Building a business in the margins

What does HTML have in common with a knitting pattern? “It’s a bit like following a knitting pattern” This was how I explained learning HTML to my mother in law.

But realising what is possible can take a bit of a mindset shift at the beginning.

It’s not entirely an accurate picture but it was one she understood and one that drew parallels with her own experiences in earning a side income for the family.

Traditional side businesses, knitting and craft fairs, all created valuable extra income for the family. They also provide social connection of course and skills handed down through the generations.

But there isn’t much income to be made these days from knitting and in my corner of rural Ireland, there is no lucrative craft fair market either. So what was I to do when I needed to supplement my income so that I could drop to a part time work schedule and spend more time at home with my young children?

I’m a smart woman. I have a degree, a masters degree and a career, but extra income is not easy to come by in the time available in the margins of life. I could have taken on private clients but those precious extra daytime hours were for spending time with my kids while they were awake and little.

The time I did have available was during the unpredictable daytime nap or the seemingly endless bedtime. Not very conducive timeslots to fit in client work.

My son found it hard to sleep. Frustrating as it was during those years, looking back, those twilight hours spent sitting comfortingly close but not actually in his bedroom were some of the most productive in the early years of getting my business off the ground!

Sitting in my regular spot on the upstairs landing, with my laptop on my knee he fell asleep to the regular tap, tap, tap of me typing on the keyboard and the occasional mouse click!

These days I’m not needed for night time comfort but I am still a taxi service and so articles like these get written in the car, waiting outside swimming or soccer.

A business built in the margins of life…

So what business did I build? From an early age I can remember I dreamed of writing a book. I’m not sure did I really have ambitions to be an author or had I just been told that you write the book once and then you get paid for it over and over again. That idea seemed good to me but publishing deals are hard to come by.

By the time my son was having trouble sleeping, and I was spending every evening outside his bedroom door, there was no need to get a publishing deal in the traditional sense, the digital products business had begun!

I clearly remember the very first sale I made online. I had written and published an article about arranging my own flowers for my wedding. In the article I had an affiliate link. This is a link placed in the article with a useful resource for the reader (in this case it linked to an online Florist). If the reader chose to make a purchase after visiting the site I recommended, I received a commission.

My first sale was a $50 commission on a large flower arrangement ordered in time for Christmas. I didn’t make many sales through that link and I don’t write about flowers anymore but it showed me what was possible from my tech smart business, the sales really did happen while I slept.

In the decade since, I have developed my own digital product range, built it up over 10 years and sold those products over and over again. Just like an author of a book!

My business has required many hours of work, there is no magic wand but it also brings enormous freedoms. Some of my highest selling months of the year (in an education business) are during the Summer months. If I had to ship products then taking a family holiday during these months would be impossible. Yet with a smart business I have my phone in my pocket and my web developer on call and tech does the rest, even during peak season and sales promotions. No shipping, no packing, just automated sales and delivery. I got paid when I needed it for work I’d done months or years before.

“Retiring my husband”

I think this phrase has its origins in the US and my husband will tell you he’s most definitely not retired 😉 But our smart side business gave us choices we wouldn’t otherwise have had in rural Ireland. With some complex care needs in our family situation, it has allowed him to step away from the 9 to 5 and has given us time for the farm, time for our family and flexibility.

Our “side business” has given us a full time income but I’ve spoken to women who tell me that an extra $200 or $500 a month would be life changing for them and really take the pressure off. I want to get the message out there that it’s possible and that tech business is not just for huge corporations.

And this is not just a possibility for women in rural Ireland. I hired a lady in the Philippines to develop branding for a membership site. I paid her well and I was not the only client she had that month. She has a great standard of living in a region with few opportunities using her smarts and tech to reach a global audience. Imagine how life changing that could be if more women were empowered to do that!

What can you do?

I’ve shown you what’s possible for ordinary women to build a business on the side with the help of smart tech. Now I want to challenge you to help me.

Can you think of one woman you know who would benefit from the knowledge that this is possible? Someone who wasn’t looking to start the next unicorn or change career, but for whom a smart side business generating a reliable leveraged income could be life changing?

Your sister, friend, colleague? Have a conversation with them. Light that spark!

Over the last 12 months I’ve had my eyes opened to the power of networking with other women and how that can open doors. Running an online business tech can be a lonely road especially for the side business owner (remember she’s already operating in the margins of life).

If you need resources (printable of course!), send them here.

Let’s go that one extra step out of our way to give a lift up to those running a side business!

Kathryn’s ability to see multi-dimensions and what is possible for a business is truly incredible and a real gift. I’m always excited and inspired by what she talks about yet at the same time it feels measured, steady and logical.

She brings a skilled, experienced and forward thinking approach. Inspiring!

Louise Colbridge

Let’s Do This Together!

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