A tale of 1000 businesses – My business model journey & what I’ve learned

Differently Aligned Podcast – Episode 3

by Adina Levy

I’m sharing my business model journey and what I learned through all the different types of business that I’ve had so far. I hope that you’ll take away some thoughts and ideas for your next, more aligned business direction!

Links & Resources

Books by Mike Michalowicz: The Pumpkin Plan and Profit First

Jenny Blake‘s Podcasts (her books are great too!):

Neurodivergent Business Collective is open any time for you to join us! https://ndbusiness.co/neurodivergent-business-collective/ 

Aligned Business Workshop in Melbourne for Neurodivergent Business Owners
Saturday 22nd June 2024 10am – 4pm, in Melbourne




Welcome to the Differently Aligned Podcast for Neurodivergent Business Owners. I’m Adina Levy, an autistic ADHDer and a multiple business owner.

From a card making business at age 8, through to handmade cloud cushions, running a speech therapy team with a traditional office, and now to my lean, profitable, nimble, and fun online businesses, Play. Learn. Chat. and Neurodivergent Business Coaching and Consulting.

I’m all about supporting neurodivergent business owners like you to build a business that is aligned with your brain, your skills, your passions, your wants, your support needs and your life. And it can be profitable, fun and impactful along the way. So join me for ideas, support, conversations and guidance to grow your business without burning out. Let’s turn up the fun, the flow, and the alignment.

I’m recording on the traditional lands of the Gadigal and Bidjigal people, and I acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands wherever you’re listening to this. As you heard in the intro, I have dabbled and done and pivoted through a lot of different business models over my lifetime. One of the ways that I’ve learned about business has been through the stories of other people.

So I thought you might be interested in hearing about my business model journey through all different types of businesses. I certainly I’m not finished. I don’t believe that I am done pivoting shifting, changing. That would be me not learning from the past. If I really thought that was going to happen.

So we can assume I’m somewhere in the middle of my journey. But I’d love to share what I’ve learned from each of these different changes and steps that I’ve been on. And I hope that something is going to be helpful or at least interesting for you.

I’ll ask you some reflection questions at the end, but I think it can be helpful to get a little bit of a heads up what I’m going to ask you. So really, as I go through sharing all of these different versions of business that I’ve had over the years,

I want you to be listening out for something that sounds aligned for you, some little spark of a business model or an idea, or some change that I made that might actually be really helpful for you in your journey.

So we’re going to the beginning. It is the mid nineties, my best friend, Kira, and I, loved quilling. So quilling, if you’re not sure it’s pretty niche craft, where you get these strips of paper and you kind of roll them up and then you glue them down into certain patterns. So the paper kind of stands up. Perpendicular to the other piece of paper. We got really into it. And we then started selling our cards. We thought our cards are brilliant and mums love it. We should sell these out of school market. I believe that we actually technically made $8 on the day from memory, but I think here, his mom actually covered the cost of the market stall. So therefore, we actually kind of technically made a loss, but we were young.

What I learned from that was this idea that even if you love what you’ve made and if your mum loves what you made. It may not actually have such profitable legs on it as an idea. Sometimes creative pursuits might well be kept in the realm of hobby or fun, or, you know, gifting for friends or do it for yourself or for a calming purpose.

Sometimes you can make money out of your creative pursuits. I will come back to this one.

And, and this relates to the next main business that I had, which is in 2012, I started a cushion company. I actually still love the business name, the Cumulus factory.

I was in my first full-time year as a speech therapist at the time. And I was also trying to save for a three-month holiday to south America.

Spoiler alert. I saved the money I got to south America. It was awesome.

My first speech therapy job was at a not-for-profit organization and the wage was not very high. The job was incredible and I learnt so much.

