My boss had just told me the company was going in a different direction when that embarrassing sound squelched from my throat. Though I had under $3,000 in savings and no immediate prospects, I wasn’t devastated. I was relieved.
I’d been blogging for a premium men’s site for nearly a year. After writing four 800-word articles a day for months, I was burned out, bleary eyed and begging for the end. My heart had abandoned the work. I knew I wasn’t growing as a writer because my only challenge was to eek through the day without going cross-eyed.
I needed a wake-up call.
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Luckily, I got canned. My newfound joblessness made me evaluate what I was doing. It forced me into action. Having stashed $3,000 in the bank, I had two months to plan and execute something better than churning out bad articles for peanuts, or I’d be homeless.
Here are three factors that shaped my plan.
- I knew I couldn’t skimp out on quality to make a living because it had just gotten me fired. It also caused me to hate writing.
- I refused to work with one-dimensional clients, who would sooner fire me than help me grow as a writer.
- And I needed to work with real people in real life. The faceless business relationships had gotten me quick cash, but I still hadn’t found the security I needed to flourish as a writer. I wanted to be needed on a team where my growth was valued as much as my contributions.
Considering all this, I put a massive effort into getting the right clients and being the right writer. Here’s what I did.
I looked for the right clients.
I spent four hours a day researching the best companies within 100 miles of my home in Albuquerque. I poured through different companies’ websites and marketing materials to see where I could be useful. When I found a good match, I’d spend a couple hours drafting the perfect proposal for how I could enhance their business.
Then I made a couple daily cold calls to the companies I really wanted to work for - to let them know I was serious. I also scoured the local newspapers to see which businesses were doing cool things I could feel good about supporting.
I improved as a writer.
Two months of expenses gave me a bit of breathing room but not enough to be comfortable. I knew I had to improve as a writer and make myself indispensable, or I’d be broke and begging for change. So I learned about my profession as if my life depended on it. It helped that my life actually depended on it.
When I wasn’t researching new companies and drafting new pitches, I was nose-deep in any writing book I could get my hands on, such as The Elements of Style and Sin and Syntax. When my eyes got too tired to read, I practiced what I learned writing for authority websites and random freelance gigs. I disciplined myself to spend four hours a day each on learning, writing and job hunting.
Far from getting burnt out, I got hungrier for success. Job hunting landed me interviews with some of the best companies in town, where I met with creative directors and marketing managers. They showed interest in my work, and it motivated me to keep pushing ahead.
Because I had put so much effort into improving as a writer and approaching new companies, I had faith that I’d land the right job.
I increased my pay.
At precisely the time my savings ran out, I was hired by a wellness company that I’d put days into researching and pitching.
The marketing manager and I were about the same age, and we liked each other. I was excited to be her go-to writer. The company brought me on for in-house copywriting and editing, which I had zero experience in. But, because of my portfolio, my dedication and the sincerity of my interviews, the company had faith in my ability to add value to their team.
I started writing articles at $450 per piece and editing at $45 an hour, which gave me time to put my best effort into the work. Sometimes I’d spend five hours writing and refining. Sometimes I’d spend seven. But I never submitted a piece that I wasn’t completely satisfied with.
Because I shifted my focus to quality, I wowed my colleagues and cemented myself as the writer who knew his craft. And instead of getting fired over the phone, I was asked to collaborate on bigger projects. I even was referred to other businesses in the community.
Today I earn 10 times more than I used to because I bring 10 times the value. And after devoting so much of my time to learning and improving, I’m confident in that value. So are the companies who hire me.
Here are 10 things I do differently now.
- I constantly encourage myself, and challenge myself to become better.
- I visualize the businesses I want to work with; how excited they are to work with me; how good it feels to be needed; and how accomplished I feel while writing my best.
- I write and edit for several hours each day - no matter what.
- I limit my use of social media, email and text messages, committing to hours of real work before checking any incoming information.
- I read as much about writing as I write, and I read great authors to break down their style.
- I never rush myself. For every article published I spend many hours over several weeks writing, revising, editing and polishing. I only submit work that increases my reputation.
- I take care of my body through diet and exercise so that I have the energy to focus for hours on end.
- I give myself time to detach completely from work and relax. I recharge by meditating, listening to classical music, going for walks and playing my favorite sports. If quality work means taking care of my personal needs for most of the day, then I just do less work.
- I choose quality friends because I know they influence my behavior. So if I have a choice to be around complacent and underachieving people, or to be alone, I choose the latter. In the words of George Washington, "It is far better to be alone than to be in bad company."
- I journal. Every night I reflect on what I did, how well I did it, where I need to improve and what I can accomplish tomorrow.
I increased my pay by 1000 percent in three months by learning as much as I could, by disciplining myself to improve as a writer and by finding the employers who would invest in my best work. My quality of life skyrocketed along with my quality of work.
If you’re looking for job security, a bigger paycheck and better opportunities, just remember the the most important word you'll ever read: Quality.