I don’t usually write much about my business on Wandering Porcupine. That’s in part because this blog has been something of an escape from it (for reasons you’ll understand in a moment), but also because there’s not been much about it that’s pertinent over here.
It’s about to become more relevant, but fear not – other than the odd mention I don’t anticipate writing about the business much going forward. If that’s your thing you’ll want to join the list on my business site (I’ll share a link at the end of the post).
If this is your first visit to Wandering Porcupine, and you didn’t come here to read about something only tangentially related to freedom and nomadic life, you might want to check out other recent posts before you call it a day.
If, however, you are someone building an online business or curious about someone else’s mistakes around that, read on, friend.
The importance of giving a damn
Late last year, I’d reached the end of my rope with my website consulting business. Since founding it in 2009 (after more than a decade of doing roughly the same thing for corporate clients), I’d failed to find my groove when it came to a client base.
It wasn’t only money that was a problem; the majority of my projects left me struggling to sustain the passion I started with. I attracted too many of the wrong clients, and I wanted to quit.
After a long, dry spell, a spate of smaller jobs poured in this summer from people with whom I had existing relationships. As I wrapped up the last of the projects a couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me that I’d actually enjoyed working with these people, and (for the most part 🙂 ) on their projects.
What made the difference this time? Whatever it was, I knew if I could be more deliberate about seeking jobs that had this key attribute I’d be a happier camper instead of a whiney wanna-be quitter.
As Brian and I transition to full-time RV life, it’s important that we a) have a plan in place to earn enough to support ourselves and b) don’t ruin our lives by doing work we hate for people we don’t like a lot.
The more I reflected on why my recent projects felt different from much of my past work, the more I realized that the common thread was how much my client wanted that site to work for their livelihood. They gave a damn about it, because it was their bread and butter, or would be in the future. It wasn’t just some virtual brochure they threw up on the web, then left to rot.
You’d think after running the same business for eight years…
Who pays you money and doesn’t give a damn? And why is that a problem, anyhow?
How about I answer these questions by telling you what I think is super awesome and then we compare it with not giving a damn?
People who kick ass
I love it when a client tells me about a challenging situation, and I not only find a solution, but show her how she can maintain it herself if she wants to. Or when I do a live chat with someone, and right then and there we find and fix a problem that frustrated him for weeks.
It’s about more than feeling like a hero that saves the day (although that is nice for five minutes). It’s that I made a difference for that person, so they can get on with whatever it is that they do to make their people happy. Even if I’ve charged for what I do (I <3 free but it doesn't buy the dog food), I feel like I'm part of their success.
I love working with other entrepreneurial types who are willing to invest in their website because they get that it's directly related to their livelihood. When I say "invest" I mean sweat as much as money. Sometimes more.
The ones who don’t give a damn
I wish I could say that most of the people I’ve worked with cared about their websites. Personal anecdotal evidence places this aspect of business at #387 on the list, on average. Right after paying someone on Fiverr to redesign their logo for the 45th time.
I could cajole, educate and explain ’til the cows come home and it wouldn’t change a damn thing. Some people are simply the types who think a one-time website expense exempts them from ever needing to spend another dollar or minute on it.
Too often, it feels like I got paid – a lot, even – but my work was pointless. I realize that’s 100% a first world problem. However, I would like to point out that depression sucks no matter where in the world you live, and alcohol as a coping mechanism tends to turn into a bad idea.
This whole Not Giving A Damn thing is a problem for me because it results in taking money to do something that doesn’t line up with what I value. Which also goes against my values. Can you see why I had an existential crisis every time I thought about my business?
I know I can’t save the world, but I don’t want to waste my time working on projects that don’t matter, for people who don’t care. Anymore 🙂
I don’t try to convince anybody that they need what I offer.
— Tracy Hurt, 30 Elephants
It’s time to stop helping people who won’t help themselves
Now, I realize we’re about to set off on an almost completely uncharted course as far as making a living goes. Brian will be closing down his shop, which has been our bread and butter almost the entire time I’ve operated the simpler web.
That is a definite concern. But if I can figure out a way to pull it off I’d rather see less money and more grit in the people I work with. I finally realized (duh) I only have so many hours in a day, and I want what I do to make a difference. Not be a pointless waste of time.
