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Masters of Earning More: How Web Developer Ciaran Lyons Crushed His Barriers

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Today, I’m launching a new weekly series, highlighting case studies of people who are earning more money. It’s called Masters of Earning More. You’ll learn how they did it — including both tactics and the critically important mental side of earning more money — and how you can start earning more, too.

Today, Susan Su interviews Ciaran Lyons, a web developer who’s begun earning more money. I love this quote:

“I was earning a good salary, but never seemed to be able to afford to do the big things we wanted to do as a family – traveling, and more.”

Things to note below:

  • Ciaran has a family, so it’s not like he has a ton of free time. So how is he earning $100k+ and on track for much more?
  • Ciaran was one of my Earn1k students. Then he pitched me on an idea, and now I’m sending him thousands of dollars of work. How’d he stand out among so many people?
  • He acknowledges that he was always busy — but he was “busy on the wrong things.” When he’d look back at the last week, or month, he’d realize he hadn’t actually achieved his real goals. That probably sounds familiar to every one of us.
  • He got a job copywriting, but transitioned into a much more sophisticated job managing analytics. This is key: When you first secure a client, if you’re good, you can rapidly add on responsibility…and compensation.
  • He talks about mental barriers a LOT. A lot of people just want more and more content/tactics/tips, which is a red flag for someone who just wants more information but doesn’t really want to do anything. Ciaran points out that once he changed his perspective, he started earning much more.

* * *

Susan Su interviews Ciaran Lyons on earning more

Can you tell us what you do in a nutshell?

Web development, digital marketing, and code monkey for a small digital agency. We’re a web shop – if it’s on the Internet, we can do it.

The freelance stuff is now closer to consultancy – getting in really deep into business problems and identifying issues, and then proposing tech solutions to tackle them.

Now, let’s get right to it. What’s your income looking like these days?

I earned about $100k last year. I’m currently on track now to increase my income by at least 10%, and I’m just getting started.

Ok, let’s back up and work through it. Think back to when you were working your regular 9 to 5 job. What was your “Aha!” moment where you started thinking about doing something to earn money on the side?

One baby in the house and plans for a second. Time to start knuckling down and shoring up our finances against the flood of additional expenses – schools, insurance, etc.

Can you remember a single event or moment when you finally realized, ‘hey, this complaining about money isn’t helping me?’ What finally made you take action?

We were never poor, but never rich. So when Ramit’s Earning More posts started coming in, they really struck a chord.

It was a culmination of small things, but the best thing was these niggling money pressures. I was earning a good salary, but never seemed to be able to afford to do the big things we wanted to do as a family – travelling, and more.

Speaking of niggling money pressures, toddler’s school fees can be really over-priced!

What were the next immediate steps you took? How did you brainstorm ideas, and how did you know which were any good?

First step was before I wanted to earn more, and that was just trying to gather up some of the money we had floating around that wasn’t doing anything. Bank accounts with small sums in a couple of countries, unpaid invoices for a couple of ad-hoc freelancing jobs I had done for friends and family, that sort of stuff.

Then when we found that we had scraped together a couple of thousand dollars in wasted/dormant money it made me realize that I kinda liked the feeling of having more money.

Alright, so you got the first taste of what it was like to have a little extra money, and it was good. What was your biggest barrier to getting started with earning extra money on a consistent basis?

Feeling too busy. Me telling myself “I’d love to do this and this, but I’m just so busy. I’m working all the time, etc.”

When you say that one of your biggest barriers was “feeling” too busy — let’s dig into that. There is the actual fact of being busy, and then there’s the ‘feeling’ of being busy, which is more like being overwhelmed. That can really stop people in their tracks, whether or not they’re actually busy or accomplishing things. Were you actually too busy?

I was actually extremely busy. Long hours, late nights. But, I was busy on all the wrong things. I started asking myself, “Is this really the BEST use of your time right now?” And if it wasn’t, passing it to someone else to do. Not shirking work, just delegating better.

Do you think you were allowing yourself to be busy on the wrong things just by accident? Sometimes people will let themselves ‘get busy’ as a way of avoiding doing the important stuff.

Not even ‘by accident’, I think. More like a self-imposed barrier that’s almost ‘on purpose.’ Maybe it’s to avoid ‘real’ work, meaningful work.

Ok so how did you eventually get past it (the barrier of feeling so busy)?

I realized that by being so obligated to my day job – extra hours, taking on too many projects – I wasn’t doing the company I was working for, or myself any favors. So I started really re-prioritizing – delegating a lot more, saying no a lot more.

