Don’t worry about success or failure — I thought about writing online for 10 years before I finally jumped in and if there’s anything I regret, it’s that I didn’t start earlier. I wish someone told me to stop worrying so much about failure. It never gets less scary, if anything, it only gets worse with age. In the same vein, I would say don’t let the possibility of success scare you.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lily Ugbaja.
Lily is the founder of FindingBalance.Mom, a blog focused on helping ambitious moms with young kids “have it all”. Shortly after she had her first child, Lily dropped out of college (on a fully-funded scholarship), threw in her resignation, and became a stay-at-home mom. But instead of finding the balance she sought, she turned her ambition onto her child and became a sad mom whose self-worth rested on how well her 2-year old behaved in public. That was when Lily decided that she wanted it all. Over the course of the years, she started a blog, a Pinterest VA business, and a writing business. She eventually started FindingBalance.Mom to share everything she had learned on the road to success. Now she runs FindingBalance.Mom along with her other blogs; Dollar Creed and Mom Baby Heart with a team of eight.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Growing up, I was always lost in books or my imagination. I have my mom to thank for that, we had our own bookshelf full of colorful books from around the world. I remember sneaking away from playgroups to hide and read, or imagine stories on my own. When I read, I could see the stories come to life before my eyes. I still remember narrating a particular story to my older sister where there was a picture of a heart. I was like “so her heart started beating kpukum kpukum…” and she’s like “how do you know that’s how it beat?” and I said, “I saw it!”. Haha! As I got older, my mom got us a used computer that came pre-installed with Encarta (an encyclopedia) and Cake Mania (a game). Those two apps changed my life. I became addicted to the colorful world of Encarta and eventually, learning on the internet. Playing Cake Mania on the other hand got me so obsessed with saving, multiplying money, and understanding opportunity cost for everything. So I saved up my lunch break money for a few weeks then started a business making and selling snacks to high school students when I was 10.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I was a stay-at-home mom who didn’t want to go back to work. So I turned to the internet to search for things I could do to make money from home. I tried out surveys, academic research, and a few other things but they were all boring to me. This wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to make money on my schedule, doing something I loved.
And then it hit me. Maybe I could sell my writing online. That was the beginning that led me to full-time blogging, and freelance writing. But it’s not been smooth all through, there’s been a failed kindle book, a failed blog, and even a failed freelance writing career in between.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Oh, I know the feeling. I too didn’t implement my ideas for almost 10 years. For me, what changed was that I took responsibility. And when I say I “took responsibility” it means I had a baby. Haha! With a baby who was going to depend on me for a better future, I couldn’t afford to not give him my best. I also knew that the older he got, the more bills I would have to pay and if I didn’t start then –when he was little– I would be trapped in an endless circle of working the status quo, fearing my dreams would clash with what’s best for my son. The only option was to realize my dreams before bills became a priority. Of course, I may not have been able to do it without my husband who bore most of the responsibilities, and my mom who actually believed in and supported me even though she didn’t understand me.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I would ask “why”? Because what you should do, depends on what’s going on, what’s stopping you.
If it’s fear of failure, I would say think “what if I never try?”. Can you live with all the what-ifs that will come in the future? What is your idea of success? If success is worldwide recognition to you, then I see why you’d be scared of failure. Can you lower the bar? Does failure still seem likely if you decide to start small? There’s John, and Martha succeeding locally with your idea already, no? If it’s the security of a paycheck or a lack of funds that’s stopping you then go at it part-time. In the end, the answer to all fears is to just start. Take the least scary effort that gets you started and keep building on that within your comfort zone. I promise you’ll start to take action and things will start to take off once you get comfortable with the idea of taking it slow.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I have a side hustle. In fact, sometimes my full-time job feels like the side hustle where I’m doing just enough to maintain it while working on something else I’m pumped about at that moment. The idea is that I take breaks away from my business when I need to. But that time away is still beneficial to my business because my side hustle teaches me things that I can use in my business. So it’s a break to recharge me, but it’s also an education that gives me new ideas. The other thing is to outsource. Keep calculating your hourly rate and once you can afford to outsource a part of your business you’d rather not handle yourself, do it. Outsource everything with lower hourly rates, things you aren’t skilled at too. In fact, I tend to start outsourcing and delegating a little before I need to. Smart projections of what you could achieve if you didn’t have to work on those things will help with this. The other thing that keeps me going is gratitude, I can do what I love for a living, I try to remind myself each day that not everyone can.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Freedom. Or at least the illusion of freedom. I think all entrepreneurs can agree that one of the best things about running your own business is the flexibility you get. Need to spend time with family all week? Great! I’ll just push work over to next weekend. It’s not full control because you still need to get the work done, but you at least decide where (coffee shop or bedroom), when, and how. That’s something that’s only beginning to catch on in the mainstream workforce.
But the problem with this autonomy is that you can procrastinate a ton when there’s no boss breathing down your neck. One of the things that help me beat procrastination is using deadlines. I mentioned before that I have a side hustle, my side hustle involves clients so they’re like a boss in a way and those deadlines keep me accountable. So I know that I’m either working on the client work for the sake of my reputation or wasting time that I should be investing in my own business. So get something that keeps you accountable, and stop worrying about perfection.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
When I first started blogging, and even freelance writing, I thought it would be just about writing. I didn’t realize I would have to become a marketer, a tech whiz, a customer service rep, e.t.c. I didn’t realize the amount of work it was to turn a hobby into a business. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t know, I may never have done it otherwise!
