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How I Used AI To Increase My Income by $50K While Working Way Fewer Hours

©Marcus Grimm
©Marcus Grimm

After experiencing a layoff, Marcus Grimm needed to make a late-stage career shift. The 52-year-old marketing automation specialist turned to Upwork to find freelance gigs, and utilized AI to majorly increase his earning potential.

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Grimm now makes roughly $50,000 more per year than he did as a full-time employee, and his strategic use of AI has streamlined his workflow — he now works 75% less. Here’s how Grimm was able to harness the power of AI to earn more money while doing less work.

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Choosing the Right AI Tool

There’s an ever-expanding list of AI tools available, but Grimm said that one in particular has been key to his success.

“I’ve tried many of the tools that have been released but consistently find myself coming back to ChatGPT,” he said. “I love that each ‘chat’ serves as training data for that particular topic and I find that the more I use it, the smarter the output becomes. Rather than starting fresh threads, I frequently go back to threads on specific conversations I’ve had and extending them. Through asking additional questions, the output becomes much more valuable over time.”

Grimm has also made use of the custom GPT feature.

“ChatGPT’s custom GPT engine is great,” he said. “It’s easy to build specific use-case bots and share those with others.”

Grimm believes that ChatGPT will become even more useful as improvements continue to be made.

“As impressed as I was with ChatGPT a year ago, it seemingly is becoming more useful by the day,” he said. “A good example is imagery. A year ago, I was rarely impressed with the images that I’d get from OpenAI. Today, 90% of the time I like the first draft that comes out. If your opinion of these tools was shaped several months ago, it’s really no longer an informed opinion. That’s how fast the landscape is changing.”

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Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment

Grimm didn’t undergo any formal training to learn how to use AI, and thinks the best way to learn how to use tools like ChatGPT is to take a hands-on approach.

“Most of my learning has been through experimentation and I truly believe that’s the best way to figure out how they’re best used for your use cases,” he said. “Increasingly, I’ve been simply asking ChatGPT to do anything I feel is taking me too long.”

For example, he now uses ChatGPT to assist him with analyzing Excel spreadsheets and HTML codes.

“As a marketing strategist, I spend a fair amount of time in Excel and probably an equal amount of time with HTML code, but I’m not an expert in either,” he said. “Rather than fumble around, I simply upload the CSV, if it’s an Excel challenge, or paste the code, if it’s HTML, and I tell ChatGPT what I’m looking for. Every time I do this saves me minutes, and those minutes add up quickly.”

In addition to playing around with tools like ChatGPT on your own, it’s also a good idea to research how other people in your field are using it.

“I do try and pay attention to how other people are using the tools,” Grimm said. “Last year, I listened to copywriter Jon Morrow talk about how he’s using ChatGPT on the ‘James Altucher Show’ and it instantly reframed how I was doing some of my prompting.”

How To Best Use AI as a Freelancer

Grimm offered a few key pieces of advice for other freelancers who want to use AI to increase their productivity and earning potential.

“Be realistic,” he said. “The complaints I see about ChatGPT tend to be from people who somehow assume AI should reduce their time on a task by 95%. In my opinion, that’s a tall ask. But if you think about how AI can make you work 50% faster, you’ll find that it’s really good at that. And for most of us, even a 10% increase in efficiency is a big deal.”

Another tip Grimm shared is to “work harder up front.”

“I do a lot of content writing and I’ve always been a fan of the phrase, ‘All writing is rewriting.’ The theory goes that you should knock out a bad rough draft as quickly as possible and then refine, refine, refine,” he said. “That’s not a bad concept, but with AI I get my best results by really obsessing over my prompts at the beginning of a project. Rather than trying to get out a rough draft as quickly as possible, I now try to paint a vivid picture as early as possible. So my rough drafts — even with ChatGPT — take significant time.”

Finally, Grimm said to think carefully about how you want to bill clients.

“Unlike many freelancers, I’m an advocate for hourly billing rather than milestone billing,” he said. “Freelancers with this mindset sometimes worry that since the work is now faster with AI, they’ll have less income. But instead, I’m just providing my clients with more output in the same number of billable hours. By providing more value, I find they simply give me more work.

“At the same time, if you’re billing on milestones, this does give you the opportunity to complete milestones more quickly, and use that time to bring on additional work.”

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This article originally appeared on How I Used AI To Increase My Income by $50K While Working Way Fewer Hours