It’s time for my first income and traffic report! If you’re curious what this is all about, I wrote a whole post last month about why I’m starting to post these reports each month, but the reader’s digest version is:
- Accountability: I want you all to hold me accountable. Keep me in check if I stray off the straight and narrow. Turning your blog into a money-making venture is often a delicate balance between authentic and smarmy, and I really want to err on the side of authentic—and I’m hoping you guys will help keep me there.
- Transparency: I think it’s hard to be authentic when all things financial and traffic related are hidden under a cloak of mystery. I’m hoping by sharing my numbers and stats, we’ll all feel a little more comfortable with the business side of my blog.
- Motivation: My goal is to make the work I put into this blog “worth” my time financially. The problem is, I love doing what I do here so much that I’d do it for free. That doesn’t really light a fire under me to work on the business side! By sharing my financials every month, I hope to motivate myself to keep on keepin’ on the road to figuring out how to make this blog financially efficient.
- Inspiration: Maybe along the way, I can figure out a thing or two and help inspire some other bloggers out there to find out how they can make their own blog more successful and profitable. That’d be super cool.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, a note: because of how some of my ad networks report, these income reports will run about 45 days behind—which is why you’re just now seeing the numbers for June. Keep in mind, I didn’t start this income project until the beginning of August, so the next two income reports will be with numbers pre-project. Okay, onto the stats.
Disclaimer: Some of these links below are affiliate links—meaning I get a few pennies if you happen to purchase through my link. I use and recommend all of these products. Let me know if you have any questions.
- BlogHer — $349.91
- souvrn — $166.72
- Adsense — $96.45
- Swoop — $91.89
- Today’sMama — $61.42
- Amazon Affiliates — $35.45
Total Income: $801.84
Note: I went back and forth about whether or not to include my freelance blogging and food writing income in these reports. I ultimately decided to not include the totals, because while they are indirectly related to this blog, those amounts will not adjust of change based on changes I make here. So, for example, if I launch a blog redesign, I’m not suddenly going to get a higher advance from my publisher on cookbooks. I’m choosing to only include direct income sources from the blog.
Thoughts on Income
I need diversity!
The biggest thing I noticed—almost all of my income is from ad networks! I only have one income source (Amazon Affiliates) that isn’t an ad network. And that’s a bummer because ad sales are on a steady decline. I’m in need of some serious diversification!
BlogHer has recently incorporated some viewability rules and it required some serious blog reworking on my part in June. Basically, the new requirement is for their ads to be fully in view for one-second before a user scrolls or navigates away from the ad. Advertisers are really looking for numbers of at least 50% viewability—meaning 50% of users see the ad for one second before scrolling away. Unfortunately, my viewability numbers were in the low 30% range! Which meant I was in danger of getting my ads nixed from the BlogHer Network (which would be no beuno—I love working with BlogHer).
Because of these new viewability rules, I made two changes. First up, BlogHer gave me permission to move my main ad “below the fold” so it was closer to a block of content. Since I usually start off my posts with a big ole photograph, folks were scrolling right past the ad to start reading. Now, the ad aligns better with where readers pause for a second to read. I increased my viewability of that ad unit up to 55%. Which is good, but unfortunately, a lot of the high CPM campaigns BlogHer is currently running require a 70% viewability score. So I have some more work to do to get it up that high.
Also in response to the viewability requirements, I implemented a new sticky ad in June on my blog at the bottom of the page (called the “tune-in bar” by BlogHer).
I have to be honest, even though this ad unit has a really high CPM, I really am not a fan of this ad. It’s not really a problem when you’re viewing my site on a large, desktop monitor, but when you check it out on a smaller, wider screen (like my laptop) it really cuts into a lot of premium real estate. It also hasn’t been giving me the viewability scores I had hoped—it’s averaging around 45%. I’m guessing most folks do exactly what I do when it loads—immediately close it!
These viewability requirements have definitely given me lots to think about with how I place ads in the new design I’m working on. Unfortunately, the new requirements means that my BlogHer ad income has plummeted this month because my site isn’t serving the high-paying ads. Part of it is the new viewability requirements, but also part of it is the summer slump for ad sales. Hopefully I’ll see some increases over the next few months as we cruise into the holiday season. And even more so once I figure out how to get those viewability numbers up!
Total Expenses: $298.46
Note: I’ve decided to include food costs at a rate of 30% of our total grocery bill. I figure about 1/3 of everything I cook in a month ends up on the blog. And the vast majority of those dishes require speciality ingredients that would be more pricey than if I was doing “regular” grocery shopping.
Thoughts on Expenses
Spend Money to Make Money
Blogging might seem like it’s cheap (and it can be), but what I’m starting to realize is that it is one of those areas of where it really is true that you have to spend money to make money. I’ve always been afraid to pump money into my blog, for fear I wouldn’t get it back out, but I think that mentality has been holding me back. I’m not talking about running out and buying a Canon 1D or anything (I wish), but I do think that putting a little more cash into products and services that are more tailored to my needs might serve me well. You get what you pay for. And I’m “paying” for a lot of free services. Right now, my expenses are low, but I expect them to increase over the next few months.
Take Home Pay
Since this whole project is about making my work time more efficient, I thought it might be helpful to figure up a formula for calculating what I’m earning each month in regular-job terms. In the formula, I subtract my expenses from my income, to get a profit. And then I subtract 30% of that number to account for taxes. That number is my take home pay for the month. To figure the hourly wage, I estimate I work 100 hours per month on my blog, so I divide that take home pay by 100.
Take Home Pay = .70(Income – Expenses)
Hourly Wage = Take Home Pay/100
This month’s take home:
Womp. Womp. That’s a pretty sad number. Like I said before, I’m not looking to get rich off my blog, but it would be nice to be able to make at least a livable wage off the work I do here. And even though I live in a rural area with an incredibly low cost of living, $3.52 an hour ain’t gonna cut it.
Another way to put my monthly numbers into perspective is to figure up the RPM (revenue per mille). This is the amount of money that the blog makes per thousand impressions. It’s a good number to know, because it helps you understand how effective your income sources are, regardless of your traffic. A blog with only 100 visitors a week, but with a high RPM is actually a lot more financially efficient than a blog with a million visitors a week but a low RPM. It’s not all about traffic! My RPM for June was:
Another not-so-great number. Decently-earning blogs have RPMs of at least $5. Excellent-earning blogs make $10+. And you’ll even see some rockstar blogs making $15-$20 RPM! I have a long way to go.
Here are a few screenshots from Google Analytics from June.
Top 10 Referring Sources
10 Most Popular Pages
Thoughts on Traffic
- One goal I didn’t mention in my earlier post on this topic—I want to increase my traffic! I think that probably goes without saying though. Have you ever met a blogger that didn’t want to reach more people? I’ve honestly never done a whole lot to garner new visitors, I just pretty much hoped people would stumble onto my blog and stick around, but I know there are a lot of things I can do to increase my traffic, and I plan on doing that over the next few months. Not only will it help with my income, but I also think it’ll be awesome to meet and interact with so many new people.
