Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Erin Pennings, owner of CopySnacks, located in Milwaukee, WI, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I'm the owner of CopySnacks, a boutique brand marketing and messaging firm that helps small businesses and startups turn their brands into customer magnets using my REACH Visibility Trajectory™ flexible framework.
Tell us about yourself
I joke that my list of past jobs reads more like a game of two truths and a lie than a career trajectory, but the truth is all roads have led me here. Although my degree is in Anthropology and Spanish, everything I've done over the last 20 years has been in marketing. The common thread of it all has been telling stories and, more specifically, figuring out what levers to pull to draw in my target audience.
It goes back a long way. My parents always encouraged me to be a critical thinker — and it drove me batty when I was a kid, and they'd play devil's advocate to help me see the big picture and other perspectives. But it's been so helpful whenever I'm faced with a problem.
Starting my business really has a lot to do with my dad. After he passed away in 2014, I had an epiphany. No one was going to give me the life I wanted unless I did it myself. So a few months later, I quit my job and spent six months hiking and running every day in the Anchorage area with my 18-month-old. And I slowly started to take clients, although, for many of them, I was a contractor and got to see inside the how of running a business.
Then in 2019, it was my time. I wanted the control to build the business I wanted on my terms. And over the years, it's grown and morphed into a brand messaging agency that helps clients build their brand, write copy, and design funnels to drive traffic and move the needle. Sometimes that means crafting compelling stories, while others, it means figuring out how to get people to read the story in the first place because all the great writing in the world doesn't make a difference if people aren't reading it. No matter what, it's always about tapping into what really matters so your audience clicks in the first place. When they feel like you're speaking directly to them, well, that's when the magic happens.
People often ask me how I stay committed to full-time, which this business has been since I opened my doors, even though a meager first year. But the truth is that there's no other option for me. I love seeing people's faces light up as they get clarity, and it moves the needle for their business. More importantly, doing what I do makes it possible for me to be around my kids and have the flexibility I need to do the things that matter to our family.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
This is always a hard question for me because everything about this business feels like a huge accomplishment. Looking back at the past, I had no idea what was possible — in terms of income or impact. And just since 2019, I've developed incredible friendships with clients and colleagues, spoken in a variety of summits and on an industry stage, taught courses and workshops, and appeared on some incredible podcasts (my episode of The Copywriter Club ranked #2 in 2022). However, at the end of the day, the impact matters most. My biggest success is when clients feel empowered by our work and grow their businesses — there's not much better than having them say things like, "It gave our team goosebumps with how good it is."
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Boundaries remain a huge challenge. Shutting things down at 3 pm to pick up my kids from school and not coming back to "just check one more email." Saying no to a project that doesn't fit my goals when I know I can really help the client and it's someone I love. Knowing when to hit pause — on projects, on hires, on things that I really love to re-evaluate. And, because I'm the boss, no one else is going to force me into any of it unless I am intentional.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- It CAN be easy for you AND valuable to someone else. There are so many things that you are "really" good at, but that doesn't feel super valuable because it's just the way your brain works. Whatever that thing is, if you enjoy it, explore how you can use that to your advantage and serve as the foundation for the business you're building. And your unique approach? It's your secret sauce, informed by your life experiences, that brought you to this point.
- Lay a great foundation for your marketing. Figure out how what you do matters to your client. What is the pain you solve? How do your clients talk about it? Remember, what you think you do may not be the problem they're experiencing. To give you an example, gym owners are rarely selling fitness classes or workout equipment. People go to the gym to build confidence in their bodies, button their jeans comfortably, and develop massive muscles. You get the picture. So when you understand what drives your audience, you'll be several steps ahead. After all, your business isn't about you or what you do. It's about your customers and what they want. When you can clearly articulate who you serve, what you do, why it matters to them, and what they can do as a result of working with you, you'll have a lens for all of your marketing.
- Make time for your business. When you start, particularly if you're transitioning from employee to business owner or consultant, it's easy to build yourself another job. After all, that's what you know. But that's the quickest way—in my experience—to burn out. Outside of hiring a business coach, one of the best practices I've found is to create CEO days once a week or once a month to focus on your goals and how you're going to reach them. If you don't make time for your business, no one else will either, and you'll probably find yourself stuck. However, when you devote time to your business, that's when you make strides toward the big crazy goals you thought were pipe dreams.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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