Screw what I’m supposed to be doing
I am realigning my business to fit me. I want to appeal to people doing things and living life in a way I can respect. Tenacious types willing to DIY (with guidance I’ll provide for free, or damn close) to save their budget for areas where hiring a pro is crucial. Entrepreneurial types, pro bloggers and online business owners that understand the difference and value a professional brings – even if they’re not making big enough bucks to hire one just yet.
We all know (or should know) that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and I’ve got bills to pay like most everyone else. So you might be wondering how I’ll help sustain us if I’m giving away expertise for free. Mostly, it’s in investing the time to create one thing that I can use to help 20 or 100 people. For example, a tutorial on how to get business e-mail with your domain name for free, or how to move your website off of a hosting service that sucks or how to speed up a slow website.
I have a lot of ideas, but the most important one involves cutting down on the need for me to do one-on-one work at specific times. That will free me up to produce the content my audience will appreciate. And to write posts for this blog, which I adore 🙂 Aaaannnd cover the bases while we’re traveling in case internet connectivity is an issue.
- I will refocus my blog going forward (and back, as much as time allows) for people who use their websites or blogs to earn money online, and all the topics that entails
- My services for hire will focus on fixes & smaller projects instead of website redesign and new websites
- I will create tutorials and videos to help solve problems common to non-technical people who manage their own websites
- I will probably offer some of this content in tiers. It will take a while to organize, but I already have a lot of freely-available posts. A second tier would be subscriber-only content, but this tier would also be free. There might be a third tier for more time-intensive things, and that would require some sort of small commitment. Maybe a couple of bucks a month on Patreon or something. I do not envision setting up a paid membership site at this time.
- Instead of worrying about conflict of interest and rejecting commissions on products I recommend, going forward I will embrace affiliate programs for products I know, use, like and trust. I will never accept commissions for products or services that aren’t good for me or my audience. Affiliate commissions will to some extent subsidize the content I’ll make available for free, or nearly free.
- I’ll offer reasonably priced monthly maintenance/update/backups/security packages with the option of upgrading to a higher tier that includes unlimited small tasks and tweaks.
Not sure yet. Yikes.
People I hope will care are those growing or building an online business or monetized blog, who are still in a place where they need to do most of the work themselves. Perhaps people who sometimes get frustrated or confused by website-related things, but who are willing to forge ahead anyway. And people who wish they had a nerdy but relatable friend who could explain things in a way that made sense and helped them conquer their little corner of the web.
From a favorite client I talked to about this change:
I’m glad you’re not going to throw in the towel and instead change your business to suit you. You have such a great ability to see what people need (despite what they might want) and find the best-matching solution, it would be such a shame if you stopped offering that to the world! Knowing I get real, honest advice from you [is] a big deal for me. And your walk through videos were soooo helpful, they are a fantastic tool to have.
— Kirsty Cleverly, Bonjour Quilts
Time to act fearless
I wish could say for certain whether the changes I am working on will bring in the revenue we need while sticking to only what’s good for both me and the people I want to help. As much as Brian wishes it, data doesn’t exist to support or nix what I’m about to do.
The good thing about online business is that it’s relatively easy to iterate or pivot once you see what’s working and what’s not. It’s most definitely new territory for someone who’s always focused on solving others’ website woes, but it’s about damn time I took care of my own.
I don’t lack fear about such a huge change of direction. But I do need to act as if I was fearless. You know – feel the fear and do it anyway.
When you’re a non-technical person launching or managing an online business, fearlessness can be a liability. I think it is more often an asset. Yes, things can get broken. But it’s better to have to rebuild a website than to sit in front of your computer in fear of even starting.
The concept of being (or acting) fearless is especially apt at this juncture. Not just for this girl who’s changing practically everything, but also for my clients and business audience who are fearless enough to forge their own path on the web.
In fact, it’s so important that I’m changing my business’s name.
A Fearless Venture is what I’ve settled on. It was a struggle to find just the right name and then match it up with an available domain name. I like it, but I hope it speaks to others as much as it does me. If not, I also bought FearlessBadass.com 😀 Yeah, a bit much, but I just might get cheeky and use it for my e-mail.
Mission: I help entrepreneurial mavericks and misfits forge their own path on the web.
Vision: To become the go-to resource for ambitious entrepreneurs, bloggers and other mavericks who’ve rejected the Standard American Dream to build their business on the web.
Want to be fearless?
If you’re someone who runs an online business or is considering it, I’d love to have you along on this new venture. Sign up here to be notified when I launch.