Episode 2. How one freelance graphic designer earns a lot while finding satisfaction: Interview with Morgan Overholt

Today’s guest is Morgan Overholt, a freelance graphic designer based in Miami who pulls in an income of almost $200,000 per year from freelancing alone. She is the owner of Morgan Media LLC, a small graphic design agency, and co-founder of TheSmokies.com, a travel website that covers The Great Smoky Mountains National park and surrounding areas in East Tennessee. Morgan’s story illustrates the power of freelancing to help people earn a really good living while escaping from dissatisfying career paths.

Show notes

Bio and links

Morgan Overholt is a freelance graphic designer based in Miami who earns $200,000 per year from freelancing. She is the owner of Morgan Media LLC, a small graphic design agency, and co-founder of TheSmokies.com, a travel website that covers The Great Smoky Mountains National park and surrounding areas in East Tennessee. 

Morgan Media LLC: https://morganoverholt.com/ 

The Smokies.com: https://www.thesmokies.com/

Study on gender gap in self-promotion: https://www.nber.org/papers/w26345

Blog post by Morgan on mind shifts she made to double her income: https://www.collective.com/blog/small-business-hacks/mindset-shifts-woman-in-business/

Memorable quotes

“I’ll tell you the strategy that personally works for me — with the disclaimer that it might not work for everybody — that I started out a little bit lower and a little bit slower.”

“Now I can take a day off occasionally, too, which is really nice. Like, right now my team’s working on projects. Now I see messages going back and forth on slack. And, and I’m here with you.”

“Honestly the sweet, sweet smell of success and the smell that cash in my pocket it outweighs anything that a hater could say to me like any day of the week because if I listened to them, I might still be stuck in that job that I absolutely hated.”

Transcript

Katherine: Hello, and welcome to the all the freelance women podcast, which brings you the stories and perspectives of women and non-binary freelancers of all types from around the world. I’m your host, Katherine Gustafson, and today I’m speaking with Morgan Overholt, a freelance graphic designer based in Miami who pulls in an income of almost $200,000 per year from freelancing alone. She’s also the owner of Morgan media LLC, a small graphic design agency, and co-founder of smokies.com a travel website that covers the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding areas in East Tennessee. Morgan’s story illustrates the power of freelancing to help people earn a really good living while escaping from dissatisfying career paths and building something that really works for them. 

Hi, Morgan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for sticking with me today. 

Morgan: Thank you so much for having me. 

Katherine: Let’s start out with a question that I know interest a lot of our listeners, which is how do you make so much money? I know that you’ve been a full-time freelancer for about three and a half years and that you earn almost $200,000 a year mostly from freelancing. And also I find this really interesting. You’ve earned a total of $400,000 on Upwork, in less than four years. Can you tell us how you’ve done that?

Morgan: Hard work girl? It’s kind of like when people ask me that question. It reminds me of when people like you see your friend and go through a weight loss journey or something, you’re like, wow, how did you lose all that weight? You look great. And you’re like diet and exercise. You’re like, I couldn’t possibly do diet and exercise what’s the real secret? And that’s kind of what it feels like and the answer is typically not what everybody wants to hear. It’s just a lot of hard work. And it’s a lot of hustle.

Katherine: So how does that look for you? Like, when you say a lot of hustle? What can people take from that as far as what you mean?

Morgan: Well, let me kind of go back a little bit, just to even how I got into this, essentially.

Katherine: That’s gonna be my next question. 

Morgan: Okay, awesome. Well, what kind of start there because honestly, that’s the story that really, I think inspired me to hustle so hard, and really gave me the fuel to the fire to my fire that I needed to pursue this the way that I should. 

Three and a half years ago, I was in a position where I was absolutely miserable. And I hear this story from women a lot, right? A lot of us and I think there’s some kind of stereotype out there about freelance that people had to do it because they got laid off or there are no other options for me, there was no other option. But I was miserable. The job I was working on was on paper. Quite impressive. It was actually even televised, I was a host on a shopping network in the United States. And it’s also I’m a bit of a talker.

Katherine: The first person I’ve ever met who had that job.

Morgan: Right? There’s not a lot of us there. And literally, more brain surgeons in the United States are television shopping hosts.

Katherine: You are elite.

