Leaving Work Behind

5 Lessons Learned from My Failed Authority Blog Project

Written by Tom Ewer on August 29, 2013. 66 Comments

Failure

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently (tweet this).

~ Henry Ford

In my experience, a lot of people are under the impression that once you’ve “made it” as an entrepreneur (whatever that means), you stop making mistakes.

Well, I certainly haven’t. I’m probably making as many mistakes these days as I ever did. Fortunately, I’ve also had some success along the way to balance things out.

I don’t see failure as the enemy. Failure usually offers up huge learning opportunities. Furthermore, rarely is any failure a true “failure” in the literal sense of the word.

The failed project I am going to discuss in this post provides one such example of how beneficial failure can be. It has taught me an enormous amount and (to an extent) defined the direction of a major future project of mine. I for one am bizarrely happy that I was victim to such “failure.” Read on to find out why!

Recapping the One Hour Authority Site Project

The One Hour Authority Site Project was launched on 14th September 2012. At the center of the project was my authority site: Free Online Dating Advice.

FODA

It was originally intended as an experiment in producing content specifically for low-competition keywords in the hope of ranking for them without any backlinking necessary. When that experiment failed I decided to turn the site into a blog in the “traditional” sense, with a unique design, social media profiles and content that was more “bloggy.”

With a custom design and nearly 100 high-quality posts published, I consider Free Online Dating Advice a fantastic resource for anyone interested in online dating.

Not including this post I have written ten updates on the project here on LWB:

As you will see if you read through those posts, just about every aspect of my approach to the project has been documented in detail.

Just a few days ago, I decided to call time on the project. There were a number of reasons as to why I made this decision, but Free Online Dating is no longer an ongoing concern for me. I’m moving on.

In the twelve months or so that the project was ongoing, I learned a huge amount — mostly about what not to do when creating authority sites / blogs. Now I want to share those lessons with you.

1. Forget Google

I’m going to be frank about this: I am sick of talking about Google. Until I feel the need to feature another rant about search engine optimization, you are not likely to hear me talking about Google again.

Why? Because Google is unpredictable and still remarkably unsophisticated.

Glen Allsopp of ViperChill has recently written a bunch of posts on how Google still serves up low-quality results on the first page for popular keywords. To be honest, I do not have the inclination to keep up with the schemes of black hat scammers — especially when the efficacy of such schemes can shift from one day to the next.

But webmasters are not only fighting the scammers and spammers when attempting to rank — they’re also competing with bigger brands and budgets (regardless of the quality of the information on hand).

Consider for example the top five results on Google for the keyword “online dating advice”:

Google Top Five Results

On the face of it you could argue that these results are reasonable — they are all relevant articles published by well-known brands. But there’s more than meets the eye.

First of all, each of the above pages links to an article on a site that is not specifically related to online dating. It’s just one article. In fact, to call some of them “articles” is a stretch: Channel 4’s page is made up of nothing more than a collection of online dating tips totalling just 450 words.

Tips for Online Dating

Mmm…comprehensive.

So where does my site — with nearly 100 articles featuring online dating advice from experienced online daters — feature in the SERPs for the keyword “online dating advice”? Let’s see…

FODA Rankings

There it is! Ranked 104th, below awesome articles like top online dating tips men women and lazer-focused websites such as Romance Online Dating Sex Advice Horoscope.

I believe that in terms of both quantity and quality, my site should be on the top spot for the keyword “online dating advice”. I have worked hard to make sure that the content is informative, helpful and actionable. When a good friend of mine told me last week that she has started online dating, I didn’t hesitate to recommend it to her because I believe in what I have created.

Yet Google clearly disagrees. And I can see why by their parameters — the domain is less than a year old and there aren’t many backlinks pointing to the site. I’m not arguing against that. But I am arguing that Google consistently fails to rank the best content in the right places. And I’ve got no interest in playing their game.

Here’s how I see it: Google rankings come last. You create a great website, you work your ass off to get it in front of people, they start to link to it, and in time you get rankings in Google. At no point do you make a concerted effort to rank, but it will happen naturally. To engage in a focused effort to rank in Google above all other marketing strategies is to create an exercise in temporary success or total futility.

2. Only Write About What Other People Are Writing/Talking About

Online dating has come a long way in the past decade or so. It’s transformed from a closet interest into a mainstream activity. It is far less of a taboo than it was.

However, it is still something of a taboo. Although online dating is now a huge industry, you won’t find many high-quality online dating blogs out there. I would rank mine easily amongst the best, and thats with just ~100 articles published over twelve months or so.

However, competing with no one can be a bad thing. You see, bloggers typically thrive on reciprocation (not in the black hat Google sense, but in a real, organic sense). On LWB I’ll find an awesome blog post and link to it. Someone else will come across a post on LWB and link to it. These links spread across the web, then people browse from one blog to the next and stick to those that they like. It’s an effective system.

