A couple years ago, my wife and I were standing outside of a bar in a small town over half an hour away from our house.
It was a Saturday afternoon in late 2018. We were waiting with my mother-in-law at the curb for my father-in-law to bring the van around to pick her up. We were about to head to a banquet hall to attend a wedding reception, and had stopped for a drink after the ceremony.
The curb we were standing at happened to be at a lighted intersection. This is important to the story.
I had spent that year trying to make it as a woodworker and failing miserably. It wasn’t that there wasn’t demand: it’s that a failure of A) price and B) focus had led me to building hundreds upon hundreds of floating shelves for far less than I should have charged. I was working 60-hour weeks and couldn’t pay the bills. But I was completely overwhelmed with business.
Part of my ability to get orders stemmed from turning on the camera on my phone every couple days at least and recording myself talking about what I was working on or simply recording myself doing a build.
They were popular. But I had no idea.
While waiting at that stop light, a young man in a pickup truck glanced out his window and made eye contact with me. He stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Hey! Are you the guy making those wood shop videos?!?”
The light turned green. He hit the gas, screaming as he drove away, “I LOVE THOSE VIDEOOOOOOOOSSS…!”
My wife lunged forward, pumping her fist and cheering back at him. My brain couldn’t even process what was going on.
I was being recognized on the street for something I was creating online.
Later that day, I did confirm via Facebook that I was being recognized by a fan, who messaged me that evening.
Flash forward to today: I haven’t been down in my wood shop in months. I haven’t posted any content to that Facebook Page in even longer than that.
As I even write that, I get sad.
Necessity forces me to give up decision-making
At the end of 2018, I had to give up the full-time wood shop pursuit.
Why? Because I wasn’t profitable enough. Carrying so much debt and forcing my family to sacrifice so much wasn’t worth it anymore. It was killing my health in particular.
Freelance writing had picked up again. I continued taking on new work and new clients. I had less time for the wood shop.
But at no point in time during my wood shop phase did I ever feel like I had control of the situation.
We had no savings and a dog pile of debt. That forced me to go with whatever was working.
Floating shelves worked, so I just kept building them. The more I built and shared, the more orders would come in. That was money we needed. I couldn’t step back and refocus, reevaluate my time and my product offering, or ever shift gears.
I never put myself in a position to have control over the situation, because I didn’t think I could. I had to do whatever was working and run with it.
In some ways, that’s how I’m dealing with freelance writing right now.
We are almost done with our debt, but we’re not there yet. So I’m taking on more writing clients than I ever have before. As of this writing, I have 7 active clients.
The most I really ever handled previously – in 13 years of being a copywriter – is around 3.
I’m busy. But I keep taking on more work because I feel like I have to.
Do I want to? Not really. I want flexibility in my time. I want to dedicate brain power to my book series. I want to get back down in the wood shop and rebuild that business in a different, more intentional way.
But because we’re trying to pay off our debt as quickly as we can so that we can reach other financial goals, I still feel like I can’t. Taking on this work is necessary.
It’s not killing me in the way that building an endless series of floating shelves did. I can still take breaks and knock off for the day when I’m done with work. I feel fine, personally and physically.
However, I do feel a little trapped by the thinking that there are people out there doing the things that I really want to be doing, but I’m not doing because I think I don’t have the time.
Why this is a problem
I’m looking at my whiteboard right now, which has a financial breakdown of invoices I expect to see paid in April. The total number at the bottom is insane.
How could I possibly complain about being in this position?! I’ve dreamt of making this kind of money!
I am grateful.
I am grateful to have these resources at my disposal.
I am grateful to have this heavy workload.
But I also understand the negative impact this has on my psyche.
All of those numbers – totaling 8 different streams of income – are the result of work for somebody else.
They pay the bills, and then some. But the time and energy that I spend creating is not building anything for me. It’s building things for other people.
For someone like me, who has had a goal since around 2008 to build something for myself, this is severely frustrating.
Being a freelancer is wonderful. I’ll take this over an office job any day of the week. I am thankful to have this career.
Yet, I want to be building assets for myself. I want to create content for myself. I want to build my own brands.
I’ve seen it work before, on a small scale. I have a few hundred readers on my email list, waiting anxiously for my next book to drop. I used to get dozens of wood shop orders every week. And apparently my content was good enough to get me recognized on the street.
What now? How do I transition to that again? How do I build something for myself when I feel like I don’t have the time to do anything for myself?
My plan to get better
Popular advice states that you have to take a step backward before going forward.
I don’t want to do that.
We’re too close to paying off the rest of this debt. This is a goal that my wife and I have dedicated a dozen years to pulling off. I can’t take my foot off the gas pedal right now.
But I do need to make some progress towards other things if I want to be successful in the long-term… the way I want to be successful.
- Watch my health. Every morning, I meditate and do Morning Pages. I journal regularly. I’ve hired a nutritionist to help me fix lingering digestion issues that I’ve had for 15 years. I try to get into my portable sauna at least 4 days a week. I try to work out every day in some capacity. I do my best to spend quality time with my family. I get to church every Sunday morning. Nothing does me any good if I’m not in a good place physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
- I’m building a consulting practice. Right now, the key to getting off the MORE CLIENTS treadmill is to start building something of my own. I’ve hired a coach to help me build a consulting practice that will allow me to help other writers build their careers. I’ll be able to give back and scale up a lot more effectively. I intend to start picking up clients by the end of this month.
- Gradually scale back the writing clients. Seven clients isn’t sustainable. As my consultant business grows, I will take on less and less copywriting work, gradually parting ways with each client. It’s just reality. I may keep a couple around if we’re doing well and the relationship is strong. But we’ll see.
- Start working on my books a little bit every day. Half an hour per day on each book series is more than enough to build forward momentum.
- Publish blog posts every day. This is a new goal of mine that I really want to focus on. If I want to be a full-time creator, I have to create now. So I publish on my blog and syndicate all my content on Medium. I’ve seen already how Medium can bring me new fans and potentially even a few bucks in revenue. I just need to create more often and more consistently. An hour-ish per day can do that.
- Once we’ve transitioned to more coaching, bring back the wood shop. What I envision is that I will spend more time creating content that I can publish to Facebook and potentially YouTube from down in my shop. That way, I can create new pieces and record myself building stuff that I sell regularly. That is more sustainable from a practical standpoint than “build as many floating shelves as I can handle before I keel over”. And it would make me happier.
- Be active on social media. I should be documenting my journey on all of this through Facebook and Instagram, alongside my longer-form blog posts. This can keep momentum going as well.
It’s going to take time
I’m not good now. I need to be better.
But I will be better.
It won’t happen overnight. It could be months before some of these things fall into place.
I might not even get back to the wood shop until fall, I don’t know.
The only way to do it is by believing that I will. I have to tell myself every day that this is something that will happen.
The only way through it is through it.
Then, maybe I’ll be living a life where I won’t feel so jealous of those I follow on YouTube – because I’ll be one of those content creators myself.
And I’ll have earned it.