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Running a business is hard work.

I’ve been pretty busy behind the scenes for quite some time, so it’s not as if I didn’t know there was a lot to do here at The Voice Bureau. But before I took over as owner, Abby was running the show and had me to help her. When I took over…I had me, full stop. And I knew that wouldn’t work for very long.

The problem is, I’ve always had trouble delegating. I was the one in school taking the group project home over the weekend to polish and reformat. I don’t ask for help, as a rule. I just like things to be done right, and it’s been easier most of my life for me to do them myself. But if you want to build a strong business — not to mention one that’s growing — delegation is a required skill.

I needed a Virtual Concierge. And that’s where Sara LeHoullier came in.

As a long-time member of our talented copywriting coterie, Sara had already proven herself a formidable wordsmith. I knew I could trust her to handle client communications with warmth, tact, and finesse. She understands digital marketing, appreciates our processes, and is a quick study. I also just happen to really like her — a quality that’s key for someone I’ll be working closely with on just about every project, both internally and for our clients. Over the past few months, she’s been an irreplaceable asset to our team, easing the transition in ownership and keeping us humming along at full speed, supporting our copywriting clients and repackaging every single Voice Bureau course as part of our Summer School special.

And so, without further ado, it’s time I finally got around to introducing you to Sara. If you’re a current client — or are considering becoming one — there’s a very good chance you’ll be speaking with her soon.

Sara LeHoullier, Virtual Concierge at The Voice Bureau

MY TOP 3-5 VOICE VALUES ARE:Sara LeHoullier, The Voice Bureau's Virtual Concierge

Helpfulness, Playfulness, and Transparency

[Katie’s Note: Discover your own Voice Values when you subscribe to The Voice Bureau’s Insider Stuff e-letter.

Enter your best email address below and click Go to get started.]


 

I DO THE WORK I DO BECAUSE:

I love the neatness of a fully checked-off to-do list. [Katie’s Note: Me, too! I’ll even add small items to my list just for the satisfaction of checking them off.] I adore crafting emails and writing pretty much anything – and working with passionate, beautiful minds really floats my boat.

OFF THE CLOCK:

I live in the tiny wooded hamlet of Olalla, WA, with my husband, two stepchildren (boys aged 6 and 8 – it’s a wild ride!), and our plott hound, Lucy.

COOLEST/BEST/MOST SATISFYING THING ABOUT WORKING WITH THE VOICE BUREAU (SO FAR) IS:

This: since I met Abby and Katie and started following TVB, I have marveled at their way with words – in every context. Not just in terms of copy written for clients, but every communication I received was so thoughtful, so lovingly written, that I felt hugged. I always wanted to be a part of an organization that appreciated the importance of kindness as well as expertise. I think that goes a long way in attracting lovely clients as well, which is always a joy!

FAVORITE THING I NOTICE ABOUT VOICE BUREAU CLIENTS IS:

They truly love what they do, and believe in making the world a better place.

20 YEARS FROM NOW, I WANT TO BE ABLE TO SAY I’VE:

Loved fully and lived joyfully.

THE iPHONE/ANDROID APP I WOULDN’T WANT TO LIVE WITHOUT IS:

Waze – I literally never know where I’m going. And I like that I can change my lil’ costumes.

DIGITAL TREND/MOVEMENT/PASTIME I’M POSITIVELY ADDICTED TO:

Binge-watching good (and bad) television shows.

FAVORITE BOOKS/MOVIES/MUSIC/ARTISTS:

The Sun Also Rises, anything by Saligner, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Out of Africa (the book AND the film), 30 Rock, Portlandia

PERSONALITY TYPING? WHY, YES. I’M:

Enneagram Type 2 (The Helper) with 7 (The Enthusiast) coming in close second. My Myers-Briggs is ENFP (The Campaigner) [Katie’s Note: Nearly the perfect complement to my INTJ!], and my Clifton Strengths are Positivity, Empathy, Woo, Activator, Developer.

MOST PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW THAT I:

Have written two travel guides for Madagascar (I lived and traveled there for a number of years, and I speak Malagasy fluently). [Katie’s Note: So cool! It doesn’t surprise me at all that you have a knack for language.]

SECRET FANTASY CAREER/OCCUPATION:

Travel guide

I’M FAIRLY INSATIABLE WHEN IT COMES TO:

Cooking shows!

MY BRAND IS ALL ABOUT:

Being yourself.

In the comments, we’d love for you to:

Say hello to Sara and welcome her to The Voice Bureau!

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Sales vs Salesy BlogI’ve heard it at least a hundred times.

