Seven years ago, I started trying to make money online. It was my only option at the time. It was dicey at first. There was a steep learning curve, and I was still hoping to stumble into an easy, get-rich-quick system.
But, even in my first year, I was able to make a full-time income, exclusively online. It was a small income to be sure, but I made real money and paid our very real bills.
Each year I learned more and made more money. I never became rich, but that stopped being my goal years ago. Instead, I found a way to make a comfortable income that let me spend lots of time with my four children.
I’m still learning and growing as a person and as a business owner. Here are seven of the most important lessons I learned in my first seven years of making money online.
1. Polite Follow-Up Will Earn You More Money
I’m an introvert. I hate talking on the phone. In-person meetings are not even an option. I also dislike feeling like a pest. I’m not good at selling myself.
When someone didn’t get back to me when they promised I took it as a sign that they were no longer interested in my services, or that I had offended them. When I sent cold emails that got no response, I figured I wasn’t a good match for them.
I wasn’t hoping for much.
I was shocked. I had sent a blog project proposal to a client I had done a few other projects with before. I hadn’t heard anything for a month. I didn’t; want to be a bother. But, I suppressed my fear and anxiety. I sent a short, polite follow-up asking if they had any questions about my proposal.
That client turned into a $1,000 a month retainer. I still work with them.
Since then, I’ve made many sales from sending a polite follow-up. It’s the easiest way to boost your income no matter what your business is. People are busy, and if you are polite and truly interested in helping them, your follow-ups will be welcomed.
2. Everything Takes Longer Than You Estimate
Everything takes longer than you think it should. Creating invoices, installing WordPress, getting paid all take much longer than you estimate in your mind.
It took me years to learn this lesson. I used to get frustrated and stressed with simple administrative tasks would eat up entire days.
I have gotten a little better at estimating how long things should take. But, the real breakthrough was allotting twice as long for any project than I estimated I needed.
This has helped me reduce deadline pressures and kept my anxiety from completely taking over.
3. There is a Market at Every Price Point
One of the biggest fears I had as a new freelancer was that I would set my prices too high. Many new businesses mistakenly believe that low prices are the way to quick sales.
After some bad early experiences, I began raising my rates regularly. In the early years, I would raise my rates every couple of months.
I learned that while I lost some clients as my prices soared, there were new clients eager to pay my rates. Even stranger, the more I charged, the easier the clients were to work with.
There is a market at every price point. If your service or product is good enough, people will pay your premium prices. Your product or service is most likely better than you think it is.
The worst thing that can happen if you charge too much is that you have to lower your prices.
Life gets better when you charge more. You need fewer customers or clients to be profitable, and you can spend less time marketing because you aren’t running a mill. This allows you to spend more time serving customers and improving your offerings. It becomes a virtuous cycle.
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4. Setting Your Own Schedule is Amazing and Awful
I love not having to ask permission to take a day off, to leave work early, or to take an extended vacation. This freedom is what attracted me to running an online business.
But, it’s easy to become a workaholic. I can always email one more person or write one more article. I discovered that I was the worst boss in the world. I expected too much of myself. I would even work from my phone in bed instead of sleeping.
This led to burnout.
I had to learn to be disciplined in working during work time and playing during playtime. Getting enough rest makes me better at my job.
5. Life Hacks are Bullshit
I’m a proud productivity skeptic. Most of the lifehacks and productivity hints are really articles about idiosyncratic habits that have worked for a few people.
A lot of life hacks are for the privileged.
If you are responsible for the care of other human beings, such as your children or parents, many lifehacks are impossible.
It’s a waste of time trying Elon Musk’s morning routine or only buying black shirts like Mark Zuckerberg.
You are better off experimenting with your own schedule and routine. There are no real shortcuts. Even most overnight success stories are really the culmination of years of hard work — not the implementation of intermittent fasting.
I have a routine that works for me. It probably wouldn’t work for anyone else because it is slightly different each day.
6. Make Work Fit into Your Life — Don’t Make Life Fit Around Your Work
Work-life balance is well-intentioned advice, but it also impossible. Work and life are not separate things. Unless you are a trust-fund baby, work is part of life.
We have to work to pay the bills. There is no reason to feel guilty about working. But life is more than just work.
Once I learned that I didn’t have to work all of the time to make decent money, I became a better father and husband. I also had far fewer crippling bouts of anxiety.
My life is complicated. With four children, there is always a crisis in progress or on the horizon. But, by making sure I limit work, I am better able to help navigate my children through the storms that are threatening them.
When I’m with my family or when I’m having some quality me time, I don’t take work calls or answer work emails.
I try and get all of my work done in the mornings, but if that fails, it does several times a week, I work at night after everyone is asleep. This allows me to be in the moment with the people I care the most about. After all, I’m working to provide them with a great future. But, there’s no sense in compromising their present to provide that great future.
7. There is No Magic System — You Have to Carve Your Own Path
There is no single book, course, podcast, or seminar that will show you The Way to be successful in life.
You have to carve your own way through the jungle of life.
I’ve wasted a lot of time looking to others for answers that were inside of me the whole time. That doesn’t mean books, courses, and podcasts are a waste of time. They can provide you with tools and materials. But, nobody else’s system will work perfectly for you.
You need to adapt what you find and make your own way.
This is good news. There isn’t a single path that you have to find in you want to be fulfilled and successful. It also means that you have the burden of finding the right path, and staying on that path, even when others doubt your sanity.
I love working online. It’s not perfect, but then neither am I. I look forward to spending the next seven years getting even better at living life and making money online.