April 30, 2021
It feels like a blink since the original post “lessons from one year of writing full-time”. But it is with ENORMOUS pride, a slight maniacal cackle and a deep sigh of caffeine-fuelled relief that I get to say this is 5 lessons from two years of writing full-time.
5 Lessons from Two Years of Writing Full-Time
Lesson 1: The Income Update
In my first year, my only goal was to survive. I was desperate not to go back to the corporate hellmare that was my old day job.
I did that, yay me.
But I also ended year one feeling like I was rudderless and hadn’t pushed myself sufficiently on the income front—which, funnily enough, I hadn’t because I was so consumed by just surviving.
Year two was a financial shifting year. While I wanted to beat my old day job income, it was more important to me to reduce the freelance in order to focus on my business and create the financial and life freedom I really wanted. But I'm also a competitive bitch, and STILL wanted to increase my overall income, a tall order given I was starting from a lower baseline after giving up a lot of the freelance gigs. Thanks to a frankly terrifying amount of caffeine, a little hysteria and a few gins, I managed it. Turnover was up 22% and net profit up 67%.
But the really exciting development is the change in breakdown of income. In year one, 75% of my income came from freelance work, 17% from book sales and 8% from everything else like affiliate income, speaking fees etc.
But in year two, what changed dramatically. I’m genuinely surprised, shocked and delighted to see the shift. It shows how much of a lie time is, the last year has felt endless and so, so fast all at the same time.
But the summary is that I halved the income from freelance which sat at just 37% of turnover and increased sales income to the point where it’s now my biggest income stream at 44% of turnover. This makes me crazy happy and hungry to continue decreasing the freelance income and continue boosting my other streams. Interestingly, my “everything else” bucket more than doubled in year two and that’s thanks in part to the podcast, sponsorships, and patreon but also to course sales and a variety of other income streams.
A takeaway here for me is that while I doubled the array of “everything else” income streams, it still only accounted for 19% AND in order to generate that, it took as much effort if not more than everything else. Realistically, it’s the books that shifted the income percentages and so this coming year, I must focus my energies on getting more books written.
In my second year, my main income streams included: book sales, freelance work, patreon, merchandise, affiliate income, sponsorship, course sales, consulting and speaking.
Year two assets include: 8 nonfiction books and 3 nonfiction box sets and 2 fiction books.
In year three, my goal is to continue growing turnover and profit, continue reducing the % freelance work accounts for and increase my wide book sales income. In addition, I want to add audiobooks and more courses to my asset portfolio. I still haven’t beaten my old day job income so that goal is burning hard now!
Takeaway 1: Annual analysis is really important to help give you perspective. I’ve been flailing a bit recently with the direction I should be going and this has helped to solidify that.
Lesson 2: Self-Belief is Everything
It’s only now that I look back at the end of my second year of business that I realise just quite how much of my first year was spent in crippling fear. My sphincter was constantly quivering at the thought of having to go back to a job I hated and the prospect of being flung back into that depressive “no way out” mindset. I spoke earlier about how I didn’t care about anything other than surviving and making sure I didn’t go back and that was all consuming in the first year.
It’s taken me two years to get rid of that fear. I still fidget a little, itchy sphincter hasn’t totally gone, but I have self-belief in a way that I never had before. I know without a doubt that I won’t go back to a day job. This career, hell, any career working for myself is for life. Even if I end up doing something else as a business, this life of working for myself is not something I can or will ever give up. I was not made to work for other people but accepting that or more, being comfortable and confident enough to accept that has taken time.
Indies are especially good at wanting things now, now, now. I’m like it too. I think it’s because our businesses are in our control, therefore we want results now, to publish yesterday, the covers last week and the income ALL DAY LONG BABY.
But there is something intangible that “time” can give you. Growth doesn’t happen instantly. You don’t just quit your job and have the self-belief that you can do this, or the income appear instantly. Shit is rocky for a while, business is hard, and it is a rollercoaster of wobbling belief, income and learning. But fuck me is it the most glorious rollercoaster out there. This second year, despite it being in extremely difficult global times, has allowed me to blossom and grow in confidence and self-belief and the security that I can do this for the long haul and things are going to be okay.
Takeaway 2: no matter how quick or amazing your income balloons, there is something that only time can give you, a kind of security blanket of confidence and assurance that you’ve got this. It’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re drowning in a society of “nowness” but embrace it, buckle up baby and grip hard, this is a rocky rollercoaster ride.