“There’s nothing I hate more than copy that sounds ‘sales-y.’”

“What language to avoid? Anything that sounds…sales-y.”

“I don’t want it to sound like I’m selling to people.”

“I can’t stand a website that’s too sales-y.”

These are business websites. You know, ones where people…sell things. So what’s the hangup about letting readers know it?

I think, in order to unpack this, we need to take a step back and look at our overall business philosophies. How many times have you apologized for or made excuses about the “business” side of your business?

“I’m sending over the invoice, but there’s no rush.”

It’s not that I don’t trust you, but the contract makes sure we’re on the same page.”

I’m really sorry, but because you missed our deadline by six months, I’m going to need an extra week to rearrange my schedule.”

(No judgement here. I may or may not have pulled these statements from my own emails.)

I think there’s a tendency to hide from the details. We want to serve, to share, to guide…but yes, we need to get paid, too. It’s difficult because so many of us have chosen this road because it has such heart, because it allows us to connect and serve and build relationships in ways that our corporate jobs never did. But if we want to keep doing this work we love, we need to make it sustainable.

We’re doing ourselves a disservice as business owners if we pretend we’re ashamed to be in business. I have to remind myself at least twice a week that I don’t need to apologize for doing the things that keep my bills paid and a roof over my head.

There is no shame in sending out an invoice. There is no shame in discussing terms. There is no shame in writing up a contract. There is no shame in selling a product or service.

So how do we run a business — with all the messy, distasteful, transactional details — without feeling like we’re putting a price tag on the relationships we cultivate? When the idea of hustling for the next sale doesn’t jive with our business philosophy, how do we build a profitable business? And, to bring this back around to my original point, how can you write a Sales Page that sells without feeling “sales-y”?

The key is remembering why you’re here, and why your clients are here.

You are providing a product or service that fills a need they have — whether that need is for a therapist to guide them through some trauma in their lives or for a gorgeous throw pillow that perfectly complements their new couch. What you do, they need. Your passion, your specialty, your specific knowledge is what is missing from their life. They want to hire you. So, rather than focusing on the sale, focus on the need.

A Sales Page starts sounding sales-y when you say, “Buy now — this offer won’t last!” instead of “Let’s start now — you could see a change immediately.” (Okay, maybe don’t imply you’re going to change their lives if you’re selling a throw pillow, but you get the point. And actually, a really great throw pillow can make a room, so don’t underestimate yourself either.)

Your Sales Page should have very little to do with you — aside from explaining why you are uniquely qualified to fill this need — and everything to do with how you can help your client. What is the problem you solve? What do they need that you can provide? Create urgency by showing them how much better you can make things for them — and why should they wait to have that? — rather than by arbitrarily forcing some deadline.

The other way that Sales Pages become sales-y is when you talk at rather than with your prospective client. This is a conversation, not a pitch. Your job (or ours) in writing a Sales Page is to connect their need with your product. So start from the beginning: recognize their need. Show them that you understand the problem they have. And then show them how you can help.

Okay, so they need a throw pillow. Yours has a really cool design — it’ll really pop in their room. The colors are super saturated but won’t fade or rub off on other fabric. The material is polished but soft — you can take a nap on it, but it’s not a lumpy mess. The quality of the craftsmanship mean that it’ll last them, even if their dog decides to curl up with it every once in a while. How will they feel with it on their sofa? Can you make them imagine it in their space?

Once you’ve made your case, back off. No “But wait, there’s more!” No “This offer won’t last!” Share your facts, try to connect with your reader emotionally, and then make it easy for her to say “yes.”

I think “sales-y” is really just another word for “disingenuous,” when it comes down to it. We’re in business. Selling things is what we do. But it’s when we become disconnected from that desire to serve that we lose the authenticity of our copy. It’s when we focus on making the sale rather than improving the lives of our clients that we start sounding “sales-y.”

Selling doesn’t need to be cynical. Yes, you want a Sales Page to convert. You want it to bring in, well, sales. But it doesn’t need to be about gimmicks and hard sells and forcing a certain narrative. When you’re creating an emotional connection between your product and your potential client, you aren’t doing it to deceive her, you’re doing it so that she can envision it in her life. This isn’t a calculated move to pull at her heartstrings, it’s an attempt to share the relevant information to help her make the decision that she came here to make. You can provide something to improve her life — your job isn’t to “sell her” on it, it’s to show her how you’ll make things better for her.

Convincing people to purchase what we have to offer gives them something they need, but it also keeps us in business — which means we’re here another day to fill another need for another client. Don’t be embarrassed to sound like you have something to sell, but don’t feel like you need to over-sell it, either. Your Right Person is already on your site because she thinks she might want to purchase something from you. You just need to help her see that she’s in the right place.

