In 2003, I had a two year old and an infant and a husband in the hospital with a ruptured appendix. While he was recovering from an internal infection explosion and spending a week in the hospital, I was busy taking care of my babies and running back and forth to the hospital. Getting the mail, and taking over paying the bills, I found credit card statements that I did not know we had. I discovered we were $20,000 in debt from credit cards alone.
The world stopped that day.
I looked around at our brand new townhome that we had just built and a brand new SUV that we had just purchased and I realized the very, very deep pit we had dug for ourselves. Soon after my husband was home from the hospital and the weight of our situation settled on me, I laid in bed feeling trapped and confused and angry and alone. I imagined grabbing my two young boys out of their cribs and leaving my husband. How did we get here? How did this happen? What does our future hold?
I didn't leave. Instead, we declared that this was our turning point. We made the hard decision to sell our car and our brand new, beautiful house. We worked very hard and deliberately over the next 5 years to get out of debt. The budget was sliced and diced until it felt like nothing was left. It was time to stop ignoring the budget and the numbers and the mess. We had to tackle this head-on.
I bought food that would stretch as far as possible, using recipes with the word frugal in the title. One day in the grocery store, an older gentleman saw me using a calculator as I placed each item in the cart. Every decision mattered, and he could tell. Very gently, he pointed out the discount bin in the meat section—it was the meat that was set to expire in a day or two, and deeply discounted in price. I stocked my freezer each week from that bin, and we filled in the gaps with pasta and rice. I cut coupons for everything, and drove to several stores each week, just to find the best deal for milk and toothpaste. I vowed to not purchase anything without a coupon. I treated myself to a gourmet coffee only on Tuesdays, when the mochas were discounted to $2.00. In the drive through window, I handed the barista my assorted change, embarrassed that it came from crevices in my couch and the change drawer in my minivan.
In the summer, I only shopped at garage sales, and even then, my husband begrudgingly handed over a limited amount of cash and change for me to use. (I think my mother-in-law saw what our predicament—because she offered to buy the kids shoes every year. What a blessing!)
The entire whole time that we clawed our way out of debt and attempted to re-wire our brains and lifestyle, I was growing my small business. The motivation to make more money to support our family was overwhelming. I did what I knew how to do, and I relied on books and friends and other business owners to fill in the gaps. I was desperate to make my little company grow.
At that time, I taught piano lessons and I hired other piano teachers to teach lessons as well. To make more money, I knew I had to multiply myself. I handled all the billing, scheduling, and administration. People called me for lessons, and I matched them with a teacher who would come to their home for lessons.
I worked every afternoon, while my kids napped, working on developing new systems and new organizational tools for my staff. I wrote emails and newsletters late at night, when my kids were finally asleep. I kept business books I wanted to read on the back of the toilet and read a few pages in the bathroom every day. I took walks with the stroller and the tricycles and prayed for wisdom and direction and ideas. I had a separate cell phone for the business, but because I was so busy with the kids, it sat in the drawer until I could answer the calls while my husband gave the kids a bath at night. I was so embarrassed to make follow up calls at 8:00pm, but my prospective clients were grateful that I had gotten back to them. I was good at what I did and I closed nearly every sale, steadily adding new clients and growing my business.
During this whole time, we were also church planting. My husband was a youth pastor and then an associate pastor, and because the churches were brand new, they couldn’t afford to pay very much. I desperately wanted to grow my business to supplement our small ministry income.
The darkest days of this journey was when my husband switched from one church to another and the new church couldn’t pay him at all. He has amazing techy skills, so he was hired right away as the computer guy at a fairly large company. However, with the commute in traffic every day, he was gone from 7:45am to 6:30pm. He would arrive home exhausted, and collapse on the couch. As he lay on the couch, and the kids begged him to play, my eyes would shoot daggers at him as I finished prepping for dinner. I had been home all day with a new baby, 3 year old, 5 year old, and 7 year old and wanted to collapse on the couch, too. He was exhausted and I was exhausted and I didn’t know if our marriage would make it or if we could survive this season. I found myself in tears daily as I tried to do tasks that I wished he were home to do for me: assemble the bike rack on the back of the van, kill the spider in the basement, shoo the bee out of my kitchen, change lightbulbs, and replace water filters.
Daily I would think: this is not what I signed up for. This is not what I wanted to do with my life.
I knew that the job of a mom was important and I wanted to be with my kids. But I also wanted to work and make more money for our family. I would stare longingly at my computer and count down the hours until the kids were napping or having screen time so I could work on my business.
Over and over, I thought: “If I could just make more money…if I could just grow my company…if I could just work harder…then things could change. If only I could enroll more students in my lessons and classes…if only I could figure out this marketing stuff.”
I read every book I could find. I scoured the internet. I talked to anyone who would listen to me at the park while my kids played. I tried so hard.
In 2008, my dad was laid off and suddenly the problem was bigger than just me and my small family. I saw my parents suffer and panic. I had to do something. Around my dining room table, we brainstormed, and together we launched a theatre company. They had been teaching music and theatre for years, and I had been running the administrative side of my music lessons business, and together I knew we could form a powerful partnership. But now I really had skin in the game. I was absolutely desperate to learn more practical skills for my business so I could make more money for myself and my parents. I dreamed of my husband being able to quit his job and work with me on my company so we could church plant without needing a salary from the ministry.
