A peak behind the curtain... what happened in The Helpful Academy's first 5 years:
A little over 5 years ago, I found out my full-time, corporate job as The Head of Projects, was being made redundant.
The next day, (my birthday as it happened), we found out that my Dad had a complete blockage of his stomach – and all signs were pointing to gastric cancer.
We didn’t need the tests to officially come back to confirm it for us – we just knew from their tone, and their looks, and my Dad’s rapidly deteriorating state.
It’s fair to say, I was having a shit week!
Because of the news about my Dad, I decided not to accept the new role the company wanted me to take instead of my existing role, and accepted redundancy. This way I knew I could create something more flexible and make myself available to spend time with Dad to go to his appointments etc.
I was actually looking for casual work initially. To see me through the summer. Then make bigger plans.
But, browsing through Seek I came across a job for a contractor that I knew I was really well qualified for.
I called up the agent, scored myself an interview, and got the job.
2 0 1 5 – The Birth Of My New Business
Divine hands were over it because that role was EXACTLY the right amount of money we needed for our family budget to allow me to start business and not to have to panic about finding more clients.
So, I used my final pay from my job to purchase a laptop, took the contractor role, threw together a one-page website and so it was: I was officially in business.
‘Helpful’ was born in mid December 2015.
2 0 1 6
Because I had a good reputation from my former role, and people talk, within 4 months I was full and had a waitlist.
And that’s how it stayed really for the first 2 years of my business.
Back then I was a super baby business!
If you could consider me in business at all – really I was in a job with super flexible hours.
I worked with the same 3-4 clients every week and was about 95% billable.
Despite me doing these tasks for clients:
- I did no marketing for my own business what-so-ever.
- I never sent a single marketing email (although my website was collecting them – I think my list sat at 12 people for 2 years and grew dust).
- I never posted on social media.
- I didn’t do any networking.
I just kind of ticked along in my little hidey hole under a rock.
That first 2 years the business side of things was a dream really – because I had total flexibility, great clients, billed weekly, had almost no expenses.
But meanwhile my personal life was in crisis.
Not only was Dad in hospital for long periods of time, but that first year my husband had 2 consecutive head injuries.
Husband was off work and high-needs for 9 months.
I had my own health challenges going on – which affected me day-to-day but weren’t diagnosed until Dec 2019.
I was surviving on adrenaline and hugs from my kids.
2 0 1 7
In September 2017, after a reaaallllly long traumatic battle, my Dad (and ‘my person’) passed away.
The week before my Dad passed, my husband had a random and sudden medical event, collapsed in our kitchen and hit his head on the way down.
His 3rd concussion in 18 months!!!
It was all very dramatic – my children witnessed him collapse and me have to call an ambulance.
He got out of hospital just in time for Dad’s funeral.
It was at this point in my business journey that I nearly threw it all in.
I was a broken mess of a person.
I’d survived 2 years of utter gobshite, but now it was officially over, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Life was bleak and I fell apart.
My reason for starting my business was officially gone.
I knew I didn’t want to do my business in the same way I had been but I still didn’t know what I DID want.
I was very very VERY close to accepting a job back in a corporate role.
It just seemed easier. But, deep down I knew that wouldn’t solve my problems and I’d make a terrible employee.
My priority became getting whole as a person before I made any rash decisions.
2 0 1 8
As a consequence of our rough time, and to give ourselves something to look forward to, my husband and I named 2018 the year of “Fun”.
We sold our house that we’d spent years renovating, so that we weren’t slaves to a big mortgage and we moved in with my Mum to support her.
That first 6 months after losing Dad I simply existed.
And I soul searched.
What did I want to do with the rest of my life?
Travel. The answer was Travel!
So, I set about planning our trip of a lifetime (more on that shortly).
I also invested in several coaching programs which helped me see what the future could look like for me. I am so sooooo grateful for these. Even if I did rebel against most of the things they told me, and have to learn myself the hard way. They all added something different – and another brick into the foundations holding me up.
It was in one of these groups that I met my biz bestie bunch, 3 rad ladies whom I still meet with weekly to this day. I am forever grateful for their ongoing support and know we’ll be friends for life.
Over the following months I started to get a bit of my sparkle back.
And I got clearer in the vision for my business future.
I wanted to do what I felt I was best at – create business training!
At this point I rebranded my business from Helpful to The Helpful Brand and The Helpful Academy, in line with my new vision.
I changed business models completely, and to be honest, even though I’d technically been in business over 2 years, it was like a new business had been reborn!
In June 2018, my husband resigned his job, and came to work with me for a month to help me create my BOSS Business Health Check (part of my new vision). It worked out well because he needed to take a break from his corporate job, and I knew I’d never get the project finished otherwise.
We finished the project just in time for our travel adventure.
Cue July 2018 – we pulled our kids out of school and took off travelling.
We travelled to 10 countries in 10 weeks and had the time of our lives!!!
This trip brought our family together like we’d never experienced before – as for most of the trip it was just the 4 of us.
Meanwhile, the business sat there, patiently waiting for me to get back to it.
I had no grand ambitions to grow it with urgency – I was more intent on seeing all the things, and having some fun.
