Judging by the blog posts I’ve been reading this week, a lot of bloggers have started the year with the intention of making it the year they go full-time with their blog – or venture into some other form of self-employment.
I’ve been self-employed for ten years now (!) and blogging full-time for five of those years (before taking my blogs full-time, I freelanced as a writer), so today I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve learned along the way: both about the things I did before I made the leap into full-time blogging, and the things I WISH I’d done. Because, to be completely honest, when I became self-employed, it wasn’t so much a “leap” as it was a fall off a very high cliff: in other words, I was totally and utterly unprepared.
Working for myself was something I’d wanted to do for a long time, and had been thinking about fairly obsessively in my last year or so of traditional employment. It wasn’t, however, something I’d actually planned for. I had a shelf full of books with titles like, “How To Make a Living Without Having a Job”, and “How to Be Self-Employed Even When You Don’t Have the First Clue What You’re Doing” (Er, OK, I might be remembering that one wrong), but what I didn’t have was A Plan, or even any idea about what I could do to make money. I wanted to be self-employed, but I didn’t really believe I’d ever do it, so I thought it was something that would only ever be a dream, and never become a reality.
If Terry hadn’t become ill, and if I hadn’t become so stressed and unhappy with my job, that’s probably all it ever would have been, too: it takes guts to leave a steady, well-paid job and strike out on your own, and I’ve never been known for my bravery. Terry’s illness, and subsequent kidney-transplant, though, was literally life-changing for us, and one day I simply walked out of my office and didn’t go back. I, er, don’t particularly recommend that as a route into self-employment, in case you’re wondering, but here are some of the things I DO recommend you ask yourself if you want to become a full-time blogger, (or work for yourself in some other way).
01. How much money do you really need to survive every month?
While Terry was on dialysis, waiting for his kidney transplant, we were absolutely broke – like, “selling stuff on eBay just to pay the mortgage that month” broke.
It was a horrible, stressful time, which I hope never to have to repeat, but one thing I learned from it was that I didn’t actually NEED much money to get by.
This revelation was as much of a surprise to me as it was to everyone else who knew me, because I had always been a spendthrift: the type of person who’d blow her entire salary on shoes the day she got paid, then spend the rest of the month sitting at home eating noodles, unable to afford to go out. I’ve always loved shopping, and, at that time, had a high-end-beauty-product habit to support, plus a growing collection of shoes. If you’d asked me how much money I needed to survive, I’d have told you I needed A LOT. In fact, I’d have sworn I couldn’t possibly take any reduction in salary at all: I could easily have doubled my salary and STILL not had enough for all of the things I felt I NEEDED.
Serious illness has a way of putting things into perspective, however, and that’s what happened for me. During those two lean years we spent virtually nothing: we didn’t go out, we didn’t take holidays, we didn’t buy anything that wasn’t totally necessary. Now, don’t get me wrong: I didn’t enjoy this frugal way of life, and as I said, I wouldn’t be thrilled to go back to it. I still love clothes, shoes, holidays, makeup… they’re the little things that make life fun, and I’m grateful to be able to afford some of them again. During those two years, however, I discovered that I didn’t actually NEED them they way I’d thought I did. I still wanted them, but my priorities had shifted, and at the time, all I really cared about was keeping the roof over our heads, and the bills paid every month. Everything else was secondary, and even although it was the most stressful time of my life, I realised I was STILL happier than I would have been if I’d stayed in traditional employment.
I still feel like that. I would still rather buy second hand clothes and watch every penny, than go back to doing a job that made me miserable. And this, I think, is the most important thing you have to decide before you become self-employed – as a blogger, or as anything else. How much money do you REALLY need? If it takes a long time to build up your income, will you be able to get by without all of the little luxuries you currently take for granted, or will it make you so unhappy you’ll want to quit?
02. How much can you save in advance?
Because I fell into self-employment rather than planning for it, I didn’t have time to save up any money. I did, however, have a small amount of savings, and we were very lucky in that, in the early weeks of our business, Terry managed to land a large web design job: the money he earned from that wasn’t a fortune by anyone’s standards, but I knew it was enough to keep us afloat for a good few months – maybe even longer – if we continued living at our new, super-frugal level.