But I knew that I needed an extra source of revenue to be able to afford that trip. So that’s where the Cumulus factory came in. I loved sewing. I’m very much self-taught and I kind of just like to make it up myself and think I know better than the experts. Until I try something, it doesn’t work. I get frustrated. And then eventually I can see defeat and work out that maybe learning from the experts actually has some merit to it. And therefore, you know, watch videos, read some instructions and so on. Maybe, we’ll just keep at it, trying to figure it out myself. Through trial and error, I did figure out how to make beautiful cloud shape cushions, and then other shaped cushions as well. Some of my friends and family with some of my best customers. Shout out to you. If you own a Cumulus factory original.

I ended up turning the second bedroom of our apartment at the time we had no kids. The second bedroom was basically a volt of a huge amount of cushion inserts. Filler that goes inside the shaped cushions. Piles of fabric. It was an absolute mess. At one point we couldn’t even walk through it.

I had a goal. I had a reason for making that extra money. I was at the start enjoying the real creativity. I kept coming up with new designs and new patterns and new fabrics. I ended up moving into fabric design and making my own fabric prints. Designing the print that would go on the fabric that became my cushions.

I had heaps of creative fun, but also it was a massive endeavor. It took up a lot of space. A lot of time. I certainly did not make money to compensate for the time that I was doing to create these cushions, not the amount that I was charging. And at the end of it all, I actually stopped enjoying sewing and I stopped enjoying that creative process. And honestly, I haven’t really got back to sewing yet. I’m very close to it. I’ve done a little bit since then, but certainly not the amount, but I used to. My four year old. Well, nearly five-year-old is actually very into the idea of creating designs, passionate design, and. So I think there’s sewing machine will come out again soon.

So here again, I learned that at least for me turning a creative hobby like that into a saleable thing was just not for me. It didn’t work out making a handmade business profitable. Is really, really hard if you can do it great. some people can do it, but you really need to charge a lot more than many people are willing to pay. To be able to truly compensate yourself for the time spent. So it’s really hard. So I eventually wound that business down. I think I sold off the last of my cushions in 2013, perhaps. And maybe one day in the future, I will make another cloud cushion, but don’t come at me to sell it.

Now the one amazing piece that’s left over from the Cumulus factory is those fabric designs that I made. So I actually continue to make some passive income and it is so truly passive. It’s the royalties from my fabric designs. I’ve got some patterns up on a spoonflower.com, which is a beautiful website where people can submit fabric designs and. That’s where some of my designs still live. I also have some things up on society, six, so people can order things like shower curtains with my designs on them. T-shirts and so on.

So what happens is I make anywhere between 10 and 50 us dollars a month. Of passive income. I literally, I don’t even log into these websites. I don’t update anything. I don’t promote anything. Just somehow my designs keep selling just a little bit in dribs and drabs. And it’s just a little, been a bit of fun, extra pocket money. That is, pretty cool that I still get that.

I have not even tried to add up how much it’s been over the years, but you know, it was worthwhile. Now that gave me a taste of passive income or passive ish income. Where you can make money. When you’re not directly doing a service coming from the world of speech therapy, where traditionally you make money.

At least if it’s your own business, you make money. When you are seeing a client, it’s a complete head trip. It’s a total shift in mindset. To actually think that your money can be tied to the result or the value that the receiver is getting, and many receivers can potentially get your thing. As opposed to direct services where you are swapping time for money.

So shifting my mindset about that has been really, really massive. Just discovering this little trickle of passive income coming in every single month is. It’s something that I still celebrate and it keeps reminding me of that joy of putting in that time and effort. Over 10 years ago now and still reaping the benefits little by little here and there, you know, enough for a coffee or something.

And now we come to. working at disability organizations. I started my business very, very part-time. For the first few years, I was a mobile speech therapist, meaning. the business was just me. Everything lived in the boot of my car. I drove around to homes, to schools, to childcare centers. And did therapy with kids in the spaces where they existed in their everyday lives.

Some real benefits of that business model. There were no overheads. I could expand and contract my business as I needed. No, no overheads, but I wasn’t paying rent. For example. I could slowly grow my business and slowly drop my days at the other organizations as that felt less and less aligned for me. Without having to do a big pivot in one moment.

