Reflections on My Business After a Year

Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. Through circumstances I didn’t choose, I started my business in October of 2017. Running your own business, not as a side hustle but as a pay-the-rent hustle, is a burden and a risk. It’s not all just WiFi on the beach and every romanticized photo you’ve seen on Instagram.

It means being serious. It means being self-aware. It’s not a four hour work day, let alone work week. It takes pride and humility. Discipline and creativity. Blood, sweat, and late nights. And tears. Lots of tears. Seriously. Tears.

The short version of this blog post is that I’m glad I did this but it is hard. It has taxed my ego and self worth and I’m learning to separate those triggers. It’s not personal.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year.

Set Boundaries with Friends and Clients

It’s okay to say no. Saying yes too often eats away at your calendar, billable time, and productivity. Plus, if you’re not setting your boundaries, you’ll be resentful. You don’t want that. As a business owner (and sometimes remote worker), you have control over your time. Take it seriously.

And yes, I’ve told friends that Saturdays (by appointment), I’m available for lunch. It’s completely fine with most people who have day jobs. They’ll understand. If they don’t, then it’s their loss. Protect your time with your boundaries. Be clear. You will have people who will test you. They may say you don’t have a “real job” since you work for yourself. This is even more so with remote work. So I have been practiced but firm.

I’ve told clients I will email them between the hours of 8am and 6pm. That is reasonable. Then, I keep myself to those parameters. Setting boundaries, being self aware, and sticking to them helps you respect yourself and others to also respect your time.

Go to brunch. Enjoy your time off. And try not to look at your phone.

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Brunch with my girl Stacey

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Specialize Your Work and Client Base — Refer the Rest

“Everyone” is not a client. You won’t sync with everyone. Your personality may not be compatible with a potential customer. They might not be the right kind of business for you and, frankly, you may not be able to serve them well.

I’ve turned down a lot of work this year. I don’t do press releases or resumes. I refer that. I don’t do Pinterest. I refer that. Find out what you do well and quickly. Refer the rest.

I rock at Twitter. I don’t do SEO. I write bios, but not white papers.

Say Yes by Saying No

If you do turn down a job or client, do so by referring. Meaning, “I don’t write press releases but Jen Miller does. Here’s her email.” Then you are still a resource and helpful. If you just say no, you look like a jerk. That’s bad branding. Saying no allows you to say yes to the right things.

Instead of wasting your time with the wrong work or the wrong client, spend time on the things that make you money. For me, that’s Twitter. I don’t make money on Instagram.

Experiment with Pricing

You can experiment with pricing. When I first started managing Twitter, I did it for $250 a month. Then I started this business and started at $1,000 as introductory pricing. Now, that same scope is $1,200. I know the market value because I worked at an agency.

I also discount my work for some of my friends. During my WCLAX talk this year, Alex Vasquez asked me what I do about friends who want discounts. I answered by saying a real friend should pay full price. That said, I’ve discounted work for friends who are clients because it’s my business and I can make that decision. But understand why you are making that decision.

For example, I offered a friend a three month trial at 25% discount. I said, “If you don’t see the results you want, we just stop. We’re still friends. No hard feelings. But if we continue, we go to 100%.” It was a fair price and helped us keep our friendship when we ended the account (temporarily, I might add).

Know Your Cost

I spent a long time in construction accounting so this wasn’t a big barrier for me this year. But yeah, $250 a month for Twitter ended up being minimum wage. Know how much you cost yourself to run your business.

When I started, I reverse engineered my salary, then used that as a basis for my pricing. Create a basic budget so you know what your outgoing costs are. This helps you determine a baseline for your pricing.

It’s okay to take a part-time job.

Yeah. In February, I finally admitted. I can’t keep running out of savings or borrowing from family. It’s time to get a part-time job. It was really hard. I felt like a complete failure. In fact, I had to talk to some of my very good friends about my fears and feelings. I felt like the whole world was watching me fail.

Instead, I met new friends. I love my Serbian family and my work doing office work and marketing at the travel agency. And, it’s helped me travel for work!

I’ve been honest with my boss and she gives me flexibility. We’re both trying to run our own businesses. She’s in year 12 and I’m in year 1. But we need other people.

