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[E4C31] From Starving Artist to Thriving Creative Entrepreneur Using the Power of Online Business; Creative Web Biz – Yamile Yemoonyah

The Internet has liberated a legion of artists who would otherwise be “starving” and allowed them to build thriving businesses online. E-commerce platforms like Etsy, Zazzle and ArtWeb make it easy for artists to sell their work to global audiences.

If you are a creative spirit who longs to earn a living doing what you love, but is trapped in a 9-5 job you hate, because you’ve bought into the starving artist myth, let this interview with Yamile Yemoonyah inspire you.

Yamile is an artist whose online business allows her to work about 5 hours a day.

She tried the traditional school system, but after attending 4 colleges in 3 different countries, she finally dropped out to follow her calling to become a full time artist. As an introvert, the thought of schmoozing gallery owners and convincing them to sell her art was unappealing to her, so she decided to sell her art online right from the start.

She taught herself WordPress, online marketing, social media, SEO and everything else you need to know about running a profitable creative online business. In 2010 she launched CreativeWebBiz.com to help independent artists around the world start and grow their own online business.

In this interview, Yamile shares:

  • What it takes to live in Berlin as a location independent entrepreneur.
  • How she transitioned from website developer to business coach.
  • Her most effective online marketing channels.
  • How it’s possible to grow your business and attract clients while traveling.
  • Why you might want to avoid seeking local clientele.
  • And the power of organizing your week by business focus.

Mentioned in this interview

Where to Find Yamile


Lorna: Hello, Yamile. It is so lovely to reconnect with you again after all this time. It’s been about a year and half since we last hung out in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as part of the first group of Dynamite Circle Entrepreneurs. And now, you’re in Berlin, so I’d love to hear about what Berlin has been like for you.

Yamile: Well, first, I want to say thanks for having me. And yes, Berlin is awesome. A lot of online entrepreneurs will be here in the summer. It’s a fairly cheap city especially for Europe. So if you’re from Europe and you want to bootstrap, Berlin is the place to be. There’s lots to do. There’s a lot of creative stuff going on at the moment, the creative capital of Europe. So yes, I love it here.

Lorna: Can you help us understand what the monthly cost of living is in Berlin?

Yamile: You can start with about €1,000 a month. That’s what you need to bootstrap here, and that’s about $1,300. Of course, you can live on that.

Lorna: Is that the cost of both room and board or is it just the cost of rent?

Yamile: No, that’s rent, and food, and going out.

Lorna: Oh, really, okay. That’s really good.

Yamile: Yes, it is. If you live in an apartment with other people, a room will run for about €300 to €400 and up, of course.

Lorna: Euros?

Yamile: Yes, Euros.

Lorna: Okay, great. Wow. That actually seems kind of doable, I think, for a lot of people. So what about the entrepreneurial community? Are there many co-working spaces that you can visit?

Yamile: Yes, there’s lots of them. Actually, I’m in one right now. It’s a smaller one but there’s also Beta House which is the most famous one in Berlin, I think. It’s huge. Even Tim Ferriss went there once, and everyone who comes here knows Beta House. But there’s lots of smaller ones all around the city. There’s also some big coffee shops, cafés where you can work. There’s lots of places where you can work, and there’s lots of online entrepreneurs here. At the moment, a lot of the DCs are here to build up Berlin as the city in Europe where startups are going to grow and build their businesses.

Lorna: Yes. I hear that foreigners can actually apply for and receive a contractor’s visa from the German government. So that would give you the right to stay there for a year. Do you know anything about that?

Yamile: Not a lot because I don’t need it but I know it’s called the freelancer’s visa. Lots of people do it. You can come here, and in the three months that you can stay here anyway as American that is, you can apply for that freelancer visa. Then, you can stay up to two years, I actually think.

Lorna: Do you have to provide proof of income or meet some kind of income threshold?

