Leaving Work Behind

2012: My Year in Review

Written by Tom Ewer on December 31, 2012. 24 Comments

Long RoadWell that went by quickly.

In a flash my first year of self-employment has passed me by. I started 2012 with little income but a lot of ideas and optimism and have ended the year with a profitable freelance business, an established blog, and a loyal crowd of supporters. Although things have not gone at all how I envisaged, I’m extremely happy with my progress in 2012.

I am very big on both planning for the future and reflecting on the past, so with 2013 about to dawn it only seems right that I reflect on my first twelve months as a freelance writer, blogger and internet marketer.

What Did I Aim to Achieve?

At the end of 2011 I forecast that 2012 would be a big year, and perhaps more tellingly predicted that I would need to be flexible to change.

The key goal of course was to not go broke. It is all too easy to forget the precariousness of the situation I was in at the start of the year — I had just two freelance clients, no guarantee of future income, and no solid plan for making a living.

But I did have an idea of what I wanted to do and felt relatively optimistic of making enough money to stay afloat, given enough time. My primary aims were to:

  1. Establish a freelance writing income that could support my outgoings
  2. Create authority/niche sites that would generate passive income

Furthermore, I wanted to grow Leaving Work Behind. In December 2011 the blog had seen just 2,327 unique visitors so there was certainly a lot of room for growth. I hoped for the blog to become a profitable venture in the long run.

What Did I Achieve?

In reality, the goals that I set at the very end of 2011 were fallacious. The quantifiable goals I set were not within my direct control, and as such, results were highly unpredictable. Or to put it more bluntly, I failed to reach just about every goal I set myself for the first quarter of 2012.

So I had a slow start — best represented by the woeful failure that was my mass niche site project. I learned some big (and expensive) lessons from that project and eventually decided that niche sites weren’t for me. I felt far more enthusiastic about building long time authoritative sites (i.e. blogs), and that is something that I will take into 2013.

However, it was not all doom and gloom. My freelance income rose steadily throughout 2012 and it is safe to say that I wildly outperformed my expectations on that front. This blog has served as a fantastic prospect referral tool and I am working with a great bunch of clients. I have written many posts on the topic of freelance writing and of course a guide on the topic, which I hope will become a longterm source of income.

Speaking of my guide, that gave me a nice income boost in November which has resulted in a pleasingly upwards trend of total net income throughout 2012:

2012 Income

Leaving Work Behind has also established itself as an earner. Although affiliate income is pretty modest (with record earnings in November of $346), much of the $3,500+ I have made from my freelance writing guide is thanks to this blog’s readers and subscribers. Having said that, this blog brings me so much more than merely dollars and I am really happy with how it has developed through the year.

I think a lot of people will be surprised to know that my traffic is not all that impressive:

2012 Leaving Work Behind Traffic Stats

Whilst I would love to see more people visiting this blog, I feel like I have built a loyal group of supporters (that’s you guys!) and I am extremely grateful for that.

In conclusion, I am extremely happy with my achievements to date. I have avoided bankruptcy and established a relatively secure income. My freelance work takes just 3-4 hours per day and allows me plenty of spare time with which to concentrate on expanding existing income streams and diversifying new ones. In short, I’m in a good place!

Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

I’ve certainly made a number of mistakes throughout 2012 and I am not ashamed to say so. Making mistakes (as long as they are not too frequent) is a sign that you are pushing your boundaries and learning. As long as you learn from your mistakes they are generally valuable to your development (tweet this).

Niche Site Failure

Perhaps the biggest mistake of the year was the absurd amount of money (over $2,500) that I poured into my untested niche site building system. I still can’t quite understand what was running through my head — ignorance would perhaps be the best word to describe it. I was so focused on the minutiae of what I was doing that I failed to see the idiocy of my strategy.

I learned a very expensive (but valuable) lesson from my niche site project failure and haven’t overcommitted to anything since. In fact, all of my projects (both present and those planned for the future) are characterised by a relatively cautious and investment-light approach (a good example of which is the One Hour Authority Site Project). I would recommend the same approach to any “beginner” or “intermediate” in the world of making money online.

