If you are thinking to bring minimalism into your life you may want to start reading Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus essays at The Minimalists. They run a site about living a meaningful life with less stuff. More than 100,000 monthly readers learn how to benefit from simplicity and focus on things that matter.
They left corporate jobs to pursue a full-time writing career and have rapidly grown the site, published three e-books and engaged with the community. How did they manage to make this happen so quickly and so well? In this interview, where Ryan tells us their story and insights on blogging, you’ll find many answers.
How and why did you start?
We first started this site as a grounds to share the experiences we were learning while applying minimalistic principles in our lives. We started with my 21 day journey, and it started to receive a lot of traffic at the time (about 100-150 visits a week), because at the time it was “a lot” of traffic. When Joshua and I saw the attention we were getting that’s when we saw the opportunity to make this a full-time gig.
There is a big misconception though. People assume we jumped ship from our corporate jobs to make more money with our site (or even the same money) however I make significantly less than what I made at my corporate job. The key to making the transition was planning, budgeting, and getting rid of as much debt as possible. One very cool thing about being a minimalist is not having many bills.
What are the usual tasks?
We don’t keep track of how many hours we work on the site, because sometimes we’re working when we don’t even realize it. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say Joshua and I work on website stuff 100-120 hours a week combined. Our work includes responding to our readers, writing and editing essays, spending time on social media, conducting interviews, and brainstorming new topics to write about. People may think we’re crazy for working as much as we do, but if your doing it right, and living your passion, it doesn’t feel like work at all.
What is the best lesson learned that you want to share?
Do not set yourself up with unrealistic expectations. We did a great job of setting reasonable expectations with ourselves but there were still a few things we didn’t expect. The biggest surprise was how uncomfortable changing each of our routines would be. Being in the routine of having to be somewhere every day and suddenly waking up to being your own boss can be difficult.
What is your best advice on how to attract visitors?
This is one of the top three questions we get asked. I’m going to list out this advice in the order of most importance to the least:
- Content, content, content
This means a few things. First, make sure the content you are providing your readers is good content. Ask yourself questions like “Would I want to read this?” and “Is this my best effort?” Don’t ever publish something you are only sort of happy with, because if you’re not happy with your published content, then your readers won’t be either.
Second, be genuine in your writings. That means to write from your heart, not what you think your readers want to hear. People will sniff out the bullshit even if you think they won’t.
Third, you want to make sure you not only have a considerable initial amount of content but also make sure the content is being posted to your site consistently. Fridays are a good day usually to post content because the loyal readers will start to look forward to your posts as a good start to the weekend. They will start getting excited to the point of being impatient, which is a great thing. If you don’t have the time to be consistent then don’t expect great results.
There is nothing wrong with sending someone an email that says “Hi, I want to add value to your site and think I have an idea on how to do that.” The important part to networking with other bloggers is making sure they are getting something out of it. The worst someone can tell you is “no” or just not respond to your email. You will get the occasional jerk that makes you feel bad for emailing them but that’s just it, they’re jerks. If you are genuine and add value you will do well in creating a thriving network of bloggers.
- Have a Plan
Don’t just quit your job and start blogging. That’s silly. Recognize there is going to be a transition period and its going to be uncomfortable as hell, but that means your doing the right thing. If you don’t have a plan at least have a direction you want to go in and make steps towards that every day.
- One Thing at a Time
Do not overwhelm yourself with all the things you want to accomplish with your site. Its alright to have a high level idea of your ideas but working on more than one of those ideas at a time will take you down a stressful, unorganized, and cluttered road. Additionally, the value of your work will suffer if you’re trying to do a million things at once. I had to learn this the hard way. The good news is, you don’t have to.
What is your biggest achievement?
The best thing that we have experienced is the joy of knowing the profound positive affect we have had on our readers. I can’t begin to tell you how many emails we have gotten that starts with “You have added value to my life…”
Starting your own professional identity on the side of your job
Note from Marko: Since publishing this interview I’ve had many people ask me this one interesting question: “Is it ok if I quit my job and start a blog?”. Clearly the idea of quitting your job, leaving the rat race behind and doing something on your own terms is the fantasy that appeals to many cubicle bound employees all around the world. It is a great idea, a great dream to have and definitely something that can help get you motivated to achieve big things. That’s one of the reason why I love blogging in the first place.
Finding yourself stuck in a boring job reading about all the people who have chosen to follow their passion can tempt you to give it all up and pursue the unconventional path. Don’t jump into it though assuming that just having the courage to pursue a different path is the only thing that matters, while everything else are just small details that can be worked out afterwards. Like The Minimalists in the interview above, I believe that planning is key in this process.
