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  • Diana Schneidman

A number that will make you feel good

The number is $26,964.

Now for the explanation: That’s the median individual income in the U.S. (This is the 2008 figure, from the 2011 U.S. Statistical Abstract.)

Isn’t it surprising that the figure is so low? When you see your freelance and consulting income from this perspective, you may find that you are earning well above average. And if you haven’t achieved this income yet as a solo professional, it’s not like trying to scale Mount Everest.

If you spend a lot of time (as I do) reading blogs and sales pages and other advice about self-employment, you come to think of $100,000 a year—commonly called “six figures”—as the minimum figure that qualifies as success.

Not as tremendous success. Certainly not as “wealthy.”

Because the marketing coaches who have passed this income level were absolutely disconsolate. Some of them would sob into their pillows each night in frustration at “trading time for money” and being “stuck” at only $100,000—or even worse, trapped in the high five figures (say, $80,000).

The solution for this pathetic state of affairs?

It’s to fix your sights on making seven figures. Because in their judgment, the logical next step from $100,000 is $1,000,000. You fail to serve your life’s purpose fully and to contribute to the rest of the world—either in terms of charitable giving or helping others with selling your life-changing services—if you settle for modest goals.

I see it differently. I see $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, $500,000, $600,000, $700,000, $800,000 and $900,000 as important goals along the way. And just as it may require a different business model to pass the six-figure mark after earning substantially less, many of these higher income goals along the way also require different models, not simply more of the same but with a better mindset.

I have not taken a vow of poverty, but neither do I see myself sponsoring a three-day conference in Las Vegas any time soon.

In no way do I want to tamp down aspirations. May we all reach for the stars even if we settle for the moon.

However, these real-world numbers have several implications in developing our freelance / consulting businesses:

  1. Maybe you’re doing OK right now. It’s a question of perspective. Lifestyle is a big issue in evaluating income. It depends on where you live, how you live, your marital status and children (or lack thereof). And even if you’re not doing OK, maybe you are almost there.

  2. Reasonable incremental goals are empowering. I listen to those teleseminars about setting huge goals and they make me crazy. Moderate success—especially over a one-year time frame or even less—may be more manageable and achievable. On occasion I have found myself abandoning an idea that would boost my income because it doesn’t yield a large income. But that doesn’t mean it won’t improve my finances and isn’t just right for my current business.

  3. Lofty goals distort the reasonableness of taking a full-time job. Just like many of you, I have periods of discouragement or exhaustion when I find myself looking at full-time job postings. If I took a job today similar to my last good jobs as a financial or marketing copywriter, I doubt that I would earn $100,000 annually (though the health insurance would be a valuable plus). My best chance for making in the high five figures would involve several hours daily commuting to Chicago from my home in the suburbs with substantial stress and demanding deadlines. Nor is there any guarantee that I would actually land such a job, given the competitive state of the current job market.

Isn’t it odd that $50,000 seems reasonable when considering a full-time job near home? (And based on what I am seeing out there, it may be overly optimistic.) However, that same figure is embarrassingly small when chosen as a freelance goal.

I’m still working through my own issues about money and fees, but there’s one thing I am fairly certain of: Average fees position us to advance to higher freelancing fees. And dirt-poor fees trap us at the lowest income level because we are too busy chasing after a few bucks to go after better assignments.

Originally posted 4-17-11

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