Leaving Work Behind

How I Am Forever Changing My Business With a Simple Shift in Mindset

Written by Tom Ewer on April 28, 2014. 37 Comments

"Change" signMy entrepreneurial journey so far has been marked by a series of epiphanies.

For those of you who have been reading Leaving Work Behind since the beginning, you will know that the first one was back in May 2011, when I decided that I wanted to quit my job and build a successful online business. Since then, notable moments of clarity that have changed the direction of my business (and my life) have been chronicled in posts such as Why I Am No Longer In A Rush To Get Rich and How I Plan to Revolutionize My Online Business.

I am writing this post as a reaction to yet another epiphany that I experienced last week. It will probably act as a catalyst for the biggest shift in my online business yet. In this post, I want to share my epiphany with you and tell you what I think it will mean for me and my business. Keep Reading

How to Make a Living in the Share Economy

Written by Tom Ewer on April 24, 2014. 10 Comments

This is a guest post by Saul Of-Hearts: a writer, video editor and all-round freelancer. After 5 years of living in LA, he recently made the move to Portland, Oregon. His e-book, The Lateral Freelancer, goes even more in-depth into his experiences with the Share Economy.

SharingOver the recent winter holidays, I spent most of my time relaxing in my backyard in LA, working on a few blog posts and earning about as much as I would have earned at a day job. All of the pieces that I’d set up had fallen into place.

A few days earlier, I’d lent out my car to a woman through a site called RelayRides. Her driving record had been verified and she was covered with a $1m insurance policy.

I was also hanging out with a friendly dog called Louie. His owners had dropped them off that week after finding me on a site called DogVacay. Likewise, the exchange was covered with a substantial insurance policy and 24/7 on-call support.

Gone were the days on hunting on Craigslist for jobs, negotiating with clients, tracking down late payments and squabbling over invoices.

A significant portion of my income over the past year came from the Share Economy. In this post I’m going to explain the concept and perhaps inspire you to join me in a rather unusual approach to Leaving Work Behind.

What Is the Share Economy?

The Share (or “Sharing”) Economy refers to any number of sites that have one major thing in common: they help people pool excess resources.

Do you have a car that you rarely use? An extra room? Even a parking space? As Carrie and Fred from Portlandia would say, “Rent it out!

I first got involved with the Share Economy when my roommates and I had an extra room in our house in LA. It was too small for a long-term roommate, but just the right size for short-term guests. We bought an air mattress, put up an ad on Airbnb, and pretty soon we were renting it out to guests from all over the world at around $40 per night.

Not only did it help us cover rent and other expenses, but we met some really awesome people whom we still keep in touch with. For them, staying at our house was cheaper than saying in a hotel and they had locals to turn to for travel tips and advice.

That’s the great thing about the Share Economy: it allows you to earn some extra cash with minimal effort and also connects you to people in your community and across the world. Now, I’ll have hosts to stay with when I travel to their part of the globe.

More Sites to Choose From

Maybe you don’t have the extra space in your home or a car to rent out. What other options are there? Well, for any skill or resource you have, there’s probably a site for it.

If you love to cook, Feastly and EatWith will pair you with local food enthusiasts who will pay for a seat at your table.

Vayable lets you list tours and experiences for visitors to your neighborhood. Gigwalk sets you up photographing and mystery shopping at local businesses.

Many of my friends in LA have teamed up with Lyft, which is something of a rideshare-meets-taxi service. Or, you can offer up a bike on Spinlister.

The options are near-endless.

For several years, I ran the occasional gig via TaskRabbit. Rather than “temping” with a major agency, I got to work one-on-one with local entrepreneurs and businesses.

It kept my schedule open — I could pick and choose which days to work — and I got plenty of tips and take-home gifts from various projects.

How to Get Started

I recommend picking one or two sites to start with, putting together a profile, and getting a feel for how they work. Most of these sites have a similar template: you’ll connect to your Facebook or LinkedIn account, verify your identity in some way, and, once you complete a transaction, have the chance to review and vouch for anyone you’ve worked with.

Unlike Craigslist, where most of the time you don’t know who you’re dealing with, you’ll always have the option of looking at someone’s profile before agreeing to (or declining) a deal.

I can’t promise that you’ll have as much luck as I did. I was fortunate to be living in LA at the time, where nearly every one of these sites are active and popular.

But even sites that are based in the U.S. often have overseas counterparts. For example, there’s TaskRabbit in the U.S., TaskPanda in the U.K., and AirTasker in Australia.

There are also location-specific sites like ParkCirca (for parking spots in San Francisco) or CampInMyGarden (backyard camping in the U.K.).

