Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
After over 22 years of speaking to audiences around the world about strengthening their families, creating unified/functional relationships, improving their problem-solving skills, and learning self-government, I still tell people that I’m just a mom and wife who was minding her own business years ago and somehow became an international figure. I never knew that I’d author 11 books, star on a BBC program, build a Teaching Self-Government Parenting Course, or speak at high profile locations like world congresses, global conferences, and the United Nations.
In 2008, with no money and no idea what I was really doing, I started a business with my first audio seminar product that people had been begging for 9 years. Since that time I’ve improved the training. Our flagship product is an 8-week digital course that comes with personalized mentoring and downloadable supplies. We also have lots of packages and individual items that people buy a la carte on our site and at conferences.
This business has always been about the positive impact more than money for me, but it’s really encouraging that the business has brought in enough money to do the humanitarian work we do to help families in impoverished countries and to pay all the contract laborers I need to employ to make sure that I still have time to put my own family first. We make at least $10K per month and that amount is growing all the time. In these times of social/political/ and economic uncertainty, people are putting their focus on their families, so we are there to give them the support and skills they need to succeed with their highest priorities.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My main focus has always been my family. Back in 1999, my family needed my help. My husband changed careers and had to go back to school. We had two small children at the time and I had worked really hard to leave my career to raise them. But, we needed money. So, I wondered, how can I be there for my children and help financially support my family too? I know, so many parents find themselves wondering this question at times. We always want to put our families first. Well, I felt very strongly that the solution to my question was to take in troubled youth by doing treatment foster care.
No sooner did I start doing foster care for youth ages 12-18, then people started asking me what was happening at my house. They wanted to know how these rough-looking teens were becoming so happy and secure so quickly. I told people I was teaching the foster children in my home how to govern themselves. This intrigued people. At this point, people started asking me to speak at support groups and to church groups about some of the self-government skills I was using. I assumed this would be short-lived, but it never stopped. In fact, more invitations came in for me to speak at larger events all the time, and now the people were asking for follow up training. They kept asking, “where is your book?”
I never saw myself as a writer, and the truth is told, I was really busy at this point. Now I was homeschooling my own children and doing foster care. Life felt too busy to write a book. By the time we were blessed with our third child, I felt it was time to stop doing foster care and focus on my own family exclusively for a while. Besides, my husband’s new career was off and running. I wrongly assumed again that all these speaking invitations would stop. But, in 6 years I got a really big invitation. The BBC television company in Britain contacted our family and asked us to be on a television show called, “The World’s Strictest Parents.” We told them “no” initially, but soon felt like we really should do the show if it could help families become happier. So, we did. Here is a link to the program.
The BBC program was a big success and became their, “most-watched episode ever.” At this point, I felt my own urge to write that book people had been begging for and that I had been working on here and there. So, in a matter of 2 months, I wrote the book, got a website, and turned my business into the “real deal.” This all happened in 2009. In 2008 I had officially made a business called Teaching Self-Government because I had made an audio seminar to allow people to buy since I didn’t have a book yet. The seminar was selling well, and it was clearly time for the book by 2009.
After the BBC show aired I was inundated with requests for interviews, articles, training, and speaking engagements. It was clear that the world was craving to have the calmness they witnessed on our program at their homes too. After a while, I asked my web developer to take over some of the business of Teaching Self-Government LLC [TSG] so that I could dedicate more time to family. In my spare time, I turned out a children’s book set, other parenting resources and books, and online as well as live training courses.
The first book and every book after was paid for by pre-sales. Probably one of the best things I did to ensure the success of my mission [business] was to gather emails everywhere I went. I built a following of families who were interested in the training I had to offer. These people all told their friends and family about the teachings I was giving and before I knew it I had 10,000 people on a database.
I have a lot more people I communicate with now, but that first group was the group who really got things going. I wouldn’t have done TSG for myself. I didn’t want money or fame. I just wanted to help. When it was clear that I was meant for this parenting/family business I put my whole heart into finding what the people need most to strengthen their families.
