What I've Learned in 10 Years As An Entrepreneur

What I’ve Learned in 10 Years As An Entrepreneur

I’m going to be honest. This is going to be a weird one. I am a little in my head about today’s episode because we are celebrating a big milestone for me. July 5th or 10 years since I stopped freelancing, and I started my first business. Now, this isn’t the 10th birthday of Uncommonly More, but it’s a really- if it didn’t exist, the birthday of Uncommonly More, we didn’t exist. And so I thought today it might be fun if we did something a little different and we walked through the last 10 years and some of the milestones and the moments and the wins, and honestly, maybe mostly the stuff was hard. Some of the places where I had to make turns I didn’t totally plan to make it to start. I think- I hope this is helpful. It’s funny. I’ve outlined this episode, I have scripted this episode, and now I’m just winging it. Because it’s interesting from the inside, none of it really feels noteworthy. I’m sure as you listen to me say that you’re like, I feel the same way about my stuff. But then also, every time I listen to anyone else’s story or when people ask me questions about my own experience on one of the podcasts and things like that- and we talked about some of the moments we’re going to talk about today, They are. They’re impactful. They mean something. And I think we see a lot of shiny, pretty, strategically smart conversations and updates about our experience that are not necessarily nuanced and are certainly not complete.

So today, I’m going to do my best to- while being at least somewhat brief, being somewhat nuanced as well and transparent, and I’m going to walk the talk. I’m going to do the thing I always tell our clients to do which is to really share whenever it’s relevant. Reality and what you’ve experienced. Because I think for a lot of us who are service-based- we’re coaches, where service providers, we’re consultants, we are strategists, we are designers. We’re tied in in a way that you aren’t necessarily when you’re selling a widget or a screw or a nail or whatever. And so, I want to be true to that, and it’s a little uncomfortable, but I still think this is a good idea. So, let’s dig into it. To start the story, we have to start.

And so, we go back to the beginning.

The year was 2011. It was a simpler time. Extreme side bangs were the part of choice. Yeah. In 2011, I had a two-year-old son. It was January of 2011, and I had been a stay-at-home mom for 2 years and I didn’t love it. And I have told my son this. So, if he ever finds his podcast, he won’t be offended. I think it’s a wonderful, amazing, incredible gift that I was able to spend so much time with Colin, those first 2 years of his life. It’s something I’m endlessly grateful for, and it’s not what I wanted for all of my life. So, I decided I was going to go back to work. I started looking for jobs because that’s all I’ve ever done is have jobs. I at the time did not think of myself as particularly entrepreneurial. In retrospect, I find that my entrepreneurial spirit started much, much younger. Hustling cash has been in me since the start, but I didn’t really realize that until I became an entrepreneur. I had a really firm understanding of what this meant, to own a company and to own a business and to run my life this way. Anyways, I started looking at jobs and the options sucked hard, and they all meant making not a lot of money, and being gone and away from my son for 10, 12, 14 hours a day when you factor in commutes and things like that. And that sounded shitty. I didn’t want to do that. Even though I knew I didn’t want to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom, I also didn’t want to be a full-time, work away from the home mom. And so, as taught by my very feminist mother, I went to find a way to get what I wanted, regardless of what the structures were presenting me as an option. And so, I started Googling, which is something I would not recommend to anyone ever. Certainly, it was a bad idea in 2011. It’s a substantially worse idea. Now, I Googled jobs I can do from home. I don’t know. Maybe this is actually a great thing to Google in 2021, but it wasn’t a great idea. Actually, it worked. I found a site at the time called Odesk. It’s now Upwork, and I started offering whatever skills I could to the open market, and I was a freelancer and that started in January of 2011.

Fast-forward to March, April, May maybe of 2011

I’m not actually loving freelancing. It’s meeting a lot of time just answering ads and taking whatever is there. I had built relationships with some long-standing clients already doing essentially VA work. But to make it work the way I needed to make it work. They were actually paying me to just sit at my desk and wait for them to need me for something, and I was like, there’s just got to be a better way to do this. And so, I started looking at virtual assistant work because that’s the term I had been hired for over and over again on Upwork and I didn’t actually knew what it meant. I didn’t understand it as a concept. I found so many incredible resources and I went, this is like a whole- I could cut out Upwork. I could lose the fee, keep more of my money, and set the terms in a way that worked more efficiently for my clients and I. And so, I did a thing you’re not supposed to do on Upwork and you weren’t supposed to do on Odesk, which is, I went to the clients who I liked the most and wanted to keep a relationship with and said, “Hey I’m starting a business. I will no longer be offering my services through Upwork starting July 1st.” I said I was going to know no longer be offering services through Upwork starting July 1st. And if you want to continue with me, these would be the packages that were available. It just so happened to work out that it was about the same cost for all of my clients. But they would get x amount of hours per month, and I would just track those hours as they were used. I actually loved this.

