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.
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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.
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