One of the toughest challenges as a writer and entrepreneur is figuring out how to build for the future when you also need to keep money coming in steadily.
If you’ve got a day job in place, it may actually make things easier: you’ve got your day job income, and you’ve got your entrepreneurial side projects. If they don’t pay off straight away, it might be frustrating, but it’s not financially crippling.
But if you’re a full-time entrepreneur or freelancer, it can be a lot harder. You need to bring in enough money every month to pay the bills … no matter what. Maybe you’d never even contemplate turning down a paying client (even if they’re a poor fit, and even if you’ve already got enough work for the month). Quite possibly, you have a family to support; your income is what keeps food on the table.
Understandably, your priority is likely to be what’s happening right now: taking client calls, or writing freelance pieces, or pitching for new gigs.
You might dream of having other sources of income, like a book or online course, to take some of the pressure off. With a product out there, even if you don’t have many billable hours in a particular month, you’ll still have some money coming in. (You might even get to take a vacation.)
Finding the time to actually write that book or produce that ecourse, though, could feel almost impossible.
Well, it’s definitely not easy. But here’s a step by step plan that should help.
Getting Your Project off the Ground
Step #1: Pick ONE Project (and Choose the Right One)
Maybe you’ve occasionally been working on a long-term project for months: an ebook outline, an online course, or a software app, for instance.
In fact, you might well have more than one project that you’ve been exploring — as writers and entrepreneurs, we sometimes have more ideas than we know what to do with.
So your first step is to pick just one project to focus on.
There are plenty of good ways you could decide which to prioritize. You might:
- Try to determine which idea might be most profitable, probably by looking at similar products that are already out there. What price are they selling for? Is there any indication how many are sold in a typical month?
- Choose the project that you’re most excited about. Motivation matters: if you pick something just because it’s what you think the market wants, you’re going to struggle to keep putting in the work that’s needed.
- Ask your audience (if you’re a blogger, or if you have a Twitter or Facebook following) which product they would prefer.
- Complete the smallest or easiest project first: this means you can start making money quickly, and it can be a good way to test out what goes down well with your target audience.
I normally use a combination of all of these when I’m deciding whether or not an idea’s viable. When I’ve been pressed for time or trying something new, I’ve found it really helps to keep things small and manageable: think four-week email course, not year-long video course.
Ultimately, if you’ve got several equally good ideas, just pick one (and only one) to focus on. It’s better to create something than nothing at all.
Step #2: Think in Terms of a “Minimum Viable Product”
If you’ve not come across the idea of a “minimum viable product” before, it means pretty much what it says. The idea is to create a product (e.g., an ecourse) that’s functional but that doesn’t necessarily have any extras or go into as much depth as you might initially have envisaged.
So, if you’ve been planning a six-month comprehensive e-course on monetizing your blog, maybe a four-week e-course focusing on just one aspect of this (such as getting started with affiliate marketing) would work instead.
Ideally, make your product small enough that you can finish it and launch it within the next three months.
With a really big idea, it can be hard to see how to break it down into pieces. I find mind maps work well for this (and for many other creative tasks). Grab a piece of paper, write down your main topic in the middle, then jot down all the subtopics that come into it around the edge.
Could one of those subtopics become a whole product on its own?
You might want to brainstorm several possible options before picking the one you want to tackle first.
Remember, you can always create a second edition, an updated version, or even a whole new course/book/app. It can be much easier to sell several small, self-contained (though potentially linked) products than it is to sell one huge, comprehensive product.
Your audience may be willing to take a chance on a $19 product but not on a $99 product … plus, if you have lots of different small products, you have plenty of different ways to promote them. (You could have one product on special offer each month, for instance, or you could bundle together three or four products and sell them at a discount, which is what I do with my Blogger’s Guides.)
Step #3: Block Out Time on Your Calendar
Have you been waiting (and waiting) for some free time to appear so you can work on your project?
Realistically … is that going to ever happen?
If you want to make meaningful progress on your project, you need to deliberately set aside time for it … because let’s face it, how often does a free half hour appear in your day? Of course, it’s great to seize any spare moments you can for your project, but you also need to schedule in some dedicated time for it.
There are plenty of ways you could do this. For instance:
- Spend the first hour (or even just the first half hour) of each working day on your project.
- Set aside one day each week (e.g., Friday) to focus solely on your project.
- Block out one weekend each month to really dig into the project.
If, like me, you have a variable schedule, you might need to check your calendar at the start of each week to see where you can squeeze in some time. I often find that my Mondays and Tuesdays are hectic, but I can normally carve out time towards the end of the week.
How much time you spend is up to you … and probably depends on a lot of other factors, like how many hours you can work in total each week and how many other fixed commitments you have.
You might want to aim to allocate a certain percentage of your time (e.g., 10% of your working hours) or you might prefer to pick a minimum amount of time per week to dedicate to your project. Personally, I find anything under two hours per week ends up feeling like frustratingly slow progress.