- Just outside of the top 10, were the posts I wrote about June Bug. It’s good to know that when I write the occasional posts about being a parent, they aren’t going to alienate my readers. I know those kinds of posts aren’t of interest to everyone, so it’s nice to see some proof that they aren’t going to bother everyone.
- The most popular post this month was a simple little recipe I wrote up about flavored water (really, does it get more simple than flavoring water?). While I’m sure the content appealed to some readers, I think what really made this post popular was the photography. The photographs turned out beautiful for this post, and I think it really helped the post spread on Pinterest. It made me realize that I really need to pay attention to my photography more often and work on getting better. My lower quality photography is almost 100% laziness. When I take my time and set up a good shot, I’m actually a decent food photographer (check out these photos from my upcoming cookbook). I just need to put more value into the photos I shoot for the blog.
One of the ways I plan on diversifying my income sources is to begin offering more sponsored content. I’ve always been hesitant to do sponsored posts because it can be a slippery slope. I don’t fault bloggers who accept sponsored content opportunities, but I think if you want to remain an authentic voice, it can be a tough balance to strike. The fact is, no matter how many disclaimers you post saying “all opinions are my own”, you are going to be influenced by the sponsorship. Because of that, I feel like the key is to accept that bias and only work with companies that fit in with your blog brand. My litmus test for accepting sponsored opportunities is this question: if I wasn’t getting paid to do this post, would this kind of content be on my blog? If the answer is a no, then I don’t accept the opportunity. And secondary to that question, I also like to ask myself: what value does this post give to my readers? I honestly feel like there is a way to give valuable content to readers and still meet the promotional objectives of a sponsor. If I’m just doing a post for my own gain, then to me, it’s purposeless. It might take some creativity to meet both objectives, but that’s what makes this blogging thing fun! I think my recent posts for Ball Canning and Blue Diamond Almonds are both good examples of posts that both fulfill they company’s objectives, and offer something of value to my readers.
I’ve been contemplating what kind of frequency I felt comfortable with posting sponsored content. Before this little project, I’d rarely do more than 2-3 sponsored posts a year. For now, I’ve given myself a limit of one per week, and preferably less often than that (bloggers don’t always control launch dates of sponsored content). I’m hoping that just as long as I stick to my requirements, I make sure all sponsored content is both authentic and valuable to my readers, a higher frequency won’t be an issue. And I’m open to adjusting that frequency if it isn’t working for me or my readers.
As far as the logistics of securing new content, I’ve done one simple thing—I started reading my emails. Ha! I’m a member of numerous promotional networks (like Clever Girls Collective, PopSugar, Pollinate Media). Each week, those networks shoot out emails asking bloggers to apply for sponsored programs. I’ve mostly just ignored those emails in the past, unless something really stuck out to me. But now I’ve started actually going through the opportunities with a fine tooth comb, reading the requirements, and figuring out how it can fit in with the brand of my blog. Just by replying to those calls, I’ve secured six sponsored posts over the next two months. And I’m excited about the post ideas I have to fulfill each one!
I’ve also changed my process for replying to promotional emails. I get no less than a dozen emails a day from various companies asking me if I want to review products. 99% of them I politely decline. Before, I just flat-out declined them, but if the company happens to be someone I want to work with, I’ve started pitching them some ideas for sponsored content, plus including a copy of my (newly redesigned) media kit and rate sheet. I haven’t booked any gigs yet from this, but I have had quite a few companies mention they are interested for future campaigns. Who knows if that’s just PR talk or not, but either way, it’s getting my name and marketability out there.
I’ve resisted making “pinnable” images for my posts for years. Even though I’m a designer who has extensive education in typography, I tend to be a bit of purist when it comes to food photography, and I always shied away from emblazoning a recipe title over my photos. But, over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to look outside of myself, and be more of a Pinterest observer. And what I noticed? Even when I myself was just passing time on Pinterest, I gravitated toward pinning recipes that had pinnable graphics. There is something about a clear, easy-to-read note on the image itself in the Pinterest interface that makes it much more eye-catching to me than just an image with the “regular” description filled out. And it is much easier to scan through your boards and figure out what is what with text on the image, as opposed to needing to pause and read every description. I’m assuming that’s a pretty common user behavior across-the-board.
So I got over my snobbery when it comes to pinnable images and started making pinnable graphics for my posts. And I immediately noticed an uptick in my pins, re-pins, and referring traffic. I decided to hide these pinnable graphics from the post itself with a little bit of handy-dandy code, but you can still access the graphic when you go to pin (you can also see the image in the RSS feed). I like this compromise. My post still has nice, clean photography, but I get the marketability of a pinnable graphic on Pinterest.
My plan is to (slowly) go back and make pinnable images for my most popular-on-Pinterest posts to help leverage the popularity. I’ll also keep making graphics for any new posts that go up.
I’ll talk a little bit more about this in next month’s report when I have a bit more data, but I’m in the middle of implementing ad waterfalls for all the ad spaces on my blog right now. What’s an ad waterfall? Well, it’s something that’ll give you the most earning potential for each ad spot on your website. Say you have one ad spot. And you’re signed up with one ad network. Chances are, that ad network can’t fill your ad space 100% of the time. In fact, it’s pretty common for ad networks to only be able to fill spots 50-70% of the time. The rest of the time, they either show house ads (meaning, you don’t get paid) or ads that have an incredibly low payout or even nothing at all. Which means that you could be losing income for 30+% of your views!
An ad waterfall is a method of setting up numerous ad networks to backfill when the one before it can’t supply an ad. The idea is you set up your highest earning ad network first to give it the opportunity to display a high-earning ad, and then stack them down in decreasing order of earning power. I’m still working on my stacks and my list of ad networks, so I’ll get back to you later on how this is going for me. In the meantime, if you’re interested,I highly recommend checking out this eBook by Kiersten Farse. It’s a quick read any only costs $15, but I can already tell the information in it will make up for that cash many times over again. She does an excellent job of explaining ad waterfalls (and a lot of other stuff you can do to monetize your food blog).
I have been learning so much about the world of blog income that I just had absolutely no clue about before. I have to admit, it kinda grinds my gears that I didn’t do more research about advertising when I first monetized my blog four years ago. I think about all the thousands (probably) of dollars I lost out on just because I didn’t have a simple thing like ad waterfalls set up, and it makes me sad. Oh well, as my Mama says, when you know better, you do better. And now I know!
I’ve been working off-and-on on a new design! Not only am I itching for a new brand, but I also am completely overhauling the backend of the site, and adding and fixing some functionality issues (just wait ’til you see my brand new recipe index—it’s killer). As far as the look, I’m trying a new thing for me—clean and simple! My style tends to be obnoxiously bright and busy, but I really want to showcase my blog’s content, not it’s design. I want to put my effort into creating beautiful photos, crafting engaging content, and developing delicious recipes and fun projects. And I want that effort to be the spotlight of my blog, not the blog’s design itself.
