My dear friend Selena Soo agreed to help me tell my story from a different angle: By asking me questions you always wanted to know the answers to.
My biggest struggles, setbacks and low points, but also my most powerful epiphanies, lessons and wins — we’re going over a lot I’ve never shared publicly before. Not just to tell you an entertaining story, but to provide value and inspiration for everyone who finds themselves on the rocky road of entrepreneurship. Here’s my path to 8 figures.
Selena: Sigrun, it’s a great pleasure to interview you. You’re about to cross the eight figure mark. When it comes to being an entrepreneur, were there early signs that this was meant to be your path?
Sigrun: Actually, I think not. That might be good for everyone to know: Not everyone is born a Richard Branson or Elon Musk. When I read about these entrepreneurs, there was a part of me thinking that I’m not an entrepreneur, because I didn’t try to sell a card when I was six years old or put up a lemonade stand. My parents had their own business and when I was about 10 years old, I started helping them out a little, but it was still just a small family business.
Selena: How old were you when you actually started your business and were there any major fears that you had to overcome? For so many people, the hardest thing is getting started.
Sigrun: I had a lot of doubts you could call fears. I was overthinking, hoping this fantastic business idea would fall into my lap, maybe while having a shower. I was always looking at other people, and I think this is dangerous. We see someone having an amazing business and think I want that. But we’re all on our own journey. I could have saved myself some agony and time by being among more entrepreneurs earlier on and getting some coaching. But I thought I could figure it out on my own. I had all these ideas that my business had to be something really special. Have you read the book The Alchemist, where the boy seeks a treasure and he goes traveling around the world and ends up finding the treasure in his backyard? That’s how I felt.
Selena: What was the first idea that you decided to run with? And related to that, what was the first offer that you sold to the world?
Sigrun: My first idea was an online shop for Icelandic design products. I started to work on that after I lost my job twice and had been sick for seven months. It was in 2013, I was 42 years old. It was a time when I was thinking, Is life meant to be this way? Am I not supposed to do something else with my life? Up to then, I had been running other people’s businesses for 10 years. I knew I was a hard working person and employers loved having me as an employee. I did a good job but somehow I felt something was off. I wasn’t finding the right job and got sick. Maybe that was a sign? When I had lost my job twice in two years, I swallowed my pride and went to the unemployment agency. I had been paying my contributions but now I had to go there and ask for money. They actually wanted to support me in starting my own business because they said I’m unemployable.
Selena: They wanted to help you become an entrepreneur?
Sigrun: Yes. Luckily, I was in the right frame of mind. I was thinking about it myself, but it helped to get this outside confirmation. They asked me to come up with a business plan, which I knew I was good at. I pulled together slides. An online shop was the first thing that came to my mind. I didn’t think about coaching or being a business coach. I’ve been running businesses successfully for 10 years but I didn’t see that as something I wanted to base my business on. I was trying to look for something else. And I think a lot of people do that. They think there must be this amazing idea out there. I spent six months on the online shop idea. I had two partners and we went to a trade fair. I created a Shopify test site. But then I asked myself, do I really want to do shipping and returns? I realised I wasn’t passionate about it. And I think when I finally decided not to do it, I was testing Google keywords. How many people are actually searching for Icelandic design online? The number was very, very small.
Selena: How did you eventually pivot to the business that you have now?
Sigrun: It was the result of a series of frustrations I had with myself. That’s often when I get my best ideas, I’m either frustrated with myself or someone else. Towards the fall of 2013, I was getting very frustrated and I started to experiment with my website. After I switched the theme five times, I told myself: You have 48 hours to fix the theme and write your first blog post. I got going on the blog post, but I still didn’t have a business idea. By January 2014, I had already been unemployed for 18 months, so I had lost a lot of time. But finally, I pulled myself together. I had been spending time with other entrepreneurs and I was very active in Facebook groups answering a lot of business-related questions. Slowly, I realised I could be a business coach.
Selena: I love that. I think that sometimes we can be so in our heads, but when we go out there and add value and interact with people, our natural strengths show up.
Sigrun: Yes. Finally I had the courage to put a button on my website, and on March 26th, someone paid $180 for a coaching session.
Selena: How did you go from there to make your first 6 figures?
Sigrun: It was a rocky ride. I call this phase the throwing-spaghetti-at-the-wall phase. The first nine months I was struggling to figure out my positioning and I was doing a lot with very little results. I was spending a lot of time creating freebies and writing blog posts, but I wasn’t really making an offer. I think that’s because I wasn’t in a coaching program, so I didn’t really have anyone to turn to and tell me how to proceed. I was just following the steps I saw other people do. Then I had the idea of doing weekly webinars, and that was my breakthrough. Back in 2014, not many people were doing webinars. I started doing them weekly. I loved them and I started to teach people Canva, MailChimp, LeadPages and Facebook ads. Within a few weeks, my email list grew like crazy, but I wasn’t making a lot of money. So I finally bit the bullet and hired a launch coach and that’s when things really started happening.
