Leaving Work Behind

Why Freelancing is a Great Way of Leaving Work Behind [an Interview with Ruth Zive]

Written by Tom Ewer on July 27, 2012. 32 Comments

Ruth ZiveRegular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of freelance writing as a career choice. On this blog I have talked about everything from finding your first job to negotiating rates.

And that is no great surprise – writing is what has enabled me to quit my job and start working on my own terms. I pick my clients, I work when I want to, and I have control over my income.

I can do my work from my dining room table (as I am right now), my local library, or a coffee shop in Madrid. The sky is the limit.

Why wouldn’t I want to encourage other people to join me?

Introducing Ruth Zive

But don’t just take my word for it. Ruth Zive is the owner of Ruth Zive Copywriting, where she offers copywriting, content marketing and social media consultancy services. Ruth only launched her business in April 2011, but has already established herself as a reputable (and highly successful) freelance writer. In short, Ruth knows what it takes to launch and maintain a successful freelance writing business.

In this first ever interview on Leaving Work Behind, you are going to learn how:

Note: unfortunately the video is a little choppy, but the audio is okay!


If you are reading this via email or RSS, you can view the video here.

If you’re not a fan of video, no problem! You can download the MP3 version of this interview here, or a full transcript here.

What’s Holding You Back?

There is no doubt in my mind that freelancing/service provision/consultancy are all excellent ways of taking that first step beyond your current 9-5 – even if it is not something that you want to do for the rest of your life.

It gives you control over your life, and allows you the time and flexibility with which to pursue additional revenue streams.

So with that said, what’s holding you back? Why aren’t you working on your own services business right now? It doesn’t need to be writing – it can be graphic design, bookkeeping, blogging consultancy, or any other number of niches. Give us your thoughts in the comments section!

2 Simple Strategies to a Bottomless Well of Business Inspiration

Written by Tom Ewer on July 18, 2012. 32 Comments

The 2 Simple Secrets to a Bottomless Well of Business Inspiration

Do you feel like you’re just one good idea short of success? (Tweet this)

Having a worthwhile idea to develop into a viable business is one of the most common issues Leaving Work Behind readers seem to experience.

Invariably, plenty of you guys seem to have drive and ambition in abundance ; you are perhaps just lacking the one thing that will allow you to leverage those qualities to their maximum potential: a great idea.

I certainly have many weaknesses, but one thing I am never short of is ideas. In fact, I have a surplus of them. And in this article, I want to share with you the two simple steps I follow to produce and develop those ideas.

1. Nourish Creativity

Great ideas are borne of great creativity. Therefore, in order to generate ideas, you must put yourself in surroundings that breed creativity.

In my experience, that “creative zone” is a place that many of us rarely see. It is stifled by the habits of modern life. Quite simply, it is silence. I mean that in both a literal and figurative sense. That rare moment in our lives when you have time to consider that which you have not yet considered. When there is nothing in particular to worry about — when your mind is truly free to wander aimlessly.

Regular readers may recall my trip to Bulgaria back in May 2012. What you may not have pieced together is that my holiday was the catalyst for everything I am working towards now. It started with a bit of an epiphany, as described in Why I Am No Longer In A Rush To Get Rich, and developed from there.

Here’s a brief list of ideas I came up with while on vacation:

Basically, the ideas for everything I am doing right now, and everything that I plan to do in the next twelve months or so, were all formulated in Bulgaria. And do you know why? Because I was in that elusive creative zone. For a whole week, I had nothing to worry about apart from a few hours of work in the morning, an afternoon round of golf, and an evening spent relaxing. I actually came up with the idea for this very post on that same holiday.

Lighthouse Golf Resort, Bulgaria

Pictured – a catalyst for creativity.

