3 years ago today, Stuart Broderick and I co-founded FocusCopy. We both realized that copy is the most critical part of all marketing and sales. However, it’s the one thing that most people either hate to do or don’t have time to do.
After talking with dozens of entrepreneurs over the last couple of weeks (including many who celebrated their third business anniversary this year), we concluded something…Year 3 is by far the hardest year.
Maybe it’s the turning point from chaotic start up to sustainable business…
Maybe it’s the fact that you’re no longer putting out fires and instead building on your foundation (requiring a different skillset)…
Whatever it is…Year 3 pushed me further than I thought it would.
In what’s becoming our annual tradition, here are some of the key lessons we learned this past year. Hopefully, this helps you avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made so you can go further, faster.
If you haven’t read them before, here are our Year 1 and Year 2 lessons learned blogs.
The Year 3 Mindset
If you’ve talked to me recently, you know that over the last year I’ve struggled with burnout. It started last July when we had our biggest month ever in the business. All of the sudden, 3 months went by without me noticing how my time was spent. I woke up on October 1 and realized that I had not sold anything in 3 months.
As an entrepreneur, that’s practically a death sentence.
Thankfully, we found the business and the support to make it through 2021 alive.
2022 was a different story though…I realized that I was falling into the transactional mindset – closing business for the sake of growing revenue. When I realized how wrong that mindset was, I reset and focused on building the right relationships.
We’re a different company than we were last year. We (or really I) have battle scars and some bruises. But we’re stronger and looking forward to what Year 4 has in store for us, our clients, and our strategic partners.
7 Lessons We Learned In Our Third Year In Business
While FocusCopy was never in a failing position, the term failing forward has never seemed so prevalent. Because if I hadn’t made the necessary pivots and learned hard lessons, I don’t think our business or team would be nearly as strong as it is today. But I also believe in learning from others’ mistakes to avoid repeating in your own life whenever possible. So I hope you take my third year lessons with more than a grain of salt, because there’s enough business for us to all succeed together.
Feel like commiserating or ready to perk up your copy? Reach out to me here and let’s give your brand messaging the extra espresso shot it’s craving.
1. It’s Okay To Pull Back
Entrepreneurship has this toxic hustle culture attached to it. It’s something I’ve known about for years, and frankly…I despise. But there are times when I fall into the trap and overcommit myself to networking, sales, clients, marketing, projects, and life in general. As we’ve seen over the last year, it resulted in burnout.
Even if you set goals for yourself and your business, I’ve learned that it is okay and actually encouraged to pull back for the sake of your mental health and the health of your team.
In the throws of burnout, I still kept up with the same pace (albeit with a little less energy and gumption). I wonder if I pulled back earlier that I would have nipped the burnout in the bud before it became a year long battle.
2. A Fish Rots From The Head Down
One of my favorite mentors and people, the late Jim Wilkinson, used to say, “a fish rots from the head down.” While there are many other variations of this, including the tone starts at the top, this version gets to the point quicker. If you – the entrepreneur or business owner – do not take care of yourself, you will rot your life and your business. Guaranteed.
Especially in the past couple of months, I kept asking myself…”Am I rotting or thriving right now?”
If my answer was the former, I spent more time with affirmations, counseling, support, and prayer. In order for me to lead my team well, they needed me to be in the best shape of my life.
It’s a heavy weight being an entrepreneur. With 2 full time employees (plus my and my co-founder’s family), I am responsible for putting food on their tables and keeping a roof over their head. To be truthful, it’s my greatest fear to let my team down. That’s one of the many reasons why I like my mentor’s Jimism the best – it paints the picture clearly and with disgusting imagery that’s hard to ignore.
3. Focus On Positive Self-Talk (& Build In Accountability Partners)
One of the ways I found myself “rotting” was with my self-talk. I was and am my own worst enemy. It would shock you the evil things I would say to myself. Thankfully, only a few trusted people (including my sweet husband) heard my negative self-talk and brought it to my attention. I hadn’t realized the toxicity I had let build in my head.
But thanks to a few people (including my husband, my counselor, and my best friends), we redirected any negative self-talk into something positive. It could be as simple as reframing the sentence into something life-giving.
But when I started actively speaking positively, the change was almost instantaneous. I didn’t battle the deep depression or anxiety like I had before. I was able to be more productive and supportive. I was a better person, wife, entrepreneur, and strategic partner.
If you are struggling with negative self-talk, ask the people close to you to bring it to your attention when they hear something negative. Then redirect the sentence immediately in a positive manner. Use these as an example…
“I suck as a business owner…” → “I’ve managed to never skip payroll ever and I’m working on creating something long-lasting.”
“I failed at x, y, z…” → “Now is not the right time for me to invest in x, y, and z; however, I am going to invest in a, b, and c. When the time comes, I’ll go back.”
“This person probably thinks I am the worst…” → “I know my worth and what I’m working on. I don’t need someone’s opinion to define who I am.”
Let me know what you think about this strategy or if you have any helpful strategies you’d be willing to share.
4. Not All Money Is Worth It
Like I said before, not all money is worth it. Business is not worth stealing your energy, joy, or sanity. Unfortunately, those shiny pennies are attractive. But for the sake of myself and my team, we made the decision that we need to be more attentive to the clients that we take on as well as the clients we don’t take on.
This whole mentality also supports my belief that there is no competition. There will always be enough business to go around.
For example, I’m working with several marketers in Houston as we collaborate and support each other. There is another content writer in the group, Lauren McDowell of Foreword. While that may seem like a clear conflict, we learned very quickly that we have the potential to be business besties. You see, she loves to work with institutions, franchises, and marketing teams; she also loathes working with entrepreneurs. Us on the other hand…We will work with entrepreneurs all day everyday. That’s what fuels us to be better writers and strategic partners to our clients.
