How To Think of Yourself as a Business Owner (Before You Ever Make a Dollar Or Sign a Client)

Jun 30, 2024

I went across the street to my auntie's house. She always gives good advice. 

I told her, in our native Hakka, that I had decided to start my online coaching & course business.

"Auntie, remember that client I told you about? The rich business owner from England? I helped her write her founder's story. I just used the same techniques I use with my students and personal statement coaching clients. She was so happy about the results of using my tools and techniques. She told me she had tried so many things and wasted so much money and nothing had worked before. She was so excited that she told me to start my own business and offer this service to other online business owners like her.”

Auntie listened, her face serious, a slight furrow in her brow as she looked at me over her glasses. 

I continued, a little timid, “Well, I thought a lot about it and I think I'm going to do it. If I can make this business successful, then I can hire Michael (my husband) and we can afford to move back to Hawai'i and maybe one day I can build the farm and school there that I've always dreamed of."

She listened and nodded "Mmm..." After a pause, "You should," she said to me in Hakka. "You've been teaching for so long and you have so much education. A Ph.D. If anyone can start an online education business, it's you. Your client told you this is a good business. If she found it helpful, others are sure to. Yes, you should do it."

 

Still bathing in this stamp of approval from the most stoic and pragmatic of my dad's 5 sisters, I refocused my attention as Auntie continued...

She said, "Do you have a financial plan? At least you're living here in Taiwan where you can save money. But it takes most businesses a few years to become profitable. Opening a preschool here in Taiwan, even where there is high demand, you won't break even for a minimum of 2 years."

I nodded. "Good point, Auntie. Well, online there's less overhead, but you're right. I've calculated my income streams and figured I can afford to drop some clients to make time to build my courses & business. But I should do as Auntie says and calculate a solid financial plan and timeline for this business."

"How much is it going to cost you to get started?" she asked.

"I'm doing lots of research now, Auntie. Trying to decide where to invest my money. I want to join a business coaching program to learn the basics of online business. I think I'm going to try to save money and build my own website instead of paying $4,000 to have someone build it for me. It'll take a long time, though. And there's so many different apps and subscriptions to research and decide what's actually necessary for my business. And then I have to learn how to advertise and find new clients. It’s a lot to learn."

Auntie nodded, "Research carefully," she told me, "Don't spend your money foolishly. Take your time and do what you can on your own. But of course, you need to learn a lot too... many people think they don't need to learn first, and then they learn their lesson when their business fails. It's better to study first. Find the right people to learn from. Take your time to do it right."

I never question Auntie's advice. She's a never-ending well of knowledge. I'm still a child in Auntie's eldership, soaking up her wisdom like a sponge. I wonder where Auntie acquired her business acumen... Other than with her shrewd observation skills and learning through stories shared with her. 

Auntie gave up going to high school to allow my dad, her older brother, to move away from home and attend a trade school that would take him to compete in the skills Olympics. Since she was 14 years old, Auntie worked in the family's construction business building houses. Now she cleans houses for a living. She's done back breaking work her whole life. 

We come from a long line of farmers and builders. Always working with their hands. I grew up on the construction site too. For me to become a teacher was an honor to the Liu family. My foray into online business feels weighty. I want to maintain the honor. I want to retire Auntie. I want abundance for my family who have always poured into me.

I didn't fully realize it at the time, but the conversation with Auntie that day shaped my perception of myself as a business owner in a few different ways.

It's those ways that have helped me build a foundation I'm proud of in my first 6 months of business. As I share these 3 principles with you, I invite you to have a sit down with your inner Auntie or the Auntie in your life. That pragmatic voice who cuts to the chase, holds you accountable, and keeps you focused, all while believing firmly that you are a business owner and that of course your business is going to make it, because it's you. And you're amazing.


🔨 Let's lay the foundation with 3 principles:

 

  1. Create a business that others ask for. You're a business owner who solves their problems with your expertise.

Intuitively, I knew I needed to lead in to my announcement to Auntie about wanting to start my business, with sharing first that this service was something that was asked of me. And quickly, Auntie brought up the demand of preschools here. We were both on the same wavelength. 

It’s not worth going down this long, risky process to create something that isn’t asked for. 

This principle of doing only what the community asks for is a direct lesson from my dissertation, taught to me by the Indigenous communities who had started & sustained their own independent community schools. 

Their process is not unlike mine as a community-centered, mission-based business. And from what I know of my audience, many of you are in the same boat. 

