This is how I make my small business work

- November 17, 2019 6 MIN READ

You see, despite being a reluctant misfit and scruffy entrepreneur – I can’t deny that I am one. And I know from my Facebook groups that several people want to know how I did it. So here’s the lowdown on how I ran, run and often want to run away from, my business.

This post was actually inspired by a big move of mine.

Today I’ve hired my first proper employee.

I knew I’d have to explain how my business works.

But to my horror – I didn’t know.

In the interview, she asked all kind of tricky questions like… What do you do? How many websites do you have? And I coughed and mumbled.

So while this post is for you, my dear juicy-bottomed reader, it’s also for me and my juicy bottom.

The beginning

I started out as a do anythinger.

I was five months pregnant, had no savings, was the breadwinner and just needed money.

My original business website, imaginatively titled Kate, showcased me as a copywriter, website developer (I’m sorry if I built your site), SEO consultant, Information Architect, project manager and doer of things.

After about a year I realised I hated building websites, and managing projects sucked, so I focused on copywriting, mainly SEO copywriting.

I set my sights on ranking number one in Australia for the word Copywriter.

It took me a couple of years.

I just worked solidly for those first few years. I had a tiny baby. I moved. I won some big clients.

It was good times and good money.

Then I spoke briefly at my friend Brook McCarthy’s blogging workshop and thought, ‘Ooh this could be fun. I could organise a workshop.’

So I did.

I ran the Recipe for SEO success workshop in Sydney and about 18 people turned up.

It was the basis for my big course.

I also set up a group on Google+ (sob, miss yoooo) for budding copywriters.

We shared ideas and troubles and wins (psst, it’s where I met my flame-haired lover Belinda Weaver – among many others).

It was at this time I realised that I was never going to manage to carve out more hours in the week (doh).

If I wanted to make more money I had to find ways of making it that didn’t involve exchanging my time for money.

And so my first ‘passive income’ * idea was born.

The – a place for budding copywriters to find support, grab my templates, do courses and generally learn how to be better copywriters.

I started with one template – my Copy Deck template.

I’ve now sold over 700 copies of this template.

The side hustle

Up until this point I’d been dabbling with SEO consultancy, did a few big audits for brands in the UK – Pedigree Chum and the like – and some inhouse work for banks here in Australia.

I’d run a few workshops and thought, heck, why not set up an online course?

There were no other online SEO courses in Australia (now there are a fair few) and many mocked my idea, saying:

  1. No one will buy it
  2. It can’t be taught
  3. It will be an arse to update

They were wrong.

(Well they were right about c, but they were wrong about the rest.)

The Recipe for SEO Success was born.

The course has run 14 times now.

Nearly 900 people have taken the big one (not to mention about 8,000 the small ones).

My side hustle officially began to be my main hustle.

Since then it’s grown into all manner of stuff and led to amazing things like my popular podcast (150k downloads and counting) and super cool speaking gigs (read about them here).

The transition

The period while I was building the course, setting up The Clever Copywriting School and still having 10-15 copywriting clients a month – well, it wasn’t fun.

My son had started school, so that made it a little easier.

But there were many late nights, many tears and much swearing.

It was a stressful time and I struggled. A lot.

Arse about tit!

Now I’m reaping the rewards – so thank you 2014 me.

While my funnel might look super smooth and official now, it didn’t grow that way. I built the big course first, then the freebie. Then I started the podcast, then made the freebie. Paid and built another freebie (SEO NIBBLES) and only set up the membership for this side of the business in 2018.

The biggest shift for the Recipe brand was speaking at Pro Blogger in 2015 (thank you Darren).

I spoke for just 10 minutes but it was life-changing.

Off the back of that I launched the 10-day SEO Challenge, which went amazingly well.

And off the back of that, I built my I LOVE SEO group.

One little moment of bravery led to so much.

I’m proud of 2015 Toon.

You can read about the creation of my 10-Day SEO challenge here.


I had a fabulous VA for a few hours, back in about 2014, but she moved on to brighter pastures so I went it alone for a while.

Then I decided to take the plunge again, as I just couldn’t get all the things I wanted to do done.

And boy, was it worth it. I found my business penguin, Leanne Woff.