So we did. Rather than allowing that unexpected income to raise our living standards, we squirrelled it away, and agreed not to touch it unless we absolutely HAD to. It became our safety-net – our “buffer” – and knowing we had it was a huge relief to me, and allowed me to stop worrying so much about money, and concentrate on building up the business instead. Without that safety net, I’m not sure we’d have made it: I suspect the worry about where the next client was coming from would have become all-consuming for me, and would have made it impossible for me to think about anything else, so, if you can, I’d highly recommend building up your own safety net before making your blog your only form of income.*
How much of a safety-net you need is up to you: my advice, however, is to save up as much as you can, because the more money you have saved up, the more time you’ll have to build up your blog. It can take a long time to start earning a decent living from blogging, and the last thing you want is to be worrying constantly about how you’ll pay your bills, rather than concentrating on creating your best content and growing your readership.
(*Unless, of course, you’re the kind of person who works best under pressure, and enjoys the feeling of living life on the edge. If you’re that kind of person, though, I’m guessing you probably don’t need this article anyway!)
03. Can you keep the day job?
The great thing about blogging is that it can be done part-time, and made to fit around your day job. It’s not necessarily EASY to do that, of course, but if you can, I’d recommend keeping your day job for as long as you can, and working on your blog in your spare time, building it up to the point where it’s providing you with enough of an income to make quitting the day job a viable option. Not only will this make the transition from traditional employment to full-time blogging a little easier, it’ll also give you time to make sure that full-time blogging is really for you.
If you’ve followed the two steps above, you should have a good idea of exactly how much of an income you’re going to need your blog to provide for you to live off, and hopefully the thought of meeting that target will help motivate you to work hard to get it there. I continued freelancing until my blog income had grown to a level at which I felt I could safely give up my other work: it took a couple of years to reach that stage, though, and I wouldn’t have got there at all if I hadn’t had something to live off in the meantime.
04. What motivates you in life?
In order to make self-employment work, you have to REALLY want it to work. It might sound a bit sad to some of you, but your blog has to become the most important thing in your life (after the obvious things like family and health, of course), and making it a success has to be worth more to you than the things you’ll sacrifice (and there will be things you’ll sacrifice) for it. So be realistic, and ask yourself what it is that motivates you in life, and WHY you want to be a full-time blogger.
For myself, I’d always assumed that what motivated me most was money and, well, STUFF. I wanted to have ALL THE THINGS: the holidays, the nice car, the closet full of designer shoes. Now, don’t get me wrong: I STILL want all those things, and the pursuit of them is a powerful motivating factor for me. It’s not my MAIN motivation, though, because, as I said above, what I learned from those first few months and years of self-employment is that what REALLY motivates me isn’t money, but freedom.
That sounds kinda cringey, doesn’t it? I’m leaving it in, though, because it’s true. When I worked for other people, I felt totally trapped: literally, I mean. I couldn’t STAND the thought that I had to drive to some dreary building every day, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to leave it (or, at least, not without a very good reason, and the permission of a “superior”…) until a certain time. I felt like my entire life had shrunk: one room in that building was my world, and I HATED it.
Escaping that feeling is the main thing that motivates me to work for myself. It’s not money, and it’s not STUFF – it’s being in control of my own life, not having to answer to other people, and feeling FREE. (*Cringe*)
If I hadn’t felt like that, I don’t think self-employment would have worked for me. If what I’d valued most had been stability, say, or money, then I know it definitely wouldn’t have, so, before you decide to make blogging your career, you need to work out what motivates you,and if full-time blogging is going to provide you with that. (Hint: if your main motivation is getting rich quick, you’re probably going to be disappointed…)
05. Are you prepared to treat it like a business?
I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but full-time blogging is a business, and in order to success at it, you have to view it as a business. You can’t expect to go into it with an “I blog for ME!” attitude: that’s fine when blogging is your hobby, but if it’s your job you have to start making business and financial decisions about it and it will no longer be just about you, and what you want to do. If your blog is your main source of income, you can’t afford to continue thinking of it as something you’ll work on if and when you feel like it, or when you feel appropriately inspired.
I think a lot of people view full-time blogging as an easy option, and imagine that it’s all just posting selfies on Instagram and taking delivery of yet another parcel of freebies, while the money rolls in. As with any business, though, full-time blogging takes work, and requires you to become proficient, not just at writing and photography, but at marketing, branding, advertising, analysing stats, dealing with accounts, and all of the other things a small-business owner has to think about. Many people believe you shouldn’t try to turn a hobby into a job, or it’ll stop being fun. I don’t personally agree with that (and it definitely hasn’t been the case for me), but it’s important to ask yourself whether YOU do before you make the decision to start blogging full time.