The other day, I asked my Instagram followers, if they would be interested in learning more about how I built my business, and I was flooded with questions. So I’m going to be giving a quick overview of exactly how I became the founder of Inspired Budget, even though it was never in my plans! And then I’m going to answer some of the most common questions I received.

If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like to start a business that runs completely online, then I’m going to be outlining exactly how I did that.

This is a business that allows me to work from home in my home office, while my kids are actually just outside my office in the living room, finishing up their summer break, it allows me to take trips and have the flexibility that being a teacher just didn’t give me.

So if it’s starting your own business is something that you’re interested in or if you’re just curious and wondering what it’s like for a small business owner to work completely online, then you’re going to love this episode.

Woman on phone

The Road to Becoming a Business Owner

I feel like for me to explain to you how I ended up running my own business, I have to start back to a time when I didn’t even realize that this was a possibility for me. I got my degree, my bachelor’s degree, in elementary education. And I will never forget, in my very last year in college, I was student teaching. I was doing my observations in the classroom. And I remember being put in these classrooms, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t think this is what I want to do. I’m not enjoying this.’ I was roommates with a friend who loved it. And I was thinking, ‘What’s wrong? Did I make a mistake?’ But I felt like I had already committed so much of my time and money (AKA debt) that the idea of changing things up just terrified me.

So I pushed forward through in student teaching and ended up in a second grade classroom. And I was like, ‘This is a little bit better, but I don’t really know if this is what’s right for me.’ But I didn’t feel like I had another choice. I felt like ‘Oh my gosh, I got this degree, I’m just going to forge ahead. I’ll fake it until I make it. I’m sure I’ll love it eventually. Maybe once I have my own classroom, everything will be better.’

And I just want you to know that the thought of doing something else, the thought of breaking away from what I had always planned on doing terrified me. And it was enough to keep me stuck where I was and unhappy in my job for years. So I just want to make that a point, that you’re not too old. It’s not too late to throw a curveball when it comes to your job. To throw a curveball and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to change up what I’m doing. Because what I’m doing right now isn’t bringing me joy. And I only have so much time left in my life that I want to spend it doing things that makes me happy.’ Okay, back to the story.

When I was teaching, I realized that I’m good at it. It’s not that I was not a good teacher. I was a great teacher. But I didn’t like everything that came along with teaching. I’m talking things like low pay, or even just a pay scale that you can’t negotiate. You couldn’t increase. You were stuck in almost this ladder taking one small step up every year. I also didn’t like the fact that it was so hard to take a day off of work. Anybody who’s a teacher knows that it is easier to go to school and show up sick than it is to get a substitute teacher and get them to take care of everything. Not to mention, subs are hard to come by. So the inability to take time off, or the guilt for taking time off for me was just so high. Besides all the extra paperwork, there’s just not a lot of room for growth. If you’re not going to be a principal or an administrator, which I never wanted to do, then you’re just kind of stuck where you are. There’s not room for you to grow both financially and in your salary and in your position. And the one thing, the one thing that really bothered me about teaching,
and teachers you can relate to this, the better you are at teaching, the more administration puts on you. So the better you are at getting kids to pass a standardized test. The better you are with having discipline in your classroom, the harder kids you get. The more dependable you are in a certain area, the more you are asked to deliver.

And the thing is, that’s fine. If I’m going to have more put on my plate, then give me a raise, give me a bonus, give me something. But that was never the case. And so for years, I stayed up until 2am asking Google what can I do with a teaching degree? Because I was done! But I stayed in it for years and years out of fear. I honestly had no freaking clue what on earth I wanted to do, or what I even could to besides teach.

And so I stayed where I was. I stayed in my comfort zone, because the fear of leaving my comfort zone was enough to stop me.