Yamile: I think so, yes. I’m pretty sure – but it’s not a lot. I think if you make about €1,500 a month, you should be fine. You have to show them that you already have clients that you can work for. But it can’t be really hard to get three people to send the letter or sign a letter that says, “She’s going to work for me or something.” So I hear it’s not that hard to get it.

Lorna: Okay, great. How are the winters like?

Yamile: Cold, like really cold. You want to be here in the summer and you’ll really like it. You can stay in the winter but it’s cold.

Lorna: Wow. Do you need to learn how to speak German to relate, get around, and to integrate, or is a really high proficiency level of English fairly widespread among the people that live there?

Yamile: For the younger generations like our generation, most people speak English and the shop owners – you can get around without any German. I know people that have lived here for 10 years and still don’t speak any German. So it’s totally possible. But of course, it’s always better to at least learn the basics but it is possible, definitely.

Lorna: Okay. So I’d love to hop into the story about your entrepreneurial journey. Yamile, tell me, what inspired you to be an entrepreneur, and did you have an Aha moment that led you to start the business that you have now?

Yamile: No, I didn’t have that one Aha moment. It was a really long journey because when I went to school, I always looked up my friends and they already knew what they wanted to be when they grow up, even when they were in 8 or 9. Like this one friend who always knew he wanted to be a dentist, and who is a dentist now. I was never like that.

I never knew what I wanted to be. I never knew what I wanted to do, or how I wanted to make money. So when I was 16, 17, I started freaking out about it because I had to decide what to do after high school. So what I did was go to college because I was like, “Okay. Then, I have a few more years to decide”, and that’s what I did.

I went to college in Holland because I’m Dutch. I didn’t like it so I dropped out, went back to Germany where I grew up, went to college there for a few years, then I went to the States to college, and I went back to Germany. Then, I dropped out eventually because I was like, “I don’t like this. This is not what I want to do.” Then, it started all over again. Like, “What am I going to do with my life? How do I want to make my money?” And I decided to become a full time artist, and that’s actually how my business started because I decided I wanted to sell my art online and not offline – mainly because I’m an introvert, and I didn’t see myself running around to galleries, and telling them to show my art for me, please.

So I wanted to do it online, and that is how I started learning about websites and WordPress and online marketing, and SEO, and everything else that you need. And so, after a while, I started helping my friends and people that I met online, and I gave them tips, tools, and resources. I started writing about all this on my art blog back then. In 2010, I decided to make it a business, and help other artists to sell their art online.

Lorna: So what is your website URL?

Yamile: That’s CreativeWebBiz.com.

Lorna: What exactly do you offer through your website? How do you help other artists?

Yamile: Well, I used to offer websites for them so I would setup their website. I stopped doing that. Now, I do business coaching. So I helped them setup a business plan, create a marketing plan, optimize their websites, and build a saleable line of products and recurring income. These are four areas that I help people with.

Lorna: Why did you decide to switch from being a website designer/developer to helping people as a business coach?

Yamile: Because I, myself, like this line of work much better. It’s much suited to my personality, and I really didn’t like doing websites anymore. I’m a person… I need to do something and as soon as I don’t like it anymore, I have to stop and do something else and that’s what happened.

I’m much happier now. I can give way more value because the thing is that if I build a website for an artist and he doesn’t know how to do the marketing, the website will just sit there, and nothing happens. I’m not happy with that, and my client is not happy with that. So I found out that what they really need, what my clients really need, is more help with building a business instead of just the website.

Lorna: So you were able to turn your previous website clients into your coaching clients?

Yamile: Exactly, yes.

Lorna: Okay, fantastic. So tell me, what do you love the most about your business?

Yamile: What I love most about my business is seeing the results, like seeing that I really helped someone – that I really changed someone’s life for the better, especially the artists because a lot of them are still struggling artists, and when I can see that they don’t have to go and find a 9 to 5 job but can do what they love and make money with it, that’s just awesome.

Lorna: Does your business allow you to live a lifestyle that most people dream of?

