Part of “A Very Valuable Series” — SELF DETERMINATION
Ok, ok. Maybe it’s too soon to say if Whitney French Writes is successful with a capital S just yet, but humour me if you will. All I wanted to do as a kid was be a writer. Nowhere in my seven-year-old little Whitney mind did I imagine running my own business. Business class in high school sounded like hell on earth and now I really wish I took a course or two.
It all started with journal entries. If you don’t keep a journal, you are missing out. I am not the biggest fan of unsolicited advice. If you want that 147 bullet proof ways to make 60k in 10 days with your small business blog post…this ain’t it. I’m not your small biz entrepreneurial ninja, Jedi, guru, boss-lady monster-face millionaire.
Sorry (not sorry).
However, the one thing I would strongly suggest and the basis of this entry is to keep a journal. No way in heck could I have pulled off this business without one.
let me explain
— life sucked.
I had basic necessities (food, water, oxygen) but I lived with my parents (a reality I promised would never happen once I left at 18) in Bradford Ontario no less, with no job, no direction and not a whole lot of positivity. I was struggling with a lot of personal pain also.
I only knew one thing for certain: I wanted to be a writer and I wanted enough money to move out of Bradford.
Early journal entries had nothing to do with a business but had everything to do with confidence. I had to constantly remind myself in my “I’m a fucking loser” state that I was, indeed, a writer.
This is pre-book.
This is pre-publications.
This is post-drop out (from creative writing program no less)
External signifiers of success where nowhere to be found. I had to look inside and believe…
then the name emerged…
And at that time in March I had about four job interviews for work that had nothing to do with writing. I got a job, made more money but kept journaling about this WFW thing.
I still wasn’t convinced writing could make me money, but I also couldn’t shake off the urge to pursuit this thing. Like a lot of folks I imagine, I had multiple ‘business ideas’. One I was obsessed with was called Kid-trition (and by all means please steal the name from me, it's too cute to not actualize) which was a workshop based program to educate parents on how to make healthy, easy and creative meals for their children. Lots of picture of animated radishes playing guitar and recipes. But a lightbulb went off. When the food idea got a bit stale (you know I had to throw in at least one pun) I realized the thing that stuck was the workshop. I really like the workshop model.
fast forward 2012
— launched 3 Cities!
Working an internship in publishing, feeling more like a “writer” writer but also feeling like a broke writer. Also, 2012 is the year I got the hell out of Bradford (woo hoo!) and I was living in Toronto. More opportunities and you guessed it, I was able to do my first ever workshop. Someone was sick. I was asked to fill in. Workshop got did!
— registered my business.
Seems like a big leap, but it felt right. I wanted to host workshops (and I still had my full-time gig but this time my work was aligned with literacy, poetry and social justice) and the gap between “I don’t think I can do thing” and “Oh! I’ve BEEN doing this” was closing in. Gloriously so.
But now, because I threw sixty bucks at the government of Canada to feel official, I actually had a business. Which means I had to do business things. Like:
+ develop a business plan (yuck)
+ make a price list (a what?)
+ print promotion and pamphlets materials (come again?)
...and I had no idea how to do these things. I felt like that Whitney from 2010 with no direction, again.
Enter Jennifer Lee, simply bask in her greatness and discover how dope she is. This amazing entrepreneur cracked open a truth for me: you can be creative minded and business minded. Totally possible.
Her Right Brain Business Plan kept me on track and skyrocketed me to being an adult about this business thing.
— bookings, bookings and more bookings
So many bookings I had troubling balancing my day job. This all sounds good, right? Well, it was except that I was undercharging for my services. Big time. I didn’t know my value. I didn’t know how to manage a business. Running a workshop, that was a blade striking stone getting real sharp real quick. Tracking invoices? Booking prep-time? Ummm…not so much.
I figured, I got the business plan done and I can just cram as many gigs as possible and I’d be good. Strategy? What’s that?
THE BIRTH OF THE BINDERS
& defining professionalism for myself
...and it was hard! again, high school Whitney would totally roll her eyes at all of this. I had to understand these terms that were super isolating, I had to get business cards, I had to know my clients base and network and organize and structure my work. And think about why what I was doing was different and worst of all…prove it!
I thought I was determined, but let me tell you 2014 was a steep learning curve.
