Jason Schuller Did It – I Can Do It To

Jason Schuller has published a great post that takes us on a journey on how he went from point A to point B. Two years ago, Jason was sitting in a cubicle. Today, he is one of the top guns when it comes to commercial WordPress themes. His story is not only inspirational but it really hits home for me. Right now, I’m in the same situation. I think about quitting my job all the time. I sometimes get pretty depressed that I have no career in front of me. I don’t have a salary where I get paid at least 30-40 thousand dollars a year. I’m 28 years old and the only thing going for me is WPTavern.com. Within the next three months, I’ll be moving out of my parents house into one of my own with my wife to be. I’m starting to feel the pressure of the need to make more money to at least keep the bills paid.

Part of my reason for not quitting my job just yet is that I’m afraid. I’ve given that grocery store 10 years of my life and right now, I make about $13.75 an hour with anywhere between 16 and 35 hours a week. I’m also trying to figure out a plan to properly monetize my passion so I can continue to do it while paying the bills at the same time. However, unlike Jason, I do not have a theme or plugin to sell. Also, consultant work is out of my league. What I truly enjoy doing is continuing to write about the evolution of WordPress through this website. I also love the fact that I can provide a wide outlet for people to share their stories on how they use the software. Anyone who has ever interviewed me for a podcast or for a textual post realizes that I love talking about the software. After all, that’s why I have my own show. So I what I love to do is generate content without being tied down into what I can write about. The problem is, this content is free so I have to come up with other creative ways to generate revenue. Here is a list of current methods with a couple of other methods I’m thinking about.

Existing Revenue Streams

Display Advertising – This has worked well for me since I added it to the site. The only problem is that the display ads do not get as many clicks as advertisers would like. However, the display ads definitely provide visual awareness of their product or service.

Audio Advertising – This has also worked well for me although there are currently no advertising slots being used on the show. This type of advertising is two deals in one. Not only do the listeners get to hear about a product, event, or service, but the text as well as a link to it is provided within the content of the show notes.

Affiliated Reviews – This method by far has had the biggest impact on me in 2010. Especially the review I did of BackupBuddy. Affiliated reviews have definitely picked up the slack during the times when there were open display advertising slots. I’ve also taken to the idea of any affiliated review I perform gets added to the Tavern store since the review post can get lost after a few days.

Revenue Stream Ideas

Branded Merchandise – I’m currently researching various companies to figure out how I could easily create some WPTavern branded merchandise for folks to purchase. I wouldn’t mind having a WPTavern mug myself or a couple of shirts to give away at any WordCamps I attend. Since the audience has pushed me for merchandise, I’ll figure out a way to deliver. The only problem with going through a company is that the prices are generally steep and I only make profit if I charge above the flat rate price. However, the convenience of not having to package and ship the items myself makes up for that.

VIP Membership – Longtime fans of WPTavern.com know that I was very close to putting in a pay wall for the forum. However, I backed out of it after a lengthy discussion. I’m now considering doing it again but instead of making the entire forum a pay wall, I will be creating a new section in the forum exclusively for those who pay a membership fee of $25.00 a year which I think is fair with all things considered. Some of the perks I’m working on include special monthly deals on commercial products or services, an area where members can post and respond to job offers, a private forum that can be seen or responded to by ONLY paying members, a special discount on any of the merchandise I sell as well as any other perks I can think of.

WordCamp Sponsorship – I’ve toyed with this idea before but I turned it down because I didn’t want to be a shill for a company. However, after giving it some more thought, I’m pretty sure I can conduct my business at a WordCamp without that happening. I’m going to try and come up with a price that at least covers my airfare and hotel to a city where a WordCamp is being held. During this trip, any video content, audio content, or posts that are generated from the event will be branded with the sponsors company, product or service. Also, if the sponsor sends me some sort of sponsor package with business cards, a hat or shirt branded by them that I could wear, buttons, etc. that would be even better. I even wouldn’t mind giving that companies stuff away to any fans in attendance. The key here is that this would allow me to work for the people, work for myself, and work for the company that sponsors me all at the same time without having to worry about the financial aspects of it all.