 

There’s much more to writing a great Sales Page, obviously. If you need one and want to try writing it yourself, our Writing the Conversational Sales Page course might help. It’s seriously packed with directly applicable, easy to implement info on writing an effective sales page — one that connects with your reader, that makes your case, and that doesn’t leave you feeling…well, sales-y. We’ll be re-releasing it very soon for self-paced study, as part of our upcoming Summer School special. Make sure you’re on our mailing list so you’re the first to know when it’s available.

 

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you struggle with coming across as “sales-y” in your web copy? Or do you overcompensate so it’s hard to know you’re even selling anything?

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Nurturing Creative Practice - Blog

I’ve been writing a novel for almost six years.

(What a cliche, right?)

It’s meant to be the first in a series of seven, so at this rate, I expect I’ll be dictating book seven from my death bed, while being interviewed by a local news crew for the secrets to my longevity.

So what can I possibly have to teach about maintaining a creative practice?

Well. In the past six years, in addition to writing (and editing…and editing…and editing…) just north of 50,000 words of that neverending novel, I’ve also:

  • Had two kids
  • Launched a business
  • Worked full-time for nine months while also running my business full-time while also pregnant
  • Taken over as Creative Director and owner of The Voice Bureau
  • Served more clients than I’d care to count, on more projects than I think I can remember
  • Been a full-time at-home mom while running my business (think 19-hour days, seven days a week, for nearly four years now)
  • Maintained some level of sanity and a baseline non-hoarder level of home cleanliness
  • Been a wife/daughter/mother/sister/friend, with varying levels of success

I mean, if I’m being gentle with myself, I have to admit that it’s been a busy six years. I might be able to fit a novel into there, but it’s kind of understandable that I haven’t finished it yet…right?

Whether you’re working on a novel of your own, journaling, writing poetry, painting, or doing some other form of creative self-expression, making time to regularly sit down and do it can be really hard. Even just writing blog posts for your business can be tough when you can’t get the head-space to be creative! But self-care (and yes, a creative practice is self-care, even if it’s also deeply personal work or even a career to which you aspire) is critical, especially to those of us who are self-employed. Self-employment is hard, yo. It’s lonely and all-consuming and exhausting, and if you let it, it will take over your life and leave you a shell of your former self, blearily pecking out emails on your phone as you lie in bed, watching the sun rise yet again.

But a creative practice? Oh, to regularly set aside a space in your life just to make something that brings you joy! To create something in this world that is for you, just because you want it to exist! It’s important. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s “good” (whatever that means) or if anyone else ever even sees it — a creative practice is saying to yourself, over and over, that your expression matters. That you matter, beyond what others need or ask or demand from you.

So what happens when life gets in the way and your creative practice becomes “that hour I get to sleep” or “my show on Netflix, because I don’t have the energy to think right now”?

Well, the usual advice applies.

Try spending 15-20 minutes creating at the beginning of your work time, because our work does tend to expand to fit the time we give it, and there’s a good chance you won’t even notice a few lost minutes. Or maybe you can get someone to take things off your plate — a VA to handle the admin work that sucks up way too much time, or a housekeeper to mop your floors, or a caregiver to watch your kids for an hour or two, or a delivery service to handle your grocery shopping. Ask for help. Let yourself be selfish. If you force yourself to schedule some time every single day that is just for you, and you prioritize it above everything else, you can make it fit. Maybe skip the occasional shower. Bail on a couple social gatherings.

But it’s not always that easy, is it? I often sit down to work at 5 or 6am after being up most of the night with my girls, and every minute I spend working after I put them to bed is a minute that I’m not sleeping — and for someone who averages 2-3 hours a night, telling me to schedule an hour to be creative is a cruel joke. I mean, I’m sure those sleep-deprivation-induced hallucinations would make for some excellent novel fuel, but I’m not writing the sequel to Naked Lunch.

I don’t think we can talk about making time for a creative practice — or, truly, any kind of self-care — without talking a bit about gendered expectations. Because they’re real, and they’re hard to overcome, though a bit less so when you acknowledge them.

(Down with the patriarchy! Smash the hegemonic systems of oppression! Other catchphrases from my Feminist Political Theory class!)

