The Key to Career Success: Experimenting

May 1, 2012

Speaking of experimenting, check out my guide to figuring out how to work for yourself: How I Surpassed My Day Job Income in Just 6 Months of Self-Employment.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my first six months of working for myself, it’s this: experimentation is the KEY to figuring out how to make a living doing what you love.


Ever since I started down this road, I’ve been experimenting. Seeing what sticks. Learning as I go.

In some ways, this applies to my client work; I’ve tried out a few different models to see what type of client work meshes best with my personality and brings in the most revenue. But where this REALLY applies full-force is on the product side, where I’m looking to put an increasing portion of my energy (and earn an increasing portion of my revenue) going forward.

Writing my first ebook, How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business, was an experiment — some parts of that experiment worked, and others didn’t. Overall, it was a success because it brought in (and continues to bring in) revenue and, even more importantly for me at this point, I enjoyed the process. That’s how I know I want to create and sell more products.

Since then, I’ve continued to experiment with products and paid newsletters. Sometimes that means pulling the plug on a project that doesn’t help me reach my goals, which is what I’m doing today with my first subscriber-only newsletter, Solopreneur Secrets. I loved writing that newsletter, but in the end, I decided it wasn’t worth my time to produce a letter each week that’s hidden behind a paywall, even if it brings me income.

This type of experimental business-building has a name: the lean start-up model. I didn’t go this route purposefully, but I realized recently that by taking calculated risks and trying different ideas to see which worked best, I’ve followed the advice of successful start-up founders. I’m not only applying that model to my business, I’m also applying it to my career, treating my career like a start-up.

Thinking like a start-up means taking time to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and growing along the way. It means gaining new skills and new perspectives, both as a professional and as a person. Because if you don’t give yourself room to experiment, you’ll never discover the true gems of your business or your career.

And guess what? This applies to LIFE, too. If you allow yourself the leeway to try new things without worrying too much about failure, you’ll discover bigger and better routes to success. And I’m willing to bet you’ll find more happiness, too.

Of course, taking risks — which is the core of experimenting — can make us feel uneasy, which is why we tend to avoid it. Should you really put time, effort and money into a project when the outcome isn’t guaranteed to be in your favor?

Yet while taking risks puts you in a position to possibly fail, it also creates the opportunity to do something great, something that’s far better than what you’re doing now. This potential is why experimenting and taking risks is essential for your business and your career.

If you stick with the status quo, if you hover indefinitely in your comfort zone, you’ll never have to face the scary possibility of failure. If you learn to take smart risks — and tell good fear from bad fear — you could fail, but you also have the potential to accomplish something amazing.

In other words, the only way you’ll ever bump up to that next level of greatness is by trying something new.

Since experimenting is daunting, it’s smart to create an environment for yourself where you feel comfortable taking calculated risks. If you’re working for yourself, that might mean weaving a financial safety net so the idea of failing on a project won’t make you panic. Even if it’s not money you’re risking, you’ll need some sort of support network that enables your experiments; in some cases, that can be as simple as surrounding yourself with other go-getters who see the value in your career aspirations.

My latest risk is moving toward a more product-based model for my business. I’m still taking on clients because I enjoy the work (and that’s my safety net), but I’m also taking steps to earn an increasingly portion of my revenue from ebooks and digital courses. Spending time boosting my product offerings could cost me money in the short term, but I’m hoping it will allow me to make more money — and enjoy my work more — in the long run. This is a calculated risk, one based on all my experiments so far.

Is taking this risk nerve-wracking? You bet. Is it exciting? Totally. I JUMP out of bed each morning to work on my projects! Really.

This is the type of excitement I want YOU to feel about your work. I want the blood to pulse through your veins like it’s pulsing through mine as I crank out these words. I want you to feel good about what you’re creating, what you’re writing, what you’re selling.

To get there, you have to take a few risks. You have to experiment.

Are you with me?

A version of this post first appeared in my now-defunct-newsletter, Solopreneur Secrets. I’m in the midst of compiling all the letters from that series into an ebook called, How I Surpassed My Day Job Income in Just 6 Months of Self-Employment: Your Transition to Freedom. Keep your eyes here for that launch, or sign up for my newsletter for a heads-up when it becomes available.

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    16 Replies to “The Key to Career Success: Experimenting”

    • Ryan says:


      I’m reminded of a quote by Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

      Thanks for the encouragement. It’s awesome to know that it’s possible to JUMP out of bed because you’re so excited to start working!

    • Susan says:

      Great post, Alexis. I’m going down the experimentation route as well. One thing I’ve learned is that I’ve got to focus my energy carefully. I’m an introvert, so energy levels can be a little tricky. I know I have to spend time on things that energize me mentally — which occasionally means dropping those that might bring in some income but would be rather exhausting.

      I’m working on my first ebook, which will be free — but I have ideas for more that I can charge for. And I’m teaching my first class ever — in social media — for the local adult & community education program. It’s been a great experiment — if not a lot of money. I love teaching!

    • Jade Craven says:

      You should start experimenting in the Amazon Affiliate program: I bought The Startup of You based on a recommendation you’d previously made, and saw two places where you could have linked to a book in this post.

      It’s a slow way to make money, but you could go back through your archives and add links to relevant posts.

      Back to the point of the post – experimenting sucks arse. But when everything falls into place (like is has for me in the past two weeks) then things are so satisfying. 🙂

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hey Jade — I’m still not convinced it’s worth my time to use affiliate links for Amazon books since I’d earn so little each time. But maybe if all of that adds up…

    • Powerful post, Alexis, and I totally agree.

      “Fail forward fast” and “there’s no such thing as failure, only steps” are two ideas I’m big on, but that might be because I lived in failure and mediocrity for 7 years, and have more failed businesses under my belt than most people dream of starting:

      It also has elements of Jonathan Fields’ “Uncertainty” stuff and reminds me of Brian Clark’s Agile Start-up blog, Entreproducer (hows that for name-dropping + references, lol).

      Anyway, I totally respect this, and your journey. Rock on 🙂

    • I recently wrote my business plan, after having been in business for about 1.5 years. The reason above is why! I had to experiment to find the perfect model. People usually build careers and businesses based on (1) what they think they like and (2) what they think will make money – but you need BOTH. Sometimes the most profitable thing isn’t what you want – e.g. your newsletter.

    • Rebecca says:

      I totally agree that the key to figuring out what the heck you want to do with your life, and what the heck works, is just to try something. Too many of us sit with your pen in hand and write down “what we like to do” and “what we’re good at” and hope to find a happy medium. But it’s a hundred times more effective to just take action and see if what you think matches what’s actually true. Great post!

    • Bonnee says:

      I am with you! 😀 Taking risks in any aspect of life is scary stuff, but it’s the best way to learn anything! Thanks for this inspiring post!

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