What’s my business model?
16 years. 4 phases. Plus questions for YOUR journey.

written by Bari Tessler May 19, 2017
4 phases blog post

A dear woman wrote to me a few months ago with a delightful surprise. She’d been cleaning out her closet (such a great practice for mental clarity) when, lo and behold, she came across a vintage copy of The Yogi Times from about 12 years ago. She flipped through the page, softened by the years, and stumbled across an ad from me.Here’s the miraculous bit: even though this ad was over a dozen years old, and I’d moved from the Bay Area to Boulder, Colorado, and my business is now online (and not in-person), and it’s now called The Art of Money instead of “Conscious Bookkeeping,” and my methodology is far more refined now — despite all of this, she was able to Google my name and find me doing similar work, all these years later. And you know what? She signed up for my year-long program. (How cool is that?)

Here’s the thing, though: even though I’m doing similar work now, my business model is radically different — and has gone through many iterations and overhauls since that ad came out, 12 years ago.

To inspire your own creative entrepreneurial journey, I’d like to share a little about the 4 main phases my own business has evolved through, over the past 16 years. But before I do, pretty-please keep in mind:

1. Be true to your own journey. I’ll be sharing what’s worked for me, over the years. But we all have our own values, priorities, and styles, when it comes to money, business, and life. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, when it comes to creative entrepreneurship. Please take what serves you, here — but most of all, I hope you’ll be inspired to find your own answers.

2. The nitty-gritty of money is incredibly important. Especially for entrepreneurs, getting savvy about money, learning its language, and delving into financial practicalities are incredibly empowering — they’re also essential. Along my journey, I’ve broken through one money ceiling after another: from $11 per hour to $20 to over $200, to earning a sustainable monthly income, then quarterly and now yearly income. This is emotional, practical, and life-visioning work. It’s deep and wide and incredibly important. (More on all that here.)

3. And yet — it’s never just about the numbers. As with all things money, the numbers in a creative entrepreneurial journey are important, but they’re not the only important thing. That’s why I don’t strive for a 7-figure business at this time — I’m much more interested in questions like, “how can I create enough income to have the lifestyle I want? What teaching format will allow me to travel, rest and play, while sharing my gifts + content with my community in the most generous way? What business model allows me to have a supportive team, pay them well, while also continuing to donate to organizations that I believe in?” And, so on…

4. Growth isn’t always linear. As you’ll see below, I very intentionally simplified my business model for the first few years after my son was born, working as little as possible so I could be home with him and recuperate. Not every year is a growth year for me, and I’m constantly re-evaluating what my priorities are for this life-phase, so I can craft my business model around them. Success and happiness don’t always mean earning more, each and every step of the way.

5. Trust your timing. There are certain generalizations about business growth that can be helpful: Tad Hargrave, for example, says it usually takes about 3 years for a new business to earn sustainable income. (Check out our fabulous interview here.) But every business is different!

When I started my business, I was 32 years old, with tons of energy (and no kids) — so it was easy and fun for me to work a totally crazy amount of hours each week. My business journey would have looked totally different if I’d started at 56, with two teenaged children and a chronic health issue. (It also would have looked totally different if I’d started at 24, as an internet-savvy Millennial.) We get into tricky, shame-riddled territory when we start comparing our own journeys with others’ — so please, please: honor your own timing and what’s possible (and good) for you.

Creating a fabulous business model means regularly asking:
What are my values and priorities, right now?
What phase of life am I in … and growing into?


Here are the 4 main phases my business has evolved through, over the past 16 years from 2001 – 2017…

Phase 1: Solopreneur. (Years 1 – 3)

Bari in Sebastopol - Phase One biz

When I started my journey as an entrepreneur in 2001, I was 32 years old, living with my then-boyfriend (now husband), Forest in an apple orchard in Sebastopol, California. I’d spent the past decade training to be a somatic therapist at Naropa University and practicing in the mental health field. But I had zero business experience. Thankfully, I did have a ton of emotional and somatic training and tools, and quickly learned to apply them to the entrepreneurial world. I was also young, with tons of time and energy — and I was excited to hustle!