That’s It:

I really hate the grocery store where I work but the thought of quitting and not having job security is scary, especially when I know I can make one to two-hundred dollars per week if need be. With WPTavern, there might be a week that goes by where I don’t get paid anything and payments come in at all different times of the month. It’s also important to note that much of the money that WPTavern makes goes back into the site or helps pay for my travels to WordCamps. Not much of it is used to directly pay myself.

Also, it is my strong belief that if making money is your only goal in life, you will probably spend the rest of your life chasing that goal and never end up where you want to be. I realize that the title of this article is “How I Monetized My Passion”, but what I really mean by that is money can sometimes become a by-product of chasing your passions. Money is not a bad thing, but it really should not be your means to happiness. When I left my day job two years ago, money was never my end game, and I hope it’s not yours when/if you decide to make a major change in your life. Let your interests and your passions be the driving force behind change in your life – I did.

In my situation, money is not the end all be all. Money is what will help me to continue doing what I love to do. I don’t want to become filthy rich from running an enthusiast community, I just want to make enough to continue doing what I’m doing while being able to put bread on the table and give my wife to be the confidence that what I’m doing is paying off. A sense of accomplishment and well being wouldn’t hurt either.

32 Comments


  1. Thanks for the post Jeffro, was interesting reading. I have to say I have really enjoyed the WordPress Weekly broadcasts on TalkShoe, it was great to hear all the theme, and plugin guys talking about their businesses and offering advice to others considering setting up a WordPress centric development site (which is the position I am in currently).

    I know exactly what you mean about job security even if it is one that you don’t enjoy. But hearing posts like the one Jason did does inspire you to conquer those fears. :)

    David

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  2. I tried to turn my passion for writing, WordPress, and whatnot into a career, and while I was able to do so for a few years, I was always chasing bigger pay checks so that I could afford the things my wife wanted. Because of this, I was never able to move onto the next stage of my career.

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  3. You have a great jumping-off point (that being the Tavern), and you produce great work. As someone who’s in somewhat of a similar situation, wanting to make a career with WP somehow but not being quite sure yet how, I wish you the best of luck.

    I think you have a great future ahead of you though.

    Hoping the same for myself

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  4. While I still think you have what it takes to do consulting (you’re an honest-to-goodness expert at using WordPress, you know all the cool plugins and themes, and you know all the right people for plugin and theme coding—a house contractor doesn’t do everything himself—and that knowledge is valuable) I’m excited to see the plan you’ve got worked out. You ideas sound great for you and the WordPress Tavern.

    Good luck, Jeff!

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  5. Here is the time. WPTavern needs Auttomattic. photomatt please read it. An awesome person will be there in your team.

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  6. I was very inspired by Jason as well when I first started working with WordPress. I wanted to build a website for my small 1 man i.t. company and I had heard good things about WordPress so I searched and searched for a theme to use for my site and came across Press75 and ended up using Cafe Press and started customizing it. I would hang out in his support forums and learned so much about how themes and WordPress in general worked. I eventually started helping others on the forum and after a few months I was able to build my own theme and got a few website gigs along with my general i.t. work.

    I eventually stopped working on peoples computers and started doing client websites on WordPress full time.

    The important thing is to do something you love and hopefully earn enough money to keep you and your family happy.

    Jeffro, you could start a theme company or a WordPress web site company. You know so much about it. You could come up with the ideas for themes from a users’s point of view and find some designers and coders to work with you putting everything together.

    Another example is a business like Page.ly. I am sure there are plenty of people in the community that would love to work with you on a project.

    I wish you the best of luck and if you believe in yourself, you can make it happen.

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  7. I think pursuing your passion is definitely key to being happy in life but as you know Jason had the right skills at the right time in a marketplace that was just starting to spread it’s wings. I think you should consider offering WordPress services to clients while you are growing WPTavern. You have more than enough experience to do so and it could immediately replace the revenue from your job. Once WPTavern achieves your goals, you could back off on the client work. Offering WP services and writing about WP would seem more synergistic than working your current job IMO.

