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So, today is a strange day for me. It's a Monday morning, I'm sitting in front of my laptop at the kitchen table, and there's nothing that I absolutely HAVE to do today. No reports I have to write, no meetings I have to go to, no phone calls I have to make, no emails I have to answer. There's also no money coming in today (eeekk!)
Friday was the last day of my previous job. I've spent the past 18 months as a GDPR Project Manager for a large FTSE 100 insurance company. Before that, I've spent 7 years managing projects on topics as interesting as sanctions screening, operational effectiveness and claims handling. I've usually done compressed hours (5 days in 4), and all the while I've been doing Cycle Sprog in whatever bits of spare time a working mum of two boys can find (i.e. not much!).
For those of you who don't know, Cycle Sprog started out as a response to my frustration at not being able to find any easy to understand information about carrying my two year old on a bike. After ages trying to find clearly written, non-jargon information (and failing), I said to my husband Chris "There really should be a website about cycling with kids for people like me" (i.e. people who don't know their Shimano from their SRAM, and are too busy with kids, work and life to wade through all the jargon on discussion boards and cycling websites).
So Chris responded "Why don't you set one up then?" to which I replied "Because I don't know anything about bikes, I'm working full time and have two kids who aren't even at school yet" (or something along those lines which isn't printable!)
However, the idea took hold, Chris came up with the name Cycle Sprog and the rest, as they say, is history.
The website started out with a few pages about cycling with kids trailers, bike seats and tag-alongs, and my endless quest to find winter cycling gloves for a two year old (if you've found them, do let me know!)
Our Cycle Sprogs started to get older, so when we had time we started writing about the bikes they were riding, the clothes they were wearing, and the routes they were riding.
We began to connect with like-minded people (some of whom are hopefully reading this!) Parents who wanted more well written, intelligent, jargon-busting information about cycling with their children. People passionate about getting more kids onto bikes, be it for fun, for sport or for transportation. Some even asked if they could write us articles as they liked what we were doing (a big, big heartfelt thank you to you all).
We started to work with some of the best known kids bike brands - Frog Bikes launched about the same time as Cycle Sprog and sent us our first review bike not long after. Since then we've developed good connections with lots of other brands such as Islabikes, Cube, Woom, Worx, Cuda and Squish and we now have a small panel of bike reviewers. We have been given the opportunity to develop our affiliate arrangements with several large retailers including Tredz and Evans Cycles.
People told their friends about Cycle Sprog, and our social media following started to slowly grow. Our in-box started to fill up with emails from people asking us to write about this topic, or that topic. We now get over 60,000 page views per month. I even got asked to chair the family cycling panel at a conference!
As you can imagine, Cycle Sprog is no longer something that can be done in a couple of hours a week. It's starting to get stressful, and I constantly feel like I'm letting people down. Unanswered emails, missed Facebook messages, articles half written and never published.
During my latest GDPR project, I've been working on an increasingly compressed hours / part time basis to give a bit more space for Cycle Sprog, but it's not been enough. When you're working on a regulatory project for a FTSE 100 company and the Board is asking for an update, you can't really break off to write about kids bikes, however much you want to, or however much a brand is pressing you for the review to go live.
So, what to do? Carry on as we are? Give up and shut down Cycle Sprog? Sell it on to someone with more time or experience? Try and make a living out of it?
The first three options are probably the easiest, but it's the thought of doing Cycle Sprog full time that's the real dream.
It's the scariest thing ever, but the thought has been simmering away at the back of my mind for years. Apparently there are plenty of people out there now making a living from websites - fashion bloggers, computer gamers, travel writers, foodies - to name but a few. What about family cycling? Can Cycle Sprog start to bring in enough money to support a family of four?
Because here's the difficult bit. I'm the sole bread winner. Chris has had the job of being stay at home dad to two boys, whilst I've gone swanning out of the house to work.
