The True Story of my Business Success

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This story is part of a movement – the Busting The Overnight Success Myth: Community Blog Tour, where 21 ladies who have made their dream business a reality (in a variety of different niches) share what it really took for us to make this happen.  Including the not so pretty stuff.

Allison Braun (The Business Joyologist) and I got to talking not too long ago about how so many programs and posts online were about how you could basically have “overnight success.” As entrepreneurs who are in it for the long haul, we knew this wasn’t really true.

So when she shared her vision for this blog tour with me, obviously I was more than ready to say yes and share my story.

So here is my truth. It’s raw, real and includes things I’ve never shared before!

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When I first started my business, all I had was talent and passion.

I thought that was enough. I figured that my work would speak for itself, and that clients, opportunities, and along with them, money, would show up.

I was wrong.

heather2copyI was 21 years old and fresh out of art school with a BFA in photography and a creative mind. I figured I’d become a fashion photographer and travel the world.

In a very short amount of time, I realized it takes more than raw talent and a great idea to produce something that creates results.

For some time, I floundered. I did all that I could to get clients, and survive, but it just wasn’t working.

I had been ignored by most fashion magazines, lifestyle magazines, and successful photographers whom I had hoped to apprentice with. Rejection became the norm, but it didn’t stop me. I knew that I was going against the flow of life and that something had to change.

Desperate to make things work, I was all over the place. I would take on gigs that I wasn’t really excited about just to make a little bit of extra cash. Plus, I was charging way too little for my services, between $150-$500, which was clearly not enough to live off of but that seemed to be the norm in my industry.

I took on a part time job as an assistant for a local photographer who created artistic nude and erotic photography. He also had been the owner of a successful marketing business, and was willing to teach me all that he knew as I worked by his side.

I worked with him for about 2 years learning and having fun while making decent money as his assistant. While I enjoyed aspects of the job, I still felt a bit empty inside. Most of the time I was driving him around, organizing files, and helping him develop his own creative projects. Meanwhile, my own creative energy was stifled.

heatherinportlandThis uncomfortable feeling inside, along with an inner knowing I had from childhood, led me on a deep journey into conscious self-awareness. I needed to find peace within myself so that it could expand into the rest of my life. I remember days where I’d be sitting and waiting in my boss’ car with a book on Tibetan buddhism, doing self-work exercises and dreaming about the future.

For a while, I felt like I was in the wrong place, but here’s the thing:

 

twitterWhen you follow your instincts, your intuition, life will lead you exactly where you’re meant to go. The right people, situations and experiences will arise to support you on your path.

198971_10150210224399359_1504840_nI was taking a course studying the akashic records. There I met an amazing woman and fellow conscious business owner. After developing a deep bond and learning even more about marketing and branding into the wee hours of the morning, she invited me to join her at a networking event.

Initially, I was hesitant. I didn’t have a business card, a great website, or a clear offering. I felt like a fraud. I knew I wanted to come across as professional, but I just didn’t have it together.

So, with quite a bit of convincing, my friend finally got me to come along. She told me the first step was just getting myself out there, and that in time, the rest would come.

I was terrified. I sat in a circle surrounded by fabulous women, wearing gorgeous clothes, with glowing skin and big smiles. They seemed to have it all together, plus most of them were older than me, and I was pretty intimidated.

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I could feel myself being triggered, feeling not good enough, thinking I was too young and inexperienced to be in this space. But, there was something else inside of me speaking even louder, my passion, my truth, my desire. It told me that it was time for me to step up, to come out of hiding, and start taking strides towards my grand dreams.

My heart was racing as each woman shared herself with the circle, getting closer and closer to my turn. Finally, there I was, with about 25 women looking right at me waiting for me to talk. I wasn’t sure if it would be words or the sound of crickets chirping that came out of my mouth when I opened it.

905314_574340019300033_709558577_oTo be honest, I can’t even remember what I said in that moment, but what I do remember was the feeling of love and acceptance these women gave me. They welcomed me, with arms wide open, and have ever since.

