7 Pivotal Decisions that Shaped My Business
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If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard, “Growing a successful business isn’t easy or everyone would be doing it.” While my business might not be considered successful to some, I find it to be very much so. As such, I find it important to share the 7 pivotal decisions that shaped my business.
To understand how and why these decisions shaped my business, it’s important that you know where and why I started the business…
Background and Education
A graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I worked for nearly a decade as a designer at top firms in New York, Connecticut, Chicago and Ohio. I lost my job designing schools in Ohio in 2008 when the economy tanked. Bond issues were failing because tax payers couldn’t justify paying for school improvements, so the firm I worked for wasn’t getting work.
In late 2010 I left my first husband, and I had a short stint at Chipotle (where I was booted from the line because my burritos kept breaking). American Honda offered me a full-time, contract position as an administrative assistant, and I jumped for it. Nights and weekends could once again be spent with my two young boys.
With my background and education, I knew I was capable of so much more than secretarial work and my co-workers agreed. Unfortunately, I was turned down for more than ten permanent positions, and my co-workers said it was because it would be too hard to replace me.
In March 2012 I remarried, and my husband lost his job a week later. I suggested that maybe this was God telling him it was time to pursue his dream of becoming an independent video game developer. Shortly after, we found our family of four living off my weekly salary (approximately $350), Dave’s VA Disability benefits, and student loans.
Decision #0: Start the Business
By September 2012, I knew something had to change. We were living paycheck to paycheck, and often got to Friday’s payday with a negative bank balance. Typically, the remainder of the funds went to past-due utilities and rent. I decided to start freelancing through Elance as it was the only alternative I saw to taking a third-shift job.
On September 4, 2012, The Sutton Companies were born. I spent $12 we didn’t have on a domain, Dave designed my first logo, and I used GoDaddy’s Website Builder to build my first site.
Feeling pressure to compete with overseas virtual assistants, I initially offered my services for $8/hour. One of my first clients even talked me down to $6.50/hour. Yuck. I was writing blog articles my clients were getting paid hundreds of dollars for, developing marketing strategies and designing logos. I have no problem saying I was awesome at what I did.
A few months into my business, a new client told me she almost didn’t give me an interview because she didn’t she how I could have skills if I was only charging $8.
Decision #1: My rate was immediately raised to $15
Amazingly, I received more work after I raised my rate than I had previously. Unfortunately, out of scarcity mode, I was accepting EVERY virtual assistance position offered to me regardless of whether or not I was interested in what the client was doing.
When our daughter, Nevaeh, was born in August 2013, we barely had money to pay for food. I was extremely stressed and went back to work within 10 days, thankful for the clients who had even given me that time off. Many client meetings were spent with a baby on my boob.
Note: We had not planned Nevaeh, however we were also not trying to not have babies. Prior to starting my business, we had suffered four miscarriages in less than a year. We had stopped trying, and the week I gave my notice that I was leaving American Honda, we again found out we were pregnant…
The Client Who Said God Sent Her…
March 2014 found us moving out of our apartment and into our first home. We were in a land contract, which, in case you’re not familiar with the expression, is essentially rent-to-own. My newest client told me God had led her to me, and she was paying $30/hour. Unfortunately, I soon discovered her God was definitely not my God.
While we were moving, she told lies to the rest of the team about how I had disappeared and left her in a lurch. I had written proof that I had told her (for weeks) that I was moving, and she had made arrangements for while I was gone. Still, she refused to pay my final invoice saying I had done work she had not asked me to do.
Previous work had taught me the importance of keeping every single email. My email folders contained records of the tasks that had been assigned to me — by her — within MY project management system. I also had email notifications of her deleting the tasks as she was telling the lies and disputing my invoices.
The client told me to contact her attorney if I wanted to pursue payment, and I presented him with all the emails. The attorney surprised me when he told me that I had such solid evidence that he would pay me what I was owed and pursue her for the funds.
Decision #2: No more work without retainers
Although I had started my business through Elance, more and more clients were being referred by other clients. The aforementioned client taught me that for the safety of my business and my family, all new Elance clients would be required to pay a retainer prior to work beginning.
Decision #3: Become an Infusionsoft Certified Partner
In the early summer of 2014, a client approached me expressing the desire to begin using Infusionsoft. A number of her entrepreneur friends also wanted to use Infusionsoft, however they were all concerned about the necessary startup inventment. I wanted to learn Infusionsoft, however prospects wouldn’t hire me to learn Infusionsoft within their app.
This client, however, had an interesting proposal…
“My friends and I will sponsor you to become an Infusionsoft Certified Partner, including your travel and accommodations. In return, you will perform Infusionsoft services for us (at your current rate) until our investment is paid off.”
In late September, 2014, and six months pregnant with twins, I traveled to Chandler, Arizona, for my Infusionsoft certification. It was the last week my doctor would allow me to travel, and I knew this was my one and only shot for quite some time. If I waited, it could be years before the next opportunity came about. Infusionsoft was a mystery to me until two months before my certification, however I spent 40-50 hours a week, every week, studying EVERY tutorial.
Following three days of training and an intense exam, I became an Infusionsoft Certified Partner. I worked off the time I owed my clients, and shortly thereafter, took a several month long maternity leave for the twins. David (the Third) and Zelda were born at the beginning of January 2015, 38 weeks into my pregnancy.
