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How I built a 5-Figure online business in One year, by eliminating real-life problems

I remember it like yesterday, when it dawned on me that I had exactly 26 days to leave my job. This was February 2017, and it was the worst time for that to happen, especially because I had just gotten married, moved to a new city, and I was broke.

Last month, I shared the story of how I was forced to leave my well-paying job and today, I'm an employer giving other people jobs and running a 5-figure online business (only taking account of the past 12 months). It was one of those “listen, you too can do this” kind of posts but I didn’t expect what happened next.

One after the other, the emails poured in 

Thanks! Just what I needed

I always look forward to your emails

“OMG Tolu, you’re so inspiring, who would believe you’re so young, and a new mum too. Welldone!” 

I see myself in your story

Me too, I plan to take the leap soon”, etc.

This wasn’t the first time I was getting such responses from my subscribers, but that particular story of leaving my job is so personal that I was surprised at how much it resonated with other people.

Instead of making me feel happy, some of the responses made me cry. Even though they ended with encouragement and praises for me, I could see through them.

I saw the tired dreams, visions gasping for survival, and whispers of “God, when?”

I heard the screams of “I wish I could do what you’re doing

So, I decided to pull back the curtain to share what I did differently in the last one year.

Just a li'l bit of context:

When I left my job, I decided to package my copywriting skill while searching for a job I liked. I did that for a year and a half before I gave birth to my precious baby girl, and sorry to sound cliche, but motherhood changed me. It made me realize how limited I am, my priorities totally changed and so did my business.

When I resumed taking client work after 3 months of maternity leave, I quickly got overwhelmed. I was doing what I loved, for people I cared about, but I wasn’t happy. I was tired, uninspired, and irritable half the time.

The more money I made, the more disempowered I felt. I knew I couldn’t continue like this. I decided to note the business problems that stressed me out the most so I could attempt to bring back the joy and maintain excellence in my work. 

It was in solving those problems, I discovered the key principles that helped me build the 5-figure online business I have today.

Problem #1: Working with uninspiring or over-demanding clients

Most “experts” will tell you that when you’re starting out, you should keep the barriers to entry low so that you can get an influx of customers and “let people know you first”.

Well, I did not have time for that. I have a young family, multiple obligations, and other interests so I would rather have quality customers than many looky-lookers. I made a decision to only work with people I respect and like. 

Nearly every week, I turn down business or refuse to work with people who have shown that they do not respect my time or value quality work.

Of course, people don’t write “time waster” or “freebie seeker” on their forehead so what did I do specifically to weed them out? Well, let me tell you:

  • The right words. My website copy is worded in a way that if it doesn’t apply to you, you will pause and wonder if you’re in the right place. For example, on my Work-With-Me page, I call out to my dream clients “You’re a smart Visionary”.
  • I’m very vocal about my values. This one is simple. If you can’t stand the fact that I say “follow your passion” is incomplete advice, you already know you don’t belong here.
  • Each new client has to book time on my calendar. Successful people plan their day. I’m no exception and I don’t expect less from you. If you do not have the time to click a button and schedule a FREE discovery meeting, you won’t have the time to work with me. No, Thanks. My time is more precious to me than your money.
  • I put my rates on my website. I know there’s a lot of debate about this one. Should you publish your rates on your personal website? Yes, but there is a way to do it, especially if you’re charging more than the average person in your industry. I teach this in my Build & Launch program in detail, but to clear any confusion, it is very stressful to your potential clients when they visit your website and still have no idea how much to put aside to work with you. When you put a starting price for your packages on your website, what you're really saying is “Hey, if you have a problem with this, sorry for turning you off and I hope we can work together on something else, but you’re not my ideal client for this package."

Is this Profitable?

Why does this work?

Simple. You don’t need everybody in the world to be your client. If your monthly income goal is $5000, you only need 5 clients paying $1000 or 10 clients paying $500 every month. With over 7.7bn people in the world, I bet you can find 5 - 10 clients. It saves you time, channels your focus and makes you money.

Don't miss this:

WORK WITH ME:

Turn your skills into a profitable business that pays consistently, without working round the clock

Problem #2: Plenty activity, but no accomplishment

Don’t we see this all the time? You’re posting on LinkedIn, Instagram, sending invoices, installing productivity apps, yet by November, you’ve not met half of your goals for the year.