But if few people are actually talking about a topic (such as online dating), this “recycling” simply doesn’t happen.

Just do a quick search for “online dating blog” or even “dating blog” and you’ll see how woefully underserved the niche is. Far from this being an opportunity, it makes building an audience pretty damn hard. Unless you’re an SEO whizz and can rank for some decent keywords (let’s not go there again), your next obvious avenue is to reach out and network with other bloggers. If there aren’t any (or only a handful of questionable quality), you’re screwed.

I made a few connections in the dating/online dating niche and even had a couple of guest posts published. Those two guest posts sent me a grand total of nine visitors.

Furthermore, articles on online dating are not the kind of things that people will be keen to share. I said that online dating is less of a taboo, but it is definitely still taboo to an extent. While most people will admit that they are online dating, they’re not going to advertise it by sharing articles on online dating. If you want to build a successful blog, it helps if people actually want to share your content.

3. Be Exclusive

The first rule of failureThe common curse of the newbie blogger is to create a blog for everyone.

The best (or worst, depending upon your outlook) examples I see of this are those blogs that touch upon a number of broad topics. For example, a recent reader asked me to critique their blog on “Spirituality, Productivity and Personal Development.” What a confusing mess of topics.

In reality, successful bloggers should not only focus on a specific topic, but focus on a specific subset of people interested in that topic. To be vague in your approach is to melt into the background.

I made this mistake with Free Online Dating Advice. I didn’t make an online dating blog for men in their 30s or single mothers — I made an online dating blog for everyone. Because it was for everyone, it had a far smaller chance of resonating with anyone.

I’m showing how it should be done with my new blog, Healthy Enough. Here are some notes I have made relating to my target reader:

Target Reader

I got really specific with this — Healthy Enough is for a very particular type of person.

This will be to my benefit, as the above type of person will feel like the blog was made for him when he lands on it.

I’d like to make something clear though: being exclusive does not mean that you literally have to exclude everyone but your target audience. In an ideal world I would like everyone to love my blog, but that is not possible. So I’ve focused down on a subset, but in doing so, I will also be appealing to plenty of other people (both men and women) for whom the subject matter will still resonate with.

By targeting a specific type of person you include them wholly. However, you also include many other people partially — and that can be enough. For instance, a 25-year-old woman could match many of the above aspects of my target reader, and as such could still be interested in the blog.

This will result in a core audience of highly engaged visitors, surrounded by a much larger group of partially engaged visitors. Anyone else will bounce off your site, which is exactly what you want.

4. Create High Quality Content, Then Share It Liberally

The web is saturated with content. That means one thing: if you are going to make any kind of noise, you need to publish only your best content, then make sure that plenty of people see it.

If that means posting once per fortnight (or even less frequently) rather than twice per week, so be it.

A great example of how effective this can be comes courtesy of a blog called Forever Jobless. Its second post, How to Buy a Ferrari for $20k, has 240 comments, 143 Facebook likes and 40 tweets.

Forever Jobless

Not bad for a blog’s second post, right? It did so well because it was such a compelling post (bravo, Billy).

To go back to Healthy Enough again, that’s why at the time of writing I haven’t published a third blog post, despite my last post having been published eight days ago. I’m working on a post that requires a lot of research and a lot of work, and I’ll only publish it when I’m confident that people will get a lot of value out of it. Then I’ll spend the subsequent week sending it to everyone and anyone who I think could benefit from it or would be interested by it.

Derek Halpern put it really well in a recent article on Social Triggers:

If you spend time writing a piece of content, and that content only gets 1,000 readers, chances are there are one million other people in the world who can benefit from what you wrote.

Why, then, would you spend more time creating content when you already have something that your ideal customers can benefit from?

It’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more [content].

Or, in other words, create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.

Derek’s nailed it. If you truly spend four times as long promoting a piece of content as you did writing it, success is all but guaranteed (on the assumption that your content is suitably compelling).

5. Have a Striking Personality

Speaking of Derek, if you’re familiar with Social Triggers, you’ll know that he is a frank and (dare I say it) rather brash character. It works well for him, as it has for many others: Johnny B. Truant, Ashley Ambirge, Dave Navarro, et al.

I’m not saying you should be frank and brash, but you should be something. To blog without character is to serve up lifeless and uninspiring content. Even if you provide compelling content, if it reads like a college essay, the masses are unlikely to engage with it.

This is as much about clarifying who your target reader is as it is about not being afraid to be yourself. You’ll need to combine both pieces of the equation in order to create characterful content.

Let’s look yet again at Healthy Enough. The second post I wrote was 10 Ways You Know You Should Be a Healthy Enough Reader, and it pulled no punches.