Yamile: Yes, in a lot of ways especially the freedom. I can go anywhere I want. I went to Thailand for five months. I went to the Philippines for two months. I can go wherever, and not just for me but also a few months ago, my mom had knee surgery and she couldn’t walk. Because I have this business, I could go and stay with her for two months at her house and help her out. And that’s something that other people that have a 9 to 5 job, where they really have to be in the office, can’t do.

Lorna: It’s true. I think one of the reasons why it’s really hard for people in a corporate type of job scenario.. it’s really hard for them to give their family the attention that they need because if something were to happen, some kind of illness or tragedy, basically, it’s not so cool with your employer if you are gone for a long time. For example, a death in the family does take a long time – to sort out a person’s estate, for example. So it puts you in a situation where you could really lose your job or you could potentially go on leave but then you might not get paid.

Yamile: Yes, exactly.

Lorna: So what does your typical day look like?

Yamile: I get up fairly late, between 10 and 11. That’s one of the reasons why I love my business. I can get up whenever I want – I don’t use an alarm clock! And then I try to not to check my e-mails in bed. It doesn’t always work but I try. Then, I write for 35 minutes, 1,000 words free writing. After that, I do my yoga, and then I take a shower, and then I start working. I usually go to a co-working space or a coffee shop or some place else. Sometimes, I stay at home.

But then I work for about four, five hours. Then, I try to do some other stuff like do some art work because I’m also an artist. I learn Spanish 20 minutes a day, and the rest of the day, I basically take off and do other things, meet up with friends or just go for a walk. That’s another thing I try to do every day – go outside for a walk for 30 minutes a day.

Lorna: That sounds absolutely lovely. Working for about five hours a day, and spending the rest of the time doing things that you enjoy.

Yamile: Exactly. It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes, when I’m working on a project, I’ll be on my computer for 12, 13, 14 hours a day, but I try to keep it down actually.

Lorna: Well, you know, that’s the flexibility, the benefit of having a business where your time is really flexible. So if you do want to take an extra day off from the weekend, or mid-week, you can make up for it some other time which is really quite wonderful. Your time is yours.

Yamile: Exactly. I also actually have every day of the week, I have clean days like Sundays. It’s like my off day. I call it my self-care Sundays, so I don’t do other stuff. I check my e-mails once, maybe twice, but I don’t do any real work. And then Saturdays, for example, is my systems and strategy Saturday. So that’s when I look at what I did last week. Did it work? How can I change my systems and my strategies to make it more efficient? I have financial Fridays. That’s when I look at my finances and update my books, stuff like that. So I have all these theme days, and that also really works. It helps with productivity.

Lorna: Yes. I think that’s a really great idea to come up with a weekly schedule and stick to it. Otherwise, you just end up getting sucked into anything that comes up. It can be completely hard to stay focused, and to finish your projects if you’re always in reaction mode, right?

Yamile: Yes.

Lorna: I love the idea, too, of being able to have a day when you’re totally unplugged, especially if you work online as your business.

Yamile: Yes, I need it. I haven’t done it for years. I have always been online all the time but just a few months ago, I was like, “I need one day to not think about this, to do other things, to just meet up with friends and just relax or take a bath or whatever it is I want to do that day.”

Lorna: Yes, I think I’m going to make my Sundays, scooter-joyride Sundays in the Chiang Mai Mountains. It’s so much fun.

Yamile: Yes, that sounds good as well. And Sunday is perfect because on Sundays, you don’t get as much e-mail as on other days because other people take off as well. It’s perfect.

Lorna: So tell me, how do you market your business? How do you find new clients beyond the existing pool of clients that you work with, and what marketing channels have you found work best for you?

Yamile: I have my e-mail list of course, and people sign up for that. I’m actually in the process of creating a 30-day Creative Web Biz Challenge for artists. I think that will draw a lot of people to my e-mail lists because it’s for free, and people love 30-day challenges. At least, I do. So I hope other people do as well.