All successful businesses (in one way or another) rely upon creativity. In spite of that, many of us overwork ourselves and then boast of 70 hour work weeks, as if it is a badge of honor — a right of passage for new and aspiring entrepreneurs. But running yourself into the ground in such a way stifles creativity to the point of suffocation.

know that it is tough to find time where you can simply sit in silence and let your creative juices flow. But you must make time for it. No television, no computers, no distractions — just moments of peace where you don’t need to be doing anything. You’ll be amazed at what starts to emerge. A clear mind breeds clarity of purpose.

Do you know when my best ideas typically come about? When I’m in bed, and it’s pitch black, and there is nothing left for me to do but think. Sometimes insomnia can be a good thing.

2. Think Indiscriminately

The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away. (Tweet this)

~ Linus Pauling

The Attilas

Me, rockin’ out.

Some of you may know that I am a singer in a band. I also write songs. I’d like to think that I write a good song every now and then, but I don’t half write a lot of crap as well. It’s ultimately a numbers game: the more I write, the more likely I am to come up with something of quality.

So don’t be afraid of having terrible ideas — on the contrary, welcome them with open arms. Treat all of your ideas as golden. Write them down. Roll them around in your head and let them develop; you never know where they may lead. Don’t be afraid to experiment. As an anonymous wit once said, “A half-baked idea is okay, as long as it’s in the oven”.

For instance, a few months ago I had an idea for a blog, but I never felt comfortable with it. That idea eventually developed into something that I would love to do (as soon as I have the time and finances to commit to it). What I think of as one great idea, came out of another that didn’t thrill me.

Alternatively, consider my Easy Tweet Embed plugin (which I have used twice in this post). What started off as a blog post became an extremely primitive plugin. A reader of this blog then got in touch with me and was of huge assistance in creating what is now a fully-featured plugin on the WordPress.org repository. Who knows where this journey will continue to take me?

Even the most small and insignificant of ideas can lead to bigger things, so never put your ideas down.

I have a folder in my Evernote called Future Projects. It is filled with tens of individual ideas; most of which I know will never come to fruition. (Niche sites based primarily upon a Twitter growth strategy? Interesting concept, but almost definitely financially unviable.) Still, I keep them. I may well never come back to most of them, but I think there are a few gems in there. And in order to find those diamonds in the rough, you do have to sift through the rough.

Your Great Idea Could be Just Around the Corner

Although being naturally creatively minded is important (and can give you an edge), simply allowing yourself to be creative, and not stifling that creativity, can make a huge difference.

The above is what works for me, and I believe that it can work for you too. For those amongst you who don’t have a problem in coming up with new ideas, tell us:L what are your methods? And for those of you who do struggle, do you think that the above advice will help? There is only one way to find out!

I will leave you with one more quote — one that should spur you on once you begin to develop some great ideas:

Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.

~ Nolan Bushnell

Photo Credit: Kash_if

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Blogging

Written by Tom Ewer on July 11, 2012. 92 Comments

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to BloggingI have played guitar since I was 16 years old.

When I first started, it seemed impossible. I couldn’t even strum a chord, let alone string a few together and play an actual song.

And yet, with practice and the passing of time, I turned an impossible into a possible. I became what I would consider a good guitar player, and these days I have loads of fun singing and playing guitar in my band.

You may be wondering what this has to do with blogging. Well, just like playing guitar, blogging is something that you can pick up easily enough – but mastering it is another thing altogether.

There is a fine line between a blog that is nothing more than a time suck, and a blog that can help you generate a full time income (directly or indirectly). The problem is that there is too much information out there. It is far too easy to become paralyzed into inaction.

With that in mind, I set out to produce a relatively brief guide that would focus solely on the core fundamentals of successful blogging, which you can find below. Enjoy!

Is Blogging Worth It?

Before we begin, I want to address the primary question that may be holding you back from starting your own blog: “Is it worth it?”