Morgan: Yeah, they get paid better, though.  But I was working crazy like night overnights like I was my alarm clock would go off at one o’clock in the morning I will be ready for with hair and makeup like that I had to do myself at three o’clock in the morning and then going on at 4 am acting like I was super happy to be there. And luckily, there are parts of the job that I really enjoyed.

I have always enjoyed talking to people, which is why I really enjoy talking to people now like an opportunity like this podcast about where I’ve been what I’ve done, and, and so that part I really enjoyed. But the hours were insane. I worked. Every single weekend, I worked every single overnight, I work every holiday and then it’s not like the kind of overnight job where you clock out at eight or 9 am and you go home, they’re like, oh, hey, can you also make the 1 pm meeting the next day? And you’re like, what am I gonna? And there’s not a lot of empathy in that kind of position. 

So, after doing that for about three and a half years I was asking for more opportunities, at least a raise or something I was making, and not afraid to say how much I was making. I was making $75,000 a year, which is a fine salary. It’s perfectly fine. I was able to live on that. But I was also not seeing my family. I was literally seeing, it’s almost like I suffered the pandemic then because I was seeing everybody through zoom calls and or not zoom but you know like Skype calls back then. But back in the day pre-pandemic. We’re on Skype. But that’s how we were seeing people because I didn’t get to travel. When you work every weekend. You don’t get to travel. There was also a blackout period. They didn’t allow us to take time off between October and January because that was considered to be the busy season. 

So you literally couldn’t take off on those holidays. You were stuck at home. I barely saw my husband. I mean I was just miserable. I was gaining weight. I was depressed. And when I would go to my boss and they say hey look like I understand this job is hard and I’m willing to put in that kind of work and I don’t mind making some sacrifices, but I also need to know that there’s a reason I’m doing all of this, what am I, prospects look like for making more money or opportunities for getting better hours on the air. 

And every time I would present these to my supervisor or my boss, I was basically told I’m impatient, I need to wait five or six years, they told me one point to be considered for a raise. I mean, wow, bro inflation’s 2% a year, like I waited six years to be considered for a raise. Like it’s nuts. I was even told I was too ambitious. I was at one point told I was too bossy.

Katherine: Heard that before.

Morgan: That’s a trigger word for so many women, right? Yeah, when we ask for things or told her to ambitious and to bossy mean. And so honestly, I was pretty much at my wit’s end. And to be completely honest with you, I had actually already made at the time that I quit, I had made like a one year plan to quit my job and to try freelancing full time. Luckily, I’d always done freelance on the side. So it wasn’t like I was switching from being a TV host to like graphic design with new training. I had always been a graphic designer. I’ve been doing graphic design on the side since I was 18.

And previously to hosting had had full-time jobs where I had done graphic design, so it wasn’t like I was inexperienced in the area. I just didn’t know that. It was lucrative. I always thought TV would be more lucrative. So that’s the fat that shows today turns out way wrong total opposite truth.

Katherine: Are you glad?

Morgan: Yeah. Funny thing is, though, I didn’t actually make it to my one year, I ended up rage-quitting about six months earlier. So yeah, that was really fun. 

Katherine: Oh my gosh, is that a real verb I love that.

Morgan: Rage-quitting yeah. 

Katherine: I think you just coined it if it isn’t already. I think there’s a lot of women freelancers out there who have that experience, writing of their, like horrible corporate toxic jobs.

Morgan: Yeah, it’s funny because I, we had it was funny. It was during a previously scheduled meeting with my boss, where she’s supposed to give me some evaluation. And I remember going into the meeting, and I had just worked nine days straight, without any kind of a break. And that included a double holiday shift. It was the day after Easter. 

So I had been there all day on Easter as well, Easter Sunday, and we can FaceTime with my nieces and nephews the day before and remember my young nephew, asking me for FaceTime working. Why aren’t you here? You know, and I’m like, cuz I have to work. It’s hard to tell.

Katherine: Kids don’t really relate to that.

Morgan: So when I went into this meeting with my boss, and one of the first things she said to me was that she wanted me to be in the office more. And I think my eyes started twitching. I don’t know, I think I blacked out for a second. And then she like, I remember her opening up this manila envelope. And she’s like, and we’re gonna talk about a few other improvement areas as well. And I literally said she didn’t even open up the envelope the whole way. All I remember saying is I’m gonna stop you right there. I was like, I can’t do this anymore.

