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How I Built a Business That Replaced My 9-5 Income the Month After I Quit


Okay, I’ll make a confession: that blog title feels scary to me. But it’s true.

I don’t want you to read that headline and despair. I want you to read that headline and think, If she can do it, I can do it, too.

Everyone says this online, but it bears repeating: don’t compare your step 1 to someone else’s step 100.

My step 1 was winter of 2017. I was working three days a week for the nonprofit where I’d been working for 5 years. I was starting to feel a little … punchy. Like the work wasn’t quite for me. But I had no idea what work WAS for me.

I had an eight-month-old son. I was finally actively recovering from the chronic fatigue I’d struggled with for four years. I had more energy, and I was casting around for the next right thing.

Chris Guilleabeau had just started the podcast Side Hustle School, so I started binge-listening to it once or twice a week (he posts new episodes every day). At the end of every episode, he says, “Remember: inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is even better.”

I loved this. But I had no idea what action to take. I wanted to start a side hustle; sure, it would be nice to make more money. But I didn’t have even an inkling of an idea.

So I kept listening, and not taking action.

Around the same time, I saw a Facebook ad for a webinar by a life coach named Susan Hyatt on business rituals. I didn’t have a business, but I secretly kind of wanted one, so I signed up for the webinar. She seemed really fun and cool, so I downloaded two or three episodes of her podcast, GO!, for a train ride to NYC when I was going to see a Broadway show with my sister.

Bear with me. This is all coming back to business in a big way.

I listened to those two or three episodes of GO! and, because they’re each like 6 minutes long, was done with them in the first 20 minutes of a 100-minute train ride. I immediately started downloading, like, every episode, and my phone promptly freaked out because I was trying to download so many things with no wifi.

The GO! podcast is all about chasing after big dreams and goals and bringing more fun and pleasure into your life. Susan’s motto is “The more fun I have, the more money I make.” Since she made $1M in her online business last year, I thought this idea was worth testing.

Here’s the truth: I was a new mom coming out of four years of chronic illness. My life consisted of working, taking care of my family, and resting. It did not contain whole lot of pleasure or new experiences. I’m not saying this so you feel bad for me; I’m sharing it with you to express how starved I was for pleasure and fun. The fact that I was listening to these messages while on my way to see a Broadway show with my sister was amazing and just the beginning of my journey into more fun.

Around this time, I decided that I should get a full-time job with a marketing firm. I’ll spare you a long and crazy story about how I got an informational interview with the owner of a boutique marketing firm near me. Suffice to say that when she turned out to be hiring, and I sent her the salary I was seeking (which was the annualized salary of what I was ALREADY MAKING at my current job, which I worked 3 days a week), she basically shamed me and was like, “I’m sure you’re worth every penny if you say you are, but you’re way out of my reach” (read: way out of line).

That meeting was a clear NO — not just for that job, but for the whole industry.

Back to square one.

Around THIS time, Susan Hyatt posted something on Facebook that would change my life. (Dramatic much? It’s true.)

She posted that it was about to be her 10-year business anniversary, and she decided to throw a celebration in NYC. It would be a high tea, with fancy scones and delicious tea and women wearing cute dresses and little hats. I saw that post and was like, YES! I AM DOING THIS!

Then I clicked through and saw the price tag: $300. My heart sank. My husband and I had recently put ourselves on a pretty strict budget (which was working great for our money goals), but I did not have that kind of discretionary income.

Then I read that Susan’s event would benefit her daughter’s all-women theater nonprofit, and I had a crazy idea.

What if … what if I paid $100 towards the ticket, and offered to do some writing support for the nonprofit? My heart started beating more quickly. What if … there was another way to make this work? What if I didn’t tell myself “no” from the outset? What if I proposed a different solution and let someone ELSE tell me no … or yes?

Long story short: I made my proposal to Susan, and Susan said YES.

I went to the tea and got to MEET HER IN PERSON. And I got to meet her tribe. I had never been at a social event with all strangers where everyone seemed more interested in meeting me and learning what I was all about than they did in talking about themselves. I just knew that these were my people. So naturally I decided I wanted to eventually become a life coach.

During the event, Susan had each of us write a letter to her, from ourselves in 10 years, telling her what we were up to. I wrote her a letter and said, “I’m so glad I didn’t get a job at a marketing firm. Instead, I started my own business. You and I have been friends now for ten years, and we’ve made a lot of money together!”

At the time this seemed delusional, like wishful thinking. Just wait, grasshopper.

Over the next several months, a pattern emerged: I had a business idea, started testing it, worked with a life coach, learned what wasn’t working, kept tinkering.

In my first idea, I offered writing coaching for people working on their first novel. I made $175 in three months.

I started working with my first-ever life coach, Katrina McGhee. I told her that I wanted to be a life coach, but I felt stressed because I wanted to get trained and didn’t know how I’d afford the training.

Through our work I unraveled a belief I didn’t even know that I had: that I couldn’t make a living as a writer because I had to “save” my writing for my own creative work.

This thought was ingrained in me by three different professors that I admired and respected from my MFA program. These professors all shared, in different ways, how and why they did not write for a living (they taught and advised others on their writing). They “saved” their writing for their own creative work: novels, essays, short stories.

