Building a start-up tarot business: What to expect in your first year

Teaching TarotI’ve been reading tarot since 2008, but it took me a long, long time to realize I wanted to build a tarot business. In fact, when I first got into tarot, I never had the intention of doing this professionally. I was so focused on my writing career that I just never imagined that life might have something different in store for me.

Since going full-time with my business, I’ve had a lot of questions from other folks are curious about to expect if they do the same. Some of you may even already have taken the leap, and are wondering if you’re “where you should be” at this point.

So I’ve put together some of my key learnings here. I should note that tarot isn’t my first foray into self-employment. My first entrepreneurial plunge came as a freelance writer and journalist when I was in my twenties.

There have been parallels between the two for sure, and you might even find that the tips I share here are relevant to you even if you’re not running a tarot business, but something equally soulful, spiritual, or creative.

First, be realistic about where you’re at.

Some tarot readers are well-established before they decide to officially start a business. If you have been reading tarot on the side for years, you might already have a reliable client roster that you can grow from.

Others might not have a strong client roster, but perhaps have been running a popular tarot blog or YouTube channel for years and have fans who are dying to schedule a reading.

If you fall into one such category, then you might find it a bit easier to start to build a business.

But if you have had little to no visibility in the industry, even if you’ve been reading tarot for years, then your expectations for you business will have to be measured on that. And you might have to hustle a little harder to be seen and heard as a result.

I certainly fell into the latter example. Even though I’d been using tarot for years when I decided to start my business, most people who knew me knew me as a writer. I had done a lot of tarot readings, and definitely felt it was time to go pro, but I had a lot of groundwork to cover when it came to promoting my tarot skills. It did help that I at least had an online presence as it was, but I did have to transition and grow a whole new audience for my business.

You can say, “I’ve been reading tarot for 10 years,” but if someone is only hearing about you for the first time, you’re all new to them, period. Word of mouth and referrals really do go a long way in this line of work, and a tarot business is truly built one client at a time.

Remember, too, that going from being a part-time reader to full-time business owner means you need a lot more clients than the ones you’ve been working with. So either way, there’s a need to level-up your network.

You will probably not turn a profit right away.

This is the first question everyone wants to know, because it’s the clearest indicator of whether you’re succeeding. And hey, it’s the thing you need see happen in order to have a successful business.

Right?

Well, yes and no.

There are all kinds of stats out there on how long it takes for a business to turn profit. You might expect to be making full-time cash within six months of announcing your grand opening, but realistically, you could find that your income is up and down for the first year, or two, or even three.

I don’t say that to be discouraging. It is absolutely possible to make your business work, but some months will be better than others. Early winter can be a slow time for tarot, for example. While December and January tend to draw in clients who are looking for year-ahead forecasts, things slow down towards February when credit card bills come in from December’s spending sprees and the colder weather sets in for many folks, at least in my part of the world.

July can also be a slow time. A lot of people are away on vacation, or busy with outdoor plans.

Your slow times may be different from what other tarot readers experience, though. Within your first year of business, make note of your slow times and busy periods. This will help you plan for next year. For example, if December is hoppin’ but January is dead as a doornail, then you’ll know to save some rainy day cash from your December profits.

You might also decide that January is a good month for creating content, or a new class or product. Which brings us to the next point:

Your first year in business is a time of creation, not of full client dockets.

Your goal might be to see your schedule fully booked up weeks in advance, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But the truth is, you’re probably not going to be have a full-time client docket booked up in your first year of business.

Why? Again, this is a year of establishing yourself.

It’s also a year of creation. Use that time strategically. There will come a day when you do have a full docket, and you’ll mourn the loss of time you had before to plan, strategize, and create. This is it. This is the time to be really visionary, to experiment, and to promote the hell out of yourself. Because…

The number of clients you work with per day dramatically shifts what you’re able to accomplish.

When do you have days you’re booked up – and those days will come – you will notice how different they feel. Even if tarot is the thing you most love to do in the world, you are going to feel how much it pulls your attention away from the rest of your business.

If you are boot-strapping your start-up, you are most likely a one-person show: You’re answering the emails, scheduling the appointments, handling any client questions, maintaining your website, updating your Facebook page, booking yourself for psychic fairs and other events…and on it goes.

So when you’re sitting down to actually read for someone, the rest of that goes on hold. If you have a whole afternoon of readings scheduled, you might have emails sitting in your inbox until the evening.

And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just important to be aware that as soon as you get busy with clients, you move into a reactive way of working, where you have to catch up to your to-do list rather than get ahead of it.

So while the slower times may feel agonizingly difficult, both financially and emotionally, they can also be blessings in disguise because they give you the freedom to build a more dynamic business.

I actually spend a lot of time writing. You might, too.