Katherine: Nice. Quick question before you continue with what happened next. I’m wondering if you were so busy, and had no time to even see your family, while you were doing this full-time job how were you able to continue freelancing on the side?

Morgan: Well, that’s just it. I mean, that was part of the thing. But my down hours, typically during the day, we’re between meetings, between nine to five, so my husband worked, mostly normal hours at the time he was a part-time contractor at the time, but most of his work was between 9 am and 5 pm. And that was typically my only time off if I wasn’t in a meeting at work. So I would literally just come home and freelance would be like nine to 5 pm when I was in meetings, that at work. 

And that’s how I did it. I mean, wasn’t it like a lot and it was very slow, because I like I said, I had done on the side for a long time. And I didn’t really ever put a lot of time and effort into it. On average, I was doing about 1500 bucks and freelancing every month, I think I was doing an equivalent of about 20 hours on average, a month. And I will say though, at the time that I quit, I had finally put a little bit more effort into it. In fact, the month prior to my quitting I’d made four grand and freelancing on the side.

Katherine: Was that mostly through Upwork?

Morgan: Actually, no, I  hadn’t heard of Upwork at the time, I didn’t sign up for Upwork until the day I rage quit.

Katherine: So tell me what happened then.

Morgan: So after I rage quit and went home and had a margarita for lunch and begged my husband’s forgiveness. Because ever he was literally a part-time contractor at the time I quit so it wasn’t a lot of safety. He met, he was like, really could have waited six months. That was the plan. But All right, cool. We were in the middle of a home renovation, like worst timing ever. So I had to set that up. Because earlier, when you asked how I make all this money, I’m telling you, when you basically leap off of a cliff or let’s say that you might walk right up between two mountain peaks, and there is no safety net, you’re gonna work a lot harder on getting that tightrope walk, right, you know what I’m saying. And so I felt like I didn’t have an option to fail. That is genuinely how I felt with my husband working part-time. 

With me losing my health insurance literally the very next day, that was the other funny thing because we rushed I quit that morning after my shift. So it was like 10 am we rushed into our doctor’s appointments and get like our prescriptions filled because it was canceled that afternoon. And so hustled man, I started researching every possible avenue that I could, because I knew that failure was not an option. Um, luckily, like I had a little bit of freelancing income coming in already. So I knew that would be probably enough to at least feed myself and I had part of a nest egg saved up because I had that original plan to quit in a few months, wasn’t as beefy as that I would have liked for it to have been, but I did have a little bit. 

I told myself worst-case scenario, I’m going to give this three months, I’m gonna get it everything that I have. This is my opportunity to see if there’s something better out there for me. And if it doesn’t work out, then I would consider going back to work for somebody else. But to be honest with you, Katherine, like I was so at my wit’s end. I felt like I would rather eat ramen noodles my entire life and go back into the corporate world. I was that setup.

Katherine: Yeah, yeah, I think people are getting almost traumatized at a certain point. So when you said you researched every avenue, what avenues did you find like for our listeners out there who were kind of like, well, I need to start researching every avenue. What does that look like?

Morgan: So luckily, I already had because and this is what I recommend everyone do when they consider a life of freelance, especially like a full-time freelance is trying to do it on the side. Luckily, because I had been doing it for so long, I already had a lot of connections in place. And these connections that I had, they’re not impossible to get, but they do take time to get. For instance, I had gotten a lot of connections from my first ever job. When I was 18 years old, I worked at Office Max and I was like the graphic designer at Office Max. 

And people would come in and like ask for me and when I quit that job, a lot of the people who had gotten to know me at the Office Max, they actually called me and they’re like, hey, would you just do this on the side for me? 

And so I did that through college, people talk to each other, and they bring me more people. And I would sit there and do a little bit of freelance. I mean, back then I wasn’t making anything. I was like, how does $25 for a flyer sound? I had no idea how to price myself. I was like, I was 18 19 years old. I had no, you know, business, but it definitely gave me the connections that blossomed into a pretty decent freelance business without even trying by the time that I thought I was 31 when I quit about to be 32 if that maths, is correct, I believe. 