I hadn’t even realized that I’d internalized this thought (which is just one reason why coaching is so valuable). I was operating as if this belief was just a given. As soon as I started to question it, it quickly fell apart. I loved writing and I was an excellent writer. Why WOULDN’T I want to write for my career?

I decided that I wanted to be a freelance writer for magazines. At Katrina’s suggestion, I made connections with MFA professors who had written for publications I was interested in, and to ask others if they had connections I could reach out to. I had several coffee dates and phone calls, started building up my portfolio, and a few months later, landed a gig writing a monthly feature article for a local health and wellness magazine that paid $200 per article.

Side note: Katrina coached me during this time on the thought that I was fickle and kept changing my mind. I thought that I should have a business idea and GO ALL IN without taking any detours or changing my approach at all.

She asked me if I was a different person that I had been a year before. I said absolutely. And she asked me if it was reasonable to assume that I should stick to one narrow idea forever. I let go of this belief and decided to be open to different ideas that presented themselves, trusting that I’d wind up on the right path.

I worked with another coach that fall, Amanda Karlstad, who had just graduated from the Life Coach School and was offering free packages so she could get certified. Amanda really delved into thought work with me, unraveling a bunch of beliefs I didn’t even know I had. How’s this doozy: I realized that I had a belief that I wasn’t good at math–and I was associating math with business. So I thought I couldn’t be good at business because I thought I wasn’t good at math. Once I let that crazy thought go (that I hadn’t even known I was thinking), I felt so much lighter!

Right around this time, I was taking a walk and talking to my mom on the phone. I told her that I wasn’t sure what was coming — maybe I’d be a life coach, maybe I’d be a writer … and then I suddenly blurted out, Maybe I could be a writer for life coaches!

I was so, so excited by this idea. Life coaches produce a ton of content — I loved producing content — why couldn’t I help them? I emailed Katrina my idea — and she hired me on the spot to produce a series of pitches for her to pitch herself to be a guest on podcasts. She shared my new venture with her group of master coaches (from Susan’s program Boss University), and one of them became my next client.

I started pitching the idea to coaches trained by the Life Coach School, and had several phone calls with people and landed a few clients. My best friend Caroline introduced me to a marketing firm she’d worked with in the past as a copywriter, and I wrote a website for one of his clients. Two months after having the idea, I’d made more than $1,000. Ding ding ding. And the best part was: I’d already had the training. I already had two degrees in writing and had spent most of my career writing. I didn’t have to save up thousands of dollars to get certified so I could launch my business.

In January I joined the monthly coaching program Self Coaching Scholars, expressly because I wanted to tame my brain so I could work on my business more effectively. It was THE BEST investment I’ve made. Because previously, my pattern was to start a new idea, work on it, hit a roadblock and stop. Scholars taught me to hit a roadblock and KEEP GOING.

And I started practicing a belief I learned from Marie Forleo, which she applied both to money and to writing: There’s always more where that came from. More ideas to be generated, more money to be made. I realized that I didn’t have to have a scarcity mindset about my writing. I kept pursuing magazine writing opportunities, and I started a new novel.

In January, I told my husband that I wanted to work toward leaving my job in June. He was supportive. (So supportive that I called Caroline crying and said, “What if I let him down??”)

Month by month, I pitched myself, took excellent care of my clients, and brought in new work. I started noticing a trend: I was having far more success copywriting for life coaches than I was landing new magazine article assignments. I started focusing more energy on copywriting.

Then, Susan Hyatt ran a challenge called Ask for Everything. On the last day, she challenged us to ask for something crazy. You might be surprised!

I emailed Susan and was like, This is crazy…but I’d love to teach a class for your Boss University ladies on writing compelling copy. I told her what I’d teach them, and suggested extra freebies I hadn’t even developed yet but that I thought would be compelling. I offered to do two free hours of work with each member of the class.

And she said YES. She wrote back, “I love this idea! Boss U is on hiatus…how about teaching this class to my mastermind?”

Is the sky blue?!

Before I’d even taught that class, she hired me to work with two groups of another program, Clear Coaches Select, for an hourly rate that was more than twice what I was making at my job.

And out of the gate, the ladies in both programs started to hire me. I learned SO MUCH from working with them. I learned that most were more interested in having me write sales copy (which I did for my job, anyway) than writing content. I slanted my class and my offerings in that direction, and started making regular money. Susan has become one of my top clients and my top referrer.

It was enough to give notice at my job (they tried to keep me in three different ways).

I had set aside most of the money I’d made up to this point as a reserve for my business. It was time to cut loose!

My first full-time month in business was July 2018, and I invested in the business. I’d been working from home for my job for four years — all four years at an old writing desk that was too high for my 5’3″ frame. I bought a standing desk and had my office painted. I purchased a 6-week one-on-one coaching package, because I knew without a doubt that as long as I managed the craziness in my brain, I would be just fine. And I bought a super discounted ticket to a business conference called The Zone.

