One Year In: Running Your Own Business is Hard — There Were Tears

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.

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 4ocean.com as well as Oxfam and FreeCodeCamp.org. 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.

PS

I met Mark Maunder, CEO of  who makes Wordfence

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.

Social Media Success: Adjust and Adapt to Change

When it comes to technology, you can always expect one thing: change. When it comes to social media, changes happens at a faster pace. Keep up for success.

Why does social media change so often?

Why does social media change so often? My answer: welcome to tech.

In my talks, I always say the tech changes in 20 minutes so you better keep up. Once you post that tutorial on how to add people to a list, Twitter will change the gear icon into the three stacked dots. It happens. It happens frequently. It happens to us all.

Here are some examples of change:

  • Facebook lists are going away. I know. Many people didn’t even know they existed. I used them. They’re gone. Whatever. Move on. Right?
  • Instagram is no longer in reverse chronological order. Surprise? Not really since Facebook bought them.
  • There used to be “best times to post.” Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram default to a customized feed based upon the user’s behavior. Throw away those best times now.
  • Auto posting from Instagram to Twitter used to be chic. Then Twitter stopped supporting live previews of Instagram links (not surprisingly, after Facebook bought them).
  • Follow Friday (#FF #FollowFriday) was a huge deal on Twitter. Now if you do it, you’re out of touch or have some robot turned on.
  • Twitter changed retweeting — three times — since I signed up in 2007. This is why I prefer the old “RT” way. (Did you know your retweets can be turned off?)
  • It used to be that Instagram’s culture supported 12-20 hashtags per post. This is changing.
  • Instagram used to perform well with short captions. People now accept longer descriptions, stories.
  • SnapChat was copied by Instagram and Facebook with 24 hour “stories.”
  • Avatars used to be 500×500 squares. They’re are now circles within those squares.

I could go on and on but those are just some of the changes I’ve experienced since doing content marketing and social media management since 2009.

Tech changes. Adapt.

This is why it is so important to be a practitioner.

How do you start a social media campaign from scratch?

Starting a social media campaign from scratch is easier than you think. When you start from scratch, you don’t have to relearn changes. You just have to learn the right way (until they change it again).

My advice is to always start small. Use one platform. Use it often and use it well. For example, if you have a new product coming out, decide where your audience is. Pick that social media platform.

If it’s a WordPress plugin, choose Twitter. Start an account. Write your bio clearly. Use a square logo ensuring the logo is clearly visible in a square. Tweet about your product linking to your website. Pin that tweet to your timeline. Tweet once a day in the morning and once after lunch.

With Twitter, a campaign’s success is a ratio of volume. Resist the urge to retweet people who talk about you. Instead reply. Say “thank you.” Respond to questions. Build relationships. This is how to be successful.

How do I create a social media strategy plan?

The first step to creating a successful social media strategy is to plan with a professional. You should have SMART goals with an overarching strategy and agile tactics.

Let’s start by differentiating strategy from tactics.

“Strategy and tactics are both how you will achieve your goals and objectives. Strategy is our path or bridge for going from where we are today to our goal. It’s our general resource allocation plan. It might be to engage industry thought-leaders to become advocates for our product. The tactics then are how specifically or tangibly we will do that. They might include items such direct marketing letters, face-to-face meetings, key talking point scripts and an iPad app.” Rich Horwath

  • What are your goals? Write them down.
  • What do you want out of social media? Write it down.
  • Who is your customer? The answer is not “everyone.” This question takes some introspection and maybe an audit. Who were your last 5 big customers? What do they have in common?
  • Where are your customers? If the answer is Twitter, then start there.

There is no real way to be super specific in a blog post about tactics, which is why you hire a consultant. This is where I mention that you can also hire me as a consultant to put together a plan of action. 

 

How do you create a social media marketing strategy factoring in change?

Any strategy should have flexibility in the tactics to allow for change. It’s the same in social media. Factoring in change in social media means factoring in failure. Social media tactics need room for error and experimentation. Watch the results — but don’t obsess. Look for long-term trends. Ask “what if” often.

In order to allow for tactical changes, you must experiment. I did it with this blog post, even. For the first time, I used “people also ask” as my outline. I never outline my posts. I just write.

That means, as a business owner or corporate officer, whether hiring or outsourcing, you must trust your team. Delegate. Let go. Check in monthly or quarterly. Ask questions. Listen to their answers. Assess. Adjust. Continue.

When it comes to employees, hire someone you trust and then — trust them. Give constructive feedback frequently. It takes time to learn a brand’s voice — or to shape it. Comedians take about four years to find this. It won’t be overnight.

How can social media strategies be improved?

Remember that a social media strategy is a strategy. These are overarching goals, to be contrasted with tactics. You can and should always improve your tactics. Strategies can be reassessed quarterly.

Social media strategies can always be improved but you won’t know how to make the changes unless you monitor trends, assess, and adapt.

A good social media manager won’t be stuck in 2009. As a practitioner, your vendor or in-house employee will know what is best for your industry and your niche.

This is why it’s important to outsource to a professional, who could easily qualify as an in-house Marketing Manager. Anything less is risking the reputation of your brand — something not so easily recovered for a growing small business.

If your social media marketing is stuck in 2009, let’s talk.

 

You Can’t Syndicate Results: A Case for Original Content

If you’re hurting for content is syndication really an option? To syndicate may fill blank space but does it produce results?

I’m talking to those small businesses in travel, real estate, and construction industries here — where I see it the most.

What is syndicated content?

Essentially content is syndicated if you, as a small business, sign up for content to be posted on your website that is not original. You can also syndicate yourself by allowing other blogs like B2B Community or Forbes to post your content.

Essentially, if your content marketing company posts the same content on your site as well as all of their other clients, you are paying to be buried in duplicate content. Who wins?

