9 Action Steps to Building the Ideal Writer’s Life (Even If You’re Working Full-Time)
I’m still pinching myself to make sure it’s real.
In early June, I attended a conference in Atlanta sponsored by the New Zealand-based global accounting software company Xero. A friend brought me to the VIP party, where I met the U.S. President of Xero and the VP of Global Marketing.
They’d like to work with me — after all, it’s not every day that you meet a Business-to-Business (B2B) copywriter who’s also a CPA. We’re still in the courtship phase, but I have a feeling that a business trip to New Zealand is in my future.
I’m also in talks with three other accountants I met at the conference who need help writing books. Two of those accountants live in Australia, so it’s possible I’ll be making a side jaunt Down Under.
Since January, I’ve been working full-time as a B2B copywriter for the accounting industry. I’m on track to make more this year than I ever did in my 15 years working as an accountant.
I’m living the dream. I work from home, where part of my daily routine is daily dog walks around the neighborhood. I’m free to travel with my husband, and I ditched the suits and heels and replaced them with sweats and sandals.
So, how did I get here?
Five years ago, I was miserable.
I hated my job as a CPA in a small public accounting firm in Albuquerque. Long hours, pressure to get mind-numbingly tedious work done quickly and accurately combined with office politics gave me an ulcer. Every time I thought about doing that work for the rest of my life, it was like looking down a dark tunnel with no exit.
I had to get out.
Then The Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting dropped into my lap. I had never considered writing as a career, even though I was known at the accounting firm as the one who could write the best persuasive letters to the IRS defending our clients.
Yet, writing seemed like a perfect fit — I could work from home and have the flexibility to travel with my husband. And with my background as an accountant, surely I could leverage that somehow.
And I did. But I also followed these nine action steps that helped me create my ideal writer’s life …
You need a powerful why, or it won’t happen
Why do you want to create your writer’s life? If your reasons aren’t powerful enough, you won’t have the drive to make it happen. And you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, or you’ll just be replacing one misery with another.
As I studied persuasive writing, marketing for accountants, and the ways technology is disrupting that industry, my why evolved.
I’ve developed a passion for helping accountants build better businesses. I love uncovering what makes a firm unique among all others and creating marketing messages that demonstrate that uniqueness to the world. That means their best clients can find them online.
I also write for software companies and industry trade journals. I get tremendous satisfaction from connecting accountants with the knowledge and software tools that help them serve their clients better.
Your why could be family. Do you want to be home with your children to see them grow up? Or maybe you have health challenges that make it difficult to work full time? Perhaps you want to travel the world. Or maybe you just want to make a little extra money on the side.
Starting a writing business while you’re working full-time — as I did — is a big commitment. You won’t have nearly as much free time. You might have to give up a few things — like watching a couple of hours of TV every night, or sleeping in on weekends.
But if your why is powerful enough, it won’t feel like sacrifice, or suffering, or struggle.
Create a schedule and commit with an accountability partner
When I started working my way through The Accelerated Program, I set weekly quotas of how much I wanted to complete. At first, I didn’t stick to my schedule too well. I must have restarted that program three or four times before I finally got all the way through it.
What really helped was when I reached out to a supportive friend and asked her to be my accountability partner. I didn’t ask much of her — just that she be a supportive recipient of weekly emails to keep me on task.
Every Sunday, I emailed her a list of my goals for the week, and the progress I’d made on my goals from the week before. In my weekly planner, I made notes of what I did every day to move my business forward.
Just knowing that I had to report back to my friend weekly motivated me to find scraps of time at lunch, before work, evenings, and weekends to do something (more on that later).
Today, with the many Facebook groups sponsored by AWAI, you can easily find another writer in search of an accountability partner. Or reach out to a supportive friend as I did.
Choose a niche, and master it
As a CPA, it seemed logical for me to specialize in the accounting industry. It was tough to get traction at first. There aren’t many accountants who can write, so I had very few role models who had built successful businesses writing for accountants.
But today, that’s my secret weapon. Because there are very few with this combination of right and left brain abilities, I stand out very clearly.
If you have professional experience, leveraging that expertise can open up a gold mine of opportunities. You can really stand out if you’re an AWAI-trained copywriter AND a professional.
Mastering that niche meant I had to develop a two-pronged approach in my studies: mastery of persuasive writing and keeping on top of trends in accounting.
Demanding, yes. But well worth it.
Today, that mastery has paid off. People find me online and want my help.
At accounting conferences, eyes pop open when they find out that I’m a CPA and a freelance writer. “Oh! I definitely need to talk to you!”
Exploit scraps of time
Working as a CPA means working long hours certain times of the year. You might be in the same type of situation. But if you use those precious extra few moments of spare time, you’ll move much quicker to reaching your writer’s life goals.