So yeah I did have those and I would recommend everybody networking to some degree whether that be joining a Facebook group, or whether that be even taking on as a part-time job if you have no experience in the field that you want to go into, just to brush up your skillset to meet other people in the industry just the classic pounding the pavement stuff, to build up those networks, go to lectures, go to conventions anything like that, but I will tell you all of that requires a lot of hard work and a lot of time and no guaranteed payout. 

And that’s what brought me to Upwork Upwork was the absolute game-changer. It’s funny because I almost feel nervous getting into this Katherine because people always say I sound like an Upwork commercial. I promise I am not paid by Upwork I’m not an Upwork commercial. I do preach the gospel, though. Because there are a lot of haters out there that told me when I first started, you can’t make any money. It’s a race to the bottom, whatever.

Katherine: Yeah, that’s always been my impression. I’m not on Upwork and I’ve always thought oh, it’s just you know, they, it’s all about the low price. So I’m very interested to hear about your experience.

Morgan: When you desperate you go try anything doesn’t matter, right. Oh gosh, if I make 100 bucks a week right now 100 bucks will be great.

Katherine: You have zero bucks a 100 is awesome.

Morgan: And with me, my brother in law actually at the time is the one that told me about it. He was making a decent wage on Upwork as a software developer. My brother, he’s married to a medical doctor, and they have five children, five children under the age of 12 10 at the time, or I guess, no nine at the time. And so he needed something super flexible. And that’s why he was originally an Upwork, he’s making a decent living wage. 

And I thought, well, heck I could probably if he’s doing it, that means somebody’s making money doing it, and his hourly rate was fairly impressive. So I signed up for Upwork. Now, I will say I also signed up for other platforms, too. I tried thumbtack, I tried Fiverr. And I also tried Upwork Upwork is just the one that really panned out for me in the end.

Katherine: Did that start small? Did you start with like, jobs where you felt like, these could be better or the pay could be better and worked up? Or was it from the start just you were able to kind of set down your price and be able to get really good clients?

Morgan: To me personally, it’s funny, because I believe in and you and I talked about this, you know, privately before, I personally believe there’s not necessarily one way to do something to mine in this world. Um, but with that in mind, I also thought it was really important to listen to the voices of other people who had been successful and less of the voices who, who were not successful because sometimes those tend to drown out those who have been there and done it. 

So I spent my time looking up just googling like different blogs about I earn $100,000 a year on Upwork, I’ve how to make six figures on Upwork or whatever. And, and I was able to find enough advice online, to develop essentially my own strategy. Now, there’s still a lot of trial and error in it. I personally, I’ll tell you the strategy that personally works for me with the disclaimer that it might not work for everybody, that I personally started out a little bit lower and a little bit slower, I was making off-site $75 an hour freelancing for my other clients at the time. And remember, going into that I had over 15 years of experience as a professional freelance graphic designer. And I left my pride at the door because I also when I set up all my profiles, and Upwork and Fiverr, and thumbtack one thing was really missing from those profiles. And it was review these people didn’t know me from Adam. You know, they had no idea whether or not I could complete a project, I could try to refer them to some of my other clients but I knew at the end of the day didn’t matter how great my portfolio was, if there wasn’t a single review on that profile. 

And so I made it my life’s mission to get that review. And I didn’t care what I had to do to get it. I mean, I applied for big jobs, I applied for little jobs, I consistently applied, probably sending in five to six proposals every day for almost two weeks. Now back then it was free to do that. Now they do charge for connects. But I think at most, I did the math one day, so y’all have to correct me if the rough math is wrong, but I think that would cost anywhere between five and $10 a day to apply. But honestly, I would gladly I know for a fact, I would have paid it back then. Because I was also at the time using a service called Thumbtack. And it was up to $8 to apply for those jobs. And I was still applying versus a full day of applying and Upwork for like up to 10 bucks. So you do the math. I would so I’m sure I would have paid it even back then. I was consistent. And I would write things that were very honest. And my proposals I would say it would be like a $10 vector tweak, right. 

And I should also say I didn’t even apply for like a $10 job that would take me 12 hours to do right I have placed things I knew I could complete quickly just to get an easy review. So I applied for like this guy, he had a logo with like this dude and his logos already vector, and you wanted to add a tie. And I was like that couldn’t be any easier to like draw a little tie put on the dude right? I could do that in 20 minutes, like tops. So I applied and what I would typically say something along the lines of hi, I am a professional graphic designer. I’ve been doing it for 15 years, I’ve worked for nationally recognized clientele for me, I’ve worked for the Centers for Disease Control, you know, I work for Kimberly Clark, just to name a few. 

