Whether you’re trying to learn how to start a business—copywriter or not—or you’re a seasoned pro creative entrepreneur, in this post, I wanted to share with you some of the biggest lessons I learned, what I’m taking with me into 2022.
At least for me, 2020 wasn’t hard (per se).
But 2021? That was hard.
If the year had a theme, it’d be “hold your nerve.”
The year was a mishmash of manpower tetris with contractors and employee switch-outs against a backdrop of projects. All the while, pregnancy (which isn’t my favorite physical form—it’s such a blessing, yet I hate being so mentally foggy, sick, and out of control of my own body is difficult while owning a business) gave way to the happiest, sweetest girl … 3 weeks ahead of her due date (!).
This shuffled my carefully planned Quarterly Champagne Campaign system & annual launch calendar.
I’ll talk about money in this recap because I’m a business owner, and though I don’t typically post income reports, I trust if you’re reading this you also like to hear how things get built. You’re wise enough to know that there’s a gigantic cost to doing business, too—it’s not all a profit windfall.
Regardless, I see it as an act of grace that I get to participate in a capitalist economy: it’s a joy to build something from nothing, to solve problems, and to create jobs.
It’s a blast to rev up the flywheel of it all when I can, and peer onto a roadmap someone else fashioned when I get stuck.
Which is weekly. Daily, actually.
I’m always in my head, business ownership continues to be the weirdest psychological experiment I’d perform on myself all over again if I had to. 😜🤷🏻♀️
AW’s 2021 Top-Level Numbers
2020 we hit $1M in sales in a single year, and I didn’t swing that in 2021.
I only worked 9 months out the year, however. January-April I was in my 3rd trimester and exhausted, ha. May, June, and July I took fully off for maternity leave … I feel like I actually got back in the saddle August—and worked my tail off until the end of the year.
We hit $875,000 in sales, with $623,000 in expenses before taxes. Taxes, blah. 😜
This was a MAJOR spend heavy year—we ran at about 71% costs, and typically run closer to 60%. That’s as high as I’m typically comfortable with, and I prefer more of a 40% profit margin.
We’re a crew (now) of 4 employees—me, Rachel my integrator, McKenzie who heads up customer delight, and Sarah who runs the agency side of things—and about 10ish contractors (though some work on the same team). Team, salaries, and payroll for contractors is 44% of the annual budget.
BTW, I use Shanna Skidmore’s Blueprint Model to set my business costs & projections. Shanna formatively changed EVERYTHING about my business finances … I did NOT pay myself hardly at all before working with her in 2017. I didn’t know how or when, so I just … didn’t.
Look at me go now. 😉 She’s a gamechanger. If you only knew how many math coach classes I went to from 3rd grade THROUGH COLLEGE. ⬅️ All of them. Like … I went to every math extra class available to me with the teacher. I’m VERY slow & still use my fingers. If I can learn how to look at a business PnL, anyone can.
I’m leading another crew through The Blueprint Model when it opens up for registration in February. Click here to get on the waitlist!
But back to our sales vs. profit: it was an invest-heavy year, and I worked as a non-pregnant person starting in August.
Not bad. I’ll take it!
15 Business Learnings for the New Year
Alright, here are the 15 magical takeaways I’m duct taping to my brain for 2022.
Hold your nerve until the end.
The 2nd to last week of the year, when we had our first product launch in 14 months, Copywriting for Creatives. That was scary to wait and push back … but it ended up being the right call.
I adore maternity leave, I’d never NOT take it, and it’s a GIFT to be able to do so. I need 3 months to re-engineer family rhythms, ride the hormone wave back down to earth, and learn my role as a mother of two.
Once I was back, I re-engineered CfC’s curriculum, and settled the most I ever have into the pitch and the value prop for the program. Now? I could sell it with my eyes closed, I’m that confident. We launched in December and welcome around 285 students. It took five years to do that.
- My stretch goal was to convert 7% of our entire audience that would SEE the offer (an estimated 3350—we converted 8.3%. (2-5% is an average conversion rate, btw).