The featured image and first line of the post is in itself enough to turn plenty of people off:

Healthy Enough

However, there are a group of people who will resonate with my (admittedly immature and slightly off the wall) personality. If you like pulling stupid faces, toilet humor and Family Guy (oh, and being healthy enough), you’ll love the blog. If you hate those things, you’ll hate the blog.

Dividing opinion with a strong character is part and parcel of building a successful blog. Leaving Work Behind has become a popular on the blog in part because I have always been utterly honest and forthcoming about both my success and my failures. I have promoted a personality of utter honesty and transparency (one that is rare in the “make money online” niche) and people have appreciated that. However, I’ve also published my fair share of forthright posts that not everyone agree with (such as this).

In short, don’t be afraid to piss a few people off. Just make sure that you’re also resonating with a bunch of other people.

So What Next?

In a beautiful stroke of irony, the day I finally decided to call it a day on Free Online Dating Advice was also the day when a new article on the blog hit the front page of Reddit, bringing in a few hundred visitors:

Clicky Analytics

However, that changed nothing. A blip of low-quality traffic wasn’t going to transform FODA’s fortunes.

At the time of writing I have a further nine posts (i.e. nine weeks’ worth) scheduled, so the site will actually rumble on for a while yet. After that, new content will cease and the site will be dormant.

I’m not going to do anything rash like shut it down — for those few people who actually come across the site, I hope they get a great deal of value from it. The published content is the result of a lot of hard work and I believe that it can help anyone interested in the world of online dating. But unless something drastic happens, FODA as an active project is over for good.

Healthy Enough has now taken FODA’s place as my active non-LWB project and I am seriously excited about its prospects. I feel like after just over two years of blogging, I am really starting to get a handle on what is really needed to create a highly successful blog. Most of what I have done with Leaving Work Behind has been trial and error — Healthy Enough is my opportunity to start from scratch and apply all of my experience from the very beginning.

If you have any questions or comments relating to my lessons learned from a failed authority site project, please do not hesitate to leave them in the comments section below!

Image Credits: Brett Jordan and Ilker.

Exploring the Less Glamorous Side of Leaving Work Behind

Written by Tom Ewer on August 20, 2013. 70 Comments

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2013

When it comes to leaving work behind, most people have an overriding focus on making more money.

However, there’s so much more to the concept of leaving work behind than that. While it is about creating the financial freedom that enables you to do what you want, making more money doesn’t have to be the key factor in that equation.

In this post I want to cover a topic that is far less glamorous than making money, but can get you  closer to leaving work behind far more quickly than you might have previously imagined.

What Does “Leaving Work Behind” Mean?

In my experience, most people liken the concept of leaving work behind to making loads of money without spending a great deal of time working. Another definition is to make as much money as you earned in your job while having the freedom and flexibility of working for yourself.

While they are both valid descriptions of leaving work behind, they’re certainly not the only valid descriptions.

Consider this one for example: leaving work behind is earning far less than you do now, reducing your material expenditure dramatically, but being free of your job.

While it may instinctively feel “wrong” to earn less, often it can be totally worth it for the freedom that it affords you. Furthermore, you may find that once you have the extra freedom afforded by quitting your job, you can work on increasing your income over time.

My point is this: if you want to quit your job and build a better life for yourself, don’t limit yourself to one-dimensional thinking. Don’t focus on making more money alone. Broaden your horizons and consider all of the potential things you can do in the context of reaching your goal of leaving work behind.

A Penny Saved…

Making money can be really difficult — especially when you’re just getting started. But saving money is easy by comparison and can be done at any time. Most people are so focused on making money when saving money, in the short term, can have just as great an impact (often greater).

Let’s face it: the overwhelming majority of us spend inordinate amounts of money on unnecessary material goods (I know I do). Even the most frugal of us can still make big savings in their expenditure, regardless of how tight they think they have trimmed their budget.

The curious phenomenon is that despite the above, most people will tell you that there’s not much room for manoeuvre in their budgets. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are some of my favorite examples of how “essential” expenditure can be cut down to size:

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box either. For example, if you didn’t have a job would you still need a car?

If you feel like you simply cannot live without your creature comforts then perhaps a little perspective would help adjust your outlook. What would you rather do: work 9-to-5 then go home to watch TV, or work just two or three hours per day, as you please, then read a book in your spare time?

In reality, if you are prepared to downsize your life, you’ll find that you can live off dramatically less. If you can do so, you may be able to afford to quit your job right now.

Add Muscle and Lose Fat

To use a diet and exercise analogy (something I’m very much focused on at the moment), putting on muscle is making money and losing fat is saving money.

