My story of radical change and what YOU can learn from it.

How a heart attack forced a radical redesign of my business (and how to keep from finding yourself in the same place you were in a year ago).

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What if next year were radically different?

Ah… goal setting. That lovely process when we stop hiding from reality and actually take time to reflect on all we could have done, should have done, or wish we had done with the previous 12 months or quarter or whatever.

Cue the music. Regrets… I’ve had a few….

You know the drill. We grab a planner or a notebook or a whiteboard and start pondering what we want to change. Some of us make promises to ourselves. Some set goals. Some make lists. Some pour wine…

Last year about this time I was in the middle of the planning process. I was set in my normal patterns of regret and decision making followed by goal setting and commitment. But, God had other plans for me… and as a result, my business is radically different than it was just a year ago.

On December 19, 2016 the pain in my jaw and shoulder sent me to the hospital. I thought I’d pulled a muscle or pinched a nerve, but I was wrong. I was in the middle of an “active cardiac event.”  I was having a heart attack.

Please Please Please take a moment to think about this, especially if you are female. I did not have traditional chest pain. I was only 48 years old. My cholesterol was on the high end of the normal range. Cardiac disease was the furthest thing from my mind. But I was having a heart attack… and luckily someone close to me recognized the symptoms. Be sure you know the symptoms too, so you can protect yourself.

Suddenly I was flat on my back in a hospital bed – with lots of time to think about my business model and the things that were most important in my life. I contemplated how I typically spend my time, the work I do, and the people I allow into my inner circle… all while nurses came and went from my room.

Over the next few weeks, I asked myself some tough questions. My answers to those questions set the course for radical change in my business. As a result, things are drastically different – in a good way – and I’m thriving physically, financially, and creatively.

Christine walked with me on this journey. She’s my best-est friend and my strategic partner. She prayed for me, listened to me when I complained and whined and struggled, and shared insight based on her understanding of my personality and my business. Most importantly, she supported me emotionally as I changed things up – and she continues to remind me (when I’m stressed or fatigued) to circle back to certain essentials.

When we were together on one of our quarterly strategic retreats, we realized that I needed to share these same questions with you.

Getting crystal clear on your priorities is the key to creating a business you love… and thankfully, this level of analysis doesn’t always require a life threatening event. 🙂 So, let’s do this!!

If your time and energy were limited, what would you prioritize?

I’m naturally a pusher and a shover. I’m a hustler and a “just one more thing” kind of person. Typically I believe I can accomplish anything if I just try hard enough. It took a radical downsizing of my energy to make me realize that I needed a few boundaries. (And by few, I mean that “no” is a complete sentence and each hour only spends one time.)

Suddenly I didn’t have energy to work 12 hours a day AND spend time with my family. I couldn’t pack three family events into the same Saturday and still work for a few hours here and there. Honestly, I couldn’t even handle the same volume of client work I’d previously considered normal. My time and energy were limited… so I had to make tough choices.

I realized that…

  • Sleep really IS important.
  • Someone else can clean my house. No one cares if I’m the one who scrubs the toilet.
  • Some clients really aren’t worth the energy they suck out of my life.
  • I don’t have time for negotiations, arguments, or endless revision cycles.
  • My health is vital. My relationships are priceless. Perfection is overrated.

I scaled back my client work radically, scheduling just 20 hours per week with no exceptions. I gave my husband the option of cleaning my house (with no help from me) or letting my hire a cleaning person. I made 8 hours of sleep a non-negotiable in my life.

My business plan changed. I cut out the services that sucked my energy and kept only those that were profitable. Then I upped my prices substantially. It was terrifying… but within 3 months I had tripled my previous monthly revenue.  I was working LESS and making MORE. #radical

If you had to “fire” 60% of your clients, who would you work with?

When I got home from the hospital (3 days before Christmas, how convenient is that? NOT), I faced the monumental task of contacting my clients and sharing my “big news”.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, I’m a copywriter – which means that my work is largely project based much like a design or development business – and I had projects lined up several months in advance.

The last two weeks of December that year I refunded a lot of money. I cancelled planned projects. I referred existing clients (mid-project) to other copywriters. It was gut-wrenching… but it was necessary. I wasn’t sure when I would be able to work and what I would be able to do. I didn’t fire 60% of my clients… I fired 99% of them. 

In the process, I realized that many of my clients were not a good fit for me. Some were demanding and difficult to deal with. Others were very, very price conscious and always wanted to push on price or get freebies. Still others were sweet and accommodating but simply weren’t sure what they wanted… meaning endless rounds of revisions while they got clear on goals.