Selena: When you were doing these webinars, how were you getting people to watch them? What was the whole strategy behind the webinars?
Sigrun: There wasn’t necessarily a grand strategy, I was just picking topics I was curious about myself and taught them to people. I discovered Canva, which everyone uses today but in 2014, not many people knew about it. I’m very tech savvy so it was natural for me to start with something like that. And since I had been so active in Facebook groups, which I think was really the beginning of getting my clients, I had become the go-to person for many questions. People would tag me. Back then, rules weren’t so strict about advertising a webinar in a group. I could just put a link to my first webinars into those Facebook groups, which isn’t so easy anymore today. But everyone can become the go-to person in a Facebook group if you’re coming from a place of wanting to help and don’t have dollar signs in your eyes. Just be there for other people. And that’s how I got the first signups for my webinars. I had 67 people signed up for the first webinar without Facebook ads.
Selena: What did you start doing differently once you had a mentor and those tools under your belt?
Sigrun: With the launch coach I learned to launch and since then I’ve fallen in love with launching. I love teaching my clients how to do it. My first launch actually didn’t go that well in the beginning. My coach told me to sell one-on-one coaching, but I wanted to sell an online course. I went with the online course and had 600 sign-ups, but only one person bought. I refunded the money. Since I still had the coach, I was not too stressed. I knew I was going to figure this out. I used to do turnarounds as a CEO. In the end I offered free online business strategy sessions and 90 people booked. After the free sessions, I was immediately sold out for the next month. I sold all my coaching packages. Overall I made $55K in three months.
Selena: For people who are in the earlier stages of online business, do you think that they should start with one-on-ones or directly dive into online courses like you wanted to originally?
Sigrun: For a long time, I believed that this path that I took with one-on-one coaching is the way to go. I did it for a whole year until I added groups, and this is what brought me to six figures. You can actually have a six figure business just doing one-on-one coaching. But I know that a lot of people go into online business because they don’t want to do one-on-one coaching. I think it depends on your numbers. If your email list is small, the likelihood of actually selling a lot of spots in an online course is small as well. In online business, the conversion rate is typically around three percent. A lot of people who go into online business first have to accept this number. With that being said, I believe that it’s possible to sell an online course much quicker than I did. That’s why I came up with my own methods, how I teach my clients. I get absolute beginners into some of my programs and within 10 weeks they create their first online course and start to make sales. One-on-one coaching is a great way to start but you don’t have to be stuck there for a long time and you can actually create your online course in your first year of business.
Selena: What are the top two things that have contributed to the long term success in your business?
Sigrun: Learning how to launch was what taught me the whole thinking behind getting people interested in something and then making an offer and following up. Creating an ascension model was the second thing. I truly believe you need to keep your business simple because it’s going to be easier to scale, but acquiring clients again and again is also very expensive. So it’s better if you have an ascension model, a program where people can grow into the next program and it’s a natural next step. Having a customer journey that anticipates the next step for your client is really important and has been a huge part of my success.
Selena: What does your ascension model look like?
Sigrun: It starts with a $3K investment into a program where people create their first or next online course and build their email list. Offering an entry program at this price means I have to earn my client’s trust. People might be following me for months or even years until they’re ready, but the success stories are undeniable. My clients come into the program and then a year later, they’re making six figures. Some even sooner. I’ve had clients go from zero to six figures within four months after joining this program. They create two online courses, build their email list, and learn how to do an upsell. So at the end of the program, they have created two programs after only 10 weeks. This program was actually created out of one of my frustrations. I had created a scalable program back in 2017 and was very happy with it. I called it SOMBA, Sigrun’s online MBA. But something was off. People were watching my videos, attending my masterclasses, coming to hot seat calls, but I was not seeing enough results. There are always 10% of participants who do everything, and 10% who don’t do anything, no matter how you structure your program. I see it as our responsibility as coaches, teachers, and trainers to really get the 80% in the middle going, and I don’t think I was doing a good enough job. I created videos, I had good instructions. People loved my teaching and I wondered, what’s missing? I didn’t see enough results. That’s when I came up with a special sprint within my paid program, which eventually turned into SOMBA Kickstart, the starting point in my customer journey.
