It’s now a little over 3 years since I started my solo business venture of helping bloggers and content creators build their audience online. Has it been easy? No. Has it been interesting? Always!
I have a friend who used to email me very frequently back in the day. Now emails are passe so we keep in touch over WhatsApp. But her email signature used to end with this quote.
It’s a quote by the 100 meter Olympic gold medalist from 1924, Harold Abrahams.
In it, he says-
I’m forever in pursuit. And I don’t even know what it is I’m chasing.
– Harold Abrahams
Now of course, Abrahams talks about it in the context of running and in the context of racing. But for anyone who’s ever pursued something just for the pure and sheer joy of it, you understand what he means.
It’s the sheer thrill of the chase. It’s the joy in the process. It’s the fun of doing things because you truly enjoy them.
In order to truly understand the context for today’s article, I want to go back to the year 2009. My daughter was just three years old. She had just turned 3 and was about to start preschool. At this time I got an offer for a teaching position. It was in an MBA college and I was offered the position of an adjunct professor for Business English. I went in for the interview and did the demo and when I was meeting with HR and the Dean, they offered me the package.
I was only going to be working 4 hours a day given that I had a small child at home. Now, here’s the notable point: It was more money than I had earned pretty much in my entire working life since the beginning of 2001. And at that time, of course, I enjoyed the idea of teaching but I’m not going to deny that the money was a big lure. It felt good to tell people that I was working part time and that I was earning a pretty decent paycheck.
10 years later, in 2019 I received a writing assignment. The people who found me for this writing assignment did so through my website, my blog and any content of mine that they had seen online.
They were a startup, but they were also a funded startup. I went in for the interview, spoke to the team, met with them and I was going to be both the subject matter expert as well as the writing lead for that particular project. Once again, the money was pretty fabulous.
But midway through both the teaching assignment in 2009 and the writing assignment in 2019, there was this sense of asking myself-
“Is this all there is to life? In other words, if I didn’t have the money, would I not be happy? Would I not continue to do this work?”
I left both those jobs, the teaching one and the writing one, within a year of taking them up.
And I went back to what I had always enjoyed doing, which was blogging. Now blogging happened about three years before the teaching assignment came out. It was in 2007.
It was the notion that had always made me happy and that was the idea of writing.
Whenever I feel stuck whenever I feel like I don’t know which way to move forward, I find solace in writing. I find solace in creating.
To understand the context for both those incidents, I’m going to draw your attention to April of 2021. At the beginning of April of this year, I had completed three years in my business as a solo entrepreneur. Three years, of which the first two years were pretty challenging; I was just about breaking even and not really turning a profit and some months were pretty bad on the money front.
Those of you who know of my journey also know that July 2020, is when there was a turning point. That’s when I found my coach and mentor, George Kao and things started shifting.
I started enjoying the work I was doing. I started truly loving the idea of connecting with my audience. And I had pretty much zero to no expectation as far as outcomes were concerned.
When April of 2021 happened, a really interesting thing developed. It turned out to be my highest ever income month since I started my business, but here’s the interesting thing. It was actually my highest ever income month ever since I started working in 2001.
That means in the 20 years since I began working, since I went on a sabbatical, since I took up a teaching job, since I took up writing assignments, April of 2021 was when I broke through what I call an income ceiling which I honestly didn’t expect or anticipate.
And more importantly, I didn’t really work towards it. It just happened.
When I woke up on the morning of May 1st, there was nothing different about who I was or who I am. I still got up, did my work for the morning, opened my laptop and I got back to writing and creating content. Because what I’ve realized is that is what truly makes me happy- creating content.
It truly brings harmony into my business. Because to be very honest, I cannot estimate the income that I get each month. It depends on a number of factors outside of my control.
But the one thing that I can guide or that I can shape is my content. That’s in my hands.
And the reason I talk about this today is because I don’t want any of us to just start a blog or start a business for the sake of money.
I understand of course that money is a very sensitive topic and I don’t aim to be qualified to talk about it, and I’m not going to give you financial advice. I also know that money is necessary for a basic standard of living.
