7 shocking truths that went into me making $18,000 this month via the internet
Happily, this month I took on enough client contracts to add up to eighteen thousand fat filthy good American dollars.
I’m booked solid. It feels great.
I’m not announcing this just to brag (only partially to brag!)
I’m letting you know this because for a long time I really, really was not successful with money or career stuff at all. And I was miserably baffled as to how anyone could figure it out, ever.
I used to read fatuous self-congratulatory articles like this one where people talked about making serious cash whilst working from their laptop in Bali and I would think things like:
“Yeah, but you’re only able to do that because you’re an asshole and somehow all the other assholes in this godforsaken assholic world want to buy things from you.”
Turns out that’s what’s known in the entrepreneurial world as “not a winning mindset,” folks.
So to help you avoid staying stuck in such a confused state of mind like I did for a long time, I want to share with you some shocking truths I’ve learned about what it actually takes to make the transition from broke to balling.
And by the way — just so you know, I am indeed an asshole often in my life.
I strive to always make amends and do better, but I’ve fallen short plenty of times. So if you’re looking for an asshole working from hot, exotic places to hate on, congrats! You just found me.
Hi! I’m Carolyn Elliott!
But first — just how unsuccessful was I?
Well, in 2013, I spent a year sleeping on friends’ couches and eating food from food banks to survive.
Yup, I was homeless, and earning about $500 a month doing various freelance writing gigs. Not. Fun.
And that was just the low point of a whole decade spent living below the poverty level as a writer and teacher.
One December I nearly died of a stupid tooth infection because I didn’t have health insurance or the money to pay a dentist.
Okay, enough bummer facts about how damn poor I was — onto the shocking truths I had to gradually accept which led to me being able to make $18,000 in one month as a solo entrepreneur.
1. The internet does not give a fuck what your credentials are
I happen to have a lot of credentials. I’ve got a doctorate in Critical and Cultural studies, and a Master’s Degree in English, and a Bachelors of Arts in Creative Writing.
And exactly no one gives two fucks about this when I’m selling products and services on the internet.
It’s the Wild West out here, folks.
The only thing that matters before someone hands you their money is whether or not they personally trust you to get the job done the way they want it done.
Whether that “job” is helping them sort out their love lives, reading their tarot cards, designing their book cover — or — in my case — teaching them how to write for the social web, grow their audience, and get paid….
…. what it is just doesn’t matter. All that matters is: do they trust you?
And credentials are just not the key to earning that trust.
I emphasize this because sometimes when I’m talking to friends in my hometown and telling about how not-all-that-hard it is to build a presence and sell stuff online and how I could show them how to do it too and OMG then they could come hang out with me in Bali and it would be so fun! they say nutty things to me like:
“Oh, I could never do that! I don’t have a doctorate like you!”
And I’m like, “What? Probably only 10% of the people who become my clients or customers even know that I have a doctorate. They don’t care.”
Saying “Oh, I could never do that! I don’t have a doctorate like you!” is like saying “Oh, I could never do that! I don’t have an obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch like you!”
Because while it’s true I have both a doctorate and a hardcore obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch, neither of these are actually at all relevant to my success in getting people to trust me online.
So what is relevant?
Showing up. Letting people see and hear and feel you in various ways: writing, photos, videos, podcasts.
Sharing what you know and what you believe and how you’ve messed up.
Reliably and excellently delivering what you offer to the first people who take a chance on you, so then you have glowing testimonials to share.
That’s how you build trust. And it takes time, but it’s very do-able.
The Wild West of the internet is rather amazing because it actually helps the process of business become more similar to how it used to be in villages and small towns:
You serve a community; as you serve them well that community learns to trust you and they gladly vouch for you, and then new people who come into “town” readily decide to trust you because they can see there’s already whole community of people trusting you, so you must be alright.
It’s a virtuous cycle.
2. Most solo entrepreneurs under-charge because they have a codependent relationship with the world
I’ve been in recovery from heroin addiction for 12 years, so I know a few things about addiction and codependent relationships.