Many — though not all — of our clients are women, and I don’t think any of us would dispute that showing up as a woman in this world is different than showing up as a man. The expectations are different. In some cases, this means working even harder for the same level of recognition. In others, it means carrying the emotional work that’s so often discounted but is not only time-consuming but costly to your own health and sanity. In others, it might mean that expectations are lowered, but then so are the rewards. We’re passed over for promotions. Talked over in meetings. And, of course, there are the implications of having a family…

Whether or not you have children, there’s a good chance that somewhere out there, someone is wondering if they’re on your agenda. And once you’ve had one, it’s, “Well, you have to try for a boy/girl now, so you have one of each!” or, “When’s number three coming?” But here’s the thing: kids take it all out of you. Including (especially?) the time and energy you might have had for a fulfilling creative practice.

So. Not to go off on a huge tangent, but you know how famous male authors have these wild life stories of alcoholism and failed marriage after failed marriage and kids born when they’re in their 70s, while female authors have life stories of spinsterism and seclusion? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.

I know that, with what I have on my plate, I can’t commit to writing my novel every day, or even every week. I have kids and clients, and I really do need to sleep at least a couple hours a day. But that doesn’t mean my novel isn’t progressing, even as my Scrivener file gathers dust.

So here’s my creative practice, right now:

I’m a sponge.

I read those clickbait-y lifestyle articles on Facebook — you know, the ones with the headlines like: “She opens the fridge. But what happens next will amaze you.” I watch TV — good and bad. I read books while I’m up in the night with the kids (thank god for that backlit screen on the Kindle, amirite?). I learn about strange things out there in the world. I take notes.

And, in every spare quiet moment — few and far between though they may be — I’m spinning the stories that will eventually be tapped out on my keyboard and become the novel series I can’t wait to write. I extrapolate possibilities, spin off variations on characters and plot twists. I sketch out the ending of book seven in my head, knowing it’ll probably change 50 more times before I get there. Eventually, the ideas tend to boil over, and when I sit down to write, thousands of words just fall out of my head without me even stopping to take a breath. Because they’re already written — in the shower, in bed at night, spacing out in the car on the way home from Target. They just needed to finally have the space to be born into the world. And I do eventually find that space — late at night, early in the morning, when the kids at the store with my husband, or when client work slows down just a bit (which it does, in the same sort of cycles every year).

So what can you learn from my overbooked schedule?

Sometimes, we need to accept that our lives look a little different than we might like. You may have an idealized picture of how you’ll light some candles, pour a glass of wine, put on some ambient music, and sit down at your vintage keyboard to tap out the next best-seller. You’re probably wearing a cozy sweater and poring over a hand-written storyboard detailing all the key plot points. But it may be that your writing happens in the car as you’re waiting to pick the kids up from practice, or on your phone when you sneak off to use the bathroom for 15 minutes, or for a couple minutes every morning until you can’t put off those client emails any longer. It doesn’t make you less of a writer. It doesn’t make your work any less valid than those professional types who crank out a new novel every year or two. They aren’t better or more deserving just because their lives are more conducive to long stretches of creation.

Physically creating isn’t the only way to create. We can learn and grow and plan, even in our busiest times. There’s a lot of background and organizing and research that goes into writing a great novel — or, even, a great poem, or painting a great painting — and taking the time to really do that work is a completely valid form of creative practice, even if it doesn’t feel quite so intentional as sitting down with that typewriter and your scented candles. You aren’t behind schedule just because you’re working on the foundation.

There is no schedule. It’s hard to feel like you’re making progress when it takes you six years (er, or more) to write a novel. Believe me, I know. But I also know that the experiences I’m having are making my stories richer — even as they, ironically, keep me away from actually writing them down. But if we take the time to absorb and process and think through our creations, in those little moments we can sneak in, they’ll pour out of us. When they’re ready.

What if you’re not really interested in developing a creative practice? Well, kudos for getting this far, anyway. This general philosophy is something I apply to my work, too. I know I can’t write copy or blog posts or even social media all the time. It’s not just a matter of finding the time; if I tried to create on that scale, I’d burn out almost immediately. No, I need some time when I can just stare at the TV and handle my admin work. Or listen to some music and review analytics. Or have a snack and reply to emails. I know that my overall workload includes tasks that require all different mindsets from me, and I plan accordingly, knowing that every task has its place. And, even when it doesn’t feel like I’m getting any work done, I know I am.

Anyway, don’t hold your breath for my debut novel — it may be a bit before I finally wrap up those last 30,000 words or so. But do save a spot on your bookshelf, because it is coming. Eventually.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you have a regular creative practice? How do you make time in your schedule?

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Common Sense SEO - Blog

A good website is more than just a business asset.