Earning money via the Share Economy is not quite “passive income” — you’ll still have to do some work to arrange for bookings, run tasks, etc. — but it’s a great supplement to what you may already be doing on the side. (Remember to take into account any local regulations that may apply. Some cities have restrictions on room rental and car-sharing services, and any income that you earn through these sites may be taxable.)

My experiences allowed me to build up countless connections and dozens of clients and learn plenty of new skills along the way. It enabled me to devote myself to writing and editing while picking up side gigs that I enjoyed doing anyway.

I could never have left work behind without it.

Photo Credit: Jonathan McIntosh

Leaving Guilt Behind: How to Embrace the Solopreneur Way of Life

Written by Guest Author on April 17, 2014. 28 Comments

The following is a guest post from Christina Nellemann, a graphic/web designer, writer and blogger from Northern Nevada who travels the world and attends Burning Man. Her work can be found at Feline Design.

GuiltYou’ve worked and slaved (maybe for decades) for your freedom. You’ve saved up your money, made contacts and connections, and — most of all — you’ve beaten the fear that plagues most people who want to quit their job. You’re free and working on what and when you want.

Now comes the guilt.

As I write this, I’m celebrating over a month of freedom from my full-time job. I worked for 15 years for other companies and now I’m running my own freelance design and writing business. For the past year my schedule was like this: wake up at 5am, work full time for eight or nine hours, come home, grab some food and go right back to work on my freelance job until 10pm. That type of schedule is enough to turn anyone into a workaholic and when it comes time to leave the full time job, there tends to be a bit more free time available.

Along with this newly acquired freedom often comes guilty feelings:

There’s no doubt in the first few weeks of your new life that guilt will begin to nibble at your day. You’ll chastise yourself for not living a “regular life” because you’re not making as much money, not working all the time and not getting enough respect from peers and family. However, you can waylay that guilt by keeping the following tips in mind.

1. Give Yourself Some Credit

You’ve probably already worked hard to become free and you will continue to work hard to stay free. Give yourself some credit for the work you’ve already put in to making this new life.

If you’ve saved up enough money to cover the lean times, you already have the discipline to work hard on your own business. Now you also have the freedom and time to work on those multiple streams of income. Remember, everything doesn’t have to be done today.

If you do start feeling guilty about the money issue, remember that not all the work you do will make you money directly. New relationships, communications, planning, ideas and brainstorming help your business in other ways — not just the bottom line.

2. Make Guilt Work for You

You know that nagging feeling of guilt when you should be working on a project and you’re busy watching reruns of “The Walking Dead”? Make that nagging feeling work for you and get off your butt. Guilt about not making enough money keeps you out looking for jobs and new connections. It keeps you away from the latest YouTube videos or photobombing pics.

Some days are going to be more productive and lucrative than others, but keep yourself motivated every day with the many tips featured here on Leaving Work Behind.

3. Set Boundaries

You are bound to get comments from family and friends who think you sit around all day doing nothing. To the people who head to a corporate environment each day, sitting at a laptop in your pajamas looks just like slacking. But what they don’t realize is that you probably work harder than they do. Even away from the computer, you’re constantly thinking up new ideas, concepts and projects.

When I left my full-time job, family members would tell our friends I had retired. I wish! I had to work even harder to convince them I was not sitting around in a rocking chair all day.

In truth, many people will be jealous about your new found life and won’t be able to admit it. Suppress their thoughts and comments and be sure to set regular hours when you can’t leave to help clean your friend’s messy garage.

4. Find Your Groove

Your freelance hours may differ somewhat from your full time hours. Your most productive hours are not dictated to you by your boss, but by your own body and mind. They could be from early morning to mid morning or from 10pm to midnight.

Personally speaking, I’m up at 6am writing when my mind is clear, but my body begins to shut down around 3pm. Jarrett Bellini of CNN decided that 2:55pm is his most unproductive time of the day and I can relate to that.

No matter what your daily schedule is, what doesn’t change is the need for regular breaks and vacations. Even with guilt, your excitement could get in the way of how you take care of yourself. Get away from the office or computer and take a daily walk, hike or nap. It’s tempting to keep the guilt at bay by working every day. Avoid that guilt, but keep your work antennae up for new contacts and inspiration — they can come from anywhere.

5. Surround Yourself With Other “Freedom Fighters”

Friends and family who have “regular” jobs may not understand your guilt, but the freelance writer or designer down the street is your new best friend.

Get together regularly with other people who work for themselves and ask how they set up their day and deal with any guilty or unproductive feelings. The longer someone has been in business for themselves, the less guilt they tend to feel.

