How to Run a Successful Online Business while Being Chronically Ill
Chronic illness can be a challenge to deal with, especially when you’re an entrepreneur running your own business. But it doesn’t have to stop you from doing just that. Jenny Shih was the breadwinner of her family when she decided to quit her corporate job and start her online coaching business. Then she became chronically ill. She continued to bring home an income throughout her illness and was even able to grow her business. Here, she reveals how she did it.
Finding Her Passion
In 2007, Jenny was working as an engineering manager at a high tech Fortune 500 company. “I was doing well, found my footing and people really respected me. I liked leading teams. But I kept thinking: If I have to do this until I retire, I will be so disappointed in myself that this is all that I’ve done. I will regret that I haven’t done something more impactful.” Jenny knew that the corporate environment wasn’t for her anymore. “However, I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never known what I wanted to do, I just always followed the rules.”
She ended up quitting her job to start a career coaching business, helping women like herself who had a successful corporate career but wanted something different. “I didn’t have a website, I didn’t have clients. I was the breadwinner in our household and just went for it. I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. I had some savings and we were going to live off them for a little while. I started this business serving these women and I was slowly getting clients and doing the work, but something didn’t feel quite right.”
Jenny was working as a virtual assistant to bring in extra money and started to like that more than coaching her clients. “I hired a coach to help me figure out what I liked so much more about being a VA than coaching, and discovered that it was that hands on, practical, action taking focus. So I closed my career coaching business and I regrouped. We had almost no money left in the bank, but I knew I had to do it. And I started jennyshih.com on March 1st, 2011 as virtual assistant project management and coaching.”
Diagnosis: Lyme Disease
In 2010, Jenny started to feel off. “I couldn’t pinpoint specific symptoms, but I wasn’t feeling good. I went to a doctor, but she wrote me off.” By the end of 2012, all of Jenny’s symptoms got worse. “I was more tired, I hurt all over, I wasn’t digesting my food properly. My brain was kind of foggy. My friends pushed me to go see a doctor again.” In 2013, Jenny was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease.
“It’s a really tricky bug to get rid of. It has this cycle of hiding in your system. It affects you neurologically and physically. And the worst part about it is that treating it makes things even worse. So before you feel better, you will feel a lot worse.” Jenny began treatment in July 2013 and after four months, felt completely ravaged. “I was tired all the time. I couldn’t think straight, I had no energy. I was depressed. I wasn’t in a good place.”
After five months, all of the symptoms were gone and her doctor was sure that the bug was eradicated from Jenny’s system. “It was good news, but the process of doing that pretty much ravaged me. I was no longer a very functioning human being and I had to begin this journey of repairing my whole system.” It took Jenny another three years to recover.
Narrowing it Down
In this four year period, she still had to earn money. “I had to pay our household bills, I still had to pay the mortgage and buy dog food and pay for all these doctors. So I had to keep running my business but I had to do it differently. I asked myself: How can I sustain a livable income? And doing it at a schedule that is manageable?”
This became Jenny’s challenge. “I had to become more focused, more deliberate, more intentional. I knew that this is my reality now, I could fight it or I could work with it. You have to have two top priorities, not 3, not 10, not 4. What are the two most important things to you that you aren’t willing to negotiate? I couldn’t negotiate my income and I couldn’t negotiate getting better. Everything else had to become negotiable.”
Narrowing down to those two specific targets and pushing everything else aside was what made it work for her in the end. Jenny had been working with one-on-one clients and had built a reputation for herself prior to getting ill. She had been able to up her prices and had a six month waiting list. Now, she drew from those resources. “I had an arsenal of old YouTube videos and blog posts. I had all this content and people continued to find me. I didn’t need to launch a new course to a thousand people. I just needed to sell to 10 to 15 clients a year. I gave my best brain power to those clients and then I would go take a nap.”
Creating Content Efficiently
Jenny started thinking about ways that would allow her to give her audience new content without draining her energy. She started doing 60 seconds YouTube videos revealing a business tip. “I recorded four to six of them at a time. What ends up being one minute on video obviously takes time to prepare, but I sketched them out, recorded them, wrote a short teaser and posted them once a week. This was my way of giving top notch content to my people and keeping things fresh.” Jenny says that it’s not necessary to create tons of content every day. “But you do need to continue doing something small.”
While Jenny wasn’t well, it never occurred to her to share what was happening to her. “I didn’t think this was anything that anybody really needed to know about. But when I started to get better, I changed my mind. I didn’t mind sharing my struggle, but I thought that I could be a more powerful teacher once I reached the other side of that struggle.”
Today, Jenny doesn’t work with one-to-one clients anymore, unless someone special comes along. Her audience for the most part are women who are getting started or are trying to build up their online business. “I transitioned from a one-to-one model to a one-to-many model. Now, I have a pretty big business, two full time employees, one part time contractor and a whole bunch of smaller contractors. I have about 20 coaches that work for me in my ‘Make It Work’ online program.” The best thing about her business? “It really allows me to grow in a way that then benefits not only people who work for me, but all of the clients that we serve.”
Jenny is pregnant and planning to go on maternity leave. “My team has gotten to the point where they can run the business for five months without me. We’re going to meet for several days and plan exactly what is going to happen in these five months that I’m gone. Of course, it’s not like I’m disappearing. My phone is never far away. But the ship is going to keep running. And when I come back, we know exactly what we’ll be doing the following year.”
Jenny says that quitting her corporate job and starting her own business was the best thing she could have done. “There’s so much growth for me, but also so much delight. Yes, it’s stressful, it’s hard, there is more risk – but I love it. I would never trade it for the world.”
In This Episode of The Sigrun Show:
- Why she believes it was easier to get into online business in 2009 than today
- Why she quit her career coaching business
- Why she stopped building her online presence when she was recovering from her illness
- How she copes with getting better and still keeps the momentum of her business going
- The non-negotiables that she prioritized to stay on top of her business
- What to do to hit your top goals and priorities
- How she keeps a constant six-month waiting list
- The ripple effect that her business creates and the people who benefit from this effect
Connect with Jenny Shih:
Come to Iceland in 2020 for the Selfmade Summit 2020
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