If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in my presence over the past few weeks. I’ve never done a very good job of leveraging my social media followers because, honestly, I was always afraid of becoming “spammy”. But then I realized that folks follow me on social media because they actually, uh, like me (probably), and want to hear what I have to say. And if they don’t, that’s what the unfollow button is for! I’m still developing my social media strategy, and plan on continuing to work on it for the next few months, but so far, my social media engagement has skyrocketed. On Facebook alone (which, admittedly, I was sorely neglecting beforehand), I’ve increased my likes by over 300 since the beginning of July, which is a lot for a little blog like mine.
Of course, I’m also keeping an eye on unlikes and when users hide my content on Facebook. I’ve had an uptick of those unfollowing me and hiding me, but I think that’s only to be expected when your page suddenly goes from almost no content to posting content multiple times per day. Those might have been people who didn’t really have an interest in my content to begin with. Or, they might be people who find my increase in posting annoying. Either way, the response has been overwhelmingly positive to my increase in Facebook presence, so it’s worth it to lose a few folks who aren’t fans of my new strategy. I’d much rather be reaching out to 100 super engaged followers instead of having 10,000 followers who aren’t all that interested or engaged.
My plan for the next few weeks is to continue to build my audience on Facebook, but also leverage my followers on other social media channels, as well. I’m admittedly more of a Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest kinda gal, so a lot of my effort will be put into Facebook, since it’s lagging behind, but that doesn’t mean I want to neglect the other social media channels, either.
Another part of my diversification strategy is to offer eCookbooks for purchase. I love the idea of making my own product to offer to readers—not only because I get complete creative control, but also because it also gives me a higher level of financial solvency. My product, my profit. I’m slowly working on plans for two eCookbooks. One will be short and sweet freebie that I will offer readers for completing an action (signing up for email updates, following me on Facebook, etc.). Because I’ve never published a digital cookbook before, I figure offering a free one would be a good way to help garner some customer confidence in my product. You’ll get a chance to try out one of my products for free before shelling out any cash for one of the premium cookbooks.
The second cookbook is actually based on an idea I pitched to my publisher for a traditional cookbook, and we came close to publishing it, but in the end decided it wasn’t quite enough content-wise to fill out an entire on-the-shelf cookbook—which makes it perfect for the land of digital publishing! I’m so excited about it, and my hope is to launch both books sometime this fall.
That was a lot of text, are you still with me? I promise these income reports wont always be this long-winded—I just really wanted to share with you all the exciting things I’m thinking about. I actually have a ton more I want to talk about, but I’ll save it for next month’s report. Thanks for reading! And please, feel free to chime in and offer suggestions and ideas. I’d love for this to be an open conversation about blog monetization!
Ready for an obnoxiously long post about the ins-and-outs of my blogging income? Probably not. But here goes anyway…
I’ve pretty much always treated my work here on Back to Her Roots as a hobby. Sure, I have some ads in the sidebar, and I do some sponsored posts here and there, but for the most part, I’ve never really seen my blog as legitimate income source. I did it because I love writing it, I love interacting with you folks, and I really enjoy it as a creative outlet. The extra cash that I make from it basically does little more than cover my expenses and give me a little bit of pocket change for buying canning jars or some fancy new kitchen gadget. Because I never really viewed it much as business, I never really pushed myself to make my blog reach its full potential (both monetarily and content-wise).
And that was fine, before. It’s amazing how much things change when you become a parent. It’s like your life is suddenly bisected into B.P. and A.P. eras (Before Parenthood and After Parenthood).
Before parenthood, I could afford to devote 30+ hours a week to crafting recipes, projects and posts for Back to Her Roots without much recouping of the income. Before parenthood, it was okay that my hobby took up so darn much of my time, because, honestly, what else was I going to do with all that freetime? Before parenthood, I could easily work 70 hours a week between my blog, writing career, and freelance projects, and still have time to head to the gym, play in the garden, watch an episode or two of some TV show after dinner (oh, and actually cook dinner).
After parenthood, I’ve realized that the precious amount of freetime I have is just that—extremely precious. I no longer have the vast freedom with my schedule that I did B.P. I have to be very careful to be efficient with the time I do have. And the honest truth is, BTHR isn’t very efficient. It is a huge timesuck in my life (a timesuck that I love, but a timesuck, nonetheless) but the amount of compensation I receive for the amount of labor I put into it just isn’t realistic anymore. To put it another way: something has to go in my life.
I’ve thought long and hard about what thing would be the thing to go. Obviously, I’m not planning on sacrificing time with my family—that’s a given. And I don’t plan on sacrificing the things I need to do to keep myself healthy (getting a somewhat decent amount of sleep, cooking healthy foods, exercising).
That left me with figuring out a way to not work 70 hours a week, and still be able to put food on the table. I, thankfully, have a lucrative freelance writing and design career, and as much fun as that is, I still find myself wanting to spend my time working on my blog most days. The truth is, I can’t cut out my freelance career (well, I could, but we’d be living in a cardboard box) and I really don’t want to stop writing my blog. What a pickle, right?
That leads me to the point of this post: I’m going to be working hard over the next few months to make BTHR more efficient for me monetarily. I don’t want to give up my blog but the fact of the matter is, if I’m going to devote so much of my time to this blog (time that isn’t spent snuggling with my daughter) then I need it to help us out financially a bit more—and maybe eventually enough that I can back off on my freelance hours and free up a little more time in my life. As much as I’d love to be independently wealthy and be able to just write this blog for the sake of blogging, that just isn’t realistic in my world. My time is valuable, and I’ve been ignoring that for years.
So what’s all this mean? Well, this means that I’m going to be working really hard to make BTHR even better and more engaging for you guys. But I’m also going to be working hard on the back-end to make it more lucrative for me. I’m going to try my darndest to make these changes not interfere with the reading experience (and maybe even enhance the experience in some spots). I’ll be trying lots of different things over the next few months and be asking for your feedback the entire way. And, I think most importantly, I’m going to try to be as transparent about the process as possible—including sharing monthly reports on my income, expenses and readership.
Without you guys, I wouldn’t be making a dime, so it seems only right for me to be clear about what is going on behind the scenes. If you aren’t interested in that, cool, just skip past the post or two each month about blogging income, and I’ll be back with a yummy recipe the next day.
The first thing I want to do in this whole transparency project is share with you a little bit about the revenue I have been generating over the past few months. Blogging income reports have become all the rage in the blogosphere lately, and for good reason. Not only is the transparency really nice for readers, but it’s also incredibly inspiring for other bloggers. It is possible to make a decent living doing this thing that we love (without selling your soul to the highest bidder), and I love being able to see clear evidence of that each month. It used to be so taboo to talk about money and pageviews, but I think the value of transparency outweighs any icky feelings folks might get from talking about the numbers. I plan on writing up a post each month showcasing the financial backend of BTHR.
On a personal note, I think tearing down the curtains and showing what’s going on backstage is incredibly motivating (and, well, terrifying) as a blogger. I’m going to try to work hard to make this blog a good income source for my family, and each month, I’m going to be posting my results for all to see. Thousands of people seeing your monetary successes or failures each month is a pretty good motivator to work hard!
