Business Serves Life, Not The Other Way Around

Here are my three best tips for growing a business that gives you freedom and flexibility to be there for others. #solopreneur #solopreneurs #giveback #business

This is a crazy long blog post – well, it wasn’t originally meant to be a blog post but here it is.  You might want to go grab a cup of something good before you start ;)

I was inspired years ago by a marketer (can’t remember the name) who reached out to ask the community-at-large to support a woman on the run for her life from an abusive husband. I didn’t know the woman, but many people knew and trusted the marketer. The outpouring of financial support was mind boggling.

I knew then as I watched it unfold, someday I wanted to help someone like that.

I got my start in business working with Work at Home Moms.

Though I worked full time outside the home, my pay was low and I was forever having trouble keeping my bills paid. I created a website to market my skills as a desktop publisher and discovered my skills were easily translated over to web graphics. My first graphic client was a WAHM and she referred others to me. Soon I was making the extra cash I needed to make ends meet.

Little did I know this was the beginning of a total life change.

One project led to another. Soon I was hosting an internet radio show and launching a membership site with Alice Seba. Instead of just paying my bills, I was paying them off!

In 2005 I crushed my last debt with a huge smile on my face. It wasn’t until January of 2006 that it dawned on me I was making more at home than I earned at the day job. When that sank in, I gave notice and came home to be a full time business woman.

I loved the Work at Home Mom community. Everything I learned about running my business up to that point came from the networking and learning I found there. I found so much support and encouragement.

Being part of the community allowed me to fulfill my dream of being a helper to others.

First Cause: Replacing A Broken Computer

In 2007, a friend I’d known for some time experienced a total computer failure. Since her business was run entirely on the internet, this was a crippling situation. No computer = No work = No Income.

I wished I could pull out the cash to help her get a new system but that wasn’t within my means.

So instead of reaching into my pocket, I reached out to our community. I blogged about her, her business and the determination she always showed. I asked our fellow WAHMs if they would like to help her out, would they send her a cash gift through her PayPal account?

I emailed my list. I shared the situation through forums and what little social media existed at the time.

The response was immediate and generous!

She reports she received gifts totaling over $1200. Many quite small, $5, $10 – some bigger too.

I was excited by the quick action taken. I felt much pride in our community. WAHMs are often known to be a frugal bunch and there’s a lot of truth to that. But when so many come together, their combined generosity is impressive.

That same year our community had an opportunity to show off again.

Second Cause: Pay Off An Electric Bill

A single mom friend of mine was working at home full time as a Virtual Assistant. Her business was young, just over a year old. With a young son to care for, living on your own wits and talents is always a challenge – but she was making it happen, covering her expenses with very little left over from one month to the next.

One day a bill from the Electric company rocked her world in an unpleasant way. Apparently their equipment that measured her electric use had been found to be faulty. The good news? They found and fixed the problem. The bad news? They were now billing her for over $750 in previously unbilled service.

Can you imagine her shock?

At the same time she was having some expensive car trouble. To say she felt emotionally and financially overwhelmed is an understatement.

I decided to reach out to our WAHM community and share her situation with them.

Again the response was instant and awe inspiring.

Quite an uproar arose about the unfairness of the Electric company and gifts started to flow into her PayPal account. I loved seeing other single mothers who certainly had very little extra themselves send her cash to help out.

Before it was over she had received over $950 in gifts. The electric company somewhat graciously reduced her bill by 25% so she only had to pay $550 – which left cash to cover her car repairs.

She was blown away and pleasantly humbled by the experience. It’s impossible to be on the receiving end of this sort of kindness and not realize you’re part of a special family.

So many people wrote to me to express their gladness for being able to help someone else in trouble.

It’s easy to think your small gift won’t make a difference. But when you see the overall results, the need met in whole – you realize you’re part of something greater than yourself.

I got an email shortly after this, a gal who heard about these acts of generosity second hand, she wrote to say that she admired me for meeting these needs and she hoped one day to be able to help others the same way – when she was making a lot of money herself.

