Building a business and brand....my way
I started dope(a)me three years ago, in February of 2015. Wow! Three years. In some ways it feels like barely any time has past and in other ways it feels like I have packed ten years of experience into three. I learn from slowing down and reflecting, so here I am...slowing down...reflecting. Through asking and answering some high quality questions (a couple of my own and the rest from friends on social media), I hope to land on some insight and inspiration that you and I can share in. Here we go ;)
How did I start? What was helpful for generating momentum?
With just a budding desire in my heart, and my mind focused on grit and passion for growth, I feel like I started the momentum by just speaking it out loud. I made my goals public. I was chatting with friends about my dreams and sharing my aspirations with anyone who would listen. I asked questions about what people wanted or were interested in and practiced sharing my ideas and offering coaching and support to anyone who was inclined to open up. I knew that if I spoke it out loud enough I would feel more accountable to actually do the damn thing. Through conversations and brainstorming I slowly became more clear in where I wanted to start. I figured that it made sense to find multiple streams of income to ensure that I was giving myself the space and exposure to practice my way into making this a reality. I can't speak enough about the importance of EXPOSURE! So many of the opportunities I have had have been the result of random encounters due to saying Yes to speaking engagements, trying new things, going to parties, attending workshops, meeting strangers, and sharing my ideas openly with friends who then keep me in mind as they meet new people.
It was such a funny feeling to spend so much time thinking, planning and creating something and then realize that no one else is thinking about it and everyone else has a brain full of their own stuff to focus on. Infusing my ideas, workshops and offers of support into other people's lives in a way that draws attention and gets a buy-in is a long process. It takes time to not only plant that seed but stay with it long enough that the seed grows into something that others see value in - while also being mindful of not bombarding people with "LOOK AT ME!" I for sure overstepped boundaries, pushed too hard, became obnoxious, or had moments of victim-hood in this process. And it was from those painful, and at times, embarrassing moments that I learned exactly where those boundaries are and how to be more gracious and patient with my message, and with myself.
What was my vision when I started this business?
I had written out an ideal schedule that became my goal. A certain number of spin classes, yoga classes, 10 one on one clients that I would work with for three months at a time (i.e. as one graduates from my program, another client would step in), and one big event at least every two months. In my mind, if I could create that then I would be set. A clean and simple structure that would pay the bills and keep me invested in the things that I love.
I had other goals for the future of my business that included running wellness retreats, creating an online program/community of clients, and travelling North America to speak at events and host workshops for teams and businesses. And I planned to go back to school for a leadership degree as a five year goal.
What did it actually look like when I started?
A few months in I was working with four clients and was shocked by how much time and energy that took. My plan of working with ten clients at a time, at least for now, no longer looked ideal or feasible. I had hosted several events and none of them pulled in a lot of people or revenue. I was teaching spin and yoga, and that was my only consistent pay cheque. To say I had moments of doubt would be an understatement. I wanted this to work so badly but I was also painfully aware of how much work I was putting in and how little money I was getting in return. So again, the practice was in the daily reminder that "this is supposed to take time." And sustainable growth is about the slow build with persistence. I was learning so much on a daily basis and was forced to be in my own personal development work because I had others depending on me. There was so much good, but there were definitely many days of self-doubt and floundering. I had to ground myself daily with these key reminders so that I wouldn't get lost in the tunnel of fear and doubt.
How much time did I spend on a daily/weekly basis at the beginning vs. now?
I definitely had way more free time in the beginning than I do now ;). I think I had to be more disciplined because it was easy to not do anything all day and not have anyone there to notice or care. The workload looked very different back then as well. A lot of my time three years ago was spent reading, drawing out diagrams and playing with different exercises or tools that could be "homework" for potential/future clients. I would create 30 day challenges and send them to friends to try out. I came up with one idea after another and would just launch it out into the world to see how it lands. Anytime I came up with homework or new routines to try, I would put myself through the work and take notes on what I noticed and what could be shifted. Kind of like I was in experimentation mode and everything I created I would try on myself first. While the time consumption was very similar then as it is now, back then it felt a little more forced and I felt a lot more rejection and struggle. I now feel like I have been around the block a few times so I am not surprised by struggles, and I am not set back by failures, and I bounce back a lot quicker after missteps. I have also found and sustained an awesome core group of other entrepreneurs who I get so much inspiration and energy from.
Around one year in of my business I was working and teaching 6-7 days a week and it was not super efficient. One of the big shifts I made was to re-look at my schedule every 6 months (ish) to assess where I could be working smarter, rather than harder. While I have way more responsibility, clients and projects on the go now, I have learned how to balance my schedule and honor my down time so that I can be very efficient in my work.
How to balance making money now versus what will make money in the long run?
Such a good question!! There were two points of time in the first two years of my business that I almost took on a role at a large business just to get the stability of a pay cheque. But I also wasn't willing to compromise everything for the sake of a new job. In both situations, once it was made clear that I was expected to put in 40+ hours of work and there was no wiggle room in that, I just couldn't do it. I didn't want to give up on my dream entirely, and I didn't want to work myself into the grave, and I felt a lot of pressure from myself and my hubby to be "successful" now.
It was through several difficult conversations (with myself and my husband), trying on new ideas, playing with possible jobs, then re-stating that I am not ready to give up and I need the support, space and time to make this happen. I had to fight for this several times. I had to make peace with a limited budget and the potential of debt in exchange for my passion and happiness. Being a budding entrepreneur and enjoying the work I was doing was actually making it so I was spending less money in general. I no longer have a shopping impulse to get a quick hit of joy in my otherwise unhappy existence. In fact, I recently made a commitment to not buy any clothing for a full year.
