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One Year of Self-Employment: The Present

This Friday marks one year since I walked away from my career to become self-employed. I can’t believe it – it seems like it’s only been a few months! I’m taking some time this week to reflect on where I came from, where I am now, and where I hope to go from here. 

home office

The only time my desk has ever been clean

Yesterday I shared some of the circumstances that led me to quit my job and become self-employed. When I look back at the post where I confessed that I had put in my notice, it’s kind of funny to note the reactions. Most people were like, “Yeah, good luck with that.” And they were probably thinking, Wow, you’re going to crash and burn, dumbass. To be honest, I doubt anyone thought that as often as I did!

The first two months of 2012 were great. I had a bunch of freelance writing jobs, I was selling ads like crazy, and I didn’t have to touch my emergency fund. Then March came and the great Google PageRank slap happened. I won’t spend a ton of time talking about it because plenty of other bloggers have already done so, but my site was one of the “lucky” ones affected.

The penalty dropped my PageRank to zero, which made the site look spammy and low-quality to advertisers. I lost a ton of my freelance jobs because the site owners were (understandably) afraid to be connected to a site that had been penalized. Basically, my income disappeared almost overnight.

As if that wasn’t a big enough kick in the face, I couldn’t find a job to save my life. I filled out nearly 400 job applications and did not receive a single callback. As the weeks passed, my emergency fund evaporated at a disturbing rate. I didn’t want to take on more freelance work in case I actually did get a job because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the workload. It was a yucky situation with no good choices, and I started thinking maybe I made a mistake.

Remembering Plan B

One night a friend asked me to make a cover photo for her Facebook profile. Afterward she tried to pay me for it, and I told her, “I might be broke and jobless right now, but I’m not desperate enough to take your money.”

“But what about Plan B?” she asked. “Remember, you were talking about charging for design work if freelance writing didn’t pan out.”

Oh yeah, that’s right…. The funny thing about my coding and design skills is that I forgot I have them. It’s kind of like learning to read – once you do it long enough, you forget that not everyone can. Still, it felt weird to charge my friend for something that only took a few minutes, and I refused to take her money. But I did get serious about planning a web design business.

I cringe when I think back to how little I charged for my work in the beginning. I didn’t have a lot of choice – I didn’t have a portfolio and no one knew who I was; I had to bribe convince my friends to be my guinea pigs. Then as outside work started coming in, I felt guilty charging strangers more than I charged my friends. I ended up stuck in a cycle where I had to take on more projects than I could handle in order to pay my bills. Sure, it was stressful, but I was just happy to keep getting work.

The Business Becomes a Real Business

I have spent the last 8 months in a state of perpetual motion. Working on projects with clients. Redesigning my business site from the crappy one I put up in the beginning to the rather gorgeous creature it is now (pats self on back). Adding web hosting to the list of services I provide and moving servers to keep up with the growth – twice! Implementing systems for billing, quotes, and accounting. Filing LLC paperwork. Planning ahead. Debating whether to hire a virtual assistant. Napping occasionally.

I have worked with some of the most delightful people on the planet. I absolutely love watching someone’s idea turn into reality. That said, I have also worked with some people that made me want to pull out my hair. I have learned more on the fly than I ever could have learned in other circumstances. And every experience, good or bad, has taught me a LOT about working for myself.

During the course of all the chaos, Nuts and Bolts Media transformed from a single mom trying desperately to remain self-employed to a real business with expenses, accountants, and disclaimers (run by a single mom trying desperately to remain self-employed). I’ve been very cautious not to expand too quickly, and my business is still very much a one-woman show, but it is completely different today than it was when I started.

One Year Later: Where I Stand Financially

Self-employment has been amazing, but it has definitely wreaked havoc on my finances. Especially since my carefully saved emergency fund was KOed within the first few months! But since this blog started out about money, it only makes sense that I discuss that a little bit.

As of today, I have made $24,000 this year after taxes. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but consider my 2011 post tax income of $19,800 from my full-time job (not counting my online income). Oh yeah, that’s how bad the paycheck situation was. And don’t forget the fact that I had at least two months with no income at all. The great thing about living in a low COL area is that $24k in my pocket isn’t too bad – I only needed about $16k to cover all my living expenses.