“Whoa!” I said in my reply – “I didn’t buy that computer. I didn’t pay that electric bill.” Yes, I made a donation but it was just one small part of the whole. It was the community, other everyday moms like she and I who made the solutions possible.

Wouldn’t I love to be able to meet a need for someone else when it arises? You betcha. But honestly, being part of a community that does is just as wonderfully fulfilling.

Third Cause: Fulfill Holiday Business Wishes

I believe these situations lit a fire under me and many others. It led to a fun and inspiring holiday project that I called #WAHMWish (the Twitter hashtag) that ran through 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The month before Christmas I put the word out that I wanted to stuff some holiday stockings for other Work at Home Moms.

I asked them to share a specific business wish with me. What one thing would be a huge blessing to them at this stage in their business? What product would they love to find in their stocking this year? How would they put it to use?

I collected all of these wishes by email and then one by one, I set out to see if I could get the wish granted. Not on my own of course – I didn’t go out and buy everything. I couldn’t if I wanted to. Rather, I approached companies and individuals to see if they would like to help grant the wish.

That first year we granted wishes for things like:

  • Ghostwriting Services
  • Virtual Assistant Services
  • Graphic Design Services
  • Coaching Time
  • Private Memberships
  • Information Products
  • Roboform Licenses
  • XsitePro Licenses (oooh, remember that old program we loved so much?)

In some situations the wishes were for things I offered myself – they were easy to fulfill. Some were more challenging; I remember reaching out to some ‘famous people’ in internet marketing circles to ask if they’d like to fulfill a wish for their top level learning resources. I was nervous about it but I didn’t have to be. They (Lorrie Morgan-Ferroro and Joel Comm) said yes in a heartbeat.

What I learned is this: People love to be generous! They love to meet real needs. They aren't annoyed by these requests; they're honored.Click To Tweet

Fourth Cause: Quad Watch

In 2007 my niece discovered that she was pregnant with quadruplets. At seventeen weeks she was placed on permanent bed rest. The lived a half hour from the hospital and her husband worked midnights so I started to spend a few nights a week at her place, helping out with their five year old and just making sure she had everything she needed.

As her belly grew larger the doctors wanted to keep her in the hospital, fearing the long drive from out of town should she run into trouble. Since we lived in the city and I worked at home full time, we were able to strike a compromise by having her move into our spare room.

Four beautiful tiny babies were born at 29 weeks – Max, Brody, Piper and Willow. The next three months were spent in the NICU.

As homecoming drew closer – it became more and more obvious just how much help they would need. Mom was going to have to keep working. She had the best job with good health benefits. Dad was going to quit his job and stay home full time.

Sean and I talked things over and decided the best way that we could help would be to take on the night shift so that mom and dad could get sleep and maintain some of their sanity.

My schedule was flexible and his homeschool work could be done anytime – it would mean making some changes of course, but of all of our family members, we were the only ones with that much flex in our schedules. We made a one year commitment to be there from 10pm at night until 9am in the morning.

The months that followed were simply amazing. Can you imagine having four sweet little babies to cuddle and feed every night? My son and I loved doing it. It was a privilege and an honor to be such a big part of their lives. There were some nights that it was almost too much for the two of us – when one baby was feeling cranky or another baby couldn’t sleep unless they were being bounced… but even on those nights – it was a joy.

For as long as Quad Watch lasted I only worked four hours a day on my business. It meant working smarter, outsourcing more and letting go of some projects that just weren’t pulling their weight. Interestingly enough, while my business surely grew slower during that year – I made just as much money as the year before and then some.

I’m so grateful for the flexibility that my online business gives me.

Fifth Cause: Bless a Family in Mourning

In 2010 a young WAHM (name withheld) I knew well, a member of my private member site, experienced a devastating loss.

Her youngest son was born with a rare medical condition and soon their lives turned around his need for care. She was so brave, so determined to get him the help he needed – all the while building an online business to protect her ability to earn while she stayed home to be with him and the other children.