So fast forward eight years, Matt and I have paid off all of our debt. And I became surprisingly passionate about personal finance. Which is news to me, because I love spending money. And I never thought I would like budgeting. So I am passionate about personal finance, we’ve paid off our debt, I can’t stop talking about it with my friends with my family. And one day I’m at a family even during Easter and my cousin-in-law, Janet, who actually I interviewed on Episode 59 of the podcast. She basically said ‘Alison, listen, you clearly have a passion for this, you clearly are good at it. You’re already a teacher. So you should start an online business.’ And I was like, ‘An online what? Like, is that a thing? What can I do? And she is the person who really planted that seed and almost gave me permission to try something that I never thought was possible, that I never even considered. And so thank you, Janet.

Within two weeks, Inspired Budget began. Really, it started out as a blog. And it was my goal to help others, specifically women, get un-stuck on their journey to financial freedom. But I also realized that I had found the thing that I was staying up until 2am searching for years ago. This was the thing. Once I realized that, ‘Hey, I can do this. I can have an online business where I help people. Where I’m still using my skills of teaching,’ I was obsessed.

And so what started as a blog and growing my social media following has led to some amazing things in my business. It’s led to my Inner Circle membership, where I’m helping almost 1,000 women learn to budget, pay off debt, and more importantly, develop the confidence they need to change their finances and build wealth. It’s led to amazing brand deals where I get to actually share brands that I believe in with my audience and partner with them. It’s led to this podcast. I would have never thought about starting a podcast before! And it gives me a way to reach other people that might not read a blog or might not follow me on social media. It’s led to a book deal with a publishing company, which is crazy to me! And most importantly, it’s helped thousands of women along the way.

Now, was building this business easy? Heck, no. It was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. But was it worth it? Absolutely. I just want you to see that the journey, my journey, wasn’t a linear path. I didn’t always know what I was doing. There a lot of times that I messed up along the way.

But to me, looking at my life now, I consider my life and my business a success. Does it earn the most money out there compared to other personal finance brands? No. But to me, success looks like being able to pay my bills, being able to hire out work for contractors, being able to have Kahlie as my employee and be able to pay her a full-time competitive salary. Success to me looks like being able to take my kids to school every day, being able to pick them up from school and help them with homework. Success, to me looks like being able to answer the phone when they get sick at school and run up there and pick them up. It looks like having the flexibility to take a day off when I need it when I need a mental health day, and not having to ask someone else for permission, not having to write up substitute teacher plans. And then success for me ultimately looks like making an impact and making an impact in a way that makes me proud. And that helps women not just today, not just this month, not just this year, but for the rest of their life. And so, to me, I feel successful.

Now, don’t get me wrong, of course, I still struggle with comparison. But I always have to come back to, ‘I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives, I don’t know the behind-the-scenes of someone else’s business. And if I’m successful, then that’s what matters, if I feel successful.’

Now that I’ve given you a simple overview of my business, I want to get into some specific questions that I received on Instagram.

How much money did you start with?

So I started with $0. When I started my business, the joy, the beauty of having an online business is I didn’t necessarily have to invest in physical products. I didn’t have to invest in a storefront. My expenses really included a laptop computer, which I had already on-hand. It included some online software. And it included running a blog, which running a blog is very inexpensive. So I started with $0. I think in my first year, I maybe made a couple of $1,000. I honestly can’t remember I’d have to go back and look at it. And I did not keep track of that. One thing I definitely did wrong was I let my personal finances and my business finances intermingle. So it’s even hard for me to know how much I made to be honest. Thankfully, though, I learned my lesson on that, and I fixed it. But I didn’t start with money. I didn’t go out and get funding, I didn’t take out debt. I didn’t put anything on a credit card. When I did spend the money. It came from my personal money. However, I was able to replace that. So for the most part, I would say that my business always made enough money to cover my expenses. So that’s a really good thing.

