2012: My Year in Review

Long RoadWell that went by quickly.

In a flash my first year of self-employment has passed me by. I started 2012 with little income but a lot of ideas and optimism and have ended the year with a profitable freelance business, an established blog, and a loyal crowd of supporters. Although things have not gone at all how I envisaged, I’m extremely happy with my progress in 2012.

I am very big on both planning for the future and reflecting on the past, so with 2013 about to dawn it only seems right that I reflect on my first twelve months as a freelance writer, blogger and internet marketer.

What Did I Aim to Achieve?

At the end of 2011 I forecast that 2012 would be a big year, and perhaps more tellingly predicted that I would need to be flexible to change.

The key goal of course was to not go broke. It is all too easy to forget the precariousness of the situation I was in at the start of the year — I had just two freelance clients, no guarantee of future income, and no solid plan for making a living.

But I did have an idea of what I wanted to do and felt relatively optimistic of making enough money to stay afloat, given enough time. My primary aims were to:

  1. Establish a freelance writing income that could support my outgoings
  2. Create authority/niche sites that would generate passive income

Furthermore, I wanted to grow Leaving Work Behind. In December 2011 the blog had seen just 2,327 unique visitors so there was certainly a lot of room for growth. I hoped for the blog to become a profitable venture in the long run.

What Did I Achieve?

In reality, the goals that I set at the very end of 2011 were fallacious. The quantifiable goals I set were not within my direct control, and as such, results were highly unpredictable. Or to put it more bluntly, I failed to reach just about every goal I set myself for the first quarter of 2012.

So I had a slow start — best represented by the woeful failure that was my mass niche site project. I learned some big (and expensive) lessons from that project and eventually decided that niche sites weren’t for me. I felt far more enthusiastic about building long time authoritative sites (i.e. blogs), and that is something that I will take into 2013.

However, it was not all doom and gloom. My freelance income rose steadily throughout 2012 and it is safe to say that I wildly outperformed my expectations on that front. This blog has served as a fantastic prospect referral tool and I am working with a great bunch of clients. I have written many posts on the topic of freelance writing and of course a guide on the topic, which I hope will become a longterm source of income.

Speaking of my guide, that gave me a nice income boost in November which has resulted in a pleasingly upwards trend of total net income throughout 2012:

2012 Income

Leaving Work Behind has also established itself as an earner. Although affiliate income is pretty modest (with record earnings in November of $346), much of the $3,500+ I have made from my freelance writing guide is thanks to this blog’s readers and subscribers. Having said that, this blog brings me so much more than merely dollars and I am really happy with how it has developed through the year.

I think a lot of people will be surprised to know that my traffic is not all that impressive:

2012 Leaving Work Behind Traffic Stats

Whilst I would love to see more people visiting this blog, I feel like I have built a loyal group of supporters (that’s you guys!) and I am extremely grateful for that.

In conclusion, I am extremely happy with my achievements to date. I have avoided bankruptcy and established a relatively secure income. My freelance work takes just 3-4 hours per day and allows me plenty of spare time with which to concentrate on expanding existing income streams and diversifying new ones. In short, I’m in a good place!

Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

I’ve certainly made a number of mistakes throughout 2012 and I am not ashamed to say so. Making mistakes (as long as they are not too frequent) is a sign that you are pushing your boundaries and learning. As long as you learn from your mistakes they are generally valuable to your development (tweet this).

Niche Site Failure

Perhaps the biggest mistake of the year was the absurd amount of money (over $2,500) that I poured into my untested niche site building system. I still can’t quite understand what was running through my head — ignorance would perhaps be the best word to describe it. I was so focused on the minutiae of what I was doing that I failed to see the idiocy of my strategy.

I learned a very expensive (but valuable) lesson from my niche site project failure and haven’t overcommitted to anything since. In fact, all of my projects (both present and those planned for the future) are characterised by a relatively cautious and investment-light approach (a good example of which is the One Hour Authority Site Project). I would recommend the same approach to any “beginner” or “intermediate” in the world of making money online.

The Value of a Service Business

I began 2012 with the notion that I would establish considerable passive income streams within a relatively short space of time. This ended up being a pipe dream, but thankfully my freelance earnings developed in a such a way that I never really felt in danger of going broke.

I was also able to confirm something that I had suspected before I quit my job — that offering a service (such as writing) is by far the best option (in my opinion) for someone looking to quit their job. You can establish such a business in a relatively short space of time, freelancers are becoming more and more in demand and you can earn a great deal more money per hour than you can from your job.

I write for 3/4 hours per day and earn more than I did in my old job when I worked 8-10 hours per day. That gives me plenty of spare hours to work on projects that can generate even more income. Compared to my job, it’s like a perpetual money-making machine. I’ve gone from working fixed hours and relying on the hope of a raise, to working far less hours and having the available time to build alternative income streams.

Even if I get to a place where the majority of my income is passive (or at least not from service provision), I will always recognize that my freelance writing business allowed me to travel down this road. I owe almost everything to that one speculative and frustrated moment back in September 2011 when I submitted a few pitches via the ProBlogger Job Board.

Getting Things Done

Beyond that, I have spent a lot of the year working on productivity and effective goal setting — i.e. making the most of the hours I choose to work. My productivity experiments are always ongoing as I strive to make the very most of my working time. After all — one of my main aims is to be in a position where I don’t have to work long hours, so one of the key ways in which I can facilitate that is to be extremely efficient when I do work.

Why I’m Not in a Rush to Get Rich

Finally perhaps the biggest personal development I made in the year was transitioning from a burning desire to be rich to simply living a balanced and happy life. That is exactly why I am not working eight hour days and earning the equivalent of $100,000+ per year (which I’m confident I could be doing).

