Real Life

Recently, I’ve been answering specific reader questions on the blog. If you have questions or topics you need help with, please email me or leave a comment at the bottom of this post. I don’t know if I can respond to all of your questions, but I’ll do my best.

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Tammy, 

It seems like your business emerged organically and that it was immediately successful. I’m wondering if my perception of your success is true? I want to start a web-based writing business, but I don’t know where to begin. Can you give me some advice, based on your experience?

— Anonymous 

writing life

Dear Anonymous,

When I left my day job in January of 2010, I didn’t know if my micro-business would succeed or fail. I still don’t know if it will succeed in the long run. I’ve learned many lessons over the last four years, and I’ve gained a lot of experience. However, there is always more to learn. Learning never stops, and nothing is static in business or in life. So yes, my little business continues to evolve organically. In essence, I’m winging it.

In The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer said:

“In both the art and business worlds, the difference between amateurs and the professionals is simple:

The professionals know they’re winging it. 

The amateurs pretend they’re not.” 

I wholeheartedly agree with Palmer. Acknowledging that I’m winging it enables me to ask for help, focus on collaboration, and improvise as my life and business continue to evolve. In many ways, this is about letting go of control.

Sustaining a small business requires hard work and persistence. I love my flexible schedule, deciding what projects to take on, and working with people I trust. However, there are downsides too. For example, I don’t have a set salary, so my income fluctuates wildly each month. I also don’t get paid sick or vacation time, and I pay for my own health insurance. Sometimes, I think about finding a day job and closing this business because I have a tendency to freak out about money. However, when I enter a scarcity mindset, I shift my focus toward gratitude. I can pay my bills, save money, and I have a community of amazing readers and supporters. For me, that’s what success looks like.

I’m sharing the following tools that I’ve used in my small business, not as a blueprint for your situation, but with the hope they might benefit you in some small way.  They are lessons specific to my work as a writer, photographer, and teacher. Also, they are in no particular order.

1. Create a website. Your website doesn’t have to be complex or fancy. Look for a simple design, and make it easy for readers to read your work and purchase your products. If you aren’t sure where to begin, check out some of the free templates available through WordPress, Tumblr, or Typepad. If you need help designing a website, ask a friend or family member for help.

2. Find clarity around your business intentions and offerings. This is an ongoing process and it is subject to change. If you aren’t sure where to begin, below are questions worth exploring:

  • How are you going to help readers?
  • What types of products and services are you going to offer?
  • How are you going to collect cash for your products and services?

3. Invest in an accountant or bookkeeper. I didn’t invest in bookkeeping software until June of 2014. Prior to that, I was tracking my income and expenses with an Excel spreadsheet, and I missed expenses that could have been deducted from my taxes by using this method. Also, I didn’t have a clear understanding of my profit margin. I did the best I could, but streamlining my bookkeeping has saved countless hours. Now, I use the extra time for writing, photography, teaching, and research.

4. Failure and rejection are part of business and life. For instance, I’ve offered products in the past that haven’t done well. I’ve also been rejected by dozens of publishers for numerous book ideas. I was disappointed by my failures—and the rejections—but I’ve learned from them, too. Each failure offers an opportunity to practice gratitude and to be humble.

5. Get enough sleep, and unplug from your devices. To be creative and productive, it’s essential to rest and to step away from the Internet. Working 80 hours a week won’t make you more productive or creative.

6. Simplify, simplify, simplify. In 2003, I began simplifying all facets of my life. Since then, I’ve given away 90% of my belongings, improved my relationships, reevaluated how I spent my time, and changed careers. Simplifying gave me the time to focus on starting my little business. It’s not perfect or easy, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to reinvest my time in a constructive way that helps people.

7. Be open and flexible. I usually have projects planned six months in advance, but my plans aren’t set in stone, either. Being flexible and open has given me the option to participate in a variety of business projects.

8. Cultivate multiple income streams, reduce expenses, and save money. When I started this journey, I made money through freelance writing projects and e-book sales. Now, the bulk of my income is generated from e-course enrollments. Also, I participate in select affiliate programs and I receive royalties from my books. I’ve purposely cultivated multiple income streams and an emergency savings account to cover about six months of expenses.

9. Connect the dots. In The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer talks about collecting, connecting, and sharing art. She encourages folks to share their art, even though it’s scary, and to “connect the dots.” As Palmer notes:

“Artists connect the dots—we don’t need to interpret the lines between them. We just draw them and then present our connections to the world as a gift, to be taken or left. This IS the artistic act, and it’s done every day by many people who don’t even think to call themselves artists.

Then again, some people are crazy enough to think they can make a living at it.” 

Sometimes I feel crazy for doing what I do, but more often than not, I feel incredibly fortunate to have help and support from my friends, family, and readers. It all began by making the decision to start connecting the dots and to share my words and photos online.

10. Ask for help and collaborate. I don’t run my little business by myself and the idea of going it alone is a myth. It’s essential to ask for help, to collaborate with other artists, and to practice gratitude. For example, I ask Logan (my husband and best friend) for help editing my work every day. My friend Chris copyedits the majority of my work. I also collaborate with authors to make cool stuff like e-courses, and I help other authors promote their work when I can. I don’t see being in business as a competition; instead, I view business as a collaboration between fellow authors, publishers, and the lovely folks who read my words.

11. Practice gratitude. Last but not least, I make gratitude a daily part of my life. If I feel fearful, I focus on gratitude because it changes everything.

Be well,
Tammy

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