The Value of a Service Business

I began 2012 with the notion that I would establish considerable passive income streams within a relatively short space of time. This ended up being a pipe dream, but thankfully my freelance earnings developed in a such a way that I never really felt in danger of going broke.

I was also able to confirm something that I had suspected before I quit my job — that offering a service (such as writing) is by far the best option (in my opinion) for someone looking to quit their job. You can establish such a business in a relatively short space of time, freelancers are becoming more and more in demand and you can earn a great deal more money per hour than you can from your job.

I write for 3/4 hours per day and earn more than I did in my old job when I worked 8-10 hours per day. That gives me plenty of spare hours to work on projects that can generate even more income. Compared to my job, it’s like a perpetual money-making machine. I’ve gone from working fixed hours and relying on the hope of a raise, to working far less hours and having the available time to build alternative income streams.

Even if I get to a place where the majority of my income is passive (or at least not from service provision), I will always recognize that my freelance writing business allowed me to travel down this road. I owe almost everything to that one speculative and frustrated moment back in September 2011 when I submitted a few pitches via the ProBlogger Job Board.

Getting Things Done

Beyond that, I have spent a lot of the year working on productivity and effective goal setting — i.e. making the most of the hours I choose to work. My productivity experiments are always ongoing as I strive to make the very most of my working time. After all — one of my main aims is to be in a position where I don’t have to work long hours, so one of the key ways in which I can facilitate that is to be extremely efficient when I do work.

Why I’m Not in a Rush to Get Rich

Finally perhaps the biggest personal development I made in the year was transitioning from a burning desire to be rich to simply living a balanced and happy life. That is exactly why I am not working eight hour days and earning the equivalent of $100,000+ per year (which I’m confident I could be doing).

I may not be making huge amounts of money but I am really happy with where I am, both professionally and personally. There is little doubt in my mind that the huge decision I made to quit my job has had an extraordinarily beneficial impact on every facet of my life and I hope that I can help as many people as possible to follow in my footsteps.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in finding out more about my successes and failures to date along with the lessons I have learned, check out these posts:

My Plans for 2013

I have very little idea what 2013 will hold for me beyond what I have already achieved. I hope that my freelance writing income will remain relatively consistent and I would also like to see earnings from my freelance writing guide reach into comfortable four figure sums per month. It would also be nice to see affiliate income from Leaving Work Behind hit four figures before the end of the year.

Beyond that, who knows? That is the beauty of the position I am in. I have an established base of income, but beyond that I’m as unsure as to what may come of the following year as I was of 2012 back in January. However, I do have a lot of ideas. Really exciting ideas. I have the One Hour Authority Site Project as well as two other big projects in the pipeline that I hope to launch in 2013.

But if 2012 has taught me one thing, it is that plans change — often in a big way. I’ll always keep my eyes open for fresh (and possibly better) opportunities and keep a tight focus on picking the projects with the most potential. And as a LWB reader, it should go without saying that you will have a front row seat to the whole show!

Here’s wishing you all the very best of luck for 2013. I hope I can help you in some small way to achieve your goals in leaving work behind. You guys rock!

Creative Commons image courtesy of matfer

With Thanks To…

Written by Tom Ewer on December 27, 2012. 29 Comments

Thank YouMy first year of self-employment is drawing to a close. It’s certainly been a wild ride but I am really happy with how things have gone.

If I cast my mind back to May 2011 — when I first started out on my journey to leaving work behind — it’s amazing to see how far I have come. However, I would not be where I am now without the help of some really awesome people.

With the above in mind, in this post I want to take you through a list of the people that have inspired me me and explain how they have impacted my journey so far. If you want to thank these guys too just click to tweet below!

Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau The Art of Non-Comformity was one of the first “lifestyle design” websites I came across and I devoured Chris’ two manifestos (A Brief Guide to World Domination and 279 Days to Overnight Success) eagerly. He has been featured twice before on Leaving Work Behind.

There are are three reasons why I have so much respect for Chris and consider him such a great guy:

He really reached his zenith (to date) with the release of The $100 Startup — a New York Times bestseller. Although that book came a little late for me in terms of inspiring me to leave work behind, his story served as huge inspiration when I was first starting out.

Tweet your thanks to Chris.