On July 5th, I had my first day as On-demand Virtual Assistant owner, Stacey Harris, and that was how it started. When I talk about building this agency with me failing forward, I want to talk about what my goals were then. My goals 10 years ago were to build a paycheck. That’s it. Mostly so that we would have a little extra money each month, but also, so that we could have money to save for my son’s education and maybe go on vacations once in a while. Because my husband made good money. He paid all our bills. We didn’t live in a particularly expensive place to live. We lived in Phoenix, Arizona at the time. Technically, we lived in Avondale, Arizona at the time, which is a suburb of Phoenix, and it worked it. Our life was fine in that option. And so, I didn’t need to make a ton of money. So, I was like, if I could just make a little bit extra, that’d be great. So, we built it out and those were my goals, just to make a little extra. We’re going to fast forward now to 2012. I don’t really love doing VA work and tracking hours and doing data-entry stuff, but I had had clients hire me to manage stuff like Twitter. And I had gotten involved in a lot of Twitter chats at Facebook groups. That’s how I was getting my clients. All of them are coming from social media. And I was writing blogs. It was heinous. Oh, I think I’d written 4 in a year. It was terrible. But it was working. I was making more than I expected to make. The business was profitable. Also, the business costs almost nothing. So, it’s been about a year. Everything’s working, but also I’m working a ton, like 40 50, 60, 70 hours a week. And I’m making good money more than I ever expected to make when I set my original goals. But I hate it. And so, I decide I’m going to start making a shift that in 2012 and moving into 2013, I really want to focus in on social media and offering social media services, and focus on marketing. And so I closed On-demand Virtual Assistant in 2012- I think it’s November of 2012. So, a little more than a year of On-demand Virtual Assistant, I closed it, hit the mic marketing, and for a long time I called that a rebrand but it wasn’t. I dissolved a lot of services, I closed contracts, and ended relationships with clients who I loved. Some of which had been with me since I was freelancing. Some of them I still talk to you today. They’re my favorite mentors. I went all-in on social media and I was a social media manager.

This brings us really kind of through 2013. 

Late 2013 is when we launched the original version of this podcast, which was called Hit The Mic with The Stacey Harris, and I really started to get some big bold goals in 2013. It was really the first year- I guess 2 years in. that I had set any kind of real grown-up- at the time it felt like business goals where I was going to make more than enough money. And I was going to hire in some help. I hired my first virtual assistant that year to help with client work. It was a crazy evolution for me to start really thinking about, again, that more than enough, that bigger vision that I had proven that this much was possible. What else could be possible then? That’s where I was then. So, as we shift through 2013, we launched this podcast late 2013. We start rolling into 2014 and 2015. I start adding more courses and more programs I’m selling what we called then Rockstar Guides, I’m doing less and less and less of bringing on clients where I’m doing any kind of social media management creation stuff, I’m doing a lot more consulting. 2015 is where- 2014 and 2015 are really where I start offering single sessions and strategy sessions and things like that. In 2016, I start offering strategy builds. By this point, I had transitioned from Hit The Mic marketing to The Stacey Harris. I think that happened in 2014 or 2015. So, I’m working as The Stacey Harris now. It’s just me most of the time. Every once in a while, I work with a VA, but generally speaking, it was just me and I was just working with clients. I’m at this point doing a lot more project work. I had a couple of clients that I was still doing social media management for because quite frankly, there’s a couple of clients I still have that the team and I manage together but there was a lot more strategic work at this point. August of 2016, we launched Hit The Mic Backstage. So, up until this point, I’ve done for you services. I’ve done single courses. The biggest thing I learned doing courses and selling courses for social media, and giving people “lifetime access” was that when you sell a social media program and you give people access forever, you need to keep it updated forever. And so at this point, you’ve built them 12 courses for the- and my prices were abysmal for the hundred dollars they paid me- which is what inspired me launching the membership in 2016. But do you know what I totally blew past and I cannot believe it? So rewind, January 2015, we retired Charles from his job and he came and started working with me. I can’t believe we flew right past that. So yeah, January 2015 is when Charles left his job. He was a diesel mechanic for a major beverage company here in, well, really in the world and it’s not the first one you think of. It’s the second one. And here’s where we’ll find the real folks. Anyone who DM’s me the guess of which one it is, I don’t know. There’ll be some kind of prize. I haven’t decided what it is yet. DM me what your guess is. If you’re right, there’ll be a prize, and remind me that I said there would be a price.