If you just put on muscle the end result might be quite impressive (and you’ll certainly be stronger), but you will look bulky and bloated because you’ve still got a layer of fat over that muscle. Alternatively, if you just lose fat and you already have some muscle tone, you’ll look a whole lot better without putting any muscle on.

But ideally, you should go for the best of both worlds: lose fat and gain muscle. That’ll afford you the most impressive results.

Although losing fat is by far the less glamorous side of the equation, it can often have the greatest effect and is the easiest part of the puzzle to complete.

Is It Worth It?

A lot of people simply aren’t prepared to give up their creature comforts to leave work behind. And that’s fine, as long as they are willing to admit to themselves that they don’t want to leave work behind badly enough to make the necessary sacrifices. Denial doesn’t help anyone.

However, a whole other bunch of people simply haven’t thought about the equation hard enough. While instinctively you can feel like you’re going backwards if you cut down on your outgoings to quit your job, in reality the opposite is occurring. Once you stop looking at money as the be all and end all of your life, your whole perspective can shift dramatically.

Consider this: if I had the opportunity to earn less money but be even happier, I’d take the opportunity without a second’s thought. Wouldn’t you? That’s the equation you can be dealing with here: spend less, quit your job, be happier.

And of course, once you have the level of freedom that is afforded by quitting your job, there is no reason why you can’t work towards earning more money anyway.

That is exactly what I did: the first month after I quit my job I earned a grand total of $937 when my typical outgoings were more like $3,000. However, I cut down my expenditure and worked on earning more, with the backing of a financial safety net to keep me from financial harm’s way. It all came good for me, but even if I hadn’t been able to earn as much as I did, there was still scope for me reducing my outgoings massively.

Take the Challenge

In some ways, going hardcore frugal is a fun concept to me. It’s something I did at college (like most people) and to a lesser extent afterwards; it was fun in a way to see how little I could spend and still survive.

But there’s a far more compelling reason to cut your expenditure than the simple challenge of it. Think of it this way: if you can trim enough off your outgoings today, you might able to quit your job tomorrow.

How exciting is that as a prospect? While you may feel that there are 101 things holding you back from taking the leap, you can make the decision a whole lot easier just by spending less.

Remember: leaving work behind isn’t about earning piles of cash, it’s about being happy and in control of your life. And you don’t need cash to be happy.

Why You Shouldn’t Be Blogging

Written by Tom Ewer on August 13, 2013. 68 Comments
Photo Credit: Andy P

Photo Credit: Andy P

When it comes to making money online and the “passive income” dream, the first thing that comes to mind for many of us is blogging.

And why not? Examples of successful bloggers abound and the barriers of entry are practically non-existent. You can decide to start a blog now and be up and running in ten minutes time. Personally speaking, I attribute a great deal of my success to this blog.

But in my opinion (and with the benefit of hindsight), creating a blog with the aim of monetizing it is not the best way to build a sustainable online business quickly. Not by a long shot. Although I am a huge fan of blogging, in this post I want to play devil’s advocate and explain why it is an inferior method of making money online. I’ll also explain what I think you should do in order to give yourself the best possible chance of building a successful online business.

My Experience With Blogging

Leaving Work Behind is now over two years old and at the time of writing generates approximately $3,000 per month in direct net revenue. That’s not a small amount, but it pales in comparison to my freelance earnings, which are only likely to increase as Clear Blogging Solutions grows.

Although I believe that my blog income will eventually outstrip my current freelancing income record (~$6,000 in one month) and perhaps even the income generated by Clear Blogging Solutions, it will have been a long journey.

For the first fifteen months or so of its existence Leaving Work Behind operated at a loss. Furthermore, if I were able to to divide its lifetime net income by the total sum of hours spent on Leaving Work Behind, the hourly rate would be paltry.

My blogging journey has been beneficial for many reasons and I believe that I am near a tipping point where all of the hard work to date will truly begin to pay off. However, it has taken a long time and a great deal of hard work to get to this point.

The Problem With Blogging

The art of blogging is simple to learn but extremely difficult to master. Unless you know what you’re doing, it takes an awful long time to build a successful blogging brand.

That was the case with me — I was brand new to blogging in June 2011 and it has taken me over two years to really nail down in my head what Leaving Work Behind is all about. I believe that the next few months will see this blog explode in popularity, but it has been a long time coming.

Many people will point to the “overnight” success of certain blogs as evidence that one can become a successful blogger in a short space of time. One can argue that sites like Social Triggers are evidence of just how quickly a blog can take off. But Social Triggers wasn’t Derek Halpern’s first rodeo. He launched Social Triggers off the back of a string of successful websites — of which one attracted a million page views in just one day. By the time he had the idea for what is now one of the most successful online marketing blogs in the world, he had already cut his teeth on a number of different websites over a period of years.