We've been saving hard over the past 7 years to make the dream a reality, and now have enough stashed away to support us for a good few months. It feels like the time is now right to give it a go. I've been reading a lot of books about stepping away from the corporate shackles - books like the Entrepreneur Revolution by Daniel Priestley and the 4 Day Work Week by Timothy Ferris - books that tell me I'll be happier and more motivated than ever, that the money will start rolling in.
I'm under no illusions of what a lot of bull this is. It'll be the hardest thing we've ever done. It's got the potential to go horribly wrong, and leave us without an income source.
There are so many worries:
It's all to easy to listen to these nagging thoughts. But.....
We are good at it! We're already working with the biggest brands in kids cycling, we get over 60,000 page views a month and I've even been picking up a bit of freelance writing recently.
We do enjoy it! I spent a few months between projects a couple of years ago working on Cycle Sprog and it was the best time ever. I get so engrossed in writing and researching that time flies. Yes, there will be the usual administration drudge to get through, but it will surely beat the 8am - 6pm shackles of corporate life. Chris is really enjoying developing his photography skills, and has some exciting bike maintenance projects on the go. And if I really don't enjoy it, I can also go back to my old job.
We do make some money! Over the years the amount we make through affiliate marketing has gone from a few pounds a year to a few hundred pounds a year. Last year it was a few thousand. Nowhere near enough to support a family of four, but enough to think "What would it make if I worked on it as hard as I do my day job?" Plus, I've already been working increasingly part-time over the past few years. What's to stop me doing that in future? There will always be projects that need managing if I need to top up the finances.
We could have had nasty things happen in the past. There are steps we already take to prevent us being hacked, and I will just have to avoid negative feedback, safe in the knowledge that everyone we choose to connect and work with is fabulous!
So I guess, the biggest What If is actually What if we don't do it?
The biggest risk, therefore, seems to be about what we choose to do.
Will we get distracted and not put the hours in? Social media, housework, or more likely our bikes, are all likely to tempt us away from working on the website. We're going to need to be disciplined and put the hours in (but also mustn't go to the other extreme and work too hard and burn out).
Will we lack confidence to demand our worth? We get contacted virtually every day (usually via marketing companies) who seem to expect us to publish posts with absolutely no recompense, as if we should be grateful for being given the opportunity to spend hours writing about their product or service which has a vague, if any connection to family cycling. We need to remember that this is work, and continue to forge relationships with brands who respect what we're doing and who are willing to support us in this.
Will we keep Cycle Sprog doing what we know our readers like? We don't want to start writing low quality "click-bait" articles just to get the page views that mean someone will advertise with us. We don't want to start pushing low quality "bike shaped objects" just to make a commission through an affiliate site. We don't want to start writing sponsored posts for brands that have nothing to do with family cycling. We don't want to start buying social media followers just to make us look popular.
We must keep on writing good quality articles about topics relevant to families who want to cycle. It's an opportunity to spend more time getting to know our readers, and to get them more involved in what we write about. Maybe to start accepting more guest posts from other parents who have stories to tell about their family cycling. Maybe to think of new ways of sharing knowledge and encouraging more families to get out on their bikes.
Yes, we will have to write more articles that bring in some money - those with affiliate links that pay us a commission - but we need to do that without compromising on what we're recommending. Some of the brands we recommend use affiliate networks, others don't. We've not differentiated in the past, and we need to work hard to remain that way in the future.
We may start accepting some sponsored posts and advertising but they will always be related to family cycling.
It feels like the time is right to give it a go. The boys are much more self-sufficient than when we started the website. If we don't go for it now, then time will just fritter away. Our Sprogs will grow up and fly the nest, and I'm not sure I want to be writing about balance bikes when I'm 60! If we want to know whether it will be a success we need to do it now.
So, dear reader, I hope you'll help us on our journey. There's lots of things you can do to help us on our way, including:
It's going to be a scary, exhilarating journey, and one we hope you come on with us. If we don't do it we'll spend the rest of our lives thinking "What if....?"
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