Shaunta Grimes
Sep 3 · 8 min read

A couple of months ago I hired a business coach.

It felt extravagant — something that people like me don’t do. Too much money to spend all at once for help that the little voice at the back of my mind told me I shouldn’t have needed. I had to push through my own feelings of who do you think you are to pull the trigger.

But I did need the help and I had the resources, so I took a deep breath and put on my brave pants and went for it.

Three months into a one year program, I’m super happy I did. In large part because I’ve figured out some things that I’ll carry with me going forward that will let me be my own business coach.

Not only that, but the things I’ve learned will help me coach myself through non-business stuff as well. Forever.

My dad always taught me that the value of education is that it teaches you how to learn.

Here are two things I’ve learned from my business coach that I’ll never stop doing for myself going forward — and that I think you could do if you wanted to be your own coach. Business or otherwise.

One: Have a Monthly Check In

One of the most helpful things I’ve done, by far, has been something that my coach didn’t even ask for. In fact, for all I know, he doesn’t even want it.

He sends me a form to fill out at the end of the month — how much money did I make, how many subscribers do I have, what worked this month, what didn’t.

But, the first month, I took it further and wrote him a long, detailed letter. I’m just extra like that. I’ve done it three months now and I have no idea whether he cringes every time he gets those long emails or not, but I love writing them.

They focus me and make my upcoming month run so much more smoothly.

In fact, I love writing them so much that I think by the time my year of working with him is up, I’ll have the habit nice and established and I’ll just keep doing it for myself.

My end of the month the letter gives me a me a real overview of how my business is doing — not just how I think it’s doing. And that’s important, because it’s a little shocking how divergent those two are.

I have a tendency to think everything’s okay, when it’s not. Maybe I just don’t want to believe that things are bad. Or I’m focused somewhere else and I don’t even realize I’ve dropped a threa.

Conversely, every once in a while I’ll find myself positive that the sky is falling, when really everything’s holding pretty steady.

My letter forces me to actually figure out how much money I really earned during the month. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not always on top of this. I have several income streams and what feels like an endless number of expenses. It all starts to blend together. Writing my letter has required me to actually stop and do an accounting every month.

It gives me the chance to take a dispassionate top down look at what’s going on with my business. Sometimes I have so many things happening, it’s hard to keep track. I think that happens when you’re the whole works — when it’s just you trying to stay on top of everything.

Reflecting on the past month’s work has been incredibly helpful.

For instance, I had some angst in August. It just kind of felt like nothing was working the way I wanted it to. I felt like I was spinning my wheels. It wasn’t until I wrote my letter that I realized that I was actually right.

Nothing was working the way it usually does. Everything — every single metric I use to measure my business — was down. Things that generally work a certain way, just weren’t.

Some of that had nothing to do with me. It’s the time of year. The end of summer, school starting, people spending less time online. Some of it was me going on vacation for a week at the end of the month. Some of it was a program I’d been trying to get started at Ninja Writers that wasn’t catching on the way I wanted it to.

Because I had July’s letter to look back on, I could see that I wasn’t crazy. August really was a tough month.

Taking a breath and pulling the lens way back to see all of that instead of hyperventilating about it from the middle of the vortex on a daily basis was fantastic.

It gave me the chance to regroup and make a plan for September. And to see that a slow month doesn’t mean that I suck.

Your monthly letter should half two halves.

The first half reflects on the month that just finished. What worked and what didn’t. How much did you earn and how did your business grow? What were you working on? How did that go? Did your meet your goals for the month?

The second half looks forward to the upcoming month. What are your plans? How will address the things that didn’t go well in the past month? How will you build on the things that have been going well? What are your goals?

Writing a monthly letter about my business works so well that I’ve started writing a monthly letter about the rest my life. (My business coach will be glad to know that I’m not sending it to him.)

Two: Develop Concrete, Discrete Plans

The absolute best thing my coach has done for me is help me figure out exactly what I need to do and then develop a very detailed step-by-step plan for doing it.

This is one of those things where, in retrospect I find myself thinking oh, right, I knew that. I knew all of that. Because I did.

I knew that I needed a better plan for email marketing. I knew I needed to bring in more email subscribers. I knew I needed to invigorate my membership program.