I had steady bookkeeping clients that earned me my “bread and butter” income. But behind the scenes, I was developing my Art of Money methodology (then called Conscious Bookkeeping). I slowly started teaching my methodology to more and more people, starting with small groups of 10 people. I was also giving free, 90-minute talks anywhere and everywhere that would have me. I was also training folks on Quickbooks (instead of doing the bookkeeping for them) and was starting to offer my private Financial Therapy sessions to women and couples.

My big marketing effort was word-of-mouth and flyering — everywhere. I was doing everything myself, eager to build connections and relationships any way I could.

As my Conscious Bookkeeping work grew, I was able to let go of more and more of my bookkeeping clients and replace that revenue with the income I was earning from leading small groups. During this time I was focused on refining my methodology and creating more sustainable income. 

By the last year and a half of this phase, I started feeling like my work was bearing fruit — but someone or something was eating all the apples from my tree and there wasn’t much left over to enjoy. This was a metaphor, obviously, but I knew something needed to shift, and I couldn’t quite envision a sustainable business model, yet.

So I did an unusual thing: I reached out to folks in my community that I respected, and asked if they would be on my Board of Advisors to help me grow my mission and work. They all said yes! We met about once a month for six months, and this was a tremendous support, for me. I was able to get amazing insight and support from people I trusted and looked up to — which psychologically helped me expand into phase 2. 

  
Phase 2: The Team. (Years 3 – 7.5)

Bari Phase Two: The Team

Thanks to all the hard work, relationship-building, and networking I did in during my first phase, a number of people had begun reaching out to me, asking to join my team. I hadn’t considered leading a team, but I knew I wanted to generate more income and spread my message farther.

So, I created a team of Bookkeeping Trainers and Financial Coaches, under the umbrella of Conscious Bookkeeping. I realized pretty quickly that one of them (who had a strong corporate accounting background) would be the perfect business partner to take things to the next level — so now I was running a team with a business partner. It was a significant upgrade and my business partner and I had 3.5 great years together. 

This arrangement was a big leap into increased and more sustainable cash flow. Conscious Bookkeeping received 33% of the income that came in from our trainers, while they kept 66%. (I had seen a business coach do the opposite split, and that felt horrible to me — being more generous with my trainers felt important to me and great to them.)

I loved this arrangement in part because I was able to do more of what I loved: overseeing the team and sharing the inspiring introductory talks (all over the Bay Area). I also kept leading my Conscious Bookkeeping groups (3 classes per week) and did some private Financial Therapy.

99.5% of what I offered was live and in-person, which meant I spent a ton of time driving. I taught one night a week in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, and one in Sebastopol. I typically drove 2-3 hours to teach one class of 10-20 people. It was only by the end of this phase that I began teaching one class per week via tele-class to people in other parts of the country.

Conscious Bookkeeping Level i Suddenly and surprisingly, I turned 38 and changed my mind about becoming a mama. I’d never thought it was important to me, but it suddenly seemed like the only next step on my path. I had seen women continue working after having children, so it didn’t occur to me that I would need (or want) to shift anything about my business model. But that all changed when I got pregnant with Noah.

 
Phase 3: Mommypreneur (Years 7.5 – 11)

Soon after we moved back to Boulder, Colorado (where I had gone to graduate school at Naropa University to train to be a somatic therapist in my twenties), I found myself in my first trimester, pregnant with Noah.

My business partner sent me a paper calendar for my birthday: 200 pages filled with space and suggestions for being more organized and productive. Now, when your days alternate between throwing up and going back to bed (I had awful morning sickness the first trimester), this sort of gift seems utterly absurd. I threw it straight in the trash — and that felt like the beginning of the end of phase 2.

