Four Steps to Riding the Roller Coaster of Business

When I started off in business, I thought it would be easy.  I’d work for myself and set my own hours, and life would be grand.

I was in for a rude awakening.  There’s a lot more to being successful in business than getting a business card made.

What I wasn’t prepared for, and what still catches me by surprise from time to time, is the cyclical nature of business.

Everything ebbs and flows. I think it must be one of nature’s laws. Clients come and go, revenue rises and falls, and everything is in constant motion. Just when I think I have things figured out, something changes.


How you deal with it is the key to your success.  If you shy away from these times, you’re essentially giving up. The trick is to hang in there and weather the storm.

Here are some of my personal coping strategies for handling the ups and downs we entrepreneurs face.

  1. Have a plan. This is so simple, yet so many people don’t do it. If you know what you’re trying to accomplish, you can stay focused. Our tendency is to take our eye off the prize when things get bumpy.  We start to follow the brightest, shiniest object and forget what our main purpose is. Stay focused – it really does help.  And your plan doesn’t have to be lengthy or complicated – it just needs to give you direction.  At a minimum, plan out your next 4 weeks of activities.
  2. Get support. One of the most helpful things to me when business isn’t smooth sailing is to talk to a mentor or support buddy. I have both, and I get great stuff from both of them.  They encourage me, love me, and help me weed the crap out of my thinking. (I’m really bad to blame myself when things get hard.)
  3. Be grateful. This is another one that’s so obvious, we miss it. Stay in gratitude for the things that ARE working instead of focusing on the things that aren’t. What you focus on expands, so focus on the good things that happen.  I have a habit right now of journaling regularly, and one of the things I do is to write down 5 pieces of evidence that things are going my way. It really helps.

Keep moving forward. When your business is going up and down, it’s really easy to get into so much self-doubt or self-criticism that you freeze. You’ll see it show up in overwhelm and procrastination.  (This is what happens to me!). If you find this happening to you, go back to your plan and just take the next step. It’s really important to just keep moving forward.

What’s Your BIG Why?

It’s the entrepreneur’s challenge.

Almost every day, there will be something that won’t go as planned. A promotion won’t go well. A prospect will say ‘no.’ Your computer will go down. In short, problems will arise.

How you deal with these problems will depend a lot on the strength you draw from deep within yourself. And that reservoir is fueled by your Big Why.

Your Big Why is the reason why you want to be in business.  It could be the freedom of working for yourself. Or it could be a desire to get out of debt. Maybe what you really want is to build a company that you can sell later or pass on to your kids. Or maybe there’s another reason, even bigger than anything you’ve ever wanted, like helping to end hunger in your community or creating an international school to teach leadership skills to Executive Directors.

Knowing your Big Why is important and helps keep you focused when things get crazy. Believe me, if you haven’t already had those days, they’re coming!

Spend some time thinking about your Big Why and getting really clear about it. Picture it in your mind. Include as many details as you can about it. Imagine how you’ll feel when it comes to fruition. How will you celebrate that you accomplished it?

Write it down and post it somewhere you can see it regularly. And spend a few minutes every day thinking about it and why it’s so important to you.

I have two Big Whys: one is to become debt free and to pay off the investments I’ve made in my business over the past 8 years, and the other is to become successful enough to start a family foundation, so we can give more money away to our favorite causes.

I know that when I encounter the bumps in the road, I can go back and look at what I really want, and draw some additional strength to help me get through the tough times.


Play to your strengths

It’s so common.

We get an idea in our head of something we’d like to do, like start a business.  Then we look around to see how others are doing it. And for some reason, we think we have to do it the same way they do.

Here’s the truth: you can build your business however you like. It doesn’t have to be like someone else’s. It can fit you and your goals.

What do I mean?          

The old model of building a business is to go out and market, get clients, serve clients, wrap up projects, and repeat.  The new model of business is that you can do whatever works for you and makes you money. (I like this much better!)

In my world, we do some work with clients, but those sales account for less than half of our overall business. The rest comes from group programs, webinars, and product sales.