What made you think you could try something on the side while your coworkers did the same old thing — that is, nothing?

I work at an agency, so we contract a lot of freelancers. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of people ask me to recommend freelancers to them.  And we’ve even hired a bunch.  And you know what, they’re not all that great. So I decided to be a bit more selfish and look for opportunities for myself. Hmm, selfish is not the right word, but you get what I mean — looking out for what I personally could get out of it more.

Ok Ciaran, I know you also work for clients all around the world. Does being a remote freelancer make it harder?

Working remotely is actually better in a lot of ways. There are fewer distractions in the evening and night-time. You’re online while other folks are doing their thing in other time-zones.

Most importantly, when teams are working remotely, everyone has to give each other the information they need to do their tasks.  In an email, or a document or something.  Which means there are (so far) less mis-communications – like “I thought you said you were going to do that thing when I passed you in the hallway even though you thought I was talking about that other thing but anyway why isn’t it done?”

When it comes to earning more money, what are most people afraid of? We’ve seen that there is a lot of fear around earning more — much of it deep-seated, unconscious fears. (By the way, this is crazy. Why be afraid to EARN MORE MONEY??) Why do you think people are so afraid to earn more money, and what would you tell those people?

I think a lot of people are martyrs to their situation. It’s like Person A: “I have this problem”. Person B: “Here are some things that you can do about this problem”. Person A: “But I like my problem!” (I can’t recall which cartoon I stole that from)

I was the same way, grumbling over how busy I was, and how I couldn’t do anything about it. And how all the bills were mounting up, etc.  But really that was just an excuse to Do, I dunno, nothing really. Except grumble.

I think a lot of people are afraid they won’t have the motivation. Do you ever just not feel like doing stuff? I mean, do you ever look at your friends at Cisco, or who work for the government, and think, “Wow, I wish I could just kick back a bit too?”

As part of my day job, I work for a lot of clients who have it pretty sweet. Knocking off at six, plenty of perks. But that doesn’t mean I’d like their job. Corporate structure, career starts here at year X and ends here at year Y, just clock in and clock out.

I definitely feel like I have to be pushing a little harder than that.

I work on the internet – the pace of change there just makes you feel really old and slow if you’re not doing something to keep up. And that means challenging yourself a little.

It sounds like you get a lot of motivation from the environment and people you work around.

Definitely, and that’s why working remotely has been so good.  You can draw on resources from smart people around the world – you’re not restricted to just the people that work in your office.

Ok, a lot of I Will Teach readers WANT to earn more, but to them, their main barrier is finding the right idea. What would you tell them?

The idea is nothing. Finding ‘the idea’ is just a crutch. Doing something, anything, is the only way to get started. And then as soon as you start, the idea changes, and the plans change and new ideas come along and it just snowballs until “Yay! This is great fun and  I’m making money and there’s still a bunch of opportunities ahead.”

I totally agree. So my last question just has to do with how you WON a contest pitching Ramit during Earn1k, and actually got him to hire you through your winning pitch. A lot of people actually did’t participate in the contest at all, but you did. Why do you think some people would shy away from the contest?

Well, when I entered I was kinda peeing myself a little. I’ve listened to some of Ramit’s tear-downs and they can be a bit intimidating. So I can fully understand that people didn’t want to be on the receiving end.

But then, that’s why we joined the course and paid the money. So I forced myself to do it. And enjoyed it.

I think as well that a lot of people felt that they didn’t have the right skills to contribute. But I deliberately pitched Ramit on a copywriting job (even though I’m not a writer) as I reckoned that was an easier job for him to say ‘yes’ to.

And then what happened? You’re not doing copywriting now.

It’s all about the foot in the door. Once Ramit said ‘yes’ to the small job and I was able to begin working with him, I saw a whole host of opportunities where I could add value and make things better for I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

So I suggested this and that and got a couple more little projects, until we reach the point today where Ramit’s contracted me for the next three months and I’m doing the work that really matches my skill-set.

What do you think was so good about your initial pitch? Did you spend a lot of time studying Ramit or I Will Teach?

For a start, I had no idea that I was in the running – I didn’t think it was that great a pitch. But I did try to put all the lessons from the Earn1k course into it.  I dug right down into I Will Teach and read a lot of articles. And I tried to get into Ramit’s head (like Earn1k was constantly telling us) and break things right down so that he could see he wouldn’t need to spend a lot of time managing the project. And finally, I wanted to add some extra value, so I proposed a consultation where I could tell him my recommendation for his blog (without actually giving away what those recommendations were. I guess the intrigue worked in my favor a little.