One day, while searching for answers online, I found a business coaching program, describing the answers exactly as what I was looking for. The price tag was absolutely shocking, so I quietly shut my computer and didn’t tell my husband for a couple months. I thought about it constantly and prayed desperately and fervently. How would I come up with the money for this program?! But how could I say “no” to the very answers I was so desperately seeking? I knew that taking this step would catapult me to the next level. I knew I had to figure out how to say “yes” to this opportunity.
When I finally got up the nerve to spill my secret to Chris, he was quiet. Finally, he looked at me steadily. “We can do this. We’ll figure out a way.” I was shocked. We had JUST climbed out of debt. I didn’t think there was any way we could swing the cost of this program. We couldn’t go backwards into debt. But my very frugal, very conservative, safe husband said, “We have to do this. We have to get answers. This isn’t debt—it’s an investment.”
This coaching program wasn’t just a purchase—it was a trip to a conference. We had to buy plane tickets and reserve a hotel room, plus pay for the coaching program. I thought I was going to be sick. But as I sat in that gigantic conference room, pen scribbling furiously with all the notes I was taking, I knew we had made the right decision. All the questions, all the gaps in my knowledge, all the wondering vanished. Here I had found answers. Here I found help. I found hope.
Fast-forward 5 years. My husband was able to quit his job—because our music school grew enough to more than replace his salary. We have a commercial location, three employees working our front desk (I don’t even answer the phones anymore!) and we have 30 teachers who work for us and teach over 400 students at our studio each week. Our lessons and classes grew, like I prayed! In fact, we had to knock down walls and build more rooms for more lessons!
My parents’ theatre company grew so much that they spun off with a different name. We share students and marketing, but we are two distinctive companies now. Both are thriving and growing!
I don’t have to shop in the discounted bin of meat anymore. In fact, I order groceries online and they are delivered to my doorstep. Just the other day, I visited my old coffee shop where I used to hand over my fistful of change. This time, I had $100 in cash in my purse. I started to get tears in my eyes. How things have changed in only a couple years!
We have NO credit card debt, we travel at least 3 times a year, and we enjoy the freedom of working and schooling from home. We have been to Washington, D.C., North and South Carolina, Texas, California, and Arizona in the last two years. We travel because we love it. We love showing our kids different cultures and giving them experiences that they will remember forever. The money we invested in the coaching program was quickly recuperated as my business immediately started growing and thriving with the answers that I had been seeking. We’ve continued to invest thousands of dollars in classes and coaching and conferences. Never once have we regretted our purchase.
As our business has grown and been streamlined, one of the most important things we’ve gained is time wealth. As we have worked through a very specific, deliberate process to re-define what we want for our life, eliminate time wasters, and automate processes in our business, we have fallen in love with life again. We have time to spend with our kids, have friends over for dinner and deep discussions, and time to help other business owners. We love helping and serving at our third church plant (without having to ask for a salary!) and raising and homeschooling our kids.
The number one question that people ask me is "How do you do it all??" My answer is found in the acronym “REAL.”
Redefine where you are going.
Eliminate time wasters
Automate everything you can
Love what you do and do what you love.
This formula has transformed my life and now I’m focused on helping others change their life, too! Together, Chris and I help business owners take the important, proven steps to improving their lives and their businesses. I’ve done it for myself, and I’ve helped many others achieve the same results! It’s hard work, it’s intentional, and it’s not overnight. But the results are worth it! Your family and your business need you to make this change. And I’m going to show you how. (Read more in my book, Happy Kids Growing Biz. Click here and get it for free.)
I don't know about you, but it's been a crazy month so far! Things have been going wrong and staff has needed to be replaced. Kids schedules are being set and adjustments are being made for the whole family.
My friend said something really profound to me the other day. When I lamented that things keep going wrong, she said: "It's okay. You're just getting clear on what you really need."
Woah. That hit home. Every time something goes awry, I get more clarity on what needs to be changed and improved. Every time a staff member doesn't work out, I realize what I need to look for next time. Every time something breaks down, I realize I need to put a new system in place to prevent the same thing from happening next time.
Owning a business is tough, my friends. (It's also awesome.) It is definitely NOT for the faint of heart! There is so much to manage and so much to do. There are always problems (and they land on your shoulders, because you're the business owner).
But now is NOT the time to quit. Don't give up. Instead, use this opportunity to figure out what you really need. What support is missing in your life? Who do you need to hire? What new system needs to be in place? What can you tweak or improve?
I memorized this poem when I was young and it's always stuck with me. (It's longer than this, but here's just a little taste for you.)
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Whatever you're going through, please know that you're not alone. We're here to help you and encourage you and cheer you on. If we can help you with any of your business needs, please let us know. We're cheering you on.
About the Author
Hi, I'm Jen Hickle!
Website by Never Alone Business Services Copyright © 2015