Five years, two months, and one day ago I left my corporate job forever. I didn’t have a website, and I didn’t have any paying clients. But I did have a plan to make big bucks fast.
When I announced my departure, some coworkers thought I was leaving to get pregnant. (I wasn’t.)
Others thought I was quitting to enjoy life as a well kept woman to a sugar daddy husband. (I love my husband, but he’s no sugar daddy.)
Another contingent told me they thought I had been planning to work my way up to Vice President and was surprised to hear I was quitting. (The thought of being a VP at that company made me want to crawl into bed and never come out.)
What I knew for sure (in case you’re reading, Oprah) was that I couldn’t spend one more day working for a company whose mission I didn’t align with in a job that was devouring my soul.
On June 12, 2009, I left.
Of course, I had a plan.
I had just started coach training and believed I could make good money running my own coaching business.
I was going to fill my roster with one-on-one clients, offer group coaching, and sell digital products. If my plan panned out, I’d hit my six figure corporate salary in one year.
Step 1 was to make a website for my business. My husband and I set to work, and my first website was online in August that year.
Step 2 was to start attending weekly, 2-hour networking events. I printed business cards and started schmoozing.
Step 3 was to email friends and colleagues with the details of my new coaching business (because of course they’d want to immediately hire me). I messaged everyone I knew.
Step 4 was to have a booming business.
“Simple enough,” I thought.
Things didn’t go according to plan.
With my website up, business cards in hand, and a fancy name tag on my shirt, I drove an hour each way every Friday to one of the best Chambers of Commerce in the US. I networked weekly for a full year to try to grow my business.
I emailed friends, family, colleagues, old college roommates, people I used to know in high school, and even my neighbors to tell them about my business and entice them to hire me.
I blogged twice a week and sent two newsletters a month.
And I practiced my coaching skills with coach training buddies and former colleagues.
But clients weren’t hiring me.
So I launched a class. No one signed up.
I kept networking. But no one seemed interested in hiring me as a career coach.
So I offered another class. And I got one student!
I held a free workshop for young professionals at my previous workplace. I shared everything I had with them, hoping they’d hire me to coach them. No one did.
I felt like I was putting myself out there, but clients were not lining up to work with me. I was barely making any money.
Six months after quitting my job, I had little to show for all of my efforts.
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The financials were bleak.
While preparing to quit my job, I had saved one year’s living expenses to cover our household bills.
By December 31, 2009, 6 months after quitting my job, I had made a whopping $830 in my business. A far cry from my original projection.
Even more bleak, I had spent $23,026.81 over the previous two years to get to this point. Coach training, getting coached, books, workshops, retreats, and a dozen other training programs to make this business work. And I had made $830.
I began to have daily panic attacks about money.
We cut our household budget in HALF. I started shopping at the discount food store, foregoing my preferred organic options. I stopped getting massages. Stopped acupuncture. No new clothes. No vacations. I quit the gym and opted for at-home workouts. Anything that wasn’t essential was brutally cut. We were living as bare-boned as we possibly could.
I really began to question whether or not I could make this business work.
At the same time, I refused to give up. The thought of going back to a corporate job was a huge motivator to keep trying even if success looked improbable.
I tried a dozen more things.
I dug deep and tried to find anything that would help me get some traction.
I hosted practice coaching calls for my fellow coaches. I also traded coaching with them to get better at coaching.
I partnered with an experienced coach in town to host a 4 week workshop. She did the teaching, and I did the organizing. We filled it with 10 participants but made very little money.
I offered another paid class to my list. I got two sign ups.
I made flyers for my career coaching and posted them around town. I got one client.
A former coworker hired me.
I created my first product. Partnering with a friend, we spent over 200 hours creating it. We launched it and sold one for $63! (Then had to split that in half.)
Along the way, I purchased another dozen classes, read countless blogs, got coached weekly on my self-limiting beliefs, and coached myself daily on everything that was holding me back.
When clients did come, I coached them. I gave them everything I had to offer.
But little was really happening in my business.
I still refused to give up even though all the evidence was telling me that my business was never going to work. Tweet that!
I began following the signs.
Even though my business wasn’t yet working, I wasn’t going to quit. I realized my original plan wasn’t THE plan, so I decided to try another approach.