Ok to recap, how many freelance clients do you have, and how much time do you spend freelancing?

At the moment, only 2 1/2 clients. And I’m spending around 10-15 hours a week.

Wow, pretty manageable. That’s less than the time you were spending on freelancing before, right?

Less time, better rate, better work. And these clients actuallly pay their bills, which is a plus. It’s around 25% less time, at a 25% better rate.

Ok, so you’re spending less time, and making more money — sound about right?

That’s about right. And much less time on non-productive busy work, which is easier on the soul too.

Have you ever invested in a course, books, etc? How much do you spend on training materials each month?

I’m an information scavenger, so I pick up bits and pieces from a lot of blogs and things that I follow. And then I try to implement them..  And I’ve bought a few books here and there but nothing hard-core.

The Earn1k course was the most expensive one-off purchase I’ve made for self-development (and it was a bit of a challenge convincing my wife that I was going to splash out on an online course). But I had followed the blog for a long time, and really grooved on the Earn1k preview stuff. And in line with the other changes I had been making, it felt like the right thing to do. And so far it’s totally paid off.

I think the most important thing for me was just to take action. Don’t beat yourself up over your job or your situation and make a small change for the positive. In my case, it started with the decision to not to be in the same place doing the same thing 12 months from now. Once I overcame that barrier, things really started rolling.

* * *

1. Get featured in an upcoming “Masters of Earning More” case study: If you’ve earned $500+ in the last 3 months and want to be featured, click here.

2. Stuck on finding an idea to pursue? Get my free Idea Generator Tool.

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  1. Ramit,

    What about the other side of the coin? The people who took your course, paid the money, and aren’t making any money on the side? How about a case study on one of them.

    • I should clarify that I’m interested in who your course doesn’t work for.

    • Wow, thanks for the great response. I wasn’t sure if you were going to come back with a snake oil salesman response or an honest response, like the one you provided. I think you appropriately managed expectations. Thanks Ramit!

    • That’s a good question. Earn1k isn’t a silver bullet — I tell all my students how much work they have to put in. And earning money isn’t a simple “do this and it’ll work,” otherwise everybody would do it.

      To answer your specific question, there are different kinds of people for whom Earn1k won’t work:
      – People who don’t put 5+ hours/week in
      – People who resist talking to real prospects on the phone and in person. This is more common than you’d think.
      – People whose skills are too esoteric or specialized (e.g., there are no freelance cardiac surgeons). Note that many people THINK their skills are too specialized, but they’re really not. Only a very small percentage are.
      – People who just don’t connect with my course. It might work for other people, but for them, it just doesn’t click.
      – People who can’t successfully narrow down the market and choose something, but instead chase idea after idea.
      – People who simply don’t have skills that are in demand in the marketplace.
      – People who don’t have a market near them (e.g., it’s harder to sell services in rural Arkansas than San Francisco). My counter to this is, use the internet! But that doesn’t work for everybody.
      – Sometimes, there’s no reason people don’t succeed. It’s just bad luck or bad timing. No explanation or fault of anybody.

      There are probably a lot more categories, so maybe I’ll make this into a full post.

  2. Ramit,
    I love your site, I’ve got your book – but I didn’t buy the Earn1k course. I freely admit that my ‘excuses’ are contributing factors to that last fact and I am (slowly) getting over these (though I get the feeling you would recommend blowing them all out the water in one fell swoop). Here’s my point – almost all (if not 100%) of your posts thus far on entrepreneurship/earning money on the side seem to be web related – it’s content/tech/comms.

    I am a web retard. I don’t know the first thing about building a website and it’s not interesting to me. Maybe I should learn but that is another conversation. Regardless, I’m much more interested in earning money on the side by other means, be it services, goods, or commerce/trade.

    For instance, I have a high-paying job as a desk jockey. It’s soul-crushing and I’ve been fantasizing about some kind of DIY/repair gig on the side. Of course, excuses are in the way so I’ve been trying to compensate. I posted an ad on craigslist and offered my services (with a rather compelling ad even if I say so myself) as a community handyman essentially. The gist was free (if you need it) or make a contribution to sub-saharan AIDS orphans if you are happy with the work and can afford it. I had some minor overheads (phone/sim etc.) and broke even on my first gig. Obviously, I still need to actually ‘convert’ (start making money for myself) but it’s a way to grow. Other options include starting a sailing school, or jumping into VC.

    But I digress. If you’re still writing the case studies, pls think about the web retards. Like me.

    • First of all, I don’t want the comment section to be about me trying to push my Earn1k course. I’d rather have people comment about Ciaran’s awesome interview.

