I’m going there—today, I want to talk about small business investment tips that have worked for me.
My friend Stacey (a side-hustling stationer buddy with a sweet day-job as a campaign manager at a major non-profit fundraising agency) and I crunched over leaves after work yesterday in sneaks on a walk around our neighborhood.
“I mean, the saying’s true,” she said. “You’ve gotta spend money to make money after all.”
And according to Georgia state records, I’ve only been a business owner for 17 months, but I did fulfill midnight oil orders for brides for about 5 years before that and probably need to get that on some books somewhere.
I’ll be honest.
I’ve not seen that phrase work out, at least for me.
But I’m also not talking about JUST a line of credit debt.Sure, that’s one way to have smart debt, but my big sister business coach reminded me that not everyone wields a credit card well. I’m first to say that I’ve made MAJOR mistakes in the personal category of owning a credit card in my lifetime. #college
Borrowing against yourself and your cash savings counts as a risky investment, too.
Put a penny-pincher like me in business, I’m suddenly Shark Tank-like in my investments. I borrow against myself and the cash I’ve saved up in my business all the time. Will it make the business more money? Ok. Maybe not? Then no.
Business is about well-wielded risk.
And I think, as a creative community, we need to make sure to define the line between hobbyist and professionals. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a hobbyist, truly. Art for art’s sake is part of God’s design for us, I think. Running a business isn’t for everyone, and sometimes I wonder if the online world has glamorized something that takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, spreadsheets, and strategy.Business is about well-wielded risk. Click To Tweet
We just wrapped up the most financially successful promotional period I’ve had in my business, but with every “Ashlyn, I want this so badly, but I can’t invest right now” email that pinged in my inbox last week, my head tilted: I totally get it. I was there, too.
But still, I have a question.60% of all small businesses that open in a given year need under $5,000 to get going according to the Census Bureau. Starbucks, Apple, Mattel … there are plenty of Fortune 500 businesses that ramp up on a bootstrap budget.
But—if you don’t mind my asking—what are you investing in? Are we sold a lie that you can be a creative entrepreneur without having to play good ol’ fashioned capitalist game of risk?
Out of all the flashy tools out there, it can be overwhelming to know where to spend your hard-earned money as a creative small business owner, all while keeping your business lean and practicing wise stewardship.
No, spending money to make money isn’t 100% of the time the right answer. Yet, at the same time, sometimes I watch other business owners fizzle out, and I have to wonder is it because you didn’t ever invest in the resources that put you in the game.
Here are the tested, tried-and-true investments that helped us grow a sustainable, profitable business.
One: In-person Events
Faithful, yes.Wise with money, yes.Natural leader, yes.
Man that just survived his new bride being hospitalized for anxiety, depression, and anorexia, regularly telling him she wasn’t sure she wanted to be alive anymore and was finally excited about something? Also, yes.
“Sure. We’ll try it.”
I put a $4,000ish charge on the American Express that day, and monitored the accounts like a watchdog.
One speaker I met has bought around $11K from me in copywriting services. One bought $900 in coaching from me and asked me to speak at her own conference, another speaker who booked around $900 with me, and I met my business coach I ended up trading services with.
So yes, we made it back. It was terrifying, but I learned this: make conferences count, even if you’re shaking in your boots, you have to put yourself out there to make the investment back. I was absolutely terrified to stand in that room with names like Cottage Hill magazine’s editor Katie Selvidge, Kat Schmoyer, Bonnie Bahktiari, and Jenna Kutcher.
TBH, I didn’t even know what I wanted to DO as a business owner, really.
How to make sure you’re getting the ROI:
- Set goals before every live event you go to. Who do you want to meet? Hint: Aim for deeper, not wider relationships. You’re never going to walk away from a conference being BFF with everyone, we just don’t have that kind of capacity.
- Implement what you learn, even if it’s hard.
- Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and get feedback on your business during allotted time for that.
Two: Group Coaching
How I did it: $3,000 for Heather Crabtree’s 6-month Savvy Business Circle program, broken up over 6 months, paid with cash
Time in business: 7 months after going full-time
Another huge risk, mostly because I felt like I was too early in business to be worthy of something as fancy sounding as a business coach—but I was wrong. I needed someone to get under the hood and tell me the hard things.
I met Heather Crabtree at Inspired Retreat. We were both speakers, but she was a big deal so I basically stared at her for 3 days … finally Heather came up to me and said she was kicking off her coaching program again, would I be interested.
And then I mentioned the price tag with Wes and we had a lovely family discussion.
$3K on coaching. That sounded crazy to me having just passed the 6-month business mark!
But what I learned was the ROI in having someone at Heather’s level on speed dial: she could help tell me how to price my packages, to tell me things I didn’t want to hear (“Honestly? I get confused when I land on your website. It’s not clear.” “Nope. That’s a weird package name—don’t do that. Too confusing.”), and how to handle booking my first $5k package client, when all I’d done up to that point was a $2,800 package.
