In 2015, I was a University lecturer at a UK institution.
I had completed a PhD, three postdocs, and was in my first permanent academic job. I was also being discriminated against by my employer and ultimately left academia with a settlement that I’m not legally permitted to discuss.
In the period leading up to my exit from the academy I had a lot of choices to make about my life.
One important one was about how to do work that was fulfilling, joyful and would pay the bills. I thought about my values, desires and talents and narrowed it down to two fields: law and therapy.
Since I have the travel bug and wanted to be geographically mobile, the law wasn’t a good fit, so I embarked upon the journey to becoming a therapist. Fortunately for me, I had a decade of experience of teaching and coaching, and even facilitating support groups. I had run workshops in multiple countries on sex, sexuality and kink. In many ways, my journey had begun years earlier.
Nevertheless, I still lacked some of the skills and the support network to embark on a career as a coach or therapist. It is a mere three years later and I now have a Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling and a full coaching and therapy practice.
Here are 5 things that helped me to build my business.
I asked for recommendations and I paid for the best supervisor that I could afford (which is actually not saying there is a better one out there if I paid more!). He is well connected, experienced and generous with his advice. He is effective at directing me to useful resources and was invaluable in the period before I had clients or much of a business.
He helped me to consider what I already had and what I needed to achieve in order to be an effective therapist. His support gave me the confidence to interrogate what I really needed before launching my business in terms of accreditation, training, insurance and experience.
I certainly made more informed decisions about my future because of his help – and as a result got off the ground with a great start to build my business.
I have a friend of many years who is a marketing training specialist. She and I have a mutually supportive relationship which helped me to make the work plan, get the website up and to keep up my momentum when times were tough. I provided her with a case study for her fledgeling business and help to refocus and getting back on track.
Other people have supported me in choosing the right degree course, finding the best hosting service, choosing my email provider, and grappling with GDPR. I am grateful for these relationships because they provide important stimulation and growth.
The reciprocal nature of them is really important too, because it reinforces my own competence as I build my business.
Academia gave me a lot of experience with imposter syndrome. As someone that is dyslexic and dyspraxic, and for whom names are often difficult, academic writing has always been a challenge. I often thought someone might realise my limitations and realise they should never have given me the PhD in the first place.
Fortunately, I also knew that I was a gifted researcher who research subjects opened up to easily.
Within the context of running a brand new coaching and therapy business, imposter syndrome can arise in all kinds of sneaky ways. It can accompany worries about the aspects I’m less confident about, the client I am struggling to connect with, the no-show, the accounting.
Sharing my experience with others, and seeing their insecurities reflected has been invaluable to me. To reap the peak benefits of this I have set up a peer supervision group with others at a similar point in their careers, and it is a wonderful support resource as I build my business.
The ‘impossible task’ is that thing that gets impossibly difficult for no good reason. It is the task that you know that you have to do, and that isn’t that practically difficult, but that is paralyzing right at this moment.
For me, the impossible task is often about completing expenses or accounting or making a phone call. That’s right, I spend hours every day talking to people online, hearing their stuff, but making a phone call to a doctor, airline or employer gets impossible sometimes. It makes no sense, but it is my reality – and apparently the reality for plenty of other people too.
Before I knew about the ‘impossible task’ I could spend days fixated on the fact I wasn’t doing it. I didn’t get anything else productive done. I just focused on the fact I couldn’t do the thing.
Since I recognised that I have this occasional temporary paralysis, I have learned to handle it differently. I’ve learned that it isn’t something I can just ‘push through’ and that in order to get to it I need to have some successes first. I need to do a few other tasks that give me a sense of accomplishment or joy.
With that in mind, I have created a ‘happy leaves’ exercise of tasks that I know will make me feel either accomplished or joyful. I have written one idea on the back of each leaf postcard and included how long it takes and how difficult it is for me when life is hard. Doing one or two of the exercises on my leaves makes me feel better, usually better enough that the ‘impossible task’ is no longer impossible.
You may need to find your own route, but recognising if you have impossible tasks is a good way to start working out how to make them possible again rather than getting stuck.
Part of what I do is put together blog posts. I write a lot of these.
Working out when to stop working in a particular piece of writing is a skill. Sometimes I get it wrong, and there are still spelling errors, or my meaning isn’t clear enough in a post, but that happens rarely.
