Fast Risk or Slow Growth?

Christina Gillick here, your guest editor of The Writer's Life this week.

Yesterday, I mentioned I reflect on my business and life twice a year– in January and August.

During my August reflection this year, I felt a little down on myself. I feel like my business has grown very slowly. I'm finally reaching a lot of my goals this year, but over the past few years, I watched other writers come in and zoom past me.

I pondered this a while before bringing it up to my husband (otherwise known as my voice of reason). He pointed out that one of my favorite things about the writer's life has always been the flexibility.

You can see your dreams come into reality as fast or as slow as you want. Some people choose to quit their jobs, live on their savings, and make six figures in the first year. It's a risk, some might say a gamble, but it can be done.

Others, like me, are afraid, cautious, or timid. They prefer to build their business slowly. Even excruciatingly slow at times.

Michael Masterson talks about this concept in his book The Reluctant Entrepreneur.

In the introduction, he tells the story of Mary Kay and how she built her business the hard way. She quit her job with Stanley Home Products and invested all of her savings into a "crazy" idea. The odds were against her, and she had to overcome many obstacles to succeed …

In 2011, Mary Kay Cosmetics was the sixth-largest direct selling company in the world, with net sales of $2.9 billion. But the story could have been much different …

As Masterson points out, stories – like Mary Kay's – are inspiring, but they also mislead us.

"They perpetuate the myth that to become hugely successful you must be willing to risk everything," says Masterson.

When I started my first business, I didn't have Masterson's wisdom. I became a Mary Kay Consultant in college and went “all in.” I didn't have a savings account, so I used my credit card to buy inventory, business cards, tote bags, cotton balls, and a million other supplies I never needed.

The next three years weren’t easy, and in the times when I really struggled, I turned to Mary Kay's autobiography to inspire me. I reminded myself of all the things she had to overcome. I comforted myself by saying, "If she could do it, so can you!"

Finally, I decided I wasn't cut out for that type of business, and I sold my inventory and pretty much broke even.

While I believe the things I learned from Mary Kay about sales and marketing helped me build a foundation for my copywriting business, a lot of business owners aren't so lucky.

Today, I know you don't have to risk everything – and you certainly don't have to max out a credit card to start a successful business.

Thanks to AWAI and Masterson's approach, when I decided to become a freelance copywriter, my path was much different. I didn't have to quit my job or invest my savings.

Instead, I did it the "reluctant entrepreneur" way. I built my business on the side, on weekends and evenings. Growing it slowly, without risking my life savings or full-time job. And you can do it too.

No matter where you are on the path to the writer's life, it's okay. You can set your own goals based on your circumstances. Fast risk or slow growth? The choice is yours. Don't let anyone else make it for you.

I personally chose to build my business very slowly over the past five years. I had a job I liked, and while I wanted my own business, that wasn't enough of a reason for me to take a risk.

Instead, I took small actions every day to build my business while keeping a full-time job. Some days, I just had enough mental energy to send one email or outline one article. But the small daily actions finally added up to a successful copywriting business.

For more about The Reluctant Entrepreneur, check out this article: “Four Life-Changing Lessons from ‘The Reluctant Entrepreneur.’”

I'd like to leave you with one more thing to think about from The Reluctant Entrepreneur: "Most successful entrepreneurs got to the top by taking a very conservative approach."

Which approach are you taking? Join the discussion below.

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Published: November 20, 2012

8 Responses to “Fast Risk or Slow Growth?”

  1. Christina:
    Good stuff - Your path to success is like mind. Not one big giant curve upwards but a series of peaks and valleys. Nonetheless, I'm inspired by your post.

    I, like you, have a single minded goal to be a successful writer.

    I have taken Bob Bly's advice. If I don't write something everyday, I'm cranky! So I don't want to be cranky anymore. My wife hates it when I'm cranky.:) Keep up the great posts!

    Guest (Bill Shaw)

  2. Christina: I feel like I could have written this post; coincidentally, I'm just finishing "The Reluctant Entrepreneur" and, like you, building my copywriting business on the side while I maintain my full-time job (for the time being).

    Definitely taking the slow growth approach and feeling OK knowing I don't have to risk everything to make it happen.

    SO thankful to AWAI and Mark Ford ( who introduced me to copywriting) for helping me inch closer each day to "the writer's life"!

    Diane Aksten

  3. This was very encouraging! I've been writing copy for years for my own practice and have always loved it, even though it lacked a lot. I never knew about professional copywriting. So I'm thrilled about the Barefoot Writer idea and subscribed to AWAI. With the little I've read and tried in tha last few weeks, I'm amazed at how much it has changed what I write and how I see the world around me. At 66, I want to "semi-retire" from practice. Your realistic suggestions are just the boost to keep me going steadily and surely in that direction since it would be very hard to walk out of a 25-year practice all at once. Thank you kindly for the help.

    Doc B

  4. Thanks for being transparent, Christina. I'm sure this will help a lot of people.

    Steve Roller

  5. approach Barefoot Writers, $49 and a pen name are my direct approach and response to your call to copy writer. This is my thing. Strapped I do my legal work, library assistance and computer networking. I have a degree in writing. Recognizing copywriting is my direction, I prepare through use of all my document skills to keep mining your sites for my next step. It's there somewhere beyond choosing a pen name. There am I.

    Guest (Amanda J Savage)

  6. Christina,

    Thanks for the pep talk. I needed it. I am definitely "the cautious one", but I am convinced that I can do this.

    I have invested a fair amount of money and time to develop my skills. I can't give up--as slow as my progress is, since I have a full time job and a full plate at home.

    Keep the encouragement coming, please.

    P.S. Could you give us your take on marketing?

    Karen Peckham

  7. Thanks Christina!
    I really needed to hear this message today. I too, at times, feel like I should be further in my copywriting career. The truth is, I'm not that hungry; I have a great job which I love and I love my chosen career. The exciting thing for me is that I am writing B2B copy in my career field! It's just a matter of time before I am writing full-time. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


  8. I see it has been five years (about) since you wrote this article. I'm wondering how you feel about your business now? I'm feeling the age crunch and figure I don't have the luxury of slow growth! Everything has to be done TODAY, before I run out of physical/mental ability to keep going!


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