The biggest adjustment for me has been the irregularity of my income. As I write this post, for example, I’m at 110% of my income goal for December and it’s not even halfway through the month. However, with Christmas coming up, I could very well go 2 or 3 weeks before I make anything else. I cannot stress enough how important it has been for me to allocate every dollar responsibly.

That means using credit cards again, but only for my personal and business expenses (NOT shopping!). Then making sure I move enough money into the appropriate accounts to pay the cards off each month. That means taking money away from myself as quickly as I earn it, just in case I hit a dry spell for a few weeks. I’ve earned enough for a few luxuries here and there, and I definitely haven’t gone without anything I needed, but I have to be aware of my finances at all times.

I’ve made very little progress in paying down my remaining debt (my car loan and student loan) this year. I deferred my student loans last fall when my paychecks were crazy and I’ve opted to leave them that way until things are more stable. I had to cut back to the regular payment on my car loan instead of the huge overpayment I was making before. (The balance is down to $7600, though. Yay!) I also sucked at contributing to my Roth IRA this year; I only saved about $1000.

While I’m not thrilled with my financial progress in 2012, I can’t help being pleased that (1) all my bills were paid, (2) I haven’t taken on any new debt, and (3) I still saved money despite the circumstances. All I can do is push myself to do better in 2013.

The State of the Whitmer Household

One year after I left my job to become self-employed, I look at my life and wonder how all this is possible.

I spend all day doing something I love. I’m finally able to be home with my son and his grades have improved dramatically. I get stressed, but not on the same level as before. I have so much to be thankful for and I try not to take this experience for granted.

Even before my last day at my former job, I seriously doubted my ability to remain self-employed for an entire year. I knew I was willing to work hard, but I still didn’t have much confidence that I could accomplish anything like this. I pictured myself trying really valiantly, then admitting defeat and slinking back to a job as a therapist. And at the time, I was okay with that – I just needed to find out for myself if I could do it.

Today, my attitude has changed. While I am always aware that my business could fail at any time (knock on wood), I don’t doubt my capabilities like I did before. I don’t wonder whether I’ll be able to handle the chaos because I know I can. And while my goals for 2013 will still include “remain self-employed for a whole year” like they did for 2012, there’s so much more on the list.

I appreciate all of you for allowing me this slightly self-absorbed walk down memory lane… No matter what comes next, I never want to forget where I came from, and I can’t wait to find out how far I can still go. Tomorrow I’ll share some of my plans for myself and my business in 2013.


  1. It been a joy watching your growth and the only way to go from here is UP!

  2. Great progress Andrea! I can see your strength and confidence growing with each post.

    So, my question to you as you close out a successful year in 2012, "Do you still think there is a monopoly on being rich?" It certainly seems like no as your risk-taking, hard-working, and confidence is taking off.

    I was pleasantly bashed for writing my 300 word pep talk post, and would love to hear your thoughts again.



    • I see certain aspects of my business becoming more profitable with time – for instance, the hosting part of the business now pays for itself plus about one month of my expenses – and I look forward to the day that the more automated tasks pay the bills so the design work is just for fun. That said, do I think I'll ever become wealthy running this business? Not at all. And I'm okay with that.

      I have to acknowledge the fact that many people wouldn't have been able to do what I did. I had a particular set of opportunities and circumstances early in life (such as a geeky engineer dad who made me learn to code when I was a kid) that made my business a logical and easy choice. Without the chance to learn those skills, last March probably would have meant a return to a "real" job for me. That's not to say I'm the most talented designer ever or that NO ONE else could learn to do this, but in my exact situation I think many people would have gone straight back to work. And that's assuming they would have been unhinged enough to try this in the first place.

      Our capabilities as human beings are all the same on a basic level, but it's our experiences that really shape what we can do. I won't say wealth is impossible – I could go back to school and become a surgeon or something and make all kinds of money. But that's not realistic for a lot of reasons. Based on 30 years of being me, I think it's safe to say that I'll never be wealthy, especially not with the business I've chosen. And again, I'm perfectly okay with that.

      • Thanks for your perspective Andrea.

        One of my points on FS, that is peppered throughout my posts is that so many of us are ALREADY wealthy. We just need to realize it and cherish it. Wealth is about progress, love, and the basics. Everything else is a bonus compared to so much of the rest of the world.