  1. The first site to publish and be indexed.
  2. The Marketing Company selling the content.

I recently posted this Google Search screenshot on my Facebook Page and it sparked an interesting discussion.

Syndicated Content is Duplicate Content
Syndicated Content is Duplicate Content

Comments from my Content Marketing & SEO Peers

“The first person to post wins!” Jen Miller, NeedSomeoneToBlog.com

“I agree with this. I would think that most of the traffic is going to end up at the original post. The original content is going to be generating most of the real value. It makes sense if you’re a huge producer and struggle to get quality content and need to shore up gaps for a large audience, but for anyone small, it doesn’t make sense.” Adam Fout, Blue Steele Solutions

“Syndicated content is the opposite of original, authoritative insights. I get it that people are “heads down”, but find another way to post original stuff if writing is not your thing. Most people in a business vertical have years of knowledge. More comfortable talking about stuff face to face? Record your thoughts and then transcribe it. That gets you close to having an original blog post. Google rewards those who have original thoughts. Some of my clients seem to understand that marketing makes a difference in sales, even if it takes a while to realize the revenue. These are the ones that are showing the most growth. Coincidence? I think not.” John Locke, Lockedown Design & SEO

“Everything is getting so automated. And dilution is certainly what can happen. Google doesn’t like to see duplication, either.” Carol Stephen, Your Social Media Works

“Syndicated content fails to meet a fundamental role of content on your site….show authority. Syndicated content, what I call ‘aggregated’ is good for social media. It can fill in the gaps and be leveraged to build relationships. Aside from that, I would never use syndicated content on my site UNLESS that was the idea of the site. And that is my Pinterest strategy – it’s a collection of content I recommend reading – my recommended reading list!!” Robert Nissenbaum, Tactical Social Media

Only Original Content is King

If “content is king,” then syndicated content is “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It’s a ruse. You could even be harming your brand by unknowingly having articles published on your site that you don’t agree with.

Syndicated content on your site might feed your ego (Emperor’s New Clothes), but is it producing results? Does this content help new customers find your business? Does this syndicated content elevate your brand? Does this duplicate content give you authority in your fiend? Are you being positioned as an expert? Are you getting new leads through organic searches?

Probably not.

The WPblab Episode

So, Jason Tucker and I addressed syndicated versus original content on WPblab August 22, 2018.

Take a listen and let us know what you think.

Let’s kill the “syndicated content is better than no content” myth. Who’s in?

Do you want results or convenience?

When it comes to our businesses we procrastinate on the things that we don’t like including [insert surprise here] marketing. But if marketing produces results, why do we wait?

The question to you is this:

Do you want results or convenience?

Spend 7% of Your Gross Revenue on Marketing

Budget may be an issue, though you should set aside a good 7% of revenue toward marketing, but it’s not the only excuse. Inconvenience tends to be the leader in the procrastination excuses.

“The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7 to 8 percent of your gross revenue for marketing and advertising if you’re doing less than $5 million a year in sales and your net profit margin — after all expenses — is in the 10 percent to 12 percent range.” George Boykin

For the sake of an example, if you are a WordPress Developer who charges $1,500 per website, $105 of that should go to marketing your business. This is a conservative investment in your future.

If you do four of those sites a month, $420 should be invested in marketing. To be more aggressive, you’ll have to dedicate a larger percentage of gross revenue.

Spending $420 a month on marketing instead of something else isn't convenient; it's an investment. Click To Tweet

What is convenient?

Pretty much nothing. You’ve heard the saying that nothing worth doing is ever easy? Well, nothing worth achieving is ever convenient.

Does anyone ask rugby players if it’s convenient that they get so dirty or become injured because of the lack of pads? No. Does anyone ask X Games athletes how many bones they broke to be champions? No.

There are plenty of things I do that are not convenient. But I choose to invest in my community, my business, and myself.

Investing in your business is never convenient. Click To Tweet

For example:

  • I drive 33 miles to my closest WordPress Meetup. This takes at least an hour in commute time. I do this one to three times a month. Results: friends, business, and fun. That matters.
  • I worked in Santa Ana for 14 years. It was a 27 mile commute and took an hour. Results: That job helped me launch my career shift.
  • I traveled for work while I was with Thought House (on behalf of Give). I hated travel before. Results: I met people all over the world and many of them have become clients.
  • Attending WordCamps can be expensive (about $1000 is an average budget). Results: I get clients all the time from attending, organizing, or speaking at WordCamps. Also: friends.
  • Blogging takes time and focus. I don’t always feel like writing for myself, especially after doing client work. Results: people continue to read my current and past writing and (guess what?) I get business and referrals. This doesn’t even speak to branding issues. (Would you hire a marketer who didn’t blog?)

I am not even talking about physical or mental fitness either. We all know that being fit is more than looking at magazines and having a gym membership. It’s not any different for your business.

What gets results?

Effort.

Period.

Start.

Start somewhere. But stop complaining.

It’s your business.

Results require effort. Effort is rarely convenient. Click To Tweet

Why aren’t you marketing your business?

I always tell business owners that they have to care about the future of their business. As a consultant or even their social media manager, I can’t care about their business more than they do.

So, I say the same to you — my audience. I can’t care about your business more than you do.

It’s your livelihood. It’s your future. It’s your passion.

Your business is your passion. Don't put it's future into someone else's hands. Click To Tweet

You should be involved in your business. You should care about it’s direction.

When’s the last time you had a checkup for your body or your vision or your teeth? It’s been a year or less. Right?

When’s the last time you had a checkup for your marketing plan? What worked ten years ago may not work now. What was true in social media last year, may not be true now. Changes in tactics are sometimes required.

Maybe it’s time.