I Went Against These 3 Pieces of Advice and Built a $250,000 Business From Scratch During the Pandemic

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I did the thing that social media dreams are made of. 

After nearly a decade of corporate misery, I quit my full-time job and became an entrepreneur. I started a local clothing boutique based on an idea I had in business school, and my clientele grew quickly. I was even featured in local news and television.

After three years of running that business, I shut it down. I was on the road to profitability, but I was burned out and working at an unsustainable pace. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. After looking like a success, now everyone would think I was a failure. What would I do next? Should I go back to working a regular nine-to-five again? 

I resolved that I would launch my second business, and this one would for sure be a hit. This new business would be entirely predicated on traveling as a speaker in front of large mass audiences to teach others how to pay off debt, the same way I paid off $300,000 of debt in three years. What could possibly go wrong? 

That’s what I thought in January 2020. As the pandemic hit, I quickly had to learn how to pivot to a completely virtual model.

A little over two years later, Crush Your Money Goals has made over $250,000 in net revenue with over 2,500 students participating in my programs. This little business helped me get to my financial independence goals much faster than I had even planned, while I witnessed many of my peers going deep into debt or closing their businesses during the pandemic. 

Like I’ve shared in other articles for this column Mess to Million, I went against some conventional financial advice. Still, I was able to build a six-figure business from scratch during the pandemic.

Pro Tip

This is the fourth column of a 5-part series from Bernadette Joy. In “Mess to Million,” she shows that you don’t have to be perfect to get rich. Follow @nextadvisor on Instagram for updates and live Q&As with Bernadette.

#1: I Never Wrote a Formal Business Plan

I have both an undergraduate and masters degree in business, and the first thing I learned about starting a business is that you have to write a business plan. One of those spiral bound, phone-book sized documents filled with charts and calculations on how you’ll do your marketing, operations, finances, and technology. 

You might need to show that business plan to a bank or to an investor to get approved for a loan or startup capital. And certainly, if you were going to quit a current, stable job, you should have a documented plan in place. But so many aspiring business owners I’ve taught over the years hear this and never start that business, because building such a comprehensive plan can be incredibly intimidating.

Well, I never did it. 

But I did wait to have my personal finances in order and my debt paid down before launching.

Many people are surprised that I’ve never actually written a business plan for either of my business ventures. I had resolved that I would always be my own investor, and so I’ve never had to ask for a loan.

Becoming debt-free was perhaps the most important business lesson I ever learned that allowed me to start a business without a full-fledged plan. Firstly, paying down my $72,000 of student loans took a huge amount of pressure off how much I would need to earn every month just to cover my loan payments. Secondly, budgeting consistently over the years trained me to think more creatively to cover business expenses, the same ways I was creative with my personal expenses to pay down debt.

Looking back at how 2020 unfolded, whatever business plan I wrote would have gone out the window anyway! 

I credit this one financial decision for the foundation of my business plan

The best thing I ever did to set myself up for starting a new business in 2020 was paying off my home in 2019—a decision that most of my family and friends did not agree with. 

With no more student loans, car loans, credit card debt, and not even a mortgage, my personal expenses were low enough to manage if I had to take a lower-paying job to get by while I figured out how to grow my business over time. 

Now obviously, paying off your entire home is a tall order, and I’m not suggesting you need to do that before you start a business. But I do strongly encourage those starting a business to pay down as much of their consumer debt as they can, because it creates so much more room to breathe and to make inevitable mistakes along the way when you’re starting a new venture. 

#2: I Did NOT Follow My Passion 

The No. 1 piece of advice I’ve heard over and over again, whether it be from Oprah Winfrey or the local entrepreneurs featured in my town’s newspaper, is this: “Follow your passion! Do what you love and the money will follow.” 

I mean, if Oprah said it, it must be good advice. And with my first business, I did that. I started a business for women to rent dresses for special occasions because I loved fashion, shopping, and parties. I’ve always had a fondness for how clothes can build confidence in the people who wear them, even as a little girl.

It was great for the first year after being stuck in a cubicle for so many years. I couldn’t believe it was my job to play dress-up for fun. But here’s what I didn’t expect: trying to monetize something that was once just for fun brought pressures that made it feel like a chore. Over time, what used to be a creative and social outlet for me turned into something I HAD to do almost every day, even on days that I just wasn’t feeling up to it.

Instead, I found a valuable problem I enjoy solving, and left my passions alone

Now that I run a business teaching financial education, people tell me “Wow! You’re so lucky to have found your passion!” 

But the truth is that money is not a passion for me at all. I view money as the tool to help me explore my real passions: traveling and finding scenic views, seeing live music from country to K-Pop, and getting into hours-long conversations with people I care about deeply. These are things that revive me and make life worth living, and no, I do not need to figure out how to monetize them

I do, however, really enjoy helping my students learn how to manage money better, and I’ve found ways to make it fun and valuable for both me and my clients. Finding your passion is awesome, and an important part of your identity, but I spent too many years confusing what I do for money with who I am as a person. When I worked in corporate human resources for many years, only to realize I didn’t like it, I thought that meant I was lazy. 

When my first business failed, I thought that meant I was also a failure and less valuable of a person. I decided that this time around, I would keep my passions and my income streams separate, the same way I now practice keeping my net worth and self-worth measured separately.

#3: I Didn’t Try to ‘Scale Up’ Into a Multimillion-Dollar Business

An entrepreneur I once worked for told me often that sleep is for when you’re dead. And for a long time, I internalized that mindset, particularly when I was working a full-time job, going to graduate school on the side, and trying to grow my dress rental boutique on nights and weekends. That’s actually what led to my first business’s ultimate demise: I got completely burned out and decided to shut it down, even when I was on the road to profitability. A business that requires you to work around the clock isn’t sustainable or healthy.

My revenue goals are aligned to what I need to retire for real

One of the wonderful side effects of growing an online business like Crush Your Money Goals is that people have been incredibly supportive and excited for the value that it can bring. Even complete strangers will message me and offer ideas and suggestions on how I can grow it into a multimillion-dollar business. Scale and grow and then become a billionaire: isn’t that the point of becoming an entrepreneur in America? 

But the truth is, I don’t have my eyes set on growing my solo business into a full-scale corporate entity with a ton of employees. I worked for those companies for many years, and I don’t intend on going back to it, even if it means I’m the one on top of the org chart. My goal in growing this business, aside from helping others with their own financial journeys, is to eventually put an end to my own journey to financial independence. 

And for me, that means hitting my (Financial Independence, Retire Early) FIRE number, and pursuing the passions I mentioned earlier—or perhaps exploring some new ones. That started with calculating my FIRE number, and keeping my current living expenses relatively low, despite the big jump in income over the last two years, so that I can invest long-term to hit my FIRE goals.

In my last installment of Mess to Million, I’ll share how I actually hit that FIRE number recently and what’s coming next.