Sarah Li-Cain is a finance writer whose work has appeared in places like Bankrate, Business Insider, Redbook, Financial Planning Association, Stacking Benjamins, and Her Money podcast with Jean Chatzky (of NBC Today).
Her work blends practical tips and mindset strategies so that those trying to change their financial life can see themselves in the starring role. She’s also the host of Beyond The Dollar, where she and her guests have deep and honest conversations on how money affects your well-being.
Find out how Sarah was able to make the transition from side hustle to a full-time freelance writer and podcaster.
You’ve been working from home since 2016, tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.
It’s been a wild ride! When I started freelance writing in 2012 it was merely a side hustle. I was bored one day and found freelance writing and thought it was cool that I got paid for something I did for fun. At that time my husband and I were expats in China as teachers and never really thought we would leave. We’ve always been nomads (I’ve lived overseas since I was 23) so I naturally assumed I’d be teaching forever.
Well, I got pregnant and my husband and I decided on moving to the U.S. to raise our son. I had less than a year to consider what I wanted to do – continue my teaching career or move to the U.S? I gave myself six months to see if I could make a living as a full-time freelance writer or else I’d get a 9 to 5 job. At that point, I wanted to be there for my son since it was such a major transition for all of us.
Three years later, I’m earning three times what I would have earned in my previous teaching career, have so much more flexibility and am so happy I made that leap.
How has your online business evolved over the years?
I really niched down with finance writing, whereas before I was writing more as a generalist or in the education field. I noticed that I got a lot more requests for financial writing and really leaned into it. I’ll be honest, I felt major impostor syndrome when I did that because I don’t have any qualifications and had to do a ton of research initially to learn the most basic things. But I’m glad I did because I can now tell freelance writing clients I specialize in certain topics.
I also had a blog a while back and even though I loved it, I wasn’t consistent with it. It became a place where people would ask me to coach them on money but I was spreading myself too thin. It was a tough choice but I closed up that part of my business (even though I had many requests for coaching). I also took a break from blogging since I already write so much for clients. Instead, I launched a podcast as a creative outlet and love it so much. Right now this is serving as a portfolio of sorts to work with brands who want to produce their own podcasts.
What types of marketing strategies have worked best for you?
I’ve done a lot of me direct outreach via email and phone calls — people think it’s insane I’ll call up a company at random asking if they need freelance writers!
I’m very intentional with my emails. If I have any connection to the person I’m emailing (such as we have a mutual professional connection) I’ll use that to make sure my email gets opened. Now I ask for referrals from existing clients or other freelancers will pass work onto me. It’s not technically a marketing tactic per se, but I found that the more I was willing to refer other freelance writers work, the more it as returned to be tenfold.
How do you diversify your income streams?
I have a full roster of freelance writing clients and make sure one doesn’t up more than 15% of my overall income. That way, if one client stops sending me work I don’t have to panic and scramble to find something else.
What has been the key to your success and longevity?
To be honest, it’s being consistent and persistent in my work. It’s tough to keep getting rejections or when clients let you go due to budget issues or it’s just not a good fit. I have to remind myself that rejections are a normal part of this business. When I feel down I know to reach out to my freelance writer friends to get some perspective, then get right back to work.
What has been your biggest struggle as an online entrepreneur?
I work mainly in a silo and typically connect with people via email or Slack. It can be lonely!
How do you manage all of your personal and business activities?
Anything else you’d like to add?
There will be people who don’t understand what you do. Or you feel like the world is crashing down when you’ve had a bad day. Keep going. This is my seventh year doing this (and three years full-time) and I am so glad I kept going.
Thanks to Sarah Li Cain for sharing her story!
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Originally published June 10, 2013. Content updated in September 18, 2019.