$1M in Annual Revenue, Zero Full-Time Staff: How I Run a Lean, Profitable, One-Woman Business

Edna B. Shearer

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“Hire a team! You’ve got to hire a team!

That’s the advice everyone hears or gives when it comes to breaking through to the next level in your entrepreneurial efforts. You want to get from five figures in revenue to six? Build a team. You want to cross the million-dollar mark? Hire a team. 

I’m here to tell you: since 2019, I’ve been earning at least a million dollars a year from my business, Talking Shrimpwithout hiring a team. 

If you’re like me, that news should come as a relief. 

I Never Wanted Employees

I didn’t want to interview, manage, have meetings with, or feel responsible for the livelihoods of a bunch of people. In the event that earnings went down, I didn’t want to have to panic about making payroll.

Any time I’ve seen a picture of a fellow entrepreneur with their team of ten people, I’ve thought, “Better you than me, friend.” If this is the mindset of “playing small,” so be it. Captain Small, over here. I’m a fan of small — small, and lean. 

Many of my colleagues, the ones with big teams, engage in a lot of money-making and lead-generating activities I resist, because they’re a lot of work and require…well, a team. These include online challenges, virtual summits, and –  the “must” I’ve rejected most stubbornly – one-on-one sales calls. 

Most of my revenue comes from selling digital courses and products through emails. It’s pretty low-fi, which is how I like it.

This isn’t to say I don’t have help in my business. 

Instead of Employees, I Hire Contractors

And they have been indispensable to my growth and continued success. 

An independent contractor is not an employee. They’re a specialist. They come in on day one already knowing how to do the task at hand, which saves you a lot of time and headaches with trying to train them. Contractors also often have multiple clients; what you pay them does not determine their entire livelihood.

Independent contractors have their pros and cons. Choosing to hire them instead of an employee means less paperwork and expense for me, and – though no company benefits – more freedom for them. They can work for other clients, maintain their own businesses, and maintain multiple income streams – and they do.  

Here are the two main players who’ve supported me in my business from when it was much smaller and helped me cross the $1,000,000 mark.

No. 1: A Designer/Developer/Digital Strategist

My friend Michelle Martello, founder of Minima Designs, is what you’d call a unicorn, a Swiss army knife. She’s brilliant at graphic design, web coding, and getting both seen and paid online.

Over the years, I’ve hired her both for projects I knew I needed, like overhauling my website, and projects she had to tell me I needed, like overhauling it again four years later. (Online years are even more accelerated than dog years. Something that was fresh in 2017 now looks like you put it up in the late nineties.)

She has also: 

  • Helped me optimize my website for signups to my newsletter
  • Created branded templates so I can easily create my own Instagram quote cards in Adobe Photoshop
  • Turned materials I had already created into valuable, sellable assets by suggesting interactive workbook sections and by making them pretty
  • Set up my first (very simple and easy) system for selling these digital products, so all I had to do was tell people about them and provide a link. The first product she helped me set up, my 60-Minute Makeovers Copywriting Mini-Course, gave me a taste of scaleable income, and I was hooked.  

At times, I’ve worked with Michelle on a retainer basis; at others, a project basis. While she’s not officially on my “team,” I owe a large part of my business growth to having her in my corner.

No. 2: An Online Business Manager (OBM)

My OBM, Sandra Booker, has her own company, Any Old Task.

Despite my fruitful design projects with Michelle, I initially resisted hiring anyone on an ongoing basis, because I didn’t know what tasks they could take off my plate, and thought delegating would generate more work than it would save me. 

I was so wrong.

What persuaded me to hire her? A fellow copywriter, Tarzan Kay, posted about Sandra on Facebook, saying, “Since I started working with Sandra, I’ve made so much more money.” Magic words. I hired Sandra, too.

At the time, my entire business was based on one-to-one copywriting services. I helped my clients in real time in a shared Google Doc. For a while, Sandra’s role in my business was mostly to help me manage my client appointments.

She also started assisting with my newsletter emails, by checking them for typos and other oopsies before I hit send. We named this task the “Check ‘n’ Send.” 

As we discovered more tasks that were taking me too long and not in my “zone of genius,” those went to Sandra (and her team, whom she manages), too. She freed me up to pivot from one-on-one services to the business model I have now, based on scaleable offerings.

Thanks to her support, I was able to: 

  • Create new offerings, like my email copywriting course Inbox Hero and my group mentoring program, Shrimp Club.
  • Put more energy into selling my existing copywriting mini-courses and my signature course with partner Marie Forleo, The Copy Cure.
  • Be more efficient about, and earn more from, affiliate promotions, where, for a commission, I promote colleagues’ courses I think my audience will love. 
  • Create more content for my audience, AKA my “Shrimpers,” many of whom are business owners and writers and want to learn all they can.
  • Write more emails, which means more sales, which means more income.
  • Put more energy into the part I do best and enjoy most: writing.

Sandra and her team support me in too many ways to catalog, but here are a few examples of how their contribution has allowed me to grow my revenue to seven figures. 

In a typical week, they:

  • Handle my inbox, fielding podcast interviews and other inquiries, replying from “Team Talking Shrimp” where appropriate
  • Provide customer service 
  • Review and help refresh my past email launch sequences
  • Tag and segment my email subscriber list so I’m sending the right offers to the right people 
  • Index all my past content and direct me to it so I can refresh and recycle when necessary
  • Offer a fresh set of eyes and strategy smarts
  • Nudge me to reply, write emails, and create trainings
  • Continue to take off my hands the tasks I think will take “2 secs” and end up taking hours, eg: “Can you please turn this video of me pouring syrup on pancakes into a gif and drag it into the email?” 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sandra and I communicate mostly by Voxer, an app that’s like a walkie-talkie. Usually while I’m out walking, I think of things I need her to do or ask her about, and she reminds me about tasks waiting for me: “Remember to record the Q&A for Shrimp Club” or, “Are you going to write an email today?”

My Advice For You

What should you do if you want to grow or pivot online, but don’t want a team of employees? 

Hire at least one contractor to free up time and bandwidth. It’ll let you focus on what you do best. 

Don’t try to do everything yourself, or you’ll never be able to do more or generate more revenue than you already do.

For years, I’d heard everyone say they wish they’d hired help sooner. I now say the same. And who knows, maybe one day, I’ll be writing about how expanding to a team of 20 in-house employees was the best thing I ever did, and how I got to the ten-million mark. So, never say never. 

But for now, I’m happy with my official company status: tiny and profitable.

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