I can do this for you right now. If you just go ahead and send me a message I’m logged on I can knock it out within 20 minutes. I typically don’t even apply for stuff this small. But I’m just brand new to Upwork and trying to get a few good reviews on the board and meet quality clients and I would love to speak with you I would even tell them what value it was. Sometimes I would even say look off site I would normally charge like 75 bucks an hour for doing this but I’ll do it for 10 bucks. Yeah, just to get a review. And that strategy of not begging for the review but being honest as to why I was applying for such a tiny little job that finally won me my first gig. And the guy was great. It was literally the $10 job, I just referred to adding a little tie to the character, I got a five-star review, I always ask for reviews, that’s how you guaranteed to get one at the end of the thing, you just say, would you please leave me, an excellent review on my profile. 

And he not only did that, but he also gave me words of encouragement. He was also a former freelancer. And he said, oh, you know, Upwork was great for me too as a freelancer, he says, you’ve just got to focus on long term contracts and relationship building. And he gave me a lot of advice. And so it’s funny when people tell me that they can’t possibly take on one small job in the beginning, because that one small job got me a five-star review that would later go on to build a fortune of $400,000 on Upwork, $400,000 on Upwork, it got me the advice that I have still listened to he was 100% right, that advice was absolutely helpful and helping me get additional contracts and also met a great contact to would lead to refer me to other clients on board. 

So sure and the funny thing is, most people, how much would you pay, if you were starting out for that kind of service for a great review, free advice, and referrals like you would typically pay for that instead, someone gave me 10 bucks to get it.

Katherine: That little story kind of reminds me of two things I really subscribe to as a freelancer, which are playing the long game. And so that means being strategic about why you’re making your decisions. And it’s, you hear a lot of advice from people who are very kind of focused on getting kind of, quote, unquote, paid what you’re worth. 

And so the idea is like, you should never do anything for less than you think you deserve. And as a general rule, that’s a good idea if you’re kind of swinging along in your career. But there are definitely reasons, especially early on to do things for different reasons. And they’re in even, I mean, throughout your business career, there’s always could be alternative reasons, aside from just the paycheck to do things. And if you’re thinking far enough ahead, and I’m like, I need this review, in order to get the next client. Or even I need a clip or I need experience, or there’s absolutely reasons to do things for very low prices, or even I am not one of those people that would never say you should ever never work for free. There are totally times were working for free can be so worth it. And it’s just that you have to figure all that stuff out for yourself and decide what your strategy is. 

And then the other thing I liked about your story was I focus a lot in my career also on kind of just being authentic and not trying to be overly salesy or, kind of misrepresenting myself in any way to the client. So and I think, as a freelancer, you’re selling yourself as an individual. So it’s, people really need to trust you. 

And if you’re honest and upfront, I think that puts you like so far ahead of the people who are kind of being more salesy, and kind of trying to obscure their, if they’re gonna have ulterior motives or, their real reasoning behind pursuing something.

Morgan: You know, it’s funny, because this is going to be, and I apologize in advance for a horrible analogy because I never really participated in online dating very much. You know, I, I’m 35, back when I was single, it was only two options on online dating, there was no swiping back then kids. And so I honestly met my husband in college. So there was very little experience there. 

But with that said, with my almost no experience in online dating, I’ve always imagined that online freelancing is like online dating. Because I mean, I’ve also been the person who has hired a contractor online, it’s nerve-wracking, right, you’re hiring somebody that you don’t know, you’re potentially exchanging money hands with this person and just praying that the job is done correctly. And it’s a really scary thing. And I think that when you start to just think about what’s going through the client’s mind, what are they looking for, are they nervous about the transaction to and just forming a casual relationship that’s what I tried to do online, I swear, I feel like I’m almost better now making relationships online than I am in person, to be honest with you. But that’s what it’s really all about for me. 

