Last week I shared with you more details of my entrepreneurial story than I’ve ever before shared publicly.
You learned that my first half-year in business I only made $830 but spent $23,026.81 to get there.
You learned that my first business actually failed!
And that when I stopped focusing on income and started playing the hot-or-cold game, things started to click.
Last week I didn’t finish sharing my full story, so that’s what I’m going to do today.
If you haven’t read the first part yet, read it here before you dive into today’s post.
I found my hot track.
As I said last week, admitting that my first business failed was a big step. It opened the door for me to realize that I loved technical work, project management, and helping people make their ideas happen.
That’s exactly where I focused when I launched jennyshih.com.
I offered VA services, project management, and coaching on making ideas actually happen. For the first time, I was ridiculously excited about my business.
So excited that I could talk about it all day long – something I definitely couldn’t do when I was a career coach.
I loved that I was using my superpowers, my gifts, and my 10 years of corporate experience to help entrepreneurs (my favorite people ever).
It felt like a fresh start.
With my first business, I launched classes, created products, and offered one-on-one services. I did these same things again under my new business umbrella.
I launched my business by offering VA work, project management, and coaching to make your ideas happen.
Within a few months of launching jennyshih.com, I realized I was still missing a piece. I didn’t know anything about business or marketing. No wonder why I was still feeling uncertain about how to make this all work!
Until then, I had learned about technology and writing and coaching. I also did a shit-ton of personal work, getting through my fears, doubts, insecurities, and mental crap. Seeing this glaring hole, I was primed and ready for this next step.
Everything started to shift when I learned about business and marketing.
Realizing that I was missing a HUGE piece of the puzzle, I searched for coaches to hire, classes to take, and programs to join. It was my missing piece. In the spring of 2011, I dove in head first to soak up every little bit of marketing know-how I could.
I saw how I needed to think about my business differently, talk about my business differently, and take action with a more strategic approach.
I tested my new knowledge with a product, an ebook called The Idea Juicer Kit. I sold 32 copies for $27. Although that’s not a ton of money, given my first product flop, this was a huge win!
Next, I created a 6 week program called Get Real: Make Your Ideas Actually Happen. I filled it with 6 participants at $229. Holy moly! I was finally getting somewhere!
While all of this was happening, I was also focused on blogging and sending newsletters weekly, growing my list, and busting my ass being of service on social media. All of these were paying off and people were starting to know my name.
Clients started finding me. Slowly, but they were coming.
Most importantly, I was loving my business!
I was excited to network.
I was excited to talk about my business.
I was excited to blog and write and experiment and try new things.
I was open and willing to learn new things and challenge my brain.
And I was happy to spend time being of service on social media.
I had never felt this much enthusiasm with my previous business. No wonder why it failed!
At the same time, not everything was hunky dory. We still were struggling financially. I was still watching my money very carefully. And I saw that I still had a huge mountain to climb.
I knew I needed to incorporate the lessons from my first business in order to be successful in this new one.
I set non-financial goals.
One of the things my first failed business taught me was that creating a plan with the big-picture financial goal in mind (meaning working off of a formula of X clients + Y classes + Z products = desired income) was not the way to find traction in business. Instead, I needed to focus exclusively on what breadcrumbs were right in front of me and what felt “hot” while setting other non-financial goals.
“Hot” was coaching and VA work and project management. I focused on finding a certain number of clients (not making a certain dollar amount).
I also new I needed to start list-building. I set the goal to reach 1000 subscribers by September 1st, six months after launching my website. (This was my second non-financial goal.)
To build my list, I did smart things, like being active on social media, guest posting, and promoting my free offer.
But because list-building isn’t always fun or sexy — although it is essential! — I used a few strategic and a few bribery tactics to keep me motivated.
I incentivized myself with things like a new sweater when a guest post went live. This may sound trivial, but remember that I hadn’t bought new clothes for 2 years, living on meager means since quitting my job. A new sweater was a really big deal!
I knew that if I submitted one guest post, I’d likely get 30-80 new subscribers and one paying client. That one client would more than pay for the new sweater, so it felt like a safe but enticing bribe.
I also told myself that if I hit 1000 subscribers in 6 months that I’d teach a class on exactly what I did and how I did it. For me, that was also a huge motivator.
Best of all, these tactics worked.
By September 1st, I hit my 1000 subscribers goal and prepared to teach the class How to Get Your First 1000 Subscribers. I sold 64 spots at $67.
I felt like I hit the jackpot. I was finally getting somewhere!
I spent 30 hours on the sales page and 30 more creating the content. I practiced my new marketing skills and pushed myself to be the best marketer I could be, and the results spoke of themselves.
I thought I was on track.
My list-building efforts were working.
My marketing skills were helping my sales.
And my dogged persistence was paying off.
Still, things didn’t always work out according to plan.
I did several other things that year that didn’t work.
I launched four more classes, and the sum of all of those class sales didn’t generate the revenue that my How to Get Your First 1000 Subscribers class did. (And that class didn’t really make that much money to begin with!)
I submitted guest posts that resulted in zero new subscribers.
I had dozens of coaching consults that totally flopped.
I held workshops in town and spoke to various local organizations. These all resulted in zero clients and zero interest.
