Thursday, May 1, 2014

Alfalfa sprouts and my entrepreneurial journey into social media and blogging

I've been thinking about this post for ages. I even got my Mum to look back over old pictures in case we had one of me with alfalfa sprouts (don't worry, it'll all make sense soon) but alas, back in the olden days we didn't take photos of every single second of daily life, did we! Then my friend Jo wrote about her journey to having her own business and I found it so interesting that she, too, had really been headed in this direction since she was a kid, too - and finally today I have got around to writing this post!

Are entrepreneurs born that way?

I didn't actually intend to start this business; I didn't intend to start an income-generating travel blog. Both things happened by accident, or so I thought - or have I been headed in this direction all my life?

It has taken me almost forty years to realise this but it shouldn't be too surprising that I'm now running my own business and can't really imagine ever working for someone else again. As a child, my mother ran her own small real estate company. In fact, she was one of the first women in Western Australia to have her own real estate licence (this is back in the era when, because she got married, she had to leave her job at the bank - not because she had kids - we came later - just because she got married! It seems preposterous to us now). I spent quite a lot of time as a child seeing the inside of other people's houses (I loved it!) and watching my mum do business. There were no mobile phones either so we had to answer the phone especially nicely in our house, because it was often a business call. So, there we are - my mother the role model!

Alfalfa sprouts: back in the days before blogging and social media were invented (image Frédérique Voisin-Demery)

My mother also helped my sister and I start our own small business when we were aged about 10 and 12. I'm not sure how it all began but we started growing alfalfa sprouts (and got more exotic later) and selling them to the local greengrocer. We had to set up the punnets, water them, package them, and my mother would help us deliver them on the way to school a couple of times a week.

Next stop for me was tutoring. A little-known fact is that I studied mathematics at university. This made me an ideal candidate for tutoring primary and high school kids in maths and during my university years I'd built up a huge number of students - I still have some of the paperwork today, as I carefully kept records of the payments and the topics covered. I made about four times as much per hour doing that as I did working at the local KFC so I quit there to do even more tutoring.

Working for a boss

Despite this record, it never occurred to me until very recently that perhaps starting a business might be something that suited me. Instead, my CV lists bunch of jobs working for others which, most of the time, I enjoyed - I worked as a research assistant in mathematics education, then as an instructional designer for distance education units at the same university, and later as an academic helping medical and dentistry lecturers to teach and assess in more effective ways. All of these jobs were really interesting and I got to meet some really amazing people, but they weren't enough, somehow - which led me down the path of going overseas and teaching ESL.

Teaching ESL to kids and adults; but photos with the kids are cuter! This is Momoko, in Osaka.
During all these years, though, I'd been plugging away at something that I'd always really loved: writing. Even before I moved abroad I had found some websites that would pay me to write - not very much, but enough to encourage me to keep at it. When I was travelling so much while living abroad, I got into writing for travel magazines, and eventually from that into writing for big travel blogs and websites. And when I came back to Perth, I was determined to keep generating an income online, because we wanted to started a family and I wanted to be at home when my kids got home from school each day, just like my mother was (unless we were whisked off straight from school to take someone through a house!).


The aha moment: working for myself in social media and blogging

I would like to say that I then cleverly and carefully sat down and created a business plan and started up this business. However, the truth is nothing like that at all. I pitched a course on blogging to UWA Extension, because I really loved teaching adults and I could think of nothing better than combining that with my other passion. Using my own experience on social media - developed through the writing I did and the various travel sites I worked for - I filled that first blogging class very quickly and the delightful Bill at UWA Extension had the bright idea of hiring me to do the same for all their courses. He even sent me my first client, suggesting I might be able to help her out with some social media strategy too, all while my son was still a tiny baby and I was up all night to him, but those midnight hours actually got me ready for that first client meeting. (So yes, Bill, thank you SO much for everything!)

The aha moment didn't really happen - I just suddenly found that I had a business and it keeps getting bigger. Over the last couple of years I have learnt to get more strategic about it although that's still a work in progress, especially while my time is limited to my son's kindergarten hours plus some evenings and weekend work. So however it really happened, I'm grateful, and I love it, and have met so many fantastic people through it, which is the biggest bonus of all. You know, sometimes I look at interaction on my business Facebook page and think, "Oh, but it's just all my friends who are liking and commenting, not proper clients," but then I take a second look and realise that most of them are former students and clients and "real" business connections, it's just that they've come to feel like friends. What better clients could I ask for?

Which brings me, finally, to the YOU part of this post. Lots of my clients run their own businesses: what made you do that? Tell me your story!


9 comments:

  1. I could probably fill a book about my work history (in fact I have 14,000 words towards that!) but I think it has just been something that has always been in my mind. I've always known a job isn't my end goal, though I do have one for now.

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    1. You are a big step ahead of me Vanessa - I think I only knew it subconsciously. Better late than never though ;-)

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  2. Fabulous story Amanda. It is important to look back and appreciate our experiences, which often seem irrelevant at the time. It is part of our own unique story. I do believe there is an entrepreneurial gene that we all have, but for some it has a stronger pull in our DNA. I believe my son has it too, which make me super proud. I have more to my story, but didn't want to make mine too long.... At age 10/11 I made decorate soaps to sell as gifts... made a fortune around Xmas time. (Have no photos, but still have some of the supplies I used to buy in bulk from a local florist, then my Grand used to order and send to me when I moved to Australia but I didn't have the network here in order to sell). Similar time my Mum had a home-based job sewing the front of moccasin slippers... I would help her and earn some extra money (forgot about that)... which was another small part of my journey. Not following my Mum, who was really an employee, but looking at how to ear extra money working form home or creating something....

    Take the time to write your own story, even if just for yourself. It is quite powerful.
    Thanks for sharing Amanda x

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    1. Wow, you go-getter Jo - love the soap business! You're right - it's so powerful to reflect back on how you came to where you are. I've been thinking about it for a while but your post recently got me thinking even more. Thank *you*!

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  3. Great post Amanda. Loved hearing about how it all started. And power to you for the future!

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