More often I hold onto something far too long, and I should just have posted it. My website doesn’t have to be perfect, my writing doesn’t have to be perfect. Even my business plan doesn’t have to be impeccable.
What it does have to be is functional and fit for purpose. Learning the difference between those ideas has been absolutely essential to learning when to stop ‘improving’ something and to just press POST.
My therapy practice is now full.
I have a client base that I generally connect well with – and I am grateful that I really only attract the kind of clients that I want to work with. Clients that like coaching as much as counselling, that are quirky in all kinds of ways and that need to work with someone open to the idea that there are many healthy ways to be a person in the world.
If you’re interested in knowing more about what I write about (generally sex, relationships, self consent and mental health), or just more about my quirky brain, please pop over to my site and take a look.
My practice is currently full, so I’m not looking for new clients – but my blog is www.loveuncommon.com/blogI am inviting new clients to my DBT course though. The link for that is: https://loveuncommon.com/
Today I’m thinking about the limiting beliefs I have around money.
When I moved from Roscommon to Waterford 2 years ago, due to a family crisis, I had NOTHING.
And I mean literally nothing, money-wise. I had been freelancing as a business journalist and copywriter, but due to said crisis, I wasn’t able to work much, then at all, for a couple of months. I burned through all of my savings, and had nothing in the pipeline.
Which is a huge problem in that line of work, as you usually only get paid on publication a couple of weeks, or even months later. Or a client will hand over most of the money owed in a final payment, at the end of a project.
Myself and my son moved in with my mother because I couldn’t make my next rent payment where I was living, and I arrived with €140 in the bank from a childrens allowance monthly payment, an ok but oldish car – and the entire contents of my house (furniture, appliances, etc) just left behind me.
Everything we owned now fit into 2 rooms, with space to spare.
So, that was a fun time.
I could have taken a social welfare payment, or gone on the dole, as we call it. Like, I was entitled, and the money was right there – after jumping a few hoops to access it.
But… I had a weird thing in my head and my heart about starting over. And starting as I meant to go on.
Yes, we were flat broke. But we weren’t POOR.
I had family support (thank you Mammy, and Sister, and Cousin!). I had a roof over our heads and food in our bellies (thank you Mammy!).
Doing a stocktake, I figured I also had my old laptop, a phone, a car, and an internet connection. Those were the tangible assets to build a business with.
The intangible things, the things that I couldn’t have bought, and that nobody could ever take from me, was what I could do with my brain. I had a rather unique set of skills and experience, at that point, given my work and personal history.
And I also had (and still have) belief.
I believe that ‘what you feed will grow’. I believe that energy follows intent. I believe that working from a place of poverty, a place of lack, a place of needing or expecting charity, would have stuck me there, afraid to move forward.
So, I told my son. I’m sorry, we don’t have money right now for things we want, or even need. But I can make money with my BRAIN. Money is out there, waiting for me to give it a way to flow towards us.
The seeds of my business plan were based around that – channels and flow.
To begin, I decided I’d create channels of value and service that make a positive difference to people’s lives and personal development, spiritual health and growth, and authentic connection to Ireland.
That would be my outflow – valuable content that was scalable to a big audience and community, ie not just one-on-one that would suck up my time and energy, which are finite resources, as the service grows.
And that outflow would create and carve channels by which money (and other good things) would flow back the way, right to my dorrstep – and bank account.
Setting that up took some time and patience, and I’m still working on it, but I believe I am fulfilling step one – give value and service, and that step two is more or less taking care of itself after that, and will continue to do so as my community grows.
What now though?
I feel like starting this path, over 2 years ago now, sort of cleared the top level of limiting beliefs about money – the fear of poverty and lack mentality, and some of the imposter sysndrome. I still work on them at times, but generally that’s going ok.
There’s other stuff that runs deeper still though, I think. How many of these have you said or thought recently?
Ok, so I’m going to hold my hand up and say I’ve though many of these exact things in the last few months. Maybe even this month?!
It’s something I definitely need to work on.
How about you?
[NOTE: if you’re not interested in the tech behind building an online course, this one might not be for you. I don’t go into too much detail, it just won’t suit everyone. No harm, catch you next time!]
