Authority Capital is the difference between being wise and having no one care, and being wise and having people do exactly what you say.
It’s the thin red line between mattering and not.
*The original post (and links) have disappeared into the ether so I've reproduced the original as faithfully as possible. Illana still writes and you can find her latest material here.
A love letter to the broke and hopeless who feel like they can’t afford the business they are made for
“You have to have money to make money.”
A truer statement about the free market has never been uttered. Money breeds money. Dolla dolla bills seem to just hump like bunnies when they are all in a pile together, and the pile seems to just grow and grow. In business, we call this puppy-pile of money-making-money ‘start-up (or working) capital’.
In the corporate world this basically just means that rich people get richer.
As solopreneurs, that often translates into:
Those who cash in their 401k can keep their head above water until their business makes money.
Those who have a spouse who makes money have the enviable luxury of figuring-shit-out over time because their rent/mortgage is paid already.
Those who have credit cards can survive on Visa’s dime while their website/copy/service offer is being polished.
And then there’s everybody else. The single people. The people who are in business with their spouses. The people who do not have savings or 401k’s or credit cards. The people who dove off the cliff and are hoping they can figure out how to successfully build the parachute before they hit the ground.
The people with no financial capital of any kind.
I’m talking to YOU.
This post is not for those who already know how their bills will be paid.
This post is not for those who are already making a solid living.
This post is not for those who have a savings account or a financial cushion or a money-making spouse or a retirement fund.
If that’s you… move along. Nothing to see here. I love you, and value your presence here and will write something for you later. For now, thank your lucky stars that you do not currently need to hear this.
Today’s post is for those who are terrified nearly every single second that if they can’t make it all come together right goddamn now, the sky will fall, and the ground beneath their feet will open up and swallow them whole.
You know who you are.
You write to me all the time.
You ask me questions like, “How can I make some $$ like RIGHT NOW?”
You call me in tears, hoping I have a magic pill that will make the jealousy and the hopelessness and the comparisonitis subside.
And I don’t.
I’m sorry. But I don’t.
What I do have is a story…
When I started my business, I was making earrings and selling them on Etsy. They were really pretty earrings. And they sold pretty darn well. But I didn’t know anything about blogging or websites or internet marketing. But what I DID know was that I needed to learn. FAST. So I did what any good entrepreneur would do: I did everything wrong.
I started on a sub-par platform. And then I moved to another sub-par platform. And then I started a blog. And I did everything wrong there too. I ran contests that sent traffic to other people. I blogged about things I didn’t know anything about [like fashion and accessory trends... WTF, have you met me? A good fashion day for me is one in which I wear pants that have a zipper]. I had a mediocre design that I did myself that made me look like a mediocre blogger, not a high-end jewelry designer. I called it Makeness – A Maker’s Business.
I was going to write about my crafty-business as a way of funneling traffic to my Etsy store.
It was ridiculous. I was NOT a fashion blogger [can someone please explain printed leggings to me?]. And there is really not that much else you can say about earrings that anyone wants to read. So I started talking more about general business.
And my mediocre blog started to gain some steam.
And not for my posts about fashion or accessories, but for my posts about business. See, I already had an MBA. Traditional marketing was something I was well-versed in. Those were the easy posts to write. And Etsy people started coming to me for help. And pretty soon, I wasn’t spending as much time making earrings. I was spending more time giving free advice [because it had not occurred to me that I wanted to, or could, charge for this yet].
Soon, ‘Makeness: A Maker’s Business’, became, ‘Makeness: Make a Business’. I realized that helping others get off the ground was my happy place. Making earrings was not.
But I had no money. Nada.
And I had a crappy blog on blogspot.
I had 101 subscribers at it’s peak. Which seemed like ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD to me at the time.
But I wasn’t making money. Like at all. I was squeaking by financially by rolling up all my snazzy little earrings in a tablecloth once a month and selling them to friends at my local pub [get women drunk and they will buy anything that sparkles].
I was spending most of my time doling out free advice. Which I loved, but the bigness of making that into a business felt like nonsense. After all, the people I was helping didn’t have any money either.