In a classic relationship pattern between a using addict and their codependent partner, the addict will go out, use drugs (or gamble, or max out credit cards, or go to prostitutes, or whatever), create scary consequences (DUIs, STDs, the whole alphabet soup of life’s horrors), lie about it, and refuse to accept real responsibility for their actions.
Meanwhile, the addict’s codependent partner will hustle hard to try to cover over the addict’s transgressions, and will try to manipulate the addict into behaving better.
The dynamic in such a relationship isn’t intimacy.
It’s more like something really fucked-up that might happen in a duet between Rihanna and Eminem.
Both partners in such a pattern are avoiding intimacy with themselves (the addict avoids self-intimacy through her obsession with the drug, the codependent avoids self-intimacy through his obsession with the addict), with each other, and with the world.
In lieu of real intimacy, both partners accept the drama of chasing the fleeting high of feeling in control. They’re co-dependent because they’re collaborating in their dependency on seeking something to help them avoid themselves.
Most of us good-hearted, spiritually-inclined people interested in building a business online tend to become the world’s codependent bitch.
All of society is the addict in this relationship. The addict does what the addict will always do: take.
As codependents, we’ll let the addict take and take and take from us endlessly because we’re afraid of the addict leaving us. We don’t want to be alone, because then we would have no one to distract us from ourselves.
So we manipulate the addict into staying with us. We take responsibility for things that aren’t actually ours to be responsible for.
We’ll do anything for her. We want her approval, we want her love, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the semblance of that.
This means: we devalue ourselves and exhaust ourselves in hopes of making her like us.
We ask for much less than would leave us feeling well-compensated, and sometimes we feel guilty about charging anything at all.
We try to make ourselves responsible for protecting the world (our audience and potential customers) from feeling the intense sensation of real intimacy with us and who we are and what we’re worth.
So I challenge you: end your codependent, dysfunctional relationship with the world.
Stop trying to manipulate the world into liking you and staying with you by devaluing yourself and working too hard.
3. A spine is the most attractive thing in the universe.
Decide in your heart that you deserve to be well paid for what you do, and that you don’t care whether or not society (the addict) likes you.
When you do this, a funny thing happens: you become radically more attractive (having a spine is wildly attractive) and people start to be happy to pay you what you ask…
…. because you’re no longer projecting a weird graspy energy of “Do you like me? Is it okay that I’m charging this much? Do you approve of me? Do you love me? Do you think you could love me?”
Once I realized that by charging cheap prices for my services I was actually participating in this yucky codependent approval-seeking dynamic with the whole damn world, I was able to stop, and start fearlessly charging prices for my services that actually nourish me.
Doing this is scary, because it means being intimate with myself: I have to become intimately, fully aware of who I am and what I actually need in order to do my best work.
Then, rather painfully (it goes against all my addict and codependent instincts) I have to stand solid in the truth of that self-intimacy and self-worth.
Standing solid in the truth of this self-intimacy and self-worth is exactly the scary thing that most of us spend our whole lives avoiding.
So when you find the courage to master it, you become a radiant beacon, and you’ll never lack for clients or customers or networking opportunities.
If you have a sense you might need to learn this lesson, definitely watch the Legend of Old Gregg.
While Old Gregg’s sea-dwelling trans identity and love of Bailey’s Irish Cream is wonderful, his codependent-style neediness and kidnapping is an ineffective strategy for getting the love he wants.
Learning how to step out of the cycle of avoiding intimacy with ourselves is something I cover in INFLUENCE: the life-altering course on mastering practical magic.
Click here to visit my magazine, WITCH, which has opt-in forms where you can enter your email and get a sneak preview of what INFLUENCE is like while getting on the waiting list to be alerted when it next opens.
4. You’re just pretending like you don’t know exactly how to make a fuck ton of money.
I hear this all the time: “I would love to work online for myself, I just don’t know what I would sell or who I would sell it to.”
Yeah, you do. You know.
You know precisely what you would sell and who you would sell it to. Deep down, you even know just how to rapidly win the attention of all those people who would be your best clients and customers.
And as you’re reading these words from me right now, you’re feeling the stirrings of that. Of that part of you that knows.
