I Built An $816K/Year Online Business While Living Out Of A Van
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I’m Rebecca Tracey and my business is The Uncaged Life. The Uncaged Life helps coaches and solopreneurs learn how to get their first paying clients in their new business (because the strategies that most programs teach only work once you have had some success, you need a very different strategy when you are brand new!).
Our Uncage Your Business program was designed with coaches in mind (life coaches, health coaches, business coaches, etc), and it covers how to nail your foundations so that ALL the rest of your marketing actually works. By foundations I mean your message, brand positioning, niche, packages/pricing, and understanding how to articulate what you do and how you help people clearly.
We are on track to hit $1M this year with just me and my small team of 3 part-time contractors, and have helped hundreds of people start their own businesses and get on their way to an uncaged life!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started Uncaged back in 2011 after dabbling in work as a holistic nutritionist and a life coach. I remember sitting in a coffee shop, trying desperately to smoosh all my ideas together into one business (never a good idea!), and was trying to figure out how to incorporate healthy recipes into a blog about uncaging your life and quitting your 9-5. NONE of it made sense!
So I self-coached myself and made some hard decisions, and ended up cutting out 95% of what I was trying to focus on and niched down to just ONE thing -- helping new coaches create businesses they LOVE (and cut out all the crap they don’t want to be doing).
As soon as I niched and cleared up the language on my website, things started to click. I had people I didn’t know reaching out to hire me, and my little email list started growing.
You don’t need a fancy website, a business card, a logo, or even a business name, to get started selling your services. Just START! That is the most valuable thing you can do and the quickest way to earning money in your business.
The first year of my business was spent living in an old ‘81 Chevy campervan (brown velour seats, “Gone Fishing, On The Lam” written in cursive across the back). I was on a year-long rock climbing trip and spent my rest days from climbing holed up in McDonald’s parking lots poaching free wifi, writing blog posts, and launching programs.
Here is a pic of me going bouldering with my old van, somewhere in Wyoming I think;
And me interviewing for a blog post I was writing from a campsite in Colorado;
My first year grossed $12k in my business, which I was VERY proud of considering I did it while living the dream on an epic road trip! As soon as I returned home from my year-long trip, I was able to hunker down and really hustle. I hit 80k the next year and over 6 figures in my third year.
Take us through the process of designing the initial product.
I have always sold coaching services, which is SO much easier than selling a product! Literally, all you need is the internet, a way to take payments, and a zoom account! The startup costs are low and anyone can do it!
I did try to launch an online course during that first year of my business, and only ONE person bought it (for $49!). I was crushed (but luckily I was smart enough to pre-sell it, so I hadn’t actually created it yet). I learned that you really can’t sell courses until you have an audience to sell to, so I went back to services and continued to grow.
No ONE thing will make or break your business, so just keep putting one foot in front of the other and expect to fail (many times!).
I started a Facebook group in the early days and that was super helpful for doing market research and learning more about what people wanted help with. I think I created 12 different offers during my first year in business!
I had one-on-one services, VIP days, a small mastermind, group programs, and I even launched a retreat the following year in Belize (I loved retreats so much that I ran them for 5 years in a row, and even created a course to teach people how to run their own retreats! www.theuncagedlife.com/yourfirstretreat
The first 2 years were a LOT of experimentation and community building. I did a lot of blogging back then, which has really helped me grow my audience (and those blogs still bring me website traffic today!)
Describe the process of launching the business.
A “launch” in a coaching business is really anti-climactic. Most people get all excited, make their website live, and then wait, and realize that no one is just going to magically find it. They need to market it now!
So I don’t believe in “launching” a business as a coach. All you need is a service idea to sell, and you need to start telling people about it. There -- you’ve launched!
My first few clients were people that I knew. I reached out to them and told them I was starting my business and asked them if I could coach them for free for 2 months to get feedback and a testimonial that I could use if they liked our work together.
This is the BEST way to “launch” because it takes the pressure off, lets you get experience, is totally free, doesn’t require a website, and is something you can do TODAY!
I see way too many people spending time perfecting their website, getting business cards, designing a logo (hit tip: you do NOT need a logo as a service-based business), and just generally wasting time tinkering behind the scenes, instead of actually doing the things that will bring the clients (and money!).
I was guilty of this too until I realized it wasn’t working! I spent hours (literally HOURS) trying to make this contact form yellow. I saw another coach who had a really cool yellow form, and I wanted one too:
Do you think anyone hired me because I had a yellow contact form? Hell no.
As for startup costs, I think I paid $250 for someone to help me set up a basic wordpress template and I paid a copywriter $1000 (which was a LOT for me at the time, and when I think about it now, not the best investment at the time.
Copywriting relies on you being CLEAR on your niche, your messaging, your offers -- and you can only get clear after working with actual clients! So I had to change all my copies within the next few months as my business changed and got more clear)
Long story short - you don’t need a fancy website, a yellow contact form, a business card, a logo, branding, or even a business name, to get started selling your services. Just START! That is the most valuable thing you can do and the quickest way to earning money in your business.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I have spent a lot of time building and nurturing a community in my Facebook group, my email list, and through blogging. I added my Facebook group as an opt-in on my website, so that I was growing my email list while also adding people to my group. I was very active in my FB group, sharing tips, answering questions, and just making it a great place for new business owners to come and meet other business owners and get the help they needed (since none of their friends or family really understood what they were doing trying to start a business!).