And I had no idea what to do about it.
See, in grad school, I learned all about how to find millions of dollars to start a business. I knew how to negotiate for stock. And I actually understand all that valuation talk on Shark Tank. But they never covered how to survive financially when you want to freelance or start a sole proprietorship.
They never mentioned that banks do not give you money-to-live-on-while-I-get-my-shit-together loans. <click to tweet>
I started by reading A LOT. And noticing [read: copying] what tools other people used who were doing what I wanted to be doing. They were all on self-hosted WordPress. So I got myself on to self-hosted WordPress. They all had sidebars with X, Y, and Z, so guess who had X, Y, and Z? I couldn’t afford design software, so I found free versions. And I tore my hair out trying to learn them on the fly. I worked 15-20 hours a day. It was a brutal.
But I ended up with a pretty cool website that got a good bit of attention and positive feedback. This is what it looked like:
Then a friend asked me if I could design her website.
“Sure! I totally know how to do that.”
I charged $400.
And I learned. Fast.
I designed my ass off.
Not because I wanted to be a designer, but because I had to pay the rent. And being a web designer was closer to what I wanted to be doing than making earrings was. I probably made eleven cents an hour for the first year. And no, you may not see a screen shot of what that first site looked like.
But she loved it.
And sent me more work.
And my skills improved.
What started as the-way-I-was-going-to-pay-rent-that-one-month became a center point of a growing business. I started getting coaching and consulting gigs as a result of the writing I did, and most of those people needed new websites, so one lead quite elegantly [if accidentally] into the other.
Now here’s the reason why I told those of you who know where rent is coming from to go take a walk: You have the luxury of doing what you actually WANT to be doing and nothing else. And that is not a judgement or a complaint. It’s a reminder that you are very, very lucky.
But a LOT of us don’t have that luck/luxury.
And this post is meant to celebrate the early days that so, so many of you are in RIGHT NOW, where you feel like you know sort-of where you want to be, but it all feels so far away and impossible because you can’t afford all the things you know you should be doing to get there.
See, I was a fairly average designer for those first couple of years [I would say I have reached slightly above average now, and I now hire other great designers when my skills fall short], and my development skills bordered on non-existent. But I never talked about being a designer on my blog. Instead, I focused on general business. On ethics. On marketing. On all the things around the thing people were paying me for, rather than the thing itself. And this made me an authority on business, not just a designer.
And for YEARS I kicked myself for it.
All the conventional wisdom said, “Write about your industry.” “Become a thought leader in what you do.” “Niche-ify.”
But what I saw out there was this:
1. There is only so much you can say about web design if you want to do it in a funny or interesting way. It’s a website, not the 10 Commandments. And most people who need one don’t want to read about theory and usability and structure. They don’t care about understanding design. They just want it to work. The only people who care about design are other designers. And they are not going to hire me, so why should I write about that?
2. Everyone was taking all the same advice. Everyone was reading the same ebooks. It was becoming noise and we were collectively ALL getting blind to all the tactics that used to work – like only blogging about the specific work you do.
But even though I saw these emerging trends, I still felt like I was doing it all wrong. Wrong, Wrong. Wrong.
I was making an ok living. But not the kind of moola one needs to pay off grad school. And it felt like no one knew I was even there. And I figured that it was all because I was not following all the conventional wisdom about narrowing my focus. But, try as I did, I just could not get myself to do it.
Every day, I woke up with the thought in my head that I must have built my website with one of those Harry Potter-style invisibility cloaks on it or something because I swear to god no one could see it but me.
Some days I still feel like that.
And then something started to shift. Around year three, I did some really life/business altering work with someone who was referred to me. She came to me with a simple, small, local, brick-and-mortar idea. No name. No budget. No idea what it would take to start. But she trusted me because she had been binge-reading my blog posts. Together, we came up with everything from her concept to her services, pricing, market positioning, branding, everything. I was her partner from idea to website. And I still coach her. One year in to her impossible dream and she hit every single goal we set. She’s making money doing exactly what she wants. Not a mint. But a living. The mint comes next year.