A good website is the employee who doesn’t take breaks. Who answers questions for potential clients at 4am or while you’re taking a much-needed vacation day. Who knows everything there is to know about your brand and can tell people just what they need at just the right moment. A good website is worth all the time and money and energy we spend making sure everything is just. right. Design. Copy. User experience. Layout. A good website takes it all into account.

And a good website is completely worthless if people can’t find it.

I recently wrote that SEO is BS, but that’s admittedly a bit reductive. It’s important that search engines can find your website, even if you’ve developed other sources of traffic. You may find that social media, incoming referrals from other sites, or email links make up a decent portion of your traffic, and once you’ve gotten a devoted following, readers will probably even come to your site directly. But in the past month, a bit over 50% of the traffic at TheVoiceBureau.com came from organic search, which means that a large portion of our readers are still coming to us for the first time, and they’re coming from search engines.

(We like Google Analytics for tracking these things, but there are plenty of options you might check out, if you want to give something else a try.)

So here’s the thing about SEO: it’s not rocket science. Don’t bother researching some clever way of gaming the system, because 99% of those tricks will end up working against you, when you could just spend that same time doing things the right way. Don’t create duplicate pages just to fake having more content. We’re past the days of keyword stuffing (and the junky spam websites it created). Meta tags and keywords are useful, but they’re not going to make or break your site’s search rankings. Incoming links are definitely important, and that’s something you’ll develop over time as you use social media and write guest posts and develop partnerships. (Don’t buy links. Don’t get junk links in bogus online directories. This is not a quick fix — you need to actually have real links on real sites for this to matter.)

You do want to use title tags and meta descriptions, but you don’t need to bring in a team of experts to do an analysis on that for you — you just need to clearly describe what’s contained on that page, and make sure you include them all the time.

It’s true: the best way to get your website to show up in searches is to have lots of high-quality content that naturally uses the terms people use when talking about what you do.

Tags and descriptions are great for behind-the-scenes SEO, but the real workhorse of your website is going to be the copy itself. So how do you write a website that search engines will love? Well, let’s keep it really simple.

Don’t bury the lede — start with what the page is about.

Come up with, say, five to ten keywords that you want to naturally highlight on that page. This is going to vary depending on the point of the page — your About Page needs to lead with your name, while a Services page is going to lead with (wait for it…) the names of your services. But, generally speaking, let’s say your keywords could be:

  • your name,
  • your business name,
  • the “job title” of what you do,
  • what a client would call your key services,
  • your location if your business operates in-person,
  • a need someone might have that would bring them to you,
  • a key result someone might have from working with you.

For The Voice Bureau, my keywords might be: Katie Mehas (and/or Abby Kerr), The Voice Bureau, Copywriting, Branding, Brand Voice, Consulting, Courses. I might use the specific name of a course or product, if it was a page for that particular item. We wouldn’t use all of those on every page, and there are others we’d work in that would be specific to certain pages, but that would be where I’d generally start.

Use your keywords early in the page, using a header tag, if possible. Your main title should be H1. Subsections are H2. Important info that isn’t necessarily a heading could be H3.

For example:

H1 – The Voice Bureau’s Courses for Entrepreneurs

H2 – The E-Letter Atelier

H3 – Craft your solo-owned or small business e-newsletter from concept to content

Make it really, really easy for a reader to tell what your page is about, and what you are about. If a reader can see what’s going on at a glance, a search engine probably can, too. Fill out your tags and keywords so that the backend of your website is doing some work, too, but don’t try to get clever — these should match what you just put on the page.

And then…relax. Your page doesn’t need to cram in every keyword possible. You aren’t telling the entirety of your story on every single page of copy.

Something to keep in mind: you want to walk the line between being present in a larger pool of potential clients and standing out in your specialty. Think of it this way. Let’s say you have an in-person businesses with two locations, one operating in New York City and one in Tuscarora, PA. You want to make sure you’re advertised as being in NYC, because there are millions of people there who might benefit from your services. There are also a lot more competitors, so you’re going to get a much smaller portion of that market share. Now, you don’t want to ignore Tuscarora, either — you may well be the only business of your type there, and that means everyone looking for one of you is looking for you, specifically.

How does this relate to online businesses?

Well, let’s say you’re a coach.

(And please, say you’re a coach. “Joy consultant” or “lifestyle sparklepreneur” or “un-stuckening fixologist” are completely worthless in searches.)

So you’re a coach. Say that, and get yourself out there in the pool of “coach” search results. But do you have a specialty? Do you do career consulting? Wellness? Nutrition? Meditation? Touch therapy? Past life regression? Tarot? Don’t forget to bring that up early on, too. This is your Tuscarora — be the result when someone is looking for exactly what you do. A good website is going to tell search engines,“Bring me up when someone is looking for these things — whether I’m one of many, generally speaking, or the only one in my specific field.”