Lorna: Yes, that’s interesting. I’d love to hear your thought. Is it going to be an ongoing 30-day challenge or you’re going to do it for a specific month in the year?

Yamile: No, it’s going to be an ongoing thing. Starting now on April 3rd. In the first round, I’ll listen to feedback and see how it goes. I’m planning to just keep it up to just let it be my opt-in offer, so people can sign up and that’s basically my way of people getting into my sales funnel.

Lorna: That’s kind of fascinating that they’re signing up to actually commit to doing a bunch a work.

Yamile: Yes! You know, some people tell me, “It’s not a good idea because people don’t do the whole thing.” I was like, “You know what, I want people that are really up for the work that understand that building a business is work and that are dedicated to do it.” So I’m actually filtering out the people that are not my ideal clients.

Lorna: I see. That definitely is a great strategy. It’s so interesting because I was – I can’t remember if I was reading a blog post or watching a video that Marisa Murgatroyd put out. She did something that was like a 30-day video challenge. She was comparing the response rate that she received from her video challenge versus her blog posts. Some of her blog posts were ranking pretty well in Google, and they’d get all these Facebook likes and Tweets. So you could see the social signals and the statistics, but people would just arrive at the content, consume it, and then leave. It wasn’t like they ever really did anything, and it certainly didn’t – for the promotion that she did, in order to have that blog post be visible – it wasn’t really driving business for her. Whereas, the people that signed up to be part of her 30-day video challenge, she actually measured the amount of hours people put in to join her in the challenge. She just felt so much more fulfilled by the fact that there were people that were taking action, and you could actually measure how much engagement she received, and what they were actually doing – what they produced.

Yamile: That’s really interesting. Yes, it’s the same thing here. I’m so tired of people that just come along, and they tell you they want to build a business, but in the end, they don’t really want to put in the effort. So they don’t really want it, so why would we, as people that help them, put any effort into helping them if they don’t want to help themselves basically?

Lorna: Yes. I mean they’re probably not going to really value the importance of investing in their business because they’re not so committed, then they’re not going to actually hire you. So they wouldn’t be an ideal client.

Yamile: Exactly. Yes. It’s also one of the reasons with the website thing. I had too many people that thought that, “Okay, I’m going to have a website and that’s all I have to do to start a business.” I just couldn’t deal with that. I was like, “No, that’s not enough. You also need to do this and this and this.” But they didn’t want to do it. So I’m much happier with the clients I have because they know that it takes work and effort.

Lorna: Yes. Have you actually gone through Nathalie Lussier’s 30-day e-mail list building challenge?

Yamile: I started it but to be honest, I just did it because I wanted to see how she did her 30-day challenge because I don’t have the time right now because I have so much work. But I really liked it, so I’m going to sign up again and really do it.

Lorna: I just signed up for it, too, and I was really glad to see you in that Facebook group. I’m like, “Yay! There’s people in there that I know. How exciting!” So I’d love to understand then, when you began your business, what did it take for you to really get to the place where your business was profitable?

Yamile: I started my business in… June 2010? Yes, that’s right. I started traveling in May 2011. So that’s when I was profitable. How did I get it profitable? I started doing a few websites for people that I knew or it was friends of friends, and they basically told others. It worked right from the start. I didn’t really have to do a lot of marketing in the beginning. It just snowballed, I guess.

Lorna: Wow, cool. So when you were overseas, were you actually able to keep growing your business? Because I think one of the biggest obstacles that I encounter from people who are intrigued by the location-independent lifestyle but don’t know if they can make the leap is that they feel that they might need to actually get clients in their home country first, or they’re not really confident in their ability to generate business while they’re on the road. Do you have any insights on that? How was it for you and what do you recommend that people do so that the location-independent lifestyle business doesn’t turn into a lifestyle vacation?

