Leaving Work Behind

The Success (And Failure) of Paid to Blog

Written by Tom Ewer on January 28, 2014. 59 Comments

Signs to success and failure.At the beginning of last December I re-launched my freelance blogging guide. What was once a PDF (originally launched in November 2012) became a fully fledged online course, re-branded as Paid to Blog.

My main reason for updating and re-launching the course was that I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the original. I wanted to create, beyond a shadow of my own doubt, the best guide available for aspiring and existing freelance bloggers. I felt I needed to get that monkey off my back before I moved on to other projects.

I wanted the course to be a “critical” success (and if the lack of refund requests is anything to go by, people are pretty happy). However, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t want it to be a financial success too. If you’re interested in finding out how the re-launch affected my bottom line (and how you can learn from its successes and failures), read on!

Investment

First of all, let’s talk about what creating the new course cost me.

I outsourced the design of the site to my designer, for which I paid $500. In hindsight, I think I paid over the odds and could’ve achieved a decent result for fraction of the cost. It’s a pretty basic design.

Paid to Blog

I also outsourced the coding as well the membership plugin setup (MemberMouse, which I heartily recommend) to my programmer extraordinaire, Tito Brahmanto, which cost another $200 or so.

So, my total outgoings were $700 (plus the $20 per month MemberMouse subscription).

However, the real expense was my time. While I could’ve just repackaged and released the original guide under a new name, I chose to go back through the content line-by-line. I ended up re-editing a lot of the original guides and added a not inconsiderable amount of fresh content.

I also conducted interviews with three more people to serve as extra resources and to give me additional insight with which to improve the guide itself.

I didn’t record how much time I spent on the re-launch, but I probably spent nearly as much time on it as I did on the original guide. It needed to be a pretty big success to justify my time and money investment.

The Launch

I launched Paid to Blog on 2nd December without much fanfare.

Besides the announcement on my blog, I wrote a handful of guest posts for a few related blogs (such as Be a Freelance Blogger and The Write Life). Unfortunately, my attempt at tracking clicks failed, so I don’t know whether those guest posts generated many (if any) sales. However, if I had to guess, I would say that they generated very few, since the number of visitors from those sites was pretty low.

As you would expect, I also announced the course to my email lists. This included my main list, along with smaller lists associated with my old Kindle publishing attempts and existing purchasers of the guide.

I offered 25% discounts to all email list members, which led to $1,515.87 in sales. When it came to existing owners of the original guide, I gave them a free upgrade to the basic course and offered them a huge discount on upgrading to the full course with all of the extra features. This proved to be quite popular, generating $1,521.01 in sales.

So in total, the re-launch generated $3,036.88 in sales, which after expenses was around $2,300. Given the amount of time I put into the new course, I would say that was a decent (if not particularly exciting) return on my time investment.

Regular Sales

To be honest, I didn’t intend for the course to be a huge success in terms of a “launch” — more importantly, I hoped that its improvement would lead to greater long term monthly sales.

So far, that hasn’t really proven to be the case. Before the re-launch, the old guide generated around $1,200 (on average) per month. In December it generated just $640.55.

However, it’s not really fair to cast judgment on that month, given that an additional $2,300 was generated in December through the re-launch. I felt that January would be a far better indicator of future sales.

Unfortunately, we’re nearly at the end of the month and January isn’t showing particularly encouraging signs either. Sales for the month to date are $976.95, which on a pro-rata basis would equal $1,121.58 for the entire month — slightly under the historical average.

So, even if sales are greater than average in the long run, it would appear that they’re not likely to be greater by a considerable margin. From that perspective, I consider the re-launch to be a bit of a failure.

Having said that, I don’t regret what I did. I made some money and I created what I consider to be a far superior resource to what came before it. That’s a win in my book (albeit not an emphatic one).

What Can I Do?

Of course, there’s always something one can do in an attempt to increase sales. However, at this point I’m not sure what solid option I have.

The course currently has three price points:

  1. $29 for just the two guides,
  2. $49 for the guides plus lots of extras, and
  3. $149 for all that and job-finding resources.

Sales in January have actually been quite evenly split between the packages, although the top tier product did of course generate the bulk of the income. With the above in mind, I don’t think I want to mess with pricing.

Another option would be to drive more views to the site itself. I’m not sold on guest posting as a way to promote a product, so I’m not interested in doing more that. I also think that the guide is about as prominent as I would like it to be on this site (with a button in the sidebar and contextual mentions within posts), so I’m not sure what else I could do on that front.

Alternatively, I could work on tweaking the sales page. To be honest, that kind of work doesn’t really excite me, and the sale volume is so low that I don’t think I would get reliable results anyway (unless I ran split tests for months at a time).

