Earlier this year, I created Dabble Media.
The idea had been in my head for at least a decade, but it wasn’t until this year that I was ready to strike out on my own.
I talked to my then-business partners about the fairest and equitable way for me to leave, and then, concurrently, sold my house in Portland, Oregon and moved to the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. I’d always said that family was the most important thing to me, and this was an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is.
Now, in November, I am six months pregnant with my second daughter and happy we moved close to a network already fighting over who gets to hang out with our kids more.
And I’m proud of the marketing company I’m building.
That’s not to say the first six months of owning my business — this time 100% on my own — have been easy.
In fact, people who tell you starting a business is easy are lying to you.
Here’s what the first six months have looked like for my business.
Question: Who do we serve?
I spent the last eight years in the personal finance space, and my entire professional network came from there. When I sent an email to my contacts telling them what I was going to pivot toward, I realized something important:
My friends and colleagues are not my potential clients.
That was a tough pill to swallow since I thought I’d be able to start providing marketing services to the people who already knew me.
But after working with a few clients and getting them amazing results, I knew it was time to pivot. This sentence looks like it has the wrong conclusion on it, and that’s not fair. I LOVED getting results for those clients! One of them made more than $60,000 on a quiz I created, not to mention doubling their mailing list.
But the number of bloggers-turned-business-owners who are willing to outsource their marketing are few and far between.
I still love working with my peers and would love to see each and every one of them succeed.
But I know I need to serve a different market.
I’ve only recently started the process of pivoting and understanding who I want to serve, but this was a giant shift for me. One that shook me, because my identity (especially my online identity) was so wrapped up in that other world.
It’s funny, because I have an extensive training in inbound marketing, and one of the first things you have to do before starting a company blog is to figure out your target audience/buyer persona/customer avatar.
Basically, who you’re writing to is as important — if not more — as what you’re writing. I know that. I’ve seen that in action. If you forge ahead with your blog without trying to figure out who might be reading it, you’re either going to write things no one will read or you’ll write things that pique the interest of people who won’t buy from you.
But for me, finding a niche has been a big challenge.
It feels like there’s too much risk in finding an industry or a geographic region. As if in honing our target audience, I’m eliminating all other options.
Which is scary.
But it reminds me of the phrase, “if you serve everyone, you serve no one.”
And I’m not a giant company with worldwide appeal.
Dabble Media is a marketing consulting company that helps businesses make more money from the internet.
This, by definition, doesn’t appeal to everyone. So I’m already eliminating people. Everyone without a business, in fact!
My goal for the rest of this year is to continue fine-tuning the specific industries and/or geographic regions that we serve and adjust all my web copy to appeal to those readers.
Best decision so far: Hire before I’m ready
When should you hire your first employee?
I don’t know the answer to that for you, but for me, it was well before I had more work on my plate than I could possibly handle.
My first hire came from someone I knew in my past online venture. She was a reader of my blog-about-blogging (that currently lives on stackingbenjamins.com/earn) and she sent an email talking about her transition into virtual assisting.
Her name is Emma, and making the decision to hire her has been the best decision I’ve made.
When I changed my company on LinkedIn, my friend Mary reached out and asked if she could help me with some marketing. She’s done a lot to build our materials and has taken the “someday” projects off my plate and gotten them done.
I’ve written about the E-Myth Revisited and discussed it offline at length, but the thesis has become interwoven into how I do everything: if you’re the only one in your business who can provide the services you sell, you haven’t created a business. Instead, you’ve created a stressful and demanding job for yourself and scaling becomes next-to-impossible.
The fastest way to make money is not the same as the best way to make money. If you want to make money quickly, freelance. Reach out to your friends and colleagues and see if you can write/design/edit their stuff. Charge a per-post price.
Soon you’ll have more work than you know what to do with.
But you won’t be building a business.
Hire someone, then teach them how to do the work you’re building your business around, and all of a sudden you can work on your business AND in your business at the same time.
It’s a slower build, but if you build processes before you’re drowning in client work, you’ll get to the point where you can easily say yes to three new clients in a week without worrying about how you’re going to fit in things like eating and sleeping.
Adjusting to working from home
In Portland, our house didn’t have a suitable office space so I rented one about a mile from my house. But when we moved to Arizona, we found that we could afford a much larger house for a much smaller budget.
So I have a home office.
Which has been both a blessing and a curse. Mostly a blessing, though, especially on those days where a nap sounds excellent after lunch.
