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Masters of Earning More: How Freelance Writer April Dykman Quit Her Job and Doubled Her Income

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Have you ever wanted to quit your job and work on the stuff that really interests you? How can someone afford to do that?

Today, another Masters of Earning More, the series that brings you case studies of people who are earning more money. 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.

The reason I like today’s Master of Earning More is that she didn’t have it easy. She hated her mind-numbing job. She wasn’t sure how to turn her writing skills into income. And she was plagued by self-doubt and insecurity.

And yet she just quit her job, doubled her income, and works for herself, doing what she loves.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I think of non-technical people trying to earn money, I usually just think of sad examples of people who have no business sense struggling to make more money, resorting to increasingly frantic and pointless exercises like setting up Twitter accounts and Facebook pages.

April shows us that doesn’t have to be the case. Even if you’re not a hardcore programmer, you can take your non-technical skill and turn it into significant income.

Today, Susan Su interviews April and gets the real story. I especially like this quote from the interview below:

“When you leave a company, you learn a lot about people’s dreams and how they’ve compromised them for illusions of security or because of self-imposed barriers. I guess you’re safe to talk to when you’re on your way out, or they relate to you because you’re doing what they hope to do. These are some truly talented, creative people I believe in 100 percent, but I can see where they’re at in this process because I’ve been there. I was scared to leave a steady paycheck, too. I thought, “What if there’s a month when I don’t make my current salary?” But I had to turn that thinking around. “What if I’m making my current salary in a bad month, and in a good one I’m making two times more?”’

A few more things to note below:

  • April was simultaneously working full time, doing yoga-teacher training, freelancing on the side, and doing my course on earning more, Earn1k. So how did she manage to scale UP her freelancing business to the point where  she’s now doubling her income and quitting her job? (See her comment about the time-optimization techniques that completely changed her productivity.)
  • April was one of my Earn1k students, but one who was on the fence about joining the course until literally minutes before the deadline. Now, she’s spent over $7,000 this year in self development…but she’s earning tens of thousands of dollars more per year.
  • I like her comment about tossing around ideas for months and months, but never getting anywhere
  • It wasn’t just finding an idea and learning some shiny tactics. She had to go through the gut-wrenching work to change her attitude towards selling and self-worth

* * *

Susan Su interviews April Dykman on earning more

April, what do you do for a living?

I write web content for high-traffic blogs and sites, mainly in personal finance and health/wellness verticals. I’m also a blog editor for a new blog launching in the fall.

Compared to last year, are you on track to make more or less money in 2010?

I’m on track to more than double my day job salary with recurring assignments and contract work, but I expect some one-off projects with one client will make that figure higher.

Wow, ok. Huge difference. Let’s go through that. Back when you were still working your regular 9 to 5 job, what was your “Aha!” moment? I’m talking about the moment when you finally realized you could be doing more for yourself, earning money on the side?

I’ve always wanted to own my own business, but I finally got serious about it last year. I realized that when I was frustrated at work, I’d start making all sorts of plans to start a business. But eventually the frustration would wear off, and I’d get complacent again.

I recognized that pattern and decided I wouldn’t let up, even when I was feeling good about my job. There are good things and bad things about every job, but if you’re on sites like IWTYTBR and reading articles about how other people are making money, you probably have an entrepreneurial spirit and won’t be satisfied until you are running your own business, whether it’s on the side or full-time. It’s empowering.

Also, my body was physically rejecting my job. I developed wrist pain that would shoot up my arm and into my shoulder. I also started getting chest pains, but after 48 hours hooked up to a Holter monitor, the cardiologist said that I was in perfect health. In one week, three health practitioners asked about my stress level. I joked that my body was forcing me to quit my job.

What action did you take next? How did you come up with ideas? Were any of them viable? We’ve been talking a lot about idea generation on IWT this week.