When it came to launching Social Triggers, Derek drew upon his prior experience to create something that rose to the top quickly, but if you’re new to blogging you cannot expect to achieve the same. While you may be able to find example of overnight success stories, they are the exceptions to the rule and make it far too easy to dream about what could be.

The bottom line is this: if you want build a blog that will enable you to quit your job, you should expect to wait for at least a year (and probably much longer), and that’s if you have the patience and determination to slog through periods of stagnancy and demotivation. Let me put it this way: I would still be in the job that I left in December 2011 if I only had my blog’s income to rely upon. In fact, I may have given up altogether.

Blogging as a Business Model

It is extremely difficult to generate an income directly from a blog — it almost always requires an underlying business model.

The only real exception to this rule is affiliate marketing, but as far as I am concerned, generating an income from affiliate marketing without selling your soul is very difficult to do. It can so easily put you in a position where you compromise your morals (I consider this to be the case for even certain a-list bloggers who are mistakenly considered infallible by many). Furthermore, your income relies upon products created by others — a situation I wouldn’t like to bet my career on.

In my experience, blogs are most effective when acting as a source for client or customer leads for a business. The blog does not directly make money — it acts as a referral source for the machine that does make money.

But having a big audience does not mean that you will make a lot of money from them — directly or indirectly. If you build a blog with a huge audience that has no interest in spending money, you’re screwed.

And let’s face it: most people who read blogs have no prior interest in spending money on them. They come to read free content. You have to persuade them — often over an extended period of time — that whatever you have to sell to them is worth their hard-earned money. Doing so is not easy.

If you practically consider blogging as a business model for a moment, it’s absurd: trying to build a potential customer base out of people who aren’t interested in buying. If you had the choice between doing that or attempting to sell to people who are in a buying mood, which way would you go?

So What Should You Do?

Creating a business ultimately comes down to three approaches:

  1. Services,
  2. Products, or
  3. A mixture of the above.

Whichever route you choose, the key is to create something of value and market it to people who may want to purchase it.

Regular readers of Leaving Work Behind will know that I am a huge fan of service provision as a means of building a sustainable online business with relative ease. While it may not be as glamorous as “passive income” business models, freelancing is a means of building a real business that can operate in the long term (do you think that niche sites are going to last forever?). Furthermore, as I am just beginning to show, you can adapt and evolve a freelancing business way beyond its original boundaries. The sky is the limit.

If you have a monetizeable asset, you should look very carefully into your freelancing options. For many of us, what we do in our day jobs can be freelanced (e.g. bookkeeping). Alternatively (or additionally), a particular skill you have that you may not fully appreciate could offer great opportunity (like writing did for me).

The alternative is to build an online business by selling products (either electronic or physical). There are a huge number of ways in which you can do this but my primary advice would be this: consider areas in which you have specialized knowledge and seek to utilize them. Find your “unfair advantage” and exploit it to its full potential.

I’ll give you an example — one that is unfolding before my eyes.

Cheese wedding cakeMy girlfriend works as a sales rep for a cheese wholesaler and knows more about cheese than anyone else I know. She also knows how wholesalers work. She has also made cheese wedding cakes (like that bad boy to the right) for friends. It only takes brief clarity of thought to see how those qualities could be combined to launch a micro business selling cheese wedding cakes, and that is exactly what she is doing. (Incidentally, I’ll probably have more to tell you about that project in the future.)

Raise Your Business Idea from the Ground

I recently finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing, which offers many pearls of wisdom that I’ll be reflecting upon over the coming days and weeks. One of my favorites was his likening of as yet untold stories to buried fossils. King believes that stories are pre-existing — under the ground, so to speak, and your talent as an author is your ability to raise that fossil from the ground intact.

I think the same way about business ideas. I believe that you have a great business idea inside of you right now. It may be buried, perhaps deep underground and perhaps in so many fragmented parts, but it’s there. What you need to do is dig deep and excavate it.

To translate the analogy into practical terms, what you must do is explore the potential for a synergy of your strengths. If you can combine one or more of your relatively unique talents in an effective manner then you may well have a winning business idea on your hands.

The irony of my suggested approaches above is that you might well decide to create a blog as part of your business model. That’s absolutely fine — as long as the blog isn’t at the center of your business model.

Conclusion

The purpose of this post is not to tell you that you shouldn’t blog.

After all, this blog makes me good money and serves as a referral source for my freelance business. Furthermore, blogging can be fun — an interesting hobby that could lead to more in time. Who am I to tell you not to enjoy yourself?

The title of this post was deliberately antagonistic in the hope that it would lead more people to read it (Why Blogging is Pretty Cool But You Should Maybe Think About Other Stuff Too just didn’t quite have the same ring to it). However, my intentions are honest. I think it is high time that the “make money online” crowd shifted their expectations of what blogging can do for us and put careful thought into the alternatives.

