I had an epiphany: I could work less and achieve more

One of the first questions you should ask yourself when setting up a business is: why am I doing this? Annie Ridout revisited her initial reasons for setting up The Early Hour and realised she’d lost her path. So now she’s making a change…

We were in my mother-in-law’s kitchen over Christmas and I was moaning to my husband about my workload. I just never get a break, I said. I’m either working or thinking about working. I sneak off to the loo to schedule Instagram posts. I ignore the kids so that I can reply to an email.

Working during the baby’s naps and in the evening (every evening) is stressful – he can wake at any time. So at the weekend I’ll spend at least some of our ‘family time’ glued to my laptop. Finishing off a journalism commission, writing some corporate copy, blogging for BabyCentre or editing articles to be published on The Early Hour.

This is my choice. We’ve both set up a work-life scenario that allows us plenty of time with the kids. My husband drops our daughter at preschool, while I collect her each day. We eat dinner as a family at 5.30pm. But this means squeezing our freelance work in wherever we can – and so family and work inevitably overlap.

On the whole, it works. But as I was saying to my husband, while stirring porridge, it catches up with me sometimes. I realised that I never have a day off. ‘Me-time’ consists of a five-minute run in the morning and five-minute bath at night. Other that those 10 minutes, I’m constantly on duty: mumming or earning money.

When my son was born, early last year, I started writing again after two weeks – breastfeeding him on one side and typing with my free hand. Then switching to the other side. Because I love my work, this was OK. I got to be with him all the time but also keep my foot in the door (and my mind stimulated). But it wasn’t easy.

And so this Christmas, I decided to reassess. I want to earn the same money, feel just as engaged with my work, but reduce the hours I put in. It occurred to me that putting out an article a day on The Early Hour was my biggest challenge. I’d been doing it for over two years, but it meant I had continuous under-lying stress.

I relayed this to my husband; that it was keeping up with creating seven pieces of content a week – and scheduling them on WordPress with all the SEO tags, scheduling social media – that was stressing me out. And he said, simply:

Stop doing it, then. Put out one article a week.

I can’t, I said. Viewing figures will go down. It will affect my SEO (Google loves fresh content).

Why does that matter? he replied.

And I realised that no one looks at my viewing figures, except me. When companies like Water Wipes work with me on ad campaigns, it’s because I’ve grown a brand and a following. I have nearly 50,000 readers each month, and around 15,000 social media followers. But more important than figures is how engaged those people are. And they definitely are engaged.

About 80% of my daily traffic comes from a mixture of social media referrals and SEO – ie. people searching Google and my website popping up. So I reasoned that putting out one article a week but spending more time scheduling social media would spread the content further. And the SEO would keep people coming via Google.

Putting out one article a week would take significantly less time but could, potentially, have greater results.

Judging by the Google analytics, people tend to binge-read The Early Hour. Some people come to the website every morning at 5am and read that day’s article but most visit once a week and catch up on the articles they’ve missed that look appealing. So I wouldn’t be disappointing too many readers by reducing the output.

My business values

I decided to revisit my business plan, the one I wrote back in January 2016. I’d written down MY BIG THREE BUSINESS VALUES for The Early Hour:

To be inclusive.
To be ethically and environmentally aware.
To be personable.

It was satisfying to recognise that I’ve achieved these goals. I’ve maintained my business values. I’ve told stories about people from different cultural backgrounds, with various mental health concerns and physical abilities. I’ve written about how to have a greener Christmas, and promoted ethical products.

But the thing I’m most proud of – and that I’ve enjoyed most – is developing a relationship with my readers. I’ve spoken to women and men from all walks of life who’ve related to or been affected by the content. I’ve made new friends – online and in the real world.

People have shared their hugely personal stories for the first time on The Early Hour (like Samantha Valentine talking bravely about her current postnatal depression, and Sunita Harley discussing her IVF journey) because they trust the platform.

I’ve learned about how to get a mention in The Sunday Times, a first-person article about my business in the Guardian, and interviews/posts on an array of brilliant parenting blogs and magazines (like Maternity Leave Life, the Parentpreneur podcast and Doing it for the Kids).