A final option would be to write more about freelance blogging here on LWB. In fairness, I think I should be doing that anyway — given that I feel I have a lot of value to offer in that area, I should be writing about it more regularly. I intend to do that, and hope it will lead to an increase in sales as a nice side effect.

At this point I think I am accepting of the course’s fate. Of course, if I manage to attract more relevant traffic to Leaving Work Behind, I should expect more sales, but I won’t be devastated if I don’t. I’ve got lots of other projects I want to be getting on with and I don’t feel particularly inclined to try to wring every last drop out of Paid to Blog.

Over to You

Now I’d love to know what you think. All things considered, would you say the re-launch was a success? How about the performance in January? Would you have done anything differently and/or would you do anything differently to what I plan? Finally, do you have your own product launch stories to share? Let us know in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: StockMonkeys.com

One Simple Way to Increase Your Freelance Blogging Earnings

Written by Tom Ewer on January 23, 2014. 30 Comments

DollarsWhen it comes to freelance blogging, arguably the easiest way to increase your rate is to make efficiency improvements. The client pays the same price and gets the same product, but you’ve worked more quickly and as such attain a higher equivalent hourly rate. It’s a topic I’ve talked about before.

With the above in mind, today I want to talk about arguably the most important factor that defined my growth as a freelance blogger. It played a major part in me going from earning $20 to $150+ per hour in a two year period from 2011 to 2013. As far as efficiency improvements go, it’s the daddy.

Write On What You Know

At the time of writing I have ten regular clients. The breakdown in terms of topics I cover is as follows:

What’s the common thread that holds these topics together? I’m experienced in all of them. I’m an entrepreneur, I’m an online marketer, I freelance, and I use WordPress. These are areas that I am personally involved in on a day-to-day basis.

In the past I’ve worked with a handful of clients on topics that are unfamiliar to me. There’s a reason why I don’t work with them anymore. When I can write up a WordPress article in under an hour and a similar-sized article for the same amount of pay on a topic I’m unfamiliar with takes two hours, which client seems a better long-term fit?

The more clients you work with on topics that you’re intimately familiar with, the faster you’ll be able to get your work done and the more money you’ll earn.

The Economy of Topics

The more articles you can write on topics that you’re familiar with, the better. In fact, I would go as far as to niche your service offering down to those kind of topics (just as I do).

However, you must be careful not to pigeonhole yourself into writing on topics that do not attract decent rates.

Consider the topics I write on. Each of them can be associated with profitable markets (which invariably means that you can make money). My WordPress clients sell premium themes, plugins and online tools. My freelancing clients sell online tools. My online marketing clients sell web hosting and (you guessed it) online tools. My entrepreneurship client sells websites.

If you can write efficiently on celebrity gossip, it probably won’t help you. No one wants to pay much for that.

I advise that you follow my lead. The beauty of my advancement is that it has been a self-fulfilling prophesy. I started out as a blogger, which enabled me to land a couple of gigs writing about WordPress (the blogging software I use). I started writing about freelance blogging on Leaving Work Behind as a result of those first couple of gigs, which led to additional jobs writing about freelancing. As LWB grew, I then attracted clients who wanted me to write about online marketing and entrepreneurship.

My advancement as a blogger and a freelance blogger can be neatly tied up in a package. What’s even better is that I’m never at a loss for new topic ideas, as I’m living those topics that I write about.

Digging Deeper

Even if you’re writing on topics you are comfortably familiar with, you can still spend a lot of time researching. I know I have. The key is to focus on topics within your niche that don’t require a lot of research.

Think about what you already know that can be transformed into blog posts. These are the easiest blog posts you will write. You simply translate what you have in your brain onto the page. That is exactly what I’m doing with this post and it’s a piece of cake.

On the flip side, you might choose to create a heavily-researched piece which requires hours of fact checking. That might be a good idea to throw into the mix every now and then to keep things fresh, but your bread and butter should always be those posts that just flow out of your fingers.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not talking about writing cookie cutter posts. You shouldn’t use this advice as an excuse to all but copy what other people are doing. Each post should be individual to you, which means that it should be unique. Even if you’re writing on a well worn topic, you should be able to put a unique spin on it, based upon your own personal experience.

A Caveat

At this stage, many of you may be thinking that it’s all well and good to write on topics that you know, but what if you’re not suitably familiar with any particular topic?

To this I offer a simple piece of advice: learn.

Take a look at the client topic breakdown I supplied above. In May 2011 I knew precisely nothing about WordPress, freelancing and online marketing. Fast forward a year later and my rate for writing on such topics was accelerating at a dramatic rate.

You may need to do the hard yards to get into a position where it is easy to write on a topic, so if you don’t feel that you are “expert” on any profitable markets, choose one and endeavor to become an expert on it.