Lesson 3: The Honeymoon Period Ends
Alright, yes, this job is fucking amazing. I will never say otherwise. However, every job no matter the business or industry you’re in, has a grind. And this year the honeymoon period well and truly ended for me. Perhaps it was made worse and brought forward because of Covid and the absolute devastation it caused on my time and sanity. But the honeymoon period of working for myself is definitely over.
Does that mean I regret leaving my day job? Abso-fuckin-lutely not. This is the best job in the world. However, managing a family, a school kid, a wife a house and a business is A LOT. Because I have work “flexibility” nine times out of ten the “can you dos” fall to me. The ad hoc life shit will fall on my plate and I ended up doing 95% of the homeschooling. Which at six hours a day did not leave much time or energy for business.
The grind of having to do admin and emails and deal with everything else life throws at me as well as work a number of evenings is tough. Without having had a proper holiday in the last 18 months I’m feeling worn if I’m honest. There’s a kind of viral exhaustion I can’t get rid of because staycations are never real breaks when you work for yourself.
What this means is that I need to keep things fresh. I need to do projects that I both enjoy and that bring me income. Finding the balance is key to retaining my enthusiasm.
Takeaway 3: Holidays away from the house and my office are essential to get real rejuvenation time. Reducing or outsourcing “grind” tasks over the next year to ensure I stick with what only I can do is essential. I also need to find a way to work less evenings it’s having a severe impact on my energy and enthusiasm.
Lesson 4: Input and Strengths
In my first year I was so concerned with just surviving that I didn’t put much thought into learning, growth or development. But as I neared the last third of my second year, I felt a gaping emptiness and my ability to write was being affected.
It’s in large part thanks to Becca Syme and her Better Faster Academy that I’ve been able to learn more about my strengths and make them work smarter for me. Case in point, I’ve upped my reading input from 60-70 books a year to 130-140ish. The result? In the first month alone I output 30% more words. Whether I like it or not, I have a high need for input. I’d assumed it was just visual stimuli I needed but apparently binge watching Netflix isn’t cutting it for my brain, it wants to eat books and so I will deliver as a humble servant.
I think the other lesson is that by being aware of my strengths, intentionally learning and trying to develop them, I can have real tangible results. But I do need to give myself the time and headspace to reflect and learn and input. Something I find difficult from the outset because it doesn’t feel like work. If it helps me develop, work better or smarter, then clearly I need to do it.
Takeaway 4: Sometimes the things that create the biggest effect on your bottom line don’t feel like work, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t or that it’s not important. Far from it. You have to do those things. Those are the things that allow you to grow.
Lesson 5: You Have Permission
This is going to sound bonkers from the mother of villains and queen of rebels. BUT, it’s very easy to institutionalise yourself. When you live day in day out with how your business is and doing things “because they work” it’s easy to forget you can pivot or change or adapt.
When it comes to someone else telling me what to do, I’ll always rebel or find a way to break the rule, but I’m often left floundering when it comes to myself. I tend to be reluctant to give myself permission, or I let doubt creep in and prevent me from doing the thing I know I should be doing.
That’s why I have Post-its reminding me “YOU HAVE PERMISSION”. This is the life I created and the one I want to live, taking the time to write the book I want to write IS OKAY, SACHA. Take this post, I had to force myself to sit down and do it even though I knew it would be helpful.
Expectation is a slippery fucker, whether it’s from external sources or yourself, it’s weighty and meaty and it can stop you doing things you either want to do or know would be good for your business.
Takeaway 5: There are a couple of BIG game changing things I need to do this year and I need to stop holding myself back. No more fucking about Sacha, you have lofty goals and you’re not going to apologise for them. I have permission. I just need to get on with it.
One Last Thought:
No matter what happens, this is better
This was one of the lessons from my first year full-time. No matter what happens this life is better. I stand by that, if anything I believe it even more firmly this year than last. I keep two sentimental photos from this journey. The first is the Post-it I signed and dated saying I’d be writing full-time in 2020. I left in 2019, and every time I look back at the Post-it I smile. The other photo is the photo of me on one of my worst days in my old job. I’m broken and in so much pain that it’s genuinely uncomfortable even now for me to look at. I keep it because it’s also a short, sharp annual reminder not to get lazy, not to take this life for granted and to appreciate every second I’m lucky enough to do this as a job. Yes, running an author business is hard, yes the honeymoon period is over, yes it’s grueling, but it’s also the best fucking thing I could have done and I’d die before I gave it up.