Corbett Barr

Corbett Barr

When I first decided that I wanted to quit my job back in May 2011 I read an enormous amount of stuff in attempt to figure out what I should do. If I look back now only a few things stick out — like Chris Guillebeau’s aforementioned manifestos. However, Corbett Barr’s own manifesto — 18 Months, 2 Blogs, Six Figures — is utterly unforgettable and introduced me to the man and his blog, Think Traffic.

He demonstrated to me that creating a successful blog is possible and also did a great deal in teaching me how. For instance, when I sought to re-launch Leaving Work Behind earlier this year I turned to his Start a Blog That Matters course, which is one of the best internet marketing purchases I have ever made.

Corbett’s business is growing from strength to strength and I am seriously excited to see what he has in store for 2013.

Tweet your thanks to Corbett.

Pat Flynn

Pat Flynn

If I were to pick out one person that had the greatest impact on me when I was starting out it would have to be Pat Flynn.

I came across his Niche Site Duel post series and was totally hooked — he gave me a singular focus with my first niche site. Although that project ended in disaster, by that time I was determined to succeed. Pat’s varied success has served as a beacon to my own efforts as I seek to create diversified income streams.

The best thing about Pat’s Smart Passive Income blog is his upfront and straightforward approach to real-life case studies (like the aforementioned niche site duel). Although Pat has been doing less of these posts recently he recently vowed to refocus on them in 2013. I for one am really interested to see what he comes up with.

Tweet your thanks to Pat.

Marcus Sheridan

Marcus Sheridan

I’ll admit that Marcus’ blog — The Sales Lion — has become less relevant to me as the months have passed, but that does not detract from the impact it had on me in my developmental stages. His story of struggling “pool guy” to accomplished and recognized content marketing expert is nothing short of inspiring and I remain a subscriber to this day.

His practice of always responding to blog comments pushed me to replicate that very approach on this blog — nothing is more heartwarming than a blogger who demonstrates that he has time for you. Any blogger or content marketer can learn a huge amount from Marcus’ approach.

Tweet your thanks to Marcus.

James Farmer

James FarmerThe owner of Edublogs, WPMU DEV and WPMU.org is not much of a blogger but that does not detract from the huge influence he had on me. After all, James was the guy who gave me my first writing gig back in September 2011 and without his validation of my burgeoning blogging skills I honestly do not know where I would be right now.

Although James himself may not be able to help you in any direct way (beyond the aforementioned sites which are great resources for WordPress users), his impact on my professional life in the past 15 months or so should serve as a reminder that breakthroughs can come from the most unlikely sources.

Tweet your thanks to James.

Steve Scott

Steve ScottI’ve got a lot of time for Steve. I very clearly remember the first time I interacted with him, when he commented on an early post on my blog. I knew all about his blog at the time and couldn’t believe that such an established blogger had taken the time to comment on my little site!

From there me and Steve have become good friends online and speak regularly about our respective businesses. He has been an internet marketer for many years and is a great person to know. I am hoping that Steve and I will be able to collaborate in 2013 — stay tuned!

Tweet your thanks to Steve.

Not to Mention…

I could go on forever in listing the people that have had a positive impact on my development as a freelance writer, blogger and internet marketer but I have to draw the line somewhere. However, there are more people that I think deserve a mention alongside the names above, so here goes:

…and to anyone I have forgotten, please accept my sincere apology and my thanks for helping me to get to where I am!

Who Has Influenced You?

So now it’s your turn — if you could mention just one person who has had a positive impact on your own attempts to leave work behind, who would it be and why? Let me know in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of Kate Pulley

Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners (Without Using Job Boards)

Written by Tom Ewer on December 21, 2012. 48 Comments

WritingI have been an advocate of using job boards to find freelance blogging jobs for a long time now. However, I am aware that quite a few LWB readers are left frustrated by their experience. They either submit pitches and receive no replies or feel that they are confronted only by jobs that require experience they simply don’t have. So if you are a beginner freelance writer and feel that job boards offer you little, this post is for you. I am going to take you step by step through a process will hopefully result in you landing your first freelance writing client. Freelance writing jobs for beginners are not only available from job boards and in this post I want to demonstrate that to you.

There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission. It will cost you nothing extra. I only ever endorse products that I have personally used and tested extensively. Thank you! Keep Reading

“Successful Freelance Writing Online” is Now Available on Amazon!

