How Freelance Marketer Ronell Smith Made $112K W/ Email Marketing
Ronell Smith walks us through his journey making six figures with email marketing in his first year as a freelancer.
Welcome to a new segment of TheSEOFreelancer called Six-Figure Freelancer. Each month I’ll be interviewing a freelancer (not just SEO) and sharing their story on how they earned their first $100,000.
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Introducing Ronell Smith
A freelancer since 2010, Ronell Smith is someone I’ve followed on Twitter for many years. Ever since I went out on my own (full-time) nearly 2 years ago I followed his updates even closer. Ronell is a respected content strategist published across the web including Hubspot, Copyblogger, Salesforce, and Moz.
When I decided to launch the Six-Figure Freelancer series to highlight the success that other freelancers are having, Ronell was towards the top of my list.
Let’s jump right into the interview!
Please explain what you do for a living? How did you get started and was it something you wanted to do and or go to school for?
As a kid, I always wanted to be an expert in something; I wanted to be recognized and paid for a very specific thing. I love writing and strategy, thinking through, diagnosing and solving big problems. Now, I get to do that for some of the biggest, most recognized brands in the country, most of whom hire me to help with content strategy, email marketing, and/or helping to reduce churn and gain more money from their existing customers
What was your first full-time job and what was your starting salary?
First full-time job out of college was post-grad researcher in CogSci. I was making $24,000 a year for working 4 hours a day.
How did you make your first $100K freelancing? How old were you and what year did it occur in?
I created a subscriber’s only, twice-monthly newsletter for the outdoor industry, and charged $250 yearly. I did all of the work in creating and formatting the email, and all of the reporting for it. This was in 2010. I would have been in my 30s.
Share your freelancing experience - why did you choose to freelance and did you jump into it full-time or did you start part-time in addition to a 9-5?
I was never a good fit for an office. I’m a non-conformist; I’m also an individual contributor. I can be a great teammate, but I prefer working in isolation and then coming together with a/the team when needed.
What was the most difficult aspect of going out to freelance full-time for you?
The most difficult part was narrowing down what I wanted to do. I was recognized as a product marketing and strategy guy from my days at ESPN, but I also enjoyed writing. I had the epiphany that if I marketed the writing, I could more easily get the strategy work.
The email newsletter, though, was a logical place to start because I didn’t have clients, but I had an audience.
How long did it take you to hit the 100K benchmark and what do you attribute to your success in achieving this?
It took less than a year. I had 6,486 email addresses and my newsletter was $249 a year. I only needed a few hundred to hit my goal of six figures, and I did. Having a large audience who knew me and my work was the biggest and most beneficial lever I pulled.
How would you compare your hours worked as a freelancer compared to previous 9-5 roles? Has it changed over the years?
The hours between 4 am and 2 pm have always been my most productive. I schedule my day in big blocks of time, with 10 am to 2 pm being my most inviolable. I use this four-hour block for deep work.
Compared to your previous 9-5 roles would you say your level of stress is higher or lower now, why?
Much lower. I determine the work I accept, the terms I work under, and who I work with. I also set the timeframe for the completion of work.
Would you recommend others in your niche to freelance? If yes, when is the right time to start freelancing? What should they watch out for?
If they think it’s a good fit, yes. But it’s not for everyone. You have to wear lots of hats, and there is, at first at least, not the safety net of a team to support you. I’d recommend that people interview others in their respective fields who’ve made the leap before making a decision.
Would you consider ever going back to the 9-5 role? What makes it attractive or what would prevent you from going back?
No. My life is built around flexibility. No one is going to offer me enough money to justify giving that up.
What book/course/training would you recommend for someone that wants to succeed as a freelancer?
My biggest suggestion is to read widely, including books and blogs of thought leaders in your space. From there, I would attend conferences and meetups to find like-minded folks to converse with and share ideas. Freelancing can be lonely; It needn’t be, however.
Another huge and overlooked asset that helped me tremendously is Twitter. Find and follow people you can learn from; it’ll change your life fast. The foremost experts in any field are sharing their expertise for free on Twitter daily. Do keyword searches to find them and then add them to a private list, so you can more easily see their best ideas without the noise of your entire twitter stream.
What did I miss? Do you have any questions that you wish I asked you?
I love these questions. They were thoughtful and deep. There is great value is sharing our experiences to help others who might be in a similar spot. That’s how I learned.
Thanks for this opportunity.
Thank you so much, Ronell, for participating in this month’s Six-Figure Freelancer.
If you are a freelance/consultant (full-time OR part-time) that earns 100K or more and want to be featured in a future issue - email me at NICK@NICKLEROY.com