What’s that you say? “Oh, but Carolyn, no, I really don’t, I’m confused.”
Well, I don’t believe you. I believe you do know, but you just aren’t willing at this moment to fully let yourself know that you know.
That may sound a bit like crazy talk, but think about it for a second.
There’s a part of you who already knows all the answers to this sticky, fiddly, mess of growing an online audience and launching a business.
You just habitually don’t listen to that part of you, because you’ve got better things to do, like maintain your codependent relationship with the world, win people’s approval (quick reminder: approval never paid anyone’s bills in a way that wasn’t soul-sucking) and worry about your lack of credentials.
So I suggest you get busy on the project of allowing yourself to know that you know.
Start listening to that part of you who you usually silence because she’s full of inconvenient truths.
5. You have to get acquainted with your own golden secrets.
Your “golden secrets” are the inconvenient truths that you’ve locked away in your unconscious mind because they scare you.
These secrets are part of what Jung called “the golden shadow” — the amazing qualities and knowledges in our own being that we repress and project onto others because we feel we don’t deserve to fully own them ourselves.
How to get in touch with your golden secrets? Here’s one quick exercise that has helped me:
Open up your journal. Fill in the blank at the end of these statements:
“This is what I secretly know about exactly how to create a fun, very profitable business online that I absolutely do not want to let myself know that I know __________________________________”
“This is what I secretly know about exactly what audience I would serve that I absolutely do not want to let myself know that I know_______________________________________________________”
“This is what I secretly know about exactly what I would sell that I absolutely do not want to let myself know that I know_____________________________________________________.”
Letting ourselves know that we know exactly how to wildly succeed is something we humans rigorously avoid because the act of consciously owning that kind of knowledge brings with it a painful disruption to our current identities as people who don’t know and who aren’t wildly successful.
Identity is the most precious thing to human beings.
Above all else we hate to have our identities fundamentally challenged. We fight wars over our identities all the time, that’s how important they are to us. More important than life itself.
We would rather die than profoundly change who we believe ourselves to be.
And yet, alas, that fundamental, disorienting, painful change in identity is exactly what needs to happen to morph into someone who experiences wild, consistent, fulfilling success.
You know who wasn’t afraid of making profound, dramatic, public changes to his identity? Saint David Bowie. That’s who.
6. Yes, you have to dirty yourself with learning to have sales conversations.
I belong to a lot of entrepreneurship groups on Facebook, and I see folks in there all the time whose plan is to “attract clients” with marketing alone.
In my experience, clients aren’t attracted. Leads are attracted. Clients are made.
And clients are only made in sales conversations, which it seems to me that not a lot of aspiring solo entrepreneurs know how to have.
When I was a kid, my dad sold long-term-care health insurance from an office in the attic of our house. He had stacks of books with lurid titles like Instant Hypnotic Sales and Sell to Win!
Because I chronically read everything in sight, I read my dad’s books, and a part of me was fascinated (it’s possible to influence people! with words! to get money!) — while another part of me was disgusted.
I hated the idea of selling. Hated it. Mostly because it was so vulnerable — asking someone to buy something from you! As if you were a K-Mart! The horror!
My hatred and fear of selling was evident, too: at 11 years old, I was a dedicated Girl Scout and I also sucked at selling Girl Scout cookies.
You know what? It’s hard to suck at selling Girl Scout cookies. People love cookies, and they love to buy them from Girl Scouts, because the goodness of the cause off-sets the guilt of gobbling up the cookies. It’s a win-win.
And still, I sucked at selling Girl Scout cookies.
I just hated the exposed feeling of asking to someone to buy something from me. Every time I did it I felt like I was putting my worth as a human being up for judgment.
At twenty years old, when I signed up to go get a PhD in English it was part of a campaign I was on to avoid soiling myself with the filth of commerce and the vulnerability of sales and business.
I wanted to live far, far above the fray of the market-oriented world, aloof and safe and clean in an ivory tower of pure gleaming ideas.
I gradually realized that the world of academia was just as filthy and market-driven as any other corner of the world. Not only that, but it dawned on me that my intellect was the chief resource that the gleaming ivory tower was designed to ruthlessly exploit.