Last year, I decided to add SOMBA Accelerator, a program where people learn how to market and sell their course. It’s a 10 week crash course in launching and the participants learn it while doing it. They’re not just watching videos. They actually have to launch. Once people have completed these two programs, they are eligible for Momentum, which is a 12 month group coaching program. It’s an $18K investment. And then I have a high-level mastermind which is for people who have passed $250K in revenue and are aiming for the million. This is my ascension model. For people who want to take it slower, I offer a membership. It’s full of valuable content, masterclasses, and participants get hot seat calls with me.
Selena: Can you talk more about your high-level program?
Sigrun: It’s for a very small group, 10 to 12 women. Most of the delivery happens over retreats. We had to do some virtual retreats during Covid, but we are very excited to go back to face-to-face retreats soon. During retreats, we get to intensely work together. And then there are monthly mastermind calls in between the retreats, and my team helps out as well. The trainings are all tailored to the group’s needs and together we make sure that everyone reaches their goals. Seven figures is really what we are aiming for in this group.
Selena: When people are offering their premium programs for a bigger investment, they sometimes develop fears around being responsible for their clients’ results. What is your experience with this?
Sigrun: I think I’m completely detached from that today. In the beginning, I was very scared of raising my rates, and it was actually a client who told me that I was under-priced. She had tested out different business coaches, and she came back and said, “Sigrun, I tested four business coaches and you were the cheapest and the best.” She became my client for years as I continued to raise my rates. It’s all about being in alignment. I can see the results of my programs in my clients’ lives and businesses. Also, a high-end program makes the least amount of profit. I’m not sure people realize that. The costs to hold retreats are high, and then I add the actual time I spend on them. If I really wanted to price my high-end mastermind correctly, it would probably have to be double from what it is now, but I don’t charge that price because I want to make sure it matches everything else I offer and that people who have been with me for years are able to afford to go to the next level with me. Typically, those in my high-level masterminds have been with me for years and they move up. I’m pricing it in a way that it becomes the natural next step for them. If I would double the price, I would be targeting a completely different client who hasn’t been with me before and that wouldn’t feel right to me.
Selena: Is there anything you have done to make sure only the right people enter your programs? And if there is someone who is not in alignment, how do you handle it?
Sigrun: I’ve become more and more protective. I think in the beginning when you’re more interested in the money rather than the experience, when you’re just trying to make ends meet, you might not be very selective. Anyone who wanted to sign up with me could join. I needed clients, it’s natural. I see this with everyone who starts to build a business. Real growth comes when you realize that what you offer isn’t for everyone and not everyone is eligible to join your program, especially a program intended for only a few people. I’ve made my mistakes along the way. I’ve had a group that was too diverse. I had people that were very experienced and others that weren’t on their level. But being able to read people and make sure that they are a good fit is something that comes over time. People are approaching me for next year’s mastermind and my team and I have to decide who will be a fit. We became much more selective. When I’m creating a group, I’m making sure that this group can function well together. The lesson I learned over the years is that I’d rather have one person less in the group than take on people who aren’t a fit.
Selena: Are there any common qualities your most successful clients have?
Sigrun: They are action takers and usually don’t have many mindset issues. I can help with mindset issues, but I’m not a mindset coach. I think it’s really important that people work on themselves and understand that a business coach does not solve all your problems. A business coach is there to help you build your business, not help you with your self-care. There are other programs and other approaches better suited for that.
Selena: How many people are on your team and is there anything in particular you’ve done to relieve yourself of all the tasks that come with running a business like yours?
Sigrun: One of the best things I did is hiring program directors. I needed help running my programs, so I reached out to a client who had completed my programs successfully, and asked her if she wanted to coach the program. She agreed, and eventually took over running it completely. I had a hunch that she was the right person. She didn’t just become a coach doing the coaching calls once a week, but she took over the whole program, reviewing the content every week and letting me know if there’s anything that she thinks is not clear enough or I need to add. I started to do this with all my other programs and now I’m not running any of my programs.
Selena: What do you do to rejuvenate, recharge and savor your success in the midst of all this amazing activity and movement inside your business?
Sigrun: I like to go away. My parents have a little cottage one hour from Reykjavik, so I’ve been here since November last year, mainly because of COVID. The situation in Iceland was much better than in Switzerland. I live in both places, but Iceland was the better country to be in during this time. Going away for a weekend and just being in nature and being with my parents is great. I’m really enjoying this extra time I’m getting with them as they’re aging. I also like to play golf. I’m not good at it, but when my husband is with me we like to go and play golf and be outside. I really need nature to recharge. And I love reading crime fiction. In the last three months, I’ve read 12 books.
Selena: If you could wave a magic wand and have whatever you want happen in your business or your life, what would be your top wish?