For months all I brainstormed ideas. I read interviews on sites like I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I even conducted an informational interview with the yoga instructor featured on this site. I bounced ideas off my husband and parents, read books like Escape From Cubicle Nation, took online personality tests, kept a spiral notebook with business ideas — you name it. The problem was that most of them weren’t a good fit, and no matter how excited I’d get initially, they weren’t clicking.

I also should note that I was wary about jumping into a business because I did that once before–In 2005 I got my real estate license and spent a year in the business. Unfortunately, real estate was a horrible fit, and I hated every minute of it, even when I had clients. I wasn’t comfortable with that type of sales environment, and I didn’t like driving people around in my car all day–especially people I barely knew. Holding an open house by myself made me feel unsafe. I found out that some creep I’d never met kept my business card and was telling people I was his girlfriend (our business cards had our photos on them). Awful, awful, awful. So I was terrified to leap again without being sure. Really sure. Because I wanted whatever I did to eventually be a full-time gig.

The one thing that I kept returning to was writing, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I’ve always been a writer, and I majored in feature writing journalism and had published several articles, but it wasn’t something I thought I could do for a living. The assignments were too few and far between, and my favorite professor even told us that feature writing is something you do on the side–few can do it for a living. But writing was a constant. When I talked about business ideas with people who knew me well, they weren’t too excited about most of them. More than once I heard something like, “You’re a really good writer. Why don’t you do something with that?” It just took me awhile to hear it.

One thing that helped me to eliminate options was to consider my ideal lifestyle. I wanted a location independent business that allowed me to work from anywhere and set my own hours. When I kept coming back to that, I could cross ideas off the list. Someone who owns a store or manufactures a product usually can’t be location independent, so ideas like those were eliminated.

Hmm. A lot of people dream about their ideal lifestyle, but that’s all it is — a dream. How did you connect actions to that dream? How did you stop dreaming and start doing?

You have to be willing to try things out to stop dreaming and start doing. One thing that I’ve never really shared is that it was important to me to do this before my husband and I thought about having kids, mainly because I know a lot of moms who want to stay home with their kids, but don’t have that choice. They have to go back to work after three months, sometimes sooner if they need the money. If I have kids, I want that choice, so that created a real sense of urgency for me. The other reason it felt so urgent is that every year that slipped by was another year I wasn’t doing something I cared about. It reminds me of a quote from Fight Club, “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” Would I finally do it at age 40 and regret spending 15 years in a cubicle? I don’t want any regrets, and there was no reason not to start living the life I wanted to live right now.

What were your biggest barriers to getting started?

I believed it was nearly impossible to make decent money with writing, and that those who did it were rare. Also, I didn’t know where to start and lacked confidence, so I wasn’t starting at all. I wasn’t talking to people who could send me business, I wasn’t even thinking strategically about who my clients could be and what their needs were. I was wasting my time on crap that didn’t matter–starting (and abandoning) blogs, writing business plans, “researching” my business and industry–so I wouldn’t have to address the big stuff. Like the scary “sales” word.

What about the scary “sales” word? How exactly did you feel towards sales?

In real estate, we learned sales tactics that never sat well with me. It wasn’t that you were trying to trick the client, just nudge people who wouldn’t make a decision, but I hated that. I felt like sales was about trying to part someone with their money or sell them something they didn’t need. I equated sales jobs with used car salesmen, people no one likes or trusts.

And, how did you eventually get past it? I auditioned to be a staff writer for Get Rich Slowly. I had been a reader for a few years, and when J.D. Roth, the editor, said he was auditioning for one or two writers, I was excited. I knew I could do this; I knew the blog so well.

And then I was terrified that I’d fail. I’d try out and not get the job, or I’d get it and then not be able to deliver–those were the thoughts in my head. I went back-and-forth about whether to even e-mail J.D. to ask to be in the running. The reason I finally did it, and I swear it was Ramit’s voice in my head, is that I told myself if I couldn’t send a simple e-mail then I needed to shut-up about wanting my own business. If I couldn’t at least do that, I wasn’t serious, and I didn’t want this badly enough. But I did want it, so I sent what I now recognize to be the crappiest pitch, ever, but thankfully I had writing samples, as well!