So, let’s talk about what I have been making so far this year:
May 2014—$877.17 <– the last month I have full data for
February 2014—$1,344.17 <– I had a big sponsored post this month
January 2014—$1,923.49 <– a post I wrote went viral on social media this month
These are just gross income numbers, they don’t take into account the money I pay for taxes, hosting, ingredients, props, and a million other little expenses that go into blogging. This income also comes from a variety of sources—not just one ad network. They include multiple ad networks, affiliate programs and sponsored posts. When I share my monthly income report, I’ll go into more detail about both the income sources and the expenses I have.
To some folks, these numbers might sound like a lot, to others, it might sound like nothing. To put this into perspective for myself, I like to think of it as hourly rate. Say I work 25 hours a week on my blog (a conservative estimate). That’s 100 hours a month. So, in May, I was making a whopping $8.77 an hour—that’s less than the minimum wage in some states! Comparatively, I charge at least seven times that amount for my design work. See what I mean about how BTHR just isn’t efficient for me financially? And that’s not even considering that my blog revenue is decreasing each month, even though my readership is increasing. Womp. Womp. Something ain’t right, kids!
Hopefully, when you see my income reports over the next few months, you’ll see those numbers creep up as I work toward my goals (more about that below). I plan on sharing everything I do in a month so you can be on the journey right along with me, and chime in on anything that doesn’t feel “right” to you (although, my goal is to weed out anything shady before it ever comes your way). And, if you write your own blog, maybe some of the things I share can help you make your blog own blog more profitable.
Goals for the Remainder of 2014
You guys know I’m a big fan of goal-setting, and I think amping up my blog income requires a set of goals, too. I’ll talk about these in more detail in my upcoming monthly income reports, but here’s a general overview of what I’m thinking for the remainder of 2014.
Back when I started blogging, ad sales were the way to make money. You got into a good ad network selling to good advertisers, and you were basically rolling in the dough. Then advertisers got smart and started to realize that readers pretty much just tune out ads on websites anymore (either figuratively or literally through ad blocking software). This means that ad sale revenue just isn’t what it used to be. Even though my blog traffic has grown by 400% over the past three years, my ad revenue has pretty much stayed the same. Crazy, right?
The fact is, while ad sales are a great baseline (and really easy) way to monetize a blog, they are no longer super lucrative. To really make the most out of blogging, you have to diversify your income sources. Not only does that mean diversify your ads themselves, but also think about other products you can offer to make a buck. For the rest of the year, I’d like to focus on diversifying my income portfolio beyond just ad sales and the occasional sponsored post. The more baskets my eggs are in the more apt my blog is to be a sustainable income source for years to come.
Create a Social Media Strategy
I’m the first to admit I’m pretty lax with social media. I could be leveraging my nearly 13,000 social media followers much better. I mostly just use my BTHR social media accounts for personal use, and while that’s fine as a part of a blog’s social media strategy, it is definitely ignoring a large opportunity to gain more readers and create a larger network.
I also need to do a better job of marketing myself and my hard work on social media. I went as far as having WordPress automatically publish my posts to by Twitter and Facebook feeds, but other than that, I do a rotten job of publicizing myself. Which is silly. People that follow me on social media are following me because they want to hear from me!
Write and Publish an eBook
Writing a traditionally published cookbook is incredibly fun and rewarding (seeing it on the store shelves is way cool), but it isn’t incredibly lucrative. Sure, you get a nice big advance check, but when you spread that out over the hours and hours and hours of work that goes into a book, it just doesn’t end up being very much. I have so many great book ideas that I’d love to try to put into eBooks for purchase. Not only do I get complete control over the content, design and marketing (something you decidedly don’t with traditional publishing), but I also have a sneaking suspicion I might be able to make it a bit more profitable than traditional publishing. Plus, I just think it’ll be flat-out fun!
New Design and Content
My blog design needs an overhaul. I did a complete redesign about 18 months ago, and the result worked beautifully for a while, but there have been a lot of technical changes on my blog in the past few months that have started to break down my blog structure. I would really like to move my design over to a more sustainable theme and work on making it clean, crisp and easy-to-navigate. I also want to overhaul a lot of my content pages. I’ve been working on a new navigation system, new pages, and a new recipe index that’ll hopefully make the whole blog a better experience.
Seek Out Opportunities
You’d be shocked at the number of emails a day I get pitching me stuff for the blog. I turn down a good 99% of the proposals because I just don’t think they are a good fit for me, my blog and my readers. But what I haven’t been good about is pursuing opportunities that I do think will be a good fit. I’d like to spend more time over these next few months cultivating partnerships with companies that I truly believe in—and that might mean cold-calling them. I can’t expect them to always just stumble onto my bog!
Part of the hobby philosophy of my blog is that I’ve pretty much done everything manually and haphazardly. Sure, I schedule posts, and I have a rough editorial calendar, but I think I can do a lot better at streamlining my blogging process to be more efficient. This, in and of itself, won’t bring me more money, but if I can spend less time generating the same quality content, that means my income is much more efficient and more time with my family—which is my whole goal for this project!
Thank you so much for all of your support over the years! I hope you’ll stick with me as I work my way through this new chapter in my blogging career. <3
Have you ever turned a hobby into a career?
Well, I’m officially past my due date, and I’m still pregnant. Shock. Awe. Surprise.
Okay, not really. We definitely expected to go late (on average, first time mothers go eight days late, plus, we felt like the due date was set a little early anyway), so this isn’t any big surprise to us. People keep asking me what I’m doing to get her out—well, a whole lot of nothing. My philosophy is that she’ll come when she’s good and ready. And if she needs a few more days (or weeks) in my belly to develop and be the strongest little baby she can be, I’m all for it.
Although, ask me again when I’m pushing out a 10 pounder…
I’m also getting lots of questions about induction. Our midwives don’t even start talking induction until the 42 week mark, so that’s not on the radar at this point. I’ve had a perfectly healthy pregnancy, and as long as it stays that way, they are fine with letting it run its course (have I mentioned how much I love my midwives?).
One thing I am doing is pretty much living on iced red raspberry leaf tea. Partially because they say it’s good for my cervix, but mostly because it’s insanely delicious. And it’s hot out. And iced tea is awesome when it’s hot out.
While I’m patiently waiting for contractions to start, I figured I’d write up another post with some random odds and ends to tell you about. I have some exciting projects to catch you up on! Let’s get started.
Last month, I told you guys all about my second cookbook that’s due out early 2015—Cooking with Superfoods. Well, one thing I’ve learned in my limited time in the publishing industry is that you can always count on things to change, and it’s definitely changing around with this book!
After I submitted my manuscript, the powers-that-be decided to do some changing around with the book. The release date is still the same as is the content (lots of awesome information about superfoods), but the title, the size and the cover designs are all changing. It’s exciting because it means we’re actually moving to a larger sized book that is independent from the previous Cooking with… series. Apparently they think what I wrote is cool enough to stand on its own (which makes me a happy little recipe developer)! I’ll share more info once the title is finalized, and I know more information about pre-ordering.