    Best of luck in whatever you do.

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  8. Of course you can do it.

    Apart from consulting, most of the monetization / advertising strategies listed above are all page view driven. To increase page views I would look at every other successful web dev / wordpress related website out there and see what they’re doing content wise and then ask myself if we’re adding that kind of content and if not, how can we get / create that kind of content…. I would then reach out to top devs and work with them to have them guest post, as you already may have. Increasing the amount of content, diversity of content and channelling high profile and smart people from the community that can bring value will not only drive page views because of the great content they bring but because you’re tapping into their sphere of influence as well when they share that they’ve guest posted or been featured on your blog and likely even link to you. More quality content plus more quality links will equal greater organic search traffic and you’re on your way. Obviously I would participate in every WP related community out there and share what you know as doing so will help introduce the WP Tavern brand to the uninitiated.

    I would also profile and write about every major WP related topic, company, plugin and dev house possible, doing so will help you rank for those terms and bring more organic traffic. Ultimately, if there is any WP topic not covered already on the blog, I would cover it. I would cover a topic like “WP Seo” and then have every top name in the space give their two cents on the topic to create the best WP SEO article or series of articles, ever….etc…. you get the idea.

    I would also be asking myself: What can we do that’s not being done in terms of content, features, etc.? What are my readers telling me they want to hear about? What do I want to read about that is WP related and not being covered in the space? How can I involve readers? How can I leverage sponsors data / knowledge to educate my readers? What kind of workshops (webinars) can we hold to educate and why aren’t we the go to people for everything WP related … and on and on… hope this helps. :)

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  9. I found Jason’s post very inspirational too, kudos to him for laying his professional growth bare for all to see. I’m sure that with your dedication to the WordPress community, you can find just as much success!

    But I wouldn’t be so quick to write off consulting, especially since you don’t have a product to sell aside from your expertise. You might think of a consultant as someone who writes code or makes fancy designs, but after the dust settles on a new site, many clients still need someone to take their hand and show them the best ways to use WordPress, blogging, and social media in general.

    As much as you like to talk about WordPress, I’m sure you’d have no problem chatting with clients for $XXX an hour about how they can get the most out of the software. I think I could speak for a lot of coders and designers when I say that we’d rather not get into the real practical nuts and bolts of running a site and would happily pass that on to an able consultant such as yourself :)

    Don’t be afraid to experiment with existing revenue sources either. Display Advertising is one of those tricky things where one ad in a certain size and position could outperform many ads in the wrong spot, might not hurt to try blending them into the site more. And when one is empty, like that prime spot in the header, maybe you could pop in a nice ad to an affiliate product to keep it productive?

    Same goes for the audio spot, I’m sure this one is the best for you and the advertiser, but if you don’t have one, shame to let it go to waste. Lots of the podcasts I listen to are sponsored by Audible, you could do something similar by promoting an affiliate product, especially if it is timely. “Gravity Forms just released a new version, it has cool features X,Y, and Z, visit wptavern.com/gforms to pick up a copy and support the show.”

    Some sites, the Affiliated Reviews would really bother me, but you do a great job of covering it critically just like you would any non-commercial product or service. To increase their potential, have you thought about making them a sticky post for a while, maybe style the sticky post to stand out a bit?

    All of your ideas for new revenue sources are sound, you should definitely implement them all. For the VIP membership, I wouldn’t worry too much about what it offers. Think about public radio, plenty of us would signup as members simply to support the show, getting a mug or a gold star next to our names in the forum would just be a bonus.

    Best of luck on building your career Jeff, if all else fails, get your wife-to-be to bring home the bacon! ;)

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  10. Dude… Working in a cubicle is better than grocery store clerking.

    Take the money for the few years of cubicle work, save up a few years, then work on getting the dream job.

    I, for one, want to start a brewery. Might take me another 5 years, but I don’t mind the cubicle life in the meantime.