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Just a good hair day — which is rare.

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Cash Flow Can Be a Bitch

Oh man. This one is tough. One of my goals for 2019 is to have a fun bank account and a main bank account for bills and business expenses. I learned this tip from my friend  Robert. My biggest issue with cash flow is overly-optimistic projections. So, I had to borrow money from family and friends a few times. It sucks. It’s depressing. I’ve had my BFF hold my hand while I call to ask for help. But they were all glad to help. People like to help you.

Be Honest and Open with Your Peers

When people ask how you’re doing, tell them. Don’t be a complainer, but be honest. I usually say, “I’m good but can be better.” This gives you an opening. People don’t know you’re taking on work unless you tell them. So, if they ask if I have room for clients, I’ll tell them. Currently, I have two openings. I also tweet about it. Almost all of my work has come from Twitter or WordCamps.

Sometimes You Have to Alter Your Business Model

When I first started, a friend reminded me of my previous skills. So, while I was building my client base, I did collections for my friends for a commission.

Be ready for shifts in perception and need. One of the reasons why I love Twitter so much is you can listen to your audience. So one day I saw someone tweet about how much they hate writing their speaker bio. I spontaneously tweeted that I would write a speaker bio for “$25 fast, fast PayPal Cash.” I’ve written over 30 bios and put  my price up to $50.

Build Rest into Your Days

Seriously. I built in the 2:30 nap so much that my dog is trained. When I stop taking 20 minute naps, I get too exhausted. The world won’t stop because you’re unavailable for 20 minutes. I promise. Even if you don’t sleep, lay down, take off your glasses, and close your eyes. You’ll thank me later.

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Sometimes you have to schedule a nap for #selfcare.

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Give Back

Besides being a Make WordPress team rep for the marketing team, I was also a co-organizer for WordCamp Orange County for the second year in a row. I volunteered again for WordCamp Los Angeles, too.

I became a recurring donor for as well as Oxfam and Giving back helps keep your perspective in check.

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My @4ocean bracelet just came to #GuruHQ. #PullAPound

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Keep Up Your Own Site

A cobbler’s children have no shoes is unacceptable. The best way to get work is to do work. As a marketer, keeping up my website and social media profiles is important. These are the results that I can show to prospective clients. You may be asked to give case studies or analytics to prove your worth. It’s not for me to share my client’s stats. Discretion is important. But I can show my own. So I do.

Numbers to Date

  • Written over 800 client tweets.
  • Written over 30 speaker bios.
  • My own Twitter account has over 16000 tweets and 5 million impressions.
  • Two keynotes and 8 WordCamps (two overseas).
  • An average of 24 Meetups attended (2-3 a month).
  • One laptop-less vacation.

I’m at over 1300 words and I feel it’s important to share these, thoughts, especially after the feedback I got on Twitter.

More Thoughts – Speed Round

  • Trust your gut. It’s intuition analyzing data.
  • You don’t have to take every client.
  • Ask friends. Have a close circle you can mastermind with.
  • Publish base pricing on your site. This helps manage expectations.
  • Mix recurring and one-off revenue streams.
  • Make sure your social bios say what you do.
  • Keep business cards with you even when at a bar. Never pass an opportunity.
  • Keep going to conferences. Stay top of mind.
  • Partner with your friends.
  • Your value comes through education.
  • Put expiration dates on your estimates.
  • Put terms on your invoices.
  • Follow up with clients.
  • Rely on tech to make things easier but don’t over-automate. I use Freshbooks and Calendly.
  • Discount if you more work but with an expiration (25% for 3 months).
  • Failure is a good thing. I promise. Learn to accept it. Learn from it.
  • Take job interviews anyway. Learn from them.
  • Email people from LinkedIn asking if they want to outsource. Ask them if they’d rather have a vendor than an employee.
  • Stay teachable.

Looking forward to the next 12 months.

I didn’t want to NOT start my business. If I end up failing, it won’t be because of the fear to start. So, looking forward in the next 12 months, I want to start another bank account and put my “fun money” allowance elsewhere. I also want to seriously consider starting a C-corp and putting myself on a salary through a payroll service. I’d also like to add teaching in my business model. I love that moment when someone gets it and they’re now empowered.