An eBook (or two) in the Future?
I’ve pitched a lot (a lot) of ideas to my publisher for cookbooks. Some of them were accepted. Some of them were totally rejected (and for good reason, they were terrible—ha!). But there have been a handful that received a lot of reactions like this…
“That’s a cool idea, but we just really don’t think it’s ‘big’ enough to do a whole cookbook on.”
And I totally get it. They are a huge international corporation that pumps a ton of money and energy into every book they publish, so it’s important for the books they sign on to do to have the gravitas to put their weight behind.
But that doesn’t mean the ideas need to go into the trash can. So I’ve been thinking about self-publishing a few eCookbooks based on those types of ideas. But I want some feedback from you guys! I’ve, quite honestly, never bought an eCookbook before, so I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing that a lot of people do purchase? Of course, it would be well-designed with beautiful photography and available on multiple platforms. I’d also try to keep them really affordable—probably under $5 depending on the number of recipes included. The recipes included would be never-before-seen dishes that aren’t available anywhere else on my blog or the web. And each book would follow a very specific theme (example: healthy comfort food or salads-in-a-jar). Is this something you would be interested in?
I have a lot of projects to show off for you guys this month that I’ve been working on with my partners-in-crime. Like I’ve been mentioning the past few weeks, I worked really hard to get a bunch of content written and wrapped up before Baby J showed up, and now those posts are starting to go live for public consumption. Here’s what went up this past month:
Anytime Fitness Blog
I’ll still be posting to the Anytime Fitness Blog while I’m on maternity leave (well, more accurately, the posts were pre-written beforehand, and my awesome friends at AF will be posting them for me). So make sure you keep an eye out over there for some fun posts over the next few weeks. Anywho, here’s what I wrote for them this month:
Recipe: Slow Cooker Peachy Pulled Chicken Sliders: The slow cooker is the perfect summer-friendly option for keeping your kitchen cool and helping you get dinner on the table with time to spare. These chicken sliders are packed full of sweet, peachy flavor!
Excuse Busting: I Don’t Have Time To Eat Healthy: Healthy eating doesn’t have to mean you devote hours and hours every day in the kitchen. Here, I share my favorite tips for making healthy food fast.
Recipe: 5 Minute Easy Guacamole: By using pre-made pico de gallo, this guac comes together in less than five minutes. And I promise, no one will even know you didn’t spend all afternoon slicing and dicing.
Live Better America
I had just announced how excited I was about my new partnership with General Mills and Live Better America last month, and unfortunately, a few weeks later, us bloggers got the news that General Mills had cut funding to the LBA site and it was shutting down operations in May. Womp. Womp. I’m so bummed! I was so excited to work with all the awesome people there. They were still great to work with and let me finish up all my outstanding assignments and got them posted to the website before the team left. So you can still access them!
Recipe: Weeknight Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry: If you’re craving some Indian food but don’t have hours to devote to a slow-cooked recipe, this vegetarian curry is for you. It’s packed full of complex flavor, but comes together in about a half hour. Bonus: thanks to the use of coconut milk, this dish is 100% vegan—a great option to serve to mixed company! It also just gets better and better as leftovers.
Recipe: Vegetarian Black Bean and Chickpea Taco Skillet: This vegetarian taco skillet comes together in a flash thanks to a using a few Old El Paso products you can find on your grocery store shelves. By using whole grain pasta and two beans as a fiber-filled protein, you get a healthier version of the standard hamburger skillet comfort food. I served it with a little dollop of sour cream on top!
Recipe: Buffalo Black Bean Burgers: Just because you’re having veggie burgers doesn’t mean they have to be flat on flavor. These black bean burgers have the texture of real meat and a ton of blazin’ flavor thanks to a spicy mayo. These burgers are also awesome to freeze. Just make them up ahead of time and pop ‘em in the freezer before cooking.
Recipe: Quick and Easy Avocado and Tomato Salad: If you’re craving a light and healthy lunch, this adorable salad-in-a-shell is perfect for you. Flavorful cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, herbs and spices are mixed with healthy-fat powerhouse avocado to make a salad that is light, satisfying and totally tasty!
Recipe: Blueberry-Ginger Granita: Dessert in the summer doesn’t have to be heavy, and this vegan, gluten-free berry granita is a great example of how satisfying a light dessert can be! Tangy, sweet blueberries may seem like an odd combination with the zing of ginger, but it’s an incredibly interesting flavor combination that just screams “summer!”. Feel free to use either fresh or frozen berries (but I like making it with fresh for the biggest burst of flavor).
5 New Spins on Coleslaw: It wouldn’t be a summer barbecue without coleslaw on the menu. Instead of serving up the standard mayo-based slaw (which can clock in at upwards of 300 calories per cup), try out some of these healthified versions. You might just find your new favorite coleslaw!
Build Your Own Dry Rub: It’s the time of year to fire up the grill and cook yourself some super tasty summer dinners. Dry rubs are an easy way to impart a ton of flavor on your grilled goods without devoting a ton of time (or calories). Just mix up the spices, rub it on liberally and grill away!
What have you been up to lately?
I had so many great posts planned for you guys this week. But I woke up on Monday morning with one heck of a cold, and I’ve been fighting the good fight against the germs ever since. Long ago, I accepted that the best way for my body to fight colds is for me to stop, rest, and let my body do what it’s supposed to do, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do this week. So instead of writing posts for you or testing recipes for my new cookbook, I’ve been laying on the couch and coughing my lungs out while watching old SVU episodes. Which was really fun for the first day, but now I’m ready to get back to feeling like myself and get back to work!
Knock on wood, I think I’m on the mend. I even headed to the kitchen yesterday and tried to play catch-up on some of the recipes I’ve neglected during my time in germ city. While I was whisking away at Maple Coffee Ice Cream (the photo above), I realized that while I’ve done a lot of mentioning of my second cookbook to you guys, I haven’t actually told you much about it. Doh.
My second book is called Cooking with Superfoods, and it is part of the Cooking with… series from Countryman Press (the same series that my first cookbook was in—in fact, my Greek Yogurt cookbook was the first one in the series). If you couldn’t tell from the title, it’s going to be packed with recipes that contain superfoods (duh)! There are a ton of foods out there than can be labeled a “superfood” but I narrowed down the list to about 40 of ‘em, and each superfood has 2-3 recipes spotlighting its greatness.
Unlike Greek Yogurt, the vast majority of the recipes in Superfoods are brand spankin’ new, so I’ve been working really hard in the kitchen over the past few months developing new yumminess. I have about 35 more recipes to test and photograph, and then I’ll hunker down and write, write, write! I’ll be turning in my manuscript in the next few weeks, and if all goes well in the design process, it should be out for public consumption in late 2014/early 2015.