And I think the more that freelancers focus on that, especially in a digital world, just making those relationships and putting your client’s mind at ease and putting yourself in the client’s shoes, like they’re nervous too, you’re nervous, they’re also nervous. I think that’s the better off you’ll be. Yeah, and I also agree with what you were saying about different rules for different stages in your career. Like today, I would never work for free. That’s crazy. I mean, I’m super busy, at the rates that I’m charging, but back then, especially if I didn’t know what I was doing. I mean, god when I was 18 years old, I remember, I did a logo. And this might not make sense to anybody other than my graphic design peeps. So I’ll try to kind of keep it as clear as I can without using too much technical jargon. But I remember doing a logo when I was like 18 in Photoshop, and there was just a bunch of filter effects on it. It was like 3d looking and all the horrible gaudy looking bevel and emboss stuff that you should never ever do. And I sold it. In raster, I didn’t even flatten the files, and I tried to export it as a PDF, and it was all messed up and the fonts were invented. I mean, it was a mess. I didn’t know what I was doing. So can you say that if you when you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re still learning that I’m going to turn around and sell that logo for $1,000? No, it’s crazy. 

There is going to be a point in your life when you have to learn. I’m sorry, but they’re just is. And there are different levels and different levels of expectation. Now with that said, even back then for me to learn if like cousin Joey wanted to pay me 10 bucks to try to figure out how to make a logo. Sure, that’s great, that would be an appropriate price to pay while I’m learning and then don’t know anything, I don’t know what I’m doing. So just be a little bit humble, and be aware of where you are in the process. Or if you’re more of a professional while I still suck it up a bit when I first joined these new platforms, and that that really worked for me you should mostly also be sticking to your guns, which is what I do today, especially if you have a client that tries to kind of talk you down. I always stand firm because I know what I can get. I know what I’m worth now, to just consider where you are in your career.

Katherine: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. I think there’s also something to be said for considering what certain things can lead to.

Morgan: Oh, I should also say one thing I want to be really clear about 50% of my income currently comes from Upwork. And that percentage has basically been about the same this entire time. So it’s about 50% off-site. 50% on Upwork $400,000, earned on Upwork alone in three and a half years, obviously the first year and Upwork a lot slower past couple years and Upwork has been a killer.

Katherine: Have you found that it’s gone up since the pandemic started?

Morgan: I’m just as busy right now as I was before the pandemic I was one of the lucky ones I’ve also made sure to really, I’ve done two things that have personally helped me. I haven’t exclusively focus on long term contracts, but I certainly seek them out. I really focus on making long term relationships with my clients. And so very few of them really dropped off. When we were all in the middle of shutdowns, I was very lucky. And I also work in a diverse or diversified field. I’ve got clients who work for the government, literally one of my clients was working with the Veterans Administration and setting up pop-up tents per COVID testing. 

So as you could imagine, I was busy in March and April. And it was really lucky because while a couple of my clients were impacted, and I didn’t really hear from them very much during those months, because I had such diversity. And I literally had clients who were helping fight the COVID pandemic, I was still plenty busy. I think I actually march was a record month for me. 

Katherine: Yeah, it seems like to me that the effect of the pandemic seems to just be very variable, depending on what kind of work you do and what kind of industry you are tapped into. Because I know that some freelancers, especially kind of journalists, or media writers have like having a real tough time but then other people are content writers like I’ve had, I’ve my work has chugged along, I do a lot of writing for tech companies, and they’re all, continuing to sell their products to all the companies or even more so because now all their clients are working from home and need other tech things. And so I think it depends so much. But that’s also the thing about freelancing, in general, is everything depends on what you’re selling, and who you’re selling it to.

Morgan: Yes, exactly. And it’s really cool today too, once again, I sound like a complete Upwork commercial, but it’s really great for me because, in the beginning, everyone complains about the Upwork fees, and they take 20% of the first $500 you make on any one client. So for instance, if you have five clients, there’ll be 20% of the first 500 bucks, which is what the way I’ve always looked at is $100 fee to play for a client, right. That’s essentially the way I look at it after the $500 it drops down to 10%. Then after $10,000 at the same client, and then might seem like a lot, but remember, I’m focusing on long-term contracts. 

So it’s not crazy after the first $10,000 of the client, which you’re typically able to hit within a few months of a long term contract. The fee goes down to 5%. And then after several years, and I can’t remember you have to look it up on upwork.com because they also change the policy every now and again. But it’s after like every two or three years or something like that. They actually allow you to take the client off-site, and there’s no problem if you so choose, I typically don’t just because I appreciate the fact they handle all the invoicing and the payments and the contracts and all the paperwork. And that saves me a boatload of time. So I just think that 5% is worth it to me. 