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  11. @Otto – No one can argue with that! You should brew Jeff some special WordPress Koolaid for the Tavern…

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  12. @Ian Stewart – That’s a good point!

    Jeff, if you’ve got good organizational skills, you can basically be a project manager, and outsource the technical bits. Charge clients $50-75/hour (or whatever your market will bear), pay out about 60-70% of that to your outsourced help for their time, and any overhead time (paperwork, conference calls, etc.) you keep all to yourself.

    The hardest part is reeling the clients in, and making decent time estimates. Learning to recognize problematic clients and tell them “no” is also essential. :)

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  13. To be honest, I feel that you have stronger ties (in some respects) to the WordPress community than I do. Shit… I have probably met Matt 4 or 5 times in person, and I’m still not convinced he even knows who I am. It’s awesome when he just pops in on your show and takes the conversation to an entirely new level. Your personality and your voice (just my opinion) is what draws the WP community to WPtavern.com and your show, and that is definitely something you can build on.

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  14. I’m with Jason (and everyone else) on this one. You know what there is to know, and you know the people necessary to make things happen. Put yourself you there!

    Maybe Matt could bring you on as a WP evangelist? You’re pretty awesome at it already :)

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  15. Jason’s post was great to read and I’m glad that it has given you some inspiration. I’ll echo everyone else’s comments and say that I think you have what it takes to strike out and really make something out of your love for WordPress.

    You’ve got a lot of great ideas and you’ve got your fingers in lots of pots, I think you just need to sit back and focus on what you really want to be able to do (and on what aspects are most important). Setting clear goals, at least for me, always helps.

    Also don’t sell yourself short when it comes to getting ads, WordCamp sponsorships or WordPress Weekly sponsorships. You have a broad reach and you are a connected part of the community; you can charge accordingly. Looking at your ad sheet, you point out numbers like RSS readers and forum members but not demographic information about who listens to your show, calls in and who visits your site — that’s the stuff that gives you value: the community you’ve helped cultivate.

    Best of luck to you, I know you’ll do great things!

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  16. @Saad Bassi – We agree with Saad – there must surely be a role for Jeff with Automattic, moderating a larger online community of press fanatics – showcasing BuddyPress as its foundation whilst he’s at it. He certainly has the passion, he just needs a helping hand…

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  17. this is one of my favorite wp sites, i’d happily toss over a couple dollars a month.

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  18. Hi, this brings to mind this really important post on problogger this week in which Darren Rowse breaks down his income for the month of April so you can see where and what different income streams he receives from his blogs. http://www.problogger.net/archives/2010/05/05/how-i-make-money-blogging-my-income-split-in-april-2010/
    Unless you don’t know Darren, he is one of the few bloggers who makes a six figure income from blogging.
    WP Tavern is a great blog, I am a bit of a lurker, but I really appreciate the info and insight here..Good luck with the monetization!

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  19. To build on the comments Brad, Trace, and Jason, here are a few ideas —

    WPTavern has already established itself as a highly regarded resource of WP news and conversation. You should build on the very strong credibility you already have. Expand the blog and topics. Hire guest writers and publish even more articles than you already do. More topics. Tutorials. In-depth news/interviews.

    As for increasing audio ad sales on the podcasts – Check out mixergy.com. Andrew Warner does a fantastic job of plugging his sponsors at the top of every show, and his approach clearly pays off. I might even suggest switching to a video podcast or video interviews. Could bring the show to the next level (and boost monetization).

    I think paid forum areas are a good idea. Definitely a paid job board. FreelanceSwitch does a great job of this by charging $7/month to apply for jobs, but posting jobs are free. This helps to weed out the non-serious applicants while keeping a steady flow of new jobs.

    This wouldn’t be in my best interest, as a premium theme company owner, but I’d consider doing paid reviews of premium WP products. You mentioned you receive loads of requests for reviews. I see nothing wrong with charging for this product promotion. You’d have to disclose the fact that it’s a paid review of course.