And I don’t want to live my life as someone’s exploited resource.
So I decided that if I was going to get filthy no matter what, I might as well go get filthy and rich at the same time.
Which meant I had to humble myself and learn how to have sales conversations.
And I did. I paid thousands of dollars to have people who were great at it teach me how to do it.
Now it’s weird: these days I have a 90% conversion rate in sales conversations. That means that 90% of the people I have exploratory sales conversations with end up buying my services.
Of course that very high conversion rate is a combination of a few things:
- What I’m selling is amazing and I believe fully in its effectiveness
- I do market (mostly writing essays) which draws in leads.
- I’ve won the trust of a community (mostly by writing essays, and a little bit with videos and podcasts) so people in my community are willing to apply to be considered for conversations with me.
- I’m very selective about who I talk to — my criteria is I only talk to people whose applications genuinely energize me.
- I genuinely do not care whether I make the sale or not — I show up for the joy of the process — and it took a lot of inner work for me to get to that place.
- I treat every sales conversation as an opportunity to give the person I’m talking to the full experience of what having my liberated, non-attached attention on them is like.
And my attention is exquisite.
Exquisite attention is the rarest commodity in the world today — and if you doubt that, think back to when was the last time someone put their total concentration on you with no agenda at all but to see you fully, playfully, and compassionately?
So, point being: sales conversations. You have to learn how to have them.
And exactly how to have them excellently well is something I’ll be covering in the next round of THRILL: the masterclass on writing for the social web, building your business, and getting paid.
In the meantime, here’s a tip: the fastest way to get excited about doing sales when you’re naturally scared of it is to make believe you’re a gangster.
7. It’s really and truly okay to hire a mentor.
I always thought that only pathetic people would have to hire a mentor.
Like, isn’t a mentor supposed to be someone who just appears to guide you, Obi Wan-style, drawn by your obvious and fated amazingness?
And if you haven’t attracted a powerful mentor already, probably that means you’re not destined for great adventure and you’re not all that amazing and actually you should just sit the fuck down and go back to focusing on your lousy day job, right?
Well, no. Not at all.
Like a lot of mean and useless things my brain likes to tell me, this line of thinking is not in any way true or helpful.
To start with, traditionally mentors were always paid. The very word, “mentor” comes from a character named Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey, who was a friend of King Odysseus, and the paid tutor of his son, Telemachus.
Basically, if you were the King’s son, a mentor was given to you. And if you weren’t the King’s son?
Well, in Ancient Greece, if you were a hot teenage boy without royal connections you could still find a wise, helpful mentor — who expected to have sex with you in return for his time and excellent advice.
Which if you think about it, really is just another form of “payment,” although of a more intimate sort, is it not?
Point being, successful and busy people in the world of online business who aren’t already on your family’s payroll are unlikely to take time to tutor you unless you pay them (or maybe you can find one to have sex with, if that’s your thing?), and that’s actually great.
It means you don’t have to sit around waiting for some Obi Wan to hologram himself into your life.
Instead, you can look around, decide who you want to learn from, reach out to that person, and hire them.
I did this when I hired my coach and mentor Christina Berkeley early in 2015 — and I ended up making five times more money in 2015 than I had ever made in any previous year in my life. That’s right — it was a leap from making $20,000 a year to $100,000.
If you’re currently plotting an escape from whatever treadmill you’re on (corporate, academic, or just the hard grind of unemployment), I wish you the very best of luck.
I want you to know that it’s possible to make a wonderful living working for yourself online.
The process of growing into being the kind of person who has an audience of thousands is a giant adventure that can beautifully, painfully stretch and grow every facet of your being — emotional, physical, spiritual.
Because I’m so grateful for the life I have today and I want lots of other people to be able to learn exactly how to make a similar leap, I offer THRILL: a masterclass on writing for the social web, building your business, and getting paid.
You can click here to get on the waiting list for the course, which only opens for registration a few times a year.
featured image: from aforestfrolic.com, found on Flickr Creative Commons.