      But Chris, to answer your question, please listen closely because this drives me nuts…

      YOU DO NOT NEED A WEBSITE TO MAKE MONEY! In fact, I tell my students not to waste their time creating a website, Twitter, or Facebook page. Each of those is a waste of time when trying to make your first dollar.

      Sorry for the caps but it drives me nuts. The point of Earn1k is to get 3 paying clients. That’s it. And anything that doesn’t contribute to that (aka, a web page that will waste your time and not help) is eliminated.

      One of my staff members has no website. Yet I’ve paid him tens of thousands of dollars this year. In fact, he made $10,000+ this month alone. Again, he has no website.

      Too many people create a list of things they “need” like business cards, websites, phone service, blah blah blah…and none of it really helps achieve their goals. It makes people feel good to set up a website…but then what? Where do customers magically come from? In Earn1k — and in fact, my book, and blog, and Scrooge — I try to strip away all that BS and focus on the stuff that really matters. In this case, it’s the less-sexy but FAR more profitable areas of customer research, rapidly testing ideas, deeply understanding your prospects, marketing, positioning, and iteration.

      Ok, enough. Chris, it doesn’t matter if you’re a “web retard.” That has nothing to do with your chances of success in earning money. Please don’t use it as a barrier.

    • Ramit,
      Thanks for the reply – my bad if my point was poorly communicated. Put simply, I was commenting on Ciaran’s interview which I really enjoyed. With that said it seems that his ‘service’ is web-related. So what I was asking was whether you include at some point a case study or two about people who’ve earned money through non-web related work (and apologies if you already have covered this in other past posts and I’ve missed them).

      Btw, in re-reading my post it sounded like a rant – it wasn’t meant to be, I love your stuff and it’s been a real encouragement to cut the blurb/whining and act.


    • No problem, Chris.

      Here are some examples of non-technical people’s ideas / earning money as Earn1k graduates:
      – Tutor
      – Violin instructor
      – Clothing designer
      – Personal organizer (“I’ll organize your closets/house”)
      – Freelance writer
      – Personal chef

  3. Hey all,

    Agreed 100% that these comments should be about Ciaran — his accomplishments and decision to control his destiny.

    But I want to address some of the above concerns from someone who is not Ramit and is in no way affiliated with him, nor do I have a vested interest in making him think I’m a cool guy.

    FACTS: I signed up for and completed Earn 1k and to date have earned $100. I was briefly enrolled in Beyond 1k but dropped the course because of the price and because, for me personally, I thought I would use it as a crutch.

    For the web-retard also named Chris. I can say in all honesty I share many of the same frustrations as you. Unfortunately though, I just wasted the last 3 months being upset that I wasn’t a developer.

    I have a choice right now: Make my programming skills good enough to earn on the side, or pick another skill that will allow me to earn. It’s one or the other in the short term. Both beat the 3rd option of doing nothing and continuing to be frustrated about money. I just needed to relax, adjust my time frame and value doing things more than worrying about them.

    Finally, despite my negative ROI on Earn 1k, I am not entirely convinced that it was a waste. My mentality has shifted. The way I interact with co-workers and other people has changed. My concept of adding value and time management has been refined. Granted I was open to these concepts to begin with, but I think the structure of the course really helped pull them along.

    I’m happy to discuss this honestly with anyone outside of the comments (with Ramit on cc though) as I think these should be more focused on what Ciaran is doing.


  4. Also, I have an exploratory meeting with a potential client today at 2pm. Wish me luck.

    Point being, exploratory meetings are a great way to break out of frustration because there is less pressure and you can focus on finding mutual needs and just connecting with someone.

  5. This was a great interview. I think this line is the most important line from the interview that would have been a great topic for further discussion.

    “Less time, better rate, better work. And these clients actuallly pay their bills, which is a plus. It’s around 25% less time, at a 25% better rate.”

    I experienced this with my Martial Arts Business and brings up a huge mental barrier that most people have with money. The amount most people charge for services is relate to their self-esteem instead of the value of their service.

    I meet this issue head on with my business. When I started, we were the cheapest school in the area. I decided to add so much value that I would have the highest tuition rate. Over two years, we went from $60 per month per student to over $200/month.

    Here’s the important part. Each tuition increase, everyone around me said that no one will pay that much, you’re going to lose students, etc. I also had to battle my own self-worth issues and bite the bullet to follow through on the increases.

    What actually happened… You get better clients not less. The students that joined at a higher tuition are more serious and they stay longer. I found that instead of less clients, I got clients that wanted to pay the higher tuition for a better program. Also, my payment and delinquency issues nearly disappeared.

