You can tell by her name that Serena Star Leonard is no ordinary chick. She has a habit of setting Big Hairy Audacious Goals and chases them relentlessly. After deciding to quit a comfy corporate life a few years ago, she set upon an enormous challenge: to earn a great income working one day a week from anywhere in the world. Find out about her journey, the challenges she faced and the secrets to her success. And if you ever dreamed of retiring in 12 months but don’t know how, she’s the girl to talk to.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am originally from New Zealand where I dropped out of high school and worked in IT and telco sales roles for nearly ten years. But my passions for music, entrepreneurship and social change inspired projects that I initially did in my spare time. In 2006 I ran a music festival to promote racial harmony and we were hoping for 1500 people to come. On the day it was massive and the final count was over 8000. Riding the wave, I resigned the following week and went out on my own.
I had a lot of fun starting different businesses personal and charitable projects. I had some great successes and great failures too. I realised that I had a natural ability to inspire and motivate people. And with the vast number of experiences and passion for business, I started my business coaching practice in 2008.
I am pretty adventurous in my approach to business, marriage and lifestyle and I have a huge passion for travel, writing, scuba diving, food and silliness!
What was your last 9-5 job and why did you quit?
My last job was for a US software company and although it was a great job, it was not what I wanted to do with my life.
What are you doing now? Tell us all about your journey.
Initially as a business coach my income came from the hours that I worked, so if I took a holiday, so did my income. I had noticed that many of my clients were having web related problems, and because I had had similar issues with my first business, I realised that the knowledge I had would be of immense value to more than just my coaching clients.
So I looked at how I could productise my knowledge and experience and sell it en masse to small business owners and website owners the world over.
At the time I noticed that the marketing manager from my old job was starting her own business helping other small business people with all things Google marketing which was a great fit, so I approached her to see if she would be interested in collaborating. Luckily, she was. We started a website to get all our knowledge out there so that we could build a community and sell our products.
At this point I had several projects on the boil and so I had to focus. If I was going to start a new business I wanted to have a goal that would make all the effort worthwhile. So, I set myself a challenge to create an income that I could earn working one day a week from anywhere in the world, which was exciting but also seemed like the impossible dream. I gave myself twelve months to do that and set up a personal blog to track the progress.
Over the next 12 months, I learned so much! Even though I already had some knowledge about building communities, I was still new to creating income. There is a lot of information out there, opinions and opportunities which makes it hard to determine where to start and who to believe.
There is also a lot of trial and error involved with monetising your website, and when you are just starting out it can be hard to know how to measure your results because you don’t have many visitors. Also we had to be very creative as we did not want to spend much on our new website or marketing.
We lucked upon WordPress which is a free open source content marketing system which is like the behind the scenes of your website. This was a godsend and really made things easier for us from there. We chose to blog twice weekly on relevant topics, and we were away.
The surprising thing was that my personal blog started to attract attention as well, and this is something I have started to see time and time again. If you blog consistently about things you are passionate about, it seems to suck you into that industry and opportunities start to arise. For me this was a book deal, which opened even more doors.
The websites now generate income through a variety of means including the sale of our eBooks & eCourses, physical book sales, affiliate revenue, as well as one on one coaching and live online courses.
What personal strategies have helped you become successful?
Being a business coach, I think about this a lot!
With the web, what is crucial is consistency and giving value. If you are going to blog weekly, blog weekly. If you are going to blog daily, blog daily! A lot of people come to me concerned that if they give too much information for free that people won’t want to work with them; or pay for information. I believe the opposite is true. If you give huge value often and people get a lot from your work, they will go out of their way to work with you and recommend you.
I am not sure if I have personal strategies, but the things that work for me are:
- Trusting my intuition
- Persisting, even when things are hard and failure is rearing its ugly head!
- Always being willing to ask, to expand and to find a new way of doing things
- Momentum is hard to gain and important to maintain.
What was the hardest challenge you faced?
There are always new challenges when you are in business for yourself. Mine are mostly self-imposed as I have a habit of setting huge goals. But certainly having no income, working seven days a week and holding onto a vision that no one else can see, can feel a little uncomfortable!
How long did it take you to reach your goals when you embarked on this journey and what would you do differently?
My challenge to create an income online was twelve months and I have since had another year to keep expanding. However it took me quite a while to figure out what I wanted to do in the first place.
What would I do differently? I would have started a blog years earlier! Experience with owning and marketing a website and building a community cannot be replaced with theory and research. The only way to learn how to run a business online is to run a business online. As a website requires so little capital investment there is no excuse not to get in… last week!
How would you describe your life now? What would be a typical day for you?
I love breakfasts, so the first thing I do when I wake up is cook eggs. After that there is no set timetable. I have certain things I need to do each week like blog and connect with people on social media and I allocate a few hours a week for coaching sessions with clients or presenting courses. On Fridays, I host a radio show on Bondi FM.
I usually have a project that I am involved in like planning or delivering a course, writing something, speaking or organising a charity event, adventure or holiday. So what I do varies from week to week.
The main thing that is occupying my time right now is that we are leaving Australia indefinitely at the end of March. I am working with World Vision to collect stories of inspiring people for mini documentaries. To start with we have roughly planned a year in South America. So at the moment I am connecting with potential sponsors to fund production and equipment, and selling all of my belongings.
How will you manage your business while traveling for the World Vision project?
While I am traveling I will mange my conversations and clients via Skype and email. My whole business is managed between online apps and my laptop, so I make sure it is backed up!
I also have some great people working for me in Sydney and they look after bits and pieces so that there isn’t much interruption when I go offline.
One thing I will not be able to manage is my courses. I require reliable, high speed internet to run live webinars and so this is one part of my business that will pause for much of the time I travel. It’s a shame, but I am sure I won’t mind when I am diving in the Galapagos Islands!
What does financial freedom mean to you?
My experience of financial freedom is that I get to spend my time doing what I am passionate about every day and I have plenty of time for the things that are important to me. There is no separation between what I do for money and what I do for the love of it.
If you allow yourself to understand how valuable you are, the internet is a powerful opportunity for monetising your value. This way you can do the hard work now, and continue to get paid in the future.
I believe that happiness has nothing to do with money. It is about fulfillment; the opportunity to fulfill the things that are important to you in life. For many people this means the ability to look after your family, to travel and have adventures and to be able to make a difference in the world.
What’s your advice to others who want to be financially free?
Start somewhere, and then persist! Most people spend their time talking, hoping or avoiding the whole issue. Fear is the killer of opportunity.
I have not found an “easy” way to create financial freedom. You need to be willing to work hard and never quit until you get what you want.
What will give you a chance of success is action and perseverance, then action and perseverance. Get a coach, get a mentor, find successful people to emulate, be innovative, develop yourself personally, read a lot of books, be generous, find like-minded people, be responsible and always be asking “what’s next?”
What’s your top 3 secrets to running a successful internet marketing business like yours?
- Build a community around the value that you give. Value can come in many forms so find what is uniquely you and be generous with sharing it. The more authentic and personable you are the better.
- Always be on the lookout for mutually beneficial partnerships. You can grow with speed by leveraging the efforts, community and goodwill of other business owners.
- Choose a topic you are passionate about, something that really lights your fire, then be consistent with blogging. If you are going to blog weekly, you need to blog every week with no excuses
Any books or resources you recommend to others who want to follow inyour footsteps?
- http://www.smartpassiveincome.com by Pat Flynn
- http://www.problogger.net by Darren Rowse
- If you really want to follow in my footsteps, my book How to Retire in 12 Months will give you exactly that!
How can people find you online?