Part of me loved how dynamic it was. And I can now say that that was pretty much the ADHD side of my brain. I love that I was always going somewhere new, seeing something new, having lunch at a different parking spot every single day of the week.

I actually love driving. Often, and I love my little bubble of my car. I can control the music, I can control the temperature and, it feels like a little safe space for me. So what I now know to be the artistic side of me, kind of enjoyed that as well.

But the car life got pretty old pretty quickly. I definitely had no boundaries at the start. , about where I would see clients or also have my schedule look. So I was driving all over the place. At the very beginning, I was saying yes to clients who are over an hour away and I was not charging for travel time. It was ridiculous on a nightmare. Please don’t do that.

And as I felt friction and I felt that things were not working for me. And I started to feel a bit disgruntled that I was spending so long traveling to this one client so far away from me, I started putting up boundaries. So this is a message that I learned pretty quickly. Not quickly enough, but pretty quickly. Which is:

You can keep shifting your boundaries.

You can keep changing the rules. Yes, it will impact on clients, so make sure you do that in a way that has the least damaging impact on clients, but you can’t keep putting other people’s ease and comfort way ahead of yours.

So eventually I shrunk the boundaries of where I would drive to and March much later, way too late. I started making really clear travel day. So on Mondays, I was only in this region on Tuesdays. I was only in that region. That was one of the best things I did for my mobile therapy practice.

I then started growing a team little by little. I think we even started both as mobile, myself and Phoebe shout out to Phoebe. One of my first people who worked with me.

We got a shared clinic space with an OT practice. . We grew toward another shared clinic space in that same building. I eventually took over that space and had. Three clinic rooms, a little office room. My team grew to about 10 people at a maximum, and that included some part-timers. It included our senior who was in Brisbane and doing that clinical support for the team remotely. We had allied health assistance. I had speech therapists. I had admin or practice manager at different times. The team grew in group. I grew a baby. So I had my first child in 2019.

About nine months after that was when COVID hit the world. There were points. When I had my bigger team business, where I felt really fancy, I had a lace. I had admin support. I had employees. I’ve had contractors as well. I had cupboards full of resources. I had business launches. I had very expensive bills to pay every single month.

There were beautiful moments of team connection. I remember sitting in the clinic one day and just noticing these conversations happening around me. Two of the speech therapists were having a meeting, collaborating on a group that they were going to run. Another speech therapist was meeting with the senior clinical supervisor, getting clinical support. I think the admin and the allied health assistant, we’re working on a project as well. And it was all coming together. This like really pivotal moment. I could feel it. And I went, yeah, this is it. Everyone else is collaborating. Nobody’s relying on me in this moment. It’s, you know, I’ve built this. Now, the reason that that was memorable is because it was so rare to have that sense of flow within the team.

And it is not the team’s fault. This is my own fault. I landed myself in that position because I was pursuing a business dream that was not aligned with me, with myself, my needs, my wants my passions. I didn’t know my Neurodivergent identity at the time. And this kind of shows in the direction that I went with. All my choices.

What ended up happening was that I created a business that was the dream of many people, but it was not my dream. And there was so many other pressures going on at the time, which I can now look back and be quite grateful that they all collided at this time. To enable me to see just how unaligned that business model was for me. Which helped push me towards deciding to close it all up.

So these pressures were. That I had a baby and I was trying to have some form of maternity leave, which is very hard when you have a business. And even harder when you don’t set your own boundaries. Very clearly.

And also we had a pandemic. There was another big force going on in the industry, which I think still is happening today, there are not enough speech therapists for the number of roles that there are to fill. So it becomes an employees market. And for an employer it’s really hard to find staff, to retain staff,. To be able to compensate staff in a way that is really, exciting and motivating for them. And keeps them. Also is in competition with those big organizations. While actually remaining a profitable business. So that was another huge force that made it really hard as an owner of a team.

Anyway, all these forces collided. In around, I think it was April, 2020. I made the big and scary decision to shut down the team. Now I’ve talked about the sunk cost fallacy in some of my emails. I had this massive sunk cost shout in my head constantly. So what that is, it’s like these voices in my head going, but you’ve spent so much money on this, but you’ve signed the lease, but you already have all the resources, but you’ve already put in place all these processes and systems for having staff.