A lot of people think that I spend 40 hours a week reading tarot.

In reality, a good chunk of my work time is spent writing.

There are tons of marketing platforms, tools, and other ideas out there about how to build your business. If you’ve spent any time scouring the internet for tips on how to get started, you’ve likely uncovered more than a few of them: Social media, videos, blogging, telesummits, Instagram giveaways… The world has no shortage of promotional suggestions.

My advice to you: Choose one or two ways to build your business, and stick to them.

A big part of my business is my blog. I’ve dabbled in all kinds of other ideas, like YouTube videos and Tumblr posts, but the one place I love sharing my thoughts is through my blog. I post at least one blog a week, which also goes out to my mailing list, and when I’m writing those posts, I feel completely connected to my business and the community that’s grown around it.

So I keep it simple. I don’t have any staff. I am one person. I can only do so much, so I choose to do what works, and what feels fun. (Usually, they go hand in hand.)

I also write an astrology column for Spiral Nature. Again, this is a weekly setup. I block out some time in my schedule just to write these, because they take me quite a while to put together, and I like to get creative with them.

I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but it’s through my writing that I make the deepest connections with the world around me.

For you, it might be through videos, beautiful Instagram photos, or running a Facebook group about divination. Whatever you choose, know that you will need to be consistent with it.

It will take up time, so build your business in a way that leaves you with the freedom you need to take care of your community and meet your commitments to them. You don’t have to blog every week like I do, but do show up and be committed with whatever promises you make.

If you mail out a monthly newsletter, don’t miss your own deadlines. Be professional and be there when you say you’re going to be there.

That means making time for your other work, too.

Even if you have weeks where you don’t have any clients – and again, it will happen when you’re running a new business, so be patient – you don’t know what else will come up. You might get an email from someone who wants to book an appointment, and suddenly you find yourself sending a flurry of messages back and forth to find a date and time that works.

Efficiency becomes really important in business.

It helps to have a schedule for how much time you need for certain tasks:

– Email and client correspondence
– Social media updates
– Website updates
– Marketing and promotion
– Writing or other content creation
– Etc.

You might start out with a business plan and framework in mind, but you know what? Chances are good that it will all go out the window as more time goes on. Because it’s not always easy to know exactly what will happen in your business until you’re actually work in it.

Things will change. So be prepared to revise any schedules or strategies as you go along, and develop systems that work for you based on where you’re at.

Investing in some tools can help, too. I use Acuity Scheduling for all of my appointments, gift certificates, and private classes. It’s affordable, and allows clients to book their own appointments. That saves a lot of back and forth for them, and me.

You might spend a huge amount of time on your website.

If you are designing and maintaining your own website, you could find yourself tweaking it a lot – at least if you’re like me.

See, I am always asking myself, “Is this working? Could this be easier? Could this be clearer?” I also like to switch up any offerings that aren’t selling as well as others, or that don’t feel fresh or relevant to my clients anymore.

I used to spend hours combing through my website whenever things go slow, thinking that if I just made the right fixes, clients would come flooding in.

In reality, I just needed to keep things streamlined: A clean, easy-to-read website is all it takes. Explain what you do. Make it easy for clients to see how to book a session with you, and contact you.

Make sure your policies and events pages are up to date. Schedule some website maintenance for a couple of hours a month. If you want to do a big overhaul, set aside a week or two.

You don’t have to invest thousands in a web designer to help you, but it can help to send it to a few honest friends for feedback on whether it looks good and functional.

I say to block out time for this stuff, but also know that everything will take longer than you think.

This is the story of my life. As an author, I’ve set out on new book projects thinking, “I could write this in six months,” when in reality, projects have taken me years sometimes.

It’s the same in business. Yes, there are things will feel like they come together quickly and effortlessly, but if you are creating products, be realistic about the timelines.

For example, when I decided to write my tarot book, I had conceived the project as a 20-page ebook that would be released within a few months.

Instead, it turned into a 300+ page manuscript that took me months to complete. Realizing it was much a much bigger project than I anticipated, I decided to release it as a soft cover as well as an ebook. I hired a copyeditor to proofread it, and then I worked with Lulu.com for the design and publishing.

In all, it was out in less than a year – still not bad at all – but it was a much longer, and much involved process than I had originally expected.

If you want to create a tarot deck, a really amazing online program, a retreat – anything – be patient. Work on it consistently, but don’t beat yourself if you’re not hitting your self-imposed deadlines. Do what you can to protect your time, but don’t ignore other aspects of your business to do so, especially if your main goal is to grow your client roster. That still has to be top priority.

The first time you create anything will give you a good, clear idea of how much time you’ll need for future projects, so it’s all a good lesson in the end. And totally worth it when you finally launch your project.

Deciding how you work with clients will also impact your schedule.