Written by Tom Ewer on December 18, 2012. 17 Comments

Successful Freelance Writing OnlineUpdate: my Kindle plans have now changed and this book is no longer available in its totality on Amazon. Click here to find out why!

The number one request I have received since launching Successful Freelance Writing Online has been for a Kindle version of the guide. Having just bought a Kindle Paperwhite myself I can understand what all the fuss is about — it it truly is an awesome reading platform.

A Kindle version is something I planned to do since before I published the original guide and as such I am delighted to announce that Successful Freelance Writing Online is now available on Amazon!

What You Can Expect

Successful Freelance Writing Online on Kindle

A snapshot of the Kindle version of my guide.

The Kindle version of Successful Freelance Writing Online is an abridged and stripped back version of the PDF guide (minus all extras). However, it is also cheaper — retailing for around $9.99.

If you are on a budget then the Kindle version could be right up your alley. On the other hand, if you want the full guide, all of the extras, free revision upgrades and secret bonuses (along with a complimentary copy of the Kindle version), you’ll want to get your hands on the full version.

But that’s not all the news for today. In addition to the launch of the Kindle version I can also announce that the main guide’s extras have now been expanded to include five completely exclusive articles:

Not only that but I have a big new update planned in the New Year for existing and future owners of the full guide. You’ll just have to stay tuned to wait for that!

Can You Do Me a Favor?

My aim is for Successful Freelance Writing Online to become a bestseller on Amazon, but in order for this to happen it will need to be a top seller (obviously!) and well reviewed.

Therefore, if you own the guide or like it, please go ahead and “Like” the guide by clicking the button in Amazon:

Like My Guide

You can also pick tags that will be associated with the guides — the more votes I get, the higher they’ll rank for that tag. You’ll find these tags just above the Customer Reviews section on the product page. Just check the tags you agree with and click on “Agree with these tags?”:


Finally, if you would take the time to review the book I would be enormously grateful. It’s the reviews that really make the difference so if you do purchase the guide, taking a few moments to write one on Amazon would be such a huge favor to me.

What Do You Think?

In case you missed the links above just click here to buy Successful Freelance Writing Online from Amazon right now.

So this is another big step forward for my first information product. What do you think — will you be buying? Are you a fan of the Kindle platform? Let us know in the comments section!

7 Stories: Joys, Trials and Tribulations of My Journey to Date

Written by Tom Ewer on December 14, 2012. 39 Comments

A Long RoadLast week I asked my email subscribers to fill out a simple poll.

It was made up of practical questions like “How often are you happy to receive emails from me?” and “Do you enjoy my exclusive tips and advice emails sent on a Thursday?”

The idea was that I could use the feedback to send the kind (and frequency) of emails that my subscribers want. I was really happy to see that the responses indicated a high level of satisfaction with what I was currently doing, but it was the “Any more comments” submissions that really got me.

Of the 151 responses submitted, 30 people were kind enough to leave me some really heartwarming feedback, for which I am hugely grateful. However, there was one message in particular that really touched a nerve and inspired me to write this post today.

“Give Us What We All Need”

The message was anonymous, like all the others (except those who had actually identified themselves). Here it is (paraphrased):

Bring it. Give us what we all need. Much more saturation, more tears, more in-the-trenches detail of personal growth including:

  1. Big and small failures
  2. Daily miseries
  3. Impossible life-choices and painful dilemmas
  4. Sacrifices
  5. Green-eyed monster jealousy of others’ ease of success/looks/luck
  6. Debilitating backstabbing disappointments and letdowns of friends and family abandonments
  7. Dumb-luck rare wind-falls and unexplainable great breaks

Don’t ask me why this message struck such a chord, but it compelled me to do exactly what was asked for. So here we go — seven personal stories to match the seven requests in my anonymous subscriber’s message.

1. Big and Small Failures

Failure should be treasured (tweet this)

If I’ve done one thing well since I started down my path to leaving work behind back in May 2011, it has been the act of failing.

I don’t say that in some kind of self-loathing, “I’m useless” kind of way. After all, with the year drawing to a close I am absolutely delighted with how my first year of self-employment has gonemy income is going in the right direction and I really enjoy what I do.