Not to mention that I already had some great staff members who were continuing with me at the time. It was a huge challenge to overcome all that and to figure out where I needed to head next. One of the resources that helped me through that big time was a book by Mike Michalowicz It’s which I’ll put in the show notes. Called . The pumpkin plan.

He is very well known for the book profit first, which you should read if you haven’t. But also if you’re in a position where you’re trying to figure out who your business is, for which segment of your audience or of the world, are you actually going to be supporting. I really recommend listening to the pumpkin plan. Oh, I listened to it. You can read it with your eyes.

So essentially I figured out that I absolutely had to get out of that business model

At the time, I didn’t have a lot of insight into my mental health challenges. I now say looking back that I was in. I lived through those COVID years and the newborn time with my baby and. That time of having the team. I lived through deep, deep burnout. I just struggled through, I hit it. I hit it from myself. I hit it from everyone else just to make sure that everybody else was comfortable. it was all a very subconscious process. But it absolutely affected my life. My psychology. I feel like it’s changed my brain.

And I’m still recovering now. I mean, the good news is I think that experience is incredibly pivotal in what has led me to create the kind of business I have now. And this business here in Neurodivergent Business, coaching and consulting. Because I want other people to not experience that and also to feel that they have permission and that they can get out of those kinds of situations where our business. Or a business model is just completely not aligned with what they need.

I want to help people get out of that a lot sooner than I did. I wish I’d had somebody. To talk to about this. I didn’t have a coach. I have very supportive family and friends. And I also just fumbled through this myself through I think, a heck of a lot of podcasts that I listened to and books and. I was quite desperate for any insight or knowledge about how I could shift.

Actually at this time is also when I came across, the wonderful Jenny Blake’s podcast pivot, which I’m going to link in the show notes too. She has given me the term front door and I would call her a friend tour of mine. She is a phenomenal thinker and, passionate business person who is at this very moment, taking a pause from all her business activities. Well, many of them, and really modeling that.

Sometimes you need to totally wind everything back to figure out your next move. She has massive archives of very amazing podcasts so I’m going to link both of those in the show notes, pivot and free time.

So I can even feel my heart rate, quite elevated thinking about this time of having to sort of step down and back down from all those. Business relationships and expenses and, all the client relationships, now thankfully I was able to let most of the clients go with the remaining therapist that I have, and she worked with them. After the business technically closed.

And I supported her to set up on her own as well, which worked out for the best for her and for the clients as far as I know. So I think that was really lovely. My beautiful admin transitioned into a role at another practice and that was fabulous. Like to be able to do that.

I think she’s still there and I think she’s still happy. And I think that was really precious and special and important to me to be able to support those relationships and people in the next steps, whether that was the remaining staff and the clients. You know, had a huge sense of guilt that I was going to put anyone else by my big decision.

But, I needed to make those decisions. And I think that the relationships were retained and I truly, truly hope that’s the case. So I took 10 weeks to wind everything down from the moment that I definitely decided and announced that we were going to close up that business.

Which was part of my, kind of negotiation with the world, making sure that I was doing what I needed by closing up that type of business. But doing it in a way that gave everyone time and space that they needed the clients and the employees as well.

I will say it was very hard for me in those last weeks to actually sit there patiently. Sort of going through the motions, winding up the business in a way that I knew it was right to do it slowly, but at that point I was quite checked out. I just wanted to move on to the next thing and I can now see that again, as a bit of an ADHD feature, I was like, ready for the next thing.

I was keen for the next thing, but I didn’t quite have the time to do the next thing. So. I waited and waited. And then that time came.

So July, 2020. Team was finished. I had the office for four more months. Around the same time. By complete coincidence. COVID lockdowns happened in Sydney. Meaning I was allowed to go to my workplace.

As one of the few places that we were allowed to go. And it just so happened that I had four rooms all to myself. For four months, I couldn’t get out of the lease early. I just had to keep paying that. That was an expense I factored into all my decision-making.