- The webinar landing page converted at 48.4% (I wanted it to hit 40%)
- We hit between 33-38% on webinar show-up rates (If we didn’t hit 30%, I’d cry)
- The sales page converted at 8% (Again, I needed it to hit between 2-5%)
The takeaway? Sometimes it takes selling and launching something 10 times to get to where you can sell it blindfolded. Play the long game. 😉Hold your nerve & play the long-game. Click To Tweet
Take 1 solo workcation a year.
Post mat-leave, I came back to my professional self at my friend Amber Housley’s Bloom & Grow LIVE event in Nashville, and at two workcations—one in Knoxville and one next to Yale.
They catapulted me into a creative think tank zone—I developed a big ol’ crush on Graduate hotels (this isn’t an affiliate thing, I just adored the interior design!) in the process.
Why the emphasis on 3 trips?
Well, while on leave, content creation had looked as best as I could wing it. Things kept running on the pre-recorded episodes I’d done prior to giving birth.
But around August, maternal mode kicked in: I wanted to gut and re-birth things in my business, too.
Three 2-day mini-trips away from washing bottles gave me the mental space to do this.
I went scorched earth on my umbrella brand (Ashlyn Writes) & sub-brands.
✨🖥 I hatched my new website design.
✅✏️ Gutted & re-branded my shop to The Copy Bar.
📝🥂 Re-configured my signature CfC curriculum.
With the ecosystem ripped down to the studs, I could forecast and see our trajectory, what I want to build to sell. The website was ALMOST as painful a labor as a human one, definitely as long an incubation period. It feels like home though. The logos are exquisite. I am SO glad I ripped my curriculum down to the studs.
Shop is the new blog.
My friend Christina Scalera of The Contract Shop told me this in May. I took her at her word: We used to navigate to the blog link on websites to grab take-out-sized nuggets from people. But digital knowledge has changed, and “d-commerce” (as she’s dubbed it) is cropping up everywhere. Selling, sharing, and downloading digital products is easier. Maybe it’s NFTs, bitcoin, etc., I don’t know, but buying things that you can’t touch just seems more normal.
So? We revamped and rebranded the Ashlyn Writes Shop last year to “The Copy Bar,” and I’m really proud of that & all the new copywriting templates I created.
Turn off the news & get to work.
“More millionaires are created during recessions than any other economic environment. Turn off the news and get to work.”
⬆️⬆️ My friend Portia Jackson said this, and I loved it. Binge her content if you need a financial mindset check.
Especially while working when preg/as a new mom, I tend to doom scroll the news at 2 a.m. when work and politics have me stressed. I just need to pray, go soak up truth, and get to work.
There are seasons in business—sometimes, you’re like Austrailia.
At Amber’s event I mentioned earlier, I learned how sometimes it’s winter in your business—unadorned, quiet, and for organizing—and sometimes it’s summer—with produce that grows so wild you can hardly pick it before the next one’s popped up.
Here’s my spin: Sometimes your business looks flip-flop to everyone you’re around. Like Austrailia looks to a northern hemisphere gal like me: your winter is during your friends’ summers. <<< That’s hard.
Stay the course. Summer will come (and yes, it will be while they’re all cozy and organizing, and you’re running around like a happily-exhausted gardener).
Give at a level that feels uncomfortable.
I learned to quiet my heart when I worry about competition and the world feels like Hungry, Hungry Hippo by telling myself I can do 2 things:
- Fall in love with my customer (again), and
- Outserve my competition. I can make THAT my strategy. Give at a level that feels uncomfortable, and you’ll always feel good about selling.
The transition from solopreneur to small business CEO is freaking hard.
That’s all, that’s the tweet.
Creating content + curriculum is even more mentally taxing than that.
At least to me. But I adore it, that’s my zone. I’m going to do everything I can in 2022 to keep holding the content creation paintbrush, because that’s where (I think!) I can make the most impact.
Gut your agency or services process. Top to bottom.
In January, we did a whole GUT on our agency—from how our services are listed on my website, to what happens when someone reaches out about pricing, to every inch of the workflow.
Here’s that episode I did about it.
I kinda love our proposal process now. It’s formulaic yet super customized—I think this is a secret sauce, and I’d love to show it one day.
- 48 total pages of web copy
- 10 long-form sales pages (~40,000 words in all)
- 55+ individual sales emails
- 185 Facebook ads (~27,750 Words)
- 270 pages of Brand Messaging Style Guides
- 18 total client projects
- Around 208,250 words for clients in all
The coolest thing is that when that shakes out against total agency billing ($198,254) … that’s charging our clients about $0.95 a word.