Yet I have failed on countless occasions — some notable examples can be found in mid-2011. I launched two sites that both flopped dramatically — Modeling for Kids and Deal With Anxiety. Just reading those words may seem inconsequential but those two failures probably represent in excess of 100 hours work.

Deal With Anxiety Screenshot

I poured a huge amount of time into Deal With Anxiety, but it only attracts a handful of daily visitors.

But I didn’t stop there. For instance, at the beginning of 2012 I tried to devise a system for creating profitable niche sites. A few months (and $3,000 in expenses) later, I gave up. And I’ve not even mentioned the multitude of small failures which occur on a weekly basis.

I believe that anyone who is trying to achieve something worthwhile must understand that failure is part of the process. If you’re not failing on some level, you’re simply not pushing yourself hard enough. Constant failure is something to be worried by, but occasional failure that teaches you invaluable lessons and pushes you in the right direction must be treasured.

2. Daily Miseries

Accepting that perfection isn’t possible can make you a great deal happier (tweet this)

I struggle with productivity on a daily basis. I’m a terrible sleeper which certainly doesn’t help — I often oversleep and struggle to concentrate come lunch time. That inevitably leads to a nap which can often extend well into the afternoon, despite my initial best intentions.

I can imagine that some of you must think it’s pretty great to be able to moan about taking long naps in the afternoon, and I get that — I understand how fortunate I am that I don’t have a boss to yell at me for sleeping on the job. But it’s a bad thing too. That same boss motivates you to work (even if you don’t like their method of motivation). When you work by yourself and are your own boss, all of the motivation has to be internal.

With tiredness comes lack of motivation, and with lack of motivation comes a poor work ethic. It’s something I really struggle with. Some days I will be totally fired up and work non-stop all day long. Other days I’ll feel like doing anything at all is a huge effort.

These days I’ve learned to simply accept that I’ll have good and bad days and take an average view. If I feel like I’m progressing overall then I’m not going to beat myself up about slacking off at times. Quite frankly, life is too short to do that to yourself if you can afford not to. And the fact that I can go easy on myself reminds me of how fortunate I am to have worked myself into such a position.

3. Painful Dilemmas

Quitting your job is always a risk, but so is staying (tweet this)

My Old Office

What I left behind.

There are few more painful dilemmas than the decision as to whether or not you should quit your job. That’s where I was in November 2011. I had just one writing client who had paid me a grand total of $450 in October — not quite enough to cover my $4,000 outgoings.

Despite that, I made the decision to quit. And it may sound strange given the circumstances, but I didn’t actually feel like it was that hard a decision.

First of all, I was unhappy. I was leaving a well paying job that I enjoyed but I was never going to be satisfied by working for someone else. Although I was taking a big financial risk in quitting my job, I was risking my ongoing happiness by staying in the role for any longer. And if I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that money is not the most important thing in life (far from it).

Secondly, I could see the potential. If one client was willing to pay me $x per hour for my services and that hourly rate matched my current wage, theoretically I could make it work. In reality I felt that I could actually earn much more, and was proven right — in November 2012 I earned an equivalent hourly rate that was nearly five times higher than what I was paid in November 2011.

Conventional wisdom states that you should be earning as much from your side venture as you do from your job before you take the leap. I think that’s terrible advice for anyone who values their time and ability. If you have established a proven method of making money that you can scale, why wait? Quitting your job is always a risk, but so is staying. You’ll have to make a tough decision at some point.

4. Sacrifices

It is possible for sacrifice to make you happier (tweet this)

It would be far more dramatic for the purposes of this post if I could say that I’ve made huge sacrifices in getting this far, but I really don’t feel that I have.

When I started out I knew that I would have to cut back, and for a time I did. I kept a careful eye on my expenditure and tried my best to keep my savings from disappearing (which they were doing so at a fair rate in the first few months of 2012). I got down to around $3,000 in the bank at my lowest point. With my outgoings being more like $4,000, I was getting a little bit closer to the breadline than I would’ve liked.

Big sacrifices were certainly on the cards. I agonized over selling my beloved car. I considered selling my house and moving in with my sister in Texas for a period. And that’s not to mention all the less dramatic considerations like getting rid of my satellite TV package, buying cheaper groceries, going out less, and so on.