After a healthy pregnancy, I had a big complication during labor (a placenta abruption), and while my boy and I came out healthy, we both had a long road of recovery in front of us. Life became simple: rest, feed my boy, rest some more. Suddenly, my priorities had completely changed — and my business model needed to shift to accommodate them. It was time to pare things down and make “simplicity and ease” my new mantra.

I let go of my entire team (2 VA’s, Bookkeeping Trainers and Financial Coaches), and parted ways with my business partner of 3.5 years. I became a one-woman show again — this time around as a mommypreneur.

To clarify this new phase of my business model, I asked myself some new questions:

  • What do I love doing the most?
  • What is the most lucrative?
  • How can I work 10 hours a week or less, without leaving home, while recovering?
  • How can I stay connected to my work and provide great, caring value to my students, without the stress of Big Picture Visioning?

The solution was going online with my services. After Noah was born, for the first two years, I taught my group program online (2x or 3x per year) with 50 students— in a very simple format and that was it. I said “no” to most every invitation, and didn’t leave my house for work. I stopped working with private clients until Noah turned 3 or 4.

I did recieve two big media invitations that are worth mentioning during this phase. They seem surreal, because I was so crazily sleep deprived, but they really did happen. 

When my son was still a baby I was invited to be on the cover of Experience Life Magazine with a featured article! I met the founding editor at a Green Business Conference in San Francisco (6 years before) and we had stayed in touch. The Experience Life crew flew me out to Los Angeles for a quick 24 hour photo shoot. They were wonderful to me, and even though I don’t look life myself on that cover, it’s really me. It came out February, 2010. 


The second invitation came from H&R Block. They reached out to me, when my son was a toddler, and asked me to interview for their new Financial Therapist role. H&R Block flew me out to Kansas City for another one-day trip — I would only leave my son for 24 hours. I gave the best interview I could, but in the end, they chose the traditional financial guy, who had done a ton of tv and media.

When noah was 2 years old, we took a big leap. My husband helped me take all of the content that I had been developing for many years and create my online programs in a private membership area. Until then, I was still sending all of my tele-course materials via email and taught the community part via a tele-conference line.

You see, a few years before this time in 2007, my husband took the very first Teaching Sells course about online programs (which became Copyblogger and later Rainmaker) — and he was absolutely on fire about it. I’ll never forget him telling me, over a picnic in Dolores Park, San Francisco, “THIS is what I want to DO! THIS! I’m made to create online programs!”

So, in late 2009, my dear husband made all of this happen for me: he created my first Conscious Bookkeeping Home Study program in InfusionSoft, and launched me into this next phase of my business, which I will forever be grateful for!

My income took a big dip during this phase. I had gone from running my Conscious Bookkeeping team, which brought in a significant amount of consistent income, to moving back to being a solo-preneur with a simplified model.

We had to adjust our family finances accordingly. Forest and I knew we were in a big transition, and I needed to give myself the time to recover. We simply had to trust … and embrace simplicity. {You can read a fuller account of this phase right here.}

Once Noah began growing and I could sleep more, I was able to start visioning a new phase to leap into — one where I could truly leverage all of my years of hard work, experimentation, and content creation.


Phase 4: The Art of Money. (Years 11 – 16+)

When Noah turned 4 years old, my 44th year was close on the horizon. We were recovered, resourced … and ready for another big shift. After many years of hard and good work, I began asking some new questions:

  • How can I be the most generous with my content, while serving my community in the best way, by using my favorite skill sets, and creating my most lucrative and sustainable business model to date?
  • Is it possible to create something from a more open, feminine place — instead of the intense, masculine, push-push-push of a “launch”?

After a year of contemplation, frustration, and feeling as though I was pushing the river again, I finally had a quick and clear vision: a year-long program. I was ready and I could feel the community was ready. The Art of Money was conceived — and became my favorite teaching model and business model, to date.