You should be impatient to Leave Work Behind. You should want to do it tomorrow. Blogging won’t get you there tomorrow.

Find something that will.

My Monthly Income Report — July 2013

Written by Tom Ewer on August 5, 2013. 47 Comments
Photo Credit: Images of Money

Photo Credit: Images of Money

In last month’s income report I said that June was a “pretty pivotal month.”

Well, July took pivotal and slapped it in the face. Not since I woke up one morning in May 2011 and decided that I simply had to quit my job have I experienced such potentially life-changing thoughts as I have through the past month.

Those radical thoughts have already been documented in a couple of posts I have published in the past few weeks: How I Plan to Revolutionize My Online Business and My Thoughts on the Future of Leaving Work Behind (And Blogging in General). But in the context of this post, I suppose the pertinent question is, “How have these thoughts affected my income?”

As always, you can expect full disclosure from me.

What Happened in July?

At the beginning of the month I took a vacation to Turkey with my girlfriend. When I wasn’t pulling a stupid face for the camera…

Tom Ewer Stupid Face

…I was chilling out on the beach…

Tom Ewer on the beach

…Enjoying a glass of red (while pulling a bit of a stupid face)…

Tom Ewer with wine

…Or, you know, pulling other stupid faces.

Tom Ewer Stupid Face

What can I say — I can’t take myself seriously.

The long and short of it is that I had an awesome time. But perhaps even more importantly, I used the chill-out vacation as an opportunity to read some books and gain some extreme clarity on the past, present and future of my business. By the time I got home, I was ready to make some major changes.

Rather fittingly, the thinking behind those changes was based upon the very essence of what Leaving Work Behind means to me. Although there were (and are still) lots of thoughts rolling around in my head, all of the planned change came down to priorities:

  1. Reducing my direct involvement in the ongoing administration of my business so that I have more flexibility to work (or not) as I please
  2. Doing only work that I find enjoyable and rewarding

Priority number one is met (in theory) by the optimize/eliminate/automate process I outlined in this post, and priority number two is met (in part) by my radical new approach to blogging on LWB as outlined in this post.

In a nutshell, July was spent assessing the very foundations of my business and initiating an enormous seismic shift in terms of the future of everything that I do.

Obviously my plans will play out over the coming weeks and months — July was more about thinking than it was about action. With that in mind, how did my earnings fare?

Monthly Income Report — July 2013

  1. Freelance writing:
    • Income: $3,755.42
    • Expenditure: $291.75
    • Profit: $3,463.67
  2. Websites:
    • Income: $148.56
    • Expenditure: $0
    • Profit: $148.56
  3. Affiliate Marketing (Leaving Work Behind):
  4. Information Products:
    • Income: $1,413.08
    • Expenditure: $75.34
    • Profit: $1,337.74
  5. eBooks:
    • Income: $44.61
    • Expenditure: $0
    • Profit: $44.61

Total profit for July 2013: $6,150.24

Holy crap — a drop in income of nearly $3,000! My lowest earning month in 2013! Sound the alarm!

Looks bad on the face of it, doesn’t it? But I’m not worried in the slightest. In fact, I feel better than ever about (a) my current situation and (b) my future prospects.

Breaking Down My Income Breakdown

It doesn’t take much investigation to see the “deficiency” in this month’s income numbers: Freelancing.

In June I earned $5,790, whereas this month I earned just $3,464. That’s well over two grand — or nearly all of the shortfall between the two months — accounted for. While affiliate marketing and information product earnings were also down a little, I don’t consider that to be anything more than the natural ebb and flow of things at play.

So what happened with the freelancing? Well, it was a bit of a perfect storm of circumstances. First of all, I did a bunch of work in the last week of June because I was on holiday in the first week of July. That meant that I invoiced an extra chunk of work in June, and conversely didn’t invoice a chunk of work in July.

Furthermore, no “one-off” work materialised in July. I usually get random bits and bobs coming through from my non-ongoing clients, but that wasn’t the case in July. That just left me with the core of my ongoing client work, which was weakened somewhat by the aforementioned lack of work in the first week of the month.

So What Next?

It’s important to bring perspective into play at moments like this.

I made a lot less money in June. But I still made over six thousand dollars — equivalent to $72,000 p.a. That’s not so bad. On the contrary; it’s enough to pay my bills and give me plenty of pocket change.

That aside, I recognize the month for what it was — a catalyst for major change. I expected the huge shift in my way of thinking to clip my earnings in the short term. After all, I am completely changing my business model from that of a freelancer to a “true” business owner. Furthermore, I am moving away from the income-focused method of blogging and relying instead upon an instinctive approach that feels right to me. An approach that I think will give me the greatest chance of helping my readers. Basically, in every aspect of my business I am making decisions that will make me happy and rewarded by my actions.