There has been no shortage of people who have offered to mentor and help me along the way. Sometimes those offers have pushed TSG to the next level. Other times those offers have been distractions. But, I've always been grateful for what I’ve learned from the people who have wanted and believed in the message I have to share with the world about healing families and relationships and finding personal power.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My first product was a 7-hour audio seminar. I was already speaking to people and I had a great friend who was an AV and internet whiz mentoring me. He said, “Hey Nicholeen, how about the next time you do an event we record it professionally and turn it into something people can take home to review?” I loved the idea, so I had Jerry, that was my whiz friend’s name, come and audio record the event.
Probably one of the best things I did to ensure the success of my mission [business] was to gather emails everywhere I went.
The first group of people to get the audio seminar was my friends who attended the recorded event. They got it for really cheap since they helped me make the class, and then they told all their friends about it.
Well, this was so easy to sell. I’d go to conferences to speak and bring a box or two of them and leave with cash in hand to print more and save to build the business. I took no money from the sales because I didn’t want to, didn’t need to, and just wanted to grow the business at first.
The second product was the now international bestseller, Parenting A House United. The first edition of that book was made by people I knew and funded by pre-sales. I had friends who did the editing, formatting, cover design, art, etc. So, I wrote it and turned it over to my friends for very small fees. They all believed in what I was doing and wanted the world to have the good advice I was offering to families.
Many of them actually mostly wanted the book to be done for themselves. Some of these friends, like my illustrator, ended up making her own business grow exponentially because of the work she did on my books. So, it really was a win-win. So far, I have never had to go into debt for the TSG business. I attribute this to making sure I gauge timing well and don’t get too impulsive. There is always a right time for a business to be born. The way TSG has grown has not been on my timetable, but a much larger one.
Describe the process of launching the business.
TSG launched officially in 2008 as a blog with one page that had an audio seminar people could buy through Paypal. It was pretty simple. But, because my business was being passed around so much by word of mouth I was lucky not to have to do too much advertising. I just posted blogs and sent out emails for a long time.
Then, over time I switched to offering more products, podcasts, videos, courses, and more. I’ve grown slowly, but it’s been perfect for me because I needed to raise my children during all of this and pay attention to their homeschooling.
Now that the children are pretty much grown, and we’ve traveled as a family all over the world helping families and world leaders strengthen family relationships we are kicking this business into high gear.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Having a really relevant and robust newsletter has kept people coming back for more learning from TSG. But, the best thing I ever did was do a lot of speaking at conferences. There are so many conferences that families go to for support and family training. These were the perfect places for me to spread my wings.
Since I am a homeschool mother, and the BBC made that very public, we’ve been to many homeschool conferences. These parents are already the kind of parents who don’t get put off by doing things the harder but better way. My program isn’t a magic pill, it’s for really principled people who want the best results. These conferences and others proved to be the best place to find people who wanted to invest in something that wouldn’t necessarily be easy but would totally be worth it.
I’ve done webinars, and social media advertising campaigns and had great success, but they always fizzle out after a while. That’s just how those things go. They are good to jump-start new products or new classes. But, the long term plan I have includes YouTube. I’ve been releasing lots of YouTube videos lately and people are starting to find me because of those too.
Don’t be afraid to get help from others but don’t jump on every suggestion someone gives you either.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
At this point I spend most of my time writing for online platforms, speaking to audiences, doing humanitarian work, and raising my family. (I still have one child left at home and I’m enjoying every minute of it!) I have multiple people doing things to keep my business running so that I can be the wife and mother I enjoy being most.
I have a personal assistant, a web developer and tech support guy, a business manager, a customer service person, a shipping and receiving team, podcast production staff, YouTube film crew and marketing staff, editor, content manager, and a super supportive spouse and family.
No personal mission or ministry is ever only for one person if they’re married and have children. This Teaching Self-Government journey has been a family mission. We have all learned to enjoy serving the world as we take on project after project and put family first along the way.