That day changed the course of my life and my business forever. I found my tribe, and these women were the exact type of people my heart was yearning to be of service to.

But, I still had work to do. I got to a point where I had about $200 left in my bank account and had no idea how I was going to pay my bills. My debt was racking up, and along with it, my anxiety. One of my best friends sent me a message telling me that she had a strong intuition that I should listen to a certain teleseminar she had come across.

That is where I found my first business coach, Amanda Moxley, who is also writing on this blog tour!

I hopped on the phone with her. I was in survival mode, scared sh*tless about the future, and didn’t know how to take my business to the next level. She talked me through it, and invited me to work with her. I had no idea how I was going to afford the investment, which was at the time about $3500, but I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do.

I had just enough left on a credit card to afford my deposit, and I enrolled. Even with what felt like nothing left in the bank, and debt that caused me deep shame, my commitment was at an all time high. I was going to do whatever it took to make this work. For me, there was no other option.

I never imagined working a 9-5 regular j-o-b. I always knew my life would be a bit unorthodox, as it already had been. My first job was working at a photography store, from there I had a summer gig at an oil refinery as a ‘lab-rat,’ if you can imagine, and then I worked as an assistant photographer. I’ve never really worked as an employee for a company, or a restaurant, or any of the jobs most people experience in their lives. I was headstrong and stubborn in my commitment to getting paid to do what I loved. Some people say it’s my generation, I say it was my soul. It knew what I needed to do and wouldn’t settle for less.

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I dove head first into the program with Amanda, and was probably one of the most committed ladies in the group. I wanted it, bad, and was willing to try anything.

I learned that in order to make a living doing this, I had to increase my prices, and offer high value experiences. Amanda helped me to see my worth, to see that I could really do this, and boosted my confidence to actually take the leap and give it a try.

I remember my first $1000 client. I was ecstatic and extremely nervous all at the same time. There was a part of me that thought, “Wow, it’s finally happening!” and another part of me that said “How can this be? Do people actually value what I’m offering at that price?” There was belief and disbelief all at the same time.

That client was the perfect fit for me, and loved every second of what I had to offer. We even ended up working together again years later for further brand strategy support. It showed me that I really can provide experiences and services that are transformative at a high investment.

One of the most important lessons I learned during this time was this:

twitterMoney is energy. The more money a client invests, the more commitment they bring to the table.  Nobody wants to waste energy, especially when they are seeking transformation.

533552_524570951445_508005581_nWhen they invest a small amount of money, their commitment level doesn’t have the same weight, and therefore they don’t bring as much as themselves to do the work.

So, by charging higher prices, you’re actually offering them the opportunity for more growth. That’s not to say that this applies for everyone in every single situation. Your money story will also impact your pricing, as will your desired lifestyle. But, it’s important to remember this when you’re creating transformative experiences and programs for your clients.

From this lesson, I kept growing. My prices and packages changed more times than I can count, but it was all a part of learning what my clients needs and values were, while at the same time unravelling my own money story.

Even though I was now able to charge higher prices, I still wasn’t getting enough work to pay my way. A few years prior I had moved back in with my parents in the suburbs far away from networking events, and other entrepreneurs I wanted to get to know. It was really challenging to feel like an adult, and allow myself to be respected, when I still felt like a kid being taken care of financially. I started to release more and more of my parents financial support, even though I wasn’t ready, which led me into more debt. To me, the feeling of sovereignty was worth it. I needed to feel like I could survive on my own, and I trusted myself to work it all out eventually.

heatherpennellfields2It wasn’t until April of 2013 that I was able to move out again. I had taken a self development course that helped me to see all the ways in which I wasn’t communicating clearly. I was the one holding myself back, and my energy back, preventing me from the income that would free me from my current situation. I started to reach out to warm leads, and potential clients, in heartfelt ways that I had never done before and it worked. In one month I secured myself about $10,000. I was still scared to take the leap, but I knew it was time to move out. Originally I started looking for a place by myself, but the rent prices in Vancouver are quite high, so I opted to live with a roommate instead.