Women in Business — It’s about respect.

When it comes to being a woman in business, all I’ve really wanted from my peers (male or otherwise) is respect. I am a highly-motivated person who achieves. As a professional, I have experience. That experience translates into intuition.

I’ve been working in offices for over 30 years from a publisher to a trucking company, churches to schools, construction to tech. All of the businesses I’ve worked in were lead by men.

For the most part I feel that I get along with men. I don’t have the mindset that all men are sexist and I feel that I am fair in how I approach work.

I was inspired chat about this today, so here goes.

How do you get respect as a woman in business?

So how does a woman in business get respect? I’ve found out that I have to demand respect. Sometimes this comes at a cost. It could be personal or financial. Getting respect means setting boundaries and defending them. I struggle with being dismissed. It’s sad but true.

Things I’ve actually been told:

  • You’re not a writer.
  • You’re just a marketer.
  • You can’t write about [topic]; it’s too technical.
  • You’re an alarmist.
  • You should learn to code and build a website before a developer will respect you.
  • That’s just your opinion.
  • You just work from home.
  • That’s not a real job.

Yeah. It’s not awesome. It sucks. It makes me feel marginalized.

How can you support a woman in business?

Supporting a woman in business means supporting your peers. I am fond of definitions by contrast so let’s go with what not to do.

  • Don’t mischaracterize the concerns of your coworkers or teammates. “She’s mad, upset, etc.”
  • Don’t offer your advice if she didn’t ask for it.
  • Don’t presume she isn’t educated or informed on the topic at hand.
  • Don’t marginalize analysis as opinion.
  • Don’t ask her about her personal life or plans for children in the interview.
  • Don’t interrupt her while she’s speaking. Don’t presume you know what she wants to say. Rian Rietveld

How can you support a woman-owned business?

There are plenty of ways to support businesses, regardless of who owns them. But let’s stick with the gender.

  • Send clients her way via an email introduction — as you would with any of your friends.
  • Send a personalized tweet about them or link to their website.
  • Share about her services and expertise on LinkedIn is awesome.
  • Write a review on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Yelp.
  • Pay her for her advice.

I’m wondering why this isn’t obvious.

The problem with diversity can be tokenization. I find most people want to be treated with respect because of their merit, skills, and talent. Not because they belong to [insert group here].

Thoughts from My Mom

After reading this, my mom gave me a call this morning. She was part of the generation who wasn’t allowed to wear jeans to school, couldn’t purchase birth control, and at the tail end of not having property rights. It’s worth adding her perspective.

She says respect is like inspiration — it’s intangible. It’s invisible. You know it when you have it but you can’t demand it.

It’s completely true and a wise point of view.

How do I want to be supported as a women in business?

As a woman in business, with my own almost a year old, what I’d like to see is emotional support and peer mentoring. And I’ve had this. I know I’m fortunate as this is not always the case.

Alex Vasquez, Jason Tucker, Roy Sivan, Jen Miller, Yvette Sonneveld, Carin Arrigo Hauser, Yvonne C. Williams, Sarah Pressler, John Locke… the list goes on and on.

I believe that if we support one another, regardless of our demographic, things will come our way.

When, however, you have an opportunity to have influence for good, be aware of how you approach it.  The only way to make “things better” is to change your own behavior. That has a ripple effect.

25 Things You Spend More Than $25 On – An Argument for Managed WordPress Hosting

Twenty-Five Dollars. $25. That’s all I pay for my managed WordPress hosting with my vendor (and client) Pressable. Yet, most people think $25 is expensive. Is it?

Let’s look at other managed WordPress hosting costs (as they describe their monthly pricing):

Your website is for your business. Isn’t it worth $25 a month?

Don’t go cheap. I’ll leave this tweet right here.

