How I took three months off and tripled my business at the same time

How I took three months off and tripled my business at the same time

Soooo, while the rest of the world was braving summer heat, I made this:

Her name is Rosalyn. And she is made of magical fairy dust and pure love.

Goddamn fairy dust and love. No doubt about it.

And for the past three months, I have not really cared about anything else. I mean, I love my business. But DID YOU SEE HOW CUTE SHE IS?

But a year ago, things looked very different. Makeness was my baby.

And in those first moments of joy and disbelief, there was also fear and anxiety. Not just at the prospect of birthing an entire human, but also because – hellooo – self-employed over here. That meant clients and contractors who depend on me. Income that dries up if I slow my hustle. A thousand and one tiny tasks that need to get done on a regular basis that simply didn’t care about my impending bundle of joy. And most of all… no paid or unpaid maternity leave [which is a rant worthy of it’s very own post].

I would love to say that dividends from my well-planned investments, savings, and annuities [that’s a thing, right?], and four-oh-something-or-others, would easily carry me through but no. I have none of those things. Why? Because I have been reinvesting into my business for years. Growing, nurturing, upgrading over and over. Like so many of you, I’m sure, future financial planning is still something that will happen in, well, the future. Feel free to shower me with finger wagging for that. I deserve it.

So once the fact that my business [while thriving] still basically ran paycheck to paycheck sunk in, I started to plan.

I knew I wanted to take three months off when the wee one came. But considering the fact that I haven’t managed to take so much as a long weekend in the past four years, that goal seemed as far away as the moon.

Since in my world, my clients pretty much always come first, the very first thing I did was talk to all of them about what THEY needed while I was away. Once I had an understanding of that, I worked backward to figure out the financials. But this was no easy feat since, at the time I was mostly a solo act juggling copywriting, business coaching, and design. Some clients were one of the three, some two, some all. And all were at different stages in their projects.

Nearly all of my clients expressed a desire to have someone to work with while I was gone, so they wouldn’t lose momentum. But finding a single someone who could sub for the work that I do was not an option. People come to me for my special brand of combined, cohesive services. It was just not possible for someone to step in and do what I do in the way that I do it – a REALLY common predicament for solopreneurs [and I can fully admit that my ego was probably lying about at least part of these feelings].

So instead of looking for someone to be me, I looked for several people who were good at being them.

I had been meaning to begin the process of scaling up [shifting Makeness to more of an agency model and adding a bunch more services] for quite some time, but when you’re busy, taking the time to put everything in place to actually expand where you need to can easily fall to the bottom of the priority list – buried under everything you’re doing day in and day out just to handle the work you already have. I had all the plans to make it happen, but until I got pregnant, I frankly just didn’t have anything to light a fire under my ass to make it happen.

When that fire WAS lit, it was clear that it was time to put all that planning to work. It was time to expand and become what I had always intended for Makeness to be: A full-service business design agency.

First, I solidified a pre-existing collaborative relationship with Miki DeVivo. Miki was already editing all of my written work – both for content/story and the litany of typos I am well-loved for. And she had become a trusted confidant both personally and professionally. We complimented each other well. Where I have sharp edges, she has round corners. Where I see things as black and white, she sees the grey. And her commitment to and belief in what I do and how I do it inspired a level of trust I had not previously experienced. Also, she is fucking brilliant, has a beautiful eye for visual storytelling, and is an incredible writer and editor. And she wasn’t using 80% of those skills professionally at the time [beyond editing the occasional blog post for me]. So I asked her how much $ it would take to make it worth it for her to take on some coaching and copywriting work as part of Makeness and become our Chief Story Maker. She told me. And then I doubled it. Why? Because you don’t turn over the reins of your business to someone who is underpaid. Period. Ever. Even if they low-ball you because they like you and know you’re having a baby and don’t want to say a number that’s too high.

Next, I looked for designers and coaches who shared a similar style to mine and who used the same tools that I do – so I could easily pinch-hit if something went haywire, and could also understand their work when I got back.

The plan was essentially for me to actually take on the role of CEO/Project Manager in Makeness while I was cooking the little human. Clients would continue to get the same single point of contact for copy, design, and coaching, but I would work with a network of capable and talented professionals to do a significant amount of the hands-on work. This would allow me to take on more projects, and establish Makeness as an agency instead of a one-woman shop. It would also allow me to fill the savings account so I could afford to fly to the moon take a full three months off with my wee one. And when I was out, these capable folks would be available to help.

Here’s the breakdown of how that turned out:

In September 2014, Makeness had 14 active clients.

In May 2015, we had 41.

Those 8 months were bonkers.


Here’s how I/we did it in just eight easy steps:

1. Throw confetti, buy a billboard, shout from rooftops. Repeat as needed.

I started telling people that we had a bigger team and more availability. And my inbox started to fill.

2. Say profound shit that people really, really like.

I wrote a blog post or two that struck a few nerves and seemed to deeply stimulate action-taking. In January 2015, I did 19 project consults. 75% signed contracts. The other 25% wanted to work with us, but we declined – as they weren’t quite the right fit. And yes, that is me bragging about 100% conversion rate. And yes, I AM a rockstar. Thanks for noticing. What can I say? When it clicks, it REALLY clicks.

3. Pretend to not care about controlling everything being fucking perfect at all times.

I let go. After years of doing literally everything myself, I finally loosened my grip and let other people be great at what they’re great at. Well, mostly. I micromanaged the everlovingfuck out of one of the design projects. I blame hormones. The designer has forgiven me. I think. Nobody’s perfect.