I teach a lot of course material online, and one of the biggest problems I’ve had to date in my business is finding a system that is user friendly, that I can also easily use.
When it comes to tech stuff, I’m not completely lacking, and I can figure most things out – but I sort of have to relearn everything unless I’m doing it regularly. I don’t know if it’s bad memory due to long term stress, undiagnosed dyspraxia (doing things by muscle memory or unthinking repetition/habit have been my coping mechanism), some weird combo of these… or something else entirely. I mean, who the fuck knows, right?
I redid my Weebly website early this year, moving to a WordPress site with an LMS theme. (That stands for Learning Management System, and it’s basically an overlay that organises your course materials and is supposed to sort it into easy to use and manage course content. Spoiler: it didn’t.) The theme was buggy from the start. Myself and the wonderful designer I was working with (she tried her best, bless her, with bad tools and a client who hadn’t a clue) basically patched a site together that was working grand, until I started to need to change it or do more with it, and then it wasn’t working hardly at all. Certainly not in the way I wanted it to.
So I embarked (about 2 months ago now) on a journey to learning wordpress for myself, building out some simple websites – such as this one! – and figuring out a) what I wanted my main author website to do, and b) how to make that happen.
The long and the short of it folks, is that I kind of wasted the last 2 months fecking around with stuff that I don’t need to be worrying about as yet, or that didn’t suit my business.
I’m always planning for growth, and when I started this pivot in my business over 2 years ago, one of the things I set myself was that everything I did had to be scaleable, ie. I wouldn’t stick myself in a situation where I can’t grow due to money or – more likely – time restrictions.
We can always earn more money, right? But there’s only so many hours in any given day, and I don’t want to have to spend all of them working in order to get any bigger in my business.
So I set up in a way that is sustainable, and scaleable. For example, my Patreon doesn’t require that I create an item per person, either originally (ie a poem or a story) or even through the posting out of packages. I do the work that I do each month, and no matter how few or how many patrons are signed up to that level, the work stays the same.
With the exception of top tier personal consultation work, which is high ticket pricing and limited availability, so worth taking on at that level.
Another important part of my buisness model is re-purposing. I create a piece of content once, but it gets re-used in multiple different ways. My monthly live classes are an example of this – Patrons at the $50 Reward level get a class invite to the session on the last Sunday of every month (as well as all the other rewards from the tiers below)… but I also sell class access invites seperately.
The class is recorded, and all live participants get a link to download the files as part of their original deal. Those class downloads are also avilable to buy as a standalone course though, and the guided journeys can be repurposed into other products too, in various formats. At last count I had 20 of these single topic courses available for download. Before my website crashed.
Going forward, I would like to re-record or edit a lot of this material into shorter module courses (sitting down for a 60-90 minute teaching session requires commitment, though I do offer the material in video, audio, and text/slides format, to help with this).
Those 20 individual courses also lend themselves to bundles, for example, a series on Otherworld Journeys from start to finish. Or Magic, or Irish Deities. So I could group them together and create longer course programmes.
Anywho, as you can see… there’s a lot to do. And I plan to get a lot bigger than my current business levels, so I do need systems in place to handle that, and save myself doing all of this AGAIN in another 12 or 24 months.
Having run a very successful foundation/beta programme of my newest longer learning programme (26 weeks of Ogham) I was keen to get moving on building that out into a professional looking and functional course, rather than doing it all by email delivery as I have done previously.
I messed about with Member Mouse (payment and content protection plugin) and with Thrive Apprentice LMS plugin for most of those 2 months – both of which came HIGHLY recommended by other online course tutors.
However, about 2 weeks in, Thrive changed the Apprentice plugin to a new version, and it just doesn’t work in the way it’s supposed to. I’ve been happy with the rest of the Thrive stuff, the themes are basic but function really well, and their Architect site builder plugin is really good.
With the changes though, and all the support materials detailing the old version of Apprentice, I was scrambling. Between trying to figure that out, and figure out how the Member Mouse system would work with my courses, I was going round in circles. And not making ANY money, by the by.
I guess no learning is wasted learning? But I finally admitted, coming back to work yesterday morning after my first day off in way too long, that it wasn’t working.
There was another option that has been floating round my awareness the last few months, a sort of plug n play system called Teachable (it used to be Fedora, and is used by loads of top online course creators I follow).