The List: 25 Things I spend more than $25 on

  1. Cazadores Tequila. At Hennessy’s it’s $9.50 a shot. Two shots plus a tip and tax is about $35.
  2. Pedicure. A plain pedicure at Happy Nails is $22. With a $5 tip that puts the cost at $27.
  3. Starbucks. Every reload on my  Gold Card is $25. I do that at least once a month.
  4. 2 for 1 burgers on Tuesdays. Again. This with a tip is about $35.
  5. A tank of gas. My last tank of gas at Chevron was $39.42.
  6. Monthly massage at White Lotus Day Spa. I’m a member so it’s $75.
  7. Jewelry. The last bracelet I bought was soft leather. $40
  8. Home Decor. I bought some pillows and paintings at Ross for $34.
  9. Office Supplies. Last run to Staples for misc pens and post-it notes was $67.
  10. Pizza. Domino’s large pizza, soda, delivery fee, and tip. $37.
  11. Sunday Brunch. Pierside blueberry pancakes and bottomless mimosas, tax, tip. $42.
  12. Toll Roads. My last statement was $39.
  13. Uber. I lost track of how much I spend monthly but it’s over $100. It’s why I prefer to walk. But when traveling, you have to do what you have to do.
  14. Hair coloring. My friend does the labor for free but the product at Sally’s beauty supply is $28.
  15. WiFi on Swiss Air flight. $39. It is admittedly less expensive on other airlines, but I had no problem spending this to get connected.
  16. Keepsake Frames. Print of a photo for my mom. $39.
  17. Monthly Flowers. I just purchased a subscription from Enjoy Flowers for $68.
  18. Airport Parking. The last time I parked at SNA it was $60. (Not everyone has a person who will drop them off and pick them up at the airport.)
  19. Choosing your seat on Swiss. I was glad to pay $55 each way to choose an aisle seat on my international flight to Belgrade.
  20. Vacation. Even though I won a two night stay at an all-inclusive resort, I had no trouble paying $215 for the airfare.
  21. Premium Plugins. I spent $100 on Beaver Builder and $30 on Better Click to Tweet without any reservation.
  22. Shorts. The last pair of shorts I bought from Old Navy was $22. Tax and shipping put that over.
  23. Advertising. $30 for LinkedIn. More than two $20 boosts on Facebook.
  24. Makeup. My last Glossier order was $30. That’s not my only vendor.
  25. Donations. I donate $20 to 4Ocean and $5 to FreeCodeCamp every month, plus the odd request for someone in need.

None of these include utilities, rent, cell phones, internet, insurance, taxes, groceries, or car payments. These are items that come out of discretionary income.

People Speak up on Twitter

Your Time is Worth Money

It doesn’t matter to me which host you choose, but pick managed hosting. The race to the bottom is real. Get good service. Invest in your own business by investing in your website.

This also means blogging on a regular basis but that’s anther post.

SaaS: The Cost of Doing Business Online

These days you hear a lot of complaining about online costs. People think “online” means “free.” It doesn’t; nor should it. So what is the cost of doing business online? In this post I’ll detail my software as a service expenses to give you an idea.

Software as a Service (Saas)

Software as a Service basically means you can get a service through a webpage. Wikipedia has a better definition. The point is, that digital space has a cost. Software over the cloud has a cost. Clouds are not free.

Traditional Services

Traditional services like accounting and law typically charge retainers and charge by 15 minute increments. We never question this. So why not value our own time?

This also includes monthly, recurring costs like cable (internet provider), electricity (to power and charge the devices you use to get to the cloud), cell phones to work remotely and call clients, as well as a percentage of your mortgage/rent or co-working fees.

This isn’t the place for it, but please. Understand your costs as an agency. Understanding your costs allows you to charge for your value.

My Monthly SaaS Costs

I spend quite a bit of money for cloud-based tools that I deem necessary to run my Marketing Consultancy.

Here are my monthly costs rounded to the nearest dollar:

  • Website Hosting at Pressable $25
  • Postmatic (for content delivery and commenting) $20
  • Dropbox (for website & photo backups) $10
  • Backblaze (backup computer) $10
  • iTunes (cloud storage) $4
  • Hootsuite (manage client social accounts) $15
  • Freshbooks (invoicing clients) $25
  • (making graphics) $15

The total amount I spend monthly on things specifically to run my business is $124. Read more SaaS: The Cost of Doing Business Online

Why Small Business Owners Should Read Self-Help Books

Small business owners wear a lot of hats: founder, CEO, sometimes office manager and janitor. So why do I advocate reading self-help books? There’s a few reasons but they all boil down to leadership — soft skills.