“professionals have a practice, not a job”
This ‘business stuff’ had to be a part of me. I had to stop calling it ‘business stuff’. I had to stop treating it like a smelly chore of garbage that I’ll take out only when the whole house stinks. I had to be proactive and do what I had to do to get paid!
But back to the binders: I actually love them. Except at the end of the month, and then I hate them.
let me explain:
The binder represents a full business year (usually). The first page is a breakdown of my quarters:
+ total and annual earnings (gross)
+ and they’re colourful and pretty (thanks Jen again!)
The tabs in the binder are specific months. Each month has a page of goals and on the back are actionable tasks for me to reach those goals…with checkboxes. I don’t know about you but checkboxes are magical empty squares that are crying to be checked off and somehow you simply obey. It’s so gratifying to check it off. Mmmm gratifying checkboxes.
At the end of each month in a plastic sheet is where I dump all my receipts and I add up all the monthly expenses in a spreadsheet (again, another colourful one!) It’s hella basic but it works for me. Never took a single business course (it shows) but I’m doing alright I guess.
2015 was the year of activation
— all this business “homework” was turning into results!
Quarterly goals weren’t just things I wrote down, they were things that happened, or didn’t happen, or were reassessed. I began to streamline my workshop prep. I developed a comprehensive workflow for each gig (saves sooooo much time). I broke down a critical path and a price for not only each workshop but each admin tasks so I wasn’t undercharging (which meant a new updated price list). Naming the price for admin was also handy when I had not so much time but a little side cash and I hired my mentees to complete the work for me. It was reasonably priced because that’s what I was already paying myself.
And I developed my first ever
— ok, I’ve worked for non-profits who cringe at the idea of compiling their annual report but when it’s YOUR work for YOUR business, good golly I get amped. Plus, look how cute I am on the cover!
The thing is, this document is for me. Buuuuut it also has the potential to be a document for future investors ( I see you our there reading this post, get at me, oxoxox).
THIS IS THE A GAME CHANGER
Yes! A lot of business stuff but again, I was already keeping track with a journal. And by this time I’ve been journaling so hard, I need a separate journal (journals plural actually) just for all things WFW related. And it may be geeky but I really like the ability to track my work. Love love love it.
In the annual report its, yes, a report. but I can develop dream workshops and predict when is a good time to execute a new project. I can determine if I have enough money to do it (or better still, when I will have enough money to do it).
— Writing While Black
Been journalled about it in February 2013, planned for it in November 2014 and executed it February 2015. That quickly my dream workshop manifested.
And I did it so quickly because I was able to strategize a good time to launch Writing While Black: when I actually had extra dollars to fund the initiative. There’s more info on Writing While Black here but basically, all that work made this dream manifest, which by the way, is a keystone workshop that sustains and draws more attention to WFW.
2016: the leap!
— taking Whitney French Writes on full time.
Bye, bye safety net. Hello self-employment. Can’t really think of too many other things that are more self-determined than that.
Like I mentioned at the start of the blog post, DO NOT TAKE MY ADVICE. I am not a consultant or expert guru or whatever you call them. But I'm telling you this journalling thing works.
Last year was all about the money. Tracking money, investing money, getting that money, but also saying “no” to money that isn’t worth. Still reflecting on 2016 and seeing what other valuable lessons came up for me. But money was the main focus for sure.
Moving into 2017, I have no idea where I am going. Which is ironic since I'm supposed to strategic. The plan is set but I have always been a bit flexible with how I get there. I'm looking forward to new growth, new plans and of course new notebooks.
It's an empowering thing to go back to old journals and read the things that I wanted for myself for so long and then ACTUALLY be doing those very things that seemed at a time so unattainable. WFW with the official business registry was activated after a break-up and I wrote this to myself:
This is my personal testimonial. My story around how the written word and a few Dollarama notebooks helped me launch a business. Obviously, there was so many other things involved, but there is magic in writing down what you want. There is magic in reading it, writing it, revisiting it, believing it.
This is the last entry for the SELF DETERMINATION chapter of the "Very Valuable Series".
Be sure to check out previous blog posts (if you haven't already)
As we transition into Spring and as Whitney French Writes prepares for its next quarter, I'll be blogging about another value that is of great importance to the business and to me as an artist:
— creative spirit!
See you in April, until then...
Over and out!