Treat your business like a business. Speak to an accountant and lawyer early on so you can decide on the best entity for your business. Also, it makes accounting so much easier if you have a separate banking account and credit card to keep expenses organized for taxes. Use the proper legal disclosure on your website and for affiliate marketing. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help and to hire experts to make your life easier. In the beginning, I spent hours trying to set up my website. I still prefer to do these types of things on my own but I really shouldn’t have done all of it. I’ve made many mistakes that I wish I hadn’t. Finally, spend money on services that help to automate your business.
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 Michelle Platt.
Michelle Platt is the founder of the website mypursestrings.com where she writes mostly about wellness, Peloton, and hosts a virtual book club. A native New Yorker, Michelle moved to the suburbs of Minneapolis during the Polar Vortex and has been hibernating ever since. She has two kids, two dogs, and one husband.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in New York City. I always wanted to be a writer. In 6th grade, my best friend and I created Unicorn Magazine on my dot matrix printer. We sold it for 10 cents per copy. Each issue contained all the biggest news, gossip, and trending topics within our middle school. Thirty years later, my best friend and I still talk every day.
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?
Once my youngest child was getting close to kindergarten age, I realized I wanted to go back to work full-time. I had been consulting for various companies here and there. I decided then that I should pursue my real passion: writing.
But I had no writing portfolio. I found outdated legal briefs from my attorney days and lesson plans from my teaching career. I could show potential employers the first few chapters of my unedited novel or some unpublished short stories but I knew this wasn’t enough.
I realized that many of these jobs required an understanding of WordPress, websites, and social media. I decided to create a blog even though I had zero interest in becoming a blogger. There, I could show a few samples of my writing.
The attorney in me got to work, and I researched everything. I worked tirelessly on setting up my website for months, watching YouTube videos and listening to various podcasts. My favorite one recommended applying to the Amazon Affiliate program and monetizing from day one, even with no audience. I added a few affiliate links to my blog post drafts.
l I finally launched my website a few months later with three blog posts and shared it on Facebook. Over the next couple of months, I added more content and started to learn more about the blogging world.
My ah-ha moment occurred six months later. I had surprised one of my friends in London for her 40th birthday. While I was there, I checked my Google Analytics and my Amazon Affiliate account. I had made enough money to cover my plane ticket. Maybe this writing portfolio was actually the writing job I had wanted all this time.
I learned so much that I even started a side business with that friend of mine mentioned earlier where we created content and blog posts for small businesses. In the last five years, I’ve taken courses, joined blogging Facebook groups, connected with other bloggers, and worked full-time on my blog. At the end of 2020, I launched the MyPurseStrings shop, selling digital worksheets and a handcrafted Home Gym Wall Organizer to store workout accessories. I’ve also given SEO workshops to businesses. As for the blog, I’ve been a one-woman show but I’m ready to hire someone this year.
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?
I think if you’re passionate about something, it comes through. I know this sounds cliche but it’s true. I love what I do because I get to write about topics that I love. This comes through in my writing and weekly newsletters.
I’ve pivoted from my early days when I named my website MyPurseStrings. At the time, I wanted to write about saving money through apps and technology. The first post I published was about using the Peloton app with a spin bike. Peloton was new to the scene and the app was free. Now, I have a ton of Peloton content on my website. I know it’s what my readers gravitate towards. Although I still talk about savings a bit, my site now has a more wellness focus. I describe my blog as the anti-mom blog. I write for women who want to find ways to focus on themselves, whether through fitness, healthy habits, and even books.
You need to be flexible with your business. If something’s not working, it’s OK to try something new, to change your focus. Identify the needs of your clients (or in my case, readers) and give them workable solutions to their problems. It’s no surprise that my most popular blog posts are How-To articles. I make it easy for my reader. I give them the information and the tools they need. This is where my lawyer and teaching skills come together.
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?
In the blogging world especially, many people are afraid to treat their blog as a business. If you want your hobby to become your business, treat it like a business. I didn’t spend very much money on my blog in the beginning but now I know, I need to spend money to make money.
You also need to ask yourself, do you really think you can make money from your hobby? This happens in the blogging world too. So many bloggers write about what they love, often in a diary format, and then wonder why they’re not getting traffic. You’re not writing for yourself. You’re writing for your reader. Just because you love something doesn’t mean that there is a niche for it. Do your research. And once you determine that there is potential, be prepared to work hard and put 100 percent into it.
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 remind myself constantly how lucky I am to do what I am doing. I work from home, have flexibility during the week for appointments and my kids. I don’t have a boss breathing over my shoulder or criticizing me when something goes wrong. I get to wake up every morning and do what I love: writing.
If you can, hire someone and delegate the tasks you dread. Also, find your community. Every day I learn something new. I think that’s another thing that keeps it fresh. I never stop learning and as I do, I focus on new ways to improve my business. I think humans should never stop learning.
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?
The things I love about running my business and the downsides are one and the same. I’m jealous of my husband’s office relationships. All day long, he shares ideas with colleagues and gets feedback. When you have your own business, you’re on your own. It can feel lonely and I have to make decisions that really only I can make. At the same time, I try not to be so hard on myself if something fails. I just move on and try something new.
Another thing I love about blogging is the flexibility. If I need to take some time off, I do it. I don’t have to clear my schedule. However, the downside is that there is no end to my day. I work seven days per week (and since I love it, it doesn’t truly feel like work) but it’s often hard to decompress and shut down for the day.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought when I started my writing portfolio, that I would get a job writing for someone else, writing what they wanted me to write, with strict deadlines and feedback. Obviously, none of that applies to me.
But when I launched my blog, I had no idea how much work would be involved. I think my friends and family still don’t realize how many hours I put into it. Often, they’ll come across a job posting within their companies that they think is perfect for me. When I say I don’t have time for another job, they wonder what I’m doing. They think I write a blog post and then I’m done.