    Lastly, I wouldn’t underestimate your abilities as a consultant. You’re clearly very knowledgeable about WordPress and web development in general. You can certainly build a freelance business on that, even if it involves project managing WordPress projects / over-seeing contractors, etc.

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  20. Keep it simple.

    You already have the right knowledge and interests to help clients make the most of WordPress. You also have exactly the right type of traffic: people looking for WordPress tips and advice. A side panel on every page, drawing attention to your availability as consultant, would result in more work than you could handle.

    Don’t waste your time on branded merchandise, don’t mess with your audience by introducing any sort of pay wall (no matter how reasonable it may seem in your own head), just keep it simple, connect the pieces you already have and stop over-thinking the problem.

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  21. I’m not sure that charging for forum access would be a good idea. Jakob Nielson came up with the 90-9-1 / participation inequality rule. Basically, in an online community, 1% are active contributors while 90% are lurkers.

    You have a product which is currently free – podcasts. Personally, I’d try to monetize podcasts, rather than the forum. If people are willing to pay 99 cents for a 4 minute song, would they also pay for a 60 minute podcast (and a community hub like wptavern)?

    Perhaps people would be willing to pay 50 – 99 cents per podcast, or a 25 bucks a year subscription? I would.

    Any significant news from the podcasts are included in the shownotes or a subsequent post, so it’s not a case that the information wouldn’t be ‘out there’ in the community. If people want to listen to the podcast itself, they should be willing to pay for the value you provide.

    If it fails miserably, you could always pull a Brian Gardner and try something else :)

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  22. Jeffro,

    Great post man. I’m sure it’s a bit scary to come out and share to the world your thoughts like that. I always enjoy reading through your content and I’m sure everyone here agrees that your site is sort of a cornerstone resource in the WP community.

    Sounds like you’ve got some fantastic ideas and after reading through the comments it seems like everyone has great suggestions too.

    If you’re afraid to quit, don’t quit… YET. But for right now, follow through on those ideas and see where they go. Then make that decision to quit or not. Just don’t wait to try them even if you only have 5-10 hours a week to put into them at first.

    Best of luck man.

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  23. @Jeffro

    This is unarguably a touching piece of writing,
    full of passion ( which soon to be monetized. )

    and with help and support from the community,
    ( look at all the comments above ! )
    I think you will be more than okay on this.

    However…

    You said
    “I really hate the grocery store where I work.”

    and that’s not a healthy attitude.

    No one should ever really hate whatever job they do
    It’s part of life, doing things we sometimes don’t feel comfy with.

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  24. Hi Jeffro,

    I’ll just back up the opinion of those saying don’t rule yourself out as a consultant. As others have said you can always contract out any development work that needs to be done (and you have many connections), but you’d be more than capable of providing advice on setting a site up.

    Best of luck..

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  25. Hi Jeff,

    I’m all for jumping into the deep end of the pool. I’ve done it myself a few times. Self-employment is rough. It’s hard work and there are administrative tasks and new skills to learn — bookkeeping, sales and more. If you can work your 20-30 hour job, you still have time in the week to develop your business. I’d suggest you slug it out at the grocery store, and put in the extra time to chase your dream.

    When you do Tavern work, approach it the same as you would a real job. Punch the clock, don’t mess around with trivial tasks. Everything you do in that time should somehow advance your business development.

    There’s also the option of finding a job you like better. Polish up your resume and pass it around. Having a resume — even going through the exercise of self-evaluation when writing it — helps the self-employment cause.

    Think about what could possibly be on your plate: self-employment, new marriage, new home, questionable income. I think you have to make sure your home life is solid before you can go into business full-time.

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  26. I think you’re being too hard on yourself Jeff. I also think that you have a quite negative outlook on a lot of things. These two factors are always going to hold you back.

    Firstly, consulting is not out of your league. You have proved this many times with the articles you have written here. Believe me, there are a lot of people who know less about WordPress than you who are charging a few hundred dollars for consultation.