Where can you find those snippets of time?
- I listened to podcasts in the mornings while I got ready for work, and then on my 40-minute drive to work. I split my focus between copywriting podcasts such as B2B Writing Success, and accounting podcasts.
- I took a flash drive with e-books and course materials with me to work so I could study at lunch.
- After I got home from work, I checked my email to read my daily emails from AWAI and other newsletters I subscribed to. I also logged into LinkedIn and made comments on posts by possible prospects and thought leaders at least twice a week.
- After dinner, I spent an hour or so studying — or doing simple tasks on client projects once I began getting clients.
- On weekends, I got up early and worked on client projects for an hour or so before joining my husband for breakfast. Once I started getting more clients, the bulk of my weekends and time off from work was spent on writing.
- To stay focused, I plan my days and use a timer to keep on task. I’ve found that the work will expand to fill the time I give it. Having little time — as I did when I was getting started — meant I had to be super focused when I was at work.
Meet other writers
Attending Bootcamp for the first time in 2014 was a game-changer for me. That year, I met many other fledgling first-timers like myself, and “A-listers” like Marcella Allison. Some of those first-timers like Jon Stoltzfus have achieved great success. One of the very first wanna-be writers I met is in my mastermind group today (more about masterminds below).
Before Bootcamp, I had no frame of reference, no connection to other writers. Being in a room full of writers and hearing some of the masters speak, and actually shaking hands with them (!!) gave me a boost of confidence that I could do this too!
I met B2B masters Steve Slaunwhite and Ed Gandia at that first Bootcamp. And when I met Charlotte Hicks and discovered that she was a CPA too, I knew I had found my home.
Join groups that support you in your goals
So far, I’ve joined two key groups that have made a difference in my reaching my goals.
One was Circle of Success. As a COS member, I have access to an incredible range of courses and expertise. Here’s a small sample of what I’ve done: I’ve done all the B2B courses, which helped me understand the nuances of writing for decision makers in businesses. Nick Usborne’s Web Copywriting 2.0 has been a life changer for me by creating the context for writing on the Web. And Ilise Benun’s pricing course helped me figure out a framework and strategy for pricing and earning a living.
Joining COS was the best investment I’ve ever made. Not just the coursework, but the support from AWAI, fellow COS members, and instructors has made it worth every penny. And if I ever think of some skill or mindset or tool I need, chances are AWAI has it.
The second group is a mastermind. Two years ago, after my third Bootcamp, I joined a group of powerful women in a mastermind. Two members of that group were on the Success Panel at Bootcamp last year.
This mastermind has really propelled me forward. Our weekly Zoom meeting is equal parts connection, encouragement, and peer review. We cheer each other’s success and offer ideas to find clients, structure our days, and work with clients. We share pieces we’re currently working on to make them better.
Looking for a mastermind? Come to Bootcamp and grab a couple of new writers!
Ask your boss for flexibility
This option won’t work for everyone, but when you can make it work, it’s a huge help.
Over a two-year period, I was able to transition from working full-time as a CPA and part-time as a writer to working full-time as a writer and part-time as a CPA.
What made that possible is a huge talent shortage for accountants. Unemployment for accountants and bookkeepers ranges from 0.5% to about 2%, depending on the experience level and the type of work.
So I left the firm where I’d spent 11 years and moved to a firm that offered more pay and a flexible, hourly schedule. They offered me a job with the full understanding that I might be gone in a year or two. I even wrote a newsletter for that firm until they merged into a bigger firm.
During busy times, I worked four 10-hour days, then after the madness of tax season, I flexed down to three days a week, then to two, and finally to just one day a week. Splitting my week so that I worked Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday as a CPA and as a writer the rest of the week worked best for me.
Attend local networking events
Even if there isn’t anyone in your niche at local events, you might meet someone who can refer you to a great prospect.
The regular conversations I had with entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives at local networking events gave me confidence that I was on the right track. Talking about what I did — even before I had any clients — was the perfect opportunity to practice my elevator pitch.
An early high point was introducing myself to the founder of a local marketing agency and hearing him say “great tagline” when I handed him the first iteration of my business card, which said “B2B Copywriting by a CPA.” I still use that tagline.
Keep moving forward
Building a writing business while I was working a demanding job was challenging. But once I had all the ingredients assembled, it didn’t feel like sacrifice. I was creating something new for myself and my family.
Now I work from home where I can watch a roadrunner make its rounds of our yard every morning. My husband and I can travel to see family and friends, and my clients have no idea I’m not at home.
Best of all, I have a new career that I love!
Do you have any questions about these action steps for getting started? Please share in the comments below.