The short answer is an emphatic yes. Blogging itself is such an adaptable tool that it can be leveraged to benefit nearly any business. It doesn’t matter what you are trying to do online – blogging can help you.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  1. Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income generates tens of thousands of dollars every month in affiliate income. He also has other revenue streams – some of which are also blogs.
  2. Corbett Barr is a serial blogger. He cut his teeth over at what is now corbettbarr.com, before moving onto affiliate marketing, consulting services and eventually information products via Think Traffic (read Corbett’s fascinating story here).
  3. Marcus Sheridan created a blog for his ailing fibreglass pool company and ended up with more client referrals than he could manage. Then he launched The Sales Lion which he used as a tool to launch his own social media consultancy and public speaking business.
  4. Fraser Cain owns Universe Today – a news blog dedicated to the space and astronomy niche that pulls in a six figure yearly income through advertising.
  5. Keith Snow’s Harvest Eating gives away tons of free advice on local and seasonal foods, whilst operating an integrated membership site.

I have very deliberately included two blogs above that have absolutely nothing to do with making money or online business in any way shape or form. That market is arguably the hardest to make money in, because it is so saturated. Thanks to Chris Guthrie for making the very sensible suggestion that I should include non-MMO blogs in my examples above.

Oh, and then there’s also the rather less high profile example – me. I am certain that if I hadn’t launched this blog and stuck with it over the past 12 months or so, I wouldn’t be where I am now. This blog has been arguably the main contributing factor to my success to date, for a number of reasons:

And let’s not forget that quite simply, I love running this blog. The simple joy of running a blog should not be ignored.

It doesn’t really matter what you are trying to achieve online – having a blog can almost certainly help you in achieving that goal.

Choosing Your Path

I understand that many of you are not willing (or able) to invest any more than a few bucks in blogging.

I get that – when I first started out, I was very selective with the investment I made in my blog. Essentially, I was afraid to invest, for fear that I would not see a return. That is why I am offering this guide completely free of charge – so that you do not have to spend any money on learning how to blog well.

Start a Blog that MattersHowever, if you are willing to invest some money in your learning, I would heartily recommend that you stop reading immediately and grab yourself a copy of Start a Blog that Matters. This is an online course developed by the aforementioned Corbett Barr, and I cannot recommend it enough. I have been running through the course material over the last couple of months, and it has revolutionized my approach to blogging (which some of you may well have observed with interest).

If you are willing to purchase Corbett’s course, you don’t need this guide. He covers literally everything – it by far the most accomplished and complete information product I have ever bought.

With that said, if you’re not ready to make that jump just yet, please read on!

Picking a Topic

Many of you who have contacted me already have your own blog, whilst others love the idea of blogging, but are simply not sure what to blog about.

When first starting out, I personally feel that you should just jump in at the deep end and see what happens. Your first blog may not be a success, but it will be a huge learning experience.

Whilst you can spend days and weeks deliberating over what you should blog about, I would recommend that you follow this simple decision-making process:

  1. Find a topic that you like writing about
  2. Consider potential monetization methods

It can (and should eventually) get a lot more complicated than this, but I do not want you to get so embroiled in theory that you never actually get around to starting your blog.

You may be wondering how to analyze whether or not a blog has the potential to be monetized. To give you an idea, here are a list of the main potential monetization methods:

  1. Product creation
  2. Affiliate marketing
  3. Consulting/coaching
  4. Freelancing
  5. Advertising

Any blog can utilize advertising, so theoretically, any blog can be monetized. But ideally you will pick a topic that is more conducive to higher profit margins. For inspiration, you can see the list of high profile bloggers above, in which I highlighted the monetization methods that they use.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by this process and whether or not your chosen topic is financially viable, consider this – when I launched Leaving Work Behind I had no idea as to how I would use it to generate income, yet now it serves as a referral machine for my freelance writing business and makes money via affiliate marketing and my freelance writing guide.

I am so glad that I pushed on without a clear plan at the beginning, rather than getting overwhelmed and not even starting. That approach won’t be for everyone, but it worked for me.

Choosing a Blogging Platform

Gone are the days when you had to manually code your site. Now you have a host of “content management systems” to choose from that make the process of building a website and publishing content online a piece of cake.

First of all, you should run your blog on self-hosted WordPress. Not Tumblr, not Blogger, and not WordPress.com (click here for an explanation of the differences).