Now, is this possible for every single business? Absolutely not. One of my best friends, they are entrepreneurs. And her and her husband run a gym. A gym is much more expensive to run than my business. They have the rent, they have the equipment, they have to have people on-site. They have a lot more when it comes to running their business. So they did have to start with a loan.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case for me. And that’s what made it, for me, an easy entry point. Because if it had been something that I had to go into debt for, I wouldn’t have done it. I had just had such a negative experience with debt that I couldn’t fathom going through that again. So how much money did I start with? Nothing. Absolutely not even one penny. But I did it and my expenses at the beginning were so minimal, that by the time I started making money, I was able to easily replace that. I maybe spent, I don’t know, $200 at first of my own personal money and it quickly, I mean within reason, quickly recouped that plus more.

How are you able to produce consistent income?

This is a great question. So I’m going to pull back the curtain on my income and share with you how I actually make money. Now, I want to first preface this with saying, I did not jump into my business and start making money in all of these ways. I slowly added income sources or income streams throughout the years. I’ve been in business for five years. So I like to think of it as slowly adding these income streams. Once I mastered an income stream, that’s when I would branch out to another one. And I think that’s what helped me really grow my business in a way that was scalable, because I didn’t stretch myself really thin, even though it felt like that at times. And I did make some of those mistakes in the beginning.

So here’s how I used to make money at the very beginning. I made money in two ways. I made money from ads on my website, and I’m talking pennies, I made pennies, so maybe $5 in a whole year because I was not in a good ad network yet. And I didn’t have a lot of traffic coming to my website, but I still made money. The other way that I made money is I actually opened up an Etsy shop. I don’t have an Etsy shop anymore. Now I sell all my products on my own website. But I didn’t know how to do that back then. And I created what I’m honestly a little embarrassed about, a budget binder. If I could go back and look at it now, I would say, ‘Oh my gosh, Allison, what were you thinking? This looks awful.” But it was my best that I had at the time, which is totally okay. I had room to learn. I literally created it in PowerPoint, like legit in PowerPoint on my computer. I remember staying up late at night after working a long job after putting my kids to bed making this budget binder printable, and I sold it. And while that did bring me an income, what I was doing simultaneously at the same time was building my social media following. I was showing up consistently, I was showing my face, I was posting helpful content, I was basically showing people, ‘Hey, look, I would love to help you.’ And then I would send people to that Etsy store. And that is what was my income for the whole first year, maybe actually the first year and a half. That was truly where my income came from.

Now, fast forward five years to where I am today. And now I have income from five main sources. So I’m gonna run through those sources real quick.

The first source is affiliate income. That means that if I give out a link, or I promote either an Amazon purchase, or someone else’s product or someone else’s digital course, if you buy it, I get part of the sale of that. So I’m not taking money from you. But whoever it is my audience purchases from, they give me a portion or a percentage of that sale, because I brought the sale to them. So for instance, I do this a lot with Jeremy from Personal Finance Club. I love his course! I think he does an amazing job at teaching about investing in index funds. And so we will host a webinar together, I invite all of my followers, and if you buy his super inexpensive course, through my link, I get a very small portion of that. And those small portions do add up. Now is this my biggest income source? No, it’s actually my lowest, this is my lowest income source. In fact, I’ll go in order from lowest to highest. So I thought, that that way you get an idea. So affiliate income, while it does make up a percentage of my income, it’s very small, maybe 4%. And my reason is, I don’t want to have to always rely on selling someone else’s course or getting affiliate income through another person. I would rather a majority of it comes through me because I can control that.

My second lowest income source comes from ads. So if you go on my website, you’re going to scroll past some ads, and I get money just by you scrolling past them. You don’t even have to click on them. Is it a lot of money? No I get paid anywhere from $20 to maybe $50 for every1000 views. So that helps me as well.

