Like many young professionals, David Feldman had dreams of climbing the corporate ladder and landing a corner office. But once on he was on his way, he realized a corporate career actually wasn't for him. So Feldman gave up a well-paying job in finance to freelance copywriting on Fiverr.
Despite the drastic career change, Feldman, 38, hasn't had to sacrifice his comfortable lifestyle; now, he's making well over $100,000 a year, enough to support his family of four in Boise, Idaho.
"I was a financial analyst for 12 or 13 years, and then just decided I wanted to be a copywriter, so I did it," Feldman tells CNBC Make It. "Nobody was there to stop me, so I just did it."
Before Feldman started freelancing, he had what most people would consider an enviable career. He worked as a financial analyst at a number of corporate behemoths, including Orbital ATK (which has since merged with Northrop Grumman), Exelis, Micron Technology and even a brief stint at Goldman Sachs in New York City.
Feldman's venture into the corporate world began shortly after he graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah with a degree in finance in 2005, when he landed his first job as an analyst for L-3 Communications, a defense aerospace company. He was bringing in around $50,000 a year; not bad for an entry-level salary in Utah nearly 15 years ago.
But he had his eyes on a shiny, new job at Goldman in 2008. There, he was making slightly less money for his base salary ($46,000), but as with many financial analyst roles, the bonus — which Feldman says could have been $20,000 or more — would make up for it. Plus, to him, Goldman was the pinnacle of success.
Unfortunately, that enthusiasm faded.
Feldman started his gig at Goldman just weeks before the financial crisis hit. When it did, he was told he would not get a bonus. Feldman was working on the cash valuation desk, helping migrate one of Goldman's New York City offices to Salt Lake City and the hours were long. His son was just 2 at the time and his wife, Melissa, was pregnant, yet his work-life balance was nonexistent.
Feldman remembers one late night conversation he had with a co-worker when they had been working around 80 to 90 hours a week. "We were there probably at midnight one night and just calculating what our salaries were based on the hours we were working, and it figured out to be like $7 an hour or something. It was something crazy low," Feldman says. "And we were joking around like, hey we can just go work at Taco Bell and be making more money than we are making here."
Even then, with just a few years in the workforce, Feldman was becoming aware that corporate life might not be for him. Still, he pushed forward, working for Goldman for around a year, then at companies in Kansas City, Missouri and Salt Lake City.
Feldman had a pretty good idea of what life would look like if he kept his career as a financial analyst, and he didn't like what he saw — long hours and sacrificing time with family.
It's funny, says Feldman: "I had these dreams of when I graduated [college], getting these awesome jobs at Goldman or other big investment banks or these big companies and working my way up and being successful, being the CEO or whatever." But once he was in the finance world, Feldman daydreamed of a job he had in school: He'd operated his own window washing company, and in many ways, he says, that job was more fulfilling.
"I actually loved it," Feldman says of his window-washing days. "Because I was in control of my own schedule, I could work on Saturdays, as long as I wanted, when I wanted. When I needed money, I made the money. Nobody told me what to do. And I kind of looked back on that and I thought, 'You know what? That was like the best job I ever had.'"
So in 2014, Feldman quit corporate life.
"I'd just be sitting in meetings and thinking, 'What am I doing here? How can this be my life? This is not what I want my life to be,'" Feldman says.
"I just came to a point where I was like, I can't do this anymore. I've got to figure out a way to do something and be happy, because if I die tomorrow, I would not be happy if I just worked for 10 years in a gray cubicle. That is not what I would want on my tombstone."
Melissa, now 38, was supportive of his decision. They sold their house in Salt Lake City, and used the equity to take their family on a nine-month trek throughout Europe, traveling to Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, London and then Mexico. They left for their adventure in November 2014, returning to the states in June 2015.
During their time abroad, to keep them financially afloat, Feldman signed up for Fiverr, the online marketplace for freelancing services that range from writing to business to programming and tech. The end goal was not necessarily to have Fiverr be his new full-time gig, he says, but simply a way to make some extra cash while traveling and figuring out his next steps.
Initially, in late 2014, Feldman's Fiverr offerings were very much in his wheelhouse: financial analysis, Excel modelings and PowerPoint presentations. But there was hardly any demand, and he had only sold one or two of those gigs priced at around $20 each.