The cost is pretty nominal – $10 or so for a domain name, and a few bucks a month for hosting. Having a self-hosted WordPress blog will mean that you are in total control of your site, which is not the case with hosted platforms.

Speaking of hosting, I have tried all of the major hosting providers (such as BlueHost, GoDaddy and HostGator), and recommend WestHost over them all. Great reliability and support at an extremely reasonable price – look no further. To get a 30% discount on Westhost, click here and use the coupon code LEAVING30 on checkout.

The technical process of creating your first blog is probably a whole lot easier than you realize. I created a ten minute video to show you just how easy it is:

If you’re interested in learning more about WordPress and how to master it, check this out.

Choosing an Email Marketing Service

I want to make something very clear at this early juncture – collecting your reader’s email addresses will be one of your most important priorities as a blogger (if not the most important priority). With that in mind, you need to get your hands on a quality email marketing service that will handle email broadcasts, autoresponders, and so on.

AWeberMy preference is AWeber – it also seems to be the favorite of most bloggers (in my experience)

The whole idea of email marketing may seem intimidating to you – it certainly did to me. I’ve gone through several different methods of engaging with my email list, and have only recently settled on something that I’m really comfortable with (general ranting). If you’re looking for a simple approach to list building, check out this post: 5 Reasons Why Everything You Know About Email List Building is Wrong.

Design

How your blog looks will become a very important factor in marking you out from the crowd as a blogger to follow, but when you are starting out, it is of secondary importance to producing great content and promoting your blog.

By all means, spend some time making your blog look pretty, but don’t go overboard, spending hours and hours on a design that no one is going to see is rather pointless. Think of your initial design as the first step in a continuous evolution, rather than the finished article.

If you are on a limited (or non-existent) budget, consider starting with a free theme. Personally I think the Twenty Twelve theme packaged with WordPress by default is great. However, if it’s not to your tastes you can find plenty of free themes in the best free themes of the month series I run over at ManageWP.

WooThemesIf you have a few bucks set aside for a premium theme, my firm recommendation is WooThemes. This very site runs on the Canvas theme, which is an awesome framework that can be customized to produce something truly unique.

When choosing a theme, focus on something that is clean and uncluttered. Please refrain from going for anything particularly striking or “flashy” – it’ll typically result in a blog design that is not conducive to reader retention. Social Triggers is a great example of how a clean and simple design with plenty of whitespace offers an experience that is easy on the eye.

Fundamental Engagement Factors

There are a few things on a blog that you need to get right in order for it to perform ably. I have been asked for advice on countless blogs, and I find the same mistakes more often than not. Here’s a quick list of fundamental engagement factors that you should adhere to:

  1. Make it absolutely clear to visitors what your blog is about.
  2. Build an engaging About page.
  3. Create a Start Here page.
  4. Make sure that you are easy to contact.
  5. Have at least one prominent email signup form on every page.
  6. Make your site easily navigable.
  7. Do not clutter up your sidebar.
  8. Keep the most important elements on your blog above the fold.
  9. Provide plenty of relevant internal links (i.e. links to other posts on your site) in your blog posts.

I could go on forever, but these are what I consider to be the key factors. Make sure that you follow them all.

Content

Your content should be awesome. But you already knew that – what you are wondering is how to create awesome content.

The best advice I can give you is to simply write blog posts, and read other blogs. I learnt the basics from Copyblogger, and really furthered my skills after going through the Write Like Freddy course, but my main advancements have mainly been through observation and practice.

Ashley Ambirge

Ashley Ambirge – the antithesis of a shrinking violet.

With that said, I’d like to offer up perhaps the most useful piece of advice that I think can really help you to create great content. It is simply this – be personable. You shouldn’t manufacture a personality (we can’t all be Johnny B. Truant or Ashley Ambirge), but don’t be afraid to let your true character shine through. Draw from personal experiences – use stories to bring your posts to life.