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
No, never. But there were times when I thought I should be a singer instead. Haha! I guess it’s because my “why?” was stronger than just the passion for writing. Passion can die out, a “why?” is what keeps you going. I never lost focus on why I was doing it for a living as opposed to just doing it as a hobby.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ok, when I first started freelance writing on Upwork, I heard that the way to go was to get a 5-star review so once I learned how to pitch my service to win gigs, I won a 1,000 dollars contract with a client who was very happy with my communication. Like he was excited to work with me.
Next thing I know I’m doing the research, writing his work. I spent several days with sleepless nights getting him the first article only to get the “that’s not what I was looking for” response. So I’m pissed but I say, “I’ll fix it, you tell me what to fix”. So he tells me what to fix but I still don’t get it right and he says “what if I pay you 1/4 the agreed amount?”. What! I got booted off Upwork for that job. I actually had the nerve to tell the client I’d accept half payment if he gave me a 5-star review.
Lesson learned — if you are working for clients, you need to step into their shoes and learn what it means to deliver what they’ll consider value before you learn to sell.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I won’t really call myself a leader but there are women in the digital marketing space that I look to and think “when am I going to be like that?” Alex Tachalova is one example, Elise Dopson is another. And there’s Ann Handley and Joanna Wiebe too. I love how excellent these women are in what they do, like you can’t have a conversation around marketing and not mention them and not just because everyone knows them. It’s because they always break things, bring out fresh and original ideas. I love their commitment to excellence.
And for moms who really inspired me to take action, I would name Ruth Soukup and Elna Cain. When you add a commitment to excellence plus little kids and come out on top, you’re a badass in my opinion.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’m not where I want to be yet with what I do to make the world a better place but I’m starting from around me. While I’ve started to donate quite some to charity, what makes me most proud is my team of eight all recruited locally. A good majority are mothers like me who would be stuck otherwise. Now they can be home with their kids while they work, learn, and earn. Each Monday, when I pay, every member of my team sends me a heart-felt thank you message and it inspires me to work harder. I know it is work still but I feel like I’m changing lives and families with the opportunity I’m creating. I guess you can say that my team inspires me to be a good leader.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t worry about success or failure — I thought about writing online for 10 years before I finally jumped in and if there’s anything I regret, it’s that I didn’t start earlier. I wish someone told me to stop worrying so much about failure. It never gets less scary, if anything, it only gets worse with age. In the same vein, I would say don’t let the possibility of success scare you.
- Follow the process — There are no shortcuts, overnight success only looks like it to the people looking from the benches. Let’s use J.K Rowling as an example, it took her at least 5 years of behind-the-scenes work to complete Harry Potter. Following the process isn’t just about paying your dues, it’s about building a solid foundation for your business, it’s about failing at the right time, it’s about learning everything you need to know to make sure you never go bankrupt.
- Some broken things can be fixed some can’t — I have RSI (repetitive strain injury) from consistently working in weird positions while nursing a baby. I wish someone had told me to take care of my health, to sleep and eat first. You lose a client, you can always find another one, you lose good health, it takes years if at all to recover. It’s the same for family, friends, missing out on life and experiences, balancing and prioritizing the right things is key to all-round success.
- Your worth isn’t the same as your work’s worth — I wish someone had told me that my work is not me. When it comes to pricing, experts always say “know your worth”, but your client isn’t paying for you, they are paying for the problem you help them solve. What’s that worth? Let that be the guiding principle behind setting your rates. For instance, I thought my worth was 50 dollars+ per hour with my Upwork client but he was thinking about what the article was worth for his business, in his industry. So even though I had spent over 72 hours on the first article, it meant nothing to him at all.
- The right time to delegate is before you need to — If you are waiting till you absolutely need to bring help onboard, you are waiting too long. It takes more time to explain, teach, and guide someone to do what you usually do yourself than it takes to get it done yourself. That’s why it’s best to start delegating and fine-tuning processes with a team just before you need to. If you wait till the last minute –like I always did until recently– it will cost more time and money in the long run.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would create a “Power Nigeria” movement. The power situation in Nigeria is probably one of the biggest obstacles to growth. When I was just starting out, power was the main challenge I faced. I would walk several miles with a baby on my back to find steady power just to meet deadlines. Eventually, I scraped together enough money and got a DC battery that lasts 48 hours but not everyone knows they exist, not all of them are good, and not everyone can afford the 150 dollars or so to get one.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Can I share three, please? “If you want to do something you’ll find a way, if not you’ll find an excuse.” — Jim Rohn, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough” — no idea who said it, and “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” — Eleanor Rosevelt.
I come from Nigeria where I had to face another whole level of challenges to get to where I’m at today, I had to be able to kill all excuses to do that. Then being grateful to be able to work my dream job from anywhere, no matter how little the income helped me enjoy my beginning. And finally, Eleanor’s quote has held my hand since I was a bullied teen. No one can make me feel embarrassed, sad, inadequate… without my consent.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Rand Fishkin. Not just because he created Moz but because of what Moz is. It’s an equal community that’s never had him left-right-front-and-center. Rand also has very deep knowledge of what he’s talking about and is not afraid to drop things and start something new. Like what he’s doing with SparkToro. It also feels like he’s an amazing husband.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you for having me!