 

This principle of doing what the community asks for serves in two ways:

  1. It pre-validates your offer, before you ever make those large investments of time & resources.
  2. It allows us to think of our business as bigger than just ourselves. Our business belongs to a collective entity (even though many days, it may feel like you’re working on it all by yourself.)

When you create a business that was asked for, it no longer becomes a question of “Will it work?”, but “When will it become profitable?”

Which brings us to our next Think-Like-A Business-Owner principle. 

 

  1. Calculate your financial plan & break even point. Then plan your timeline accordingly. 

Many businesses go well into debt and spend years pre-profit. Those same businesses PLAN for this debt and period of loss. Yet, I don't hear about this concept at all in the online course & coaching industry. So many courses are selling revenue promises within a ridiculous 30 days. But never teach you how to lay the foundation of a business built to last. One built on your own property (Aka NOT on Meta, but on your own web domain and within the community of ACTUAL HUMANS that you gathered into your world.)

An online coaching business is still a business. You still need to build your infrastructure: website, email list, marketing platforms, funnels, automation, product systems (even if it's a course or coaching program), payment systems, referral & testimonial systems. 

Then you need to go through the phases of growing a business. You need a program design phase. You still need a promotional plan and audience building phase. You need a testing phase, a nurture phase, a roll out or launch phase. You need an implementation phase, growth phase, and scale phase. 

(By the way, you all are reading this story at the time of publishing, you're within my nurture phase, moving into my launch phase. Thank you for being here. I'm so excited to have you as a foundational member of my community.) 

Realistically, you need to be building your business for months if not years and at least 5 or 6 phases before you're making "replace my 6-figure job consistently" type money from the revenue generated by your business.

What would having this one simple perspective shift do for you as you think of your own business? Have you considered yourself a failure and almost called it quits before you even reached your planned break-even point? Did you plan for your break-even point? Do you have a plan?

If the answer to those last 2 questions is no, the AMAZING NEWS IS, you can start planning today. Your business hasn't failed. It's just been in the pre-planning phase!

And a piece of that plan can and should include income streams that are predictable. Which means maybe our businesses exist as a side hustle until it hits revenue milestones that are sustainable & scalable.

 

  1. Make investment decisions in your business like a business owner. Who & what do you need to move your business to the next level? 

Even before you scale to having full-time staff on your team, every person you exchange money with for knowledge or services becomes an asset to your business. (And in some cases, a liability. Have a contingency plan for those instances.)

Weigh out every decision carefully: What needs to be a done-for-you investment? A done-with-you investment? A DIY MBA course or ongoing education investment to gain a skill that will give you an ROI over the lifetime of your business? 

As you choose your coaches, mentors, and independent contractors, think about: can you compound your investment by forming a relationship with aligned people? Can this become more than a one-time transaction? Are you working with people who will champion your growing business, say yes to collaboration pitches, send you referrals, and share their audience with you?

Think about investments beyond just the dollar too. What time investments are you making? If you've started a podcast to grow your audience, are you inviting guests whose contribution can not only increase your audience but will give you a strong testimonial? Introduce you to someone with beneficial expertise to collab with next? Refer clients to you? Help you solve problems in your business?

Who do you want to be associated with as you build your brand awareness? Who’s mission, values, and dreams align with yours? Who do you feel good about giving money & time to?

 

Looking at the investment question from another angle, what are the pieces in your business that you want to save time and spend a little more money to have it done for you? 

(After paying for a brand logo that I didn’t love, I began looking at done-for-you price tags like a loss for my business so I’ve done most things by myself.)

 

What are the elements that you want to find that sweet spot between time & money, and acquire some skills or knowledge along the way to have it done with you?

(I am making this type of investment as I venture into self-publication. I am so grateful I found an aligned mentor with whom I feel awesome about investing my time & money.)

 

What are areas that you want to invest the time and acquire the skills and knowledge to expand your ability to serve your business?

(This ended up being the bucket I invested the most into. I designed my DIY MBA by creating a business growth plan. I listed each area of skills and knowledge that I felt would best serve my business: publishing, Instagram growth, running evergreen group coaching programs, web & SEO, building funnels & running ads. Then I sought out training programs for each area and tried to make the wisest decision of time & money as possible, all while managing my expectations of what was being sold to me..)

 

If you are building a business, an organization, a mission, I am rooting for you. 

I know it can be so hard & overwhelming. One thing I know for sure, is that you are capable of doing it. 

Think, walk, talk, and move like a business owner, no matter how many clients you’ve signed or how much revenue you’ve hit. 

Become super clear on where you are on your business timeline. Then keep taking the steps to move to the next phase. 

Your work is so necessary. We got this. I believe in you! I hope this little chat helps. 

 

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