The first 3 months of my new life were amazing. Business was good, life was happy, and it seemed like the only way to go was up, until everything came crashing down.

It could have been the lack of sleep due to traffic noise, or my hormonal imbalance, or maybe just an upper limit, but whatever it was it seemed that my entire life started to fall apart.

IMG_3106I started to get really bad acne and experience extreme fatigue. I had little to no inspiration and cried almost every day. I didn’t feel like I could provide anyone something of value, when I seemed barely able to take care of myself.

In a span of 5 months my relationship ended and restarted twice, I landed myself in the hospital for a very painful and uncomfortable procedure, I was experiencing debilitating cramps, frequent nausea and overwhelming anxiety. I was so stuck in all of it, afraid to reach out for help, because I felt I was just becoming a nuisance to my nearest and dearest.

When I look back on it now, I ask myself, “what was the one thing that made it all better?” But the reality is, there wasn’t just one thing.


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It’s the culmination of intention, and action, even on your hardest days, that will ultimately lead to a big shift in your life.

 

Just like success, it doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes, you have to really experience your pain, your suffering, your ego, in order to be like the lotus and blossom from the mud.

I’ve never been one to shy away from shadow work, and this was some of the darkest I had experienced. I needed help, so I asked for it, from energy healers, friends, and spiritual therapists.

Reaching out for support is an act of courage, never let anyone tell you otherwise. Your vulnerability is one of the greatest teachers you’ll ever experience.

I finally started to come through in November of 2013, after a good 5 months of what felt like hell. By December, my partner and I were moving into a new place in a neighbourhood I had dreamt of living in for years. But, of course, the journey never ends.

Again, I was back in the same place, with about $200 left in my bank account. I had no idea how I was going to afford rent at the end of the month, nor food or any other necessity. But I signed the rental agreement anyway. I wasn’t about to give up.

Falling back into anxiety again, I called on my spiritual teacher who asked me a question that altered everything.  He said, “Heather, have you really done everything you possibly could to make this work, and I mean everything?” My answer was a solid “no.” In that moment, I realized it was time to hustle, to amp up my commitment, and take things to the next level.

The universe responded, within a few days I landed 4 new clients and was feeling secure financially again. On top of that, shortly after I was set to speak on stage at a prestigious yoga conference, and my second retreat was set to go with an entire month of playtime in Mexico afterward.

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One of the greatest lessons I’ve been integrating in 2014 is faith, in allowing the ebb and flow of money in business and life to occur without fear and attachment. There are going to be times where money is in an ebb, where a lot is going out and little coming in, and then there will be times of flow, where much is coming and little is going out.

It’s completely normal, and while I feel more comfortable in the flow, I’m learning to love the ebb, to feel at ease in it knowing that in time the tides will change as they always do.

Here are the key actionable steps from my journey, that you can take today to lead you towards success:

Invest in yourself and get support. You can’t do it on your own, no one ever built an empire by themselves. Having coaches, cheerleaders, like-minded friends, and experts in the various aspects of all things online business are going to be the best tools available to you in your journey.

Allison Braun, Gabrielle Bernstein, Danielle Laporte, & Heather Pennell.

Allison Braun, Gabrielle Bernstein, Danielle Laporte, & Heather Pennell.

AllisonBraun-WEB-Products4Network. Money is all about relationships. Just think about that for a second. Without relationships, in one way or another, no money will come into your life. Build genuine connections, put yourself out there, be vulnerable, connect – you’ll be amazed at the magic that comes into your life as a result. (For example, I would have never fulfilled the lifelong dream of traveling to a luxury, exotic location had it not been for meeting Allison Braun. We now host amazing retreats together, where I satisfy so many of my core desires. I met Allison via in-person networking, and she’s now one of my best friends. She has held me when I’ve cried, laughed with me till I felt like I might die, and given me more opportunities to share my gifts than I can count. So get out there on the regular, make it a part of your schedule at least once a month.