Since then we’ve bumped up her hours to as much as she can spare, and I employ a second member of her team (and another overseas VA) – one of the best decisions I made.

But I never wanted to employ anyone.

I didn’t want to be responsible for my own mortgage, let alone someone else’s.

Instead, I built up a network of helpful subcontractors.

The plate spin

Now that Recipe was up and running, I turned my eye back to The Clever Copywriting School.

At this point, maybe in 2016, It was just a collection of resources.

So I decided to build a directory, shop and most importantly, a membership.

I opened it tentatively. In the first few days, three of my fave copywriters joined, Angela DenlyMatt Fenwick and Melinda Leyshon (they all just celebrated their 5-year membership in the last few weeks).

This was one of the best decisions I made. I love this community.

It’s taught me so much – and we now have 260 members.

It’s a great place to be.

The small idea

After the membership had been running a year or so – maybe less – I decided it would be good to have a get-together. So I set about planning an event in Sydney.

This became CopyCon.

We had 90 people that first year, in a room that comfortably seated 60. It was sweaty, there were pillars in front of the screen and not enough loos, but we did it.

Last year was year three, in Melbourne, with 180 people.

It was amazing!

The Toon cave

I built my Toon cave back in April 2015, and it was a momentous decision.

It was me saying to the world, “Here’s my business and it’s here to stay!”

I adore having a private space in which to work; my own HQ.

I feel happy every time I open the door.

You can read about it here and here.

The pivot

In early 2018 I made the decision to stop taking on regular copywriting clients.

While I still do one or two that I really fancy (currently working with Sanitarium, which is excellent), I just didn’t have the time to service clients well.

From earning 100% of my income from copywriting, now it represents a meager 0.1%!!

It was incredibly hard giving up copywriting as it was very much part of my identity.

I had a hugely successful website and business, but it was the right call.

And now I’m able to pass on a lot of work to my Copywriting Community.

The book

I decided I wanted to write a book. A business book.

I’d written two before, Wobbly Jim and Gone Dotty, both just for fun.

This book would be a fun read but it was a serious decision.

Books still have gravitas.

(I’m not talking about the ones that take a week to write and are shoved on Amazon for $1.)

This took months of writing, editing, fiddling, proofing, design, typesetting and agony.

And nearly made me donate to Donald Trump.

But it was worth it. I’ve sold a fair few copies, (buy it here) and built another FB group off the back of it.

It’s helped me connect with more people and build my brand.

The money

Now I’m not going to give you my exact earnings. I’m rubbish at maths so would never get the percentages right.

I started small – just a few hours a week and a small income. The last few years have been big. Thank sweet baby cheeses that I implemented Profit First as otherwise I’d have thought myself rich and bought a giant golden hedgehog.

The reality is that my business is profitable and doing well, but there are costs involved.

Having multiple incomes helps.

Last year I earned the majority of my income on three days of the year with my Recipe launches. Now I’ve managed to build up a more consistent monthly income from a diverse range of things (some more expensive to run than others).

CopyCon is a great example. It looks like a big chunk of the pie but costs a lot to do.

What next?

I could go on. I could explain more. I’ve forgotten to mention Hot Copy, my process, or my average day.

But this is already a long post, so let me finish up with talking about what’s next.

For me, 2020 is all about consolidation.

  • Improving what I have
  • Tidying up processes
  • Automating boring stuff
  • Personalising the experience more
  • Being more creative and playful

In terms of achievements I hope to:

  • Publish my next book – #BEMORESHARK
  • Create my no woo digital retreat /thing via Digital Masterchefs (More news coming soon)
  • Set up my Mastermind for Copywriters with Belinda Weaver
  • And launch a new podcast that’s a little more me, and a bit less business

But who knows what will happen?

The path to where I am today was a wiggly one, with potholes and stumbling blocks and barriers.

And since I like to mix my metaphors, let me tell you it was not smooth sailing.

But now that I sit back and look at the Tooniverse I’ve created, I’m taking a brief moment to use my little T-Rex arms to pat myself on my back.

“That’ll do Toon” (as the farmer in Babe said).

This post was written by Kate Toon on LinkedIn and republished here with permission. 

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