Some tarot readers only offer email readings. Others do private sessions over the phone, or Skype.

I love all of those options, but reading in-person is also an important experience for me. I love the chance to sit face to face with someone and dive into the cards together.

But renting an office space is expensive. I live in a big city where rent is already sky-high, so for me, the most cost-effective option is to see clients at home, as well as online. If someone is local and they want to come over, then they are more than welcome to.

A lot readers work out of their living rooms, and you might do this, too. But keep in mind that if you go this route, cleaning has to become part of your work routine.

I spend hours every week cleaning my place. If you have pets, add on even more time to vacuum and sweep, because animal hair will always win out.

Plan ahead if you have someone coming over, even if it means that you need to spend some time cleaning the night before.

Your place will impact a client’s impression of you. It doesn’t have be decorated in any fancy way, but it should be clean, and that includes the kitchen, bathroom, and any other area your clients may pass through.

Other considerations may be food or cigarette smells. I don’t smoke, but I have heard of some readers who do, and it’s definitely left a lingering impression on friends who have seen them – especially since a major part of their recollection was how their clothing smelled when they got home.

I like to burn incense and sage, or Palo Santo, before an in-person session. Scented candles in the bathroom can also be a nice touch.

This is also about bringing in energy around your business.

One of my mentors, Erika Lyremark, talks a lot about being intentional in your business.

This means showing up for it every day.

It means having a start time and sticking to it. It means consciously sitting down with your to-do list and trusting that your actions are bringing energy into your business because you are showing up and sending out a message that you are ready to do this.

Not that it will always be easy. You will question yourself in those stretches when no one is buying a tarot reading from you.

It is really hard to stand in the conviction of your ideas and your vision when you are wondering if you are running an unprofitable business.

But you know what? It’s in those moments when it’s important to decide:

Are you going to stand here and build something for yourself?

There are a lot of myths out there about what it’s like to be self-employed, and especially to work from home: That you can sleep until whenever you want, leave whenever you want, take days off whenever you want.

The reality is, if you’re working with clients, you are on the clock. If you want to take Thursday off to have brunch with a friend, and a client contacts you on Wednesday to ask if they can get a reading tomorrow, it’s bad business to say, “Sorry, I have plans with a friend. How about Friday?”

It’s one thing to be legitimately booked. It’s another to send a message that you’re prioritizing your social life over your business. Days off are important, but if you are chasing after an idealized freelance life of endless afternoons off, you are chasing a fantasy. The money has to come in somehow, and when you are running a service-based business, it means making sure you are getting people in the door.

Self-employment is a mad hustle. It often means you work more than you might expect, even if you’re out of the country and have to answer an important email. (Email never sleeps.)

Your business will change. Growth will come. But it will take time.

Sometimes, that might mean taking some part-time work. Or deciding not to go full-time just yet.

Remember, though, that this is a business like any other. Business owners of all kinds might take out loans, find an investor (like a family member) or come up with a side-hustle to see things through.

I have taken other work along the way, but I always have. I never stopped freelancing, even in the days when I was working 9-5 in the charitable sector. If freelance gigs came up, I always said yes. It was extra cash, and helped me keep one foot in another world, just in case.

It didn’t make me less of a professional in the 9-5 world. No one questioned my credibility in my desk job if I was writing some freelance pieces on the side.

Why should it make an entrepreneur feel otherwise? Taking a retail gig or finding some other side work might just be part of doing what you have to do. It can be a way to enhance your skills, make new contacts, and crossover into other industries. You never know: A store you work at for the holiday season might end up hiring you to do readings for their holiday staff party, right?

Of course, there will come a time when a part-time side hustle might not suit you anymore. For me, I know that ultimately, it’s important for me to run my own business, not someone else’s.

If I want to be conscious of the energy I’m bringing into my work, then I need to be intentional about how many hours I’m dedicating to it. You may reach a point when you feel that a part-time gig is causing you to plateau in what you’re able to accomplish.

You might want to break through to a new level by creating a 12-week course or innovative self-study program, and those 15-20 hours you’re putting into another job could be better used elsewhere.

But if you’re not there yet, that’s a bridge you can cross when you come to it. I do think there is something to being in a business full-time, but when and how you get that point is going to be unique to you.

However you’re choosing to grow your business, know that you are the boss here. No one can tell you which strategy is going to work best.

Within the first year and beyond, you have to decide what gives you the best ROI, how much risk you’re willing to take in building a business, and what you want to create as you go along.

You are the one in charge, period. There will not be one single day where you wake up to find your business has turned itself into something profitable and secure. It’s all a slow, gradual build that comes together through a domino effect of your consistent effort, patience, and dedicated action.

Your first year is also going to be about learning what those efforts and actions are.

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