My third income source comes down to working with brands. If you’ve ever seen me share a sponsored posts on Instagram or on TikTok, or even sponsored blog posts, that brand is paying me to be able to share my opinion on their product or their brand or their company. So this is a really great way for me to share companies that I know and love in a way that helps earn me money and gets their message out, I receive, oh my goodness, probably 30-50 requests every single week from brands. And I would say that I take maybe 10 a year. And that’s it. Because it has to really resonate with me, I have to feel good about it. My motto is, if I would not recommend the brand to my best friend, Amanda, I’m not going work with them. And so I say no to a lot. And I’m happy that I get to do that. It means a lot to me that I can make sure that I’m promoting things that I actually believe in. Because some people don’t do that. Some people will promote whatever, and I don’t want to be that person.

The next income source, I’m actually going to bundle these together, it’s technically two different income sources, but we’re just for the sake of time, we’re going to put them together. And this is where I make a majority of my money over 50% comes from my membership and digital products. So I do have digital products on my website, you can buy my printables and guides, and they’re all digital, meaning that I don’t mail out anything, I don’t have any sort of printing that I have to do here, no running to the post office. So I like that because that means that I can live my life a little bit freer. And I also have that membership. The membership is the Inspire Budget Inner Circle, and it consists of a course and extra weekly bonus lessons along with monthly group coaching with me. We host monthly savings challenges and it’s a way for women to follow a step-by-step program that I created to help them take back control of their money. Out of all the things that I do in my business, the Inner Circle is the heart of my business. It’s what I look forward to working on the most. It’s what I love the most. It’s what I’m most proud of, because I am directly helping people. And right now, with this time, it’s the only way to work with me.

I’m gonna be honest with you, my income isn’t always consistent, because I don’t take on a ton of brand work, because I choose to say no to most of the brands that reach out to me, I don’t always have brand income coming in every single month, it’s not guaranteed. The same is true with affiliate income ads. It’s pretty consistent within a range. And then I would say that my membership is consistent. And my digital products are consistent as well. So while it’s not the same number coming in every single month in terms of income, I still pay myself the same amount every single month. So my personal income from the business is consistent.

How do you pay yourself while being self-employed?

Well, I have changed the way that I paid myself over the course of my business. In the very beginning of my business, when I was still working my 9 to 5 job when I was still a teacher, there were two years of time when I was teaching and running my business, and it was miserable. But during those two years of time, I didn’t pay myself from my business. I saved all of my money. I had what I called my ‘quit teaching fund.’ I literally labeled a savings account called ‘quit teaching.’ And so all of the money I was making went there. And of course covering the expenses of my business and saving for taxes. Then once I quit teaching, I started paying myself a percentage of whatever my business was making every month. And while this was a great idea in my head, It led to a lot of stress and frustration, because I never knew how much I was actually going to make. And that really stressed me out going from a super consistent income to a very inconsistent income. It threw me for a loop. Eventually, I moved to paying myself just a set amount of money every single month. And if I made more than that amount that I was paying myself, I put it in another checking account essentially to build up what I like to call my ‘income bucket’ or my ‘owner’s compensation account.’ And I would build it up so that way I always had money to pay myself but now these days I’m actually an LLC that is taxed as an S-corp, which means that I am actually a W-2 employee of my business. So I am paid every single month by my business. Taxes are taken out of my check, and my business contributes some taxes as well. So I get a consistent income. I set a salary and I am paid consistently every month. And out of all the ways I’ve been paid, this is by far my favorite.

What’s the best advice you’ve received when starting or that you would tell someone?

I received some advice a couple of years ago from Patrice Washington, who’s wonderful, and she told me to focus on one thing. Just focus in on one thing. And when she told me that I realized that I had been pulling myself, stretching myself too thin and trying to do all of these things. And so I sat down, and I did a lot of journaling. And I said, ‘Okay, what am I truly passionate about? What am I so passionate about that I cannot wait to wake up in the morning and work on?’ And then, ‘How can I focus on that one thing in order to scale it, to get it to the next level, reach the next goal and keep climbing up this hill of goals to where I want to be.’