This, my friend, is how people give up. When you end up in a cycle of unfulfilled goals and desires that “never happen”, year after year, it does something to you. Something in you dies little by little, your drive wanes gradually, and if you’re not careful, you give up and eventually fail. God forbid! The only answer is to set yourself up for success, and while this doesn’t look the same on everybody, I’m willing to share how I did mine:

I applied the “rule of three” to my life

The Rule of Three is a rule in writing based on the notion that people tend to remember three things. That's why we easily remember the Three Blind Mice, the Three Musketeers, Veni. Vidi. Vici, and so on.

However, I turned the rule on its head and made it my to-do list formula. So, I made a commitment to myself that every day I would consistently do three things that bring me closer to my dreams. Sometimes, I do more, but I don't feel unfulfilled if I only accomplish 3 things in a day because in my books, that's enough.

Every night, I ask myself what 3 things must I accomplish tomorrow?

For every week, every month, and every quarter, I have 3 business goals that relate to one of my 3 main goals for the year.

They don’t have to be big or small, they just have to be 3 things that matter to my goals in life. For example, my 3 main goals for 2019 were:

  1. 1
    Create and launch a course that helped entrepreneurs launch their personal brand website. I ticked that box and earned 5K + from the first launch.
  2. 2
    Keep my daughter at home till her first birthday, before considering creche or pre-school. Okay, this wasn't a business goal, but when you look under the hood, deeply personal goals affect your business.
  3. 3
    Start a podcast so that I can practise how to thoughtfully communicate my ideas and connect with my audience on a deeper level. This is a work in progress.

I know it’s hard to focus on only 3 goals or 3 products, but when you channel your time and energy to create meaningful results, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how far you’ll go.

I took focus a step further and decided to focus on a single audience

Before now, I helped service entrepreneurs and nonprofit founders with their online presence, copywriting, digital footprints, etc. But I decided that the fact that I can do something doesn’t mean I should do it.

I have now poured everything I know about copywriting, digital footprints and leveraging tech into helping entrepreneurs earn consistent income from their personal brand websites. If you see yourself as an entrepreneur, and you want a system for earning consistent income, while growing your personal brand, I’m here for you. That’s it!

PS: I developed a framework for choosing a profitable idea to focus on and I share it exclusively with the students of my Build & Launch program.

I said No a lot

The moment I defined my priorities, what gave me joy and what I could do with excellence, I said NO to everything else. 

Some people have a panic attack when they have to say no, but trust me, it gets better with practise. When you say No to people, you’re actually doing them a favour. You’re saying “Look, I’m not the best person to do this right now, and since I cannot give my best at this, I’d rather not.” 

The key is authenticity. You shouldn’t say no just so that you can feel important, and it’s not about forming hard to get either. 

If you need a template, tap here for samples of How I’ve said No:

Saying no can be scary for any business owner, since you’re literally turning down money but I’ve learned to say no in a generous way rather than saying yes and regretting it later.

Saying no frees you up to say yes when it matters most.

- Adam Grant 

Psychologist & Bestselling Author

Why does this work?

Personal Branding is not just about what you do, because anybody can learn it too. It is a combination of who you are, what you know, and how you do what you do. Nobody can steal or copy that.

Your dream clients don't come to you because they couldn’t find another writer, designer, consultant or coach. No, it’s because they see what you've done for yourself and for others. They trust you and it is you that they want to help them. 

So, don’t be afraid to combine your expertise into one sweet spot. They won't run away. When you focus on serving your customers with what you do best, you give your business room to bloom.

Just a li'l bit of context:

Some things take time. For instance, it is because I have worked with clients one-on-one for a while, I had a clear vision of the kind of clients I wanted to take on when I decided to narrow my focus.

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WORK WITH ME:

Turn your skills into a profitable business that pays consistently, without working round the clock.

Problem #3: I got tired a lot and often needed to take a break.

I remember the time Jik [a popular bleach in Nigeria] was scarce. I had to buy Hypo bleach instead. When I bought it, I noticed that the cap screwed on tightly, the smell was milder, and in general, it wasn’t such a bad product. That, my friend, is how I switched from Jik to Hypo.

The lesson? Don’t make your clients have to try the alternative. Be there for them when they need you so they don’t have to go somewhere else.