In essence, just be you. It’ll be far easier to write, and people will be naturally drawn to you, because your posts feel like more than just words on a screen. Your blog will have character and life. People like that.

Beyond that, you will want to sprinkle in well-established post types that traditionally perform well (known as link bait) – primarily resource posts, featured blogger posts, and list posts. Do so sparingly – the last thing you want to do is be accused of trying to “manufacture” an audience. For the most part, just focus on writing epic shit.

A Quick Note on SEO

Bloggers can waste a whole load of time obsessing over SEO. My advice to you is as follows – don’t.

As a blogger, you should not be engaging in any black hat SEO tactics. You should in fact be dedicated zero time to actively sourcing links. If you produce great content and network effectively, the links will come in time.

When it comes to SEO, just adhere to this this 7 step checklist, and you’ll be set.

Promotion

It is in this section that I feel the most important lessons I can teach you is contained. I wish I had read the advice I am about to give you when I was first starting out – I think I would be a lot further along the line than I am now if I had.

Promotion starts when you’re still thinking about the topic of your blog. How unique and interesting your angle on your chosen topic is, the better you will be able to leverage your promotional efforts to greater effect.

With that in mind, you should put aside 45 minutes to watch this video interview between Corbett Barr and Derek Halpern – it is an absolute must-watch when it comes to better understanding how the topic you choose affects your promotional efforts:

Beyond that, you must go to the people. Find where your target audience hangs out, and go get ’em. If you simply sit back and wait for the traffic to flood in, it won’t. Trust me.

You may be wondering how to translate this advice into practical action. When it comes to blogging, going to the people usually involves one or more of the following:

  1. Being active on social media networks
  2. Being active on forums
  3. Being active in the comments sections on other blogs
  4. Guest posting
  5. Networking with other bloggers

How well you exploit every single one of these areas is entirely down to your own work ethic. Having said that, the areas you absolutely must focus on are social media, guest posting, and networking.

At your blog’s inception, you will want to establish a base of content. After all, if you only have a handful of articles, a reader isn’t likely to hang around for long. But once you have say 7-10 articles on your blog, your main focus should be on guest posting. This isn’t something you’ll hear most bloggers say, but I strongly recommend that you publish just one post per week on your own blog, and focus on producing 2-3 guest posts per week.

You publish the one post on your blog per week to continue building your base of content and to demonstrate that you are not a fly-by-night blogger. You get the guest posts published on other blogs as a means of building an audience. Before long, your name will be on the lips on many of your prospective readers. Once you have an established audience, you can write more on your own blog, and less on others’, if you feel it will be beneficial to your continued growth.

If you want to know more about guest posting, you may want to sign up to the aforementioned Write Like Freddy course. If you don’t have the necessary budget, then why not download my completely free guest posting guide?

You can also broaden your audience by working on YouTube videos and podcasts. In all honesty, this is not something that I have any experience in, so I don’t have anything of value to offer on those fronts. If you are interested in learning more about those potential traffic streams, Pat Flynn is a great example to follow.

So What Are You Waiting For?

Let’s see – this is what you should be able to do at this point:

  1. Decide upon a topic for your blog
  2. Get yourself some hosting and set up a WordPress blog
  3. Get yourself set up with an email marketing service
  4. Find a good, clean theme for your blog
  5. Design your site with the key engagement factors in mind
  6. Start working on great content
  7. Spend the few necessary moments on SEO
  8. Promote your blog through various channels

If you follow those steps, you should have a burgeoning blog on your hands in no time at all. Don’t expect dramatic short term results, because you will probably not get them. My blog received all of 417 unique visitors in its first month of life. You have to pay your blogging dues.

However, if you stick with it, you can expect to reap some serious rewards down the line. Blogging will probably open up a multitude of opportunities for you – some completely unexpected. All it takes is a lot of hard work and the passing of time.

Fellow Bloggers – I Would Like Your Help!

Blogging is a huge topic, and I have attempted to distill this guide down into a relatively brief introduction to the fundamentals.