What time could you allocate to your project right now, even without anything else changing?
Freeing Up More Time for Your Side Projects
Although you’ve hopefully managed to find some time for your project, there’s almost certainly more time to be had … without having to sacrifice any of your income. Here are three things to try.
Step #1: Streamline Tasks That Don’t Pay
Chances are, a lot of your weekly tasks are ones that you can’t bill anyone for. Maybe you write posts for your own blog, send out a weekly email newsletter to your audience, spend time networking on social media, and have lots of emails to deal with.
To free up more time for your project, streamline repetitive tasks as much as possible—or ditch them altogether.
For instance, in order to finish my current non-fiction book in February, I’m using excerpts from my free mini-ebooks as the articles in my weekly email newsletters. This saves me time, but it also helps remind my newsletter readers that they’ve got access to these free ebooks: a win-win situation.
You might want to look at:
- Repurposing content. Could you republish old blog posts (with a bit of updating)? Could you use blog posts for your email newsletter or compile a blog post from your recent tweets?
- Creating template replies for common emails. If you find yourself writing the same things over and over again, make a template so you can simply paste in your reply (and tweak as needed). In Gmail, you can do this by enabling Canned Responses.
Step #2: Say “No” More Often (Including to Clients)
I know how hard it can be to turn someone down … but if you’re going to see the success you want (and deserve), you need to get good at saying “no.”
Someone’s emailed to request that you come on their podcast or answer their interview questions for free? You can simply turn them down. Yes, it could be good exposure — but is it worth an hour or more of your time, right now? (If it’s an opportunity that you don’t want to pass on completely, you can always say that you’re busy right now, but they’re welcome to try you again in a few months.)
Also, don’t be afraid to say “no” to potential new clients. I know how tempting it is to take on anything and everything that comes your way — but you don’t have to! If you don’t have the time available, or if you just know the client will be more hassle than they’re worth, turn it down.
One simple way to do this is to tell the client you’re fully booked until a certain date. This demonstrates that you’re in high demand (which can also be a great justification for raising your prices) and also gives the client the option of waiting until you’re available.
Step #3: Price Your Products for Maximum Profit
Once you have a product out there, one huge step you can take to free up more time is to bring in more money.
Pricing your products appropriately doesn’t necessarily mean setting your prices high. Sometimes, you’ll make more money with a lower price … as more people will buy.
It can be very tricky to figure out the price of a product, especially if it’s an information product like a course or e-book. A good place to start is by looking at comparable products on the market: how much do they cost at full price?
I’d definitely recommend pricing at a point that allows you to offer a hefty discount (perhaps as much as 50%) so you can run sales. You can do this on an occasional basis, perhaps for Thanksgiving or another holiday … or you can run an ongoing sale for a section of your audience. Everyone who subscribes to my free email newsletter, for example, gets a code for 35% off any/all of my Blogger’s Guides. This not only nudges them to buy, it encourages more people to sign up for the newsletter.
Don’t feel that your initial price is set in stone, either. You can adjust it up or down … though it’s usually helpful if you can justify the change to your audience.
If you want to increase the price of an existing product, you can add extra content or bonuses. For instance, you might extend a basic four-week course to become an in-depth eight week course, or you might include membership of a private Facebook group where customers can ask you questions.
(In some cases, you may have launched at a fairly low price; let people know it’ll be increasing to the regular full price soon and offer them a last chance to buy at the current price. This should bring in some immediate sales.)
If you want to decrease the price of an existing product—without annoying your previous buyers—you can make it smaller. You might take out some of the material to use for a different product, or you could remove some bonuses. I dropped the price of my membership site from $19.99 to $9.99/month last year, and duly saw quite a few old members re-register (and stay). Due to the price decrease, new members no longer get free access to my ebooks and e-courses … though they do have the option to purchase those half-price.
Make Your Life Easier Tomorrow … Starting Today
Finding the balance between “money now” and “money later” can be incredibly tricky. I’ve definitely had times when I’ve been too focused on the short term (at the expense of building for the future) — and sometimes you really don’t have any other choice.
If you can find just a bit of time to build for the future, though, it’s well worth doing. It might take a few months before you get an additional stream of income in place … but if you create a small product and launch it at an attractive price for your audience, you could have extra money in the bank within weeks.
Deliberately restructuring the rest of your work—by charging accurately for your product, streamlining, and saying “no” more often—will help you find even more time for your project.
Even if your e-book or e-course doesn’t make you a fortune, it could provide a steady source of income if you ever need to take some time away from work (if you’re ill, for instance, or if you start a family). I still remember how glad I was of my e-book and membership site income when I was on maternity leave for a few months with my eldest, back in 2013.
Whatever your project is, finding some time for it on a regular basis really will pay off. Where could you find at least one hour, this week, to choose and plan your project?