Reflections from five years of “Without Bullshit”

On March 26, 2015, I launched this blog and my freelance business. In this moment when we’re all looking forward in terror, I’m looking backward and reflecting. Maybe there is something to be learned from my last five years — and if you’ve been suddenly thrust into freelancing, perhaps it can help you.

Before I say anything else, let me say this: Thank you. You, my audience, have sustained me, both emotionally and financially. I could not imagine doing this without you. You have my undying gratitude.

My goals were modest

If you’re starting any venture — even a company of one person — you need to know what your goals are. If you have no goals, or if you switch them around frequently, you’re unlikely to get anywhere interesting.

I would have described my goals when starting this adventure this way:

  • Design a business where I could make a decent living without an insane amount of work. (This is not the same as many people’s goals, which is to create and grow a business by working like mad. But it was an appropriate goal for a 56-year-old ex-analyst with decent retirement savings.)
  • Do mostly what I like: writing, editing, and speaking.
  • Get paid top rates to do those things. (I’d rather work fewer hours at higher rates than be continually insanely busy, even if the total revenue were higher.)
  • Write books.

The long and short of it is, I accomplished most of those goals, but it took a while to get established. My first two years were funded in part by severance from Forrester Research and the advance for Writing Without Bullshit — my business didn’t really ramp up until 2017.

Some numbers to put things in perspective

Here are some things I counted and what I learned from those numbers.

Daily posts: 1,363

I started to post every day starting in March of 2015 and I have done so, with a post of actual substance, every weekday since.

I do not recommend this unless you are a bit obsessive.

I do it for two reasons.

First, I have established a relationship with my readers and feel as if I want to keep it up. Many of you expect it. I have time to post and things to say, so I post.

Second, this daily habit structures my day. Posts become speech elements and chapters in books. They push my thinking. I need that. It would far too easy to become complacent. If you’re doing five posts a week, you can’t be complacent.

I don’t post to drive traffic. I don’t post to generate business. I post to maintain a relationship. That pays off eventually, but that’s not the reason I do it.

Word count: 1.25 million

Other than emails I’ve written, this is by far the largest collection of content I have ever created. I’ve written or cowritten six books, but the blog reflects 19 books worth of content.

I am on record about writing, publishing, politics, marketing, and life in general. And I stand by all of it.

If you are a creator, what are you creating? And how? And how are you practicing?

I think blogging is my 10,000 hours.

Audience: 2.8 million views

When you’ve posted 1,300 times, you get an idea of what will resonate. And whatever you think, you are wrong. My average post is getting about 1,000 views, but some are much more popular.

Of all the views on my site, 29% are from one post, my Writing Tips post, which aligns with my message and continues to generate useful interest.

My second-most-popular post, with more than 100,000 views, concerns a false meme about Donald Trump. People find it and continue to comment that they saw him say something on video that never actually happened. People’s ability to believe in something for which there is no evidence horrifies me.

The next two most popular posts are about bitcoin blackmail (because I included the text of the blackmail message, which people search on), and Tim Cook’s communication strategy. I’d rather be known for the latter — analysis of communications strategy — but that’s not how traffic flows.

The rest of the posts have hundreds or thousands of views. And I love them all.

Clients: 79

For five years in business, that’s a relatively small number of clients. My median client pays me $3,500, but some — my book clients — end up paying much more. There is nobody so large that I cannot afford to lose them. (In fact, I just lost $12,000 worth of business to the Coronavirus recession, but I have a long-term perspective and don’t worry about it too much.)

Books: 19

I originally thought I would make my freelance living doing speeches and workshops. They’re still a significant part of my business, but I am much more of an author, editor, ghost writer, and book coach now, with the occasional book index thrown in just for enjoyment.

I love working with authors. So that is what my business is centered around now.

Among the 19 books I’ve worked on since 2015 are books on AI, marketing, small business branding, corporate culture, strategy, management, creativity, and personal success. Every single one has fascinated me.

The reason is that books are about ideas, and I love the relationship between idea and writing. I love to develop ideas and help people express them in the most powerful possible way. The results make me happy, and make the authors smarter and more influential.

What could be better than that?

If you find something like that in your work, find a way to make it your career. It might take a while. But it will leave you feeling fulfillment that no amount of money can replicate.

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