There are so many different types of ittybiz owners in the world, but so often only the biggest or flashiest ones get represented in the media we consume.
To counter this, I've been interviewing real IttyBiz customers and clients so that you can see the variety and diversity of solo businesses out there – and the different ways that people run their business and manage their work.
So without further ado, I'd love to introduce you to IttyBiz customer…
Hey Noa! What do you & your ittybiz do?
I sometimes describe what I do by saying that I’m a violinist-turned-performance psychologist. In that I started playing the violin when I was 2, and went to school to become a musician – but as I was finishing up my masters at Juilliard, realized that I had never asked myself if I actually wanted to become a musician. And when I did, discovered that the answer, actually, was nope, not so much.
So then I went to get a PhD in psychology, and now I specialize in teaching musicians how to utilize principles from sport and performance psychology to manage nerves and pressure more effectively, and perform their best on stage when it matters most.
Sometimes this means one-on-one coaching, but primarily, this happens through my blog/podcast, live and self-paced online courses, workshops, and university courses.
Where can people find your website?
You can find me at bulletproofmusician.com.
How long have you been running this business?
I signed up for web hosting and registered my domain name in April 2009, and my very first blog post was published on July 8, 2009, so it’s been about 12 years now!
Why did you start this business? What was the catalyst or “reason why”?
So… I had my masters from Juilliard, and then I did another masters in counseling and a PhD at Indiana University. And then, it took another couple years to get licensed as a psychologist. So after all of that school and training, I assumed that I’d have no problem getting clients and making ends meet.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that apparently, credentials alone don’t count for much.
Because not only was I having little luck finding the kinds of clients I felt I was uniquely trained to help, my hourly rate was less than what I charged for violin lessons when I was a grad student (which wasn’t very high to begin with), and I wasn’t receiving any benefits. And by that time, I had a family to support, with two kids under the age of 4. So it was more than a little disappointing to think that this is where I was, after going through nearly a decade of additional schooling and training, following my pivot away from music.
I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but I’m guessing that some late-night frustration/anxiety-induced Google searches led me to discover that blogging was not just a thing that people did as a hobby, but that there were real folks, offering lots of valuable advice – both free and paid – that were seemingly making a difference in peoples’ lives. I started reading blogs like Copyblogger, ProBlogger, Psychotactics, Penelope Trunk, Ittybiz, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, and all sorts of other sites that opened my eyes to marketing, copywriting, and all the business-y things that I had always thought were kind of icky and gross, but were increasingly beginning to feel like they might be important.
So on one hand, all of these well-known bloggers that I mentioned above were terrific, and didn’t seem icky and gross at all, which gave me hope. But then there were a number of other bloggers that I came across (whose names I won’t mention!), who kind of irked me. Because here were people, with questionable or minimal training or credentials, who seemed to be making a ton of money. How was that possible???? I didn’t get it.
So while I didn’t know how things would play out for myself, these two complimentary forces motivated me to create my own blog, hoping that if I put out some useful information onto the internet, maybe that would help me build a client base that was more aligned with the kind of work I was hoping to do.
What was the hardest part of getting started / the early years?
I think there were two main things that I found challenging. The skills piece, and the mental piece.
Skills-wise, it felt like there was a ton to learn. From the basics of setting up WordPress and learning HTML and CSS, to SEO, feeling that I had nothing to write about, copywriting, how to create products, how to deliver products, payment processing, pricing, how to get traffic – the list was endless. I was always stumbling across something new that seemed really essential for me to learn. Which made it difficult to balance work and life, because there was no end to the work that needed to be done, yet I didn’t want to neglect my family, and was rather hoping that my days of late nights and all-nighters were over with.
But the harder part might have been the mental part. Like, how to deal with all the questions that I couldn’t answer. Was this a worthwhile use of my time? Would this actually get me clients, and help me support my family? When would I see any signs of this working? Was I even doing it right?
Much like starting an exercise program, it was hard to tell if anything was changing for quite some time. Especially since I made plenty of mistakes along the way, which slowed my progress down.
What’s easier for you now than it was in the beginning of your business?
The psychological fears, anxieties, and doubts aren’t gone by any means, but you know the voice in your head that keeps you up at night worrying about the future? That voice is definitely quieter, and even when it gets louder, I have a lot more data or “ammunition” now, based on actual results and experiences from the last dozen years, that I can call up to quiet it down.
How many hours a week do you work on average?
It varies, depending on whether I’m preparing for a workshop launch, or whether it’s during the academic year. Like, the last few weeks, I was switching my site over to a new theme, which meant several weeks of 70-80-hour weeks. But generally, I’ll probably put in around 40-50 hours in a normal week.
Though I should say, I could probably get away with less. It’s just that there’s a lot that I want to do, and I’m always thinking of things that I want to improve and learn and get better at. And at the end of the day, I enjoy much of the work I’m doing – especially the geeky tech side of things. Like, left to my own devices, I would happily spend hours testing out new WordPress comment plugins, or browsing logos for design ideas, or testing out different LMS and membership platforms, and so on.
