This one is dedicated to my Dad. I love you.
As humans we narrate our lives in reverse.
Our hindsight is 20/20.
A decade ago, when I started my coaching business, I did not know what I know now. I had to live the experience in order to understand it.
This year marks my 11th year of self-employment. It’s certainly not the end but I also know I’m well past the messy middle.
I would describe my business as:
Meaningful: I love, love, love what I do. Lucrative: I earn 6-figures with minimal expenses. Minimalist: I offer two ways to work with me & all of my processes are super simple and streamlined. High ROEI (offering a high return on my energy investment): I put in thoughtful effort toward each task, and receive a very high return. Spacious: I work part-time hours and enjoy a lot of leisure time. Stable: I have long working relationships with my clients, manage a waiting list, and rarely have dips in income. Sustainable: I could work at this pace until I’m a white-haired elder and probably even longer. Calm: I have developed a lot of resilience and self-trust, so very rarely do I find myself working on or through fear, self-doubt, uncertainty, drama or conflict. Fun: I get to do cool things like hang out at seaside cottages beachcombing and drinking coffee with interesting clients. Big whole life: I’m an engaged and present mom, I kickbox several times a week, I have lots of leisure time with my husband and friends, I grow vegetables in my garden, sometimes I paint.
If you’re wondering if my messy middle was ever that messy, I’ll ask you this:
Has your Dad ever sat you down and said, with a furrowed brow and sad eyes: “I can’t watch you do this to yourself anymore. I’m worried about you. Your work is taking so much from you, you’re not really living.”
Because when I was fully in my messy middle, my Dad said that to me. And it hurt because it was true.
At the time my Dad confronted me, I was moving through my life filled with oodles of angst and an obsessive preoccupation with my work. I was cranky with my husband. Short-tempered with my kids. Exhausted from not getting enough sleep or moving my body. I had no time for friends or having fun. I was long-suffering.
I was lost in the messy middle of my business for about two years. That was a long time to be lost.
Most entrepreneurs don’t make it through the messy middle. When the going gets really tough some people choose to return to employment that offers security, a pay-check and boundaries. But some stay in it, mess and all. They double down. Push themselves even harder. Draw their energy from sheer will power. Until they reach the point of enough and want another way forward. (I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with several of them.)
After the intervention from my Dad, I got down to the business of changing who I was in my business. And now, because we narrate our lives in reverse and I have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, I can reflect on what I learned along the way and share it with you, in the hopes that something resonates – especially if you find yourself lost in your own messy middle of self-employment.
10 decisions I made that moved me out of the messy middle of self-employment and into a successful minimalist business:
1. Workaholism is not a desirable -ism. The urge to work around the clock is characteristic of entrepreneurs, but I never felt more boring or out of touch with myself (and the world) than when I obsessed about my work. No one’s work is that precious– including mine. So, I worked hard to define boundaries around my time and created a schedule defining how many hours I would give my business each day, each week. I blocked off vacation days, I booked in ‘down-time’ and I protected that time fiercely.
How much time do you really want to work each week?
2. I don’t want my whole identity to be about my work. The ‘always on’ culture is stifling and monotonous. Once I put boundaries around my time, I started kickboxing again (currently working toward my level 3 Khan!); I book get-aways with my friends; I joined a painting class; I grew a vegetable garden; I spend time with my parents; I read fiction; I even tried Mud Hero this year. I go on vacations. I also love staycations. I have goals and projects and things to talk about that aren’t work related, and I’m learning from people who aren’t in my industry.
Who are you without your work?
What makes you interesting?
What are you interested in?
3. Crush it, slay it, grind it, kill it, and hustle hard are not mantras that motivate me. I have come to find meaning in the idea of doing work that is simple and significant. I respond better to phrases like Feel, Grow, Question, Trust, What is showing up and why? I use these as a filter for making decisions on what I say yes and no to.
What words serve as your North Star?
4. Scale down. When everyone else was preaching scale, funnels and content marketing, I continued to offer 1:1 and small group services; I have no funnel (not even an opt-in). What works for me to find and attract new clients is strong referral marketing with a light social media presence and intermittent blogging.
What ‘rules’ were never meant for you?
5. It matters that I am an INFP. As I began to understand more about my personality through the MBTI, I got really clear on what energizes me, how I make decisions, how I like to structure my time, and that I’m more excited by big-picture thinking than I am about concrete details. This knowledge helped me design a business model that I would enjoy, and be able to sustain energetically. I now know that: I do my best work within the context of intimate groups and 1:1 relationships; I am energized by genuine relationships that are built slowly over time; I need lots of time to follow my creative ideas without tight deadlines; I do my best writing when I’m not on a schedule; I adore the feeling of being known and valued but abhor the feeling of over-sharing, telling-all or being popular. Rather than trying to squeeze myself into marketing, models and delivery systems that counter these truths, I accept that my Minimalist Business aligns with who I am at my very core.
Have you intentionally designed your business to leverage your MBTI?
6. Declutter everything. Too much stimulation and online noise was a major distraction and emotional energy leak for me. I methodically unsubscribed, unfollowed, and canceled subscriptions across the board. I cleaned out drawers, cleared shelves, and wiped my computer of extraneous stuff. I deleted any blog post that didn’t feel like my best work. I redesigned my website and only kept information that was relevant and up to date. I stepped away from negative and disingenuous relationships.
“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.” – Joshua Becker
What’s distracting you?
7. There is power in slow growth. My business model is not dependent on quantity of followers, list-size or rapid growth. I focus on a long-touch, low turnover, repeat client model. I have my own business goals to meet and metrics to measure. So while I have a vision for my business, I will reach it through slow, thoughtful growth and high-value experiences that I don’t need outside help to manage.
What growth model brings you ease?
8. Introvert, don’t isolate. This one took a long time to figure out, but now I understand how important it is for my well-being to make time for regular in-person connection. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert you need connection.
What makes you feel connected?
9. Embrace the apprenticeship. A lot of the online world caters to privileged women who crave celebrity status, blingy businesses, sexy lifestyles, and six figure launches. This has never been my definition of success, nor do I believe there is a “secret” to success. I focused my energy on my coaching apprenticeship and committed to developing mastery by deepening my skills, proficiency and training. My guiding principle has always been to bring value to one client at a time, every time.
What are you apprenticing?
10. Know when the apprenticeship is over. My hardest lesson was knowing when my apprenticeship was over. When you don’t have a boss to promote you or a performance review tied to a pay scale, you need to decide this for yourself. I kept myself in an apprenticeship for far longer than necessary. When I finally gave myself permission to claim mastery, I marked this with a significant increase in my rates.
When will you claim mastery?
11. Ease does not mean easy. Choosing, deciding and forward motion are hard. Almost every choice I made was risky. I had to be willing for the bottom to fall out to follow through on many of my decisions because most of them went against the norm for online businesses. Through it all, I trusted my wisdom. In order for my business to contribute meaning and significance to my life, I needed to align it with my values. My fulfilment is wrapped up in simple, daily acts of service, a minimalist approach to business, and having an identity outside of my work.
What choices would bring you more ease, even if they’re not easy to make?
So, this is not a How-To, by any means. I offer you my story in the spirit of reflection and curiosity; never from the place of advice. Because I don’t believe that any two people (or businesses) want or need the same things. And even if they do want something similar, the path and the journey is never the same.
I just want to show what is possible when you choose your own path, make your own rules, and listen to your Dad. And to assure you that as messy as your middle gets – there will be a way through for you. That might mean different work, or a different way of working. Think. Reflect. Question everything. Ask yourself some (or all!) of these questions. Your answers may point you along a path that goes in a very different direction.