That’s a dangerous lesson with a lot of subtle pressure, but it is a brilliant idea, so I modified that lesson for myself - and I’ll have to tell you about that some other time. But you get the point:

“Show up everyday”

“You can’t afford to be absent”

“Momentum is important”

All true. But this is hard. It became harder for me when I became a mom. Just last week, I was in the hospital with my daughter for 4 days. You don’t predict things like that.

There were days when I had to turn back clients because my hands were full. There were invitations to speak that I declined, and there were days when I couldn’t show up the way I wanted to - not because I didn’t want to. But because I didn’t have any more mental or physical bandwidth.

How did I solve this one?

It's a work in progress, and there are many moving parts like planning, diet, and sleep but here are 2 specific things that moved the needle in my business:

Automation

I automated everything, especially the process of on-boarding new clients. You see, I detest WhatsApp notifications. I like to respond to WhatsApp messages when I want, and how I want. So, I know I don’t have time for tedious back-and-forth with people who wouldn’t eventually buy. I automated my online business and built three systems around my personal brand website:

  • System 1: A system for getting people’s attention
  • System 2: A system for getting people to trust me
  • System 3: A system for selling my products and services

All hands-off. I don’t have to tweak things everyday, no need to respond to WhatsApp messages, no endless DMs. It just works! Whether I’m asleep or awake, I’m getting attention, earning trust, and receiving bank alerts!

Hiring

I hired the smartest people I could find. I wanted to hire people who are better than me, and can fit in my vision, so I made 3 decisions upfront:

  • I decided to build a type of company that I would love to work in. - In terms of culture, compensation and challenge.
  • I decided to build a remote team so that I can have access to a bigger pool of talent beyond my physical location. Nothing like I can’t hire you because you live in Lokoja.
  • I decided to hire for fit, not just expertise - role fit, skills fit, culture fit and mindset fit. i.e. people who are interested in what I’m building, people who feel the same way I do about the problem we’re solving.

Turns out those 3 decisions were all I needed.

Why does this work?

Well, there’s a difference between making a quick buck and building a business that brings you consistent money. When it comes to consistent income, you need SYSTEMS. I’m talking about repeatable, reliable, automated ways of growing your income without working all the time.

The single most important asset you need to build systems in your online business is your personal brand website. It’s easier to do scatter work on social media than to commit to building and launching your website but believe me, it is a solid foundation, because once it’s done, it is done. 

Don't miss this:

WORK WITH ME:

Turn your skills into a profitable business that pays consistently, without working round the clock.

Problem #4: I actually enjoy giving things away for free

Why is this even a problem?

Well, I’m usually the first to say, you don’t build a business by giving things away for free. In fact, on my team, we have a decision guide that makes sure we don’t do this. Here’s a snippet from it:

However, anybody who knows me well will tell you I have a “Giving Grace”. That means, I have an ability to give beyond the average person, without feeling bad or worrying about it. I give a lot - and joyfully too.

People like me usually include some form of C.S.R in their business where they donate some of their profits to charity or even set up an NGO structure.

For me, I made giving a part of my business model. I teach at least 95% of what I know for free. To help you understand, let me go further to explain how I decide who to give to and what that looks like in real life.

  • I give people on my email list free lessons, free templates, and even private Q&As, but this only happens if you’re on my email list. If you commit to me, I definitely commit to you.
  • As a principle, I give every client a complimentary gift. No matter what you hire me to do, or purchase from me. I always give at least one extra service or product that you did not ask for.
  • I teach what I know. My journey is only just beginning and there’s still a lot to learn, but I’m committed to sharing what I learn so that the journey can be a little bit easier for those coming behind me. This in-depth article is an example.
  • I look for opportunities to give to other people’s audiences. That’s why I write for Bella Naija for instance, and that’s also why I accept speaking opportunities even when I’ll rather be on my couch making silly faces with my daughter.
  • I don’t give nonsense. Ask any of my readers, some of my free stuff is even better than other people’s paid material. Even when I give advice, I go a step further to make it actionable so you can apply it immediately.

Why does this work?

Honestly, I don’t know. One of my friends teased me a lot about sending emails where I don’t sell anything, I just give and only sell less than 30% of the time. But it works for me. This is how I’ve made friends in my business.