I may not be making huge amounts of money but I am really happy with where I am, both professionally and personally. There is little doubt in my mind that the huge decision I made to quit my job has had an extraordinarily beneficial impact on every facet of my life and I hope that I can help as many people as possible to follow in my footsteps.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in finding out more about my successes and failures to date along with the lessons I have learned, check out these posts:

My Plans for 2013

I have very little idea what 2013 will hold for me beyond what I have already achieved. I hope that my freelance writing income will remain relatively consistent and I would also like to see earnings from my freelance writing guide reach into comfortable four figure sums per month. It would also be nice to see affiliate income from Leaving Work Behind hit four figures before the end of the year.

Beyond that, who knows? That is the beauty of the position I am in. I have an established base of income, but beyond that I’m as unsure as to what may come of the following year as I was of 2012 back in January. However, I do have a lot of ideas. Really exciting ideas. I have the One Hour Authority Site Project as well as two other big projects in the pipeline that I hope to launch in 2013.

But if 2012 has taught me one thing, it is that plans change — often in a big way. I’ll always keep my eyes open for fresh (and possibly better) opportunities and keep a tight focus on picking the projects with the most potential. And as a LWB reader, it should go without saying that you will have a front row seat to the whole show!

Here’s wishing you all the very best of luck for 2013. I hope I can help you in some small way to achieve your goals in leaving work behind. You guys rock!

Creative Commons image courtesy of matfer

Comments

  1. says

    Congratulations on your success Tom! My goal for 2013 is to expand my online business and enjoy life as an entrepreneur. Your story is very inspirational for me. 2012 is when I launched the coaching side of my business to help others remove their mental roadblocks so they can discover their unique gifts and bring them to the world. I’ve coached over 15 people since September and it’s going to grow in 2013. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us. I will proudly let you know when I finally get to leave work behind!

  2. Charley says

    There is a lot to rejoice about on your side and you certainly deserve more :-) 2013 will hopefully be a better year for us all.

  3. Matt says

    Excellent read Tom! As a new follower of your blog, I can confirm that the reason your readership is expanding is because of the good quality content you are posting here. I am currently investigating all types of Internet marketing platforms with a focus on being realistic in terms of where my skills can best flourish. Money is tight at the moment so I need to make sure I am making wise purchases. Though a lot of bloggers focus on writing about their successes while obviously over-exaggerating at times, I find it more helpful to read about the honesty of a failed project along with some insight as to why it might have failed. This honesty will bring you credibility which in turn will bring you sales of your ebook. The reason I know this is because your site is one of the few I continue to return to and it has inspired me to begin a career in freelance writing. Well done.

  4. Joe Mobley says

    Tom,

    I am joyously envious of you. Congrats on 2012 and best of luck with 2013.

    And thanks for sharing your ups and downs.

    Happy New Year,

    Joe Mobley

  5. debmalya says

    Great Tom, keep inspiring. I am closely following what you are saying and I make sure I spend an hour a day on this site. At least it gave me the balls to set up a deadline as March 2013 to quit my job and work towards my freedom. I have saved enough and it will surely feed,me and pay my bills in 2013. I don’t know whether I would be successful or not, but I guess everyone should take a shot at their dreams.

    Have a great 2013

  6. Mark Jackson says

    First of all a happy and a healthy New Year Tom !

    I found your blog only a few weeks ago but have been following it regularly ever since. One of the main reasons I like your site is that you’re British (as am I) and I can more closely relate to your situation than someone living in Venice Beach, CA !!

    I thought today would be a good day to step out of the shadows and introduce myself as I know blog writing can be a lonely existence not knowing who is reading your writings or whether you are truly “connecting” with your readers. All I can say is that your writings have connected with ME.

    For the last few years I have concentrated on internet marketing largely going doing the affiliate route. Perhaps the worst thing (or the best thing) that could have happened to me is that withing twelve months of IM I was earning close to £ 800 a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. I banked EVERY single penny of this as I am a very cautious guy (more on this later).

    The problem with being moderately successful in internet marketing is first of all you ignore the fact that you’re building a business on ever shifting sands and like many internet marketers I suffered when Google rolled out it’s Penguin update in April 2012.

    The still fresh taste of success spurred me on as I continued to steam roller ahead with my IM plans but Penguin pretty much destroyed my income.

    Before Penguin rolled out I made a decision to quit my job and my wife has supported that decision. Obviously the collapse in earnings has been a real stinker but I think it’s been a blessing in disguise as I have recently spent a great deal of time re-focusing on something that is more sustainable and that is where your blog comes in.

    I am going to try and follow your example and make a living from freelance writing but I wanted to comment on a particular point you made about your desire to not want to work flat out as you’re happy with your work-life balance.

    My ultra cautious tendency has shaped my thinking that I prefer to make hay while the sun shines. If you can work flat out for a year and make $ 100,000 and THEN start to cut back your hours you will have built yourself a nice little nest egg to support you for a few years should there be any volatility in your earnings further down the road.

    • says

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you for commenting, I am glad that you’re getting some value out of the blog.

      Your suggested approach is certainly a valid one (although some would argue cynical ;)) but it’s not for me. I am confident that there will be hay to make for many years. I could of course be proven wrong but a huge priority of mine is to live for the day, not for the future. Driving yourself into the ground for a year for future safety’s sake is not my style.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  7. Corey McMahon says

    Congratulations on your progress throughout 2012.

    Looking forward to hearing about your continued success in 2013. Onwards and upwards!

  8. says

    Congrats on your 2012 success! I’m new to the site, but I had to smile over your description of experimenting with niche sites. The moment my web businesses became profitable was the moment I quit investing in failing affiliate websites, so I totally get where you’re coming from :)

    Looking forward to whatever further success 2013 brings to you, and continued growth on both your blogging and freelance writing goals!

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