I also focused early on getting featured on other people's websites and blogs! This is the quickest way to get traction, because instead of getting exposed just to your current audience like when you post on your own blog you are getting exposed to someone else’s audience that is entirely new to you! I actually wrote a whole post about how I did this because it’s such a great strategy!
Now, we rely heavily on Facebook ads to bring in new leads, but as we know, it’s not always a reliable way to grow. We have had launches where ads kept getting rejected (sometimes FB thinks I am trying to sell a get rich quick scheme, which always makes me laugh because that is the exact opposite of my approach!), and it had detrimental effects on the launch.
So we are getting back to our organic roots and are focusing back on interviews, content creation, and building up more organic traffic.
I will admit, I have been LAZY about creating new content over the past few years. Our old content is still bringing in leads (we have one post that brings in most of our organic traffic - you can read it here), so we have made sure to optimize that post with lots of links, opt-in options, and a pop-up, to capitalize on the traffic it gets.
I know they say you have to be consistent in business, but that doesn’t mean you have to post like clockwork every day or even once a week. I have taken HUGE chunks of time off in my business (I generally try to take around 4 months off a year!), and during those times I may write a quick update post, or share something older from the blog once a month, and it’s enough to keep people remembering me until I come back and get ready to ramp up for a program launch.
I created this business so that I could have a LIFE (hence our business name The Uncaged Life), and I am proud that I have held to that even as we have grown to nearly $1M annually!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Right now, the business is hugely profitable. We are at around 40% profit and definitely have room to improve as we tweak our systems and processes. Right now my DOO is spending her time going through every single one of our funnels and pulling data from all sources to see where we might be able to make small tweaks that will have a huge impact on sales and profit. We are tracking things like open rates, conversions, which opt-ins are bringing in the most leads, and the most sales, which payment plans people are using most, default rates on payments, etc. And keeping a keen eye on our revenue and expenses to make sure we are hitting our targets for profit!
Our goal right now is to sell more without DOING more, which means improving every single step of our process and funnel, bit by bit, which is a huge reason why I brought in my DOO this year. She’s a metrics and numbers nerd (which I am NOT) and I need someone who can have a bird’s eye view of everything we are doing in the business AND who can get granular and point out areas for improvement. Thank god for people like that, because I am NOT one of them!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting a business is THE best form of personal development you will ever do. You have to get over all your imposter syndrome and lack of confidence, your money shit, your boundaries issues -- it all comes to the surface, so you’d better be ready!
The hardest thing for me has been building and managing a team. I always wanted to be a one-woman show, because to be honest, other people’s livelihoods relying on me scared the crap out of me! I started this business so that I could take as much time off as I wanted.
But you can’t grow alone, and having a team has been SO helpful for pushing me past what I even thought was possible.
But I don’t have experience managing a team or hiring, and it has been a steep learning curve.
I could also not have done this without the support of my BFFs (business friends forever!). You need people in your corner who are doing the same thing as you. I didn’t know anyone else doing this when I started, so I cultivated relationships with people I met in courses that I took (this is why investing in courses and support is SO important when you are new!).
Your friends and family don’t always understand what you are trying to do, so you need to intentionally build your BFF community. I LOVE that the students in my Uncage Your Business program often end up becoming life-long friends. Many of them have started businesses together, have flown across the country (and sometimes the world!) to meet, and are each other’s best support system.
I am still not a super organized business owner. You would never know from looking at my calendar or how I plan my day, that I run a $1M company! I don’t think there is only ONE way to be successful. It’s all about being really honest about your own strengths and weaknesses, and structuring your business in a way that works for YOU (and hiring out the things that don’t come naturally to you!).
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Wordpress for my website and Active Campaign for my email marketing is responsible for most of my sales! We like to keep things pretty simple.
We use ThriveCart for checkout, Deadline funnel for countdown timers, and just a regular page on our website for hosting our webinar and landing pages!
My team uses Clickup for project management, but much to the dismay of my DOO, I haven’t learned to use it yet. I am sort of allergic to new tools and systems, which always surprises people considering I run a very successful online business!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I love my friend Claire Pelletreau’s podcast Get Paid -- she interviews business owners and digs right into their numbers. I love that she is pulling back a curtain on what the numbers really look like!
I love Trudi Lebron’s podcast Business Remixed that focuses on helping coaches build anti-racist, anti-oppressive, equitable businesses. This is important work for white coaches and her podcast is a great starting point to learn about how we can shift our businesses to be more inclusive, from hiring, to marketing, to how we deliver our programs.
I don’t read business books -- I am more likely to watch TedTalk and get the gist of what I need, and implement, rather than read the whole book.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My biggest tip is JUST START. Stop messing around behind the scenes and trying to perfect your business name or logo.
Step ONE should be to go and get a client and start working with them.
Do not spend a dime on branding or website design until you are CLEAR on exactly who your target client is, what problems you help them solve, what results in your program delivers, and exactly what your point of view is about their problem (I literally created my Uncage Your Business program to help you figure this out). Your marketing all relies on this, and if you start spending all day posting on Instagram or writing blog posts without that clarity, it will get you nowhere.
Also, expect it to take longer than you think. I am all about LOW expectations in business. I think most people set their goals too high (I blame the somewhat toxic personal development industry) and then get disappointed. I say, aim low, and then surprise yourself! One step at a time. No ONE thing will make or break your business, so just keep putting one foot in front of the other and expect to fail (many times!).
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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