When her son was about two years old he passed away in his sleep. I can’t imagine that moment, when she shared it with me I felt like my heart would stop. There’s so little you can do long distance for someone who is going through this sort of pain and heartache. Express your concern, offer your help in any way possible, pray for the family…

I wanted to do something more, something practical to reduce her stress and burden. I knew that they were in the middle of buying a new home closer to family and that their finances where sorely stretched because of it. Funeral expenses had to be a major burden. I believe that God dropped the idea of raising money to help pay off the funeral bill into my heart and I decided to run with it.

After getting permission from her, I reached out to the community, sharing the vision of helping them out. All this mom should have to do is be with her family and grieve – not scramble about trying to pay off a funeral debt and avoid losing a house.

I have to admit ignorance on a couple of fronts. First, I have no idea how much a funeral costs a family. My friend lived outside of America so I had even less understanding of the costs involved. I knew it had to be a lot more than the $1000 or so that we’d raised in past efforts.

After prayer I decided in addition to asking for cash donations given straight to the family, I offered a special discount on my private membership site. You could join at half price and 100% of that payment would be given to the family.

We ran a couple of other specific fundraisers involving information products – all cash going to the family. Others got involved; doing everything they could to spread the word.

Again, gifts of all sizes flowed in. Small gifts from those who wished they could give more. Large gifts who wished they could do more than give.

It didn’t take long. We raised nearly $7000 and she gave me the word: the debt is paid off.

A sad sidebar, not everyone is inspired to help others. Information about the fundraiser was posted on large marketing forum by one of our members and someone responded expressing their opinion that a fundraiser would have been better focused to raise money for research into the disease that took her child.

Some folks just don’t ‘get’ the idea of reaching out to help one person or one family to make it through a tough situation. Thankfully, many more do.

Sixth Cause: Going Bald for Childhood Cancer Treatment

In 2011 I fulfilled a personal goal I’d set during Quad Watch, to shave my head to raise money for St. Baldricks. While snuggling one of my little great nieces late at night a commercial came on the TV. The actress from Rescue Me was talking about fighting childhood cancer and the camera moved out to reveal that she was pregnant. She shared that many children who manage to survive childhood cancer treatment never have children of their own because the treatment renders them infertile.

How can you build a business that lets you help others?

Here are my three best tips for growing a business that gives you freedom and flexibility to be there for others.

Tip #1: Build up Passive Income.

There are two main ways I build passive income. I create and promote my own products and I promote affiliate programs.

My advice is this, the next time you have a few hours to work – spend them promoting something you highly recommend with an affiliate link. Blog about it, podcast about it, spend some time gabbing about it in social media. Add it to your list of favorite tools. Add it to your autoresponder.

Work hard today so you can work less later.

If you’ve never tackled affiliate marketing before, take my Affiliate Beginner’s Challenge.

Tip #2: Build up your Mailing List.

If you don’t have a list today, start one. If you have a list, do something to win new subscribers.

I am using Active Campaign to manage my mailing lists. I offer free optin gifts here and there on my website, run occasional summits, run and participate in bundles – these are all powerful list builders.

Tip #3: Rework what you have instead of always starting something new.

In 2011 I completely re-branded my business. I no longer focus on the WAHM community as my target market. With my son grown and out of the house, I redefined myself and my audience to focus on entrepreneurs in a wider community.  This brought with it a fantastic opportunity to clean house. Everything I had created specifically for a WAHM’s needs I sold. Everything I had that could be edited and redirected to speak to a wider audience, I dug in to update and relaunch.

I also gave my blog and podcast a good review as well. Old posts that have no good use are removed. Posts that need refreshing are given some time and republished to be enjoyed again. I’m going through old podcast episodes to see which interviews should be plucked out and used smartly somewhere else – as a product bonus for example.

For more on content housekeeping, check out this post.

My final advice…

You never know when life will take a turn and someone you love will need extra time and support. To me, being successful is all about being available. I don’t want to build something that controls me and neither do you!

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