You’re a journalist, copywriter, self-published author and you’ve built a popular blog (and 6-figure passive income) helping other authors write and sell books. How did you get there and what did that take?
I started Become a Writer Today back in 2013 when I was out of work for about eight or nine months. I was interested in technology and spending a lot of time at home reading blogs like Lifehacker so I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great to start the Irish Lifehacker?”
Before long, I realized it’d be impossible for one person to keep up with every technology news website. So, I started thinking about all the topics I was interested in and one of those was writing.
I relaunched the blog as Become a Writer Today, started taking some courses in copywriting, like the AWAI copywriting program, and also learned how to write headlines and what it takes to write powerful blog posts from Jon Morrow over at SmartBlogger.
Then I started thinking about the blog as less of a blog and more as a business and as a platform for publishing books (I just finished my 4th). I focussed on search engine optimisation (SEO), built up to consistent publishing and grew my mailing list to over 15,000 readers.
What major obstacles or failures have you faced on your journey? How did you overcome them? Or how did they set you up for later success?
Time has always been an obstacle! I started the site while out of work in 2014. I then grew it on the side once I found employment. On top of that, we have 3 young kids! So, it’s difficult to find time to do everything it takes to run a site – from planning and writing content to answering emails, managing finances, networking and solving technical problems.
I started getting up earlier in the morning and spending the first couple of hours each day writing articles. Then, as the site got more popular (and started making money), I made a list of things that I should and shouldn’t do and used my initial learnings to outsource things like bookkeeping (which always used to frustrate me and give me a headache.)
Who are/were your heroes? Who helped you get where you are today?
There are a few people online that I followed for a few years who’ve inspired me including Jon Morrow, (who I think we’ve both taken courses from) and Joanna Penn (because I like how she balances creative work with running an online business.)
My other heroes will be kind of more literary heroes, like John Cheever, John Updike and Charles Bukowski. I don’t think they helped me get to where I am today, but I look to their writings for ideas and inspiration.
How do you decide what things are important to you in life as well as how and when you will work on them?
I pick one to three things to work on for the quarter and then I pick one to three things or outcomes to work on for the week, and then one to three things to work on for the day. So you’re probably sensing the theme there.
To keep me on track, I’ll find some metrics for each of those things or projects for the quarter and I’ll track those. So I try to figure out what can help me achieve those metrics. I’m a big fan of lead measures rather than lag measures.
How do you try and balance all the things you want to (and must) do without letting them all overwhelm you?
I don’t! Sometimes they do overwhelm me.
But I find practices like meditation help a lot. I took a course in Transcendental Meditation earlier this year and it was very beneficial.
And I also find that outsourcing to other people who can do tasks that I’m only OK at takes a lot of the workload off.
What are your favourite ways to eliminate daily distractions and focus on doing what matters?
Definitely the Pomodoro technique. I discovered it back in 2009 or 2010 and I still use it today when I get distracted or want to write for 30 or 60 minutes without pause or interruption.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self? What advice should they ignore?
You don’t need a career or a nine to five job to find happiness in your work.
Instead, start thinking about how to turn what you learn in college into a business that offers people value rather than working for someone else.
(And to buy bitcoin and start a blog around the topic “how to start a blog” before everyone else does!)
What 3 books would you recommend to your 18-year-old self and why?
What do you love most about the work that you’re doing and life that you’re living right now?
I love that you can create something, get it online and find readers quickly and easily. I also enjoy creating online courses that help new writers accomplish their goals.
The tools that entrepreneurs and creators have today are tools that people didn’t have years ago. You can start an online publishing business, or you can build a creative career for yourself, all from your home, which considering everything that’s happened over the last few months with the coronavirus is more important or more of a gift than ever.
In other words, I love that you can reach the whole world through YouTube; that you can podcast; that you can create content that you care about and that people will find.
What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in yourself over the last 10 years?.
I’ve been more focused on starting a business rather than figuring out what qualifications I need to acquire to advance in a career. And that journey has helped me acquire a ton of skills, which I wish I could have acquired through university.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it what would it say and why?
“Reculer Pour Mieux Sautér.“
French for: step back to better leap forwards.
In other words, you should push when something is difficult, you should push harder than everybody else, but then there comes a time when you should stop and step back and catch your breath before you push forwards again.