Conclusion

Ditching the full-time job and working for yourself is not “weird” any more. It’s the new way of work. However, it’s still not the norm in many social circles and explaining what you do without feeling guilty might be one of the first steps in your new work life. Good luck!

Photo Credit: 30dagarmedanalhus

Pay What You Want for My Upcoming Book Series! [Introducing the LWB Book Club]

Written by Tom Ewer on April 14, 2014. 14 Comments

Belief book coverLongtime Leaving Work Behind readers will know that I’ve been working on a book/books for a long time. With that in mind, today I am excited to announce that the first book in an ongoing series will be available to my LWB Book Club members in just seven days.

But that’s not all: they will be able to pay what they want for the book.

I’ve placed the value proposition in hands and trust in the LWB community to reward me appropriately for the quality of my work.

In this post I’m going to introduce you to the upcoming book series, explain why I have chosen a pay what you want model and also give you an opportunity to sign up for the LWB Book Club (it’s completely free to do so).

Belief and Beyond

The first book in my upcoming series is entitled Belief. As you might guess, it’s all about self-belief and confidence in oneself. It is intended to become an invaluable lifeline for those who doubt their abilities to create a life worth living.

I couldn’t put it better than I did in the book itself:

Belief creates the environment within which you can fulfill your greatest potential. It provides you with the mindset, motivation and passion to create a truly rewarding and remarkable life.

Belief is the first in a series of special books – my attempt to bring something new to the “self-development” table. Having read many such books myself, I have become disillusioned by vague writing, constant repetition and worthless fluff within their pages.

I want to do something completely different.

Each book in my series will be concise and actionable; made up of a collection of essays, each of which has a clear takeaway. No vagueness, no repetition, and no worthless fluff.

This is self-development for people who want to take action.

And because of the pay what you want model, I put the choice in your hands to determine my books’ value.

Future titles include Doing, Perspective, Preparation, Environment and Maintenance. Each of which focuses on a specific area that can help you to quit your job and build a better life, which is ultimately what Leaving Work Behind is all about.

Why Pay What You Want?

Pay what you want is something I’ve wanted to experiment with for a long time, and this book series strikes me as the perfect opportunity.

Put simply, I’d far rather you determine what my product is worth rather than me stick a finger in the air and slap a price sticker on the cover. I want to trust in your judgment and believe in the general goodness of most people in choosing to pay for something that they believe provides value.

On the flip side, if someone feels that my book provides no value, they can choose to pay nothing (although I’d question why they’d be reading it in the first place ;-)).

I’m not going to judge people for paying $x or $y – I’m simply going to put my work out there and let you decide its worth. To do so feels highly liberating to me.

When it came to implementing a pay what you want model, I owe a lot to Tom Morkes. He’s a bit of a pay what you want guru, having experimented with the pricing model plenty himself and written a guide on the subject. He was kind enough to talk to my personally about my plans and advise me on the best course of action.

My plan at this stage is to use Gumroad payment processing service, as it is extremely slick and offers a simple pay what you want interface.

Want to Become a Member of the LWB Book Club?

If you’re interested in my upcoming book series, I recommend that you join the LWB Book Club. It’s totally free to join and will grant you exclusive advance access to all books in the series, starting next Monday.

Just enter your email address below and hit “Sign Me Up!”






I’ll be in touch on Monday 21st April, when you’ll be able to grab yourself a copy of my first book, Belief.

If you have any questions, please fire away in the comments section below!

How I Created Paid to Blog Jobs [Membership Site Case Study]

Written by Tom Ewer on April 11, 2014. 15 Comments

Paid to Blog JobsI closed the doors on beta access to Paid to Blog Jobs just a few hours ago. In the four days that the doors were open, we managed to attract a total of 75 members, each paying $20 per month.

While it’s far too early to call PtBJ a success (my definition of which I’ll get into later), enough money in the bank to cover my financial outlay after the beta launch is a good start.

In this post I want to reveal the steps behind the creation of PtBJ. If you’re thinking about launching your own membership site, or are simply interested in knowing the process I went through, keep reading.

The Idea

PtBJ is an idea I’ve had for absolutely ages that I didn’t act on until quite recently. To be more specific, “recently” was at the tail end of last year, when I re-released my freelance blogging guide as an online course.

At the time I wanted to create a real value proposition within the top package, which I was planning on selling for $150-250. I felt that a curated job listings board and paid guest blogs resource could be that value proposition.

But my inspiration goes back before then. For example, I’ve known about Carol Tice’s “Junk Free Jobs Board” within her Freelance Writer’s Den since late 2011 – you could probably call that my original inspiration.

