This Took My Business from Side Hustle to Six-figures | Captain Coder

This Took My Business from Side Hustle to Six-figures

Marisa VanSkiver / September 19, 2023


Tell me if this sounds familiar to you.

You’re great at what you do and so you thought, “I’m going to go out and do that for myself.”

And then the reality of having to get clients settles in and it can seem incredibly hard to grow your business.

Can I be honest?

I was stuck in that pattern for years. Over 10 years in fact.

If you’ve listened to my podcast for a bit, you might know that I started learning to code when I was 13. I sold my first websites when I was around 16. I took my first in-house web development job straight out of high school.

And I’ve been trying to figure out how to grow a business for myself ever since.

What finally worked and “clicked” three years ago?

It wasn’t anything I did or could learn. I just finally had to have the confidence in myself to do it.

My Corporate Life

Let’s take a step back a bit.

Like I said, I’ve been coding websites for over half of my life at this point (no, I don’t like being able to say that).

When I was 18, a local company hired me to be their in-house developer and let me work remotely when I went off to college. In my sophomore year, I took a job on campus as a student web developer.

I’ve worked as an in-house web developer, reputation manager, copywriter (my degrees are actually in English), as a senior developer for an agency, and just about every facet of marketing.

You would think that I would be prepped and confident enough to go out on my own.

Yea, no.

The entire time that I was working for other people, I was constantly trying to build up a freelance business.

I took on a couple of websites in college, did some ghostwriting for a marketing agency after I earned my Master’s degree, and was constantly trying to get more work on the side.

Yet, nothing ever really worked or took off. I didn’t know how to take one happy client and turn them into 10, 20, 30, and more.

I heard stories of other coders swamped with work and didn’t know how I could do that.

How I Finally Became an Entrepreneur

After over 10 years of working for other people, I finally took a step out on my own.

But it wasn’t without a safety net.

I had been building a side business with a graphic designer and we had been approached to be part of a new start-up.

We should have been prioritizing building our own business, but instead, we put all of our emphasis on this new shiny start-up. When the other partner found an investor that meant we would get a steady paycheck while we built the start-up, we took the leap and left our steady jobs to jump on that team.

And everything crashed within a month.

I won’t go into the nitty gritty, but the short version is my partner at the time got into a fight with the founder. We were seen as a package deal and off we went.

Suddenly, I had no job, no start-up, and just this side business that we’d been trying to grow kind of unsuccessfully.

My First Agency

I was the breadwinner in my house, so going without a paycheck wasn’t really an option.

My partner and I hit the ground running, going to all of the local networking events, joining a BNI group and a local business association, and just trying to do what we could to find clients.

It took time, but it worked.

Within the first year of being full-time, we’d gotten an office downtown and even had to hire our first full-time employee.

Over three years of building that business, we were still struggling. I didn’t always get paid and then sometimes I got paid pretty well. It was always a bit of feast and famine.

Worst yet, I was super unhappy in the business.

We’d gone from creating websites to doing everything marketing and I was doing multiple jobs. Running Facebook and Google ads, writing most of the copy, video editing, coding the websites, and sitting in every meeting and writing all the sales proposals.

Not only had I helped to create a business that didn’t reflect what I actually wanted it to be, but my relationship with my partner had turned super toxic.

But I didn’t know what I could actually do to get out and what my next move would be.

The last few job interviews I had gone on before creating my agency had flagged that my overall personality wasn’t fit because I was “too independent.”

(I’m pretty sure that’s a nice way of saying I had ideas of how things should run and wouldn’t listen well to wrong opinions.)

Captain Coder is Born

How did I go from that situation to this business that I absolutely love?

The answer might surprise you, but it was months of therapy.

I had to believe that I had something to offer without a partner or other people to prop me up.

I had to believe that me, my decade-plus of experience and knowledge, my unique view and personality, was worth someone buying.

There are a lot of nuances into why this was an issue to begin with, but the only thing that really worked for me was gaining the confidence to believe in myself and my unique value.

Thanks to some amazing friends, clients, and a great therapist, I got there. Leaving and going off on my own wasn’t easy and it meant starting from scratch but I knew I could do it.

How to Grow Your Business

Trying to grow a business?

It’s all about confidence.

If you don’t believe in yourself and what you offer, especially when you run a service-based business, you will find it incredibly difficult to sell to clients.

Honestly, do you want to buy from someone who approaches it as “Hey you know, you can buy this thing, if you’re interested, you know, maybe?”

I could have grown my side hustle into a six-figure business back when I was 19 if I had just had the confidence to go after what I wanted.

But I got caught up in the idea that I needed the safety net. That safety net was usually a full-time job or another person, but either way, it meant that it wasn’t totally on me.

The crazy thing is, I’m not sure you can really grow a business without taking a gigantic leap of faith.

Fake It Till You Make It

When I talk about confidence in your business, I don’t mean that you’ll never have doubts.

As someone who has been diagnosed with anxiety, I have them all of the time.

Sometimes, you have to just pretend that you have that confidence when you get on those sales calls and post to Instagram. You might not always feel like it, but practicing and faking it actually has helped me to build it.

Get a Support System

Perhaps the best thing you can do to grow your business is to surround yourself with people who believe in you.

I never could have built Captain Coder without my best friend who is my biggest cheerleader. Even when he maybe shouldn’t believe in me, he does. I was lucky that I had a great support system in my friends and found a couple of online communities to join as well.

I’m also incredibly grateful that I was able to bring on a business coach, too, who could help me see my entire operation from a different perspective but also cheered me on.

If you don’t have people in your life right now who believe that you can do what you’re trying to do, it’s time to meet some new friends online. Other entrepreneurs will be the best friends you’ve ever had because they’ll help you to see the things you can’t in your own business.

Confidence Comes with Time

I’ll be totally honest – I’m still working on this.

Confidence in your business and what you do will take a while to build.

But when you start getting those happy reviews from clients and you see the transformations you’re able to help them achieve, it’ll come.

When you’re able to help more people, that confidence will build.

How to Build Your Business Confidence

If you’re struggling with this entire concept and you’re thinking “Yea, that’s great, but…” then I have a couple of ideas for you.

First, if you’ve not done this yet I want you to go find a community. Maybe that’s a local BNI or networking group. Maybe it’s a Mastermind group. Maybe it’s just a free Facebook community.

The trick is to find people who are in the same place as you but also a few steps ahead of you. You want to be able to lean on and learn from each other. More, you just need to practice talking about what you do and get used to having conversations around it all.

Next, you need to get over the fear and ask your current clients for feedback.

This is an incredibly scary thing for me every time we do it, but I love getting the answers now. All of my clients give great feedback because I know we do a great job for them. The answers though sometimes surprise me and point out things that they loved about our service I wasn’t even aware of.

You can’t have confidence in your business and your ability to deliver your service if you don’t know how your own clients feel about it.

And lastly, you need to share this feedback with the world! Add them as posts on Instagram, and testimonials on your website, and ask them to come on and share their stories with your podcast audience. Whatever makes the most sense for you.

Don’t be afraid to share those testimonials you’re getting, because honestly, the more you read them the more not only your other prospects will believe them but the more you will, too.

Take the Leap of Faith

Running a business really is just taking one big leap of faith.

Most of us will never have a massive investment into our business that takes some of that fear out.

In fact, I bet you’ve done what you can to bootstrap your business with minimal investment.

Being an entrepreneur is never easy, but it takes that confidence (and probably a little bit of crazy) to be confident in how you can help your customers.

Once you can believe in yourself and project that air of confidence, you’ll be amazed at how many people start rolling in and wanting to work with you.

Join the Conversation!

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