My alarm would go off and I would want to cry. I would pick up my kids from daycare and be stressed until they went to bed. I would stay up until insane hours working, only to get up insanely early to do it again.
No, this wasn’t me working a full-time corporate job. This was me working in the business I created — the copywriting and content marketing business I started so that I could be LESS stressed and busy and MORE fulfilled and happy.
And it wasn’t working.
In early 2016, I was busier in business than I had ever been before. Any of my dozens of clients could be considered a full-time marketing job on their own. And I was also making a ton of money — nearly triple what I made while working at my previous agency.
The level of energy output I needed to keep my clients happy and my projects completed on time meant that I was constantly working or on my phone corresponding with clients. I finally had a revelation:
I had adopted the agency model of “the client is always right; give the client what she wants all day, every day” and ran with it. And it was running me down.
It was only once I realized this that I made myself step back and reevaluate. I had forgotten that I had the power to craft the type of business I wanted to build, and I was the one forging its path. If I didn’t keep it on track myself, it would inevitably wander. And if I didn’t know what that path was, it would definitely take a wrong turn.
It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. This one client made up a huge percentage of my income. However, it was also sucking the life out of me. I knew even then that it was the right decision, but I was still petrified. Would I be able to make up that income? And if I couldn’t, what did that mean to my success? To my PRIDE?
I’ll skip ahead and let you know: it all worked out. I’m happier than ever in my business. I feel a certain amount of balance on MOST days. And my bank account still has a smiley face on it.
However, when I think about that time of upheaval now, I can see there were certain things I let get out of hand — things that any business owner should be wary of as she builds her empire and her legacy.
Here are my tips on how to keep your business from turning into a day job:
When I started my business, I offered every single marketing, social media, public relations, copywriting service available — because I had experience with them all from my agency days. However, while I could technically DO all of those things, I didn’t LIKE doing most of them.
Once I restructured my business, I skinnied down my services to only include the things I wanted to spend my time doing. I kept telling myself: If I’m going to be spending time away from my kids, I better be spending it on something that fulfills me. So I took a hard look at what I offered and cut the rest. Even now, I’ve begun outsourcing some of the services that I used to offer in this limited scope, simply because I want even more laser focus on what tasks I actually take on myself.
Just like offering every service, I used to work with every client. Which meant I was working with some small businesses, some huge corporations, some nonprofits, some mom-and-pops, some online businesses, some schools … some big old mess in my brain!
Whenever anyone would reach out to me as a potential new business opportunity, I would feel grateful to them — when now I realize, good workers and good partnerships are hard to find. THEY were also lucky to be working with me.
Unfortunately, that took me a long time to recognize, which led to me ending some client relationships because there was a lack of respect for me and my business and my boundaries as a mother hustler. (Case in point: the male CEO who said to me, “Oh, it must feel nice for you to get out of the house and away from the kiddos and come to a meeting in the real world.” Yeah … peace out, bro.)
Each client relationship that ended up bad? There were always signs at the start. I was just too scared to listen to them. Until I realized that not every client should be MY client. Not every opportunity was MY opportunity. And that’s OK.
To go along with #2, when I finally took a hard look at my client base, I also decided to “niche down.” Basically, I focused specifically on serving one type of client and marketed myself only in that field. For me, that was the education space — independent schools, private schools and higher education.
How did I decide on this niche?
All of these things led me to education. Today, I’m asked to speak as a thought leader at huge industry events, I have a consistently growing subscriber base, I get great word-of-mouth referrals and I’m getting some fun recognition from others. And it’s because I’m super specific about who I serve and what value I bring to them.
In the agency space, we billed by the hour. And I carried this hourly mindset over to my business. (I still work on escaping from it, to be honest.)
This meant that when I quoted a project at 10 hours, and it only took me 7, I would feel guilty charging clients the full 10 hours. Yet, not one of my clients ever complained that they felt like I was overcharging, or not delivering them results on their investment in me. So why was I hung up on it when THEY, the paying customers, were not?
Again, if you’re going to spend time away from your kids working on your business (and potentially paying someone else to watch them during that time), you want to get yourself paid, mama. It’s business. You deserve it. So take the damn money.
I think having these four things at the top of my mind while I was charting the path of my new business would have helped me stay the course — although, sometimes you have to learn through the mistakes in order to get where you end up. (I don’t think there’s any way I would’ve been able to be super specific about my ideal audience without understanding who WASN’T my ideal audience … by working with them.)
So take these tips, and then go make your own mistakes and learn from them. If anything, try to recognize if and when you’re business becomes a grind, and don’t be afraid to make some changes.
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