From Zero Clients To Fully Booked Living In A Small Town

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One of the biggest mindset shifts I had to get over was that I couldn’t be fully booked if I lived in a small town. You may already know this, but in case you don’t.. I grew up in the suburbs. I’ve always been a country girl at heart, grew up driving pickups and riding horses, but I lived in a cookie cutter house in a normal looking neighborhood.

Then when I went off to college to get a stronger education for horse training, I moved 3 hours away to a small town of like 5000 people. I had a lot of culture shock living there because all my favorite stores were not just 20 minutes away anymore. And while I was working on my equine studies certification, I was also still running my photography business.

And I thought to myself “man I am going to have to get another job because there is no way photography is going to keep me booked in this small town”.

Then after I moved back home, and my parents relocated to a house out in a rural area, I had the same issue. I was not going to be able to stay booked with these 2 new businesses in a small town. It also did not help that I had other people agreeing with me and telling me that the business would have to be a hobby or side hustle and I needed to get a “real job”.

NOW THAT I KNOW THIS…

Knowing what I know now, I wish I could have arched my back a little more and really leaned into my marketing strategy and was able to realize that it is a million percent possible to have a fully booked calendar whether you are just in the beginning stages of a new business or if geographically, you are not in an ideal spot.

In fact, this topic is something I am so passionate about and really the backbone to why I created my podcast The Branded Cowgirl Podcast. Because I believe that rural women can still work their passions successfully while not having to give up this dream country lifestyle they love so much.

So if that sounds like you, keep on reading.

WHAT IF YOU ARE INTROVERTED?

One of the first things I want to address is this idea that you cannot be successful if you are an introverted person. It’s simply not true. You do not have to be loud, and crazy to get more clients or customers. However, I will also say this….

It’s called growth baby! You need to be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. If you want your business to grow, you have to be willing to grow as a person too.

No, you don’t need to make dancing videos or goofy jokes on Instagram Reels. But it’s important that you start flexing those showing up muscles. The ones where you get on stories and share about your day, your story, your life, the mission behind your business and so on.

If you are an introvert, it can feel uncomfortable to sell and promote yourself especially if you struggle with your self worth. And with that comes much deeper rooted issues. So maybe you need to talk with someone. Or spend more time in the Bible or doing things that build yourself up.

Personally though, I have found that helping others and pouring into others actually makes me feel good about myself.

Get comfortable with getting uncomfortable because when you choose to avoid showing up and talking about your offers… you go out of business. It just is what it is.

“FULLY BOOKED” MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO EVERYONE

Something else that is really important to know is that “fully booked” means something totally different to every single person. To one person it may mean every single day of the week has something scheduled. Although this is not recommended as you will get burnt out really fast. But to someone else, fully booked can be taking on 4 clients a month.

Social media does a big disservice to us for this reason. Business owners jump on their accounts and say things like “I am fully booked for the month of April”. And this can cause the onlookers to get disappointed and feel unworthy because they do not consider themselves fully booked for that month.

Please just remember that your business is completely different than someone else’s and that’s a good thing. I would argue that taking on less of a workload makes you a better business owner because you have more time to pour into your clients where they are at.

WHEN I HAD 0 CLIENTS

When I first started both of my businesses of photography and horse training, I had 0 clients. Which is probably the case for most of us, amen? Other times when I also found myself with absolutely no clients on the calendar was when I moved to those small towns and had limiting beliefs I could be successful in my business.

What actually ended up happening though was my horse training business blew up. Being in a rural area, meant a lot of people had horses that needed to be worked with. It wasn’t long until I had a regular clients paying me monthly to come work with their horses.

Then there was Photography, which was challenging while also being in school. However I really leaned into working with other students and taking their graduation photos and even started taking photos for the college.

The key things I learned from these experiences is that I had to adapt to my situation. Maybe that meant driving a little further for shoots, or taking photos of things that I wasn’t really trying to on a regular basis. Sometimes you gotta just get scrappy to make it and finesse as you go.

COMMON FEARS

  • Will I have to go find a day job to supplement my income or lack there of?
  • How am I going to pay my bills?
  • I saw other people working 9-5 jobs while running their business and truthfully I never wanted that to be me so I had to get creative and scrappy. The pressure was actually good for me. I used it as motivation to book more clients.

LIES THAT HOLD YOU BACK

  • I wasn’t good enough / people did not want to work with me
  • Failure as a business owner because things did not take off as fast as I hoped
  • Living in a small town meant that I needed to lower my prices and accept the fact that the market is not as big

MINDSET SHIFT TO BECOME FULLY BOOKED

To get to a point where you consider yourself fully booked, there is a switch that needs to happen in your brain. One of the first things is that it is even possible to do this. The next thing is to not expect consistent clients to be rolling in if you am not marketing yourself consistently.