I’ve mentioned it a few times here, but I am insanely excited for this book, and incredibly proud of the recipes, photos and writing I’ve done so far. 99% of the feedback I received on Greek Yogurt was positive, but I took that 1% of constructive criticism and really tried to make Superfoods even better. The recipes are healthier, cleaner, and more straight-forward. The photography is better (at least, I think it is). And, after getting such good feedback about this part of Greek Yogurt, I’m incredibly excited about the non-recipe content of the book. Not only is it going to be packed with over 100 tasty, healthy recipes, but it’s also going to have a write-up for each of the 40+ superfoods in the book complete with why they’re good for you, why you should include them in your diet, and where to find them. It’s going to be more than just a book of recipes, it’s going to be a great resource for both people who are new to the world of healthy eating and those of you who are well-versed in good-for-you-foods.
Want to hear some of the recipe titles? There are some good ones:
- Dark Chocolate Açai Brownies
- Grilled Fish Tacos with Blueberry-Avocado Salsa
- Spaghetti and Freekeh Meatballs
- Goji Berry and Ginger Yogurt Scones
- Kiwi and Sweet Potato Bisque
- Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Pumpkin Seed Clusters
- Strawberry-Chicken Spinach Wrap
- Sweet Potato, Chicken and Quinoa Stew
- Banana Walnut Whole Wheat Pancakes
One of the biggest changes between the process of my first cookbook and this one is that I’m not doing the design on this one! If you didn’t know, for my first cookbook, I did the writing, recipe development, photography, and design—and it was an amazing experience to be able to have such a high-level of control over the final product (I know a lot of authors, especially first-time authors, don’t get that luxury). But because of the timing of this book, and the arrival of Baby J, I’m just not going to be able to do the design for Superfoods.
I have to admit, as a professional designer, it’s really hard to give up control over that part of the creative process. Who am I kidding? It’s hard to give up control over any part of the creative process. I have promised my editor I’ll try not to be a “helicopter designer” on it, but I still do pity the poor designer who has to work on my book. I’m sure I’ll be nice and picky (and probably annoying). And thankfully, I do have time to design the cover, and do a few sample interior designs for the other designer to work off of—just as long as Baby J doesn’t show up early—so I’m not relinquishing total control.
Okay, so that’s the scoop on cookbook #2! I’ll definitely be sharing more info once I know the exact release date and pre-order date.
Neither of my cookbooks would have been possible without you guys (that’s why my first cookbook is dedicated to my blog readers!), so thank you so much for your support everyday. Even if you didn’t buy my first cookbook, and have no plans to, just you showing up here and hanging out with me during the week has impacted my life and career more than I think you’ll ever know. I am so grateful to each and every one of you!
And now, I’m going to go eat one of those peanut butter cups pictured up there. Peanut butter cups are good for a cold, right?
P.S. If you’d like to snag a free copy of Cooking with Greek Yogurt, my friend Kelly is giving one away on her blog this week!
What’s your favorite superfood? Do you try to pack your diet with superfoods?
If you’ve been reading here for a few years (or even as far back as when I first started back in 2010), it’s no secret to you that the frequency of posting has decreased in recent months and years. If you haven’t been reading for a while, you might be surprised to know that for years, I was writing two posts a day! And for a while, I even was writing three a day. I just had so much I wanted to tell you all about. Obviously, that’s changed recently.
Sure, a big chunk of that is due to lifestyle changes. I originally started my blog as a fun creative outlet from my not-so-fulfilling job. At the time, I had just dropped 50 pounds and was big into health and fitness. I had so much fun writing about my training runs and healthy eats!
But when I quit that job over a year ago to become my own boss, I suddenly found myself with a creatively-fulfilling career. I didn’t depend on generating content for BTHR as my creative outlet, and beyond that, health and fitness were no longer at the tippy top of my priority list. I had managed to build a baseline healthy life that felt like a good fit for me. Nothing seemed new or exciting enough anymore to write about when it came to “healthy living”. Sure, I could have signed up for a race or tried a new diet just to generate some content, but, quite honestly, that just never was my thing. So the posting frequency started to decrease.
One thing that I always loved doing was creating, photographing and writing about healthy recipes. I’m really thankful to the blogging community for showing me a newfound love (and even a new career!) for recipe development. I still love it. I love that there is always something I can create in the kitchen and share with you. So, for the longest time, that’s what I filled my blog with. Lots and lots of recipes. The creative bucket was total dry for other kinds of content, but when it came to recipes, I had ideas in droves. And while posting 4-5 recipes a week wasn’t the most varied of content, I still felt proud of what I had created.
And then I got pregnant. And got the morning sickness from hell. And my ability to cook (and well, eat) food went out the window. And with it, 99% of my blog content. It was a real wakeup call. While I love posting recipes for you guys, I started to realize that don’t entirely love only posting recipes. My favorite blogs to read are the ones that are full of varied, interesting content, and the truth is, I wasn’t even writing a blog I would want to read. Which is ridiculous. I would sit in front of my editorial calendar for hours at a time trying to figure out what I could write about that didn’t require heading to the kitchen, and still fit within my brand, and I came up with nothing.
So where am I going with this? Well, I think it’s human nature to grow and evolve, and it’s silly to assume that a personal blog won’t grow and evolve with you—and I think BTHR is in serious need of some evolution. The truth is, while I don’t really have a lot of health or fitness related content ideas floating around in my brain, I have a million of things I’d love to share with you. I’d love to tell you how I made a mobile for Baby J’s nursery for less than $5. I’d love to show you how we’re planning on overhauling our kitchen pantries. I’d love to show you the bulbs we planted last fall. I’d love to tell you about the beer brewing that my husband and my Dad do every few weeks in our basement. I’d love to show you my favorite restaurants in Louisville. I’d love to show you how to season your cast iron skillet. I’d love to tell you all about the natural cleaning products we make at home. I’d love to show you how to make your own curtains at home. I want to show you my process for making the best gherkins on the planet (seriously, they’re amazing). And I’d still love to show you some of my absolute favorite, most delicious, and healthy recipes (just maybe not so often). And plus maybe a workout or two.
I have so many ideas. I want to show you my life! Of course, I’ve always included some posts that weren’t health or fitness related, but I was always careful to not tip the scales (ha, pun intended) too far in the direction of moving away from the roots of my blog—health, fitness, and weight loss. I know a lot of you came here to read because you are passionate about health and fitness, so I didn’t want to abandon all my friends by suddenly overwhelming you with posts about sewing and gardening. But, the truth is, that box that I put myself in just ain’t fun anymore. And the whole point of writing this blog is to have fun! I understand that the shift in content might not interest some of you, and that’s cool (although, I’ll miss you!), but first and foremost, I have to enjoy writing this blog. And for a while now, I haven’t been. It’s time to have fun with BTHR again!