Do you still have this pitch? Can I see it?

Oh Jesus. Let me see if I can pull it up on Gmail. I’m e-mailing it to you.

Hi J.D.,
I’m working at increasing my freelance writing business, and I read your comment about guest writers and possibly a staff writer for GRS. I’d love to take a stab at some guest posts and see if my writing might be a fit for GRS.
I’m a writer and editor by trade, and I graduated from The University of Texas with a journalism degree. A writing sample is attached.
I’ve been told I have a knack for human interest stories. I’ve been assigned articles and thought of article topics on my own, so I’m comfortable with both. As I’ve mentioned in previous e-mails, I am an avid GRS reader who went from over $24,000 in debt to
zero debt and a three-month emergency fund in one year, so I feel I understand your audience–because I AM the audience! 🙂 I am a true believer in the power of PF blogging.
Let me know if you’d be interested, and I can work on some topic ideas (unless you have some in mind).
Thank you for your time,
April Dykman

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

I read the case studies online and in books, and I kept thinking to myself that there are people out there doing it, so why not me? Who says I can’t do this? Who decides that I have to work in a cube for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, doing 30 to life? I stopped listening to the people who weren’t doing it, and started listening to the people who were. Most of those people were online, by the way, and I’ve never met any of them. When I felt like I wasn’t making progress and worried that I’d never leave my job, I’d spend my lunch hour reading my favorite case studies.

And here’s another tip: Be careful when you share your plans. This is obviously a good idea because you don’t want to tell someone who could blab to your boss, thereby putting your company loyalty into question, but I don’t really care about that part.

When you share your plans with some people, you get a lot of reactions that are entirely about them: their fears, their self-imposed barriers, their dreams. One person told me they were skeptical about the GRS try-out articles because they weren’t paid.

This person does some freelance work themselves and is an incredibly talented designer, the type of person that should run their own graphics business full-time and work for big companies, but he likes the security of the day job and doesn’t think freelancing can be a full-time gig. He would never work for free, so he thought that writing a couple of guest posts for free sounded like I was being taken advantage of. But I knew J.D. from his blog, I knew GRS was huge, and I thought, if nothing else, it will put my work in front of a big audience.

A week after being selected, a major marketing company contacted me, and I’ve been working for them ever since. On a side note, that marketing company contacted me after clicking through my website, which was something I threw together in one day so I could have a website to link to from GRS. You don’t need to spend weeks tinkering with a website. All I’ve done with mine is updated my writing samples every few months. I don’t blog about writing, either. My clients don’t care that I’m writing about writing.

I started to question myself, but I had already committed to it. It turns out that one e-mail snowballed into me leaving my day job.

Were there any mental / psychological techniques that helped you to get past the mentality of the ‘ordinary’ person (ie, your coworkers who surrounded you every day)?

I quit believing my own excuses. In fact, I got effing sick of them. I was sick of saying them out loud to my husband, and I was sick of saying them to myself in my head.

What were some of these excuses? What did they sound like?

  • I don’t know what to do or how to get started.
  • I don’t want to try something that won’t work and “waste my time.”
  • So-and-so said they knew someone who tried freelancing and couldn’t make ends meet, so that person went back to the cube farm.
  • Maybe a job isn’t that bad. Yesterday was a good day.
  • I need to have a website/blog/whatever before I can pitch a client.

When you leave a company, you learn a lot about people’s dreams and how they’ve compromised them for illusions of security or because of self-imposed barriers. I guess you’re safe to talk to when you’re on your way out, or they relate to you because you’re doing what they hope to do. These are some truly talented, creative people I believe in 100 percent, but I can see where they’re at in this process because I’ve been there. I was scared to leave a steady paycheck, too. I thought, “What if there’s a month when I don’t make my current salary?” But I had to turn that thinking around. “What if I’m making my current salary in a bad month, and in a good one I’m making two times more?” The illusion of security would probably pay me 3-5% more each year that I spent my days in a windowless, gray cube. Why would I accept that? What if I could make more money and control my own schedule? What if I could afford to travel more easily and not have to ask permission to use my allotted vacation days?

