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When Andreea Ayers starting looking for jobs after moving with her husband to Boulder, Colorado, in 2006, she was five months pregnant with her first child.
After a handful of interviews that went nowhere, she realized she might be better off building her own business, where she could have some flexibility with her new baby.
"I always had side businesses along with full-time jobs," the 39-year-old says. "So I thought. 'Let me pick one idea and devote myself full time to it."
She decided to launch a T-shirt company, using her savings to get started. "It was definitely under $1,000," she remembers. "I wanted to start with $1,000 because I figured, 'If I lose $1,000, it's not that bad.'"
From whether she should screen print the shirts herself (no, she would outsource), to where to buy her blank T-shirts (she ordered a bunch of samples and chose one that she would want as a customer), to whom she should sell (women), to what she should feature on the shirts (inspirational phrases), there were a lot of choices to make. "I learned as I went along," she says.
Ayers placed her first order for 96 shirts in four colors, drove them to a screen printer in Denver who walked her through the process, took her own photos, and set up a website and Etsy shop in April 2007 selling the tees for $28 each to "see what would happen."
Orders started to trickle in during that first month, and then she had an idea. At a prenatal yoga class, she noticed her instructor was wearing a shirt that said, "Be present."
"I was riding the bus back, thinking that shirt was so inspiring," she remembers. "I thought maybe it makes sense to sell the shirts to yoga studios."
That weekend, she spent two days combing through yoga websites and magazines to build an Excel spreadsheet of 3,000 yoga studios in the US and the names of the owners. "I spent the next week emailing every single one individually," she says. She offered the shirts, which cost her under $8 each to make, to the studios at wholesale, around $14 each. Within a week, she had sold out of her initial order and was able not only to reimburse herself the starting costs from her savings, but also make a profit and finance another order of shirts.
From there, the business snowballed, and that first year it earned about $124,000. As the business continued earning more, up to $160,000 a year, she was able to pay herself at least $3,000 a month — sometimes up to $10,000, depending on whether she needed to buy inventory — until she sold the business in February 2011, right before her third child was born.
"I was getting so many emails from people asking questions," Ayers remembers. "I had a lot of success getting in magazines, and people would say, 'How did you do it? Can I hire you?'" So she started consulting in April 2011 and took on five clients for $500 a month each, teaching them how to launch their businesses.
But with three young kids, helping five clients was too much. Ayers decided instead to launch an online course, "basically teaching them what I had been teaching them one on one — everyone had the same questions and the same needs."
She had been blogging about her experience launching a T-shirt business and had started to build an email list and an audience, to whom she offered her course for $47. About 50 people out of her 200-person list signed up. "I thought, 'This is crazy!' Ayers recalls. "Putting this course together, now I can sell to a lot more people than I could ever work with one on one."
After another $47 course with similar registration in January 2012, she launched a third, higher-end six-week course for $800 and sold 60 spots, creating videos to include and getting affiliate marketers on board.
Since then, she's begun offering not only the courses on her website, LaunchGrowJoy.com, but also a $125 per month membership to access media opportunities. She also takes regular speaking engagements that pay anywhere from $200 to $10,000.
She works about 25 hours a week (unless she's preparing for a project, in which case she might work more) and employs virtual help, including an assistant, a designer, a copywriter, and a video producer.
Over the last few years, her business's annual revenue has steadied around $220,000 to $240,000, and she usually takes home about $10,000 a month.
"It's had a huge impact on my life and family life," Ayers says. "Having all these businesses has allowed my husband to stay home with our kids, and for me to be home with our kids too, instead of spending my time away at work. If I didn't do this, probably both of us would have to work full time for someone else, and not be able to spend as much time with our kids."
And what does she advise someone else who wants to follow a similar career path?
"In addition to the type of lifestyle you want, it's important to think about how much you want to pay yourself and make that a priority," she says. "There's always things to spend money on in your business, but if you can make paying yourself a priority, that gives you so much motivation to keep going. If you don't do that, and you're spending so much time and energy and not seeing a return in terms of money, it's easy to get burned out and start resenting your business — and that's one of the worst things you can do."