I've always prided myself on being honest about this whole running an online copywriting business thing. Some business owners lie about their success, inflate numbers, and make it look like they're wildly successful – even when they may not be.
But that's not my jam.
I had the absolute weirdest year yet in 2023, and I want to share all of it as openly as I can for a few reasons:
- I want to celebrate my wins and be honest about my challenges
- Others can learn from my experience, mistakes, and challenges
- Building (and maintaining) a sustainable business is HARD – and I think the less we feel alone and the more we feel connected to other people who are struggling but not quitting, the better chance we all have of succeeding
- I want to acknowledge this year and take the time to truly reflect and learn from what I went through
New Year, New… Debilitating Back Pain?
I started 2023 with a lot of hope and excitement.
Each year in business, I had grown a lot – I started my business, tripled my income in the next year, grew by 40% the next year… and I was on track to hit a wild (to me) revenue goal that had honestly always felt impossible.
But 3 days into the new year, I woke up unable to stand, lie down, walk, or sit. I was in so much pain I honestly thought I might be dying. (I've been through a full day of unmedicated, intense labor – so I have felt real pain before.)
I had dealt with chronic, severe sciatica for over 5 years (it started when I was 37 weeks pregnant with my daughter) – but this was something else all together.
I'm not going to drag on and on with the details, but to sum it up – I spent a solid month unable to sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time, and most of that happened sitting in a straight-backed kitchen chair with my head on the table. I couldn't walk for more than 5 minutes without losing all strength in my hip. I was in constant pain and so much more sleep deprived than I had been with a newborn (and let's just say I did not cope with not getting enough sleep well…).
This lasted, with a brief period of minor relief from one of three spinal injections, until the beginning of May when I finally decided I needed to have spine surgery.
What I Learned About My Copywriting Business
I don't think I need to point out that this was an incredibly challenging season for my family and my business.
We were the definition of surviving, not thriving.
This experience, while not enjoyable, taught me more about my business than anything else has to this point.
- I was the single point of failure in my business. I had no Plan B to fall back on. I was the only one who could do the money-making tasks in my business.
- My business was built on the shakiest of foundations. Without clear systems or structures in place, I couldn't hand things over to someone even if I had a team to help.
- Having a solid business savings account (something I had been annoyed at my husband/CFO for insisting I maintain) was a genuine life saver. There were a few months when I didn't bring in enough money to run my payroll (as an S-corp, I pay myself through a payroll service), but I had the savings to cover the gap.
- I did not have the capacity to market, network, or do any of the things I typically do… but I could focus on client work and still deliver high-quality results. I was really proud of this.
- The extensive referral network I had built over the past 3.5 years kept me afloat with a steady stream of clients when I couldn't actively market my business.
So long, Instagram
Once I recovered from my back surgery, I was so ready to get back to “normal” life.
I was showing up for my business and marketing again. I got to see Taylor Swift's Eras Tour in Nashville, celebrate with my best friend as she got married, and head off to Spain to mark 9 years of marriage with my husband. (This was spread over 3 months, not all at the same time!)
And then, while I was in the air somewhere between Madrid and DC – answering questions from an Ask Me Anything box on Instagram while comfortably reclined in the business-class seat we had splurged on – I got a weird message about being logged out of my account.
I tried to log back in. Nope. I got a message letting me know my account had been disabled for violating community standards.
I'm sorry, what? All I do is teach people how to write words that make money. And share pics of my super cute 5 year old or my morning coffee.
And what I thought would be a temporary, annoying encounter ended up with my account permanently deleted.
My heart rate is skyrocketing just remembering the absolute runaround I got from Instagram “support.” Instagram emailed me to say “Oops, this was a mistake. Our bad! You have your account back” only I never got it back. And no one
could would do anything about it.
What a nightmare.
The 3,000 followers I had connected with and years of content I'd proudly shared? Gone.
The marketing platform I relied on to make 80% of my sales? Deleted.
More Lessons I Learned About My Copywriting Business
Losing my primary marketing platform was an unexpected, unwelcome development in 2023.
But it did teach me a lot. And I think there's a lot every savvy business owner can take away from this dreaded experience.
- I have never been more grateful for my nurtured, engaged email community. I was able to let my audience know about my new Instagram handle and share about new offers through my weekly emails.
- That thing people (like me) are always telling you about not owning your social media? It's true. And having all of your marketing eggs in one basket is dangerous.
- Quality of followers > quantity – As I've (slowly) rebuilt my Instagram, I've watched new client inquiries and projects roll in at the same rate as before. Turns out 350 ideal clients who are super into what you do are more effective + lucrative than 3,000 followers who never read your content.
- Losing my Instagram was the kick in the pants I needed to finally follow through with other marketing strategies I'd been wanting to try – like YouTube, Pinterest, and more consistent emails.
So What About My Copywriting Business Goals?
Be kind, because I'm about to be super honest.
I didn't reach a single goal I set for my copywriting business in 2023. Not. One.
Had a 31% decrease in annual revenue.
Started a YouTube channel… but didn't post consistently.
Built a new Instagram account… but didn't post consistently.
Didn't speak at any conferences, pitch nearly as many podcasts as I'd planned, or follow through on my visibility goals.
It's probably not a big surprise that none of those things were on my list of goals.
But when I look back on this wild, rollercoaster of a year… all I really see are the major lessons I've learned and the wins I've had despite a lot of challenges.
- I still made over six-figures and actually increased my profit margin year-over-year.
- I didn't shut down! My copywriting business is still going strong, and I am a more resilient, capable, adaptable business owner than before.
- My community showed UP for me. The online business friends and colleagues I've made rallied around me when I was unable to work, referred me clients when I was ready, asked how I was doing, shared their own struggles, and supported me.
- I always thought I was in this for the long haul… but now I know. My business is worth fighting for. This is my dream job. And I am here for it no matter what. I've made some key changes, identified some areas of growth, and gotten clear on what I want.
If you've made it this far, I hope this post has given you something helpful or encouraging!
Running a successful, sustainable online business is not for the faint of heart. It is, however, 100% worth it.