The other thing that helped immensely was yoga. One year ago I started a daily practice. I’d get up at 5 a.m., step to the front of my mat, and I’d set the intention to figure out what to do with my life. I didn’t believe in setting intentions, to be honest. I was still pretty new to yoga, and I’m skeptical by nature. But I was willing to give anything a shot, so every morning, I set that intention. I’m now a certified yoga teacher, and I encourage everyone who wants to bring some sort of change into their lives to try yoga. But if you have zero interest in yoga, consider getting up in the morning and just saying your intention to yourself, even if you don’t believe it will work. Over time, your attitude slowly shifts from finding reasons why something won’t work to finding ways to make it happen.

Can you describe your typical day at your last ‘regular’ job vs. describing your full-time freelancing day? Well, I’m still at my day job (my last day is July 19th!!), but I’ve had a taste of what my days will be like as a freelancer.

Regular job: Wake up at 6 a.m., leave by 6:45 p.m. Commute is 45-50 minutes, depending on traffic. Arrive at work at 7:30 a.m. Check e-mail, go to required meetings (dear Lord I won’t miss those meetings!), work until around 12, take lunch break, work/meetings until 4:30 p.m. Go to 6 p.m. yoga class, 40-minute drive home.

Freelancing: Wake up at 6:30 a.m., make breakfast and chai tea, read the news, return e-mails, create plan of action for the day, go to 9 a.m. yoga class, work until lunch–from anywhere, just need my laptop, eat lunch out or make it at home (I love to cook and love being at home to make a lunch instead of packing one in a morning rush), work a few more hours until I hit a stopping point that makes sense, not until I’ve sat in a chair for eight hours. I’m thinking of adding a daily swim to this routine, or a morning hike. Something outdoors!

Ok, let’s talk about managing your time. How did you freelance, do your fulltime job AND do the Earn1k course?

It wasn’t easy. I already had a little bit of freelancing work, I had the full-time job, I had Earn 1K, and I was working on my yoga teacher certification. There were definitely times when I wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into. But then there were times that completely validated what I was doing, like when, at work, no one got bonuses and raises were meager. I’d just given myself a $500/per month raise with my freelancing work. I was really proud of myself for that.

To fit in everything, I made priority lists, but sometimes that felt insufficient, so thankfully Earn 1K had some great information to help me. Susan’s class on time management gave me a few ideas I could implement immediately–my favorite tip was about how to take a break. To me, a break meant I could surf around on the Internet, but 15 minutes would turn into an hour. It was a huge time suck. Susan’s advice about taking the right kind of break–something like washing the dishes or going for a walk–vastly improved my productivity. It sounds minor, but it was extremely effective.

Out of curiosity, what ended up being your new break?

Washing dishes, cooking, or just sitting outside while my cat explores the yard and chases grasshoppers. 🙂

Have you ever invested in yourself via a training course, books, etc?

Before these last 12 months, the only thing I’d invested in was books. But between yoga, E1K, and B1K, I’ve spent more in the past year on training and courses than I have in my entire life–almost $7,500.

Each time I spent a chunk of change, I was really nervous. That’s no small amount of money–it pained me to part with it! I worried it wouldn’t work out and I’d be out the money and feel stupid, especially with the online courses.

Ok, so what helped you to overcome those worries, in the end?

I have read nothing but quality material at I Will Teach, and I believed Earn1k would be no different. Plus, there was a money-back guarantee, so I could try it out and see if this was something different than the stuff you get on the Internet for free. And it really was.

In truth, that investment was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I knew what I didn’t know. I knew how to write, but I didn’t know about sales or how to overcome my fears. I didn’t know how to get in my client’s head. I could tell myself I should know these things and should be able to do it on my own, or I could cut the B.S. and get stronger in the areas where I’m weak. I wanted to know what worked so I could get clients as soon as possible.

