Financial Transparency: 2020 Edition

As is now my annual tradition, it’s time for me to tell everyone how much money I make!

Why? Well, I find the financial opacity of the freelance world a bit intimidating, and I suspect that some others do, too—particularly those who are interested in freelancing, but haven’t yet jumped in. So I’d like to do my part to lend transparency by laying out my financial picture for all of you. And if you’re interested in more stuff like this, check out the results of the 2020 Cartographic Freelancer Survey.

My business income comes from a few different sources:

Freelance Cartography:

I mostly make my living by doing freelance mapping (and an occasional bit of freelance GIS) for clients. This number, like others here, represents my gross earnings, before taking out business expenses, etc.

Other Freelancing:

I also earn money from some other non-mapping freelance work. I do editing and layout for Cartographic Perspectives, and I’ve done some bits of paid writing, other design work, etc. I also got a $2,500 coronavirus relief grant that’s counted here.


I do a fair amount of pro bono work, and I’ve been much more shameless about asking for support for my tutorials, Project Linework, and other resources that people seem to draw value from.


Instead of making maps for clients, I sometimes (or often) spend time making maps for no one in particular. And then I’ll put them up for sale in case anyone wants to buy them. This year’s value is super-high because I sold one of the only copies of my cyanotype atlas for $1250.

The Summary

So, that works out to a gross business income of $48,654.68. Here’s how that compares to the last several years:

My Income is not Quite a Salary

If you’re only familiar with earning money as a salaried employee, my income might seem higher than it really is. After business expenses, I earned about $46,000 in self-employment income. For my personal tax situation (single, living in WI), my take-home pay would have been similar if I had worked a salaried job (with health insurance, but no other benefits) that earned about $37,000.

This difference is because self-employed people pay a much higher tax rate, and have to cover their own health insurance. This comparison doesn’t figure in any other benefits an employer might offer, like retirement savings contributions. If we count the amount that I should be saving for retirement (but can’t afford to), then the gap is a few thousand dollars larger.

Concluding Thoughts

As mentioned above, I earn income from prints of my work. Most of the things in my storefront have never sold more than a few copies. It’s pretty much all income from River Transit maps. But, it doesn’t cost me anything to offer things for sale, so if I can earn $10 from one of the less popular items every once in a while, I might as well take it.

I greatly appreciate the kindness people have shown me over the years through donating to support the unpaid parts of my work. It’s becoming an increasing fraction of my overall income. If you’d like to add your own support, here are some handy buttons:

Finally, I hope all this stuff above offers some useful insight as to one freelancer’s life. I’m sure some others earn more, and some others earn less. I’d encourage others who are comfortable doing so to share their own financial information, to make the picture a little broader.

4 thoughts on “Financial Transparency: 2020 Edition

  1. Another helpful and excellent post! I don’t think I’ve appended/piggybacked an update from my freelancing since the first time you did this back in 2017, so I thought it might be helpful to do so now.

    2020 Summary:
    GIS and cartography, gross income: $52,267 (this was only ~2% less than 2019)
    Print sales (yea!): $84
    Expenses: $4,408
    Quarterly Estimated Tax payments: $6,100
    SEP-IRA contributions: $8,000

    Net income: $33,843, though you could argue the retirement contribution could fall on the income side as I’ll see that money again eventually *knock on wood*- in which case, net income of $41,843. I try and put at least $4,000 into retirement each year. This year I was able to put away more as household expenses were significantly lower this year due to COVID. Also, as I think I mentioned several years back, health insurance is covered by my spouse’s employer (a huge benefit for sure).

    The numbers also don’t reflect that I had a subcontractor for one of my projects so there was an equal amount of income/expense associated with that, so rather than show both income and expenses inflated, I just leave it out. This is only the second time in nine years that I’ve had a subcontractor – it’s definitely weird having to provide someone else a tax form for a change.

    I’m happy to answer questions from anyone that wants more info from a more GIS-focused freelancer – and you can also hear me awkwardly explain my whole backstory/business in my 2019 Tacoma NACIS talk.

    Thanks again Daniel for keeping this conversation active!

  2. I love that you do this Daniel and hope others follow the example. I’m not self-employed so the category breakdown doesn’t fit, but my gross for 2019 was $73k CDN ($57.7 US). I’m 95% GIS/Sysadmin and %5 carto.

    (the line graph leading summary says “$48k” for 2020 but the only line that approaches that number is in 2017. It took some puzzling to realize that’s because the lines show the breakdown but not the combined total. Maybe add that line too. I’d also consider using the same horizontal meters for both graphs, to make for quicker cross comparison.)

  3. I found this site after Googling “California Relief Map” which led me to Etsy> 4DMAPART > to another search for U.S. Geological Society Maps > Scott Reihnardt > to articles about him, particularly one he linked to > to YOU! I’m loving your work, and your financial disclosure is fascinating.

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