So the bigger challenge for me sometimes is prioritizing, and making sure I don’t spend too much time futzing around with things that might not be the most important thing that I could be doing with my time.
How much time do you spend per week on social media?
About 5 minutes per week. No exaggeration. Every Sunday, I’ll take a few minutes to post a link to my weekly blog post on my Bulletproof Musician Facebook feed, and that’s about it.
Even in my personal life outside of business, I don’t use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, etc. Not for any philosophical reason – it’s just that given the limits of time and other things I want to do, engaging in social media just hasn’t risen to the level of being a priority.
Should I be doing more with social media? Maybe. And things could certainly change in the future, if I feel like there might be a particular way of delivering content on a particular platform that appeals to me. But I spent decades disregarding what I wanted to do in favor of what I thought I “should” be doing, so I do my best to focus more on things in the “want” category now than all the things in the “should” category.
Do you answer your own email, or does someone else do it?
I do it all. And I respond to nearly all emails, even if it’s just to say “thanks.”
Is this smart? Or efficient? I don’t know. But even though what I do is more coaching than therapy, I still receive a fair number of emails from folks who describe the challenges they’re facing in very detailed, personal ways, so it’s important to me that I honor their vulnerability, protect their privacy, and respond myself.
Plus, I feel like it surprises people sometimes to hear from me directly, and I think they feel more validated, seen, and heard, when the response is personal, even if it’s short.
How frequently do you produce content?
I write a weekly ~1000-word blog post, based on a research study I’m reading that I think is interesting or relevant to musicians, which I publish on Sundays. I record an audio version of that post as well, and release that as a podcast episode.
And once a month, instead of one of those shorter research-based posts, I’ll do a ~45-minute interview with someone from the music, research, or sport world, and release that as a more traditional podcast-like episode.
How frequently do you email your list?
Once a week, I’ll send out a newsletter where I include an introduction to the weekly post, and link to the complete article (or interview) on my website.
Other than that, a few times during the year, I’ll do live workshops, during which time I’ll send out a more frequent series of emails to promote those and get the word out.
But other than those promotional periods, it’s just that one email per week.
Do you do everything yourself, or do you hire others to manage parts of your business? If the latter, what do you hire out?
Historically, I’ve done pretty much everything myself. From web design, to copywriting, to content creation, to audio/video editing, the whole nine yards.
I did once hire some coders to help with some PHP that was waaaaay over my head, and I hire a former student of mine to read through the monthly interview transcripts for typos/errors and suggest links for the show notes, but that’s pretty much it.
Again, is this smart? Probably not, but I enjoy having control over the tech stuff, and knowing that if I feel like it, I can switch up the blog layout, or change the line-height of the body text, or experiment with a different style of mega menu, or adjust the border radius of my exit-intent popup, all on my own, without having to ask someone else to do it for me. Because given how finicky and particular I am, I suspect I would be a pretty annoying client to work with.
What’s the best purchase / investment you’ve ever made for your business?
Oof, it’s hard to pick just one. I mean, an iMac with an SSD and 64GB of RAM and a 5k display “sparks joy” every moment that I am sitting in front of it (which is all day long). Because not only is it pretty, but I no longer have to sit and wait impatiently for things to load, or deal with the spinning beachball of death.
I also think that switching to managed WordPress hosting, with automated and manual backups and staging sites has also been huge. Because given my habit of being a tinkerer, and breaking my website, knowing that I can reverse everything with one click, back to the last time it was working, gives me tons of peace of mind.
And this is not a single thing, but the decision to purchase paid, premium plugins, with recurring annual fees, has also been a really big time-saver. I’m no longer cobbling together free solutions that randomly go awry, where I’m having to spend hours or days troubleshooting and doing countless obscure google searches to try to figure out a solution. Now, I can hop onto a support page, ask the developers what’s going on, and get help solving the issue, much more quickly.
What’s your favorite product in the Karma Store?
My favorite would be The Ultimate Digital Marketing Template Pack. Having structured launch sequences already laid out and organized doesn’t just make it easier to know what to do and when to do it, but the fact that these sequences have been tried and tested has a huge psychological benefit to me as well.
Instead of being paralyzed by indecision about when to send emails, how many is too many, when the FAQ email should go out, or how many reminders I should send, etc., following the templates allows me to worry less, shush my insecurities, and just focus on what I want to say, trusting that it’ll all work out and my readers won’t hate me, even if the thing that I’m offering, isn’t the right fit for them at that moment in time.
More customer profiles are coming – maybe one will be yours?
If you're an IttyBiz customer and would like to be featured in an upcoming customer profile, get in touch!
And if you're not a customer yet, consider Noa's favorite product, The Ultimate Digital Marketing Template Pack – or any of the pay-what-you-want products in the Karma Store.
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