independent lifestyle, make it happen. Even if you don’t want to move to Thailand or don’t have the luxury of a spouse supporting you financially for a few months, there are options. Move back in with mom and dad for a few months or save up a few months of living expenses before you quit your job. You could even start your freelancing work at nights on top of your other job until you’re making enough.

True, none of those options are ideal, but if you want it, make it happen.


14 thoughts on “How Long Does It Take to “Make It” As A Freelancer?

  1. Hi

    Thanks for this post, I’m sitting in the same boat, recently retrenched and brand new on oDesk, Elance etc. I’m also considering the TEFL thing, but your words hit the spot for me. I think the digital nomad way of life is what a lot of people today are looking for, and it’s great to see people actually doing it, and making a living. I’ll be checking in again to compare notes and look for tips!

    Wayne B


    • Absolutely. There’s no point in being tied to a desk with everything the internet allows for. Let me know what you think of Elance. I found the site to be much more difficult to use than oDesk. I never got a single response from Elance applications whereas oDesk jobs were very easy to come by.


      • I agree – oDesk is a far more sane place to work, but I’ve picked up two “long term” gigs at Elance too – some great people to work with, but the pay is abysmal. I’m on and too, but no luck there yet. Honestly, who’s got the time, right? Perhaps its better to work at getting great ratings in one place at a time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a really good point. I think for me at least, building ratings and feedback was huge. I think when employers reach out to freelancers directly, they use filters to eliminate people right off the bat with no or bad feedback scores. Good to hear you’ve had success on Elance though.


  2. Good advice, thank you for it, I stil find it hard though to work my ass off for a few dollars. The last job i accepted on Freelancers paid only US$ 1.80 for 400 words of writing and the had such high demands. Coming from the west it is hard to compeat with those working for almost nothing, from the east.


    • I agree that’s it really tough. I feel like I’m constantly hitting a plateau. I think I trust the system enough though to say that experience and reviews and a growing portfolio do pay off in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

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