By Jessica McSweeney, as told by Sara Shelton
Part of our “My Blueprint Story” Series
“I’m not good at that.”
For as long as I can remember, this is the general opinion I had about managing my money. When it came to things like budgets, and expenses, and spreadsheets, and balances, I just considered it a skill I didn’t really have.
But can I be honest with you guys for a second? I also carried a ton of shame around money. There was a lot of guilt in my mind because I believed I would never be good at understanding or managing my money like a “real adult.” It made me feel weak, even like a failure at times.
So it may come as a surprise to hear that I, the former failure at all things money management, am now closing in on my first year of running a product-based business both balanced and debt-free.
Here’s how I did it!
Four years ago, I launched my very first calligraphy business, particularly working with clients who were getting married. At the time, the market for hand lettering was fresh and new, a fact that I assumed would make it easy to jump right into. I honestly remember thinking, “Oh, the marketing for this will just work on it’s own. You put your work out there, and then, BAM! Success!”
Newsflash: That’s not how it works at all.
Turns out, the hustle is very real in small, service-based businesses like mine. I was doing so much work to create more opportunities for myself, saying yes to so much just to gain exposure for my brand. I knew nothing about really running a business, other than that it seemed like a 24/7 job!
Sure, it was work I loved. But it was a lot.
Burned out and exhausted—that’s where I was when I met Shanna. And right away, she helped me master the two things that were holding me back in this business: budget and balance. And yes, I was lacking in both!
And since we’re being honest here, I think I should tell you that the shame of not knowing how to manage my money was screaming at me when I first started working with Shanna. Every single thing she said to me felt foreign. I was like a little lost puppy dog!
But the more we worked together, the more I learned. And the more I learned, the quieter that voice of shame became.
You see, shame keeps you where you are. It keeps you in the place where you feel burned out and exhausted. It keeps you stuck. But learning to understand and manage my money the right way set me free. Turns out, it wasn’t some special skill I didn’t have. I could not only learn to understand the numbers in front of me, but I could see how they could work to get me the budget and balance I so desperately needed in my life. They could give me the freedom I was looking for.
So with this new knowledge in mind, in 2016 I made a choice to pivot my business completely.
Weddings were great, but they required so much time and work from me. From creating save the dates and invitations all the way to thank you notes, sometimes it was nearly a two-year process. There were so many other moments in people’s lives that I wanted to speak into with my business but simply didn’t have the margin with the way things were going at the time.
So I stopped. I looked at the numbers. And I made the choices I needed to step into those moments by launching my greeting card business, Little Well Paper Co.
At the time, it seemed crazy. I was running a financially successful business, but it was completely burning me out. I didn’t want to sacrifice budget for balance or vice versa. I wanted to find the best of both worlds.
And knowing the numbers made jumping in and making it happen debt free so much easier.
You have to lay out your columns, understand your expenses, and really see what is (or isn’t!) going to work. Where is your money going, both in your business and in your persona life? What can you cut out of one column to make more room in the other? You have to know those numbers before you can know what direction you need to move.
What are you willing to sacrifice to make it work? What can you give up to make the numbers meet your needs? For me, this meant taking the humbling step of moving home. It wasn’t an easy choice, but doing so eliminated a major list of expenses in my personal column, making more room to put money into my business. It allowed me the margin to make it happen without going into debt, and that was a trade-off I was willing to make.
You have to put what you know about your numbers and your trade-offs to action. Managing your money is not just knowing that you need to give up those extra coffees every morning; it’s actually giving them up! (This one is still hard for me, you guys!) In order to really see results, you have to implement the things you know to create the margin you need for your money and your life.
Starting a product-based business without getting into debt wasn’t easy. In fact, it’s required a lot. I know where every single penny is going in my business, from packaging and supplies to marketing and shipping. I am in all the details of my spending. I’m still making trade-offs daily to stay out of debt and successful in growing this company.
But one year into being officially open on the market, I can tell you that not only is it possible, it’s worth it!