It’s also empowering to show my toddler what it looks like to work from home. I’m reminded that everything she sees becomes her normal, so it’s great to have a tiny rocking chair in my office with board books surrounding it. She’s learning boundaries (“When the door is closed, I’m in a meeting, but when it’s open, you can come in”) and spending quiet time with me.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, which anyone who has spent more than an hour with a toddler will understand.
But I love it.
Perhaps one day I’ll go to a coworking space to get things done, but for now, with a two-year-old and another kid due in a couple months, this is an ideal scenario.
Real talk: my business isn’t making as much money as it could be, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t stressful.
Thankfully, I have the most supportive network in my husband, who so steadfastly believes in my ability to make money that he has told me on more than one occasion that if my business account empties, we’ll simply fill it back up.
We’re making money — enough money to pay Emma and Mary and continue using Facebook ads to drive traffic to our opt-ins — but if you were looking for a post about how I scaled my business to eight million dollars in six months, this isn’t it.
But I’m also not doing as much as I should be doing to define — then reach — my target audience.
And all that will change in the next six months.
We’re creating products for people who want to do their own marketing and promotion.
3 Things that have helped keep me sane
I’m an extrovert by nature, so moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone aside from the family I married into, combined with starting a company without business partners I could talk to every day, combined with working for myself, in my own home, is (what’s another word for hard?) hard.
Connections are made around the water cooler, but I didn’t come down here to start working for someone else.
For every upside, there’s a downside. In order to pave my own way, define my own future, chart my own course, I’m going to be alone much of the time.
But there are a few ways I’ve found to connect with other people who understand the struggle.
1. Online mastermind groups
I’m in a mastermind group that meets each and every Monday morning. If you think that’s too often, it’s not the group for you. There are, as of this writing, six of us, and we go around the virtual table talking about our wins and our challenges. We get great advice from others who have been there, done that, regardless of what we’re currently struggling with. I’m reminded I’m not alone, even if it sometimes feels like the only people who “get” me are spread out across the nation.
I recently joined another — paid — mastermind group that my friend Caelan from Stellar Platforms created, which has exposed me to a different group of people who are working through different things. I’ve gotten a lot out of those as well. Caelan is a master facilitator and pushes us to go a bit deeper when we talk about some of our recent challenges. He’s also a stickler for growth between meetings, and to help with that, he adds a 30-minute call for each person to go deeper into their goals than can be discovered in a one-hour call.
2. Free business mentoring from SCORE.org
I meet with Steve, my mentor from SCORE.org, two or three times a month. SCORE is a really cool non-profit that helps seniors stay active in the business world after they retire and provides free business mentoring to anyone who fills out an application. I’ve found it to be really useful and can attribute much of my growth to the ideas I’ve gotten from our one-hour business therapy sessions.
3. My local Chamber of Commerce
At Steve’s suggestion, I joined my local Chamber of Commerce. I’m now active in a leads group, where I connect with other business owners over lunch on Wednesdays, and in Toastmasters, where we all hone our public speaking skills early on Tuesday mornings.
I’m getting to be a known quantity in the Chamber because I regularly attend their events — and they put on a ton of events! — and I’m sure that can only be good for my reputation moving forward.
I haven’t had much success with Meetup.com, but now I’m shifting my focus on what I’d like to use Meetup for, which is meeting other moms in my area.
A big realization: I don’t need to prioritize work
My husband teases me and tells me I’m addicted to workahol, and he’s right. If left to my own devices, I will work, take breaks to eat and sleep, and continue until I’m overwhelmed.
My average day goes like this:
- Wake up before 6am, start working
- Take a break (to eat) and get ready around 8
- Work until it’s time to eat again
- Sometimes nap, sometimes not
- Wrap up work around 4pm
It varies depending on what I have going on (calls, meetings, presentations, etc.), but that’s the general layout.
Notice that exercise doesn’t come up.
Talking to friends isn’t something that goes on the schedule.
There’s no balance until 4 when I commit to being present with my family.
I’ve started thinking recently… what happens when I don’t make work a priority?
What happens if I start prioritizing exercise?
Or doing community events (even, gasp, during working hours)?
My gut reaction tells me that I won’t get as much done, but instinctively I know this isn’t true. Because work expands and contracts to the time allotted.
So I’m taking that forward to the next six months, too. Although my exercise will be light, then I’ll have a baby, so it’ll stay light for a while.
But if I’ve proven nothing else to myself in this first six months of building Dabble Media to the level I’m committed to going, it’s that I’m not afraid to work hard.
I’m also not afraid of working smart.
More on that in my next update.