I don’t know about you but I don’t know many entrepreneurs (particularly those providing digital related services) who set out from a young age with their current career in mind. It’s always fascinating to hear from others about how they wound up doing what they do. Today, Declan Davey writes for us on his journey from psychologist to online entrepreneur. Over to Declan…
Ask me when I was 18, 21 or 25 if I’d become an entrepreneur by 29 and I’d have said either:
a)“yeah right” or
b) “no chance”
After graduation, I worked for several NHS services in London. First as a care assistant, later as a psychologist. It was a demanding but predictable and “safe” career path — one I planned to continue with until the retirement age of sixty… what even is it these days?! I lose track.
What caused my sudden professional detour?
Well, the story doesn’t start smoothly…
In my mid-twenties, I began to experience strange symptoms that doctors couldn’t figure out. I could function well enough, but the symptom list grew and grew.
By my 26th birthday, I was in bad shape.
The diagnosis was finally given — Lyme disease — and I had to take a year out to focus 100% on my health.
That year turned into two, and it became clear that full-time work as a clinical psychologist wasn’t going to be possible. At the risk of sounding dramatic, the career I’d dreamt of since my teen years was now in tatters.
Once I’d got at least a bit of my health back, I had to think about how I could make some kind of income from home. I could work at a desk for part of the day, even if I was mostly housebound.
But in truth, at this point I didn’t have a clue about online business!
My mum’s a nurse and my dad was a police officer then a social worker, so I don’t exactly come from a “techy” background.
It was therefore time for a quick-fire education on entrepreneurship. I read books like the 4-Hour Work Week, the E-Myth Revisited, and the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. I was intrigued by this new “world” of digital business. Even more importantly, I had hope again.
My first effort was to set up an Amazon business. I wanted something low risk, where I wouldn’t have to buy lots of inventory or make scary upfront investments.
I stumbled upon publishing — but rather than books, I created journals and notebooks for different niches. And the best thing about this?
I could create the designs for free using software like Canva, write the product descriptions, upload them to Amazon, and they handled the rest.
Amazon would print the journals for me every time a sale was made, and they took a reasonable % cut.
For six months, I treated this like a proper job. I thought I could scale it to £1000 or £2000 per month if I created enough of these journals.
With enough time and patience, I did just that…
£50 per month became £500, then £1000, then £3000. But my jaw practically hit the floor when I had a £10,000+ month over Christmas.
The problem was, other people were also discovering how to make money publishing journals on Amazon. The space became more crowded. I could see that, though it was awesome to make the most of this opportunity now, it wouldn’t last.
I set off to find something more sustainable and decided to gradually distance myself from the Amazon biz.
With some cash saved up, I wrote a novel, which was always on my “life bucket list.” And whilst that was a rewarding process, it didn’t earn me any money…
Next, I tried my hand at sales. Or more specifically, “high-ticket closing.”
I should have seen the failure ahead of time. Selling over the phone never felt natural to me and I didn’t enjoy it much.
A rising sense of panic was creeping in — I felt like I was going back to square one again.
Thankfully, I found out about a Japanese concept called “Ikigai” at just the right time. Yes, this may sound a little strange, but stick with me for a minute…
Ikigai is all about living with purpose and meaning. At its core, it promotes four main factors:
- What you love
- What you’re good at
- What the world needs, and
- What you can be paid for
This got me thinking. I had to somehow come up with a line of work that would be a hybrid of all four factors. Cue a lot of head-scratching!
I knew I loved to write. I considered myself fairly good at it and had years of experience working in the health and wellness sector — maybe I could join the two dots together?
Voila. Ikigai points one and two were ticked-off!
But “what the world needs”…
Hmm… in an increasingly digital economy, I knew businesses would need content they could post to market or sell online. That was a given.
And finally, what could I be paid for?
Well, I realised businesses often create blog articles, email newsletters, and product offers for their audiences. What if I could help them with tasks like this?
The hybrid soon clicked into place…
I could find health and wellness brands that create online content and see if they needed a writer. Or more specifically, a copywriter — which is someone who can engage potential customers and move the sales process along.
I decided to take the same approach with copywriting as I did with the Amazon business and treated my new venture like a job.
And if there’s anything I’ve learnt from entrepreneurship, it’s this:
Goals are pretty much pointless.
Yep, I know it’s contrarian to say this… but goals only motivate us for a few hours, or a few days. In reality, we need the right systems. I reflected on the systems that would serve me well as a health and wellness copywriter.
First and foremost, I had to write — and write every day!
So, I set aside a 3-4 hour block of time every morning when my brain is “freshest” and got to work.
I hand-wrote copy from well-known successful ads, built a website, created free samples for brands, and added them to my portfolio.
Like with anything, the first few months are always the hardest.
But after two months, I had my first client. And after six months, I had a full caseload and reached the point where I’d earn just as much in a month as I would as an NHS psychologist.
Remember, this wasn’t a 10 year-process like becoming a psychologist often is — from undergraduate degree, to doctorate program, and then years as a trainee.
Instead, I’d become a fully-fledged copywriter in six months. I even managed to do cool things like:
Rank #1 on Google in my copywriting niche…
And receive feedback from a famous copywriter with $1 billion+ in sales…
Now, do I still have to manage symptoms of the damage from Lyme disease?
Yes. The condition has improved by 50-60% from its worst point, which I’m grateful for. I intend to do the best I can with this “second chance” — and this means not working myself to the point of burnout, either.
Work-life balance may sound like a cliche, but it’s essential…
So many times, I’ve made the mistake of working late into the night, or skipping a workout to continue with a big project.
I guess this is all part of the “online entrepreneur education”?
These days, I try to be more ruthless with setting boundaries. I have a work cut-off time and promote things like eating well, sleeping earlier, and going for walks after lunch. They all add up to build a healthier balance.
All in all, online entrepreneurship is weird and wacky. There are few boundaries. Few limits.
We have most of the resources we need with an internet connection, smartphone, and computer. The rest is really up to us — putting effective, rewarding systems in place that will compound over time.
After that, one-by-one, the big goals will take care of themselves.