So Feldman started poking around on Fiverr, trying to figure out how people were making serious money. He looked at how many orders sellers had in their queue, what they were selling and what their reviews were. That's when he stumbled across a "brainstorming" gig. People were offering services like, "I will brainstorm five names for your book" or "brainstorm names for products." Feldman thought to himself, "I'm pretty creative, I can come up with names for people," and began offering brainstorming services. He posted a video advertising his brainstorming service and demand picked up.
At first, while still on the road, Feldman was making around $600 a month via Fiverr. Orders were rolling in and he was getting good reviews, so it inspired him to figure out ways to ramp up his business. He hunted around Fiverr for other lucrative gigs. When he hit upon copywriting and its high demand, he started offering the service in mid-2015, charging $5 for 100 words. No matter that he hadn't done it before as long as he could learn.
"I feel like I have kind of a natural ability to talk to people, to engage people, to make them feel confident that I can help them ... like I know what I'm talking about, what I'm doing," says Feldman. "And so I think people, whether it's on Fiverr or anywhere else, I think that when they came across me, they thought, 'Oh, this guy knows what he's doing, and he's got a bunch of good reviews.'"
It was around this time that Feldman and his family returned to the states. With his family's finances dwindling, he took a corporate job in Boise, Idaho, but still kept his Fiverr side hustle. Soon, Feldman's copywriting business on Fiverr exploded and he was essentially working two full-time jobs. He would wake up at 6 a.m. to handle Fiverr, then go to his corporate job, and then after getting home around 5 p.m., he would work on copywriting until 1 a.m.
It was exhausting, Feldman recalls. He'd raised his prices and was making enough money via Fiverr to support his family, but he was under contract at his corporate gig. It took two years to fulfill his contract, then Feldman quit the rat race for good in May 2017.
"It was literally opening up the door for me to be my own boss," Feldman says. "I could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel, which was really motivating and fun, actually."
At that point, Feldman was bringing in $7,000 to $8,000 a month from his copywriting services. Now, Feldman has expanded his writing services and offers sales copywriting (priced at $5 for 20 words), Amazon product descriptions (prices run from $45 to $85), SEO blog posts and articles (priced at $100 for 1,000 words) and building Wordpress websites (priced at $495). His profile boasts over 1,000 reviews, with a rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars, many of which note that Feldman is easy to work with and responsive.
Feldman says his clients are wide-ranging, and he does everything from writing website copy to marketing materials to social media posts. Once, he even wrote a 50-page corporate sustainability report for an international oil company, a project he recalls took him weeks (that one was under-priced, he notes, adding that he only made around $1,000). Feldman's average selling price for an order is $57, and at all times, he usually has around 20 to 30 orders in his queue. His day is peppered with work, but he chooses to stay up late, sometimes until midnight or later, to work on orders so that he can spend time with his family when the kids are home from their school day.
"On average, I probably spend around 50 hours a week working on Fiverr," Feldman says. "It's pretty much seven days a week because inquiries and questions keep coming from customers. However, Fiverr does have an out-of-office feature for holidays and vacations. This Christmas break, while I'm not putting on my out-of-office feature, I plan to set longer deadlines for myself (and clients) so I have time to spend with my family."
In 2016, Feldman brought in $24,000, and in 2017 that number spiked to $75,000. For 2018, as of early December, Feldman has made $125,000 on Fiverr. He also recently teamed up with someone else he met on Fiverr, and the pair launched a digital marketing agency about six months ago, offering services like copywriting and web design.
"I think freelancing definitely is the future, especially with the access everyone has now to the internet, social media, everything has just exploded," Feldman says. "And everyone can hang up their sign — like there's nobody telling you that you can't do anything."
While the money is great — and has enabled Feldman's family to take a recent vacation to Hawaii — what he loves most about freelancing is the freedom. He enjoys working from home; it allows him to get his two kids (12-year-old Jackson and 10-year-old Sophie) ready for school in the mornings, grab lunch with Melissa and coach his son's basketball team. Now, he's much happier than when he was toiling away in a cubicle.
"It was a good paying job, good benefits, good pay," Feldman says of his previous career in finance. "I lived in a really nice neighborhood, drove nice cars. People would look at me and think 'Oh, that guy's got it made,' which, I did. But I was like dead inside...and so my advice is, just don't spend any more time doing what you don't like. There's opportunities out there."
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