Name: Ben Luthi
Location: Lehi, Utah
Bio: Ben is a personal finance and travel writer based in Lehi, Utah. He has a degree in finance from Brigham Young University and has worked in financial services since 2011. His work has appeared in several online publications, including U.S. News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, USA Today, MONEY, Success and more.
How long have you been doing freelance work?
More than 5 years.
Tell us about your freelance business, in 200 words or less.
I write about all things personal finance, but focus mostly on credit cards and consumer credit. I also write about travel, primarily regarding how you can use credit card rewards and perks to travel mostly for free. I’ve been writing about personal finance since 2013, including full-time stints with NerdWallet and Student Loan Hero.
I’ve been freelancing exclusively since July 2018. My biggest hope with my work is to provide consumers with clear answers to their questions. Personal finance is part of our everyday lives but there’s so much complexity that people often give up trying to understand or they get incorrect information from a well-meaning source. My job is to make it easier for people to make better decisions about their money.
What do you consider to be your specialty. How does it help you in your business?
In general, I only write about personal finance and travel (although I have done a little productivity content). But while I consider myself a specialist with credit cards, I’ll write for any client in the personal finance or travel space.
What made you become a freelancer?
I wasn’t planning on becoming a writer. I had a degree in finance and wanted to work in corporate finance, but I had trouble finding a job. I was so desperate that I started a personal finance blog because I read that it’s possible to make money doing that. My blog was terrible but it was enough to get some of my first clients, and the rest is history.
What do you love most about freelance work, and why?
The thing I love most about freelancing is the freedom it gives me. I can travel whenever I want without needing to ask permission, and when I have my kids with me, I can focus on them instead of needing to put them in day care. The money is nice, but the freedom to choose how I spend my time has been the most life-changing aspect about it.
What do you hate about it?
I hate that there’s no passive income in my business. I can work ahead of a trip so I don’t have to write while traveling, but I’m still not making money on vacation. This is something I’m working on figuring out right now.
Tell us about your first paid job. How did you land your first client?
My very first client was a faith-based website. I had written a couple of money pieces for them as an assignment for a financial planning class in college. Then a few months after I graduated, they reached out to me and asked if I wanted to get paid to write for them. It wasn’t much — just $10 for 500 words — but it got me started on the path I’m on now.
Do you think aspiring freelancers should take unpaid work to gain experience? Why or why not?
In the very beginning, sure. If you have no bylines anywhere other than your personal blog, it can be helpful to have some on other websites. I’d recommend trying to do two or three guest posts for popular blogs but no more. The exposure is important in the beginning, but that’s it. And definitely don’t take unpaid work from someone who wants you to write regularly for them.
Do you feel you’re charging what you’re worth?
This has always been a challenging part of freelancing, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely satisfied with how I approach it. That said, I’ve steadily increased my rates over the past year — my average rate in August 2019 was almost double my average from the same time last year. I’ve gotten to this point by realizing that they’re not going to ghost me if I start out higher than what they can afford.
It’s a business and negotiation is part of it. So don’t be afraid that they’re going to laugh in your face and walk away if you ask what you’re worth. It’s also helped to network with other freelancers. Not everyone’s going to talk about how much they get paid but some do and it can help you get an idea of what others are earning for the same content and how much you can command based on your skill in that area.
Describe your process for finding new clients? Where do you look?
Honestly, I haven’t had to actively look for clients in more than two years. I wrote full-time for NerdWallet, a big name in the fintech space, and that made it incredibly easy to find other clients. Since then, I’ve gained other big-name clients in the niche, and now most of my clients have reached out to me instead of the other way around.
Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a client? If so, why and how did you do it?
Yes, I’ve fired several clients. Most of the time, it’s because I’m replacing them with clients that have higher rates. In every situation, I’ve emailed them and let them know that I’ve enjoyed working with them and tell them why I’m moving on. I also always offer to provide them with some recommendations for a replacement, because you never know if or when you’re going to work with those editors again somewhere else. So I try to provide value even as I leave.
Name 3 tools (apps, equipment) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?
Asana, Evernote and Google Spreadsheets. I use Asana to keep track of all of my assignments (in calendar mode) and Evernote to keep track of my to-do list and daily tasks. I use Google Spreadsheets to track every article I write and use the data to spot trends with clients, see how my average rate changes and more.
What is your #1 productivity hack?
Take care of yourself. There’s no productivity hack out there that can help you if you’re burnt out or emotionally spent. I specifically keep my workload at a certain level so that I can still have time to exercise, go to therapy, read and do other things I enjoy. That way, when I’m actually working, I can really focus on my work.
Do you outsource tasks? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
Currently, no. I don’t outsource anything. There aren’t a lot of tasks outside of writing that require much time.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?
Networking. I’m an introvert, so I don’t love starting conversations with new people. But getting outside of my comfort zone with networking has made a huge difference for my business. Attend conferences, join groups with other freelancers and reach out to industry professionals in your niche. It’s not always easy but it’s definitely worth it.
Do you consider yourself a strong time manager? How do you stay organized?
Keeping track of assignments and daily tasks through Asana and Evernote have made life a lot easier for me. As long as I’m on top of those, it makes it easier to manage my time in the moment.
Do you also work a 9-5? If so, how do you balance it with your freelance business?
Nope. I did for about 15 months, though, while I was building my freelancing business. I got up early and freelanced from 5-8 in the morning, which usually gave me enough time to write one or two articles, depending on the assignments. Then I took a two-hour break and worked from 10-6 at my normal job. I’d also typically write one or two articles on the weekend. It wasn’t easy to do this, but learning how to be more efficient with my writing made it easier to manage.
Where do you do most of your work?
I have a home office, but will work anywhere. Right now, I’m writing this at a coffee shop, and a couple of weeks ago I was writing near the beach in Hawaii.
Do you use a co-working space? Tell us a bit about it.
No, I don’t.
Name an entrepreneur/freelancer/influencer who inspires you. What is it about their story/message that resonates?
Holly Johnson is another freelance writer in the personal finance and travel spaces and I’ve tried to pattern my freelancing business after hers for years. She started writing a couple of years before I did and has managed to outwork just about everyone else to become one of the niche’s most sought-after writers. She’s an incredibly hard worker and earns more writing than anyone else I know, so I’ve always used her as an example of what I could do, then I did the work to make it happen.
Name 1 thing you would do differently, if you were starting over today?
Nothing. I have a unique journey with freelancing, having worked full-time as a writer for a couple of big websites, but I think that path has been a big reason for my success now.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?
I know this sentiment isn’t unique, but if I can do this, anyone can. I wasn’t a great writer when I started my blog in 2013. But I made an effort to always ask my editors for feedback and spent extra time to implement it and improve my natural instincts. There have been a lot of obstacles and failures in my six years of writing, but staying on the wagon and engaging in relentless self-improvement have made the difference.
MMM: Ben, the advice you’ve provided is so valuable, thank you! I can sense your perseverance as you’ve built your freelance business from the ground up. You mention the obstacles, and failures, but your belief in ‘relentless self-improvement’, as you put it, has led to real success. Awesome stuff!
Tools & Resources
- Visit Ben’s website
- Connect with Ben on LinkedIn
- Follow Ben on Twitter
- Nerd Wallet
- Holly Johnson
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