I will say one thing in closing: it is far easier to write about something you are personally involved in (such as I am with WordPress, freelancing and so on) than not. I don’t recommend that you seek to become an expert on a topic that doesn’t play a part in your day-to-day life.

What Do You Write About?

Now that I’ve told you what I think you should be writing about, I’d love to know what you are actually writing about.

Do you write on topics that you are comfortably familiar with? Do you avoid the kind of posts that require heavy research? Or are you bogged down by unfamiliar topics and research-heavy pieces? Let us know in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: Unhindered by Talent

Going to Zero (Or, How to Defeat Uncertainty)

Written by Tom Ewer on January 21, 2014. 22 Comments

Coin flipI recently finished reading Jonathan Fields’ Uncertainty.

I actually purchased the book when it first came out (and when it seemed like every blogger on the planet was talking about it) but I didn’t get past the first chapter. It just didn’t grab me.

However, upon giving it a second go I discovered that it did contain some useful insights into one of the most pressing issues for those who are trying to leave work behind (clue: it’s in the title of the book). To be more specific, there was one small section of the book that made it worth the purchase price alone.

If you are mired by uncertainty and are in desperate search of a way to boost your confidence and reduce your fear of failure, Uncertainty may hold the key. In this post, I am going to explore what I consider to be its key lesson.

Going to Zero

While Fields spends a lot of time in the book addressing matters that are not directly related to uncertainty (which is rather unusual, given the name of the book), he really nails it towards the end when he talks about “Going to zero.”

I really advise that you grab a copy of the book yourself (if only to devour that section and commit it to memory), but I will attempt to paraphrase Fields’ concept here.

The notion is simple: if you can quantify your worst fear about any given endeavor — if you can name it and frame it — you can tame it.

Fields points out that we often exaggerate our greatest fear until it becomes a disproportionately huge monster. Before long, what was once the worst case scenario in our mind seems more like an inevitability, and you are paralyzed into complete inaction. This is what Fields calls “going to zero.”

Sound familiar?

The solution, as Fields presents it, comes packaged within the answer to three questions.

  1. What if I go to zero? I.e. what’s the absolute worst that can happen? Write it down; be realistic. Once you’re done, answer the other half of the question: how you will recover. Give equal attention to answering that part (and believe me — few things in life are too big to come back from).
  2. What if I do nothing? Answering this question may represent the most important step in the process of leaving work behind you will ever take. How so? As Fields puts it, “there is no sideways in life.” The concept is simple: if you are unhappy now, you will be more unhappy in the future. That unhappiness will only grow. You will not exist on the same plane of unhappiness. You cannot ignore the negativity in your life, unless you are happy for it to become a bigger force in the coming weeks, months and years.
  3. What if I succeed? Here’s where you fantasize about what could be. Lay it all out. If you have a very specific vision for your business, write it down. If you’re more driven by the outcome (e.g. what your daily routine looks like) then write that down.

Once you’re done answering these questions, Fields advises that you do three things:

  1. “Acknowledge the potential for pain created by the first scenario, but also the power of your recovery scenario and the potential for even greater creative space.”
  2. “…take the sideways storyline, drink it in, feel it viscerally, and understand its genuine impact on your life.”
  3. …take your success storyline. Add more detail. What does it feel like, sound like, taste like? What do you see?

Putting the possible outcomes of your future actions into perspective can make a world of difference to your uncertainty and fear of failure. What was once a blind fear of an unlikely potential outcome can be tamed by clearly defining possible outcomes and exploring how they might develop. I think the above exercise is invaluable for anyone mired by uncertainty.

Does This Work For You?

I wish I had this framework when I was in the process of quitting my job. Although I will always be uncertain when I push myself into new endeavors, I can’t imagine that I will ever experience the same weight of uncertainty (and potential consequence) as I did then.

And that leads me to one simple question for those of you who suffer from uncertainty: does the process work for you? Does it help you to wrest control over your uncertainty and feel more confident about what you do next? Does it release you from the paralysis of inaction and spur you into doing?

Let me know in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: nicubunu.photo

How to Get Closer to Leaving Work Behind Today

Written by Tom Ewer on January 14, 2014. 31 Comments

MoneyMost people’s lives are controlled by money.

The combined weight of your outgoings is probably the primary reason why you cannot quit your job. As such, you have no doubt determined that you must create a business that makes money in order to leave work behind.

You’re half right. While you will need to create a profitable business, you can accelerate the process of leaving work behind dramatically by cutting down on your expenditure. And believe me, everyone can cut back on their expenditure. It’s all a matter of perspective.

With the above in mind, in this post I am going to show you how to dismantle and rebuild your outgoings with a fresh perspective and also give you a little insight into how you should view your inessential purchases from now on. In doing so, you will take a huge leap closer to leaving work behind.

