One a grey day in February 2000 in a neon-lit office in Berlin I signed a think, office-pale-kind-of-yellowish paper that would change my life: As a 32 year old woman I started a business called Down to Earth.
It started out as a publishing business, but over the years expanded to four areas
Last summer after I had turned 50 and took time and I looked back over the years. I analyzed my successes and failures. I believe that every person longs to be successful in one way or another. While ultimately I consider everything that we can do in this world as a gift of grace there is an deep, god-given longing in my to see fruit for my labour. Taking a deep look at my success or lack thereof was encouraging, but also frustrating.
Success: Changing people’s lives
My biggest success lies in the lives of people I was able to shape. There is no week where I do not get feedback like:
Your book inspired me so much
You are the only person I follow on G+, because what you say gives so much to me
Your book helped my friend to reconnect with God as it was so honest and helpful
I had one of your articles on my kitchen wall for 8 years as it was so helpful
Some even told me that a book I published cleared their suicidal mind so much that it literally saved their life. There were others who as a coach helped to overcome traumas.
I think of the refugee girl who was afraid of water after crossing the Mediterranean sea on a tiny boat. She lost her fear in just one coaching session using the very focussed and effective emotional de-stressing wingwave method I am trained in.
The stories are too numerous to tell. My heart is deeply grateful for the many ways in which I could make the lives of others stronger, more relaxed and more joyful.
No success: Thriving financially
9 out of 10 start ups in Germany do not survive. Therefore I did consider it as a success that I my business did survive. However in all these years it never really did well financially. Especially in the area publishing the basic cost for graphics, copy editing, printing, storage and distribution were so high that it was hard to make a profit. And I never reached the numbers that were necessary to make it easier.
In all years I was able to pay my team, but often there was not much left over for myself. At times even the German government did not ask taxes from me as my income was so low. I survived with the help of friends and massive use of my improvisation skill. When – in most years – I could not afford a real holiday I would visit friends. When I could not afford flowers I went to pick wild flowers.
When the door is closed you can climb through the window – is one of the things I say a often. Because I mean it.
It did not really help finances that in 2012 I decided to buy an old army ship to turn it into a place of hope. A place where I could live, teach seminars. And as a haven for people who needed to refocus or after a crisis needed a break from it all – to just stare on the water for hours and receive professional coaching.
Buying and over the course of five years renovating the ship with virtually no budget was an adventure and a miracle story in itself and it is wonderful to have this place. However it did not really help to improve my finances, but left me with a 5 digit number of debt.
Feeling helpless and looking for change
Looking back I did see that I could shape the lives of people. . But it left me helpless and deeply frustrated me that in spite of working really hard I never found a way to make my business thrive financially.
Trying hard and not succeeding left me with a deep feeling of helplessness – a bit like a person who does want to loose weight and really, really tries hard and sometimes it works a bit, but she never finds the keys of how to do it successfully. At that time I made a drawing – me in front of a machine that was supposed to make money, but clueless as to what buttons I needed to press for the machine to work
Praying for help
I longed to be successful and was so frustrated that I started to pray in a new way. I had prayed all the years asking God for help – and did see many of these prayers answered. He did care for me in a million ways. But by September 2016 I was so fed up with seeing that I was blessing others, but not doing well financially.
So for the first time I thought about giving up. I dared to think about ending my business in spite of the fact that what I did was beneficial to so many others. I decided after prayer that I would give my business one more year and if it did not bear fruit financially by then I would re-think the whole thing and maybe give up.
So now I no longer just prayed “please provide for me”, but prayed differently: “God, I believe that you made me to do well – not only in the ways I help others, but also running a business successfully – show me the keys.” A while nothing much happened, but then starting in June 2017 the prayer did get answered in many unexpected ways.
Seeing my success as a fundraiser
One of the first things I felt was that God said: “If you would label yourself as a fundraiser, you would be highly successful!” This made sense. Over the years I had sponsored projects and encouraged others to do so, too. Some in Berlin, but mostly in Afghanistan…I guess I love rough places and I do like to invest where nobody else does.
In the years we had sponsored a club for children in Berlin. And for Shelter an organization working in Afghanistan I raised money to built a well, plant 400 trees, rebuild villages and sponsor medical projects. I even have my toilet twinned with an outhouse in a village in Afghanistan that helps to improve hygiene and reduce mortality.