Often I will use the good ol’ gym analogy. If you go to the gym for 1 month and then stop going for 3 months, stop expecting to have lost a bunch of weight after the 3 month period. Sure maybe you will have lost a little, but not as much as you would have if you would have stayed consistent.

The same goes for selling your products and offers.

If you are not consistently talking about what you sell or how they help people, how can you expect customers to get on board?

SELLING IS NOT SLEAZY

If you think selling is bad or gross, it’s going to directly translate to your audience and they are not going to want to hire you or work with you. Instead, I want you to think of selling like this. All it is, is just solving people’s problems and giving them answers to the questions they have. Why is that a bad thing? Answer: It’s not! Selling is just Serving.

You need to be promoting what you do because no one does it for you. Selling only becomes a bad thing or sleazy if you make it that way. Do not try to trick people into booking with you. If you are providing an offer that is actually going to help someone, why would you not share that with the world??

BE CLEAR ON YOUR AVAILABILITY

A game changer for filling up my calendar happened when I started posting about open dates I had and literally asking people which date they wanted to book.

Prior to that, my only strategy was no strategy. I would just sit there and wait for inquiries to roll in after posting a pretty picture. Newsflash… it doesn’t work like that. At least not long term. You are going to find that in business, you have to evolve, and grow and nurture. Literally like you would raising a child.

HATERS ARE NORMAL

You can’t run from the haters. They are always going to be there and no matter how authentic you try to sell, some people are still going to unfollow and unsubscribe and that’s ok. As long as other people are benefitting from what you have to offer, who cares about the people who choose to go in another direction?

DO MORE OF WHAT WAS ALREADY WORKING

In slower seasons, when maybe your calendar is empty but bills still gotta get paid…a lot of business owners will try to do a bunch of new marketing tactics and strategies. But in reality, what they should be doing is looking back in the past and seeing what worked before. Where did previous clients come from? Lean into that!

Now if you are like “but Sarah, I don’t know where they came from before”, well then, it’s time to start tracking this metric in your business!

An easy way to do this is by adding a box on your contact form on your website that asks people how they found you. You can easily do this on HoneyBook!

For more info on what HoneyBook can do for your business go to SarahElrod.com/HoneyBook

MAKE GOOD USE OF YOUR FREE TIME

Another good way to stay productive in slower seasons and to keep the ball rolling in business is to use the time where you are not super busy to create high value free content. Things such as blog posts, freebies for your email list, youtube videos, a podcast, etc.

And since we are on the topic of free content, I want to address a common concern. Often I will hear business owners thinking that if they share a lot of free educational content, people won’t hire them. And why should they?

FREE CONTENT

Full transparency here. I have not ran into this issue but i can see where this thought comes from. I have had students in the past say that they remember hearing me talk about something on my podcast in the same way that I was on their coaching call.

And here’s the thing with that and my personal opinion on why that does not matter. Your FREE content should not be holding back information. You need to prove that you can get people results for free before they choose to take that next step with you and hire you. But is it true that in theory, people could just take all of my free content and use that to achieve what they want? Sure. However, the difference is, with free content, they have to know where to find it. What exact episodes or videos to search through. And they have to take the time to absorb it all piece by piece one at a time.

Whereas in a one on one coaching call or in an online course, all of the information is given in one easy to find location. As well as a more personal, catered experience to their particular business.

When someone hires me, they get accountability which is huge in of itself. But they also get to bounce ideas off of me and have me look into their exact business structure instead of taking my free generalized information and trying to fit it to their own business model.

If you do find yourself running into this issue where people are not hiring you because of your free content, then try reframing the kind of free content you produce. Instead of creating a bunch of “how to” type of free content, try creating content that focuses on the “what” and “why”.

The “how” is what people hire you for.

Focus on WHAT people need and WHY they need it. Leave the HOW for those who want to hire you.

USE VIDEO TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

You don’t even need to hear me say it to know what’s coming. Video is huge. You should know this by now. TikTok and REELS are here and they are here to stay. Youtube is still a major platform.

For so many business owners, especially ones like photographers, designers, etc. video is not your favorite. And you can either choose to resist it, and fall behind or lean into it and grow.

It’s really that simple.

Video builds a connection that a photo cannot. Going back to what I said earlier about getting comfortable getting uncomfortable. Is it always easy? No. But you chose to be a business owner and take the road less traveled for a reason. You don’t need easy. You just need possible my friend.


RESOURCES

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I'm Sarah Elrod

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I'm a Cowgirl turned serial entrepreneur.

I'm a horse trainer, western wedding photographer, business coach and ranch wife.

I help women in the western industry grow thriving businesses from rural America.

When I am not strategizing new marketing tactics, you will find me riding my horses, cuddling my cattle dog, or kissing my hot husband.

There is also a good chance I am buying way too many outfits from western boutiques.

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