Sitting on her front porch, seven year old Sarah Morgan zipped up her puffy coat and put its hood over her head. Braving the early Michigan winter chill, she settled in for a day of selling cookies.
Instead of creating a full-blown recipe with secret ingredients, Sarah took a more simple approach. She threw some chocolate chips and pre-made batter into a bowl and called it good. She was more excited about selling the cookies anyway.
Pulling out a piece of cardboard and a permanent marker, she created a For Sale sign for her cookies. Despite her hard work, foot traffic around her childhood home was lower than usual because of the crisp November air, so she didn’t sell any. This only motivated her to try selling more things as she grew up.
I told myself, “I’m going to make this thing and people will buy it.” Nobody actually bought anything, but I just liked making stuff.
Sarah has always been a self-starter. As a teenager, she learned how to code by digging through other people’s websites in the early days of AOL internet. She found a site that was purple and featured a one-column layout, so Sarah copied the code to achieve a similar look. Her first website was on gurlPages with her name colorfully displayed in the top banner.
While she regrets not adding more white space to her early designs, she wasn’t afraid to tweak her code until she got it just right. Instead of taking classes or reading books on web design, she jumped right in and figured it out by trial and error.
Nobody else has the crazy idea that if they want to make something, they can just go ahead and make it. They’re waiting for permission from someone to tell them they can . . . but I don’t care about getting anybody’s permission.
Deciding on a Career Path
As she approached college, Sarah was more focused on what she didn’t want to do than what she did want to pursue. Since she wanted to avoid all math courses, she decided to pursue a degree in journalism. She was soon hired at a television station in Detroit.
Even though Sarah had a writing position at the station, her team knew she had design skills too.
As the internet and social media platforms became more important in news reporting, the station transitioned Sarah into working on design full-time.
Initially, her desk was tucked in a corner away from the newsroom. It provided a nice, quiet space for her to focus on writing assignments without the commotion of reporters around her. As an introvert, she loved being in a small shared space with only three other people.
But when the newsroom was fully renovated, Sarah had to move to the center of the newsroom. Now she was surrounded by dozens of noisy reporters and was constantly interrupted by the latest breaking news story. As her working environment changed, she became less interested in her work at the station.
I was panicking because I thought I didn’t like design anymore. I didn’t like coming to work, and I didn’t know what else I would do. I didn’t want to be a journalist, and I didn’t have any other skills or passions.
Not knowing how to pivot her career, she started freelancing for other clients in her last year at the television station, picking up odd website design gigs for around one hundred dollars each. Through freelancing, Sarah quickly learned she still wanted to pursue design; she just didn’t want to do it at the television station any longer.
Becoming a Circus Performer
Around this time in 2010, Sarah discovered aerial arts. After going through a difficult breakup, she and a friend bought tickets to an eight-week series of aerial classes. Sarah laughs when she remembers how bad they both were in the first few months. She didn’t have the muscle or flexibility to do much of anything. But despite its challenges, she kept going back.
After performing in a student showcase, she partnered with a friend to do a trapeze act at an erotic art festival in 2011. Her first paid gig was a total hit, and she continued to book shows around the Detroit area. Her favorite performance was during a Halloween party where she was hired with friends to do a bearded lady routine. The crowd absolutely loved it.
The more shows she did, the more she considered teaching aerial arts. After teaching for two years in smaller spaces, she stumbled upon the perfect opportunity when she met a music teacher who had recently bought a studio space with twenty-foot ceilings.
The music teacher wanted circus performers to teach students and generate enough money to pay for the rest of the space. Sarah started working for the music teacher and learned a lot about running a small business while also getting to focus on what she loved most: teaching and performing.
Quitting Her Full-Time Job
After seven years at the television station, Sarah knew it was time to get serious about her plans to quit her day job. Circus performing and freelancing were going well, and both income streams were giving her more fulfillment than her job.
In 2011, she made a goal in September to leave her position after one more year. This would give her enough time to create a solid client base and book enough aerial shows to grow her income.
Nine months later, Sarah was spending more time freelancing at her desk than working on her work assignments. During her performance review, her boss said he could tell that she wasn’t passionate about her work anymore and they needed to find a solution.
I remember going back to my desk and thinking, “Holy shit. I have to leave my job in a month. This is it. They’re forcing me into doing this.” I grabbed my notepad . . . and wrote: I need to buy a laptop, I need to figure out health insurance, and I need to figure out all of this stuff.
She promptly quit her job a month later in 2012—and instead of giving a two weeks’ notice, she told her boss her last day would be the following day because of how many circus shows she had booked. The first thing she did was buy six gourmet cupcakes to celebrate her big leap into the unknown world of freelancing and blogging. She didn’t know what to expect but she knew anything would be better than the nine to five routine.
Sarah’s initial plan was to freelance while continuing to grow her blog audience and book aerial gigs on the side, giving her multiple streams of income. She also decided to merge her personal blog with her design portfolio under the name XOSarah. Sarah spent most of her days happily writing and designing on her laptop from the comfort of her couch.
After two years of full-time blogging and freelancing, she moved from Detroit to San Diego in 2014 for a change of scenery. Even though she downsized from a house to a small apartment, she was happier than ever before.
I remember just sitting in my kitchen and thinking, “Oh my god. I make more money blogging than I did at my corporate job. I’m here. I made it.”
As XOSarah grew, she added Amazon affiliate links to her blog posts and started doing influencer affiliate partnerships with some of the tools she uses to run her blog. She also wrote an eBook and took on a couple of consulting gigs each month for a few years.
Focusing on passive income, she also built online courses that would help other bloggers grow their online presence with tips she learned after twenty years of blogging. With more than five streams of income, Sarah was able to transition out of freelance web design into full-time blogging and teaching in 2016.
Sarah’s Business Today
As an online educator, Sarah runs multiple courses with live coaching calls and community support in addition to creating free weekly content. She also has a membership community, Dare to Grow, that keeps her in the thick of her industry mentoring bloggers and small business owners.
Sarah still enjoys spending most of her days writing and designing from her couch. While her life may not look glamorous from the outside, she has found a rhythm that really works for her.
I usually hang out with my dog and work on the internet. I teach aerial two days a week and train two or three days. I will totally put away my work and go to the beach or go hiking. I try to take advantage of my flexible schedule.
After experimenting with all kinds of digital products, Sarah can now laser focus on the best fitting offerings for her fast-growing blog audience and chill lifestyle.
With two decades of blogging and design experience fueling her work, Sarah never runs out of advice to share. But she isn’t just creating content to add to the noise. One of her email subscribers says that Sarah’s emails are always the “cheerful kick in the ass” she needs to start her week.
It’s that tough love approach and her “no permission necessary” attitude that mark Sarah as a true influencer in her field.