In the past few months I had got into this ridiculous game of financial oneupmanship with myself. For four months running I managed to achieve record earning months, but for what? All I was doing was stretching the freelancing business model as far as it would go with little regard for the long term prospects.

Now I am in a far better situation. I have the beginnings of a content marketing business that has the potential to make far more than my freelancing ever did and I feel like I am ready to take LWB to an entirely new level. I made less money in July, but I know that when I look back in six months from now, this month will be seen far more as the point at which everything changed as opposed to the point at which I made less money.

What’s In Store for August?

I’ve got a lot to be getting on with.

First there is the ongoing development of Clear Blogging Solutions. I am getting a steady stream of referrals and I intend for my earnings on this front to exceed my May record of $6,206 within the next two to three months. Whether I achieve that goal remains to be seen.

Next there is Leaving Work Behind. I haven’t given this blog enough respect over the past few months, nor have I given it enough time. I have major plans in place to turn it into something far greater than it currently is. I’m extremely excited about what I have in store but I’m not ready yet to reveal all just yet.

Finally, my team will continue working on Free Online Dating Advice — I have decided to extend the previous plug-pulling deadline date for it through to September. That’s almost entirely a hands off project for me now so it becomes a business decision rather than an emotional one.

At this point I honestly don’t know what my earnings will be like in August. I am 90% certain that I won’t have a record month, but I would be extremely surprised if I don’t have a considerably better month than I did in July.

It feels like I’ve hit a reset button, and in doing so have washed out all of the things that I didn’t like about my business. I have created a framework for the foreseeable future that allows me to do things that I find truly rewarding. In terms of reaching the pinnacle of what it means to truly Leave Work Behind, I feel like I’ve taken a huge step closer.

Announcing the Launch of My Content Marketing Agency!

Written by Tom Ewer on August 1, 2013. 66 Comments

Clear Blogging SolutionsIf you’re a regular LWB reader then you’ll know all about the various radical thoughts that have been running through my head over the past few weeks.

Two posts in particular have given a strong hint of how things will be changing in my business in the near future: How I Plan to Revolutionize My Online Business and My Thoughts on the Future of Leaving Work Behind. If you haven’t read them yet I encourage you to do so now.

My announcement in this post represents a huge milestone in my business. It represents me stepping away from something big and stepping into something bigger. It represents positive change and major growth. Most importantly, it takes me a step closer to what I consider the truest and purest form of the Leaving Work Behind concept.

Announcing the Launch of Clear Blogging Solutions

Let’s get the (rather exciting, for me at least) formalities out of the way first.

Today I am delighted to officially announce the launch of my new content marketing agency: Clear Blogging Solutions.

Clear Blogging Solutions

Clear Blogging Solutions provides content marketing services to bloggers and small businesses who understand the value of content marketing but need assistance in terms of execution (whether that be because they lack the expertise or simply don’t have time to do it themselves).

Our core service offerings are blog article writing (on just about any topic), and social media management and development. We also provide other services to ongoing clients, such as eBook development, link building, copywriting and WordPress website maintenance.

If you’re a blogger and you need help in producing and/or marketing your content, we can help. If you’re an online startup who needs a content marketing solution so that you can focus on the areas in which you can benefit your business the greatest, we can help. If you’re a small business who is looking to establish or develop your online presence, we can help.

That’s the sales pitch out of the way — if you’re interested, check us out and get in touch.

Now I want to explain why and how Clear Blogging Solutions came about.

The Problem With Freelancing

I love freelancing — it completely changed my life.

In September 2011 I was seriously fed up, having failed consistently in my make money online efforts for around six months. I was desperate and willing to give anything a try. So I tried freelance writing.

I’m not going to get into the specifics here (read this, this and this if you want to learn more about the story of how I built a freelance writing business out of nothing), but I went from earning nothing to making thousands of dollars per month in just a few months. My freelance writing earnings peaked in May 2013 at $6,206.

That peak month worked out to approximately one and a half times the monthly salary in my last job in about one third of the hours. My equivalent hourly rate was $152 (slightly below my record of $161 in June 2013). I still have to pinch myself.

However, there was a problem with this business model — it isn’t scalable. I only have so many hours available, and quality writing is mentally taxing work that you can only do so much of before you burn out.

Not only that, but I was compromising my other projects in an effort to squeeze every last penny out of my freelancing business and keep breaking income records. Not a good recipe for long term growth. I was obsessed with numbers (I broke my income record four months running) and had lost sight of the bigger picture.

A Time for Change

I have known for a long time that freelance writing isn’t a scalable business model, but I’ve never been able to see an obvious route into converting my assets (i.e. my writing/business skills, client base, contact list, website, etc.) into a scalable business model.