I sometimes say “all I want to do is write.” I wear so many hats. I come up with topics, write the blog posts, edit them, optimize them for SEO, revise old posts, create images, manage social media including Pinterest, send out newsletters, deal with tech issues, promote my blog and my shop. It’s honestly exhausting and hard to do it all.
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?
As I just mentioned, I’ve had friends send some really interesting jobs my way, with good salaries for good companies. I’ve thought about pursuing them. But I also know I can’t walk away from my “baby.” I’ve spent so much time, money, and energy growing it and want to continue to see it evolve.
I also know that taking a “real job” would mean not having the flexibility with my family that I currently have with my own business.
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?
Well, it’s still cringeworthy for me. Back in 2016, when I wrote my first Peloton app blog post, there were no Peloton commercials. I only knew one person who had one, my brother, and that’s how I came to learn about it.
So when I decided to make a YouTube video (very low production I might say), I pronounced Pel-O-Ton, Pelotin, like Pelican. I honestly had never heard anyone say the name before. This video has been viewed almost 200,000 times.
The video is still there. I think we all need to not be so hard on ourselves. I actually think this video probably makes me more authentic.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
This is going to sound corny but my kids inspire me. I want them to see that if you want to succeed, you need to work at it, really work at it.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have blog posts about how to support independent bookshops and others about supporting businesses that do good in the world. I’ve connected with companies trying to make positive change and when I can, I mention them in my newsletters and blog posts.
But in many ways, I hope that people take away the lessons from my blog that it’s OK to not have it all together. It’s more than OK to take some time for yourself away from your kids to work out, read a book, or binge-watch a show. I think moms, especially now more than ever, have taken on so much: their kids’ education, their jobs, the upkeep of their home, that they forget who they are away from these roles.
I’m also generous with my time. If someone needs help with their business in any way or wants to launch a blog, I’m always happy to get on the phone or meet up and assist them.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Blogging is a ton of work. Know what you’re getting into beforehand. Do your research. As I said, I had no idea the amount of work that went into blogging. I now know how to write for SEO, edit code, create graphics, send out newsletters, do pitches, and market my business. Writing is often the easy part for me. Also, I can’t think of a single day in the last five years that I didn’t work even a little bit. People have assumptions about blogging and it took me a long time to admit that’s what I do for a living. I would meet someone and they would ask me, “are you home with your kids?” I would say yes and leave it at that. Finally, my husband told me to let people know that I had a job and that I worked hard.
- Narrow your niche. You can’t be everything to everyone. Initially, I chose a niche and blog name about something I didn’t want to write about forever. Then I branched out to other topics. Then I reeled it back in again. Know your niche and stick with it.
- Treat your business like a business. Speak to an accountant and lawyer early on so you can decide on the best entity for your business. Also, it makes accounting so much easier if you have a separate banking account and credit card to keep expenses organized for taxes. Use the proper legal disclosure on your website and for affiliate marketing. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help and to hire experts to make your life easier. In the beginning, I spent hours trying to set up my website. I still prefer to do these types of things on my own but I really shouldn’t have done all of it. I’ve made many mistakes that I wish I hadn’t. Finally, spend money on services that help to automate your business.
- Always write with user intent. This means you must write for your reader. A lot of new bloggers worry about what their friends and family will think of a blog post. The reality is they probably won’t even read your blog and if they do, they’re hopefully, a small portion of your audience. Write for your target audience. Sure, you can write a blog all about your kids, but truthfully, it’s very hard to monetize something like that. People want to know what you can do for them. If you rely on organic traffic as I do, ideally, someone types something into Google and lands on your site with the hopes that your blog post will answer their query. So take the time to write a thorough blog post to do just that.
- Blogging can be a lonely endeavor. When I lived in New York, I was lucky to have met some experienced bloggers who taught me so many things. I looked forward to our monthly in-person meetings. Then I moved halfway across the country, the pandemic started, and I found myself working alone all the time. I’m a social person and I do miss having co-workers. But I’ve found some great connections over the years, including Facebook groups. Just popping in for a few minutes to see what everyone’s talking about can give me a bit of a social outlet. Some of my closest friends in real life are other entrepreneurs trying to grow their own businesses.
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.
When I graduated from college, everyone either went into accounting, medicine, or law. I wanted a creative job but I got scared so I went to law school. As a lawyer, I felt unfulfilled. It took me many years to embrace my passion. Don’t be afraid to follow yours. Encourage your kids to enter a career that fosters creativity if that’s what they choose.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” We all do this. There’s that perfect couple who you find out isn’t so perfect.
Don’t self-sabotage yourself by comparing yourself constantly to others. From the outside, it may look like your competitor has it all together but appearances can be deceiving. This is especially true in the blogging world. I see income reports from others and just when I think I’m doing great, I’m brought down a notch. Or when I see how many social media followers someone has compared to me, you start questioning yourself and wondering what you’re doing wrong. Instead, applaud yourself for all the things you’re doing right. No matter your business, you will feel a bit lost at some points.
I thought the movie “Fake Famous” was very eye-opening about the lengths influencers will go to project a certain lifestyle and image. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. You have no idea of their reality.
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.
I would love to meet Darren Rowse from ProBlogger. I learned so much from him in the early days from his podcasts. I truly believe that without him, I would never have had the courage to launch my blog.
And if I can pick a second person, I would want to sit with Robin Arzon from Peloton. Like me, she is a former attorney. She even has a book called “Running from the Law.” We both left the law to follow our passion. I think she’s a true inspiration to all women to be fearless, to follow their hearts, and to grow strong both emotionally and physically. I took a live class with her in the Peloton studio but she had to run to a meeting so I never said a word to her.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.