The only thing I really did during this time was start to grow an email list/audience.
I’d contracted out most of the rest of my ongoing work.
We ended our trip with what was supposed to be 4 weeks in Bali.
14 days at an epic business retreat, where I’d plan the new chapter,
then 14 days in Bali afterwards to put it into practice.
Sounds like a dream right?
And it was.
Until a few days into our “working ON the business part” my eldest daughter contracted a parasite.
She was one sick kid!
This new turn of events required hospitalisation, intense IV treatment, many hopes and prayers, and 3 lots of rescheduled flights home.
We ended up having to separate as a family so that only 2 of us were overstaying our Bali visa.
Thankfully, insurance came to the rescue, and as soon as Hannah had medical clearance to fly, we took off home, arriving back on October the 6th 2018, narrowly missing the first anniversary of my Father’s death.
Back to reality.
Back to business.
It was time to start my business all over again for the third time!
This time, properly and with intent to go on…
I recognised that while I loved working with my husband, the business was a long way off from supporting both of us, and now our travel adventure was over he went back to work in a regular job.
2 0 1 9
I nicknamed 2019 the year of business.
This was my time to knuckle down and shine.
After all this waiting, it was finally time to put my money where my mouth was and create my first course.
After about a month of work, I did it – I proudly released my first course.
I released it to an email list of 198 people for the introductory price of $75.
I sold 6.
A 3% conversion rate to my email list.
And an on-page conversion rate of over 7%.
But I was CRUSHED!
Why did only so few people buy it?
Why did my launch fail?
So much work for so.little.money?
Spoiler alert: it didn’t fail!
I just had completely unrealistic expectations and had no idea that the industry standard conversion rate was 1-2%!
Or how to work out my conversion rate at all.
Not to be perturbed, and with continued inflated hopes, I went ahead and created my second course for a February release – Promote Like a BOSS. (Still my top selling course)
This time I decided to lower the first offer price and see if that helped.
This time I sold 4.
So I tried something new and created a bundle.
Sold a few more of those.
So I tried something new again – reduced the price again.
This time decided not to put so much effort into creating the course and try selling a 1 hour masterclass for $27.
This did the best of all of them.
Immediately after the workshop I made it available for $47 and sold some at that price point immediately.
So, I followed suit for a few more months with a few more topics.
6 months in by now and I’d learned a lot.
The biggest lesson was – expectations.
I’d started to learn my numbers.
And I’d started to learn launch strategy.
If I was going to make a living from courses – something significant had to change!
Not least of which, my marketing!
I spent the rest of the year investing copious amounts of time in playing around with different ways of doing things and taking course after course after course to up-skill myself big time.
If it wasn’t for my consulting income, and the comfort of my husband’s income, I would have really struggled throughout 2019 because my business model was broken.
By the end of 2019 I had learnt a lot and I had a much better plan for the Academy.
I just needed time to implement it.
2 0 2 0
2020 dawned and my consulting side was doing really well but it still wasn’t my focus.
I’d started to implement my plan for The Academy and it.was.working.
My course offerings were growing thanks to some new partnerships.
My student numbers were up.
My repeat customers were up.
And then came Covid.
“Oh crap” my clients went.
“Oh crap” I went as the flow on effect hit me hard.
My consulting clients dried up overnight as everyone went into survival mode.
I figured they’d come back but I had no idea when/if they’d come back.
What to do, what to do?!
So, I took it as an opportunity, knuckled down, put everything I’d spent the previous year learning to good use and worked like a trojan to get all the content out of my head into some sort of useful form.
Within 7 weeks I’d created 19 new courses.
It was my dream come true to get it all out of my head – because I knew this content would help my coaching business as well as my course business and I’d be able to leverage my time better.
I’d also created some free ones at the beginning so I could use them to audience build.
My student numbers went from 52 to over 300 in a matter of several weeks as everyone shared the timely courses (Zoom anyone?).
I then ran a 50% off sitewide sale in April.
Two days before the sale was due to end I was sitting at $700-something in sales.
I was so close to my first ever $1000 day exclusively from course sales, I could just smell it!
So, I decided to send the email I had scheduled for the next day out that evening.
Tick, tick, tick.
My family were all sitting around at this point with me waiting, because I’d passed my excitement on to them.
So I messaged Kirstyn, my trusty biz bestie, who I knew had planned to purchase one of the courses and asked her how she’d fancy pushing me over my first $1000 day.
She quickly replied back a “hell yes” and next minute I’d passed this new milestone.
My family all broke out into cheers.
Then something crazy happened.
It was like a dam broke and all of a sudden “ping, ping, ping, ping…” my phone went BESERK with orders.
Within 10 minutes I’d now sold another $800 of courses.
The kids did not want to go to bed but by this point it was after 9pm and it was time for them to retire for the night.
I however, wasn’t going to bed until I’d reached the next milestone – a $2000 day!
Around 10.30pm it happened – I reached $2007.
I fell asleep with a big smile on my face.
The next day was the final day of the 50% off sale.
I had another over $2000 day.
That month I’d had my first $10,000 month just from online sales.