A good website is also going to speak to your Right Person when they get there…and this is where it can get a little trickier.

Speaking directly to that Right Person takes some work (I mean, it’s why we’re in business). Knowing — and using — your Voice Values helps. And the more you communicate with your readers, the more comfortable you’ll be speaking to them.

But, for now, focus on clarity. You can work on nuance and conversation and style later. A search engine isn’t going to be too worried about that sort of thing, and chances are, your Right Person is going to be using pretty vanilla search terms to find you. Get them in the door. And then you can show them why they should stay.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you feel comfortable working with SEO? What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about it?

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29 Lessons - Blog

Five years ago this week, I incorporated as an LLC.

*cue the confetti*

 

When I first dipped my toes into the world of creative self-employment, I didn’t have any expectations. All I knew at the time was that the traditional job market wasn’t working for me (or, at least, I wasn’t finding work in it). As a classic car magazine editor with literally no interest whatsoever in classic cars, my career path was sort of…niche. I figured, if I couldn’t find the right job, I’d make one until something better came along. I didn’t expect that this necessarily would be the right job, but here we are — I love what I do and have no desire to go back.

Over the past five years, I’ve picked up a few things. I have no illusions about sharing these insights with you — some of these lessons, you’ll have to figure out for yourself if you want them to stick. And I definitely don’t know everything. Far from it. Please don’t think I’m all, “Well, I’ve been in business for five years now, so I’ve basically figured it all out.” But I’ve made some mistakes and gotten some things right, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. So sit back and listen, and maybe I can save you from learning a couple things the hard way.

And so, without further ado: 29 lessons I’ve learned over the past five years.

 