4. Submit to the all-high-numbers gods and learn how to count to 20 with my shoes on.

I created the spreadsheet to end all spreadsheets. It showed me where money was coming from and where it was going month-by-month, client-by-client. It broke down who got paid what and when. And it forecasted income and expenses six months into the future [thank you fancy business school]. I looked at it and adjusted it every single day. And still do. Numbers matter [even if you hate them, they still matter]. Like SO much. When you can see how close you are to your goals it makes it so much easier to focus on what you need to sell to get there.

5. Get all of the rest of my shit ALL the way together.

Miki and I put our heads together on what systems and tools she needed to keep things afloat with as little intervention from me as possible while I was out. The bi-product of this was that things started running REALLY smoothly while I was still working. This made room for even more clients and projects than we expected.

Here’s what we implemented:

  • Asana for both internal and external client project management. Holy shitballs was this a game changer. While I was still working, and Miki began taking calls and projects and we both got into the habit of consolidating client homework, call notes, and project benchmarks/due dates here.
  • We started using all of the same time management and client-facing tools so that we could both help each other and clients would not be forced to learn a bunch of new things needlessly. For us, that’s Google Calendar and ScheduleOnce for scheduling, and UberConference for calls.
  • Completed Working-With-Makeness guides for clients, designers, copywriters, and coaches. These guides set the tone and expectations for those that Makeness works with, which dramatically cuts down on those, “Did I remember to tell you X about how this all works?” I had no idea what chaos I had previously created for myself because I thought I told a client something and hadn’t, or told them something twice and made myself look like a flake.
  • Created pdf instruction sheets for common homework that I assigned to most clients, so if Miki needed to assign something for another section of the project, she didn’t have to learn how to explain it – she had the tools to just send it along.
  • Started working Miki into our Facebook group as more of a leadership voice so my community could get used to her as being aligned with Makeness on all fronts.
  • Set up automatic invoicing for all of my clients using Freshbooks. This meant 90% of billing while I was out was already taken care of.
  • Nailed down the format of how Miki and other contractors would update me weekly via email on what was happening with each client she was working with.

6. Get ok with miserable, explanationless failure.

There were a LOT of things I wanted to do but didn’t get to. Things that would have helped to keep my business’ promotional engines firing while I was gone. But the truth was, I didn’t want more clients banging on my door while I was out. Once I stopped beating myself up for not planning for growth while on leave, things got a lot calmer.

What I meant to implement but didn’t:

  • Social media. With all the cool tools out there to pre-load and schedule social media posting, I really meant to. But it was the thing that just kept falling off of the priority list. Now I’m actually glad I went quiet. I would not have wanted to reply back to people while I was out.
  • Blog posts. I was going to write a ton of posts and schedule them while I was out. That just didn’t happen. I was so focused on what clients needed that I had zero juice left for this. Sorry about that. I’m told I was missed.
  • Roughly three big group offerings were supposed to launch last winter/spring. They didn’t. And that was ok. I kicked myself like crazy about it, but it just wasn’t possible.

8. Set expectations for myself WAY too high.

I planned like mad for how I would productively use my ‘vacation’ time. Only I sort of forgot that I was not actually going on vacation. I was having a baby. And she had a lot of other plans for the first two months of her life. And annoyingly, not one of her plans involved sitting quietly while I wrote my opus. Babies are assholes like that.

What I thought I would do while on leave:

  • Write every day. It was vacation after all! I would be doing all of the things I didn’t have time for.
  • Clean up all the admin stuff that I has pushed to the periphery while pregnant.
  • Learn new tools.
  • Evaluate cool new things for future use.
  • Create course material.
  • Write a book.
  • Revamp Makeness site.
  • Finally listen to a podcast.
  • Read all those books I had been meaning to.
  • Take naps.
  • Redecorate my office.
  • Finally get a desk.

And here’s what I actually did for Makeness while I was out:

  • I stopped by the Facebook group occasionally. I had almost nothing intelligent to offer to the conversations, but I said hi anyway.
  • Answered the occasional client question from Miki.
  • Answered emails roughly two weeks late. On the short side.

And that was it.

And it was divine.

I did none of the business-y things I wanted to. And some days I STILL mentally flog myself for it…

“How could I waste so much time?”

“How will I ever get back to work without anything to show for all this down time?”

Seriously. My inner voice can be a real dick sometimes.

But then I look down at the little person and realize that she’s the reason for the hustle for me. For some people they do what we do so they can travel. Or they do it for more freedom. Or they do it to make more money. But for me, it’s so I can have a happy, healthy family. It’s not as sexy as a laptop on the beach, but it’s the truth. So why beat myself up about spending the first two months of my daughter’s life just staring at her for hours. Drinking her in. Letting her know I was the person she could always count on? What’s the point of the hustle, if you wind up missing out on the stuff that makes you hustle in the first place?

And suddenly, the unwritten blog posts stopped feeling so important.

The lagging social media presence seemed small and far away.

And when I actually let myself stop for a moment and ENJOY what I’ve created, I realize that I have a beautiful little family who loves me as much as I love them. My clients are happy. And momentum in my business is revving up again every day.

And somehow, I managed to fly to the moon after all.

Maybe one day, I’ll figure out how to take a long weekend.


Dive In Brave Blogging Makeness BadgeThis post is part of The Bravery Blogging Project we are hosting here at Makeness.

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