You may feel that I have missed out important factors, or you may disagree with my approach. I would love to read your thoughts, so please let rip in the comments section!

Furthermore, if you are a beginner blogger, you may have questions regarding the subject matter that I have covered. Please don’t hesitate to ask any and all questions that cross your mind!

Creative Commons image courtesy of JD Hancock

Why Experimenting is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Career – And Your Life

Written by Guest Author on July 4, 2012. 25 Comments

Why Experimenting is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Career - And Your Life

A note from Tom: the following is a guest post written by Alexis Grant of The Traveling Writer.

Whilst I am not currently accepting guest posts as a general rule, Alexis has produced the kind of article here that I couldn’t not feature on Leaving Work Behind. She covers a topic that has been on my mind for many weeks, and one that I was planning on covering at some point myself in the future. Now there is no need to, as Alexis has done a wonderful job.

Take it away Alexis!

When it comes to earning a paycheck, we often stick with what we know. We stick with what we know works, because we can’t afford to not have money coming in every month.

That’s one of the reasons so few people make the transition to working for themselves – because they’re not sure it will work. Instead, we stick to what we know, which, unfortunately, is usually the status quo (and often a full-time job working for someone else).

But what if we gave ourselves permission to experiment? What if we pushed ourselves outside our comfort zone?

What if we tried little experiments first, ones that wouldn’t upset the paycheck, experiments like building a side gig to pad your bank account or learning a new skill to make yourself more marketable? Once those small experiments start to work, you’ll feel more comfortable expanding into bigger experiments – ones that have the potential to take your career to new levels.

Because as I’ve learned over the last year – as I’ve transitioned from my day job to working for myself – experimenting is vital to making a living doing what you love. Experimenting has allowed me to figure out that I love creating digital guides and courses – and that I can actually make money selling them. If you don’t give yourself room to experiment, you’ll never discover the true gems of your career.

Here’s why experimenting is the best thing you can do for yourself, no matter where you are in your career.

1. It Helps You Grow

Sometimes my business experiments work out well, and sometimes they don’t. When they succeed, I see an obvious benefit: I figure out what works, and often that means discovering a new revenue stream.

But even when the experiment doesn’t succeed (for me, that usually means an eBook tanks), it’s worth it because I learned something. I learned something that will help me move forward and succeed next time.

Learning is key to feeling satisfied in your career, whether you’re working for yourself or for someone else. And the best way to learn is by experimenting.

2. It’s a Challenge

Let’s face it: doing the same thing every day gets boring, even if you’re your own boss. The most effective way to get out of a rut – or to make sure you never fall into that rut to begin with – is by trying something new.

After all, that’s why experimenting really is, right? Trying something new. And calling it an “experiment” means you’re not obligated to keep doing it if you don’t want to.

3. Smart Risks Could Mean Big Rewards

Experimenting is a risk. It puts you in the position to fail, which is why most people avoid it at all costs.

But taking smart risks, calculated risks, also sets you up to create something great – something that’s far better than what you’re doing now. You could find a job you love. Or realize you can make a living selling that widget you’ve dreamed of creating. Or, if your dream is to work your way up your company ladder, maybe your experiment will make you look like a hero to your boss or client.

If you stick with the status quo and never step outside your comfort zone, if you don’t take those smart risks, the chances of that kind of success being within reach is slim-to-none. Experimenting is what makes it possible.

4. You Could Discover Your True Passion

Guess what taking smart risks could lead to? You could reach your true potential. You could discover a career you’re truly passionate about, one that helps you learn and grow. You could find a way to earn your next paycheck that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning.

It is possible to make a living doing what you love, so long as you’re open to the experiments that will get you there.

And if you love what you do, you’re even more likely to reach that next level of success, right?

Alexis Grant is an entrepreneurial writer, digital strategist and author of How I Surpassed My Day Job Income in Just 6 Months of Self-Employment. She also offers a free newsletter.

Creative Commons image courtesy of zhouxuan12345678