And I actually had the most blissful time. Now, I’m not saying COVID lockdowns are good, but for me, It was really pivotal in me learning about myself and what I need. And it was also incredibly powerfully helpful in my burnout recovery.

I had these four months where I was going to the office, I think two to three days a week. I had four rooms all to myself, one room attending to a filming room. I got some lights, some kind of fancy filming lights I got a fancy pink chair, which I still have today. Although my daughter has claimed it. And that was the chair I was going to sit in and speak while I recorded my very first online course. I had my little office room that with the desk where I did my, most of my work and writing. I had a room of resources that I was selling off with post-it notes all over them. I had a rumor, I brought my exercise bike in so that I could. Do a bit of exercise in the middle of the day. There were also some comfy cushions I could lay around on and just kind of decompress.

For an autistic person experiencing burnout and having just come out of all of that emotionally laden and challenging, decision-making winding up the main other business, I was in a kind of bliss.

I had this space, I had this solitude, I had this complete control over my sensory environment, over everything and had a really nice view as well. It was incredible. And now I look back at that knowing about my neurotype and knowing how my brain and body and sensory system work. It makes complete sense that I had quite an amazing time then.

Through that recovery, I was able to get very creative. So I created my first online course for parents of Neurodivergent kids. In fact, I don’t even think that was it in the first iteration. I think it was. Just supporting parents to support the communication skills of young kids. Anyway, the course was brilliant, but I didn’t know about marketing very well. So only a few people bought it. Some people did. And that’s cool. Thank you. If you were one of them. The course went through about three or four other versions over time. And it now no longer exists. That’s one of the things I’ve decided to set aside.

But that particular process of creating an online course and knowing that it could reach many, and I haven’t actually counted up how many ended up buying that course or the later versions of it, but it was many people.

That was actually really, really fun. I got to speak on topics. I was passionate about. I got to formulate teaching in a way. That I knew would be beneficial for many people. I got to conserve my energy in that it took a lot of energy for me to show up in front of a camera and create those videos. And then another lot of energy. To edit them. It didn’t actually take me that much entity to write the course. I actually thoroughly enjoyed that mode.

But while I was putting this massive energy into the filming and the editing, I also recognized that it was just one moment in time and many people in the future could benefit from it.

So as you can see, there’s the seeds there of my online course website, that business model that I’ve done through Play Learn chat and this business too. The seeds were very solidly planted at that point.

So in those last three and a half years, if my math is correct. I’ve continued to shift who my audiences to shift the model of the business, to shift the name of the business, to add another business Neurodivergent Business, coaching and consulting. And I have never had a more fun time of things. I’ve also never had a more profitable time of things.

I now am back to a very low overhead business. Most of my costs are marketing costs. So I use Facebook ads, fairly extensively for building my audience. Some of you may have found me through a Facebook ad. Cool.

And my other main cost is online. Platform’s basically. So all the digital systems that hold my business together.

I have a virtual assistant, so that costs some money, but really, accessible amounts and completely flexible. So the amount of work that I have for her, that’s how much she does for me and it’s absolutely worth it. That’s kind of it.

So, this is where I am now. I have a fully online, flexible business.

I’m nimble. I can make changes and go with my interest. I do try to also settle down a little bit. Not only perceive the exciting, shiny new ID. I do now have a better process to actually think through my choices and think, what do I keep and what do I change and what do I remove? And what do I slow down? It’s always going to be a dynamic process. And that to me is the fun of it.

Where I am in both of my businesses is this business model that is like an inverted pyramid or an inverted triangle. So. People talk about funnels and that might be a weird word, or they might feel a bit markety or you might not be very clear what a funnel is.

Basically my business model for both Play Learn Chat and for Neurodivergent Business Coaching and Consulting. Is that I’m able to give a lot free through my two podcasts through freebies downloads through my weekly emails that I send out to people.