Alright, now some of you may be thinking, but what about The Broken Plow? If you didn’t know, when Craig and I moved into our house, we started a separate blog about gardening, DIY, hobby farming, homesteading and all the things that go along with being first time homeowners. At first, we had a blast writing it, and creating content for it was a nice change of pace for me. But, we never quite figured out how to fit it into our already busy life. Keeping up with one blog and a career is hard enough, but trying to keep up with two? Especially when both of them were project-based? Phew. We found ourselves spending all weekend, every weekend doing projects to generate content for both blogs. Suddenly, our lives were all about doing things that generated content for the blog, instead of living our life. And while I was enjoying the change of pace, with non-health related content, I just couldn’t figure out how to fit it into my schedule (and still have time to, you know, sleep). That’s why we’ve never been very good at being consistent with posting on The Broken Plow. The fact is, we just couldn’t fit it in. And we’ve been trying to shoehorn it into our lives for 18 months now, and it just isn’t happening. And I don’t see that improving with a kid on the way. So Craig and I have decided to mark The Broken Plow as a failed experiment and move on.
I know there is a small portion of you that loved our content on The Broken Plow, and for you guys, you’ll be happy to know that a lot of that kind of content will now be showing up here. I’ll be writing about gardening and homesteading and DIY. Those things are a huge part of my life that I feel like gets missed by the narrow lens of BTHR, so it’ll be really nice to thread those in. I struggled a lot with the overlap between the two blogs sometimes (like, canning posts—they fit into both blogs!), so it’ll be nice not to have to think about it anymore. And, if you loved my husband’s hilarious writing (seriously, it’s awesome), I’m sure you’ll find him writing guest posts here every now and again. And eventually, our plan is to actually migrate all the content from The Broken Plow—since there are some great reference posts in there—onto the BTHR domain for easy access. So it’s not going anywhere if there are posts that you’d like to refer to.
With the change in content, you’ll also probably notice a few tweaks to the design of BTHR over the next few weeks. I love the look and functionality of my design, but it’s definitely time for a bit of a refresh and a brand new content direction seems like a great time to do it.
Ah, I feel better. And excited to share some new aspects of my life with you!
What are some ways you’ve evolved in the past few years?
I officially celebrated my one year quitiversary from my full-time job as a graphic designer last week. If you weren’t around back when the change happened, the story was a pretty common one. I worked in a decent job, with decent pay (and awesome benefits) doing decent work, and even though on paper, everything was hunky-dory, I absolutely wasn’t fulfilled.
Cheap champagne on the last day of work. Obviously, pre-pregnancy.
I know lots of folks just find a new job when they’re unhappy with their current one, but after seven combined years in two different office environments, I started to suspect the problem wasn’t the particular job or company, but it was an issue with me. I suspected that I’d thrive as my own boss, with my own hours and complete control over my workload—and I was right! Now, I work as a freelance graphic designer and food writer. Being my own boss has been the most amazing blessing. Sure, there are tough days still, but overall, I’m a much happier and content person (and my husband will tell you—I’m much nicer to be around now). It feels amazing to be the master of my own destiny.
Me and my first cover article (and photo!).
Now that I have a bit (a tiny bit) of perspective on the move to be my own boss, I thought it’d be fun to share some of the things I’ve learned over the past 365 days. If I’m fortunate enough to get to keep being my own boss, I’m sure I’ll just keep learning more and more! Okay, onto what I’ve learned:
There will never be a perfect time to quit.
Craig and I worked for years (literally, years) to get to the position where we felt like I could quit my job. My income was about 70% of our total income, plus I carried all the benefits, so it was a big shift to just drop that. We decided somewhere around my 27th birthday that I would absolutely not be in this job by my 30th birthday (having a date circled on the calendar really helped mentally and emotionally get through the rough days), and we worked almost everyday of that three years to achieve that goal. We scrimped. We saved. We took on odd jobs and freelance work. We paid off debt. We lived in a tiny apartment. We shopped at Aldi. We never went out to eat. We didn’t travel much. We sold stuff to pay off credit cards. I had a side business selling purses and headbands on Etsy. And even with all that, we still weren’t in an ideal financial situation when I quit.
We were better off than a lot of folks, but financial advisors everywhere probably would have advised I didn’t quit. In an ideal situation, we would have had six months of living expenses saved up and all of our debt paid off. In reality, we had about two months of living expenses saved up, plus about three-quarters of our debt paid off.
Honestly, if we would have waited until the perfect time, I think I would have been waiting forever. I’m no financial expert, but just like everything in my life, I believe in the middle path. I wasn’t going to be naive enough to quit my job with $10 in savings and buried in debt, but also, waiting another 2-3 years to be even more financially secure was not worth the emotional and physical toll that job was taking on me. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “perfect” financial situation. You can always have more in savings. You can always pay off more debt. You can always have more assets. I personally feel like if you’re waiting for “perfect” you’re going to be waiting forever.
That first step is a doozy.
Yup, no matter how much you loathe your job, despise your boss, and dream of the day you can turn in your resignation letter, when the day comes—it’s a doozy. The fact is, you are (willingly!) surrendering all guarantee of future income. And regardless of how much you’ve saved and prepared, that’s terrifying. And just because your feelings are leaning a bit more toward total terror instead of total glee, it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision. It just means you’re realistic.
This is also the case for any times you might be wavering post-quit, too. It’s only natural to want to go back to comfortable (and comfortable=a steady paycheck) when things get shaky. Like earlier in the year, when we got our property tax bill and it was four times what we estimated and cleared out half of our savings. I had some serious thoughts about going out and finding another job. I’m glad I didn’t (because, obviously, we got through it, and I’d probably be stuck in a job I hated), but having a steady job you dislike is like being wrapped in a warm, cozy, abusive security blanket. And it’s only natural to have the urge to go back to that place sometimes—even if it is toxic. Although, I could easily bring myself out of that urge by remembering how I’d cry more days than not at my job. That worked.
You gotta figure out if the positives outweigh the negatives.
Being your own boss and working from home sounds like a promised-land of pajama pants and flexible hours, but just like everything in life, there are negatives that go along with being your own boss, too. And the fact is, it just isn’t for everyone.
I no longer get to put on a pretty dress and go to work. Which sounds like a positive, but when you’ve gone three days in the same jammie pants, you start to rethink that. I don’t have any co-workers. Again, it can be a positive if you think about that annoying loud-talking coworker in the next cubicle, but it also means you don’t have a work-BFF or anyone to rant with when something goes wrong. You are the CEO, the boss, the employee, the receptionist and the intern. Being your own boss part? Awesome. Being your own intern part? Not so awesome. I desperately miss having a cluster of young, enthusiastic college students to do mind-numbing work like data entry and photo resizing. You never get to clock-out. Some folks struggle with this at a job, too, but I was an expert at keeping my work life separate from my home life. When I walked out of those doors at quitting time, I didn’t check my email or take calls or do anything work related until I walked back in the next morning. That clear delineation doesn’t exist for me anymore. The benefit of that lack of delineation is that I have a completely flexible schedule. If I want to take all of Tuesday off to binge on Gilmore Girls, I can. But it also means I might be replying to emails at 3am on a Sunday.
For me, all these negatives (and more, there are more) weren’t enough to outweigh the stomach-turning, dread that flooded over me every Sunday evening when I was working. But for some folks, a good ole 9-to-5 is the way to go.
It’s amazing what happens when you open yourself up.
