The real story of my business: part three

Previously, in Part Two of The Scandalous Truth (aka: my business story)… 

After spending a few years working for local marketing agencies as a freelancer/consultant, I felt ready to “go solo” and truly run my own business. This meant I needed to find my own clients—which proved to be trickier than I expected. That is, until I discovered the secret sauce: being myself. Instead of posing as a slick, buttoned up, corporate hotshot, I started dressing, talking, and acting like… me. Philly accent and all. The result? Way more client bookings.

If you missed the full Part One of my business story read it HERE, Part Two is HERE.

Here is Part Three…

At this point, I’d been self-employed for several years, I had my own roster of clients, and things were getting seriously BUSY. On a typical week, I’d put in 50-70 hours plus tons of traveling—jetting back and forth to NYC for magazine editor meetings and client TV appearances. But I loved my work, so I didn’t feel burnt out. Everything felt sparkly and exciting!

Most of my clients hired me for PR help. But after a few meetings, they’d start picking my brain about all kinds of other topics—from pricing to copywriting to list building to social media. Before long, my job title morphed from “PR gal” to more of a general, all-around “Marketing/Business Strategist.” I didn’t really plan on this. It all happened pretty organically.

During this time, I started blogging and sharing lots of ideas and advice online. I began to attract a small but very enthusiastic fanbase. Occasionally, I’d get emails from blog readers who’d say, “I would love to hire you for PR, marketing, and business help, but I can’t afford to pay your monthly retainer fee.” (Back then, I charged $3,000-$5,000 a month.) They’d ask, “Do you have any workshops, classes, or anything like that? I’d love to learn a few tips from you but I’ve got a really limited budget.”

Nowadays, there are people teaching online classes on everything you can imagine—from bicycle repair to gluten-free baking to orgasm techniques! But back then, it wasn’t like that. There weren’t that many classes (online or offline, for that matter) on PR and marketing. If you couldn’t afford to hire a consultant, you were pretty much outta luck.

I thought to myself, “That doesn’t seem right. There ought to be some affordable classes for small biz owners who’ve got a tight budget.”

But I also thought to myself, “Well, somebody should create a class like that… but not me! It’s not like I’m the world’s top expert or anything like that! Plus, I don’t have any experience teaching! This ain’t for me.”

I didn’t believe I could do it. Me? A teacher? Teaching a class that people would PAY for? Bahaha. No. I didn’t think of myself as an “expert” or an “authority.” Definitely not a “real teacher.” So I stuck to writing my blog posts and giving free talks at conference and events.

At one event, the host came up to me after my talk and said I should make an offer to the event attendees. For $50, I could review a media pitch they’d written and give a couple quick tips on how to make it better. I shrugged—sure, I could do that. Easy peasy. But no one’s going to want that. She begged to differ.

She was right. When I made this $50 offer, every single person in the room bought it on the spot. The host whispered to me: “Next time, charge double. You sold out in 2 minutes.”

That moment lit a spark in my brain. I found myself thinking, “Maybe I *could* teach a PR and marketing class! I mean, I love talking to people, I love sharing advice, and I love giving feedback… if that’s not ‘teaching’, then what is?”

So, I rolled up my sleeves and started lining up more talks and workshops geared towards small biz owners. Some of these talks were free. Some were not. Also, I taught webinars and other mini-classes, online and offline. I wrote three e-books filled with PR advice and sold them on my website. I started taking 1-on-1 coaching clients. I listened to the questions my clients asked, and then I’d create new blog posts, classes and e-books directly in response to those questions. My process was really simple: “Ask questions. Listen to people’s problems. Create something to help solve that problem. Repeat.” (That’s still my process, today!)

As time rolled by, word-of-mouth buzz continued to spread. People would hire me, and then they’d rave to their friends, “OMG, you’ve got to hire Melissa. She’s like a PR and marketing fairy godmother. She’s got tons of great ideas on how to get featured in the media, promote your biz, build a fanbase, and get way more sales.”

People talked about me constantly. Pretty soon, I had so many client bookings I could barely keep up! At one point I had 12 PR clients and about 30 coaching clients at the same time. Insanity! I had to keep tweaking my business model to find balance and avoid burning out. Lots of trial and error.

Things kept getting busy, busy, busy. After so many years of struggling and feeling invisible, it definitely felt AMAZING to have so many wonderful clients.

And I want to emphasize that I never did anything “gimmicky” or “complicated” to find clients. I kept it really simple. I told people, “I can give you tons of fun ideas to help you delight your customers and get more sales.” I delivered on that promise and built a solid reputation—one client at a time. My success was driven by word-of-mouth referrals from happy clients—and it still is today!

Another year rolled by. I found myself in a position where I had to turn clients away. I just couldn’t add any more clients to my docket. That made me feel slightly sad. I started wondering, “Maybe I could expand my business, somehow, so that I can teach/coach more people than I currently do. Hmm. But how?”

Slowly, I started to formulate a plan. At first, things went pretty well… until {dun dun dunnnnn} I started paying way too much attention to other people’s opinions.

Click HERE to read the most scandalous story of my business journey – the era that I call… the Internet Marketing Dark Days.