* * *

What now?

  1. Take the course that helped April earn tens of thousands of dollars and quit her fulltime job. Click here to join Earn1k.
  2. Stuck on an idea? Get a sample from Earn1k. Check out my free Idea Generator Toolkit.
  3. If you’ve earned $500+ in the last 3 months and want to be featured as a Master of Earning More, click here.
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39 Comments

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  1. Ok Ramit, I give. I signed up for Earn1k.

    Have you guys heard of http://www.RescueTime.com? Its a great productivity widget/service. I don’t know where I’d be without it. It will tell you exactly where you’re eating time on the computer.

    Thanks for being awesome!

  2. This is uber-inspiring. Great job, April. Your story is awesome!

  3. Thanks for letting us read the pitch letter! That has definitely been the main stumbling block for me–how to word what I want to do without sounding insulting. I’d keep thinking about how to pitch it, get frustrated, and then get stuck.

  4. That’s awesome, kudos to April for kicking ass and taking names. I like how you went out and found people who were living the dream instead of just listening to people who were not. As you said, “so why not me? Who says I can’t do this?”
    Are you still planning on teaching yoga or are you satisfied to stick with writing?

  5. April … I’m interested in “managing my intentions.” Could you elaborate?

  6. Just an amazing article and case study – I LOVE to read stuff like this. I literally had a big smile on my face after reading April’s story. I guess the reason being is that I relate to it so much (the self doubt, worry, fears, etc) and it was wonderful to read that she overcame that and it shows that anyone can overcome that. I also like that she does yoga, since I practice yoga myself 🙂

    For everyone reading this, I cannot even begin to tell you how important April’s advice is about setting intentions. I think that our thoughts truly play a bigger part in creating our reality than we think. If we think we can’t do it or that somebody else has already done it or that we aren’t good enough, etc, etc, etc, then nothing will happen. It’s like setting yourself up for failure 100%….I mean truly 100%. If you think you won’t make it then you definitely won’t.

    On the other side of the coin, April went about this in an extremely productive and smart way. It’s good not be negative and get over self doubts, but that doesn’t mean you can just say to yourself ‘I’ll be successful’ and then do nothing or hope it will magically appear before you b/c that won’t happen either. April made some very smart choices, invested wisely in courses and products and most importantly took actionable steps to put her in the position she is in today.

    Awesome stuff April!! Way to kick ass and best of luck to you in your new entrepreneurial ventures!

  7. “Wake up at 6 a.m., leave by 6:45 p.m. Commute is 45-50 minutes, depending on traffic”

    I guess each person is different. I go into work at 10:00 am, 20 minute commute and we also can work from home. I have more flexibility.

    However, if a person has a 50 minute commute, I’m sure freelancing is a better option.

    Nice Interview

    • I don’t know, I have a two-hour long commute and I love it, it gives me time to read, write, proofread and do some freelance stuff. Having said that, I have an awesome day job which is very flexible, getting to work at 12 and working from home 2 days a week…

    • @Scar — wait, you have a 2 hour commute but get a lot of reading/writing/proofread… I’m guessing you are commuting via train and not in a car? o_0

  8. @Jules–Please use it as an example of what NOT to do! 🙂
    @Tyler–I have a company that wants me to teach yoga to their staff, but I couldn’t do it with a full-time job (they wanted me to teach during business hours), so I want to do that and also find a place to teach for free as a community service sort of deal. I might branch into corporate yoga more at some point, but I don’t want to spread myself too thin right now.

  9. Great interview. Right up my alley as I’m trying to do the same thing April did.

    My only question is I wish we could put some numbers to it — doubling your income is impressive no matter how much you make, but are we talking going from $1,500 to $3,000, or $5,000 to $10,000, or…?

    [Ramit’s response: I don’t want to reveal April’s private numbers, but we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars more.]

  10. Thank you April! I love hearing stories like this, it gives me encouragement when I’m trying to start my own writing business. I could relate to your article and found myself more than once thinking “that’s how I think/feel”.

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