However, I felt that I could do something different to Carol’s offering. First of all, her focus was on freelance writing in general, and from my personal experience she has a strong focus on “offline” writing – trade publications, magazines, etc. Meanwhile, my focus is on freelance blogging – that’s how I made my money.

So, I felt I could do something similar to Carol’s “Junk Free Jobs Board,” while creating something that was uniquely valuable to my audience.

The inspiration for the paid guest blogging opportunities came courtesy of Sophie Lizard’s free signup PDF on Be a Freelance Blogger: The Ultimate List of $50+ Blogs (and its predecessors). Sophie did a great job with it, and actually gave me permission to use the original list in the first incarnation of Paid to Blog.

As with Carol’s alternative, I knew that I had to offer something above and beyond what Sophie had going on in her free resource.

These two resources formed the central basis of what eventually became the top tier version of Paid to Blog. However, I wasn’t happy yet.

Evolving My Idea

Although I felt my “Job Listings Worth Pitching” and “Paid Guest Posting Opportunities” resources within Paid to Blog were really valuable, I knew that they could be so much more. Also, I quickly realized that they suited a periodical payment (rather than one-off) model. After all, with jobs and opportunities being added and updated every day, it paid (literally) to keep up.

So, I started thinking about adapting those two resources for use within a membership site and retiring the top tier Paid to Blog offering.

But first, I needed more information. I wanted to make sure that what I created would be truly valued by my subscribers, so who better was there to turn to than the people would potentially become members?

So, I published my intentions on Leaving Work Behind and got interested parties to join a standalone email list. I then emailed my new list (which only had ~150 members at the time, from memory) with a link to a simple survey I created over at Survey Monkey.

My survey started with a brief introduction:

I am currently working on a membership site for freelance bloggers and I plan for it to eventually feature the following:

  1. A regularly updated, curated list of freelance blogging job opportunities from across the web
  2. A regularly updated list of paid guest blogging opportunities (i.e. getting paid to guest post)
  3. A Q&A section, where you can ask me and my freelance blogging colleagues anything you like about freelance blogging and are guaranteed a response. Furthermore (and subject to your approval), questions and answers will be published so that you can search through what will inevitably become a huge resource of frequently asked questions relating to freelance blogging!
  4. Customizable email updates for all of the above. You can choose what to receive and how often to receive it.

That’s not all though. I want you to have your say on what the site includes and how much you should pay for it! All you need to do is fill in the following short survey. Although the more information you give me, the better a site I can create for you, please note that only the first two questions are mandatory.

I then asked a few questions:

  1. Which features would you be interested in?
  2. What would you be willing to pay (per month) for each feature?
  3. As a freelance blogger, what subjects do you (or would you like to) write about?
  4. What’s your current rate (per word)?

The survey results were really interesting, and not entirely what I expected.

Around 90% of respondents were interested in both resources, which I expected. Only 76% of people were interested in a Q&A section, which surprised me (I thought it would be more popular). Most surprisingly, only 53% of people were interested in customizable email updates. I thought that would be a big draw, but I was wrong.

I also got some good guidance as to how I should price the site. Most people were willing to pay between $5-10 per month for freelance job listings and paid guest posting opportunities (each). What really surprised me was that 50% of people weren’t willing to pay anything for a Q&A section, and 78% of people weren’t willing to pay anything for customizable updates.

For the first release of the site, that made things simple for me: given that a Q&A section and customizable email updates would’ve been the most costly, time-consuming and technically challenging elements of my proposed site, I decided to give them the chop.

I also got some useful information on what kind of rates people were looking for and what subjects they were willing to write about.

I cannot understate how useful this information was. Without that information, I would’ve created a completely different site – one that wouldn’t have been as good a fit for its members as it is. When it comes to creating just about any online resource, I heartily recommend that you start by trying to gather a few interested people (even if it’s only a handful) and tap them for as much information as you can possibly get. It’ll make a huge difference.

Implementation

Now I knew what I wanted to complete, I needed to handle implementation. There were two aspects to this: technical and practical. Let’s look at each in turn.

Technical Implementation

When it came to the Content Management System I would use to create the site, my choice –without hesitation – was self-hosted WordPress. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge WordPress fan.

Beyond that, I did a fair bit of research and decided to use MemberMouse as my membership site plugin. It’s an incredibly functional and powerful piece of kit and had all of the features I needed.

To make my life easy, I decided to use the same design for PtBJ as I had for Paid to Blog. I commissioned my always-awesome developer to copy the site over, set MemberMouse up and get things in place, ready to run. If you’re not technically-minded and need help with this kind of thing for a very reasonable price, go with Tito (just have Google Translate at the ready ;-)). I used Fiverr to get an amended logo based upon the original.