The more I talked about my finance struggles and fears with others the more I heard this to be one of the most common struggles - no surprise there. And when I heard other peoples stories and what they were doing to creatively make it work, I was inspired to keep pushing. I was constantly on the lookout for a side job that I could fit into my schedule without sacrificing what I truly wanted. Because of this, I began to branch out and express my desire and ability in group facilitation, small business leadership and culture consulting. I spread my reach by writing articles for several other businesses, I wrote my book, I collaborated with as many people as I could, and I attended events, workshops, and networking opportunities to keep myself surrounded by the energy and inspiration I needed. I aimed to spread myself. I imagined myself in a tug boat, throwing out 100 fishing poles with the trust that at least a few of them will bring in some fish. And over time, I would figure out which fishing poles to discard and which to pay more attention to. This was the mental model that landed me in the direction of mental health advocate, leadership and culture consultant, mindset coach, author, and group facilitator, along with a much more creative and flexible approach to coaching within the dope(a)me discipline.
What has surprised me about running a business?
Honestly, my confidence was a slow build and I had to be in the work of coaching myself and seeking out other coaches and moral support on a regular basis. I surrounded myself with people who were doing things I was inspired to do, and living in ways I am inspired to live. It was through these invaluable connections that I tapped into the momentum I needed. I couldn't have done it on my own, or maybe I could have, but it definitely would not have been as fun, supportive, and joyful.
What have been the three best exercises or questions to keep me focused and mindful of my brand/business/image?
- Daily writing/drawing out ideas /flow charts/diagrams
What are some common questions on my mind daily?
- What would compassion do?
- (not a question, but a daily positive affirmation) Let go, allow
- What would be fun?
- What can I let go of?
- What needs to shift?
- What's the most important thing right now?
- What am I learning?
What keeps me motivated?
- a variety of good food
- a desire and love of feeling freedom
- seeing and feeling progress in myself and those around me
What have I learned that I was not expecting to learn?
I didn't really know what to expect at all in this entrepreneur life. I truly have been making it up as I go along and just following the "fishing rods" that seem to be pulling in the fish. I have learned that running a business feels a lot like tending and caring for a living organism. While I can be balanced, clear and empowered one day, the very next day I can be overtaken with struggle, overwhelm and self-doubt. While I would not have it any other way, it is a daily effort and I need to be creative and thinking about what's next. Even when things are flowing and growing and working well, I am still putting in time and effort to play with what I could do better, and where I can be more efficient, and what gaps I am noticing in my ability or energy, and what I need or want to implement, learn and launch three to six months from now. I do feel like I am riding the wave now, but still it takes a lot of mindfulness and awareness to stay on the wave and cultivate the strength and wisdom to get back up each time I fall or lose my way.
Also, a point that my husband likes to mention often....five years ago he asked me if I would ever become a yoga teacher, and I responded with a "definitely not." ;). At the time I was convinced that I loved being a student and I had no interest in becoming a teacher. I began to toy with the idea once I landed on the decision to start a business and knew I needed to get more creative with other ways to make an income and nurture my inner-self. And it wasn't until I had a very open and fun conversation with Alice Hong about yoga that I decided she was someone I wanted to learn from and spend more time with. It was because of that connection that I dove in, and I am so so so grateful that I did.
What would make my life so much easier but I continue to not do it?
I am a morning person. I am one of those people that when I wake up in the morning I am excited and eager to get into my day. And, this is not the case when I go to bed late (past 12pm). I know my natural and most powerful rhythm is found when I go to bed at an earlier time and allow myself to wake up early and refreshed. And my husband is a night owl. It is not always easy for me to go to bed when he is so fun and I want to hang out with him. Some nights I stay up way too late because of that and then I have to put in way more effort to get myself into my peak state the next day. I have gotten a lot better with my discipline in this area but it is still something I have to be mindful of daily.
Also, I know I would benefit from engaging in more radical self-care. Not just relaxing and sitting around, but the more radical and efficient and soul-fuelling activities like going to a float tank, engaging yin yoga, practicing yoga nidra, more meditation (self-led and classes), taking time to draw beautiful baths, taking naps, going for massages, etc. These are the activities I continually remind myself that I need more of in my life.
What are the sacrifices?
What comes to mind here is that I have had to become more realistic in what lifestyle I can expect for now. For example, I have had a dream of owning a home for a long time. To have more space, to decorate, to make a home my own. And, this is not possible for me right now. It was a hard pill to swallow when I said to my husband "I want to buy a house so badly" and he responded "well you need to be making a lot more money in order for us to do that." I realized that a house is not the most important thing to me and I would rather live in a small (cut cute and cozy) apartment that allows me the space and freedom to build a career that lights me up inside and outside. When it comes down to it, I would much rather be living my dream all day every day and be fed and sheltered in a minimalist way. The more I live my passion, the less "stuff" I feel like I need. Simple actually feels best. And I am so grateful for everything that I do have.
Thanks for sending in your amazing questions and for being a part of my slowing down to reflect and learn. I feel grounded, clear and excited for a creative weekend ahead, and I hope you do to.
If you have any more questions in this realm, or anything else you are curious about, please send me a message! I would love to hear from you.
And check out my workshops scheduled to jump in on some of the fun and expansive opportunities coming up!
Bye for now xoxox