Create Your Base Point

Grab yourself a pen and paper (or fire up a spreadsheet) and start with a blank sheet. In terms of limiting your outgoings, a blank sheet represents perfection. It may be unobtainable, but by aspiring to perfection, you will achieve far more than you would otherwise.

From that point you should add only the bare essentials: food and shelter. Not only that, you should think long and hard about how you can limit these outgoings. You could live in a less expensive home; you could stop eating out; you could cut out alcohol; you could use less expensive ingredients in your home cooking. The list goes on. Be utterly ruthless — act without consideration for your current quality of life.

Once you are finished, write down the total (I recommend totting up the annual costs then dividing by twelve to get an average monthly figure). Believe it or not, that is the money you need, in absolute terms, in order to survive. If you’ve gone through the exercise correctly, it’ll be a very low number.

In theory, if you could earn that much from your online endeavors, you could quit your job.

Add the “Essential Inessentials”

I know what you’re going to say at this point: there are an enormous number of “essentials” that I have missed out. Health insurance, schooling costs, travel costs and so on. You might call these “essential inessentials” in that they are demanded by modern society.

Point taken. The practicalities of modern living often demand that you have additional outgoings, so start adding these to your list. However, as before, be utterly ruthless in limiting your theoretical expenditure. You could opt for a less expensive insurance package or consider selling your car and using public transport.

Finish by subtracting the income produced by any passive investments (shares, bonds, etc.) from your total expenditure. What you should be left with is a practical representation of the amount of money you need to earn in order to survive.

Consider the True Inessentials Carefully

Now drill the following truth into your head until it is firmly lodged in your brain: any expenditure beyond the above total is inessential.

Any additional money you spend can be directly correlated with having to do more work. By spending less you can leave work behind more quickly and make less in order to maintain your quality of life once you have done so. That’s the simple equation.

You should frame every single purchase you make in the context of that reality. It is inevitable that you will spend more — you’ll want to watch a movie, listen to a CD or read a book (alternatively, you can do all three of these things free of charge by joining your local library). There will be additional items of expenditure and you shouldn’t necessarily feel guilty for spending more than the bare minimum, but you should learn to truly appreciate what spending money on inessentials truly represents: more work.

The Psychology of Consumerism

Every time you spend money on an inessential item should be an event; it should be consciously considered in a qualitative manner.

First of all, ask yourself if you truly need it (the answer will invariably be no). Then demand a compelling and logical argument as to why you should purchase it. Will it truly add value to your life, or will it simply add to the noise?

A desire for something bigger and better is often shrouding an intrinsic issue linked to your desire. If you want a bigger television, you probably watch too much TV. If you want a new tablet, you’ve probably become too attached to technology that didn’t even exist a few years ago. If you want to go to the cinema more often, movie-going has perhaps become more of a somewhat tedious habit than an event to be relished.

Alternatively, you may simply be blowing the benefits or your potential purchase out of proportion. For example, I recently justified getting a new iPad Mini on the basis that my iPad 4 felt heavy and cumbersome by comparison. Did I think this before the iPad Mini came out? No. My argument was based upon persuasive marketing more than anything else. (I should mention that I got the iPad Mini as a present for Christmas — I wouldn’t have bought it for myself.)

How Much Closer Are You to Leaving Work Behind?

I know it’s not glamorous or particularly exciting, but spending less can get you much closer to leaving work behind than you are now.

And as the old saying goes, the best things in life truly are free. Leaving work behind means having more freedom to do the most rewarding and fulfilling things: spending more time with family and friends and expanding your horizons.

Most importantly, it puts you in control of your life. Your existence will no longer defined by how much money you make. Take it from me — that’s a really good place to be in and is well worth the perceived material sacrifice.

For those who go through this process, I am curious to know just how little you can budget. Let us know what total you come up (and how) in the comments section below! Alternatively, if you have any suggestions and tips of your own for reducing expenditure, please share them with us.

Photo Credit: JD Hancock

Why You’re Failing as a Freelance Blogger

Written by Tom Ewer on January 7, 2014. 26 Comments

TypingAs someone who helps others to become successful freelance bloggers, I encounter a lot of people who are struggling to succeed.

They are frustrated because they feel they can’t get out of a rut in which they are being paid pennies by clients, or because they are unable to find work at all. They even begin to doubt the notion that one can actually make a good living as a freelance writer, despite evidence to the contrary.

With the above in mind, in this post I want to reveal an oft-ignored yet common truth amongst struggling freelance bloggers. It’s probably something you don’t want to hear; in fact, you may have been subconsciously avoiding the possibility that this issue is hamstringing your efforts to succeed as a freelance blogger. Regardless, it may well hold the key to your eventual success. Keep Reading