5. Document Everything (Including Your Job)
I’m a little morbid. Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced life and joking about the hard stuff is what makes it easier to move forward. But ever since I experienced what happens to a company when the founder of the business died and didn’t have any documentation, I’m adamant that everything needs to be documented – even my own position as CEO. If something were to happen to me – get hit by a bus or win the $1.2B lottery (because we’re thinking positively) – I want to ensure the continuity of FocusCopy, my team, my clients, and the impact we’re making on women-owned businesses.
How do we do this?
- If you’re doing a repetitive task at the moment, write out each step then and there. Have someone else test it so they can actually replicate it afterwards.
- Record all team meetings and have someone on your team take notes while you’re educating. Continuing education is a big part of our culture at FocusCopy. At least twice a month, we host trainings on specific topics. Every single time, there is documentation that comes out of it – making it really easy to scale our processes.
- Have someone follow you and take the notes for you.
- Ask…What else would a stranger need to know in order to run this business? Don’t assume anything. Even if it’s how you prefer to write your follow-up emails, schedule social media tasks, etc., document it.
6. Automate & Systemize Everything
For the first two years in business, we used the Hubspot Free CRM and Mailchimp. And while those softwares – the CRM and email service provider – were great and helped us build out our contact lists, my main focus over the last year was to simplify. Naturally, I overcomplicate everything. It’s how my brain is wired. If you give me a problem, I can think of 1,000 different ways to solve that problem.
But burnout taught me that I needed to focus on simplification.
P.S. It’s definitely a God thing that the word “focus” is in our company name. It’s constantly reminding me to focus on the things that move us forward and forget about the things that don’t bring value.
Anyways, we ended up investing in Keap Pro to take our existing list, build email automations for every single process in our business, and get ready for us to build the education side of our business (by the way, that was one thing we had to pull back from in Year 3 – even though it killed me to do it).
What are the results? We’ve built our database from about 300 active emails to almost 1,200 in about 8 months. We’ve also built automations for the following things:
- Networking and following up with networking contacts
- Long-term nurture campaigns
- Contact information updates (tags, custom fields, etc.) to keep our data clean
- Marketing and conversion funnels
- Sales tasks
- Sales pipeline management
And that’s just the start of it…
Again, ask yourself if something is repetitive, how can you automate or systematize it?
7. Build Your Email List
If you are relying solely on your social media for engaging your audience, you’re leaving BIG money on the table. Building your email list is more than increasing the number of contacts in your list. It’s also about increasing the value of the contacts in your list.
Sustainable List Building
If you’re in a list-building sprint, here are some strategies that have helped us add 900 names in just 8 months. Keep in mind, these are contacts we want, not just emails for the sake of higher numbers.
Create lead magnets. If you want to check out some of the resources we’ve created, click here. Think of lead magnets like free resources that will leave your readers wanting more. Providing value free of charge helps build credibility and gives potential clients a glimpse into what it will be like working with you.
Create a subscribe list to send your email newsletters to (see below). P.S. If you want to subscribe to our list, click here. And remember that not all email newsletters are the same. When you add bits of useful information readers can implement into their own brand messaging, it’s amazing to see the click-through analytics afterward.
Link your calendar to your email list. Every single strategic partner I have a networking meeting with gets put into the email list. They then can opt-in to our email list. But I also send them into automations for specific events – following up for networking meetings, etc.
Strategic List Nurturing
If you’re in a list-nurturing sprint, here’s what we’ve done…
Launch a 52-week long term nurture campaign. Before you say that I’m crazy, listen. In sales, there’s going to be points where someone isn’t ready to buy. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to stay top of mind. I have several people that disengaged with our sales process in December 2021. While I would probably attest that because of my very transactional mindset at that time, they weren’t at the place where they were ready to invest in copywriting. And that’s okay. But I really wanted to work with them…Eventually.
So with my team, we created 52 emails (we batched each quarter’s emails ahead of time so it wasn’t too overwhelming). After I created the campaign, I identified ~160 people that went cold or we’ve had a conversation before without any sales prospect. I didn’t see any results the first couple of weeks. Then someone I had last connected with in February 2020 (2 years prior) responded and wanted to create a massive marketing plan. A couple of weeks later, two people that had disengaged in December reengaged.
These emails were high-value, educational emails. Often, I wouldn’t even include a sales call to action in them. Because if my recipients weren’t ready to work with us, I didn’t want to work with them.
Send regular newsletters. Whether you send weekly, bimonthly, or monthly newsletters, that regular engagement is a powerful tool to stay top of mind. In addition to the long term nurture campaigns, I would often receive follow-up emails from prospects, inactive clients, and strategic partners.
Year 4, Here We Come!
From acknowledging my vulnerabilities to dialing in on my strategies, I know that I’ve put in the work for a successful fourth year of FocusCopy. We’re going to continue to do the leg work to be the go-to copywriting firm for the clients we want to work with. Because, like I mentioned above, working with the wrong clients or those that aren’t ready isn’t helpful to anyone.
Today, however, my team and I are going to clink glasses and celebrate how far we’ve come. Because in the midst of the chaos of being an entrepreneurial business owner, what’s the point if we’re not celebrating our milestones?
So here’s to your company and mine.
Together we can do great things, hold each other accountable, lift each other up, and be strategic partners who thrive knowing there’s always a shoulder to lean on.
Cheers to Year 4!
Want to talk copy shop? Get in touch with me here.