I have the space in my life to do a lot for free. So heaps of people can access my ideas, my tapes, the connections that I make with other people who share with both communities. When we have conversations and so on. There’s a lot that I give free. Oh. Any of my social media accounts as well.

I also try to make sure that there are various offers at quite accessible price points. Meaning that quite a lot of people can get my support for a fairly affordable amount of money. Obviously affordability is something that’s quite different for every person. But my aim is to always have something that someone can use to get started. That doesn’t cost too much.

For Neurodivergent Business, coaching and consulting. That’s the monthly registration fee to be a member of the Neurodivergent Business Collective.

And then that also gives me some space to offer premium supports for just a few people that is more about where I’m swapping time for money. They might be coaching. They might be message-based coaching. It might be a live workshops that I do from time to time. And speaking of that, I actually have one coming up in Melbourne in June. So I’ll share a little bit about that live workshop in a moment.

And for play learn chat some of that premium support that I do is, speaking opportunities where I can share my experiences, do some teaching on different stages and platforms, both online and in real life. That’s essentially the business model that I have these days.

Now for me, this kind of flexibility, this kind of business model works really, really well. I feel very ethically aligned with it. I’m still able to help people and I’m also able to make a good profit from my business. All these years of experimenting all these years of trying things all these years of living in a bit of a money pit.

It’s finally paying off. Now what I really, really hope for you listening is that you don’t have to go through quite as many of these experimentation stages. Oh, the depth of challenge that I experienced both emotionally, financially, in my relationships in life as well.

So here are some reflection questions that I’m going to pose to you, and I’d love it. If you want to share your answers with me, you can send me an email or you can find me on Instagram. Neurodivergent. Business.

Ask yourself . Is your business nimble, flexible. And can it weather, business storms when things happen? Like there’s a health issue. Or economic factors or, you know, global pandemics that throw a spanner in the works. What’s going to happen to your business.

Do you have a buffer to support you through inflexible things? So when you do have something like a health challenge, come up. Do you have a financial buffer to help you move through that without going under. And if not, what can you start to do slowly to build that up so that you do feel a little bit more safety and security, and potentially that buffer can actually help you feel more confident to take further risks. And by risks. I mean, take some biggest steps towards your more aligned business.

So here’s the question I posed at the very beginning of all of the different business models that I shared in my own experiences. What sounds aligned for you? Don’t think too much about it at this stage. Focus on what the end result might be, not the, how you’re going to get there. That can be something I might be able to support you with.

But if any of my discussion today has sparked something for you and you think that is a business direction, I would like to head in, I would love for you to share that with me, but also make a plan for yourself. How are you going to get there? Step by step bit by bit over time or. If you have a bit of a buffer, or if you’re feeling a bit brave and bold, you might just start to leap in and go there straight away.

And if you would like more support to reach a more aligned business, there are two main ways that we can keep this going in a deeper way. So one is through the Neurodivergent Business Collective, which is open anytime for you to register. It’s at ND business.co/ Neurodivergent hyphen business. Hyphen collective. Of course, the link will be in the show notes. So you do not have to remember that.

So that’s where you can get affordable support and coaching connection, community and heaps of resources to help you in your journey.

If you want to go deeper, if you’re a one day workshop type person and you can get to Melbourne on Saturday, the 22nd of June, 2024, you are very welcome to join up for the aligned business workshop in Melbourne. The link again will be in the show notes. There’s very limited spots for that because it’s in-person, it’s really dynamic. We break off into small groups. It’s going to be in this incredible space. The nearer connection hub, which is run by a fabulous neurodivergent psychologist. It’s going to be wonderful.

All of that info in the show notes. Tap those links find out more. And let me know if you have any questions. And really I’d love to hear what has stuck out from my business journey as something that you may want to try into the future.

Thank you so much for listening in. I hope that you’ve taken something helpful from today’s episode and please do share it with a fellow neurodivergent business owner friend. You can find me on Instagram @neurodivergent.business and all the links that I’ve talked about are in the show notes.

Remember, your business can feel aligned and easy and it’s okay to do business differently. I’ll see you on the next episode.