August 1st marks the start of my sixth month as a full-time blogger and freelance writer. The last update I did was at the one month, right-out-of-the-gates mark, and I thought it would be a great time to reflect on my experiences and progress since then.
I cannot describe to you the incredible feeling that comes from having the time, energy, and motivation (partly due to an abundance of the first two: time and energy) to pursue my ideas. There is a certain lightness to my spirit over these last six months, and with the completion of each new project, a childlike elation.
- Completed a Business Plan: Even though this was one big, hairy-scary thing I had avoided in the past, when someone in my mastermind group suggested that we each create a business plan I knew it was the right thing to do. I was able to use the free business plan template on the Small Business Association website. After spending a few weeks filling it in, we spent one session in our mastermind group picking it apart (big thanks to Barbara Friedberg and Joe for your input). Then I gave it a week to think it over before editing and completing the work entirely. It is a wonderful thing to have a plan in place in an industry that can be quite nebulous. I will need to tweak as I go along, or perhaps change certain aspects all together, but I feel much more confident moving forward.
- Completed First eBook: The CVS Drugstore Game has been for sale since June, with over 8,493 free copies downloaded from Amazon.com during its free promotion days (join my subscriber list to learn how you can get a free copy of my upcoming eBook, The Walgreens Drugstore Game). I have received 12 five-star, and 3 four-star reviews out of a total of 19, and could not be happier.
- Completed Our Hungarian Genealogy Recipe Scrapbook: I had the luxury to be able to delve full-force into the genealogy project I began last Thanksgiving with my grandmother. Over Easter my husband and I travelled up to PA, and then I stayed on for an extra week and a half. I got to visit with lots of family and friends and also to conduct in-person genealogy research. Priceless. On top of that, I spent several afternoons with my mom-mom baking, cataloging photographs, and taking in the oral history of our family. The entire project was deeply satisfying, and in the end we created an inexpensive family heirloom that will be passed down through our family for generations to come.
- Incorporated Pinterest into My Life: This may not seem like a project, but it entailed a huge learning curve including understanding a new social platform, setting up the account itself (more on technological difficulties later), as well as optimizing past post images and future ones in order to make my site pinnable. The good news is that this has been a lot of fun—I think I enjoy Pinterest more than Twitter. It is wonderful to get a deeper glimpse into the lives of family and friends by finding out what motivates them, what inspires them, and the places they want to travel to. You can follow my boards by clicking here, including my Pinterest Completion Board where I pin projects and recipes that I have actually completed from other boards.
Income and Household Savings Rate
Money is, of course, a huge component of this entire initiative (and if you really want to call it a business, then the true bottom line). While Paul does not pressure me at all about my earnings—we made certain that we could pay all of our bills and save for retirement each month thanks to both his income and our frugality—I am a person who likes to make money. And not just bits of it here or there, which is common in the blogging world, but an amount commensurate with the amount of energy and time investments I am making. This is no small feat, and I am nowhere near close to where I would like to be.
When I knew that I was going to take Frugal Confessions full-time, I decided that in the beginning I wanted to make enough money each month to cover our mortgage and escrow (insurance and property taxes) bill. Collectively, I have covered four out of the last six mortgages/escrows. Not bad! On top of this, while I was sure our personal savings rate (PSR) would plunge from previous years, I am happy to report that so far, our 2013 PSR is 38% (I only count savings going towards long-term goals such as retirement, investments, and accounts we don’t touch). Of course we are still putting less money into long-term savings than in previous years because our income is less, but I am delighted that our percentage has remained the same.
Blog Monetization and Changes
For the bloggers in my audience, I’d like to highlight some of the learnings and changes I have implemented since taking Frugal Confessions full-time.
- SEO Optimization of Highest Earning Articles: At FINCON12 I learned a trick that I finally had the time to implement. I used Google Analytics to find my top ten articles in terms of adsense revenue over the last year. Then I found out what my top ten popular articles were from the last year in terms of traffic. After that, I linked the top ten earning articles within the top ten most popular articles. I also took the top ten earners and did a full SEO analysis and plan with each, tracking everything in Excel to see if I could get these individual articles ranked more highly. And it has worked! If you’d like to learn more about this, I would suggest following along with Pat Flynn’s Niche Site Duels, as well as checking out the free SEO portion of Source Wave’s Marketing Course.
- Google Adsense Tweaks: With the help of Jesse from PFFirewall, I incorporated a Google Custom Search with adsense per Sunil’s suggestion to see if it would increase my adsense revenue. Derek from Life and My Finances also helped me to optimize one of the adsense placements on my blog (the banner in my righthand sidebar). Because I learned how to make custom channels for each of my ad placements for tracking purposes, I know that the change to a 160 X 600 banner has increased my adsense revenue more than any other thing I have done thus far (and the results came within a month).