In addition to that I raised the money for a few tons of would, hundreds of pots of paint and lots of other building material for the ship and I guess that I was given thousands of hours of volunteer work.
To see myself as a successful fundraiser did a lot for my soul. I could now see: I am successful in business in one way – not really in the area of profit from sales, but in raising money for good causes.
Uprooting the feeling of helplessness
Although generally speaking I usually do not feel helpless, but rather creative in finding new ways, in business there was a big, ugly feeling of helplessness. It felt like a big, massive octopus that entangled my soul. I engaged a professional coach to deal with that.
We worked for two intense hours. And in this short time we could disentangle the present feeling of helplessness in business from some childhood experiences that amplified it. It was so intense that after the coaching I slept two solid hours and woke up with much less of a burden.
I also consciously chose to I let go of that old childish game of hide and seek: In the past I hesitated to promote my things. Partly because I did not like (and sometimes judged) people who promoted their stuff in a loud and aggressive way. But partly also because of that romantic hope that people would somehow find and love me and my products. A bit like a child playing hide and seek, hoping to be found. Instead I chose to really show up with what I have to offer. That still takes courage, but I am growing in it.
Cul de sack – business coaching that did not help
I did engage two professional business coaches, to help me with marketing. But after a while I found out that they wanted to analyze every aspect of my business and then wanted me start all over again. I knew that my products were not perfect – there is always room for improvement, but once people found Down to Earth they usually love our materials and remained faithful customers. I just needed to find more effective ways for new people to discover us. As we could not agree on the way ahead I cancelled the process. This road did not lead to sucess.
Being in shock
In the meantime something interesting happened. I usually spend the first day of the month reflecting and praying and planning the month ahead. So on the first of June I sat on the roof of my ship, looking at the water and praying: “What is important this month!” I would never have anticipated the answer: “Stop working with your present webmaster!”
I was in a state of shock for more than two hours: A good webmaster is crucial for an online business and they are hard to find. I had worked with my present webmaster for more than 8 years, he is the father of one of my Godchildren. However I have walked with God long enough to distinguish his voice from mine and this was clearly not my own thought.
As we had a strong relationship and he was overworked anyhow I could end the cooperation with my old webmaster in peace and respect.
Finding the keys
What now? While having coffee with a friend who I only see twice a year she recommended her webmaster.
It turned out that he not only had the skills for hosting websites professionally, but in the previous months had learned a lot about online marketing and longed (and prayed!) that he could use these newly acquired skills more. What a match. He then recommended amazing business and marketing teachers like Michael Hyatt and Amy Porterfield to me and through them I also discovered Donald Miller, Jenna Kutcher and Marie Forleo
One of the things they all say: Your newsletter is key to success in Online business . I write a newsletter every two weeks. The people who get my newsletter usually love it as it contains lots of good input on how to improve your life. Some even asked me if they could use some of my content for magazines. And they follow my recommendations and buy the products I suggest.
I knew that more people on my newsletter would help me, but in spite of trying hard I had not been able to grow my list of subscribers. I simply did not know how to do it successfully.
The marketing teachers had the keys I had been looking for all these years. And all of them are incredibly generous at sharing a good portion of their business knowledge for free in podcasts and blogs while also offering in depths paid courses. Until December I was preoccupied with writing and promoting my new book, so I could not give this my full attention. But in the last month or so I tried to learn as much from them as much as I could – only stopped at times by very slow internet on my ship.
And I applied for a Scholarship at Marie Forleos B-School (Business school) and hope I win. I even made a video for it that you can like and that I hope she will like, too. #winBSCHOOL
We change the game
My team and I now step by step implement what we learn. We created some great free ebooks/ freebies that people get in exchange for signing up for my newsletter. Just in the last 10 days we had more people sign up for our newsletter than previously in a whole year! Since we started working on this four months ago our list has grown by +15%. Presently it grows even faster: 1% every 3 days.
While this has not yet turned around finance over night – numbers are still fairly low – I know it will. But the best is: For the first time in years of being a business owner I do not feel helpless, but have a strategy that I know will work.
So on Feb 18 I will celebrate 18 years in business. I will look back thankfully and ahead to the future with the hope to continue blessing people in their lives while also doing well in business.
That feels really good.
What do you think? Drop a line of comment if you want to cheer me on, add insights or share wisdom.