The bottom line is this: you don’t have to build your business like anyone else.

So, ask yourself “What am I really good at? What do I love doing?” The answers will help you figure out how to build your business. Make sure the thing you pick is something that will be fun.  If it’s not, you’ll be miserable.

I’m really good at teaching, so I lead a lot of workshops. I love giving people practical ideas they can use right away.  I love seeing them ‘get it.’ It makes my heart sing!

Once you pick the area you’re really good at, make a list of 5 ways you could use it to market and 5 ways you could make money doing it. For example, if you love to write and you’re good at it, you could write a blog, write guest blog posts for others, and write articles for magazines to market your business. Then you could write and sell a book, an ebook, or an ecourse to make money.  The possibilities are endless.

It’s All in Your Head – What Impacts Your Success the Most

“Oh that’s so expensive!”

I’ve said it myself about things in the past and I’ve heard others say it about my programs. It comes from a money mindset born of lack and fear. And it doesn’t serve anyone to think this way.

Mindset is an important part of who we are. It’s how we see the world, and it’s a combination of our outlook, our emotional baggage, and our life experiences. When it comes to money, it’s largely shaped by what we heard from parents and authority figures when we were small.

For example, you may have heard “Money doesn’t grow on trees” when you were young and your mind may have interpreted that to mean “There’s not enough money – make do with the little bit you have.” Now you operate with that belief in your mind, and it’s no surprise that you aren’t sure you can ever earn enough. You may be aware it’s there or it may sit in your subconscious, quietly trying to protect you, because that’s what beliefs do.

Here’s what’s really going on inside: When we have a belief deep down that there’s not enough money to go around or that we can’t earn all the money we want, it leaves us feeling scared about money.  We’re afraid to spend a lot of money on something because we might not have enough to pay for other things. We want everything for the least amount possible. Frankly, we’re cheap.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get the best value you can for your money. I do it all the time. The difference is whether or not it’s rooted in fear, which impacts how you feel about it. Sometimes when I’m thinking about doing a VIP Day with a coach or spending several thousand dollars on a coaching program, I get scared. That emotion alone clues me in to what’s going on inside my head, and I can then do something about it.

Here’s the bottom line: you can’t grow a successful, profitable business with a cheap mindset. It just won’t happen.  Think about it: how do you expect clients to sign up for big ticket services with you if you aren’t willing to do the same? They won’t spend more on you than you’re willing to spend on you.

You may want to spend some quiet time reflecting on your beliefs around money, and see what’s there. After all, the first step to changing a belief is to recognize it’s there.

Your money mindset plays a HUGE part in your success as an entrepreneur. If you don’t see yourself making a lot of money, you never will.

Which will you choose to create?

If you’re like me, you have more ideas and more opportunities than you can ever take advantage of.  There are programs to create, products to produce, conferences to speak at, and more.  It can be a never-ending list of potential to help people and make money.

The question is this: which ones do you choose?                                                                                                                                                                    

 business woman with question marksWe can’t do everything, so we have to make choices about which opportunities to jump on. There are simply not enough hours in the day. And deciding which ones to implement can be a bit confusing.

Just last week, my team and I were doing some planning and realized we have more than we can say grace over. We’ve got several really exciting things we want to do, and as we laid them on the calendar, we realized that if we tried to do them all, we’d run ourselves ragged, which is not a fun place to be! We’ve made this mistake in the past, and I don’t want to repeat it!

 So how do you choose? Here’s what we use to judge an opportunity. Honestly answer these questions and you’ll have the information you need to choose your next big thing.

1. What does your audience want? This is the most important question to ask. It will do you no good to create a program or write a book if no one wants it. This can be tough if there’s something on your heart that you really want to create that covers a topic that’s not that popular. You need to offer something that your audience is hungry for. Otherwise, it will fall flat and you’ll be frustrated.

2. What will they pay for? This goes hand-in-hand with question 1. Whatever you offer needs to be something that your audience will do anything for or pay anything for.  They need to be ravenously hungry for the material. This is key to making the money you want to make from the project.