        There has to be a belief. You have coding and design skills. I have jack doo doo. But, I believe I can survive and one day thrive online because of other traits. If I don't believe in myself, nobody else will.

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I enjoy seeing how others try on entrepreneurship. It sounds like things are really looking up for 2013!

    • I sure hope so! I'm always scared to say things are going well – I'm superstitious like that. But I can't ignore the work I've put into this and I hope it will continue to pay off.

  4. That's awesome!! A lot of people never make penny when they start a business.

    Now, you need to do direct-response marketing (Yes, snail mail).

    • That was actually on my to-do list for this fall, since I anticipated a slowdown in business around the holidays. Unfortunately that hasn't happened – I've been too busy to even think about it! At this point I haven't done the first task related to marketing, but I know there will come a point when it has to happen.

  5. Congrats on your milestone! As a long time lurker, I am happy to see that self employment is working out well for you financially and emotionally. I am especially happy it is helping your son. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for delurking, Caitlin! I kick myself sometimes for not doing something like this when Jayden was younger, but I try to be happy that I'm able to do it now. He's like a different kid and I'm thankful for that more than anything else.

  6. Congratulations. As you implied, the intangibles are more important that just the earnings.

  7. I'm super glad you realised your design/coding chops were worth something! Pretty much any skill will pay better than freelance writing, as a general rule of thumb. Such is life.

    • Yeah, it's definitely easier to earn money with what I'm doing now. I still love to write; just don't have as much time for it as I did before. Hopefully that will change next year!

  8. sunshineandseashellsblog says

    So glad you shared this! Your hard work is incredible.

  9. Great job having a plan B! ANd awesome that your friend reminded you of it. It's funny how we forget that stuff sometimes because we're so stuck on the original idea. You've definitely grown and become more professional over time, at least that's what I've noticed. Great job! I'm starting to work on a small business idea, and I think in a coupel years I'll be quitting my job and getting things going. Maybe I'll hit you up for advice if I start failling 🙂

    • Let's hope you don't fail! You have an incredible skill set and I can't wait to see what kind of business you decide to start. If I can provide any help or advice just let me know!

  10. plantingourpennies says

    Not that my opinion matters all that much in the grand scheme of things, but these two posts are the best I've read in a long time. Thank you.

    • That's so nice of you to say – thank you! I feel like they're kind of OMG LOOK AT ME but I really needed to celebrate the fact that I made it this long. 😀

  11. Congrats on the one year mark! I was actually sitting here and asking myself how long I've been at this self-employment thing…I completely forgot about my one year mark in June! Yay for both of us. 🙂 Yeah, June 2011 to March 2012 was great, then April 2012 to now has been the results of the Google PR slap. Stupid Google. But overall, we are happier now than ever before and making enough to pay all of our bills and some extras. We still need to pay off our two mortgages and max out our Roth IRA's for 2012, but as you said, we are supremely grateful and just try to enjoy every day…

  12. Congratulations on your first year down. Here's hoping 2013 turns you into one of those evil $250,000+ earners I hear so much about.

  13. Major congratulations! I'd love to do design freelance, just don't have the balls to give up a regular income just yet!

  14. bobbie mcmahon says

    Congratulations ! I love your post . They are always funny and true to life . I have learned alot reading your posts . I look forward to reading a new one or two each week. For the a little less then a year I have been reading your post , all I can says Keep moving forward !

  15. Hey Andrea…
    It has been fun watching you grow from where you were to where you are now from the point I entered your so over debt blog. I am also honoured to spread the word that you will turn CBB into my Dream Come True and I may be either on your awesomeness list of clients or tear you hair out list.. but I can assure you that your work will never go unnoticed as I noticed as have many others here!! Keep at it and looking forward to making your days… happier 😉 Mr.CBB

  16. Good for you! What a huge bonus about your son doing better too, no job is worth it if your family is suffering since it's what drives us to succeed right!? Keep up the great work and I hope to use your services some day soon 🙂

  17. I love that you have found your confidence and are starting to charge what you are worth. Things may seem so easy or second nature to you, but most of us have no clue how to do them. Can't wait to see how 2013 goes!

  18. @blondeonabudget says

    Lady, you are making me want to work from home more and more, with every word you write. I'm so happy for you and what this year has brought you. You've worked damn hard for it. I can't wait to see what this post reads like in 2013!

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