Sigrun: I really want to have an impact when it comes to gender equality, and I think I won’t do this just through my business. I will find other venues. I have a couple of books in mind that I want to write. One of them is called Recipe for Gender Equality. Once I write it, I know it will slightly take me away from the business I’m running today because it’s more political. I have a gender equality recipe in mind for governments and corporations, and I’m sure a lot of people will not like it because it’s disruptive. But that’s a thing that I have to grow into. I have to be ready for it.
Selena: Why is gender equality important for you, and how did it affect your relationships and your marriage?
Sigrun: When I was 16 years old, I did a sewing course with women in their 40s and 50s, and I was shocked that they had not made their dreams come true. I was more than shocked — I was frustrated, angry, and upset with society. I was upset with the women because they would use excuses instead of following their dreams, excuses like having children or getting married. They didn’t have crazy dreams, just regular, normal dreams and they had not made them come true. I realised society accepts excuses from women more easily than from men. There and then, I made some decisions. I decided to not have children. I have two wonderful stepsons now, but no biological children. I also decided no man would ever stop me from following my dreams. I would always follow my dreams and not use excuses. I wanted to have an influence on gender equality with what I did in my life.
Before I met my husband, I had been in two long-term relationships. The first one didn’t work out because I wanted to study in Germany and he didn’t want me to go. It had been my dream to become an architect since I was 11 years old. I believed that if the relationship was strong enough, it would withstand me going and following my dream. However, the distance didn’t make the relationship stronger, but weaker. I eventually broke it off. I went straight into the next relationship, which lasted eight years. I thought I had found the man of my dreams. He was very supportive, but when I got offered a scholarship at a prestigious university in Switzerland, he had his doubts. I went and did it even though he had his concerns. In hindsight, this was the turning point in our relationship. He cheated on me, and I didn’t find out until three years later. He had probably been unfaithful to me for years. It was a huge shock for me and still today it hurts talking about it. It caused me to be single for five years. I poured myself into my career. I became a CEO and ran multiple businesses. Five years later, I was in a good place. I attended a Tony Robbins seminar and sat down next to a nice-looking man. I wasn’t in the mood for love, I was just there for my personal development. It turned out this guy was there with his mother, and they were so nice to me. They held a seat for me the next day, we had dinner together and over the next three days, I kept thinking these are great people. I wasn’t romantically interested, even less so when he told me he was married but heading for a divorce. We both signed up for Tony Robbins’ next seminar, so we knew we would eventually see each other again. Over the next months I heard about his marriage breaking down and reached out to him to ask how he was doing. I realised that maybe I had developed feelings after all.
We were both going to San Francisco and decided to have dinner. He was staying at a fancy hotel on union square. When I walked up the street and saw him standing at the corner, it hit me. I was falling in love. We got together and he became my biggest supporter in everything I wanted to do. Every dream I have, he supports me. At the same time, he’s also my biggest critic. If he doesn’t like a webinar I’m doing or a guest speaker I invited for a retreat, he tells me, but never stops me. It’s good to have someone who’s honest with you, because there are few people who are truly genuine.
Selena: Do you have any pieces of advice for other strong and successful women who struggle in their relationships?
Sigrun: Communication is key. It also helps to go through something similar together, like my husband and I did with the Tony Robbins seminar. That’s how you realise what you actually want from each other. Talking about things that bother you is important. Sometimes, my husband and I hold a relationship summit. We come together with our notebooks and go through things that we would like to do, keep doing and things we would like to do differently.
Communication is especially important when you work together. When they started to restructure the company my husband worked for, he knew he would be laid off eventually. He started to joke that I could hire him. I didn’t take it seriously. Then he lost his job in 2016, and it was as if a rocket went off inside me. I wanted to be able to provide. I had my best launch and things were going really well. I hired my husband in 2017. I thought he could be my COO, but he wasn’t interested in fully stepping into that role, and took over the affiliate program instead. He was a great affiliate manager. He used to work in sports before and could really motivate our affiliates. He was also doing great at helping me behind the scenes and cleaning up a lot of administrative things tied to my business. But there comes a time where all that cleaning up is done, and we started to ask ourselves what his role is. We talked about it and figured out that he had thought the experience to be more temporary, while I had hoped that he would become a bigger part of the business. In the end we decided that he needed to do his own thing and I had to find the COO that I really needed, because having someone who is just half in, even if it’s your spouse, isn’t a good way to run your business.
Selena: What is your final message to your audience?
Sigrun: That a bigger business doesn’t mean more work. I really want women to think bigger. It’s a shocking statistic that 90% of female owned companies make less than six figures. We’re never going to achieve gender equality when women think so small. I truly believe women can change the world if they stop thinking small.
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