Family businesses are great for raising smart children, and this business has been that for my family. My children have learned to manage web content, edit, write, conduct business via email and phone, do shipping, troubleshoot, speak in public, train others, do person to person sales at conferences, and travel like champs. They could start a business with their eyes closed and they have the confidence to burn. One time a friend of my adult son’s said, “Why don’t colleges teach what your family knows? They need to teach this.” There is no way to really teach starting a business besides just diving, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and doing it.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
People are always eager to help my business succeed, but taking everyone up on their idea is dangerous. It can distract from what is already going well. If I could give one piece of advice to people it’s this: don’t be afraid to get help from others, but don’t jump on every suggestion someone gives you either. Ask for help in bold ways, and take help that is offered if you feel peace and security about the decision and the timing. More than one time I’ve recognized a good idea presented at the wrong time.
For instance, I was suggested to do a podcast and YouTube following years ago, but it wasn’t time until I had my second edition of the book and the second edition of the online course ready. We had some bugs to work out with the first version. So, now I am finally following that advice. Sure, I could have done some good earlier, but things are done professionally now. They wouldn’t likely have been before.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We keep things simple in our business. We ship only through USPS using stamps.com. We have made our own website and because it’s customizable we have been able to easily grow our business using just our website functions.
We use some social media advertising, and I have someone post on my social media pages regularly for me. We currently use an ActiveCampaign for our email list, and ULINE to buy our packaging supplies.
One thing I’m so glad I did was self-publish. Sure, at first it was more work, but I’ve never regretted it. I own all the rights to my stuff and have been able to keep it all together as a full program, which will make it easier to pass along to my daughter in the years to come, who hopes to take over my work when I’m ready to retire. The mission to strengthen families is so needed in our day, and it warms my heart that my daughter loved her upbringing so much that she wants to share it with other people throughout her life too.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m an avid reader and am repeatedly asked what books I’d recommend for various topics. I wrote books because some topics needed their own book, but there were some books that I think all people should read if they are wanting to start a movement, which is better than a business.
Here is a brief list because every book I read ends up relating to living my mission in one way or another, and so a complete list would be impossible. The Fourth Turning by Strauss and Howe, Understanding The Times by David Noeble, Character by Samuel Smiles, The Depth Phase audio class by Oliver DeMille, The Life and Letters of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and The Dream Giver by Wilkinson.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
When you start a business or movement, don’t do something for yourself. Do something for others. A real mission, which leads to real happiness and purposeful living, is never just for you.
Don’t just focus on what you want, but focus on what you ought to do. You know, deep down what that is. There is something you were meant to do. Maybe it will make a lot of money, or many it will only make a lot of difference to people that you did it. Both of these things are businesses. Business is about impact, not wealth. The sooner you detach yourself from the love of money and desire to have impact instead, the sooner you will enjoy the hard stages of growing your business. Enjoy it all. If you do, it will actually grow faster. Stress doesn’t help business thrive, it kills momentum and corrupts the heart of your movement.
If you can make the world a better place by doing something you love and were given the skills to do, then you will have found the perfect mission. Take your family along with you, and keep them first, and it will be enjoyable to do your mission too. Personal missions should never hurt families. If your family hurts because of your mission, then it might not be the right time, or you might need to take things a bit slower. Of course, there are always times of slight imbalance, but that is different than feeling disconnected from your loved ones. Put that family first, and you will have the time you need to help your mission thrive.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
My business grows really organically. When we have a growing pain there seems to be someone that shows up to fill the post. So, we don’t have a list of openings very often. At this time, I don’t have any spots that need to be filled.
But, if you want to learn the skills you need to help your family thrive and to lead your business better, the Teaching Self-Government Parenting Course is full of leadership and self-government principles that you will use at home and in business. I highly recommend getting that world-renowned training. A person who is self-governed ends up becoming a leader no matter what they choose to do for a career.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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