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PNW adventure mama,  gentle parenting, natural homeschooling, and simple living mentor, and founder of Sage Family.

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Lean Small Business

Mar 4, 2021
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Disclosure: When I recommend a product that I believe will add value for you, it may contain an affiliate link, and when you click the link to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

I’m weird and it serves me so well.

I have some core values, like freedom and simplicity, that inform my approach to personal finance (which you can learn all about in the Sage Money course). They also provided the foundation upon which I built and run my business.

I pay myself first: 50% right off the top of every dollar that comes in gets transferred to our personal account.

I pay the IRS second: 30% gets transferred to a savings account for taxes.

I pay the business third: no more than 20% gets invested back into the business.

I pay myself again fourth: everything remaining in that 30% after taxes and that 20% after expenses is profit, which is my yearly bonus. With some minimalism and creativity, I keep my expenses low, which means I always have profit funds available at the end of the fiscal year (after tax time) to spend on anything from professional development to travel.

So if I earn $10, $5 gets dropped into my bucket, $3 into the government’s bucket, and $2 into the business’s bucket. It’s that good ole’ save first mentality.

A lean business is one that maximizes value while minimizing waste; in other words, minimalism. And I run a very lean business. I do more of what yields results and less of what doesn’t (the 80/20 Pareto Principle). I leverage passive income. And it’s sadly radical to confess that my business does not spend money it does not have. It’s all about efficiency.

This has always been especially important to me as a mama of 3 homeschooled children. Connection with my people and honoring our needs has always been my priority. So I needed to build a business that was a value add to my family’s peace and freedom, not an extra high-needs baby. My business allows me to meaningfully contribute to the world on a large scale while also fulfilling the potential of my drive and mind. It helps to provide for our needs and increases our lifestyle choices without increasing our financial obligations or stress. It’s great when the business does well and it’s fine when my attention needs to go elsewhere, because it takes so little to keep the light on.

Women reach out to me near daily asking for advice on becoming an entrepreneur and while the work itself is a separate conversation, this financial stuff builds the foundation.

So I’m sharing my 14 recurring expenses and what I pay for them yearly.

1. Liability Insurance $219

The first recurring expense I ever made was liability insurance. I come from a therapy background where this protection for your business is absolutely necessary. It’s a subscription I pay for every year despite never actually using it and I’m totally good with that (don’t sue me, k?).

This, combined with establishing my LLC (which I did through Northwest Registered Agent), protects my personal assets and brings me peace of mind.

I hold a policy for life coaching from Alternative Balance, but the company and policy you need will vary by industry and profession.

2. PayPal/Stripe

You need a credit card processor to accept payments and they deduct a percentage and fee from every payment.

I started my business with Amazon book sales direct deposited into my account and in person class fees paid by check, but to run an online business with coaching and courses I quickly accepted the need for online payments.

Since it’s a percentage/fee per payment processed, there are no up front costs or bills for you to pay. You just have to accept it as the price of doing online business and account for it in your pricing.

All the major processors (Stripe, PayPal, Squarespace) charge basically the same fees so choose the company that’s right for your business. PayPal is great for all the simple stuff, Stripe is needed for subscriptions, and Squarespace is best for brick-and-mortar shops.

3. Google Domains $12

You need a website and Google Domains is my favorite for hosting websites thanks to their low price, ease of use, and connected features (from email to SEO).

4. Google Workspace $72

Speaking of email, you can use a free gmail account just fine (I did for like 12 years). I upgraded to their business email to get the domain branding (rachel@sagefamily.com) and unlimited Google Drive files (which you use if you’ve downloaded the Google worksheets in the Sage Money course).

5. Showit $326

I used WordPress for years and it worked fine—its free. But I am really into website design and function and Showit makes my business life so much easier and better. It’s not cheap, but I’m no longer spending hours trying to code changes that I need to reflect my ever-evolving business (Showit is drag-and-drop simple). I made a one-time purchase of a Tonic website template (10% off with discount code SAGEFAMILY) and I edit content like I would a storefront window. It’s been life-changing.

Related Side Note: Ryan of Moreno Collective has been one of my all-time favorite business investments. He bills himself as a Showit SEO specialist but what that really means is part technical coding google-pleasing magician and part modern design whiz. When you get enough in that profit margin, spend it on him (20% off with discount code SAGEFAMILY).

6. Flodesk $209

Flodesk is an email marketing service provider like MailChimp or ConvertKit but it’s by far my favorite thanks to its low price (you can get 50% off if you sign up through this link) and beautiful, modern, minimalist user experience and design. A team of women finally created an email service and I’m 100% here for it (and you should be too).

An email service is important because email sequences are how you generate sales through funnels (freebie > email sequence > sale) and run an entire business on automation (make money while playing with your kids).

I’ll add that Laura Belgray of Talking Shrimp was a valuable resource for me in mastering the language of copy. I used some of those profit funds one year for The Copy Cure with her and Marie Forleo (which was very helpful) and continued learning a ton from Laura’s emails.

7. Zapier $240

Zapier is an automation program that integrates web applications. I think of it like a bridge that connects one program to another. For example, when someone purchases a course, their email address is automatically added to a specific email segment for people who have taken that course. You can do this manually (I did for many years), but being efficient means freeing up your time and energy from tasks that a robot can do, to tasks that require your special brand of creative genius.

