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I'm Mara — I help creatives create and launch digital courses and profitable products. I love chatting about online marketing, design and goal setting!
This week, I finally launched a project I’ve been working on behind the scenes since last year – the Create a Better Course podcast!
For the longest time, starting a podcast wasn’t really one of my big business dreams or must-dos. But as I began to think about how much I love teaching and sharing all the different things I’ve learned on my business journey, I started to get inspired that podcasting could be the perfect way to share my insights with others.
Flash forward to 2023, and I’ve finally launched my first three episodes! Create a Better Course is where I’ll be sharing more about the ins and outs of entrepreneurship, how to make online courses, and digital product creation.
This first episode is all about how my online business started. We go alllll the way back to the beginning and dive deep into all the details of how I got to where I am in my business today. It was a long and winding road, with multiple corporate marketing jobs, one teaching position, and a lot of messy years before I went all-in on my business and started gaining traction with clients.
I’d be so grateful if you’d listen, and I hope you’ll find it informative and inspiring in your journey!
When I was growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, I was always that kid who was thinking up new business ideas and coming up with ways I could make a little extra money. It started with babysitting and pet sitting, and by high school, I’d moved on to teaching myself graphic design and setting up Etsy shops. With those first tech-y side gigs, I didn’t even charge very much money! I just thought it was cool that I could help people set something up and maybe make a little on the side.
When I went to college (shout out to Drake University in Des Moines!)I decided to major in Advertising and English Literature, with a specialty in Creative Writing. I really wanted to be a writer or a journalist, but I was also raised with the belief that you needed a plan for a safe and stable career (that’s where the Advertising part of my degree came in).
While I was earning my degree, I had SEVERAL side hustles to help me pay for college.
My side hustles during college:
Looking back, it’s easy to see that I was already an entrepreneur, but at the time, it felt like I was just being resourceful and finding creative ways to earn money while I was in school! I still had that traditional 9-to-5 mindset and thought graduation meant I needed a “real” job with a 401k and plenty of opportunities for raises and promotions. That was just what I thought you were supposed to do, so that’s what I did!
My first job out of college was in the marketing department for a large company, and it was SUPER traditional. I had a 45-minute commute each way, wore cheesy lady pantsuits, and had networking lunches. While I loved the actual marketing part of the job, I absolutely hated everything else about it! So much of my time was spent in my car, in meetings, or chained to my desk, and I immediately knew it wasn’t the right fit.
I ended up making a deal with myself that I would stay for one full year to gain experience and avoid any resume red flags. Then I would leave, no matter what. At the time, there was so much pressure and expectation that professionals should find one good, dependable job and stick with it for a long time, so leaving felt SO risky. I’m pretty sure my parents thought I had lost my mind and was making a terrible decision!
Even though I’d decided to leave my first corporate marketing job, I hadn’t given up on the idea of finding a stable job that I could stick with. During that time, I got married and moved to Florida, where I found my second marketing gig. This time, it was for a children’s educational magazine publisher, which I was super interested in and excited about working for.
I started out working on email campaigns and Facebook ads before eventually getting promoted to head of email marketing. And, while it was still a pretty corporate work environment, I got to work from home part of the time and get rid of most of my stuffy pantsuits.
I loved working for the magazine, but it still wasn’t living up to this idea of the *perfect* job I felt like I was looking for. It started to feel like I was always working – going in early, staying late, and working on weekends. Then the magazine was sold to another publisher and went through a weird transition period where the paychecks got irregular. Even though I eventually got all of my pay, I realized I needed to move onto a job with a more predictable pay schedule!
At my next corporate marketing job, I was the ENTIRE marketing department. I LOVED the freedom and flexibility I had over my schedule, and I was able to work out a four-day workweek with long weekends. I was at this job for almost four years, working with the company as revenue grew from $500k to over $2 million. But throughout all that growth, I was still the sole marketing person, and there weren’t any plans to expand the team. Yet again, I found myself working the long hours, nights, and weekends I’d tried so hard to avoid! I’m so grateful for everything I learned at the job, but I knew I had to find something more sustainable long-term.