You can either take this in a spiritual way or a literal way, but I was amazed at the opportunities that just kinda fell on my lap when I opened myself up. When I was no longer booked for 40+ hours a week at work. When I was no longer consumed with job dissatisfaction. When I was no longer closed off to the world.
Within four hours of announcing to the world that I was a quitter, I had booked three new clients. Sure, they probably saw that I was available (and maybe even pitied my lack of consistent income), but they were still opportunities that I would have never known existed if I would have stayed at my job. Within a month, I had a book deal and a very fruitful partnership doing book design for a major publisher. I’m not a very spiritual person, but even I think the timing of it all is just a little too perfect to be coincidence. And I’ve heard of similar situations from multiple people who have taken the leap.
When you open yourself up to opportunities, the opportunities open themselves up to you. And the fact is, when you don’t have that backup net of a paycheck coming on Friday, you work harder and you are more willing and welcoming of any chance to prove yourself. There is something about taking that leap that makes you confident. And that confidence is what makes people want to pay you.
A lifestyle change is in order.
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I quit was that we didn’t change our standard of living. We kept living like we had a big ole paycheck coming in next month—and guess what? It didn’t come. It ended up working out for us, because I was able to book some big jobs early on, but that doesn’t always happen. And won’t always happen.
If I could go back, I would have seriously cut back in those first few months. Eventually, we realized that, hey, our income is no longer consistent and what we might bring in this month is in no way indicative of what we’ll bring in next month. And because of that, we have to adjust our baseline budget. Now, I know how much money we have to bring in each month to cover our basic living expenses without tapping into savings, and that’s my financial goal for each month. If I make a little more, awesome, it can go to savings (to help cover months when I don’t hit the baseline goal), pay off debt, or buy us some gadget or doo-dad we’ve been coveting. If my business had a higher overhead cost, that extra money might get pumped right back into my business (but thankfully, the overhead cost of graphic design and writing is low, low, low).
Where we live made this possible.
Even though I live in rural Indiana, I work in Manhattan, LA, Chicago, etc. thanks to the joys of the internet. Which means I can fetch those kinds of big city rates for my work. And when you combine that with the low cost of living of my little town in the Midwest, it works out well for us.
Oh, summer, how I miss thee.
Honestly, if we lived in a higher cost of living location, I’m not sure we could make it work. Our mortgage is low. Our property taxes are low (well, usually). Gas is cheap. Services are cheap. Milk is cheap. I was talking with some ladies at the Healthy Living Summit this year about cost of living in different locations, and our yearly income would barely cover the cost of owning a house in some areas of the country. We’re fully-aware that where we live makes this transition much easier.
Being in control is incredible.
I always figured I’d probably like having complete control over my career, but it’s been so much better than I ever imagined. Having the freedom to pick my clients, pick my projects, pick my workload and my pick my hours is such an incredible luxury.
Now I have the freedom to give a friend a discount or do pro bono work. I can barter my work. I can turn down a project I really have no interest in working on. I can schedule myself a maternity leave (for as long as I want/can afford). I can experiment with new products and services without having to go through 27 layers of managerial red tape. I set my prices based on what I think is fair and reasonable. I have control. And it’s friggin’ priceless. If I ever do back to the grind, I’ll have to do some serious work to get used to not being in control anymore.
The cobbler’s kids have no shoes.
Want to hear something funny? I’ve been working on my own as a professional graphic designer and writer for a full year now, and, I uh, don’t have a website. Or a portfolio. Or an up-to-date resume. And the design on both BTHR and the Broken Plow are in serious need of an update. I haven’t had any time to devote to my own personal projects.
Back when I was working at a job, working on my own personal projects on the weekend was a fun way to release some of the creative frustration that had built up during the week. But now? There just isn’t the time. I did manage to spend about four hours working on a website back in the spring, but I haven’t touched it since. Maybe someday I’ll actually have a website. Amazingly enough, clients don’t seem to mind that their web designer doesn’t have a website herself.
You gotta save for taxes.
This is a really specific thing, but if you’ve worked your whole life for the man (I had!) it’s a seriously hard transition to understand that that big fat check you got from a client isn’t all yours. The vast majority of self-employed income doesn’t have taxes withheld automatically, so that means you gotta do it yourself. Because come tax time, you won’t be getting a fun refund check (oh, how I miss the “I’m gonna go buy new shoes!” refund checks), but you will be getting a big ole income tax bill. I just automatically funnel 30% of every single check I get into a taxes savings fund. I don’t touch it. I don’t look at it. I don’t think about it. Then, come tax time (or when it’s time to for a quarterly estimated tax payment—which is something a lot of us self-employed folks have to do), you’ve got the bill covered. The 30% works for us and our current tax situation, but you might need more or less depending on your deductions, credits and income level.
Saying “no” is hard. But you have to.
I’ve been very fortunate to be booked all year. But even with my crazy schedule, I have a really, really hard time turning away work. The truth is, as your own boss, you never know when the work will dry up, so it’s really friggin’ hard to turn away someone when they’re holding cash out in front of you. But after a particularly crazy, over-booked summer, I realized that I had to learn to turn folks away.
It’s hard. But the truth is, if I took on every single request I got to do a design in three days (PSA: a good graphic designer is probably booked at least two months in advance, and you should plan accordingly or at least plan to pay for a rush job) or to write an article by noon tomorrow, I’d have lost my mind back in October. Plus, saying “no” to all the low-quality opportunities leaves you open to say “yes” to the high quality opportunities.
You’ll get all kinds of reactions.
The vast majority of reactions I got when I told people I was going out on my own were positive. They ranged from “good for you!” to “you are my hero!”. But every now and again, you get the not-so-nice ones, too. I’ve heard my fair share of mentions of being spoiled and privileged (which, I don’t deny, I am privileged, but I also worked my butt off to get here). I also hear a surprising amount of well, everyone else has to suffer at a job they hate, why shouldn’t you too? Which I find positively ridiculous. And my personal favorite, folks who just assume because I don’t have a job I must not work. I guess people just assume I sit at home eating bon-bons and watching my stories all day? Granted, I’ve had more of those days as of recent because of pregnancy, but most weeks, I’m actually working longer hours that I ever did at a “real” job. Craig and I have a real two-income household—meaning we couldn’t keep up with our lifestyle on either income alone. So if I was sitting at home doing nothing, we’d have been out on the street months ago.
It’s still a job.
Yup. Even with all the benefits of running my own business, there are a still days I hate going to work. Granted, those days are few-and-far-between compared to how many I had back at my old gig, but they’re still there. There are still the days when I deal with stupid people and have to answer stupid emails and work on stupid projects—all for the sake of being able to pay my mortgage.
I know that “love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life” quote is a popular one, but I think it’s a load of bull. The second that money is involved, it becomes work. Sure, it might be work that you enjoy and are passionate about most of the time, but when it’s your source of income, there will always be days that you don’t want to do your work, but you have to because you gotta put dinner on the table. And that doesn’t go away just because you’re your own boss (although, like I said, it is a whole lot less frequent).