Yamile: I think the most important thing is that you don’t rely on clients that you get offline. You really have to have your business online. Even if you got your clients before from offline sources, make sure you have their e-mail addresses so you can start sending them e-mails and they get used to communicating with you online. And then, it should pretty much work because they will refer you to other people and these people will know you’re online and that’s it, basically. Don’t try to go somewhere and get clients in that city that you’re staying in. I think if I have to rely on clients in Chiang Mai, for example, it wouldn’t have worked.

Lorna: Well, first of all, you have to understand that in some of these local economies, they just can’t afford to pay you if you’re doing a website for the local rate, and that’s not sustainable for you.

Yamile: Yes. Actually, you could make it work if you did, let’s say, a workshop in Chiang Mai and you recorded the workshop and then sold the recording online. You can do stuff like that because that’s something I thought about because I really want to help artists all around the world, but I know they can’t pay my fees. So I started thinking about how can I help them – maybe even for free or for a price that they can afford – but still make money from people that have more money, so to speak.

Lorna: So is most of your business being driven by word of mouth referral-based marketing, or do you actually get clients through social media, or JV marketing, or guest blogging? What online channels are really working for you? So you have this e-mail list, and you develop a relationship with the people that sign up, but how do people find you to even sign up for your e-mail list?

Yamile: Well, I would say 50% is referrals and the other 50% comes online without knowing me before. I have two or three blog posts that drive a lot of traffic. One is about Why You Shouldn’t Sell On Etsy But on Your Own Site. SEO is actually pretty big for me like, a lot of people come to my site because of these blog posts.

Lorna: Well, I’d love to see if you could share these blog posts with our audience. Can you send those links over to me, and I’ll be sure to include them in the show notes?

Yamile: Yes, absolutely. I’d love to.

Lorna: Fantastic. So I’d love to ask you, in looking back on your entrepreneurial journey, knowing what you know now, if you could turn back the clock and start all over again from square one, what would you do differently?

Yamile: I would make sure I have a real business plan in place. That’s something I didn’t do from the start, which makes sense because I didn’t know much about business. That’s something that I tell my clients; sit down and think about – first of all, think about what is your ideal lifestyle? Whar do you really want to do with your life? Where do you want to be in five years, 10 years, 20 years? And then, build the business to sustain that lifestyle because a lot of people don’t think about that. They start building a business, and in the end, they’re not happy with their lives, and life is the most important thing, I guess. Then, sit down and write down like, what is it that you want to offer? What’s your mission? What do you really want to do?

A lot of people know they want to change the world in some way, so write that down. Then, the next thing is, who do you want to serve? What’s your customer avatar, your ideal client avatar? Who are the people that you want to serve? Then, all the other things like how do you want to market your things? It doesn’t have to a 50-page Excel sheet business plan. It can also be a vision board or you could make a song about it. Whatever you want to do, but have a plan.

Lorna: Yes. Someone just turn me on to this really fantastic vision board software program. Gosh, the name is skipping me right now but I will look it up and include it in the show notes also. Do you know of any vision board applications that you recommend?

Yamile: No, not really. There’s a book, it’s called The Right Brain Business Plan. It’s written by Jennifer Lee, and this is for people that are more right-brained. So it’s good for my clients, artists, but also for anyone else who doesn’t want to do Excel sheets and all these stuff. It basically sits you down and ask you to make vision boards not online but really with magazines, cutting out stuff. It’s really fun. It’s a great way to create a business plan.

Lorna: Great, so I’d love to ask you whether or not this current business that you are operating happens to be your life purpose. If not, then what is?

Yamile: Well, I think it’s part of my life purpose. I see my life purpose really as becoming me 100%, and my business is part of that. Also, what my mission in life really is, is to help artists all around the world to get online and sell their stuff online, and especially also indigenous artists. I’m of indigenous descent, and I am really proud about it. I think there are so many great indigenous artists out there all over the world, and they are not represented online.

So I would love to do big tour around the world – to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and do workshops everywhere on indigenous reserves or in their communities, and teach them how to do it. So they can also independently sell their stuff online instead of having a middle man who takes 50% or whatever it is. So they can stay in their communities, support their communities with their art and their crafts.