Instead of trying to create with the end in mind (meaning shooting for a formula of X clients + Y classes + Z products = desired income), I started following breadcrumbs.
The first breadcrumb was left by a coach I knew. She told me that she wanted to hire a VA (virtual assistant). I wasn’t a VA, but the thought of working for her was intriguing. I emailed her and offered to give it a try.
Quickly I discovered that I loved it!
Soon after I was hired to be a VA for five more coaches. I loved the work, I loved working for them, and they loved working with me. These clients came easily, and I was finally starting to make money. Most importantly, I was truly enjoying my business!
I wasn’t yet bringing in megabucks, and I was definitely afraid we’d have to move in with my in-laws, but something was starting to click.
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I focused on what I really loved.
With my heart and mind tuned into following breadcrumbs instead of chasing an income goal, I began to pay more attention to what I really enjoyed doing.
I played a game of hot or cold.
VA work was hot.
Career coaching was cold.
Working with business owners, hot.
Working with people in the midst of a personal crisis, cold.
Figuring out online technical stuff, hot.
Life coaching, cold.
Helping others with technical challenges, hot.
Managing the logistics of an online business, hot.
I then attended a coaching conference and had a serendipitous conversation with the amazing Bev Barnes. She gave me the much needed nudge to take this game of hot or cold a step further.
I admitted defeat.
A year after quitting my job to follow my dream to be a career coach, I realized that I didn’t want to be a career coach. It wasn’t my calling. I didn’t love it. And it wasn’t something I could excitedly do all day long.
I failed. Totally and completely.
Even still, I refused to give up on my entrepreneurial dream. The business I started wasn’t the work I was meant to do, but I would not go back to a traditional job without a fight.
I quit my business.
I realized something I knew all along: I was organized, I loved planing, and I loved getting shit done. The VA work was on the right track. Career coaching was not.
Talk about a lightbulb moment.
What was I doing trying to be a career coach, when it was clear that I was meant to do something else?
The clients and the money were showing me what I was really meant to do. So I regrouped.
I did more soul searching.
With Bev’s help, I found my hot-hot trail: VA work, project management, and helping people make ideas happen.
I hired a coach to refine my new business and set out to create a website. This was going to be my business. It felt more right than ever before.
I officially closed my career coaching venture and let all of my coaching clients go.
I closed out 2010 with evidence that I was on track. I made a whopping $18,681, most of it being from VA work (which I thoroughly loved).
We were still eking by with my original savings stash which stretched out further than I ever thought possible. We were now also supported by an itty bit of business income I was now generating.
We were still living bare bones, and I was okay with it. I didn’t want to get a job. Living on so little was a sacrifice I was willing to make for a little while longer.
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On March 1, 2011, I began again.
I started fresh as Jenny Shih, LLC, with an internet home parked right here at jennyshih.com.
I took with me some of the things I learned from my failed business when I launched my new business.
I was going to focus on list-building.
I was going to have a great opt-in. (The Idea Flight Kit, which you can still download today.)
I opened a Facebook page.
I engaged on Twitter.
I started networking online.
However, even though I was on a hot track, I still kept eff’ing up. I still had failures. And I wasn’t raking in the dough.
I did find my way eventually, and I can’t wait to tell you more about how I got there. More attempts. More failures. And finally, the wins started to come. I’ll continue this story next week.
I won’t lie to you. It wasn’t all easy. It wasn’t all fun. And I wasn’t always smiling.
There were teary fits on the kitchen floor. There were sleepless nights. There were panic attacks about money. There were constant job searching on craigslist. There were worries that we’d have to sell our house.
Some days it downright sucked.
Whoever says business is easy is full of shit. It’s not!
At the same time, it IS possible to create the business you want. It just takes persistence and unwavering determination to get there. Tweet that!
In the mean time, I want to know what you think!
I’ve dished the first half of my story, and now I’d love to hear from you!
How has your business journey been? Harder or easier than you expected?
Did you ever want to call it quits?
Are you absurdly determined like I was to make it work no matter what?
What’s your biggest take-away from the first half of my story?
I can’t wait to read your stories in the comments below!!