It’s basically a learning management system that’s been built for me – an online platform for creating and teaching courses. Content creators can create an online course and upload them, and they provide the structure – like, an online college that I can go teach a course in, virtually.
Now, this isn’t free. They do have a free pricing plan, but they take a 10% cut and it doesn’t have the features I need, like drip content. So, for a monthly fee, they do all the back end work for me, and I can focus on my course creation and teaching.
Having made the decision, I sat down to work yesterday morning, and by evening I had my monthly class option live, and the extensive Ogham Journeys course programme mapped out and ready for content uploads.
TWO. MONTHS. LATER.
With no sales. With massive headaches. With frustration and feeling incompetent.
And in the end, I got this system figured out in ONE DAY.
Right but it’s done now, and I can redesign my website too, without having to incorporate the LMS elements into it. That makes that side of things, for a focus on blog and book sales, a whole lot simpler too.
Winning, I suppose?!
I set the new monthly course up, with a FB event, then ran a little boost to it so my current audience would see it. And I woke up this morning to sales, which cover the monthly fee I just paid for Teachable. So yeah, I call that winning 😁[If you’re interested in what all this looks like, you can see it at LoraOBrien.teachable.com/]
You may not think you need to make your own website right now, but, if you run any sort of business or organisation, you really do.
Like, don’t be building that up with just a Facebook page. I’ve seen WAY too many business pages shut down for no apparent reason. If you don’t have your own website (and mailing list, but we’ll get to that in a while), you’re right fucked then, aren’t ya?!
I don’t do website design, and I’ll be honest I’ve moved to WordPress for everything now, but if you’re really new and just need to get a website up and running, I started with www.Weebly.com, and I do recommend them.
Their Starter or Pro packages are available for like, $10 to $15 per month, and have everything you need to get set up. (Check current pricing here.)
Yes, you do need your own domain name. Yes, you do need to pay for your website. But it’s a small price, really.
Eventually you’ll want to get a bit serious, and WordPress is a great way to go for that. It’s scalable as far as you need it to go.
But if you’re starting out, and just need to know how to design your own website or a build an online store, start with Weebly. (I don’t have any affiliate links to them, btw, I just used that platform successfully and happily for the first 5 years of my business!)
Whether it’s for your business, community or charitable organisation, or even your own personal profile, it’s easy enough to create your own website these days. The design is through templates, and you change it or tweak it with simple to learn drag-n-drop methods.
Having your own website means you can establish yourself as an expert, grow your influence, sell your products or services, start a blog for content marketing or personal uses, or demonstrate your achievements.
What are you waiting for?
Project Planning can be a bit of a mess at times.
Like, there’s often a load of ideas, and notions, and wonderings, and what-ifs floating around in my brain and it’s tough to get it all figured out.
I often use a sort of Mind Map technique in my Bullet Journal: there’s a resource for getting started with that here.
Quite honestly though, I do love ‘big picture’ project planning.
I love having a big blank wall in front of me, or a white board, and filling it with a big ole brain dump so I can see it all right there in front of me… and then starting to put it in order.
So, I found a method that’s been really working for me.
Pat Flynn has already done a helpful video on this, so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. He says:
Have you ever started something but never finished? In this video, I’ll show you the P.A.T. technique so you can learn how to plan anything and actually get it done.
As an entrepreneur, my day is full of creating plans and executing them, and as more and more fill my plate, I’ve learned a specific planning technique to make sure I finish what I start.
If you don’t have a “plan for planning” what can end up happening is you’ll pile up a number of goals and to-dos that can lead to procrastination, it can have you feeling unaccomplished, and ultimately you might even give up.
We don’t want that to happen.
Watch the Project Planning video now…
I used a method quite similar to this when planning the Beta run of my Ogham Journeys Programme.
That’s been really successful, and I will definitely use this particular project planning method again this month as I refine the course content for opening it to my mailing list (end of September) for our first full annual Programme run.
[If you’re interested in Ogham – Click Here to Join My Author Mailing List.]
Izzy Swanson from Feileacan Ministry had a wee rant on Facebook today, and I thought it was gorram RELATABLE that I asked her if I could turn it into a guest post. So here you go.
My friend Angela said it best “Business owner, it’s not just a job it’s a lifestyle”.