Three years ago, I relocated from Lagos and left everyone I knew. It was tough, but I have readers and students from various parts of the world reading my stuff, sharing my message, nominating me for awards, recommending me for opportunities, and for that I’m grateful. 

Don't miss this:

WORK WITH ME:

Turn your skills into a profitable business that pays consistently, without working round the clock.

There you have it!

The most interesting thing about these problems is that, they are not peculiar to me. If we are going to be completely honest, we all face them in one way or another. But the reason many people stay stuck is that they are afraid to make their own rules. In this article, you'll find some of my own business rules:
  • I choose the clients I work with.
  • People first, profit next, then everything else.
  • I'm in business to stay in business.
  • Do less so you can be more.
  • Keep showing up.
  • Systems don't get tired when you do.
  • Nothing worthwhile is ever done alone.
  • Every problem can be solved. 

Listen, that last one is universally true. Every problem can be solved; anything that can't be solved is not a problem, but a fact of life! When you see it that way, your approach is different.

As you may have noticed, I had to ignore and even go against some popular advise to make my business work for me.  So, if you take nothing else away from this post, let it be this: No one gets to decide how you run your business but you

And whatever type of person you are, there is business out there for you. There are people who need what you have; people who have questions you can answer, and whose problems you can solve.

If you have a message, you have an audience and they are waiting for you to launch. So, you need to show up so that they can see you, hear you, and take action.

However, if you’re truly going to show up, you have to follow your own way!

Next Step

In the comments box below, write one “real-life problem” you’ve had and how you could solve it to have more fun, earn more money, and make a bigger impact in your business. Takeaways are also welcome. I’m here for all of that!

21 Comments

  • Happiness

    Tolu, thank you so much for this.
    I particularly love the templates on how to say no. In fact, I just used one of them to turn down a job from a prospect that I know I may not be able to give my best to.

  • Chipzzz_

    Tolu dear, thanks for sharing.
    Sincerely, I give things for free also and my sister is always like you will soon give out yourself in the name of giving.
    I appreciate your thoughts on sharing this with us, now I am more gingered to know that No ONE RUNS MY BUSINESS FOR ME, and most importantly, I am in the Business to stay in BUSINESS.
    Thanks once again Tolu, the real MVP ♥♥

  • Amaka Nnaji

    honestly at first i didn’t want to read it, i was feeling its too long. Thank God i did, this has really changed my perspective. Thank you Tolu.

  • Lois Sanni

    Thank you Ms Tolu. This was quite very insightful, however please i need clarity on the part of systems and how you were able to implement them effectively. That it still runs even when you are away.
    Looking forward to your response.

    • You’re welcome Lois. Going deep into systems will require a different piece entirely, but that’s the core of my Build & Launch program. You can check it out here. However, the point was that there are some things you can do in your business that once you put them in place, they keep working eg. integrating a scheduler on your website so that people can book appointments with you automatically.

  • tunmise

    So many powerful insights packed in a single read. Couldnt resist coming back to take notes and share. Thanks for sharing.

  • Adewale

    Awemazing! Such a depth of knowledge. Thank you for sharing such deep insight into how you run your business. This is really helpful stuff. I love you already!

  • Nneka Nwagu

    Thank you so much, Tolu, for taking the time to share your knowledge and it’s more amazing that you did this for free.
    I really gained a lot especially with regards to not being scared of targetting a specific audience and quoting my price especially if I know my value.
    This has been bookmarked and I am sure I would be reading again and again. I would also share, it won’t be fair to my circle if I don’t!
    Thank you!

  • I enjoyed reading this. It was so easy to read and understand. And I can tell that your recommendations would surely help my business. Although, mine isn’t purely an online, but also offline business, systems and good structures will work regardless. I look forward to your free training.

      • Esther Amah

        Tolu !!!! Currently going through Problem 2 & 3; sometimes I just want to just give up lol and on other days I move. Infact, the Hypo Jik story happened to me recently and mehn I was hurt… then I learnt the vital lesson that you might be good but don’t relent lest someone else takes the space. I’m definitely going to read this again and intentionally implement. Thanks for openly sharing all.

        • Dear Esther! Thanks for sharing your experience I totally agree that we shouldn’t relent. In business, we have to keep tweaking and improving so that we can be here for the long haul. Rest if you need to, but don’t give up. We keep moving!

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