The obvious route was to take on writers and work in a more editorial-style role. However, my major concerns were that it would be a labor-intensive job and that quality writers could not be found for reasonable prices (i.e. prices that would still allow me to make money).

My opinion on that front changed quickly when I put a call out for paid writers for my online dating authority site. I received around ~30 applications, and while the majority weren’t suitable for my needs, there were a healthy handful of writers who I felt were pretty damn capable. More capable than I was expecting, quite frankly.

Although I had originally intended to hire one writer, I ended up hiring two (and really wanted to take on another one or two). My attitude towards the quality of available writers changed overnight.

This greatly reduced the reasons to not go down the “blogging agency” route. I was now faced with a more manageable problem — teaching my writers how to blog effectively and trusting them to be organized and reliable (in fact, that was what inspired my recent post on seven fatal mistakes that freelance writers make).

In short, I could potentially see the basis for a successful and scalable business.

The Birth of a New Business

So I decided to test the waters.

Working with my dating site writers was remarkably similar to the dynamics of a blogging agency — I just happened to be both the editor and the client. From that experience I knew that there was potential. Since I was already turning away new client requests at this point I figured I had nothing to lose by redirecting new clients to my writers.

The idea was simple:

  1. My writers communicate with the clients directly.
  2. Their work goes through me and I act in an editorial role to ensure that everything is up to scratch.
  3. Clients pay me directly and I pay my writers at their desired rate.
  4. The writers can talk to me if they have any questions or need any further assistance. Similarly, the client can talk to me at any point if they so desire.

The writer is paid at their desired rate and the client gets a top quality end-product that is to my editorial standards. I get my cut for attracting and landing the clients and doing the editorial work.

In this way I might spend fifteen minutes editing a piece rather than two hours writing it. As the writers get better and a level of trust evolves, my involvement can be relatively limited. I can work with far more clients and generate far more revenue in far less time. At least, that’s the idea.

Within a couple of weeks I had landed two new clients through the Clear Blogging Solutions brand. Things were underway.

What Next?

Clear Blogging Solutions has been in existence for a few weeks now — this is essentially the “hard launch.”  It is my intention to grow the business exponentially from this point onwards, but that will of course rely upon the number of client referrals I receive and successfully convert.

At this stage I am negotiating with a few prospective clients and expect for a proportion of those deals to go through. I am hoping that this post will generate further interest and that my bylines across the web will bring in further enquiries. I may also dabble in “cold emailing” to targeted prospects, but I’ve not made a decision on that front yet.

The issue is certainly not with the quality of my solution. I am extremely delighted with the pool of writers I have already gathered and know that with my editorial oversight, we can produce a huge amount of high-quality content. The issue will be in effectively advertising our service to those people that will be interested by it.

I expect to obtain referrals from three main sources:

  1. This website (see the “Blogging Services” link in the navigation bar)
  2. Bylines on blogs that I currently write for
  3. Referrals from existing clients

I would also like to set up relationships with content marketing firms who need writing services and partnerships with web design / SEO agencies and the like. If you own such an agency, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I’m taking a relatively laissez-faire approach to marketing at this stage. I feel like I already have a pretty good “web” established that may be able to drive a decent number of prospective clients to the business. Only time will tell if that is the case.

What About My Existing Clients?

I have no intention of stopping my writing work with any of my existing clients. I love working with them and hope to continue to do so.

I feel like my own writing work is at a manageable level — just because I have created a scalable business model for writing services does not mean that I cannot still offer those services myself.

Having said that, working with a talented writing team does help me to make the whole process easier. When appropriate they can help me with research, planning and content production. The client will always get the same top quality product they have always received. In fact, with my additional resources I can look to provide even more value. It’s a win/win situation.

Having said that, I have been in touch with all of my existing clients already to let them know of the new setup. I certainly don’t intend to keep anyone in the dark.

Do You Want to Work With Me?

I am currently building a database of writers to pick from when working with new clients. As I said when I was looking for writers for my authority site:

To put it simply, I want to find me, circa September 2011 — a hungry freelance writer who has raw talent but little experience. My offer to you is simple: The opportunity to earn money and improve your blogging skills.

I’m looking for people with solid writing and blogging skills. Particular areas of expertise are beneficial but not necessary. Competition is pretty high but I will carefully consider every single application I receive, and if I don’t have anything for you right now, I may well do at some point down the line.

If you are interested in applying then please fill out this form. I will be in touch if I feel there is an opportunity for us to work together.

What Do You Think?

I would love to get your feedback on this major new direction in terms of my writing business.

Do you think it is a good move? Do you foresee any potential pitfalls? Is there anything that you would do differently or additionally?

Please don’t be shy — share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!