8. Thinkific $468

I started off selling classes as .pdf downloads (website sales page > PayPal buy button > Zapier connecting sale to email sequence > download delivered via email) because online course platforms are a significant expense.

Last year I researched different online course platforms (Teachable, Kajabi, Thinkific, etc.) and at the start of this year I transitioned the Bucket System onto Thinkific with videos, audio, worksheets, text, photos, and discussions. It significantly elevated the quality of the course and that was immediately reflected in course sales. Then at the start of this year I launched a whole new course: Sage Money.

The success of this platform in meeting the needs of my clients inspired me to shift my business model and I now have a Sage Family Membership on Thinkific that includes a community and live group coaching, which allows me to support more families at a lower price point than my regular one-on-one coaching practice. Plus, it has features like an affiliate program where my clients can earn money when they share the programs with their friends.

I have since upgraded to a more sophisticated Thinkific plan that grants me access to additional features to accommodate everything it’s doing for me now for $948.

Sage Money Course

9. Zoom $165

I have spent years doing coaching calls for free through Skype. When the pandemic hit and everyone transitioned to Zoom, I shifted over to their free plan and it worked fine.

Only once I began live monthly group coaching in the Sage Family Membership on Thinkific did I upgrade to the paid Zoom account to accommodate this work.

10. Canva $119

Canva is the program I use for all things graphic design: memes, social media headers, blog post images, etc. If it’s a .jpeg or .pdf, I made it in Canva. Their free version is great and was all I needed for many years.

When I elevated the individuality and consistency of my brand, I upgraded to the paid version of Canva, which allowed me to have a brand kit at my fingertips with my custom fonts, colors, and logo.

11. Libsyn $240

When I started the Sage Family Podcast 3 years ago, the one required expense was hosting and I opted to do that through Libsyn. Honestly, the user experience isn’t great but it does its job.

My business has a nice Blue Yeti mic that I use for everything from podcasting to course creation to coaching and I edit every episode myself in GarageBand for free.

12. Post Office Box $100

You don’t need a PO Box but there are a lot of things that require a publicly visible address (for example, the law says you must have a physical address in the footer of your marketing emails) and we are not comfortable publicizing our home address for safety reasons. When we began publicly advocating in support of transgender children, we paid to have our personal identifying information scrubbed from the internet (thank you Privacy Duck and their 40% activist discount) and have treated it as confidential ever since. There are other mailbox companies who offer a similar service but they cost more and I don’t actually use it to receive mail (it just sits empty).

13. Quickbooks $162

Until recently, I always used an Excel spreadsheet for my business bookkeeping and it worked just fine. The volume of business I’m doing this year increased and with that hard-earned blessing came a greater risk come tax time if my math was wrong.

So I now use Quickbooks, but I’m at the point of the learning curve where I still hate almost every second of it. My friend Bari Tessler recommended her friend and bookkeeper Jess of Heart Based Bookkeeping, who is helping me as a bookkeeping doula trainer. If you’re taking this leap, I highly recommend budgeting in some hand holding. I’m an intelligent woman who really gets money but this software is not intuitive (and yet, I’m told it’s the best of what’s available).

Woman gazing out at the water from her deck while grieving and healing following a miscarriage

If you add up all of the above recurring expenses (except credit card processing, which is a percentage), you will see that my business expenses total about $2,300 a year, which works out to about $194 a month. But remember, I started with just liability insurance and a domain. I only added on services as my business could afford them. In other words, I only invested in the business when it could support the investment out of its profits (out of what was left after I paid myself 50% and set aside 30% for Uncle Sam).

Don’t get me wrong, the total business expenses I claimed on my taxes this year were greater than $2200 + credit card processing fees because I had the money in profit to spend on boring yet worthwhile business things you’ll never notice, like a trademark attorney (Sage Family® and Bucket System® coming soon thanks to my friend Cassidy Freitas sending Kate Santon my way).

My final yearly expense is by far the biggest.

14. Tax Accountant $500-$1500

I always did our taxes through Turbo Tax and it was easy and cheap (Why can’t Quickbooks be like Turbo Tax when they’re made by the same company?!). Then we entered the stock market, I executed my mother’s estate, and my business started posting legitimate profits—our finances became unavoidably more complicated from a tax perspective. It was the right time for us to get the guidance of a person who really knew what they were doing.

After trying a couple different people recommended at various price points, we are now happily with Jason Smith (thanks to Jess’s recommendation). He is taking care of everything and helping me get set up with the systems I need in place (it’s the fault of these professionals that I’m presently cursing the Quickbooks gods but it’s also their fault that I now have a SEP IRA retirement account). Real talk: Our goal is to meet all of our legal obligations while paying the least amount of taxes and we feel confident we’re getting that.

I told you I was weird, but living a values-based life, including running a values-based business, never steers me wrong. Pay yourself 50%, pay the IRS 30%, and make your business live within its 20% means. This will keep your business light and agile—lean. And a lean business means a freedom-filled, low-stress life.

Warning: I know I recommended an SEO coach and a copy writing course in this post but I want to warn you that professional development is the Achilles’ heel for female entrepreneurs. It’s never an urgent need (despite how the countdown clock in their email makes you feel). I recommend making a list of all the courses or programs you want to take and then wait until you have the profit to go for the first one on the list. Next on my list is to find a resource that can help me master Facebook ads. And I’ll partake when I can.

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