Ask for help. Yes you need support in your business, but you also are going to need support for your heart and soul. Surround yourself with loving people who will embrace you even in your darkest moments. Personally, I have enrolled in long term courses to work on transpersonal psychology and spiritual practice with a teacher who really holds me to my highest. Set your intentions and keep your eyes and ears open. The right experiences and teachers will reveal themselves.

859839_492533137474223_137387220_oTrust. By far one of the most challenging things to do is to trust the process of life. To really believe in yourself, and your journey, is not an easy task. If you trust that inner knowing, the calling, and follow your purpose and passion you’re going the right way. Even if it seems like everything is falling apart, there is a reason to it, a lesson, and it will reveal itself. Trust the process.

Transform your money story.  To be completely honest, I’m still not done with this. It’s an ongoing process that is leading me to greater wealth. I’m slowly but surely working down my debt, and noticing how I relate to money on a daily basis. I observe my incoming and outgoing expenses, and get more present to the numbers in my life as I grow. I have, in many ways, transformed beliefs that were keeping me in lack. Truth be told, I know, in the very near future, I will experience the kind of wealth my soul desires to give and receive with expanding purpose. In this knowing, I trust.

Create systems and structures in your business. This is a fairly broad statement, but basically you want to create solid plans for continued success. This can look like marketing plans, a clear brand strategy, optimizing your website, contracts, hiring assistants, client intake and follow up procedures, consistent networking and so forth. Take it one step at a time. If you’re not sure where to start, ask an expert in the area that you’re having the most struggle with. They’ll know how to help.

havingfunPlay. Allowing ourselves time to have fun is often put on the backburner for entrepreneurs with high expectations. Schedule time for friends, loved ones, and pleasurable activities into your life on the regular. Fortunately, this has always been high priority for me, but there have been times where my inner child had enough and started to scream for attention. This normally manifests for me as a creative block. Once I take time to do something extremely pleasurable, I’m revived and ready to kick ass again.

 

It’s now been 5 years since I registered my business, but I didn’t really know what I was doing, or who I was doing it for until 2012. It took me a solid year of consistent work and effort to finally produce enough income to sustain my lifestyle without having a side job. I sacrificed a lot during those years to get to where I am today. Instead of traveling to Europe or South America with friends, I reinvested in my business, and stayed home working day and night towards my goals. I believed that by doing this, soon enough, my business would pay me to travel, and eventually allow me to live nomadically, which it has. I didn’t want a couple weeks, or even a month of playtime a year. I create my own schedule and enjoy living it.  I’m not interested in living a half life, waiting for the weekends, asking for permission for freedom, and generally feeling empty and unfulfilled by not pursuing my dreams. So, I took the hard road.

twitterBeing an entrepreneur is some of the hardest, most daunting, self-work you’ll ever experience, but it’s also the most rewarding.

As the zen proverb says “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

You’re never going to wake up one day and be done, not when you have an entrepreneur’s heart. We are the ones who seek more, create more, offer more, live more with a burning desire and lust for growth, expansion, learning and going deeper than ever before.

One last point that I want you to remember more than anything:

_HJP9668You’re never, ever, alone. Isolation is one of the most common feelings entrepreneurs experience, and it can be debilitating. So, instead of feeling like you’re going at it all alone, while eating ice cream and crying into your bowl, why don’t you join my community instead. I promise to keep you inspired, give you some laughs, and help you build a soulful brand and life.

And, if you’ve ever felt like you weren’t as far as you “should” be in this business journey, I invite you to check out more of these real-life stories by going here to join the Busting The Overnight Success Myth::Community Blog Tour.  I know Shenee shared her story yesterday and Heather Jernigan is up sharing her journey tomorrow.

I’m with you,
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