Everyone needs to pay the bills after all and just quitting your job to start the site idea you have been thinking about is not very responsible in most cases. Having a steady paycheck is very comforting in these situations, as it allows you to keep your living standards and if you use it well can allow you to invest your time in things that have the potential to make your life better in the future.
There’s no need to give up your job when starting a site. There is a better option and everyone with a job can start today. Quitting your job is a good choice only if you have some savings on the side. Building a site where you can make enough money blogging to replace your day job takes a long time. During these long months you can live off your savings while working on growing the site.
Instead make your site a hobby, a side-project or a professional presence online and have your day job something to fall back on while you are building your audience. This way you work on your site in the evenings, weekends (or even at work if you can) and you start small without taking too many unnecessary risk. The barrier to entry may be low, but it is very difficult to actually succeed.
It’s easy to start. WordPress, the best content publishing tool, is free to use. You don’t need previous experience, academic degree or tech knowledge. You don’t need an office or expensive equipment either. A computer and Internet connection is all you need. The most you have to lose is $50 that you pay for a domain name and a hosting account so people can access your site. Follow this guide to start.
Optimizing your lifestyle will help you make the transition. Try to minimize your costs as much as you can. Get rid of the debt. Downgrade your lifestyle in terms of luxury (not necessary to downgrade the living standards). Make smarter choices and cut down on expenses. Make a budget.
All this will lead you to saving more money and having more money saved means that you might be giving yourself an opportunity to quit your job faster and having more time to focus on this new project. It also means that you have lower bills, which means that you need to make less money from your site in order to cover your living costs.
This is the best way to go without risking to lose too much. Jumping too fast and too early into a full-time career as an online publisher a big risk and you have a much higher chance of failing and getting into a bad financial situation without having a fixed income from your day job.
Full-time workers vs full-time blogger
If you have established a great professional presence and a personal brand is it worth quitting your job and becoming a freelancer or blogger? Nassim Taleb has a good answer in his book Antifragile. Being a full-time employee of a company seems like a great option. You get the perfectly stable and predictable income, you may get a yearly bonus, you may get benefits like annual paid vacation. Having a salary deposited into your bank account once a month makes you stress and anxiety free.
Freelancers on the other hand seem full of stress and anxiety as they don’t have a fixed income. Income can be extremely variable. Some months your content may go viral or you may successfully launch a new product and these months can be good. Some months though there is nothing new coming up, you might have hit a writers block, Google may have changed their algorithm and stopped sending you as much traffic as before and then you suddenly cannot even cover your living costs.
It seems pretty much a one sided choice for people to take, doesn’t it? Take the stress-free monthly income from a corporation instead of going on the roller-coaster of income and the lack of job security. The recent economic crisis has changed this picture somewhat. It is now easier to lose your job and to be made redundant. Depending on the job field you are working in and your age it might not be easy to recover from a setback like that. Is the image of safe full-time employment now merely an illusion of stability?
Full-time employees have less of a need to evolve and re-examine themselves continuously as their jobs are less volatile in that sense. And this is why there can be some big shocks happening in case of a redundancy, where it could be difficult to get back and stand on your feet again. You get stuck in the old way of thinking and the old way of doing things. Full time employment is a smooth and steady but very fragile option with the biggest vulnerability being that large shock of income going to zero.
Freelancers are less exposed to the risk of a complete halt. If you have built your content archives, your products, affiliate offers, a large readership and freelance clients, your income will be dripping in slowly but surely without much risk of getting redundant and getting your salary taken away from you. You have many smaller employers and more options, compared to the full time employee who only has one big employer and is reliant on it.
Full-time employees have less of a need to evolve and re-examine themselves continuously as their jobs are less volatile in that sense. And this is why there can be some big shocks happening in case of a redundancy. This income variability is the key that makes blogger more adaptable. These variations in the income make people think, re-think, adapt and change continuously. They have to learn to fit and adjust their strategies and tasks as there are continuous pressures on them to perform. You basically need to learn to adjust according to the opportunities and threats there are. You are continuously educating yourself.
For bloggers it is about randomness and the daily/monthly ups and downs. There might be a large variability in income but the large shocks have a smaller role to play. This variability encourages improvement of the whole strategy – bloggers have to find new ways of reaching visitors, they have to get better skills and learn and adapt on the go. The volatility provides bloggers with valuable information and it directs them to be adaptive. The illusion of variability may actually make the blogger more robust and ready for the future challenges than a full-time employee.
Something to think about for you but definitely only when you have established a great online presence with regular income and clients coming in. Good luck!