In fact, he only knew I need those things those things because I told him so.

It’s not like he told me those things and I was thunderstruck.

It’s more like I was in the middle of all of it and I needed someone to help me separate out all the moving pieces.

He asked me to tell him all about my business, what I was working on, what was going well, what wasn’t going so well, what my plans were. And then he picked out the parts that needed plans.

And then he gave me a plan for each part.

Obviously, it’s nice to have someone who knows what they’re doing do this for you, but you can absolutely do it for yourself.

Start with a thorough, honest evaluation of your current business.

Don’t embellish and don’t hold back. This took me four hours, so it should take you some time. If you’re done in fifteen minutes, you probably haven’t gone deep enough.

Really think about what your business does. How much you earn, what your expenses are. Your income streams. What services you offer. Which you’d like to offer, but don’t. What you’ve done in the past. What you want to do in the future. How many subscribers you have to your email list and social media outlets. How well you’re using those resources. Think about resources you could be using, but don’t. What assets you have and how you’re using them.

Now, look at your evaluation and choose two or three, maybe four, areas where you want to improve. Maybe there’s a service you want to start to offer, you want to grow your email list, and you want to start a blog.

It’s important to remember that you’re not trying to fix every single thing right now. Just pick a few things. When you’ve finished those, you’ll move on to the next things.

Take each of those and make a concrete step-by-step plan.

The nice part about having a coach is that their job is to teach you what you need to know. They’ll point you to resources or teach you themselves. But the information about just about any aspect of business is out there.

You can learn how to do almost anything by looking to someone who has already done it and has written about it. For instance, I’ve written many blog posts specifically for writers about how to build an email list. It would be easy to read those and develop your own step-by-step plan.

It that might look something like this:

  • Sign up with an email server.
  • Write a welcome series.
  • Build my first form and link it to my welcome series.
  • Put a simple ‘let’s stay in touch’ call to action at the bottom of my blog posts and link it to my first form.
  • Look at my past blog posts and find the ones that have had the most engagement. Choose one to turn into a lead magnet.
  • Make a lead magnet.
  • Make a form for my lead magnet.
  • Use a call to action for my lead magnet on my blog posts.

When you’ve finished one step-by-step plan, work on another one for the next thing on your list.

The idea is to choose an exact goal — something discrete, not general.

So “start an email list” not “build a following.” And then make a step-by-step plan to reach that goal. The steps should be small.

‘Write a welcome series’ feels small to me because I know how to do it. If you don’t know how to do it and it makes your head spin, you might need to break it down even further until you’ve got steps that don’t feel scary.

In fact, that’s a good rule of thumb. If a step feels scary it might be because it’s too big and you might be able to break it down even more, until you find it’s smaller, less scary components.

If I didn’t know how to make a welcome series, I might have “research how to make a welcome series” or “look up a Youtube video about making a welcome series on Convertkit” on my list of steps.

And take your situation into account, too. “Hire someone to set up my email server” is a totally valid step, if that’s within your means.

A step-by-step plan isn’t just for business.

I could have really used something like this for my cross-country move last year. It’s something I see myself using on a regular basis for pretty much every aspect of my life.

Taking two or three hours to dive deep into my business was an eye-opening, soul-searching experience. I can imagine that taking the time to do the same for the rest of my life would be just as illuminating.

And it would allow me to see the spaces where I need a step-by-step plan. My coach calls them ‘pain points.’ The places where things aren’t working so well, or maybe they’re working pretty well, but not as efficiently as they could be.

It’s not about working on every single thing all at the same time, which is what I tend to try to do whenever I go at trying to fix my life from the middle of the muck.

It’s backing up, looking at things from a little bit of a distance, so that I can see what needs the most attention right now. The way you could probably do if a friend asked you for help.


Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.

The Write Brain

Posts about productivity, business, and systems for right-brained creatives. Ideas aren’t enough. We actually have to do the things!

Shaunta Grimes

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Learn. Write. Repeat. Visit me at ninjawriters.org (My posts may contain affiliate links!)

The Write Brain

Posts about productivity, business, and systems for right-brained creatives. Ideas aren’t enough. We actually have to do the things!

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