Lorna: Wow. That sounds like it would be an epic adventure and I’d love to join on part of that journey. Let’s do Brazil!

Yamile: Okay. You speak Portuguese, right?

Lorna: Yes! There’s amazing indigenous communities in Brazil, I mean, so many. The art is incredible. In fact, just this past year, I had the privilege of discovering about the Yawalapiti cultures. So there was a tribal gathering where a number of the Yawalapiti people, the Yawalapiti tribe – they showed up at this gathering, and they had this most incredible body paint. It was so geometric and it really made the women – their legs and their butts – look totally beautiful.

Yamile: Wow.

Lorna: It was really, really cool.

Yamile: I have to look them up. So far I have a plan to go to South America because my Spanish is really not good enough to do workshops about online business, but if I have someone, like a partner, who speaks the language, I would totally do it.

Lorna: Well, hey, there’s a bunch of people in Medellín right now. So if you feel inclined to go there in the next year, I would love to hang out with you there.

Yamile: Yay! Let’s do it!

Lorna: Do you have any plans to travel again in the future, or are you planning to stay in Berlin for a while?

Yamile: I’m planning to stay here for the summer because I need some stability right now for my own reasons and for business reasons because I’ve just rebuilt my business. I actually want to get some work done here for the summer. But then, I want to go somewhere else again. I’m not sure where. Maybe, Medellín, maybe Asia. I’m not sure. We’ll see.

Lorna: Okay, great. So we’re coming to the end of our interview. I’d love to ask you, do you think that business can be a catalyst for positive change in the world, and if so, how?

Yamile: Absolutely. I think business is one of the biggest means to change the world in lots of ways; like there’s social businesses that help kids in bad neighborhoods. Like what I just said, I want to help indigenous artists to get online. There are so many ways to help and not just think about yourself and make money, but make money and help other people.

Lorna: Well, I think business can be such a powerful catalyst for change because it really has the ability to address some of the underlying issues that might be creating problems in society or problems in the environment that nonprofits can’t really address. So it’s almost like the nonprofit solution might be a Band Aid solution. I mean, sure, we definitely have an urgent need for emergency services in disaster zones. But what do you after that, or how do you address the underlying issues of why a particular area might be a disaster zone? Whether the infrastructure totally crumbles, due to a natural disaster, but it’s not resilient enough.

Yamile: Totally.

Lorna: What I appreciate about business is that it relies on market feedback too, to see whether the services and products are actually truly needed by the people and the stakeholders that the companies are trying to serve, in a way that nonprofits don’t really address either.

Yamile: That’s true. Nonprofits often – well, I can’t generalize – but a lot of nonprofits think they’re helping but in the end, they’re not really helping, and because they don’t get that feedback like you said, they don’t have to be profitable, they keep doing stuff that’s not really helpful. But there’s other like Charity Water that are doing really good, and doing really great work. So I don’t want to discredit nonprofits in general.

Lorna: Yes. I mean, we certainly have a need for nonprofits. We definitely do. We have a need for public government programs. I think there’s a place for all the different players in an economy to really be a catalyst for positive change, with the right vision and mission guiding the organization.

Yamile: Yes, exactly.

Lorna: So let me ask you what you think the most effective way to change the world might be?

Yamile: I think the most effective way to change the world is to really realize what your own inherent skills and talents are, then find a way to share them with the world and to find a way to apply them in a way that helps other people. There are too many people that want to change something, but they do it in a way that doesn’t sustain their own being or lifestyle. So I think knowing yourself, and then take that knowledge and apply it to the world is the best way to do it.

Lorna: Fantastic. Yamile, please tell us how we can best stay in touch with you.

Yamile: You can find me at CreativeWebBiz.com, and you can find me on Twitter that my handle is @yemoonyah. That’s a little hard. It’s a y-e-m-o-o-n-y-a-h.

Lorna: Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing with us your entrepreneurial journey.

Yamile: Well, thank you for having me.

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