3. What sounds like fun to you? Don’t do it if it doesn’t sound like fun to you. If it’s too hard or too much work, you won’t put your best self into it, and it will show.

4. What can you easily create and offer? Whatever you choose needs to be something you can easily create for your audience.  Otherwise, you may get overwhelmed by the project and never get it done. It doesn’t matter how good your content is if you never actually get it out there!

When you find a project or opportunity that is something your audience wants and will pay for, and it sounds fun to you, plus you can easily create it, this is a golden opportunity! Jump all over it!

Finding your Ideal Client Prospects

Creating a satisfying and successful business depends on making good money and working with people you care about. In other words, it’s about working with Ideal Clients.

Ideal Clients are those that you get so much joy from that you’d help them for free if you could. You smile when you think about them. You’re happy to see emails from them, and you’re grateful to take their calls.

Who exactly is an Ideal Client?  They are

  • Easily identified and contacted
  • Happy to pay what you’re worth without negotiating
  • People who get results
  • Raving fans of your work
  • Fun to work with!

Think through the folks you’ve worked with so far.  You’ll know immediately which ones were ideal clients. Now think about what they have in common. The more you can identify the characteristics, the more easily you can go find others just like them.

If you need a little more help, try answering these questions to help identify your Ideal Client:

     What keeps them up at night? What do they pull their hair out about?
     What is it that they really want?  What’s the biggest obstacle to getting it?
     If they could learn 1 thing, what would it be?
     What’s the biggest change they’d like to make in their nonprofit?
     What would they pay anything/do anything to solve, get rid of, increase or decrease?

     Where do they already congregate?
     What do they read? (magazines, blogs, etc.)
     Who else do they follow?
     What workshops, seminars, conferences do they attend?
     Who else do they do business with regularly?
     What organizations or associations do they belong to?
     Where can you find a room full of them already assembled?

Often, you are your ideal client.  I remember back to when I was a Development Director and the things I struggled with.  I remember wishing I had someone to tell me what to do and help me shortcut my learning curve!  Interestingly, this is part of what I provide my clients now.

The two most important questions to answer about your ideal client are:

  1. Who are they?
  2. Where do they hang out in large numbers?

When you can clearly identify them and find them assembled in large numbers, marketing gets really easy!

Creating a Lifestyle Business

The biggest reason people start a business is so they can be in control of their time and have the freedom to do what they want, when they want it. I call it creating a lifestyle business.

For me, it lets me call the shots. If I need to keep my Thursday morning open because that’s the day my farrier is coming to trim my horses’ feet, then I can do that. (And I do it every 6 weeks!)

Being in charge of my work schedule means that I can work when it best suits me.  Sometimes I’m really productive in the mornings and sometimes I get on a roll at 5 pm. Either way, I have the ability to do my best work when it works for me.
The first thing you have to do before you can build a lifestyle business is get clear about what you want. After all, if you don’t know what you want, you’re sure to get it. Fuzzy desires give fuzzy results.

Gaining clarity is not a one-time exercise.  It’s an ongoing process. It’s something to re-evaluate regularly to make sure you still want what you used to want. Things can change and your preferences can change.  When they do, let it be.

When you are clear, what you want will start to show up in your life.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you nail down what you really want:

  • What do you want to do with your life? What’s the legacy you want to leave?
  • How will you help people through your business?
  • What will people say about their experience with you through your business?
  • What brings you joy? Do you need more of it in your life?
  • What is in your life now that you need to let go of?

I recommend you put pen to paper to work through these questions and start to get at the heart of what matters to you. It’ll help you be more clear and ultimately more effective in your business.

What will you be known for?

One of the fastest ways to be successful in business is to carve out a niche for yourself. The easiest way to get started is to decide what you want to be known for.

Being a generalist in fundraising won’t get you very far.  In fact, there are dozens if not hundreds of fundraising consultants out there who do a little of everything. Want to stand out from the crowd? Then stand for something.

What do you want people to think of when they see your name? If they associate your name with a particular area of specialty, then you’ve got a platform you can build on and make money from.