    Don’t let a lack of skills in a certain area hold you back either. For example, you could sell themes. You could pay someone else to design them and then release them yourself and provide the support. It’s not like guys like Shoemoney or Darren Rowse etc are doing everything themselves. They spend most of their time managing others.

    I started making websites in 2000 but didn’t make enough to go it alone until 2004. But I didn’t just sit back and hope for the best. I started going to nightschool after work in 2002/2003. I also saved enough from working that I was able to take a year out in 2001/2002 and go back to University for a year to do a post grad. Perhaps college isn’t for you. But what I would say is that it opens doors. It would certainly give you more options for your main job.

    I think you would be able to get a much better paying job than a grocery store. I don’t know your work experience or educational background but no one could possibly build a site such as this unless they were competent with computers and a competent writers.

    I admit. It can be very hard to juggle work, online work, the wife and your social life. So it comes down to how much you want it. And that’s something no one can teach. Unless you get the drive to go forward and the positive attitude to make it happen you’ll never change your current situation.

    Again, I think you just need a more positive outlook on things and believe yourself a bit more. And if you are unsure about where to go next, why not buy some books on making money online etc to give you some ideas.

    On a side note, I’d love to chat with you about working on a new project. I’m sure we could come up with a good side project between us. :)

    Good luck,
    Kevin

    p.s. I think I speak for everyone when I say that I admire your complete honesty in your post. You have been up front about a lot of personal details and asked for help and that’s never easy to do.

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  27. Jeff, I’d recommend you to start reading Seth’s Blog if you aren’t already. This post is a good starting point.
    You know, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog”.
    Plus, you know, I too am still running my blogs from my mobile. May be you can take that too as an inspiration..

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  28. Hey Jeff! Thanks for pointing us to the link. Loved it! Well, that is one thing I told myself when I jumped in making bucks from blogging. I took me 10 months to get my first check from Google … but things started changing gradually.. When I could start my own biz, i’m sure there is no reason why you can’t do it!

    Jason’s case is very interesting and inspirational and I wish you good luck with your upcoming venture.. [i’m sure there will be one pretty soon :) ]

    @Kevin & Jeff – Team up guys :)

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  29. Instead of focusing on the things you can’t do, focus on the things you want to do and then work on achieving them.

    Want to get some more technical chops and do consulting work? Nothing stopping you.

    Want to go from being a community enthusiast to being flown around the country to talk about WordPress at conferences (not just WordCamps)? Nothing stopping you.

    I’ll tell you this from experience – now is the time to start taking those first steps. You’re getting married, you might have kids one day soon, it gets a lot harder to make big changes in your life when your little angels are eating up a lot of your day (though they make you so happy doing it).

    PS – I’m honestly surprised you haven’t turned this site into a stronger authority review site for WordPress plugins, themes, etc and monetized that traffic with affiliate links. Nothing wrong with that if you’re doing honest reviews.

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  30. Instead of focusing on the things you can’t do, focus on the things you want to do and then work on achieving them.

    In a nut shell, this is what I’m going to try and do.

    As for the authority review site, that will happen over time. I’ve only started doing affiliate reviews this year and I will continue to do as they have been a big help.

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  31. Hi Jeff,

    I’m all for jumping into the deep end of the pool. I’ve done it myself a few times. Self-employment is rough. It’s hard work and there are administrative tasks and new skills to learn — bookkeeping, sales and more. If you can work your 20-30 hour job, you still have time in the week to develop your business. I’d suggest you slug it out at the grocery store, and put in the extra time to chase your dream.

    When you do Tavern work, approach it the same as you would a real job. Punch the clock, don’t mess around with trivial tasks. Everything you do in that time should somehow advance your business development.

    There’s also the option of finding a job you like better. Polish up your resume and pass it around. Having a resume — even going through the exercise of self-evaluation when writing it — helps the self-employment cause.

    Think about what could possibly be on your plate: self-employment, new marriage, new home, questionable income. I think you have to make sure your home life is solid before you can go into business full-time.

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