This process lead me to create the “red rope policy” for my business. I wrote this on December 29, 2016 and posted it by my computer. This red rope policy STILL guides my decisions about new clients… and on those rare occasions in the past year when I’ve varied from this policy, I’ve regretted it. I’m sharing my policy here so you can see what I’m talking about.

Recently I’ve shifted my business model again, further refining my focus and leaning into my expertise. I’m even more selective about copywriting clients (working by referral only) and focus much of my work on the marketing strategy services I love. (Struggling to market your design business effectively? We should talk.)

By carefully selecting who I work with and vetting them as thoroughly as they do me, I’m able to control the outcomes in my business. I only work with people who energize me and fuel my creativity. I only work with people who appreciate my value and want to collaborate with me to enhance their results. I can charge more, and I am confident that I can give my clients amazing results. #Radical isn’t it?

What do you want to avoid or embrace in the next 12 months?

This question is simple, if we really give ourselves permission to ask it and take action. The heart attack was my wild card – my way of setting boundaries and taking #radical action to create the best, most life giving situation for me and my business. No one argues when I play the heart attack card. They just honor my choices and let me do my thing.

All of life should be this way… right? Why do we let other people influence us and keep us from advocating for our own needs? There’s a question to ponder for a while…

I’ve been on a journey of identifying and refining my avoid/embrace list. I’ve worked to separate the needs from the wants and the requirements from the preferences. People I care about (I’m looking at you, Christine) have helped me stay accountable to this list too… because good boundaries take practice.

So, what’s on my list? The first, biggest item is stress. I avoid stress because it is a killer. Stressful clients (no matter how high my fees) are simply not a good fit for me. Tight deadlines and urgency don’t work either (because #stress). Recently someone (ahem, my husband) pointed out that I had eased up and let a little stress back into my life. He was right… and I had to take immediate action to clear the air with a client and draw boundary lines that worked.

I embrace margin. Even though my energy level is now quite strong, I still limit the amount of client work I schedule per week. The extra margin allows me to flex on days when other things (like my grandson) take priority. Margin allows me to pursue creative work that isn’t client related (like writing a book or creating a course or experience with Christine). Margin allows me to further avoid stress.

I’ve learned to balance my time between things that energize me and fuel my creativity and tasks that bog me down. My inner voice is less judgemental and my decisions are more logical. (Okay, not every day… but most days.)

My answers to these questions lead me to radically re-design my business. Why did it take a heart attack for me to take action?

Honestly… fear. The same fear that’s keeping you stuck in the same place you were in a year ago. The same hesitation and over-analysis that keeps you from switching things up and following your heart and intuition. I was stuck too… just like you.

In most cases – myself included – we already KNOW what we need. We just don’t feel we can actually be successful (or liked or profitable or whatever…) if we work to get it.

We think…

  • People won’t pay me that much. I’m not that good.
  • What if I can’t get any clients? My business would fail.
  • Shouldn’t I work harder than that? I need to stay busy.
  • Other designers (developers, copywriters) don’t do this. I must be wrong.
  • I need to pay my bills and make a profit. I’ll do anything.

When I was forced to make these radical changes, I realized something super important. Those things we think… the ones I listed here ^^… are total crap. They are excuses that keep us from taking radical action.

The truth is…

  • People will pay what you charge if you deliver results.
  • Positioning and messaging are the path to booking yourself solid.
  • Busy does not equal successful. Far from it, in fact.
  • Different is not wrong. Different is unique and special.
  • Doing “anything” creates a cycle of poverty. Profit comes from specialization.

It’s scary to take big action when you can’t see your way forward. It’s terrifying to make radical changes on your own, without a guide or a road map. I totally get it… and that’s why Christine encouraged me to share this story with you.

You see, we want to guide you and help you create radical positive change (growth) in your business. That’s why Christine created Designing to Delight. She wants to help you embrace strategic design, so you can successfully translate your clients’ ideas into designs they love.

That’s also why we’ve created Designing Success Bootcamp. It’s also why we keep the group size small (10 people total, maximum) and price it at a stretch point. We want everyone who joins us to be completely invested in the process… engaged, pushed, and inspired… so that each person takes the #radical action needed to push through fear and get results.

Does this scare you? Good. Does it also excite you? Perfect! Time to take action. Get more information. Reach out and ask questions. Maybe this is your year to make a radical change.

How to simplify your creative freelance business when faced with a health crisis.

Author: Michelle Hunter

Michelle Hunter is a business strategist and copywriter with a gift for connecting entrepreneurs and their clients using great writing. She is a regular contributer to the DtD blog and co-creator of Designing Success Bootcamp - Helping designers create a strong marketing engine to power business growth. Visit MichelleHunterCreative.com to contact Michelle or learn more.

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