But imagine if we could combine making money with a sense of joy and service. What if we do the work that we do because we enjoy it and no longer keep money on our list of goals?
This entire concept is beautifully encapsulated in Derek Sivers’ book ‘Anything You Want’. In it, Sivers goes into a lot of interesting details about, entrepreneurship, business and failure, including selling his business after a decade of an incredibly successful run.
But most important of all, he says, don’t start a business just for the money.
Because if you do that and the money stops coming in or if the money slows down to a trickle, what will you be doing the business for? I think this is an important question to ask yourself. And here’s an extract from one of Sivers’ interviews where he says:
“I call it the Tao of business, where by being generous, you can succeed more than if you’re trying hard to make as much as you can. When people set up a business to maximize profits, or to squeeze out every bit of permission from their users, or get away with as much as they can, by grabbing their users privacy rights or something like that, you might find that brink of profitability where your customers aren’t exactly quitting, but they don’t exactly love you. There’s a different approach to business, where you almost see it like public service. Yes, you have to be profitable, otherwise you die, and actually I think a lot of young entrepreneurs make that mistake more often. They almost get too humble and they say, “Oh no, don’t worry about me, I don’t need to make any money,” and then they go belly up in a year because they need to get a job. But if you find this sweet spot where you’re covering your costs, and you’re making a little profit, but generally you’ve set up your business in a way that it’s very generous to your customers and your clients? Then people love you more because of this generosity that you exhibit to the core, and that you really walk your talk. And they feel better about sending everybody your way, and the business ends up growing faster than if you were trying to just do some kind of thing to make money.”
I love this particular extract by Sivers, because it explains a great deal about what I’ve been feeling for the last few months when it comes to my own business.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram and have taken my course intentional Instagram know that the one thing I keep repeating is to not focus on follower numbers. Don’t worry about the number of likes on your posts. Don’t worry about the number of comments or the number of shares. While all of those have a place in terms of understanding what your audience really relates to and identifies, none of those things truly determine your value as a creator or a business owner.
But when you show up consistently and create content and do the work that you do, because you want to serve your audience, irrespective of whether they actually turn out to be paying clients of yours or not, there’s a sense of joy that permeates your days, your weeks and your months.
You stop comparing yourself to other people. You stop worrying about what might happen.
And instead you just start enjoying this moment, this day this week and this month.
So in other words, if more money is your motivation to run a business, I can tell you right now that you’re going to run out of steam pretty quickly. So when people come and ask me, I’m going to start a blog, how long can I wait before I can see it making money?
I instinctively step back because I don’t have an answer to that question. I don’t know how long you have to be creating content before you can make money. I don’t have a timeline. I don’t promise results to my clients.
What I do guarantee, though?
It is the fact that I will help you look at your business and look at your content from a very different perspective, where there is no end goal in sight. Because an end goal is not something that you can control or have any autonomy over. But right here, right now the content you create, the love that you put into that work. That is something you have total control over.
Halfway through May of 2021 I launched my podcast because I just felt this really strong urge to do so. I felt a calling. The interesting thing about the podcast is that I have no intention to monetize it or build any revenue streams from it. And that makes me very happy because it’s one true way that I can connect with whoever is listening. Because they choose to listen to the content that I’m creating.
If they end up reaching out to me in some way or if they end up connecting with me in some way, that’s a bonus. But even if they would just listen silently and walk away, thinking about what I’ve shared, I think that’s that’s the best gift that I can ask for.
Because the truth is even with my blog my website, my coaching, my workshops or my services, there is always an underlying possibility of income. But with the podcast I just do it because it gives me joy. It helps me connect with people who want to learn about the idea of pure content creation and the idea of living intentionally.
It’s my sincere hope that as you navigate your way through the digital landscape, when you create content,connect with your customers or reach out to your audience, you find that sense of balance and harmony in your own business without any expectation of external validation or reward.
Because money can come and go. But the joy that comes from creating for its own sake.
That’s never going to leave your side.
“Everything happens when it needs to happen; everyone is always where they need to be. You will never miss out on what is meant for you, even if it has to come to you in a roundabout way.”
— Iyanla Vanzant