- Addition of a Coupon Database: Through Savingsangel.com, I was able to set up a free coupon database to offer to my readers. It’s really neat! You can literally search for any coupon out there by brand, region, or product type.
- Started an Email Subscriber List: I plan to continue writing, publishing, and offering free promotions for my new eBooks. So I have started an email subscriber list so that people will receive a notice when a new eBook of mine is on sale (or for free!).
Becoming self-employed is not just a big transition in your work life, it also affects your personal life. Thankfully, I can report nothing but positives.
- Working Out Much More: Exercise has finally become a consistent part of my life! Paul and I completed a free two-week trial at our local JCC (really fun to meet-up for workout dates after work) and I truly loved the cedar-planked sauna afterwards. Unfortunately, we found out that with the sauna included, it was out of our price range to continue. I have consistently worked out (running and yoga) 2-3 times per week ever since, and I consider that a big win.
- Some Weekend Time Off: I dare say I have finally gotten the knack of writing and scheduling the upcoming week’s posts by Friday night. This has been great, as it means I can leisurely work on whatever I would like on the weekends (which is a big difference from being on deadline), and can take some time off. This has allowed us to enjoy things like a beach weekend with Paul’s family, a hike through a local national park, and we are planning a long weekend camping trip along the Guadalupe River.
- Travel: One of the benefits of working for yourself and being able to work anywhere is your sudden flexibility. Travel is now a more viable option. We have taken advantage of this so far by a two and a half week working trip I took to visit family and friends in PA. Paul came up for five days over Easter, then I stayed on longer. Not only was I able to spend quality time with family and friends while still working a few hours each day, but I got to complete the legwork for a really important project: the Hungarian Recipe Genealogy Scrapbook.
You didn’t think that all of this happened without a hitch, did you? Just in case you did, here are some huge frustrations and obstacles I have had to get through over the last six months:
- Stuck in Malware Hell: Very unfortunately (for me and my tech), my site was hacked through my hosting company three times in the span of a month. Malware was plastered into my coding like graffiti, and Jesse had to clean it out strand by strand. Times three. Thankfully I have switched hosts and hope to continue seeing malware-free months.
- Breakdown of Technology: Over the last four years I have used a cute netbook that Paul won for working so hard at his company. Unfortunately, this was its last year as my primary laptop. I spent about four out of the last six months debilitated by it, hardly being able to open more than one web page at a time (which if you work online, is ridiculous), having to work around the most absurd quirks such as playing tug of war with webpages, and losing work (and this was after my husband, who works in IT, rebuilt it). So, we broke down and made my first large capital purchase: a new laptop. That should have been wonderful, except that I shut down when faced with too many technological changes at once. Having to learn Windows 8 was very difficult for me, and compounding this issue was the spontaneous resetting of my smart phone. So at a time when I was leaning on it like a comfort blanket, I lost all of my contacts, email/social media accounts, and Words with Friends games (right after my grandmother had scored an amazing 120 points against me!). What a bad three weeks.
- EBook Formatting Nightmare: It is nice to know that (hopefully) I have learned how to work on an eBook at the frontend so that the backend will not take several weeks to complete. This is because of all the mistakes I made on my first eBook. I had one night working with my tech person until 4:00 in the morning, and even after that there were more issues than I care to recount. Over the course of three weeks we went through numerous attempts, uploads to Amazon, stomach knots at finding something was wonky, and re-attempts. I wish never to repeat this again.
Projects in the Works and On the Horizon
There are some exciting projects on my radar. While I don’t want to give too much detail away, I’d like to mention a few of them:
- Site Redesign with User Experience in Mind: One of the things that I did before going through the Business Plan process was to figure out my “why” behind what I do. While I am not quite ready to share this with you yet, I am thrilled at having the added focus and purpose behind Frugal Confessions. So much so, in fact, that I want to do a site redesign with this new purpose as well as user experience in mind.
- The Walgreens Drugstore Game eBook: I have finished the first draft of my new eBook in The Drugstore Game Series, and expect to release it by the end of August.
It takes a village to run a small business, as you can see from all of the shout outs in this article. I could not possibly be as far along as I am, or overcome the obstacles I’ve encountered, without the help of so many people. On top of the names mentioned above, I would like to take the opportunity to thank first and foremost my husband who has been a trooper and my biggest supporter since day one, my sound board and close uncle Andrew Grossman of Cartoon Resource, dear friends and proofreaders Helen and Cynthia, Sylvia Edna of Solo Contestas, S. Yissele Gallo of Mamá Holística, Denisse of Ahorros para Mamá, Mirna of Ahorros Con Cupones, and everyone who has commented (well, except the spammers with their encrypted messages and computer-generated English), and shared my articles and information. Without all of you, I would not be where I am today.
Here’s to the next six months, and beyond!