We always try to price ourselves at ABOUT $1/word (which I think is fair).
And we did it—love you, Sarah!
Learning: do an agency or services deep clean, I showed how to do that in that video above.
The internet’s only going to change more, and change faster.
We only think this is fast. Hold your nerve. 😳😭😜
Take time off traffic to build the landing pad well.
I couldn’t focus simultaneously on traffic-driving AND on re-engineering my website, shop, shop offerings, agency offerings, AND signature curriculum. But it was worth it. Overall business conversion rates skyrocketed in Q4.
I’ve taught for years inside CfC and Primed to Launch that if the engine under it all—the website or landing page—doesn’t fire on all cylinders, to stop and fix that before driving traffic via PR, paid traffic, ads, etc.
In 2021, I saw it myself.
If you’ve not taken time to make sure the machine is converting at the bottom of the funnel (aka your website, landing pages, check-outs) … why are you even worried about traffic??
The whole “facts don’t care about your feelings” thing is true for conversion rates, launch math, & marketing math in general.
Facts also reduce fear.
I saw this with so many clients this year as we crunched launch numbers and led clients through launching in a crazy economy.
Launching will always be a numbers game.
Customers flow like water … it’s up to you finding & standing in the right stream.
(Granted you need to have solid products, duh.)
Julie Stoian said this and I think about it every time I buy into scarcity mindset and think I’ve met all the people I possibly can to serve. I’ve not. Go find the stream, Ashlyn.
I’m starting to—here at moving into year 6—finally see the business as a separate entity from me.
I’m constantly amazed at learning how to market and teach sales with integrity, passion, and academic analysis WHILE being a follower of Jesus Christ and the upside-down kingdom He reigns over and will usher in fully when He returns.
That’s an interesting dichotomy to say the least. And it’s hard to remember that I am not my business. BUT, realizing that took my business getting to a size where I can step away from it and see it with perspective.
- We got used to our new hometown outside of Atlanta and our new home, which I ADORE.
- Marriage gets better every year. We took a babymoon to D.C. and an anniversary trip to the Bahamas, but some of my favorite nights were just laughing over videos of our kids between fast-forwarding through Yellowstone commercials
- We welcomed Liza to our family, truly the most easy-going baby of all time.
- Summer was a haze of RSV (AWFUL, absolutely scary with a 1 week old) and sickness, but by the Fourth of July, we were on the upswing!
- We clocked in a TON of family time during the last half of the year, had a Safari 3rd birthday for Tal, and generally just laugh constantly at his ginormous vocabulary and endless questions.
Life is two times the doctor’s appointments, two times the Petri dish of germs, two times the laundry, two times the prayer needed. 2021 man, I’ve only known grit like that 2 other times—childbirth & recovery! I’m finally feeling like I can settle back into business rhythms.
One thing I want to do now is show up online again … to make sticky, fun social media content. Omg, I can’t believe I just said that online. It feels v. commital.
My muscles have completely atrophied here.
But? I needed a break from it. I craved time in my copy cave cocoon where I could tinker and quietly build. Also (major confession), I kinda hate what social media does to brains at scale.
However, in November it hit me: it’s sorta snobby to look at where a lot of people—people that need what I provide—hang out online … and to look at that and say “I don’t want to go over there because social media stresses me out and I don’t like it.” I don’t want to hinge too much and make something a Gospel issue where it isn’t, but there’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere.
Anyway, I’m tired of watching the world go by, and now that I can create in my rhythms again, I know I have more time to do this. Yay!
One thing I know to be true for this year: The internet will change constantly.
Marketing mediums change constantly.
BUT, human psychology evolves at a much slower syncopation.
If you need to take time and pause to rip something down to the studs, the internet is never going to tell you there’s a good time to do that. Decide for yourself. I personally found it’s worth taking time off traffic building to renovate, gut, and recalibrate.
If I could have sat down at 21 and write out my dream life, I’d see I’m way past my wildest dreams.
God is good.
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Reading Time: 10 Minutes Reads some of the biggest lessons I learned in 2021 … plus, what I’m taking with me into 2022.