How to make sure you’re getting the ROI:
- Attend the trainings. It’s so easy to skip video calls and virtual “meetings,” but this is how your coach gets to know you.
- Make the most of office hours and contact avenues. Some coaches are okay with texting, and some even comfortable with your calling them in the middle of the day with a question. Work it, girl! Use that resource.
Three: The RIGHT courses.
Time in business: One week after going full-time. I’m now 17 months in and have X% budgeted towards education every month.
The best courses I’ve taken have ranged in price, from Todd Herman’s 90 Day Year that I paid $997 for to Amy Porterfield courses (all of them, so around $2,400) to the $29 Trello for Business course I purchased from Think Creative Collective (now a sweet client!).
There are good tools out there that can help you short-cut your journey to a creative, radically fulfilling life.
If there’s a course that will teach you in a chunk of hours what it will otherwise take you DOUBLE that to figure out, then it’s probably something to weigh and try to plan to afford.
How to make sure you’re getting the ROI:
- Pick courses that teach you things you can’t figure out on your own, or that give you skills that will help you make more money. Hobbyist courses are a blast too—I’ve totally paid for courses that teach me a skill that I want to learn for the heck of it, but those aren’t the kinds of courses I’m talking about here.
- Start looking at your time and energy as your most precious investment. More on that below.
- Gamify getting the investment back.
Time in business: Graphic designer, 10 months. Studio manager, 11 months.
This is more or less where I am right now, and the point I’m having to learn to steward well.
Growing a team—or even just hiring contractors—is super scary, and being able to have a listening ear to my client Nancy Ray’s Foundations in Teambuilding program has been so helpful.
But outsourcing can look simple at first, tools like MeetEdgar and ConvertKit, digital butlers and robot secretaries that can streamline your system. Those are worth investing in, too.
Some of my favorites have been:
MeetEdgar – for social media scheduling
BoxFox – for client gifts
HoneyBook – for canned responses and client systems
ConvertKit – for email drips
Acuity – for calendaring
After I started doing that for a while, I hired on a studio manager to spell check and pack all of our calligraphy orders, and then was ready to inch up to paying associate copywriters and a bookkeeper.
Your time and energy is your most precious resource—more precious and finite than money.Your time and energy is your most precious resource—more precious and finite than money. Click To Tweet
If you can stay in your lane, do the things you’re good at, and learn to see your time as money, it works.
Think about it this way: what’s your hourly rate? And then, would you pay a terrible [insert job you’re not good at, whether it’s website coding, graphic design, etc.] that amount to turn in bad work?
- Tools count as outsourcing … if a tool speeds up your process, it’s worth it. Click here to shop the Stewardship Series in the Ashlyn Writes shop to get resources to help you manage your time, productivity, and goals.
- The Nancy Ray Shop’s $40 hiring guide is some of the best money I spent.
- The Contract Shop Non-Disclosure Agreement for New Hires
- You have to get comfortable knowing things aren’t going to be how you were going to do them with a team—and typically, that doesn’t mean the world’s going to cave in, wink.
Three Free “Investments” that Work
- Taking bootstrapping seriously. Listen, if you’re gonna bootstrap? Do it like a champ. Here’s how I filed things in Google Drive, and I also printed out freebies and made myself a complete filing cabinet for reference. I used them. I applied them.
- Deep diving into someone’s brain via their podcast. I feel like we splinter-listen to podcasts, hopping from new episode to new episode. But I got my best experience when I picked one entrepreneur and went back to the beginning with their content.
- Tracking my time. Learning that if I plan to spend a morning re-designing our 2018 client magazine and suddenly it’s 3 p.m. and I’m still Googling InDesign hacks, welp. Maybe this isn’t the wisest use of my time. Click here to read my blog post on tracking your time.
In sum, I don’t blame a single one of the potential students who shot me an unbelievably kind email about how they so badly wanted to invest in my program, but couldn’t at the time. I really get it. I’ve been there. And I appreciate every email.
But it does make me wonder.
If not this … then what? Where ARE you spending money for your business … or, are you getting ramped up on a spending plan that WILL help you be freed up to invest in your business in a few months?
It takes money to make money, I think.
In all of this, I feel confident because of three things:
First, I know my hourly rate, and I hawk-eye it. I say no—a lot. I don’t do weekly coffee dates so people can “pick my brain.” I do two a month, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. And if they get filled up with friends first, they do. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I believe in saying no—a lot. Here’s a list of things I say no to.
Finally, I am a big fan of praying and sleeping on all financial business decisions. Here’s one of my favorite prayer resources for small business owners from my friend Val!
Okay, what about you? How have you learned to steward money—AND time—in your business?Want more? Head to the AW Shop to check out productivity and goal-setting resources!