Firstly, I “self-help” has a negative connotation. I call it nonfiction, research, and personal development. Whatever way you look at it, if you have a small business, you have challenges that often lie on the outside of your primary skillset: the reason you built the business.

Soft skills are the social glue that brings together all aspects of any successful business. Click To Tweet

As a small business owner, you are a leader. Leaders create company culture that works for everyone. Leaders model psychological safety. Leaders understand their own limitations.

How can you possibly be a successful business without first understanding yourself and secondly understanding your team? We haven’t even stared talking about understanding your audience, customers, and potential market.

Leaders Model Company Culture

Company culture is created whether you intend to or not. Intentional company culture provides a path to success. Your small business depends upon you to create culture. It’s almost impossible to create it bottom-up. It comes from the top.

One of the aspects of a small business company culture that is important is vulnerability. Small businesses are a small team. Your team has to look up to you. As a culture, we view vulnerability as weakness. It’s not weak; it’s the opposite. True vulnerability is strength. That strength not only encourages your team to trust you, but it inspires them to try (and fail) as well.

The more vulnerable I have been, the more encouraged I have been to continue to do so — through business connections, mentorship opportunities, and the growth of my own empathy.

“The most transformative and resilient leaders that I’ve worked with over the course of my career have three things in common.

First, they recognize the central role that relationships and story play in culture and strategy, and they stay curious about their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

Second, they understand and stay curious about how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected in the people they lead, and how those factors affect relationships and perception.

And, third, they have the ability and willingness to lean in to discomfort and vulnerability.” Brené Brown, Rising Strong

True vulnerability is strength -- it encourages your team to trust you and inspires them to try (and fail) as part of the learning process. Click To Tweet

Leaders Create Psychological Safety

The vulnerability that you express creates a safe space. Small business owner, I ask you these questions:

  1. Do you feel safe to fail?
  2. Does your team?
  3. What are the implied or strict consequences of failure?
  4. How is that treated in your company culture?
  5. What kind of atmosphere exists in your stand up meetings or staff meetings?
  6. Do your employees come to you with ideas or concerns?

I can’t answer those questions for you. These are questions that require self-reflection and thought.  It may require observation over time and meetings with your management. Successful teams need to feel safe. If your team isn’t bonding, how can that be fixed?

“In Edmondson’s hospital studies, the teams with the highest levels of psychological safety were also the ones with leaders most likely to model listening and social sensitivity. They invited people to speak up. They talked about their own emotions. They didn’t interrupt other people. When someone was concerned or upset, they showed the group that it was okay to intervene. They tried to anticipate how people would react and then worked to accommodate those reactions. This is how teams encourage people to disagree while still being honest with one another and occasionally clashing. This is how psychological safety emerges: by giving everyone an equal voice and encouraging social sensitivity among teammates.” Charles Duhigg, Smarter Faster Better

The best benefit you can offer your company's employees is the freedom to fail. Click To Tweet

Leaders Understand Their Own Limitations

There is nothing worse than a person who can’t see their own limitations. This is the moral to the story in the Emperor’s New Clothes. We delude ourselves with our own pride and often forget to look at the whole context.

This is another reason why leaders and small business owners should meet and mastermind with people outside of their own industry. Thought diversity is an important component of innovation. What can a manufacturer of tile learn from a computer programmer? How can a battery business learn from solar? The connections we make foster ideas. Confirmation bias is a danger and the first step to protecting yourself is to recognize its existence.

“A modern name for Smith’s insights about self-deception is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias happens when we filter reality through our biases, ignoring evidence that challenges or refutes what we believe and eagerly accepting evidence that confirms what we believe.” Russ Roberts, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

Do you dismiss alternative theories and ideas as negative or are you thankful for a differing view? Click To Tweet

What are you reading?

If leaders who understand their own limitations, create an intentional company culture with psychological safety, then understanding yourself, your team, and your customers will follow. And with that internal success, external (financial) success is bound to follow.

So, what are you reading? What inspires you?