There are lots of ways to specialize:                         


  • By size of organization budget. You might choose to work with only those nonprofits who have a budget of $1 million or more. Or maybe you have a heart for small nonprofits with a budget of $500,000 or less.
  • By organization type. You could choose to work only with animal rescue groups or only with private schools or only arts organizations.
  • By geography.  Maybe you don’t want to travel, so you only want to work in a 100-mile radius of your home. Or maybe you only want to work in the Northeast.
  • By organizational maturity. You could work only with organizations that have grown in their fundraising efforts enough to have hired a Development Director.
  • By project. You might work with nonprofits on specific projects like capital campaigns or Board development.

The opportunities are endless.

It doesn’t really matter which way you niche, just do it. It will build your credibility faster and make marketing a lot easier. After all, if you know exactly who you’re looking for, they pretty easy to find.

Will you sell your time or your knowledge?

One of the most important things you must figure out when you’re in business is what to offer.  Will you sell your time? Or will you sell your knowledge? There’s a difference.

When you’re working in an ‘hours-for-dollars’ model, you sell your time. Most people start out this way, charging by the hour. The problem is that there’s a limit to the number of hours you can work in a day. There’s no way to scale it and make more money. In order to make more money, you have to raise your prices (and that’s okay), but at some point, you’ll become too expensive for the people you want to serve. The revenue works like this: work, get paid; work, get paid; work, get paid.

When you work in a ‘1-to-many’ model, you can package what you know into a format that people will pay for.  So instead of consulting with one client, you create a group program and help lots of clients at once. This works really well when you have many clients who are dealing with the same issues. We’ve created group programs for animal rescue groups, new nonprofits, and Habitat for Humanity affiliates. Group programs help us offer an affordable price for participants, while making it worth our time to create and deliver the program.

You can also sell your knowledge by creating and offering a product. You can write a book, record an audio, or shoot a video and put your knowledge into a package that others can consume at their leisure. This is scalable, because you can help dozens or hundreds of people at a time. The revenue works like this: work, get paid, get paid, get paid.

When you sell your time, you become a commodity that people can buy. Clients and prospects can get very focused on the number of hours they’re buying and ignore the results you’re helping them get. Ultimately, this doesn’t serve you or them, because they’re focused on the wrong thing. When clients stay tuned into the results they are trying to achieve or are achieving with your help, they’re happier, they’re easier to work with, and they become amazing case studies for you.

It’s about much more than fundraising

Meerkats hugging - Sandy Rees, fundraising & nonprofit consultant coach

Sometimes you just need someone to lean on.

I believe we are all here on this planet to have the experiences life brings us, and to help one another.

This week, I had the chance to do both.

I was in my exhibit booth at a conference, talking with people about which of my fundraising books they should choose, when a woman walked up and sort of looked around uncomfortably, then looked me right in the eye.

She said, “I need some help,” then broke into tears.

That was not the first time someone has needed me, but it was the first time that a total stranger needed me in a public place like that. I think there must be something about me that’s very approachable or understanding or trustworthy or some combination of those.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had so much training to be a good listener or maybe it’s because I know how to connect with people on a deep level. Either way, she needed me and I knew how to be there for her.

When I looked into her eyes, I saw someone who cared deeply about what she was trying to do.

She was doing everything she could and yet still not able to quite make it work. I got it.

I asked her if we could start with a hug and she nodded. Then she cried on my shoulder.

Right there in the middle of that exhibit hall, in the middle of that conference.

Her story is not so uncommon.

She’s trying to run an animal rescue organization from her home and fund it herself.

She doesn’t really know how to do fundraising or ask for support, so she’s feeling a lot like the Lone Ranger.

I think she needed someone to care more than anything else.

So, I stood there and loved her to the best of my ability. It was an amazing experience for me.

It reminded me that at the end of the day, it isn’t really about how much I can teach you about raising money.

It’s about how much I’m there for you, supporting you, cheering you on, and helping you reach your goals.

It’s about me encouraging you and telling you how much I believe in you.

And I think we can ALL use more of that.