Other failures happened, too. In once instance, I was solicited by a local business to help them with email marketing (which they were doing in all the wrong — and illegal — ways). I spent hours on the phone and in email exchanges with director of marketing plus went to their place of business to instruct his team on how things to do differently… all under the promise that they’d hire me. However, after all of my efforts, he confessed that they didn’t have a budget to pay me.
It was, however, because of all these failures, that I was learning what didn’t work. This is just as important as knowing what does work!Click to TweetI needed the failures AND the wins to really understand how to make my business work.
When 2011 ended, I stopped thinking about getting a job.
When the year came to a close, I wasn’t rich, but I was on my way to a much less stressful financial reality.
I no longer thought about getting a job.
The panic attacks about money waned.
And I could pay our household bills with a tad more ease.
If my jeans got a hole in them (and after two and a half years without new clothes, most of them had holes), I could purchase a new pair.
I didn’t freak out when the water heater broke or the bathroom sink started leaking. We had a little bit extra for emergencies.
It was looking like things were going to be okay. We weren’t ready to fund a big vacation, but I was able to finally breathe.
I knew I had to keep learning.
Just because I had gained traction, didn’t mean I stopped learning. In fact, now that I saw all that I had learned to get this far, making $35,721.98 that first year, I saw how much more I still needed to learn!
I continued to get coached regularly on my mindset, crappy thinking, fears, and doubts. I also coached myself (an assignment I give all of my clients who are coaches) to keep things in check.
For 2012, I decided to join a high-end mastermind program at a five-figure price tag. The financial commitment was terrifying, as I truly didn’t have the money to pay for it. But I knew I needed to up-level my business and keep reaching for my dreams.
I did something I never recommend to clients: I got a new credit card with 0% interest for 6 months just in case I couldn’t make the payments on the coaching program. I knew that I would not grow without more guidance and support, so I went all in.
I was as committed as ever, willing to try new things and fail miserably to make it happen.
I kept experimenting.
In 2012, in addition to getting coached (by two people, a business coach and a life coach!), I kept testing, trying, experimenting, and failing my way to success.
I turned my 2011 classes into downloadable products. My list-building program continued to sell. The others flopped.
I offered group coaching. This worked well for a few months but then turned “cold,” so I stopped.
I designed, marketed, and offered another new class. I challenged myself by marketing it with a free call (800+ new subscribers!), putting my improved copywriting to good use, and giving my students the best I had to offer. I sold 17 spots at $399. That was quite a win!
I experimented with new coaching packages.
I offered a new set of project management services to more experienced entrepreneurs.
I taught people how to implement systems in their businesses.
And I kept learning about business and marketing and copywriting and sales and everything I could think of. And I kept getting coached on my mindset.
I did all of this while continuing to follow hot trails, not chasing money.
18 months after launching my business, I hit 6 figures.
About a year and a half after launching jennyshih.com, I exceeded $100,000 in revenue.
Maybe you’ve heard me say this before; it’s 100% the truth.
But now you know that there was so much failure and many sacrifices that went into that big win.
A failed business.
A failed year of networking.
Many failed classes.
Living bare-bones to make my business work.
Losing sleep over money worries.
Putting my health second since I couldn’t afford things like organic foods, acupuncture, or massage.
Foregoing new clothes, vacations, eating out and anything that wasn’t absolutely essential.
I also spent over $25,000 on additional classes, trainings, and coaching during this time in order to make it happen — and that did not include things like design work, website updates, and other administrative and professional support expenses.Click to TweetNo matter how much failure business threw at me and no matter how much I had to sacrifice, I kept going. I refused to give up.
The alternative – getting another job – wasn’t something I wanted to do. So I made sure it didn’t have to happen.
Success didn’t come easily, and it didn’t come for free. It came because I kept at it and made it happen out of sheer will.
I still follow the breadcrumbs.
After hitting 6 figures in my business, I saw how much I understood about business and marketing. I saw all that it took to get here. And I wanted to teach it to others.
I no longer wanted to be behind-the-scenes in other people’s businesses as their VA or project manager. I was ready for a more public role.
I transitioned my business model again.
I went from being a coach to helps you make your ideas happen, from being a VA, and from being a project manager, to being a coach who helps you get your business off the ground.
This was my new hot trail, and it had me so freaking excited.
I created new coaching packages. I offered new classes. And I recreated and relaunched Get Your First 1000 Subscribers so that it was ten times better than the original version.
Today, I continue to track my hot trail, follow the breadcrumbs, and put “fun” and “interesting” before an income goal.Click to TweetBecause creating a business solely with income in mind — ignoring what makes you come alive — doesn’t work. At least not for me.
Now you know the TRUTH.
Overnight successes rarely are that.
Big wins are easy to share online and sexy to read, but they’re almost never the full story.
Those stories leave out the failures, the oh-shit moments, the kitchen floor freak-outs, and the panic attacks.
Now you know my truth.
Yes, I now enjoy a multiple six-figure business and LOVE what I do. Yes, I currently work less than 20 hours a week. Yes, I have the luxury of travel, organic food, acupuncture, free time, and new clothes when I need them. BUT, it took dozens of failed experiments, relentless and unwavering determination, adamant refusal to quit, and several years to make it to this point.
I think you see this now.
Tell me what you think.
You’ve now ready my full story, and 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 second half of my story?
I can’t wait to read your stories in the comments below!!