Why Giving Up £3000 A Month In Income Was The Best Decision I Ever Made
Freelance Writing has been my life for the last three years.
It’s taken me to far off lands like Brunei and Peru. It’s allowed me to move to Germany without a second thought. And it’s allowed me to pay for cars, apartments and clothes.
All of it through putting words on the page.
And last week I decided to cut all of my highest paying clients from my business. Shedding £3000 a month and leaving me with just enough to live on and get by.
Why did I do it?
If I’m honest it was a matter of taking my life back into my own hands. I’d found myself in a two year long rut and it was time to break the pattern.
In this article I’m going to share with you how I ended up stuck in that rut, what it did to my health and why cutting it all from my life was the best decision I ever made.
How I Found Myself Stuck In A 2-Year Rut
In the summer of 2015 my Grandfather died. He was a huge part of my life and his death shook me. The grief consumed my every waking moment.
In fact I spent the best part of a year getting drunk, having sex, travelling and ignoring the fact I has issues that needed to be dealt with at all. (You know, all of that trying to be a man about it bullshit).
While I focused on trying to battle my demons and get myself on track, my work life went into autopilot. I’d take jobs because they’d offer me money and I didn’t need to think about them. It was an effective strategy that worked.
Big companies and bloggers would come to me with lucrative contracts that paid more than I’d ever earned for easy work. Heck, I didn’t even need to go looking for them, they’d just land in my lap and my income would almost triple.
Naturally I’d say “Yes” to them as they came along because I couldn’t bring myself to try and refocus my work life on top of everything else.
I was still earning money for my words and I wasn’t having to get up at 06:00 every day and wear a tie. This was where I’d always wanted to be. It didn’t matter that the work didn’t interest me; it paid the bills.
The problem with this strategy, though, was that it lead me down a long road that I didn’t want to be on. I’d become extremely good at writing in a niche that I just couldn’t stand to work in.
Instead of escaping the system and writing articles that I cared about, for people who needed them, and earning money to fuel the life I wanted, I’d ended up somewhere else.
I was writing articles I hated, for people I didn’t care about, for money that I didn’t need, with all of the stress that came with it.
And most of all I was scared. If I was to leave all of these clients I’d end up broke. There are bills to pay, mouths the feed and holidays that I wanted to go on. I couldn’t get out now, could I?
Forgetting The Value Of My Time
The fear of leaving these clients put me in a position of weakness. And, let me forget the value of my time.
Although the contracts were lucrative, whenever someone wanted to negotiate I’d always be worried about losing those clients and them leaving.
So I’d allow them negotiate down to the lowest possible place I was willing to go. But it didn’t seem to matter to me because my overall income seemed to keep increasing.
In the back of my head I’d still tell myself the story that I was earning £40 to £60 an hour and was doing much better than I’d ever done in the past. Until, that is, I sat down and worked it out on paper…
While I was billing out at around £50 an hour, I was actually only making £14 to £16 an hour for the amount of time I was working.
That was a real wake up call. I was now doing more work that I hated, for less money and a shit load more stress.
In hindsight it’s crazy to think about. I’d been so caught up in the money side of things I’d failed to notice that I was increasing my work load by so much just for a few extra hundred pounds a month.
And all of the stress that came with it really impacted my life…
The Accidental Birthday Present That Told Me It Was Time To Change My Life
A few weeks ago I celebrated my 25th Birthday. After a weekend back in Manchester with my friends, I found myself back here in Cologne to celebrate the day with my Girlfriend.
She was super excited to give my my present so we waited up until one minute past midnight so that she could give it me as early as possible. And, when she did, she handed me two yellow envelopes.
The first envelope contained a voucher for a day entry to local thermal Spa not to far away from our apartment. It granted me a full day’s worth of sauna, steam room and pool access. It was an incredibly thoughtful gift.
The second envelope contained another voucher for the Spa. Only this time it was more expensive and had enough money on it for me to get an hour-long massage on the same day. Again another splendidly thoughtful gift.
But it was also a really subtle way of saying, “James, you need to get your stress under control”.
Now I’m sure she didn’t (directly) mean it that way. However for me it was a sign that if I was stressed enough that all of my birthday presents involved me needed to chill the fuck out, something in my life needed to change.
So I spent my entire birthday doing an audit of my life. I started journalling and looked at what I liked, what I didn’t like and what needed to go in my life. And all of my answers lead to the same conclusion…
“Get rid of all of your clients in the [name redacted] niche”
For every question about stress, why I wasn’t sleeping properly, what made me feel sick and what brought me the most dissatisfaction in my life. Everything pointed in this direction.
There was the voice in the back of my head that told me I was being stupid. That I needed to keep this income to make ends meet. It was like Gollum whispering “My precious” down my ear.
So I toyed with the idea of being practical and looking at how I could phase out my income. How I could drop one client, pick up another and then slowly swap all of my bad jobs for good jobs.
Until I read a quote by Seth Godin…
How My Fancy Lifestyle Was Holding Me Back
In an interview with Tim Ferriss, the world famous Marketer Seth Godin said something that stuck me…
“Once you have enough money for beans and rice and taking care of your family and a few other things, money is a story.”
And the story I’d been telling myself was one that I needed to make £4000+ a month to live.
But when I looked at my actual income the majority of it was spent on, well…I don’t know what. Most likely PlayStation 4 games, eating out, expensive weekends back in Manchester and buying Vinyls. And that’s just the stuff I can actually recall to memory.
The truth is that I didn’t need anywhere near the amount of money I was earning, I only needed a fraction of it. And funnily enough, the one client I enjoyed writing for gave me exactly the amount of money I needed for my monthly expenses and a little pocket money.
So I saw that I really could cut out every single one of my clients where the work didn’t bring me happiness or enjoyment or something more than money.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about my throwing away my brogues, slipping on a pair of sandals and turning into Ghandi with seven worldly possessions.
This is about how I’d been allowing income I didn’t even need to give me sleepless nights, countless hours of stress and a whole lot of unhappiness in my day to day life.
And it taught me a valuable lesson:
Doing work just for the money isn’t a good enough reason. It doesn’t satisfy me or provide me with enough motivation to get out of bed in the morning.
Making The Best Decision I Ever Made In My Life
One evening, lay in bed, I decided that the next morning I was going to stop thinking about it any finally do it.
I woke up the next morning and emailed everyone one of my clients explaining that over the next three months I’d be weaning them out and no longer writing in this niche.
My heart was in my mouth while I typed it. And as soon as I hit send I had to stand up, walk away from the computer and couldn’t look at any screens through fear of what any of them would say back.
And you know what happened?
Almost all of them came back to me and wished me well, congratulated me and told me they were glad I was finally moving onto new projects (they’d all seen it coming for a long time).
Damn was I relieved after it.
And although right now I’m still creating content for them and honouring my contracts until their end dates (or until they can find a new writer) I’ve felt so much better.
I’ve been sleeping properly. I’ve been exercising more. I’ve felt less pressure on myself. And my stress levels have dropped substantially.
There are new problems in my life: Where do I go from here? What am I going to do with my life? Will this all turn out to be an awful mistake?
And in many ways I’m still failing in many other aspects of my life. And I’m starting from ground zero in many respects.
But it’s all worth it to be able to sleep properly at night. Now, it’s time to go and enjoy that Spa day…