I’d done it – I was a legit course creator.
But, what now – I couldn’t keep doing sales every month.
And also, while I thought not ‘locking’ my coaching clients into ongoing packages before had been my point of difference amongst coaches – after Covid hit I learnt it was very foolish for my own business because of how vulnerable it made me.
It was a huge HUGE lesson –
I realised that I was not only doing a disservice to myself by having such a flexible “pot luck” menu of offers, but that I was actually doing a disservice to my clients – since the biggest transformations were experienced with regular and consistent work with me.
It was time for me to fix my business model!
I put my thinking cap on to think “how can I turn the best of what I help my 1:1 clients with, into a group coaching program to help people have a really great transformation?”
And that’s how Flight Club was born.
My beta launch of Flight Club was totally imperfect.
I only confirmed the final offer over Zoom with my biz besties the day before my webinar.
I built the sales page and 100 slide webinar deck on the DAY of my webinar.
(Like I finished at 7pm for a 7.30pm webinar)
It was intense, and crazy.
But I took action and did it anyway because I knew with absolutely certainty it could really help people.
I had 169 people register for the webinar.
Around 50 people turn up live.
And 19 people sign up for Flight Club during the following 2 weeks.
An 11% conversion assuming everyone who signed up watched the workshop. (They didn’t)
I’d sold $30K worth of business in a month.
And I’d found a new model that fit me like a glove!
Goal now: focus all spare time on marketing and audience building, without creating anything new for a minimum of 6 months until I had some good evergreen funnels built.
Or so I thought!
However, someone else higher up had another plan.
Because 4 weeks after Flight Club started I fell on ice, splitting the back of my head open, and sustained a concussion.
It felt unfair – right in the middle of all this business growth!
By this point I had a very full 1:1 coaching load, and I’d only just started Flight Club, and was unable to deliver any of it for a time.
I had to take 4 weeks completely off, then start a very gradual return to work, overseen by my concussion rehab team.
So I’m forever grateful to the patience of my clients, and my club members.
And it was another opportunity to learn!
5 months later and I’m still only back to around 50-60% capacity.
All my work time goes to client delivery and admin.
There’s very little time left for marketing, or business development.
And it looks like that will be my reality until at least March now.
It just is what is is.
So, this month marks 5 years since I officially started my business.
However, as you’ve just read, my “business” has gone through at least 3 major rebirths since it all began.
Only in 2019 did I really begin to focus on growing The Helpful Academy as it is now.
And only in 2020 could I say that I finally “found my groove” with it all.
I think that’s one of the biggest traps when you’re a service-based consultant – you spend so much time helping other people grow their businesses, that you run out of time to leave time to grow your own.
Especially if you have a whole bunch of life and family challenges alongside.
It’s like that old saying “the builder’s house is always the worst on the street.”
That’s something I’m working hard at improving.
But, all that learning and “doing” for my own business, has taught me so much. I’ve had the freedom to take risks that I’d never take with client’s businesses. And the lessons have been invaluable.
I’m a much better and more knowledgeable coach as a result.
Here are the 5 most valuable lessons I learnt in the first 5 years.
- It’s impossible to grow two businesses at the same time. I resisted this lesson for a long long time, and it hurt my business growth badly.
Where focus goes, energy flows!
- The money is in your Customer Pathway – so it pays to lay this foundation early and make sure your Pathway is profitable.
- Marketing is everything.
- The best time to start growing an email list is 5 years ago. The second best time is today!
- Outsourcing is essential. If your business relies solely on you then it’s not really a business.
If you made it this far – WELL DONE!
And you might be sitting there thinking – why would Kat share all that personal stuff. I thought twice about it trust me!
But, here’s the thing – it’s easy to sit there and compare your business progress to the next person’s.
Some will look at the stage of business I’m at and think “how tiny” and other’s might think “wow – I’d love to be at that stage”.
Regardless of what you think about my business – comparing your business to anyone else’s is a bad idea.
Everyone has their own unique road they’re walking.
Everyone has their own unique challenges.
Everyone has their own unique goals and speed they wish to go!
Today I want to encourage you to focus on your own road. Your business journey is your journey.
Do you to the best of your ability.
And that’s the best you can do.
I’m really proud of what I’ve created, and the point I’ve got to.
But, as you’ve read, I’ve had my own fair share of challenges!
Through all my personal challenges, the biggest thing I’ve held true is “family comes first” and “my time will come…”
PS – Remember how I originally only sold 4 copies of Promote Like a BOSS?
Well fast forward not quite 2 years and it’s now my best-selling course, and the foundation for everything I do in both my 1:1 coaching & Flight Club.
My how things change!
About the author:
Kat Soper is the Founder and Head Trainer of The Helpful Academy Online Business School.
Kat is passionate about helping start-ups and small businesses succeed and achieve their business goals so that they can achieve the lifestyle they desire (and deserve).
Great story, thanks for sharing. You must be in the 7-years-good-luck stage now!
Thank you for the candid look behind the scenes. Authenticity and reality is a very strong trust factor in terms of building relationships. I’m busy moping about the whole COVID thing and I think you just gave me the kick up the backside to get my proverbial together!