It is a life I am beyond grateful for but it comes with a lot of responsibilities. There are things I don’t think people really know about this life so I want to share a few:
1. I’m always “busy”. Not too busy that I need to hear sympathies or unsolicited advice about how to take care of myself, but my life is scheduled and that means I’m rarely going to have time to do anything random. People constantly say and do things that make you feel bad for this including just not being your friend altogether. This is a bummer but something I am no longer losing sleep over.
2. I have serious boundaries about my down time. If I say I’m not working I mean I am literally disappearing from everything except random social media posts. Posting on facebook does not mean I’m working. Football means I’m not working. As mentioned above I take care of myself. Busy includes self-care time. You would be surprised how much judgement there is about this and how much people don’t respect those boundaries.
3. This is my livelihood. It means that it is my first priority so other things have to come second, except my husband and son of course. It also means that my work is how I pay my bills, it is how I make sure I can feed my child and meet his needs, and is also how I can manage part 1 and part 2 above. This idea that I should be available to provide services for free because it is spiritual is not ok. If you recieve spiritual services and pastoral care from church ministers remember they recieve a salary for that. They are compensated for their time. The only difference here is that I’m pagan and I don’t have a church to pay my salary. I have to work for it.
4. Because it’s a business I have to spend a good portion of my time marketing and my livehood as mentioned above depends on this. Small business owners need support through feedback from the peoole they provide service to so if I ask for a review or a share remember it could mean the difference between paying my bills and not being able to. Try to be compassionate and not make peoole feel bad about the fact that they have to do this.
This isn’t meant to be a rant or target any one person. It’s something that happens in some form on a consistent basis. It’s something that needs awareness and needs to be understood. Thank you for reading and thank you for your support.
I’m writing this early but I don’t know when it will get posted, as today is a client day and I’m away to the boutique for 10am.
I’m down to about 3 of these a month now, which is great for focus on all the other work I do. But I do like to keep my hand in within standard work environments, as it used to be the whole of my business when I first went out on my own.
A bit of background, for those who are not familiar…
For about a decade, I was a tour guide, and Heritage Centre Manager, at the Rathcroghan Royal Complex in County Roscommon, Ireland. In my time there, I moved it from a small local community business to beginning to take it’s rightful position as an internationally recognised World Heritage Site. Since I left, things have reverted to a little more of a local focus, but hey, not my circus, not my monkeys. Anymore.
As a community enterprise manager, I was very involved within my county, and volunteered – later winning a business development contract – to support other small to medium enterprises with their marketing, particularly around copywriting and information management.
I was already a published author and journalist. My first paid newspaper series ran in 2001, and my first book was written in 2003, then traditionally published in 2004, when I was just 25. The heritage job took a lot of my time and resources, and I had left my severely dysfunctional marriage in 2006, with 3 children aged 1yo, 5yo and 6yo.
I tipped away at a book project in fits and starts (Rathcroghan: A Journey, available now from Eel & Otter Press), but it wasn’t until 2013 that I got a boot up the hole to get back to writing properly, and wrote my second book ‘A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality’ (Wolfpack Publishers, currently in reprint with Eel & Otter Press) in 3 months, while working the full time management job.
So. That’s a thing I did back then.
That was also the year I had a severe cervical cancer scare, and spent a large part of undergoing a mental and physical breakdown, due largely to previous relationship and custody issues.
I was 35.
The upshot of all of this was that I got signed off the management job by my doctor, who sort of snuck it on me by convincing me to take 2 weeks, then another 2. She knew I’d never just up and leave everyone in the lurch, but as she put it; “I don’t see what else can give, and something has GOT to give.”
She was the first person to spot the severe anxiety and C-PTSD symptoms of long term abuse.
“You’ve been in constant ‘warrior mode’ for years”, she told me, “you can’t carry on like this, your system will just crash”.
With a month’s distance on the pressures of the day job, I retreated to the security of the bookshop in which we lived, and began to think about starting a freelance writing business. I was able to take longer term sick leave on a mental health basis, and get a small stipend from the state from all those taxes I’d paid them, which cushioned some of the nerves.
And I began to write full time.
That business bloomed, and I transitioned from that to this business model… but sure we can get into all that another day. I gotta go to work!