Totally gonna forget that now. Anyways, back on track.

January 2015, we retire Charles.

At that point, we had talked about it. A couple of times we had been like, oh yeah, we’re going to do this then, and we just not done it. And so we figured out he’d had a lot of rough stuff at his job. His schedule was gnarly. He worked from 3 in the morning to 11 in the morning. It was awful. And that was actually a relief because he had worked from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. before that so, this was an improvement. It was just time for him to go and so we were tired him and he started working with me in, what was at the time The Stacey Harris, helping me with a lot of scheduling. So, if you were a social media management client starting in 2015, I didn’t schedule your content. Charles has scheduled pretty much every social update for me or clients since January of 2015. And that was really, that was fun. That was a was a big deal. It’s when the way I thought about my business had to shift and was in a lot of ways, really challenged. At this point, 4 years, I’d thought about it as a way to make extra money, and the reality of being the sole provider for my family really settled in in 2015. And it was difficult. There was a lot of pressure that came with it. There was a lot of change that came with it. There were a lot of conversations that had to come with it because there was now a weird new thing in our relationship. And so, yeah, it was a weird time but also super, super exciting because this is when we start thinking about what does it mean to leave Arizona? What does it mean to not be in Arizona anymore?

Fast forward to 2016, we launched Hit The Mic Backstage which was super fun and happened in 2 weeks. I actually did a podcast interview back, years ago now with Callie of The Membership Guys– and we’ll link it in the show notes, talking about the process that was building out that membership. It happened again over about 2 weeks. My best friend, Brandy Lawson, who also has an incredible podcast we’ll link to in the show notes, and I were talking about it. And I was like, yeah, what I really want to build out as a membership and I’d have to figure out what I want to be in all this content. She’s like, “Do you do a webinar every month, and you have how many courses? Why is that not the membership content?” And I went, oh wait, I do. I think at that point I may have only had 2 courses, maybe 3. We had the Rock Star Guide to Facebook, I think the Rock Star Guide to Podcasting existed then which still exists and at some point maybe we’ll do something with it. Although, at this point, it’s probably outdated. And I think the Rock Star Guide to Google+ maybe existed then. I think we launched Backstage with that course- I can’t remember now. But it was- and by the way, Google+ is not even a thing anymore. That’s how old I am. And so, it was a really fun time. Shifting from courses to a membership was probably one of the more fun things even as I look back at it in my business, and one of the decisions I’m most glad I did. And that was the bulk of what I did for the next couple of years. I still took on clients to do projects. I was building a lot of strategies. I had one-on-one calls. We had an upsell for Backstage that was a monthly call with me as well. Fast forward to 2016 and we move. We leave Phoenix. I guess we’re still in 2016. Oh man, that all happened at the same time. We moved. We left Phoenix and moved to California. It was the best decision I ever made. I didn’t know what it felt like to be at home until I lived here, and it is something that never would have been possible had I not started my business. Not just because jobs would have always kept us in Phoenix. Not because Charles and I couldn’t have gotten jobs in California. But what I had built at that point and the salary I was able to provide my family is what made it possible. There are certainly other ways to generate the salary I have now and then I had then but it wouldn’t have been in the trajectory had I not done this. And so, that was a huge personal milestone for us.

In 2018, I’m really ready to build a company.