  1. You have to set boundaries. Really. This might mean having an office with a door that stays shut “after hours” or just saying that you don’t reply to emails after 10:00 at night. But when your home is your work (and your phone is the entire Internet), it’s way too easy to let it creep into every waking moment. Don’t.
  2. A day job isn’t a life sentence (or a bad thing). Going back to a day job doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You are not trapped. Sometimes, a steady paycheck (or some employer-subsidized health insurance) is exactly what you need to give you the freedom to take important risks in your business. If you’re scared of getting stuck, consider temp work. My nine months at HSN — starting just a few months after I officially “went solo” and ending, um, when I went into labor with my daughter — were exactly what I needed to build up some savings while I built my client list. I probably wouldn’t still be in business today if I hadn’t taken that time.
  3. SEO is BS. Okay, before you totally write me off as a copywriter — obviously, it’s important for search engines to find you. But trying to fit in a million keywords is stupid. Once your Right Person finds your site, they’re going to turn around and leave because you sound desperate and confusing and generally awful. Be genuine, informative, and straightforward, and the keywords will naturally work themselves into the page. (This is why you’re not a “happiness sparklepreneur” or a “rogue copy-hawk.” Literally no one is looking for that. Or knows what it is.)
  4. You have to spend money to make money — but maybe not as much as you think. You’ve gotta have a website. You’ll need an email client. Sooner or later, you’ll probably need to hire some support. You may benefit from courses and training and consulting work. But you don’t need very much on your first day. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking every course and doing everything you can to prep for your business before you even have your first client, but you run a definite risk of being an eternal student and never actually launching. Try putting some work in. It’ll become very clear very quickly what you actually need.
  5. Sometimes, the greatest benefit of a group course is in the connections you make, not the material you learn. (And, in this respect, bigger isn’t always better.) Being one of five people in a tight-knit Facebook group could have a lot more impact on your business than being one of 200 in the latest round of a big-name course, all shouting over each other to promote their business. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming the biggest name is going to give you the best connections.
  6. You will eventually need help. Sure, you can do your own taxes and customer support and web design and copywriting and client work and accounting and strategy and projections and marketing and coding and tech support and social media and graphics and networking and blogging. But if you want to grow your business, even a little bit (and sleep, even a little bit), you’re eventually going to have to hand a few things over to someone else. Figure out what needs to be done by you, and start divesting the things that are keeping you from getting that stuff done. And do it before you’re desperate.
  7. Trust the process. You’ll figure out a working style that suits you. I have two small kids home with me all day, so I tend to work via email rather than phone or Skype so I don’t end up the next “BBC Dad” [er, Mom]. When we do things at The Voice Bureau using the particular process we’ve developed, the projects go so smoothly. When we fight the process, they don’t. Trust what feels right, make adjustments as you go, and you’ll end up finding the best way for you. Then, stick with it. If you find a project management client you love, don’t let your client talk you into using something else. If you need two weeks to design a logo, don’t offer to do it in two days, even if you really really want to make that sale. Do what you need to do to deliver your best work, every time.
  8. Don’t fight for what isn’t working. If you do best replying to emails on the fly throughout the day, don’t force yourself to do all your daily email in one batch at 9:00 just because some productivity expert says that’s what you should do. If you hit a wall at 3:00 every afternoon, don’t schedule client sessions then — schedule nap time or a walk around the block. You get to write the rules of your own business, and that means saying no to things that don’t work for you.
  9. Not all clients are right for you. My very first client was a terrible fit. She wanted me to do work that was so far outside the scope of our project, it was like walking into a dry cleaner’s and trying to order a pizza. When you find someone who trusts your experience and is excited to work with you, it’s magic. Chase that, every day. Write your copy like you are speaking directly to that one Right Person. Pass on the projects that are covered in red flags. They’ll fill up your entire schedule and keep you from the ones you really should be serving.
  10. Be who you are. Do what you do. If you’re an introvert business coach, don’t try to be an extrovert lifestyle brand just because you think that’s what people want — or vice versa. There are people who want what you have to offer. Trust that they’re out there. Because pretending to be someone you’re not sucks.
  11. Don’t forget about taxes. Seriously, set something aside from every sale. Self-employment taxes can be super high. You do not want to have that dropped on you April 14th.
  12. Treat yo’ self. It’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves when we’re wrapped up in running a business. Just because you can wear the same clothes every day doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to look nice if you want to. If you have the spare cash, shell out for something that makes you happy from time to time. If you don’t have extra money, set aside time to take a bath or watch a movie that makes you laugh (without your laptop open in front of you). Have a glass of wine on a Tuesday. Recharge your batteries, replenish your well, sharpen your saw — whatever metaphor you like. But don’t forget yourself, or your business will suffer.
  13. You’ll never have it all figured out. That’s okay. None of us do. You learn more every day, every project, every launch. But not even the “experts” have all the answers.
  14. A good website is your best and most important investment. Your site is like the world’s best wing(wo)man. It should set the stage for working with you — give all the important details, let people get a feel for who you are and what you do and what it would be like to work with you/buy products from you/have coffee with you. It should do it at 4am Thailand-time, or in the middle of a snowstorm, or when you’re in bed with the flu, or when you’re out celebrating your birthday. This is how people will find you, how they’ll evaluate you. It’s worth the time and resources to do it right.
  15. Everyone deals with imposter syndrome. We all have moments when we feel like we’re total frauds and are going to be found out, no matter how much experience we have or how good we are at our jobs. I think it’s good not to get too confident, but don’t let yourself get in your own head. Just because you don’t have every single answer doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you do.