But I did the math the other day, and my average percent commission has gone down to like seven or 8%. The total across the board. So I’m not like paying some 20% crazy fee, which is amazing. And the other cool thing is, since I do have such a big profile now, and it’s been on there for so long and has so many excellent reviews, that I never apply for jobs, they all come to me, which means I’m not paying anything to apply for jobs, because you only have to pay when you’re applying. If you’re invited, you pay nothing. So I’m paying upward, virtually nothing. Now all the work is coming to me. I’m not even having to like fish for clients. And honestly, I turn 75% of the invites I get down. That’s how busy I am. 

Katherine: Do you build in the fees into the pricing that you asked for clients?

Morgan: I don’t know, it’s always a question people ask me, I don’t really see it as building in a fee, perhaps I look at it as ROI. And maybe that’s the same thing, just a different mindset. But I can tell you my ROI on Upwork is 92%. And I think that’s excellent. My current hourly rate is $120. 

That is very recently raised, though. I was previously at $95 an hour, which is where most of my contracts are at the moment. 95 bucks an hour. So yeah, you do the math. I mean, I feel like I’m making a pretty decent wage.

Katherine: I guess it would be revealing whether you look for the if you had the same picture, the same job off-site versus on Upwork, would you charge slightly more on Upwork to account for the fee. 

Morgan: Actually, I charge more off-site of clients, even the ones that want to go off Upwork, I do charge them more because usually, especially since the pandemic is head, we collect funds through PayPal and stripe, and they charge credit card processing fees, which is basically sometimes even more than the 7%. And I have to maintain invoicing software, I have to write my own clients like my own contracts. I mean, I pay for a Rocket Lawyer subscription, I pay for a subscription and code by Fiverr. 

To handle my invoicing. I also pay a virtual assistant to handle my invoicing. So there’s a lot of expense that goes into the off-site contracts. Honestly, I think my offset contracts are much more expensive for me to maintain than my Upwork contracts, which is why most of the time when Upwork clients asked me to go off-site like oh, well, you know, get a discount, I feel like I’m charging you more because it’s worth paying me as I take you off this platform, excuse my french is to leave you here. 

But that’s just me people, they get shocked by the upward fees, you’re like oh fees, and they don’t think about the time and effort and all the other stuff involved as managing a contract of the site.

Katherine: I think that type of thinking is something you start to develop once you start thinking of your freelancing as a business. And you might be thinking of something along the lines of ROI, which, if any listeners don’t know what that is, its return on investment. So it’s kind of like that idea of spending money to make money, you put some money in and you get way more money out. 

And it’s harder to like see that the investment when you’re doing it all yourself because it’s maybe it’s even just an investment of time if you’re just using invoice made in word or something, but it’s still an investment. And that is time you could be spending on client work.

Morgan: If I didn’t have end up co my virtual assistant and my Rocket Lawyer account, I would probably, I mean, just managing contracts and paperwork would probably easily take up half a day to a full day every week. 

Katherine: Okay, we have just a little bit more time. I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about your agency. How did you decide to start an agency and how does that work? 

Morgan: I got so busy about, I think it was three or four months in I had these big projects and I felt like I wasn’t gonna be able to do them on time. It took off a little more than I could chew, you know. And so I just kind of started paying people who own you or graphic designers, my friends to help me out here and there. And after a while, I had so much work consistently that I was able to pay a graphic designer part-time regularly. Then I had so much work that I was able to upgrade her to full-time status and she still works for me as a full-time contractor to this day. 

And it’s actually it’s crazy because I now pay her the salary that I was making before to me it’s bizarre. To actually employ somebody for the same salary I was making three and a half years ago, but the revenue that we’re bringing in, we’re bringing in almost $300,000 a year in revenue. And then in addition to her, I also have a couple of needed part-time people, I have a virtual assistant, who just works a couple of hours a week for me, I have an amazing branding guru. He is incredible because logos honestly are not like my favorite thing to do. And he is just like rock stars. So he works for me part-time as needed. And I also have a great cartoonist. 