I start thinking about taking the strategies I’ve been building for clients and offering back-end implementation because at that point, I had been building strategies for clients for 2 or 3 years, and the thing that I ran into over and over again is that they weren’t implementing or they were hiring someone else and they weren’t implementing in the way I would have liked. They weren’t implementing to the degree of success I would have liked. So, we start- and over and over again I hear from clients, “I wish I could just hire you to do this.” However, I have no desire to be back in day-to-day management because it’s a lot. It’s a lot of work. So I decide to launch Uncommonly More, which officially launched January of 2019, but quietly soft-opened in the summer of 2018, and I took on- I reached out to a client who I had built a strategy for and who had worked with me one-on-one all the way back starting in 2015. I said, “Hey, I’m thinking about starting an agency. I’m thinking about offering the implementation side of the strategy. If that’s interesting to you or you know somebody who that might be helpful for, I’d love to talk.” She was like, “That would be great. I would love that. Let’s talk next week.” By the end of the current week that we were in, had an email that said, “Can you just send me a proposal? I’m in.” So, I sent her a proposal and her contract and she signed and paid and everything that day. And unofficially, very quietly, and some would accidentally, Uncommonly More is born and we start looking at what it looks like to get some implementation going. Fast forward just a couple of months to December, I’ve brought in a couple more production clients I’m still- or not production clients. I’m sorry. Agency clients- they’re not production clients yet- agency clients, and I am still running Backstage. I now have a desire to run some live in-person events and I need some help. So, we bring in Cali. Cali started with me in December of 2018. She’s a total rock star and I’m endlessly grateful that she is part of this adventure and occasional shit show. And that’s really, really when Uncommonly More was born and I worked with the incomparable, amazing, wondrous, gifted, Jillian Dudek on the branding. She actually did two brands. She built the brand for The Stacey Harris and the brand for Uncommonly More. Really at this point, only the expensive brand of Uncommonly More is out there. I do still have all of my branding stuff for The Stacey Harris. If and when I do more with that brand, that branding will come back. But she did the incredible branding and we launched a bare and an empty website that said coming soon, but it was branded in January of 2019- just Cali and I. We started bringing on more clients. 2019 was massive. In the same year, we grew bananas fast and we were taking on, not just social media management clients, but podcast production clients. However, we were doing all of the things. We were doing the email, the social, the podcast content, all of it, and it was big. It was a lot. I am not totally sure I’ve ever worked more than I worked in 2019. And it was incredible. And by the end of 2019, I was exhausted. By the end of 2019, we brought on our first editor who’s still with us. We brought on, I think, honestly, I think it was just the 3 of us for all of 2019. We didn’t really bring on any additional help until either very late, very, very late 2019, or the Q1 of 2020. Q1 of 2020, we brought on a couple of people. But it was just the 2 of us and then just the 3- I mean, it was mostly just the 2 of us for 2019 and it was bananas. So, as I hit the end of 2019 and I start looking at 2020, I have started bringing on a couple of clients who the only thing we do is podcast production and I realize, it’s incredible. It allows us to really do that really well. Streamline is my hiring process. It’s the most profitable thing we offer, and it’s also the thing that is the most fun. Oh, by the way, it just took me a really long time for my job to really be connected with the fact that I have an audio engineering degree. I have an actual degree in audio engineering. How did it take me so long to figure out I should offer and focus on audio services? In retrospect, how this didn’t start with me being a freelance podcast editor? Well, the year was 2011. Maybe that’s why, in fairness.

Anyways, that was an incredible amount of growth, and the best decision all wrapped up in one because again, it was this instance of me going, yes, all of this works. We can get these clients. We can deliver for these clients but it is killing us and it’s killing my profit margins. So yes it works, and we’re going to stop doing all of this. So there are contracts we ended, there are clients we ended our working relationship with, and we shifted to offering solely podcast production. Starting I think q2 of 2020, we have, in full transparency, we have one client who we still work with that is full-service marketing support and even that contract looks very different and is an outlier and there’s no one else who will ever get the contract we have with this client because it is based on the relationship. I have with that client. And it sits outside of Uncommonly More. I do the bulk of work for that client which is not the case for the rest of our clients. And then I do still have 2 clients from my social media management days where we do social media and email stuff because I can’t let them go because I love them so much. They’ll never hear the show. Never ever, ever hear the show, but I adore them and they continue to exist in my ether. Again, Cali, Charles, and I sort of just manage those clients. They’re not really, really a part of the larger Uncommonly More teams per view and focus.