But none of these considerations of sacrifice gave me regret for the decision I had made. I felt that I was on the right track, and more importantly, I was happy with what I was doing. Although I was earning less, I was happier, and that was far more important to me.

As it turned out my income continued to grow and in July 2012 I broke even for the first time. My income hasn’t dropped below $4,000 since then and I would like to think that it never will. But regardless of that, I still know that I made the right decision, and I have never regretted it.

5. Jealousy

To be ignorant of success is to not understand how it was achieved (tweet this)

If there is one constant in life it is that someone will always be “better” than you.

Social Media Examiner

Social Media Examiner

I remember reading a post by Marcus Sheridan many months ago when he made note of that the fact that he had launched his blog in the same month that Michael Stelzner launched Social Media Examiner — a behemoth of a website.

Whilst there is no doubting Marcus’ success (I for one have a huge amount of respect for him), one must acknowledge that Michael has a far bigger site and presumably makes a great deal more money.

You can’t avoid those facts. I can’t imagine how many people there are that started out in May 2011 that are way ahead of me. But what’s the point in me comparing myself to them? How will that help me?

Holding yourself to a higher standard by focusing on how you can improve yourself to beat your competition is one thing — beating yourself up because someone who you perceive to be “similar” to you is doing “better” (whatever that means) is a waste of time.

As for putting someone else’s success down to luck — that’s a dangerous road to walk down. Trivialize other people’s success at your own risk, because to be ignorant of success is to not understand how it was achieved.

6. Disappointments

If there were no assholes then you wouldn’t appreciate those who are good and kind (tweet this)

Fortunately I have not been the victim of “letdowns of friends and family abandonments” during my journey. I was certainly the focus of plenty of concern and perhaps a lack of faith in my ability to achieve what I set out to do, but people’s hearts were always in the right place.

Neither have I been backstabbed, although I have certainly been verbally attacked on more than one occasion. The last time was just a couple of days ago in fact:


At such times it is all too tempting to stoop down to their level and respond in kind, but that is never a good idea. I am slowly learning that the moral high ground is always the best place to operate from, so I responded as such:


To Elaine’s credit, she apologized for her first statement and all was well in the world again. But I know that there will be plenty more antagonistic tweets and angry emails in the future — it comes with the territory. Whilst it’s always disappointing to be confronted with them, it’s something you have to accept.

In short — people can be assholes. That’s part of life. If there were no assholes then you wouldn’t appreciate those who are good and kind. So accept assholes for the value that they offer and only give them as much time as they deserve.

7. Great Breaks

Never presume that the smallest of opportunities won’t result in a positive outcome (tweet this)

Ask a hundred entrepreneurs when they got their “big break” and most will roll their eyes and tell you that they don’t exist. What people consider to be “big breaks” are typically the culmination of months or years of hard work.

Well…I may be the exception that proves the rule. In September 2011 I submitted a handful of pitches for writing jobs via the ProBlogger Job Board — more out of sheer frustration with my lack of progress than anything. I didn’t expect to receive any positive feedback. After all, I had no writing qualifications or experience.

But from those pitches I received an offer to trial for the WPMU blog. That trial led to a writing job which inspired me to quit my job, which in turn inspired me to seek out more clients and establish a successful freelance writing business. That then inspired me to write and publish a freelance blogging guide. My freelance writing income enables me to commit many hours every day to passive income projects, and I hope to see my income grow in future months. All because of a handful of pitches, submitted on a whim.

That experience taught me an extremely valuable lesson — that sometimes the best opportunities and outcomes arise from the unlikeliest of situations. I see this fact repeating itself time and time again. For example, just the other week I landed an exciting new client from one of this blog’s readers. I certainly wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for a referral from her, but it came nonetheless!

Never presume that the smallest of opportunities won’t result in a positive outcome. Be as indiscriminate in your focus on every possible avenue in life as you can afford to be.

What’s Your Story?

There you have it folks — seven distinct stories that encapsulate my journey to date. I know that there will be many more stories to come and I can’t wait to experience them and share them with you as they happen.

But now it’s your turn — I’d love to hear your story. So pick from one of the above themes — one that strikes a chord with you — and tell it to us in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of Genista