I stepped in my 44th year and leapt from teaching 50-60 students in my final 6-month Conscious Bookkeeping tele-course to welcoming 320 students in the first year of The Art of Money. My program now had students from a dozen countries, along with incredible guest teachers and a team of TA’s.

Behind the scenes, this shift meant I didn’t have to launch and register folks for a program 3, 4, or 5 times a year (incredibly stressful!), but only once a year. This has made a huge difference in my life (and finances), and allows me to be the most generous with my content, including free articles, like this one.

My husband also came on full-time to help run The Art of Money behind the scenes during this phase. He was the mastermind behind my current website, the creative marketing and so much more. 

I also learned how to have FUN during registration periods and create wonderful free content: interview series and adventures including the Art of Money Roadshow, Money Mochas, and the Money Memoir Series.

Art of Money Road Show: 

 

Money Memoir Interview Series: 

And this new business model offered me the time and resources to fulfill a lifelong dream: writing and publishing a book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness. I’d been dreaming of this (and been asked for it) since the very first talk I gave, way back in my Conscious Bookkeeping days, so many years ago. I was able to create the book I’d always wanted, and am so proud of it. I hope it touches so many people’s lives — and it’s also been an amazing way to expand my community and grow the year-long Art of Money program.

The Art of Money book:


Art of Money Book Selfies: 


Art of Money Book Tour:

 

Phase 5: It’s right around the corner (16+ years)

After 4 years of leading my year-long Art of Money program (I’m in the middle of leading my fifth year right now) and working with private Financial Therapy clients and taking a full year to create The Art of Money book and going on a book tour and overseeing a team and creating loads of free content — whew! I’ve decided to take a deep rest in 2017. And I am savoring it.

This year, I’m “only” leading my year-long Art of Money program with 470 students! I’m deepening and widening this program while going into “rest mode” on all other levels. I’m saying no to 99.5% of the offers coming my way.

This just happens to coincide with another big life change: I’m fully in peri-menopause and stepping deeper into my wisdom years. (Deep breath.)

I am so grateful that, after so many years of struggling to find the right mix of support, I have the most solid team I’ve ever had. I’ve got in my corner Amber Kinney (my Online Business Manager), Ali Willoughby (my VA), and Angela Raines (my co-writer for the past 6 years). They are all wonderful at what they do, and rock-steady enough that I can fully trust our collaborations and rest the way I need to. And of course, my husband, Forest Linden, is still around for big visioning with me, which means the world.

This year of rest feels incredibly important — not only to recover, but also to allow the openness and space to welcome in the vision for the next phase of my business-and-life journey.

I know I will be continuing my year-long Art of Money program for years to come, as well as striving to land the Art of Money book in as many hands and hearts as possible. I’m saying yes to interviews and podcasts that feel like a great match and will continue creating new content for my Art of Money students and the wider community.

But … something else is coming. I can feel it. I’m not sure exactly what it will be. Perhaps more books … perhaps something totally unexpected. But it’s on its way … and I’m remaining open to it.

There are many ways I could be bringing in more money right now — like offering private financial therapy sessions or offering an Art of Money training for financial folks and therapists. But part of having a sustainable relationship with money is honoring that it can’t always be about more more more. Sometimes, we need to consciously say no to things, so we can make room for what wants to come next.

What are your measurements of success?

We all get to define what “success” means to us … but as creative entrepreneurs, we have even more agency around creating income streams, structures, and models to embody and invoke this personal measure of success.

For me, being a “successful” entrepreneur has never been just about the money — it’s about how many people I can truly serve, what lifestyle I can enjoy with my family, and how generous I can be with my team, my community, and the world. And yet it’s also about creating a thriving, sustainable income that supports all of this, while honoring that this will shift over time, along with your life-phase, priorities, and values.

Whatever phase of business you are in, I encourage you to check in with yourself regularly. What are your measures of success? What phase of life are you in, and what phase are you growing into? What is most lighting you up, about your work — and could you be doing that more?

Here’s to your success … however YOU define that.

You might also like: