Carrie Smith Nicholson is the founder of carefulcents.com where she works as a financial influencer and productivity blogger. Using her past experience as a small business accountant, she helps burned out business owners get more done in less time. Her business strategies and productivity tips have been featured in Inc. Magazine, Redbook, Glamour, and other media outlets. Read on to see how Carrie got started with her home-based blogging adventure.
You started your blogging journey in the small business accounting world, tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
After getting divorced when I was 25, I decided to change my life. I had over $14,000 of debt and could only afford to live in a crappy apartment. I had hit rock bottom and knew that there was only one place to go – up! So I began paying off all my debt and launched a business talking about my debt and career struggles.
Since then, my blog, carefulcents.com, has become a helpful resource for other freelancers and small business owners. I offer a private Facebook community that’s a safe space to ask questions and find answers, as well as work with freelancers one-on-one to create systems and processes to avoid burning out. Helping freelancers and entrepreneurs get their money and business organized is something I’m very passionate about.
Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been fascinated by numbers and the business side of doing business. So naturally, when I discovered that a lot of people need unbiased and honest financial help, I wanted to fill the void and help their ventures succeed. My goal in everything I do is to help creatives be more productive and create better business systems so they can stop chasing money and start living.
Do you have any special training?
I went to a tech school where I learned about business and accounting. I then took classes to become a Tax Specialist for small businesses as well as became a Certified Bookkeeper. However, this was all because I wanted to excel at my 9-5 job and have since let those certifications lapse to pursue a more relaxed blogging career. However, the financial education I received has helped me get to where I am today. It has allowed me to understand what accountants are saying so I can break them down into more understandable language for business owners.
How are you monetizing your blog?
I currently monetize my blog through brand sponsorships and affiliate partnerships. I get paid via commissions for sales as well as ongoing retainers with startups and brands. I test out different apps and tools and then share tutorials on my blog. The business owners who read my blog can try out these tools for themselves, saving them time and money, and I’ll earn a small commission. I also co-host workshops and campaigns with brands so they can showcase how their product works. Freelancers can find new apps and test out new tools so they can earn more money in less time. I’m able to help them avoid the headache of testing out new ideas and processes, so they don’t have to waste time trying out different apps that won’t work for them.
Give us an example of how you landed one of your first clients.
I’ve been full-time freelance for over four years, and in the beginning, I wanted to work with a new bank startup with which I was obsessed. I started following them on social media and found out they were going to the same conference as I was. So I reached out and set up a meeting with them in person. I pitched them the idea of writing for their banking blog for free, as long as I could use the samples in my portfolio. They accepted, and I landed my first client! They committed to paying me for my work after three months, and I’ve landed paying gigs ever since.
How do you minimize income peaks and valleys?
I’ve come up with several strategies for minimizing the ups and downs of self-employment. The first is to seek out ways to get paid faster. This could mean increasing your invoice NET 30 to NET 15, which is what I currently do. Or maybe you need to offer customers an incentive for paying upfront. The point is first to figure out why your money is all over the place and find ways to level that out by getting paid more frequently.
The second thing that helps with income peaks and valleys is diversifying my income or creating multiple income streams. I no longer rely on freelancing as the majority of my income. Relying on one source of revenue is dangerous, especially if you get stiffed or payment is delayed. Right now I have eight different streams of income coming in every month, including a few investments, passive income, and revenue from my business.
How has your blogging business evolved over the years?
I started out as a financial writer but have since evolved into more of a business blogger and productivity expert. I still work with the same clients and target many of the same readers; I’m just a bit more focused (or niched down, if you will). I enjoy numbers and working with money, so that’s never changed, and I still help business owners get their finances organized so they can pay fewer taxes, and feel confident about money.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own blog or freelance business?
Don’t go into debt for your business, especially not your first one. Debt can cripple your business before it even gets going, and once you’re in debt, it’s very difficult to get on top of it. Start small and as your business grows you can increase your resources and investments to expand it. Learn how to be scrappy and think outside the box, lean into your creativity instead of taking on debt to pay the bills. Don’t just throw money at your business as a way of fixing the problems.
Embrace your inner tenacity! Don’t give up. Usually, it’s right when your business is on the verge of exploding that you’re nearly ready to throw in the towel and give up. And I should know, as that’s what happened to me! After I got burned out and stumbled so many times I didn’t want to continue, I reached into myself and pulled out my inner tenacity. I wanted to give up, but I’m thankful I didn’t. Since then, my business has taken off, and I’m on track to earn more than six figures this year.
How do you manage all of your personal and blogging activities? Do you outsource any parts of your business?
I used to outsource many parts of my business, and I even hired three team members to help me manage everything. But that can get expensive and overwhelming. So I’ve since established business systems and use apps to streamline all of this for me, instead of hiring people. Now, I do everything myself and no longer have to pay people to do these jobs. I have a friend who calls me the queen of automation, and it’s true. Whether it’s a business task or personal to-do, everything gets written down and put into my calendar.
I’m passionate about focus management versus time management and try to keep everything as digital as possible. I journal every day, do weekly reviews to make sure I’m on track, and make time for self-care. It’s important to get everything out of my head so that I have room to be creative and can brainstorm new ideas and services. I’m always thinking outside the box, and staying organized helps me to do that. That’s the key to managing everything successfully – put your mental and physical health first, and then you’ll be strong enough to help others too.
What do you believe has contributed to your success?
Without a doubt, the biggest thing that has contributed to my success has been my tenacity. I’ve been blogging for over six years in total, and I wanted to quit MANY times. It’s tough working for yourself, and sometimes only bringing in enough money to pay rent and not much else. But I never gave up! I believed I could accomplish what I set my mind to, and I did it. There was no room for excuses or procrastination. I just kept going no matter what.
Thanks Carrie for sharing your story!
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Originally published on February 11, 2013. Content updated on August 14, 2017.