In June, the monthly theme for Self Coaching Scholars was Self-Confidence, and our assignment was to do a dare of the day. This was the most fruitful activity I’ve ever done in my business. For one of my dares, I pitched a presentation on Sales Copy that Converts to a local coworking space. It was accepted for their Lunch & Learn series. I met people, made contacts, and the following week got my first cold call from someone who had gotten my business card from a Grove member. For another dare, I pitched a super successful coach. It turned out she was on maternity leave, but one of her coaches ended up hiring me for her own business.

In July, I buckled down. I kept pitching, taking excellent care of my clients, and making offers. I signed two new retainer clients and talked with three other clients about retainer arrangements. At the end of the month, I raised my prices by 25%. And I hit the marker I’d set for myself: replacing the income from my job my first month out. (I actually exceeded it.)

I’m just getting started. My goal for this year is to hit $100K in my business. And I’m going to get there.

When Life Gets in the Way

If you’re telling yourself that it’s just not the right time and there’s too much going on in your life, I want you to check yourself.

Here’s what was going on in my life personally during the six months (from January to June 2018) that I really built my business:

  • My aunt died rather suddenly after a seemingly successful heart surgery.
  • My dad, who I’m extremely close with, was in the hospital for seven weeks, had two emergency surgeries, experienced every complication in the book, and moved through a very long and difficult recovery. My parents live in Philadelphia, and I live in Connecticut; I visited six times in eight weeks.
  • My close friend from growing up experienced a horrific personal tragedy: her sister and brother-in-law were murdered in a home invasion.

I also have a two-year-old and a husband who works full-time, and we do not have family nearby.

I say this not to toot my own horn (though, damn, when you say it like that I feel pretty proud of myself!). I say this because there’s never a good time to start a business. There’s always a lot of life stuff going on.

And here’s the flip side of this coin: if you are experiencing any kind of health issue yourself, give yourself a break. Give yourself a thousand breaks. Because if you’re not healthy, getting healthy must be your focus.

Otherwise: instead of giving yourself a break, push yourself.

Takeaways

Here are my main takeaways from my own story:
  • Be open to the path meandering. When you’re an entrepreneur, it is not always a straight line. That doesn’t mean you should quit as soon as you don’t get the results you wanted. It also doesn’t mean that you should try a different business idea every other month. But for me, I know now that this is my business: I’m a marketing strategist and copywriter extraordinaire for life coaches and solopreneurs. I’m not going to move on to the next thing, because this is the thing. But I was open to the idea evolving until I knew it was right. And now the business will evolve with me along this track. If I’d put too much pressure on the idea to be 100% right from the beginning, I’d still be trying to make my first $500 as a novel writing coach.
  • Try your own “dare of the day.” If you do something that legitimately scares you every day in your business, I can guarantee you will make progress. And here’s the tradeoff: you’re going to feel bad either way. Either you can keep feeling crappy in your day job (or crappy because you’re making no money in your business), or you can feel scared by the risks you’re taking. Now, I don’t advocate your “risk” being something crazy with money, like spending your rent money on a business program. Try a risk like pitching a prospective client, asking a friend to connect you with someone who could help you in your business, or putting your hat in the ring for a presentation or teaching gig. Go off the beaten path here! The litmus test is whether it scares YOU — if it does, it counts. If it seems like it should be scary but isn’t, pick something else.
  • Make offers. You will not get business if you set up a website and sit back and wait for people to come to you. You must be your own best advocate.
  • Make time for more pleasure and fun. The success in my business has legitimately risen as I’ve made more time for fun.
  • My #1 tip if you want to skyrocket your business: get coaching. I cannot overstate this enough. My success began with hiring Katrina. It continued when I worked with Amanda. It skyrocketed when I joined Self Coaching Scholars and did work on my brain every single day. Hire a life coach, a business coach, join a coaching program; just get some help on your brain, because that’s where you’ll succeed or fail.

Are you a coach or consultant who runs an online business? Through early September 2018, I’m offering a totally free landing page audit. You get my expert advice plus at least 5 actionable tips to improve the copy on your landing page or sales page for better conversions. The best part? You can implement these tips yourself, immediately. Sign up here.

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August 5, 2018

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6 Comments on “How I Built a Business That Replaced My 9-5 Income the Month After I Quit

  1. Brooke, thank you for sharing your journey so beautifully. You are so right – our paths are meant to “meander” so we can learn and grow and become the version of ourselves we are meant to be in each phase of our path. Such wisdom! Thank you. 😉

    • Thanks Amanda! Such a pleasure having you as my coach on part of my journey. 🙂 🙂

  2. BROOKE! Like seriously, Brooke. I love so many things about this. What an amazing story and look behind the scenes of what replacing your income can look like. Thank you for sharing this. And thank you for the kind words. It was such a great experience to have you as my client. I can’t wait to share this article!!

    • You’re so welcome!! It’s been amazing having you as my first coach and seeing our friendship evolve!! 🙂

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Ready for more conversions?
Master the 8 Elements of Highly Converting Landing Pages
Grab my free guide & boost your conversions today.
Send my guide!
I'll also send free soul-driven marketing tips weekly. I promise to keep your info private & you can unsubscribe anytime.
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