During all that time, I’d never totally given up on my freelance clients. But I didn’t think of it as a business at all; I thought of it more like a creative hobby of projects I liked to work on. I enjoyed earning a little money on the side, but I didn’t charge my clients much money, and I definitely didn’t think that it would become a full-time option!
So when I was searching for a new job, I went back to working in the marketing department of a large company. After all, it seemed like the safe and stable thing to do! In my heart, I knew right away that it was the wrong choice and that it wasn’t what I wanted out of life. In the end, I was only there for six months. When I left, it wasn’t for freelance…it was to teach middle school English.
Going into teaching was a HUGE pivot for me! I’d invested years into building up expertise in corporate marketing, and I was always able to find good jobs, so switching over to teaching seemed like it was totally out of left field. At the time, I remember feeling so burnt out on marketing and like I wanted to do something that felt more satisfying and like I was helping people in a tangible way.
I’d always been interested in education; it was my first choice for a college major. Fortunately, with my English Literature major, I was able to get a teaching certificate in Florida and start teaching middle school at the start of the next school year. It was hard, and it was challenging, but I loved it!
So much so that I started to create a whole alternative life plan built around getting my master’s and building a long teaching career. But (there’s always a but!) I still couldn’t shake the dream of starting my own business. For years, I’d poked at courses and creating my business plan, but somehow my vision always fizzled out somewhere between planning and action.
I can still remember when I decided to launch my business as more than a side hustle. We were on a flight home from a trip, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I didn’t want to let more years pass by without ever giving entrepreneurship a proper try…so I made up my mind to get serious about my business.
The first thing I did was let go of trying to make the perfect business plan. Instead, I started looking for opportunities to work with more people who needed the things I already knew how to do. At first, I did so many different things: email marketing, graphic design, website design; you name it!
It felt so scary to put myself out there, especially when the usual advice was to put up a website, choose a niche, and narrow down my offerings. I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I just started saying “yes” to things, learning more with each client and each project. At the time, I was still teaching seventh grade, and my business income quickly grew. By the end of the school year, it was clear that I would have to choose between my jobs because I didn’t have the time to do both.
Over the summer, when I had a few months off from teaching, I went even harder after my business goals. When I ended up replacing my teaching salary, it felt like I had my big sign that it was time to go full-time with my business! If things went wrong, teaching would always be waiting for me if I needed it.
In the summer of 2019, I went all-in and gave notice at my teaching job. You might think that was an exciting moment, but it was absolutely terrifying for me! Looking back giving myself the chance to grow a thriving business was one of the best things I ever did. At the time it felt like I was making a huge leap and would probably return to teaching within the years.
There have been some ups and downs over the years, but every year I’ve been in business, I’ve made more money than I made at teaching. Now my income is more than double (almost triple) what I used to make in my day job.
Even though I still miss teaching, I’m so grateful for all the freedom I have working for myself. It also gave our family the financial freedom to move my husband away from a traditional day job too! Now, we’re able to travel more and work from home together.
I’m also more satisfied with my career than I ever was at my corporate job. When I was working for someone else, it felt like I was always chasing the next raise or promotion. It felt like a constant rat race. Even though I still have income goals for my business, I now feel so much more fulfilled by getting to help people one on one and seeing the direct impact my work has on their lives and income. It’s such an incredible feeling whenever one of my clients builds up their passive income and gets to quit their day job or make more time to spend with their families.
When I look back at all the jobs I’ve had in my career, it’s so clear that I always had an interest in tech, online learning, and education. And after six years of corporate work and four more years of building my business, I’ve been able to bring all those things together into one place with online course design and strategy!
Finding my way to all those practical action steps took a LONG time (we’re talking a whole decade of experience!), and I’m all about sharing anything I’ve learned that will help others get started or gain traction in their business – that’s why I started the Create a Better Course podcast. I hope you enjoy the first episode and that you’ll listen to more episodes in the future, where I’ll be sharing more about online courses, passive income, my journey as a business owner, and all the bumps along the way!
You can listen and subscribe to Create a Better Course with the player in this post or any place you listen to podcasts!
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