  16. This is a real job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This is a hard one, especially early on when the money may not be flowing freely. What’s worse is that it’s often a lesson we have to teach ourselves before we can convince other people. And I think women, especially, have a hard time with this. I’ve heard men who don’t even have the inklings of a business call themselves “consultants,” and women with a dozen published pieces and a novel in the works struggle to give up the “I mean, I’m working towards, maybe, I’d like to be” that comes before “a writer.” So how do you get past this? Give yourself a title that doesn’t sound ridiculous. (Seriously.) Practice your elevator pitch — the one-minute summary of what you do. Say it in the mirror. Say it to strangers. Say it until you believe it. And then don’t let anyone downplay your career.
  17. You need to know your own value. Believe it. Then add 15%. Yes, it’s hard to put a price tag on your time and expertise, but don’t shortchange yourself. And don’t forget about business expenses. You’re providing a valuable service to your clients. If you’re not paying yourself enough to be sustainable, you won’t be doing this for long.
  18. You are not an expert on day one. I know I’ve just gotten over telling you to value your time, but that doesn’t mean treating yourself as if you’re the foremost expert in your field your first day on the job. Be humble. Learn things. Don’t charge $200 an hour for consulting work when you’ve never helped a client. Learn constantly.
  19. Hustling isn’t for everyone. There are other ways to make sales. If the thought of cold-calling gives you hives, don’t do it. Find ways to connect that work for you. That doesn’t mean slacking off — no one is going to be lining up at your door without you putting in some serious legwork — but this is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. And if you’re not a hustler, figure out what you are and do that, instead.
  20. Find your zone of genius. Live in it. It can be hard to see our own strengths, but figure out what you have to offer and make that the core of your business. You never know how many people are looking for your particular blend of skills until you put it out there. If you’re a master wordsmith but hate podcasts, don’t do podcasts. Write. You’re in charge of your own job description.
  21. Find your weak spots. Learn enough to get help. Let’s say you wake up tomorrow morning to find a giant puddle in front of your refrigerator. You don’t need to know refrigerator repair to know something is wrong. Your business is the same way — you need to know enough to know when you need help, but that doesn’t mean you need to be an expert in everything. Focus on being the absolute best at the work you do, handle the things you understand (and have time for), and learn just enough about the things that don’t make sense to you to knowledgeably hire someone to take care of them.
  22. You’ll want to quit. You’re going to spend hours on a proposal that isn’t accepted. You’re going to have 50-hour work weeks without a single sale. You’re going to miss getting paid to check Facebook, or having coworkers to chat with, or a steady paycheck, or company lunches, or a job that you can turn off when you walk out the door at night. You’re going to feel overwhelmed by the idea of keeping up with the newest ideas and best practices and training. If you feel this way a lot, it may be time to sit down and decide if this is right for you in the long term. But don’t assume you’re destined to give it up the first time you feel a twinge of regret. We all do, sometimes.
  23. Connections are everything. Your best clients are going to be your biggest cheerleaders — and referrals are the absolute best endorsement. You may even be lucky enough to connect with other entrepreneurs who become your closest friends and strongest allies. (Of course, luck has nothing to do with it — you have to seek those connections out.) Don’t assume that just because you’re working by yourself in your own home, you’re alone in this.
  24. You are going to meet some amazing people. Some, you may even meet in person. I’ve made some fantastic friends over the past five years through my work, but I live in Florida, and most of them do not. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet up with a handful of them in person, and it’s been amazing. But the ones who I’ve never actually seen face-to-face are no less important to me. The internet is so cool, isn’t it? I have so much more in common with my chosen tribe online than I do with many people who just happen to be located in the same city as me. I’m thankful every day that this job allows me to spend time with them, even if we’re never in the same room.
  25. Change out of your pajamas. Every. Day. Seriously, even if you’re just putting on your “day pajamas.” Get dressed. You have a business, not the flu. (Unless you also have the flu, in which case, keep those pajamas on and get back to bed.)
  26. Not every idea will work. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure. When I started out, I was running a monthly burlesque/life drawing event on the side. It was so much fun, but when I figured out my “hourly rate” for the work I was doing…it was about $1 an hour. Literally. Not exactly a raging financial success. You’re going to do things — come up with consulting packages, write courses, create products — that just don’t sell. Figure out what you can learn from the process and salvage that, and scrap what didn’t work. For me, I got a lot better at graphic design from making fliers, I got out of my introvert box networking with local performers, and I honed my event planning skills, which have helped me with managing projects. I also had a lot of fun and made some great friends, and I can’t regret a single, unprofitable second because of that.
  27. Inspiration is often inconvenient. Never ignore it. You’re going to get ideas for your business in the shower, out running errands, at 5am, and when you’re elbows-deep in a kid’s science project. Make sure you can take notes so you don’t forget about it (Did you know they make waterproof notepads for the shower?), because there’s a very good chance you’re going to go totally blank the second you sit down in front of your computer to work. You’re much better off spending a super-inconvenient hour at 5am being really productive than spending four hours staring at a blank screen at noon.
  28. Everything comes in cycles. Those first few months in business, I was slowly picking up clients, building my presence…and then crickets. All of a sudden, no new inquiries, no connections, nothing. The more I’ve grown my business, the less that summer slump hits me, but that first year, it was like everything came crashing down just as it was getting off the ground. But then the fall came, and all of a sudden, it picked up again. If you’re just getting started, don’t freak out. It can be scary when you’re used to a steady day job (and its steady paycheck), but over time, you start to even appreciate the ups and downs. Use the quiet time to learn something new, or create a product, or take a vacation. It’ll pick up before you know it.
  29. Tools and systems aren’t sexy, but they are everything. I know, as a left-brain creative, I’m sort of a rare bird. But show me an amazing spreadsheet or an intuitive, flexible process, and I will go weak in the knees. Because I know that these are the things that make business so much easier, even if they sound boring on paper. (Or in a blog. I know.)

So that’s it — a few of the things I’ve learned over the past five years working for myself. I’m sure I’ll come up with half a dozen more over the next week that I’ll kick myself for leaving out, but let’s go with it. Gotta leave something for the next five.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What’s been your biggest business lesson so far? Do any of my lessons hit home for you — or totally contradict your own experience?

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