    Just thought I’d share because this is an important barrier to earning more money.

    • Tim, that is such a good point. People don’t get this until they (1) surround themselves with others who can share their own personal stories of it being true, and (2) try it themselves.

      I also used to believe that it would be impossible to charge more. That’s why my first ebook — the first product I ever sold on iwillteach — was only $4.95. I was petrified of charging people. And not surprisingly, the comments for the $4.95 product are generally low-quality, focused on payment method (“Can I pay with check?”), and irrelevant. When I launched Earn1k, which cost thousands of times more, the comments are much higher quality (at least after the first few).

      And just like you said, Tim, the people who paid a higher amount were more serious, opened their emails more often, were more responsive, and generally a pleasure to work with.

      The question for most people is, how do I get to higher rates? The answer is you start somewhere, then systematically understand how to add value and charge accordingly. People will pay — a LOT — to get their problems solved. But they will pay much more for some problems, while for others (“deliver my pizza”), they will never pay a lot.

  6. Kudos, Ramit, for doing an interview with someone like Ciaran who has a family and has to make time for everything. What I love about this interview, besides the name Ciaran which sounds cool as hell, is when Ciaran says “finding ‘the idea’ is just a crutch.” How much time have I wasted sitting on the fence, waiting for opportunity and inspiration to sweep me up and move me along? Too much, but no longer!

  7. One other great subtle point from the article about him working 10-15 hours a week and a terrific talking point.

    Most people will read that and say “Great, I’d love to only work 10-15 hours per week.”

    But a better way to think is “He’s smart, that leaves him 25-30 hours per week for sales/ marketing to find high end clients.”

    The extra time is huge because it give you time to look for new clients and create systems and additional services that will create more value and retain existing clients.

    Most people calculate their time with an employee/ dollar per hour mindset. For example, “If I charge $50 per hour and work 40hrs/ wk, I’ll make six figures!” The math sounds great, but what happens is keeping your schedule pack is difficult because you don’t have time to market or call back customers when you’re busy and leaves you sitting by the phone waiting for calls when you’re slow. It’s a feast or famine leaving you with substantially less per year like $30,000 – 40,000.

    Ciaran Lyons, on the other hand, has 5 to 6 extra hours per day to find new customers, respond quickly to new clients, provide timely quotes, and get current jobs done on schedule. All these things make him more valuable so he can quote and bill at $100 to $150 per hour. Higher end clients will easily pay that much, in fact, the busy cheaper guys will most likely not even call these clients back with a quote.

    • Everybody read Tim’s comment above. Very, very smart.

      Tim, you should write a guest post for iwillteachyoutoberich. You have some great insights.

  8. This is a shout out to Chris Clark.

    If you did something that earned you $100, you should be able to multiple your results to $1000. I don’t know about your situation, product, or service, but I bet that if you did 10x the marketing that you did for the first $100, you’d make $1000.

    You need to ask yourself “Is the amount of time spend worth the amount of money you made?” If it is not, then move onto the next idea or change your approach. You should be frame this $100 as a success because you can only get better.

    Talking about changing your approach… Many times, one little tweek will exponential change your results. In my business, I’ve seen this happen so many times.

    For example, I do kid’s birthday parties that bring lots of potential clients into my karate school, but my conversion was terrible. I started taking pictures of all the kid’s at the party holding a sword and sending them to the guests a week after the party. This reminder caused people to call and join. I went from one new student to 3 to 5 each party. Same party but totally different results.

  9. I’d love to check out your idea generator, but I’m already signed up for your newsletter, so it will not let me access it.

    Will you let people who are already signed up with you to test your idea generator? Should I be looking in a different place?

  10. Thanks for posting the thought-provoking interview, and also thanks to the people commenting. At least one of those commenters was wondering whether to spend the time improving his Web programming skills in order to build a site for his business. As a professional developer, I have encountered a couple clients over the years who tried to run their businesses and also make significant changes to their sites — only to discover the hard way that they have spread their time, skills, and efforts too thinly.

    For instance, many years ago, one of my clients asked me to make enhancements to her site (an independent music label), which I did, and she was delighted with the results. But then she decided to try to make changes to the menu system on her own, despite my warnings against that. She messed up the site pretty badly (Dreamweaver strikes again!), and had to call me in to fix it, which in the end cost her more money than she thought she was going to save by doing the work herself.

    The take-home lesson is that small business owners should focus on what they do best — running their own businesses — and rely upon experienced freelancers who can be trusted to do what they do best.