There is money to be made from online publishing – sponsored content, banner ads, affiliate marketing, on-going corporate campaigns and sponsorship – and I’ve made it. There are tricks to securing these deals, and I’ve become proficient at getting the fee I deserve.

I’ve become an expert in SEO (basically, getting up to the top in Google searches). I’ve learned how to grow my readership, social media followers and develop an ever-expanding community of parents. And how to speak to that community; how to start conversations that they’ll want to be a part of.

In terms of content for The Early Hour, it’s always been about putting out meaningful articles and interviews to enlighten, educate, inspire, motivate or spread joy. In order to do this, I don’t need to put out one article a day. I can publish one a week and really connect with it, rather than rushing to get it finished.

Another question I was asked while writing my business plan was:

Why are you doing this?

My answer was: to build a business that works around my family; to be around for my kids.

It’s important to keep going back to your initial reason for setting up shop and to see if this has changed, and if not – whether it’s still working for you. Right now, it’s not working for me. I feel stressed and angry because I’m not giving enough to my kids, and I’m not giving enough to my business.

Reducing the content from seven articles a week to one would cut a large portion of that stress out. It would free me up to help other businesses, bloggers, websites, entrepreneurs and freelancers to flourish. I recently started consulting – offering advice and guidance to businesses and freelancers – and I love doing this work.

I love it, partly, because it’s finite. I meet with a business owner for a day, or four hours, to discuss the direction they’re going in and how to grow their followers/customers. Or I might develop a customised ‘how to do your own PR’ package for a new business. Or I’ll write a freelance article for Stylist or the Guardian, or the copy for Clementine app. But I complete the job and then move on.

And between these projects, I can spend time with my husband and kids – not checking my phone every five minutes. We can have a holiday and leave the laptop at home. I’ll still be engaging with The Early Hour and the community I’ve built, but I’ll be growing it more gradually – without compromising the very reason I set it up: to spend time with my family.

So, from now on, I’ll be putting out one article a week.

And this will enable me to help other people in these areas:

Writing articles –
I have a print and online journalism MA, and have spent 10+ years writing for local and national newspapers and women’s magazines (including The Guardian, Stylist Magazine, Red Magazine, The Telegraph, The Hackney Gazette, The Western Gazette). My areas of expertise are: parenting, mornings, women, business and tech.

Blogging –
Fresh content is a great way to shoot up to the top of Google searches and get new people to your website. I can help you to set up a blog, and write regular posts – one a day, or a week, or a month – to get people talking about you and your business. There’s a reason everyone’s doing it.

Copywriting –
Perhaps you need some copy for your website – to liven up your ‘about’ page, or a newsletter written each week. You might want help writing the text for a digital or print advert. Good copy catches people’s eyes and can be hugely seductive in terms of sales. Whatever it is, I can write it for you.

Social media –
Together, we can work out a strategy for you and your business. Whether you want to dominate one channel or reach out to people across the social media board – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+ – I can help by sourcing beautiful imagery, scheduling interesting posts, responding to comments and engaging with users. This way, your profile will continue to grow…

Short films –
My husband is a filmmaker and I’m a journalist. Together, we make short films highlighting social issues (in fact today we’re shooting one for Metro – a commission for an article and film on elderly people and loneliness). We’re also able to make short, snappy promotional films for businesses, freelancers and charities.

Consulting –
I love sharing my hard-earned knowledge on digital publishing, creating content, SEO, blogging, setting up a business, juggling parenting and work, social media, securing freelance work – in journalism, and in other fields, too. Most importantly, I can tell you how to make sales/money. And we all need a bit of that.

Brand collaborations –
My own work almost always focuses on women, and often mums. So I’ve learned what topics will spark debate. If you’re selling to women – with or without kids – I can help you with your branding. Or we can collaborate via The Early Hour. Perhaps you’d benefit from advice on developing a voice on Instagram – the fastest growing social media site.

PR –
The best person to promote your business is usually YOU. So I can develop a package for you with press contacts, teaching you how and when to contact editors, and how to develop lasting relationships with journalists. (As both a journalist and an editor, I know a thing or two about this). You’ll have all the tools for securing really good coverage yourself.

For more info, and my day rate, visit annieridout.com/services.

What do you think about my decision to reduce The Early Hour content and focus on other areas of my career?