And that for sure was has changed the game for me in terms of financial revenue for my business. I doubled my revenue from one year to the next. And then in terms of me and my happiness, I felt more balanced and I had more time because I was able to put blinders on and ignore everything else that was calling out at my attention and say, ‘No, I’m not working on that. Right now, I’m working on this one thing, and I’m going to scale this one thing, because it’s what means the most to me.’ And for me, that’s my membership.

I mean, hands down, it’s the one thing that I am so proud of. I love and look forward to working on it. I spend most of my time thinking about ways to make it better and market it and get more women in it. Because so many women have become debt-free in it, they have started to build wealth, it has changed the way that they feel about money. And they have grown confident with money. When in the past, all they felt was stress and fear.

So for anyone starting a business, no matter what type of business it is, I want you to just spend time sitting down with pen and paper and figure out what are you most passionate about? And what’s the one thing you can do? If you were to focus on just one thing, what is it that will help you get to the next level? That’s what I did.

What are some of your biggest mistakes and how did you overcome them?

Oh, my goodness. So I would definitely say one of the biggest mistakes that I made, and that honestly I still struggle with, is getting caught up in comparing my business to someone else’s. So I’m going to tell you what I do to stop myself from doing this. I was comparing myself to someone’s business that had been in business for three to four years before me. And then I was saying, ‘Oh, my goodness, they’re doing X, Y, and Z. And they’re making this much money or they have this many followers or their online course or membership has this many people in it. And I realized that this didn’t motivate me, it just brought me down.

And so there are times when comparison can motivate you by giving you drive and that energy. But then there are times when comparison can drag you down, and it can make you lose hope about what you’re doing. And when I would cross into that mindset, that’s when I knew ‘Okay, hold on, this is not good.’

So I would definitely say that would be a mistake, that I would allow myself to stay in that mental space for too long. Now, I think it’s unreasonable to say you’re never going to feel that way. But now after going through therapy, I have some different techniques that I can use to help me just regulate and realize that there’s no good that comes from me comparing myself to this other person. So here’s some of the things that I do.

Number one, I go to therapy. I have a standing appointment with my therapist every four weeks and we talk about my business a lot because that’s where I tend to battle overcoming some of my mindset issues.

I also mute people on Instagram or even stopped following them, especially people that are in my same niche. Okay, I love following people that are in the personal finance space, but sometimes I’ve just had enough and I just need to see other things on social media that have nothing to do with money. And so I make it a point to mute those people, stop following them altogether and consume other content. I consume content that inspires me in other ways, and that I find personally enjoyable to watch or read or listen to.

And the last thing that I do to help with comparison is remembering that I am where I need to be at this time. And it’s okay, if it looks different than someone else’s journey. I think it’s very easy to look at someone’s life and think you know the whole picture. However, I had to remind myself that even though this person I’m comparing myself to might be surpassing me in terms of reach, helping people, or in terms of revenue, I don’t know what their day to day life looks like. And for me, success looks like being able to take my kids to school, being able to pick them up when they get home and not be working all evening. It looks like only working one night a month, really, maybe two nights of work at night, it looks like taking the weekends off. And I have to remember that when someone is more successful with me in terms of revenue, that I don’t just measure success by revenue. And I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. And that really helped me combat comparison. The same is true when you start comparing your life to someone else’s, in terms of what they have financially or their home, or anything. You don’t know what the behind the scenes looks like. You don’t know how often they’re working. You don’t know how much debt they have. And so we have to always bring it back.

And that’s one thing I try to do is what does success look like for me? And if I’m on the right track to meet that, then I’m doing my part, then I’m happy. And so I always bring myself back to that. So I hope this gives you just a little bit of insight into what it looks like for me to grow a business that is completely 100% online. And if you enjoyed this episode, it would mean the world to me if you shared it with a friend, or you just took a screenshot and you shared it on social media and you tagged me in it. Thank you so much!