I used TablePress to create the job listings – it is easily one of my favorite ever WordPress plugins, and completely free to boot.

Practical Implementation

Now came the hard bit: providing the value.

I wasn’t going to have the time do the main element of the research, so I knew I needed to find someone really good to help me out with it. Lo and behold, my new Community Manager is an experienced researcher!

I asked Jo if she would be interested in working with me on the project, and she said yes. I referred her to Paid to Blog and previous posts I had written on finding good quality job listings. Most importantly, I referred her to the video in this post.

She got to work. We got a great system going in no time – she does all the legwork, finding one decent opportunity amongst thirty (on average!), and presents me a provisional list for me to work through and approve or decline. So far, Jo has done an awesome job, finding job opportunities I never would have. I don’t know how she does it – I’m not sure she does either!

Jo is also working on the paid guest posting opportunities – finding new ones and making sure existing opportunities are up-to-date.

Part of me worried whether I would be able to offer enough value with this membership site, but after I partnered with Jo, I knew that wouldn’t be an issue.

However, to make sure I was on the right track, I made a list of all of the benefits of PtBJ:

Then I asked myself two questions:

  1. Would I, circa September 2011 (when I was just starting out as a freelance blogger), have subscribed to this resource?
  2. Would I, circa December 2012 (when I was doing well as a freelance blogger, but still wanted to earn more), have subscribed to this resource?

The answer in both cases was an emphatic “Yes!”

So, biased as I was, I felt I was onto something. Now I just had to figure out how to sell it to people.

Marketing

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m no good at marketing. I like creating things that I think will help people, but I’m not so hot on convincing them to buy them 😉

Thankfully, prior to the beta launch of PtBJ, I had got to know a LWB subscriber called Emils. He had originally offered to help me with my Paid to Blog sales page further to me publishing this post, and I jumped at the offer. He has a dedication and enthusiasm for marketing that I simply do not possess. It’s vital to have people like Emils to bolster your weak areas.

Emils did a great job, not only with working on the sales page, but also on email strategy. I’m really pleased with the way we approached the beta launch. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but I’d say that it was my most well-organized and thought-out launch to date. All because I was willing to bring someone else on board to help me in an area in which I really needed help.

Our marketing plan was pretty simple. I mentioned the upcoming resource here and there on Leaving Work Behind, always including a signup form so that people could register their interest. I also mentioned it to the LWB email list (~4,500) subscribers on a couple of different occasions.

By last week I had around 500 subscribers to that list, which I felt was a pretty healthy number. Of course, you may not be in the position to draw that many people to a list, but there is no “magic number” you need. Besides, if you’re creating something of true value, you might be surprised how many people are interested, even if you have no audience to start with.

I started communication with the list by emailing them a week before the planned beta launch, letting them know that it was coming. This was coupled by a blog post on Leaving Work Behind.

During launch I sent three emails:

As you would typically expect, there were a spike of signups on the Monday, a trickle on Tuesday and Wednesday, then another spike on Thursday (especially in the last few hours, perhaps underlining the value of two emails at the end).

What Next?

The doors are closed now, and I am committed to giving all of the 75 members my personal attention and making sure that they are as happy as possible with the site.

I’ve had one refund request so far, and that’s for reasons I don’t really understand, so I can’t take much from that in terms of feedback. One request out of 75 seems pretty good to me at this stage.

I’ll be sending a fresh survey to the existing members next Thursday, with the hope of figuring out what they like/dislike about the site. I can then use that information to make PtBJ even better.

I’ve already got more ideas ready for implementation, such as a “Getting Started” flowchart, a “Jargon Buster” PDF for unfamiliar terms in job listings, more unique jobs listings, a “flagging option” for out-of-date/incorrect listing, and more. I plan to get all of the above implemented in time for the main launch in a few week’s time.

Beyond that, Jo and I have even more ideas for a version 2.0, but I’m better off focusing on the present for now. The beta launch went really well, easily beating my 50 members goal, and now I want to make sure that I do as much as possible for those 75 members!

I mentioned earlier that it’s too early to call PtBJ a success, and I stand by that. But what do I define success as? The answer is simple: helping as many people as possible earn far more from the resource than it costs them. If I constantly strive to do that, for as many people as possible, I feel like everything else (like making money!) will fall in place behind it. That’s the approach I try to take to everything I do.

If you want to know when the doors next open on Paid to Blog Jobs, find out more and sign up here. And if you have any questions or feedback, please get in touch via the comments below!