Who can this guy like, you can say, can you draw a picture of an alien on a rocket ship shaped like an ice cream cone, underwater, and he can just sketch it out in like, 10 minutes? It’s the craziest skill I’ve ever seen. So I also brought him on as our cartoonist. And it’s also allowed me to really offer a lot more services to because I certainly can’t illustrate like that I, I can’t do faces. I can’t do you know, I don’t know. And I especially can’t do it that fast. Something like that would take me all day versus him 10 minutes, you know. And that’s been really great. So I had to do an agency model out of necessity. I wasn’t planning on it. 

Katherine: It seems like a theme.

Morgan: Now I can take a day off occasionally, too, which is really nice. Like, right now my team’s working on projects. Now I see messages going back and forth on slack. And, and I’m here with you so little bit more on autopilot.

Katherine: I have one last question, which is that I read somewhere I heard you say that quote. I’m passionate about making money. And I feel like it’s something that people don’t tend to admit, especially women. And I was thinking you just talk about that. And like, how have you gotten to the point where you kind of feel comfortable with proclaiming that. And what is the saying that means to you?

Morgan: It’s so funny because I can’t remember which post that was on. But I do remember commenting on a post and it was something about going into blog sites, which is also something I’ve been doing lately. And the woman and I had somebody ask a question about making money and somebody else replied, what’s it’s okay if you don’t make money, what’s your passion? And I replied, making money. I mean if something, things I’m passionate about, I just enjoy doing or going to theme parks playing overcooked on my Nintendo Switch, you know, playing board games with friends like traveling. Those are things I’m really passionate about once again, and being honest, am I super passionate about doing graphic design? I mean, I enjoy it more than other potential career paths. But it’s not necessarily something that I’m like, well, I got a Saturday afternoon free. No, it’d be fun, some more graphic design. 

I mean, I just think it’s probably a little bit not true to yourself to pretend like anything else is the truth there. I mean, maybe it is, maybe that’s your thing. But I mean, you know, for me, I wouldn’t exactly say it’s something I’m going to do just for funsies. I like making money. I’ve actually blogged about this before, women are found there was a study, and I can’t quote right now, but I can get it to you if you want to provide the link to your listeners later. But there was a study done that shows that women are often thought of as having a confidence problem. And that’s why they don’t self promote. 

But according to the study that was performed, it said women actually have more self-promotion problem, and the study, they asked these women to take a test,  asked men and women to take a test. And they asked them to rate their performance, and the men rated their performance higher than the women. Then they told both groups. Okay, here’s what you did, even after the women were told, they did really well. And the men were told they did really well. The women still downplay the performance, then they told them both men and women, well, your description of your performance that they knew, by the way, they knew that goodwill determines whether or not you get this job. So now tell me how you think you did the women still downplayed more than the men. 

And the interesting thing about the study is it really didn’t say it wasn’t able to determine why we do that. And I can tell you speaking just personally with other women entrepreneurs and some of my best friends they say that they’re worried about the backlash because as I said earlier, we’ve all been called bossy we’ve all been called overly ambitious there are literally because I do blog and do podcasts like this about my success. There is literally an entire Reddit thread dedicated to hating me. It’s some of the rudest things I’ve ever read about myself. But what’s great is I think a lot of women are afraid of that, like they’re afraid of not being likable or being perceived as a certain way or what have you. And so they don’t put themselves out there. Um, for me, it’s no fun to read horrible things about yourself and to see people try to make stuff up or you know, whatever. 

But honestly the sweet, sweet smell of success and the smell that cash in my pocket it outweighs anything that a hater could say to me like any day of the week because if I listened to them, I might still be stuck in that job that I absolutely hated. I might have no social life, I might be sitting at a salary cop and making no more money, despite the effort that I was putting in, so at the end of the day, it’s just been about ignoring the haters and I learned to do that because of my old job. They said all the same things that online haters are saying about me now said, oh, you’re smart, you’re ambitious, whatever. They were obviously wrong. To me. That means online trolls probably also wrong.

Katherine: Yeah. And you’re the one laughing all the way to the bank. Well, that is the end of our time. I want to thank you so much for speaking with me today and best of luck with your awesome career.

Morgan: Thank you so much. It was a blast. Thank you for having me.

Katherine: And thanks to everyone out there for listening today. Check the show notes to find the link to Morgan’s websites and that study she just mentioned. You can find more episodes through our site allthefreelancewomen.com sign up for our email list to be notified when new episodes are published and get other interesting info and perspectives from freelance women around the world.

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