So, outside of those three outliers, we started taking on solely production clients. At this point, because it was- let’s see. April 2020, we closed Hit The Mic Backstage. I decided in 2020 I’m offering no live events because in 2019, we did I think 4 or 6 live events. One in person and a bunch virtual, because I was cool before virtual events. I was holding virtual workshops. That’s right, cutting-edge. This episode is crazy. I apologize. As we move into 2020, and we’re doing all of this ending, I see my first year where my revenue is down year over year. So, we had incredible massive growth in 2020- or I’m sorry in 2019, and then in 2020, we closed a lot of doors and we opened a lot of new windows, but my revenue was down a little bit. Also, the world was going through a global pandemic, and my life was also disrupted as we’re everyone else is. And so, my attention was different. My priorities were different. I focused so much on stabilization and I’m so, so grateful that during this time, both the bananas insane growth of 2019 and the incredibly critical stabilization of 2020, I was working with Tara Newman and I was a part of her and continue to be a part of her Bold Leadership Mastermind. I think it’s called The Bold Money Mastermind this year, mostly because I would have killed myself again in 2020 trying to better my 2019 self. It was built on a house of cards, baby. It was insane. By the way, in December of 209, we did nothing because I was working constantly. The same is true of December of 2018. And in December of 2020, we went to a drive-through light show every week and I got to enjoy my family because my schedule wasn’t insane. I went from working 12-hour days as a norm as a usual day, and 14 hour days as a long day to I work 6 to 8 hours now. Some days I work 10, some days I work 4, depending on the day in the season wherein in the business. And so it was a massive shift and a lot of that goes to the support and accountability and honesty that came from working with Tara and having a support system around me from the people in those programs and having built a really clear look at the kind of clients we serve, and who we work with, and how they show up for the work we do together.

So, now we are in 2021, and we’re halfway through 2021 and things are good. We still only have production clients except for my 3 outliers. We’ve grown more and more this year. We’ve officially done our price increase now that we’ve been talking about for weeks and weeks and weeks, and it’s been really incredible. Our team is six of us now. We have a transcriptionist. We have editors. We have production managers, we have me. We have some show notes writers. It’s grown so, so much and it remains hard and fun and often both of those things at the same time. And it’s interesting because I’m coming through a lul as I moved through Q2. Q2 was a bit of a slog. We, in the last handful of quarters and really over the course of 2020 did so much to add efficiency and streamline what we do that now when things are out of sorts, it is so uncomfortable and so obvious, which is great and frustrating, again, often both at the same time. And so, as we streamline our sales process and that felt really good. We realized, oh, cool. So we’re bringing on more clients. Well, that highlighted, some of the inefficiencies that still existed in our system. And so, and the team has grown. So, we’ve highlighted some of the efficiencies that come in our team communications and we’ve had to spend a lot of Q2 making that better, which I’m also really glad we did and happened because now, as we start this month and even this week, we made our process better so that our end results for our clients can be better so that we can better serve what they need and where they are, and so that we can show up for the show in a new way.

And as we start Q3, and what I guess that makes this like my 11th year, I’m really, really excited and I’m really energized, but I’m also more than ever aware that the sold, the marketed, wonder and freedom and ease and simplicity doesn’t it look like what you think it will look like. There are days that there is ease and flow, and there are days that it is hard. And building in the support, and building in the team, and building in the right relationships, coaches, and consultants, and things like that is critical to my survival as an entrepreneur. I frequently tell my coach, you’re stuck with me. I’m not allowed to do business unsupervised. I’m just, I’m not. I’m not allowed to do business unsupervised. And I think that that’s true for a lot of us. We hear that from clients even. They have no desire to do their show without us involved because we’re part of the guardrail for them. We’re part of the infrastructure for that actually getting done and out there in the world, and that’s fun. It’s really, it’s fun to have that. So, I want to encourage you to get those things in your business if right now you are not feeling excited and energized about the 2nd half of the year. And by the way, if you’re not feeling excited and energized, that’s allowed too. None of us feel excited all the time. Definitely something I wish I had known sooner. Definitely, definitely.

This was a chaotic and somewhat long episode. I hope it was helpful. Gave you some insights. I do remember the prize. So, DM me on Instagram your guesses and I will think of a prize sometime before this episode goes live. If you would like to learn more about working with us and get some support with your own podcast production, which by the way, I didn’t start using the team for my podcast production, even though we had a team and offered exclusively podcast production until late 2019, early 2020. Best thing I’ve done. Best thing I’ve done. I was like, oh my god, this is why our clients love us. This is fantastic. Anyways, if you would like to experience that too, head over to uncommonlymore.com/podcastproduction and we’ll work it out. We’ll find a time to chat and we can talk about what production services can look like for you, all right? Thank you for listening. Thank you for an incredible 10 years, and here’s to 147 more. All right. We’ll see you next week.

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