Decision #4: Get a Coach
By March 2015 I was going stir-crazy, and we were broke. I knew I needed to get back to work, however I had let all my virtual assistant clients before the twins were born. I expressed my income concerns to my husband, who replied, “Don’t ask God for income. Ask him for an opportunity.”
And that I did.
When you ask God for something, be prepared for what he gives.
Within a month I had 30+ new clients and more work than I could possibly handle. Contractors who were bidding against me on Upwork started asking me for work, and I happily obliged. Unfortunately, I wasn’t charging enough to make it profitable for my business.
One of the new clients who came in during this rush was a business coach who was looking for marketing assistance. He was about to release his first book, and because he was a little strapped, we agreed to barter our services.
“Coach” planted the seed that I needed to raise my rates.
Infusionsoft Certified Partners are not shy about the fact that they charge $150-$250/hour (or more) for their consulting services. I was charging $50/hour, which is why I was getting so much work.
Unfortunately, when you undervalue your services, clients have a tendency to undervalue you.
I didn’t listen to Coach immediately. It was another year before I raised my rates. But what I also learned from him was…
Decision #5: Don’t Barter
I learned that I don’t take opportunities/services I don’t pay for seriously. I consistently didn’t show up for Coach or myself as I should have. My coaching didn’t progress as it should have, just because I wasn’t fully invested in it. While I was getting Coach’s work done, it was shoved to the bottom of the barrel, quite unfairly. Thankfully, while our coaching relationship ended, Coach and his family became amazing friends to me and my family, and we remain each others’ biggest supporters to this day.
I didn’t learn my lesson from Coach’s barter though.
I tried a coaching barter with another client, and again it failed. This time, neither of us were getting the support we needed. Seeing how her own coaching practice was struggling, I began to doubt that she could provide me what I needed to succeed. She encouraged me to take actions which were not in alignment with me, and I resisted. While I don’t burn bridges, this relationship ended and we haven’t spoken since.
Decision #6: Sleep
Let’s speed this story up a bit.
April-July 2016 found me completely stressed and with a lot of anxiety. I was still working with a number of clients purely for their money, and was still saying “yes” to all work opportunities. 18 months had passed since the twins had been born, however I rarely slept more than 2-4 hours. On the rare occasion that I did sleep more, it was because I had crashed from pure exhaustion.
I had started the Positive Productivity brand, however I still I hadn’t yet embraced or defined it. I was working too hard to model my business off the successes of others.
Enlisting Outside Support
After opening up to a friend about my anxiety, she sent me a series of Abraham Hicks seminars on YouTube. In these seminars, I repeatedly heard Abraham say, “Take a nap. When you’re in a foul mood or life is going poorly, take a nap.”
I previously thought “High Performance” meant push to get as much done as possible. Brendon, however, taught me that high performance can only come after we learn to take care of ourselves. Brendon also shared that we needed to give ourselves adequate sleep on a daily basis.
I immediately started sleeping 6-8 hours a night again, and my emotional state instantly improved. My rested body allowed me to be more productive and get more done every day in FAR less time.
On 2 hours of sleep, a simple, 2-hour task was taking me 8. On eight hours of sleep, the same task only took 2. Sleeping more ended up quadrupling my efficiency.
Decision #7: Choose Impact Over Income
Danielle LaPorte taught me to stop forcing life. I needed to stop setting deadlines and instead allow my life to flow. In addition, both Danielle and Brendon taught me that income needed to fall 2nd (or 5th) in my business.
Impact moved straight to the top.
The Positive Productivity podcast launched on October 4, 2016, months after I intially intended to launch. Posts released on Facebook that very day indicated to me, however, that October 4 was the date the launch was supposed to happen.
Where I Am Now…
While I can’t say that every day has been stress-free, the months since I moved impact to the forefront have been a vast improvement.
My work schedule has shifted from working 60-80 hours a week for clients to working 10-20. Any other time I work (and definitely NOT to the sum of 60-80), is on my own business.
The clients who were trying to hold my nights and weekends hostage were fired or given firm boundaries. My family and I repossessed our time with each other. (I took my 5 kids bowling last night by myself!!!!)
Thanks to my podcast, I was an Icon of Influence at Steve Olsher’s New Media Summit in September 2017. As a result, the podcast and my message have SOARED! This past week I received my first “Thank You” message from someone I’ve never met! And in January 2018, I will be on stage for my first speaking opportunity. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am that God has given me the opportunity to share Positive Productivity with the world.
Last, but certainly not least, I LOVE my work.
I’m passionate about the work I’m doing for clients. More importantly, I’m passionate about the work I’m creating for myself. I’m focusing on one project at a time, and I have the most phenomenal team supporting me. I know we will finish each project when it’s meant to be finished. Team members know I don’t typically message my team on nights or weekends, but if I do, they know they don’t need to respond.
Our businesses will be a hot mess if we allow them to be. You need to make decisions and take action to set up and experience a business that provides you peace, passion and prosperity. If you need help, you’re invited to check out the Positive Productivity Pod. The Pod is my group coaching program which helps entrepreneurs set-up the self-care, support and systems necessary to achieve peace, passion and prosperity.