And she told everyone she knew about me [and still does]. And similar projects began rolling in. And now I have a waiting list for people who are positively dying to put their fragile, perfect little dream in my capable hands.
And not one of them hired me because of my portfolio.
Not one is waiting months for me to be available because I’m a web designer. They are waiting because I build my business slowly. I let the struggle be ok. And I kept blogging about things that mattered to clients I didn’t have yet.
See, what I didn’t realize back in those days when I felt like I was doing everything wrong, was that what I had actually done was set myself on a road [albeit a slower one than I intended] towards what I really wanted to be doing.
And sometimes, you have to do the have-to’s [I have to make a living doing whatever I can right now.] before you can move on to the shoulds [I should invest in web design, I should blog more, I should have professional photography, I should be on Twitter, I should be more inspiring, I should have a content strategy, I should hire an assistant, I should follow my bliss, I should be more authentic and do what I was MEANT to do, I should, I should, I should…].
While I was inching along on the slow road to success, thinking all the while that time was passing me by, and I would never be the person that my people really needed, I was really actually building the only real currency that matters: trust.
And what I ended up with was an incredibly high level of what I now call Authority Capital.
Which I now get to spend.
And this is the best shopping spree ever. I get to spend it on you. I get to tell you what’s what, and now you believe me.
So what IS Authority Capital?
Authority Capital is the difference between being wise and having no one care, and being wise and having people do exactly what you say. It’s the thin red line between mattering and not. <click to tweet>
And people fake this all.the.time. They do it with pricing. They make themselves matter by being expensive. And this pisses me off. It’s a shortcut. A party trick. OF COURSE you’re going to listen when someone charges $1000 an hour. But is wallet-pillaging a startup really how you want to make your bones in the world?
For me it’s not.
My slowpoke approach to my work [the one that was born out of fiscal necessity] actually means that I have staying power. And stability. And I know what I’m made of. And I know that my way works. And my people know this too. And they know that I can teach them how to work with what they have to have the life and business that they want. THAT’S what they hire me for.
I didn’t build a platform, I built a foundation.
There is nothing better than saying something straight from the wisest parts of your heart and having people listen. Nothing. <click to tweet>
And you know what?
I charge less than many of my clients do. And I could charge more. And people would pay it. One of my clients charges $500 an hour and tells me on every call that I should make her pay more. But I don’t want to. Because the Authority Capital I have built is worth FAR more than a swelling bank account [and my bank account is doing just fine thankyouverymuch]. If I charged more, I would miss working with people that I love. I would miss the opportunity to help people with big ideas, big hearts, and small bankrolls build the kind of business that I BUILT. So every month I tell Ms. $500-an-hour that she can add to the Pay It Forward Fund. And she does. And that allows me to work with more of the people I adore.
Authority Capital = Trust that you can spend and save like money. And just like money, if you overspend, your account will run dry. You have to keep making more, and you can never have too much. But you can blow it all on a bad bet, so you gotta keep your eye on the details.
I built my Authority Capitol by challenging myself to blog about what mattered to me and what I thought more people should hear. I dressed for the job I wanted, not the one I had, and now I get to reap the dividends.
You can build yours by:
focusing on being the person you want to be, not the business you thing you are supposed to be.
remembering that the only person who pays when you beat yourself up is you.
listening to your gut and following what feels true.
thanking yourself for the hard parts when things start to get easier. Because they totally will.
and above all, keep telling the truth. Always.
So next time you think you’re blogging about nothing to no one, and that no one will ever care, and that you’re doing it all wrong and everyone is doing it faster and better than you, and your friends and family are questioning your sanity, tell them that you are building your Authority Capital.
That should shut them up.
And p.s. – I also wrote a handy little guide to help you get through the rough bits in Year One. Ladies and gentlemen, I present… Start Something: 10 Rules for surviving and thriving in your first year of business. It’s a workbook and ebook, and it’s totally free.