Slow and steady makes the dream

Prerna always loved writing, so much so that she took a journalism course after college for fun. But when she was offered a corporate job at a top global bank, she jumped at the chance.

My original career goal was to have a job. I always wanted a steady paycheck.

That job is where she met her now-husband Mayank; but for him, working a corporate job was never the long-term goal. For as long as he could remember he’d dreamed of starting his own business one day.

His goal was to learn as much as he could at the corporate job and then branch out on his own. He didn’t know what he’d start a business in, but he knew he wanted to be a creator.

But for now, they were happy in their corporate jobs. They got married, decided to start a family, and Prerna even pursued writing again on the side, earning a Master’s degree in English Literature while working at the bank. Things were perfect.

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Prerna and Mayank in their corporate jobs, taking a lunch break together.

Until Mayank got sick.

It started with a routine dentist appointment. But later that day he felt excruciating pain in his jaw.

He assumed something had gone wrong at the dentist. But then, the pain started spreading, eventually searing through his whole body. Doctors gave him pain medications but they somehow made the pain worse.

No one understood what was happening.

Prerna and Mayank spent months going to doctors, but no one understood what was happening.

Mayank had no choice but to continue his job and try to manage this mystery pain, especially since he was now supporting his new baby daughter (months earlier Prerna had quit her job to focus on caring for her).

Mayank went to work in excruciating pain for nine months, until it became too much. When he was in so much pain that he couldn’t sleep anymore, he asked his boss for a week off.

And that was the last time he ever went to that job.

But things still got worse.

The plan was always to go back, but after his initial week off, he was still in too much pain to return. His boss was incredibly supportive and helped him arrange to take a few months of unpaid leave to focus on his health.

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Mayank and his daughter.

But things still got worse; eventually he emailed his boss his resignation letter – he was too sick to go back to work.

Prerna and Mayank lived off their savings for a while.

When that ran out, they sold their one and only car.

Before Mayank got sick, Prerna had started a blog to have as a creative outlet. She mostly wrote about motherhood, but when readers reached out to her with questions, they weren’t asking for parenting advice.

They loved her writing so much that they wanted to know if she was available for hire. They wanted her help with their writing needs.

And Prerna thought that sounded like fun.

So she took on small freelance jobs, writing in the early mornings and during her daughter’s naps. Her clients loved her work and most eventually hired her to write all their social media content and manage their social media channels.

She wasn’t making much money, but every little bit helped. But what Prerna didn’t know when she started was how this online community she built would be the key to finally helping Mayank get better.

“Let’s give this a shot and bet on ourselves.”

When Prerna opened up to her audience about Mayank’s health journey and mystery symptoms, one blog reader reached out and said that all these mystery symptoms sounded to her like he might have an autoimmune disorder and have they tried getting his pH levels tested yet?

They hadn’t.

They’d never heard of that, and no doctor had directed them toward it. So they asked for a pH test and it turned out Prerna’s blog reader was right. Mayank was suffering from an autoimmune disorder.

With the proper diagnosis, a new treatment plan and lifestyle changes, Mayank started to feel better every day. Prerna and Mayank added that blog reader to their Christmas card list.

iaac-prerna-mayank-sitting-outsideWhile Mayank was finally feeling better and they’d spent everything they had on medical bills, Mayank didn’t want to go straight back into getting another corporate job.

He’d been watching Prerna’s writing and content business grow, and he thought maybe it could be the business he’d always dreamed of building.

He wondered what might happen if they started intentionally marketing her services (up to that point all her business came by word of mouth).

Prerna remembers they were at Mayank’s mom’s house, sitting in the living room, talking about what they were going to do next when Mayank spoke up and said he thought they should give her business a real shot – go full-time for one year and just see what happens. Prerna remembers:

So, we thought, let’s give it a shot for a year and see where it takes us. Otherwise, we can always go back to our jobs.

We didn’t really know how much money we would make. We didn’t know how many clients we would have. We didn’t even know how we would find those clients. We hadn’t really thought about those things. We just decided, ‘Let’s give this a shot and bet on ourselves.’

“We had nothing to lose.”

Though Prerna never imagined herself as a creator, she was excited about the opportunity to work with Mayank again. They’d worked together in the corporate world for years and always made a great team. She was also thrilled they’d both have the chance to spend a lot of quality time with their daughter.

They shifted their focus to the business in March 2011, and their first step was starting a new website focused solely on selling Prerna’s social media content services, because that’s what everyone was asking her for.

“Let’s give this a shot and bet on ourselves.”

I ask about their fears in these early days and Prerna’s answer surprises and delights me:

As weird as it may sound, we literally had no fear – because we had nothing to lose.

Everything felt very exciting, everything felt very new.

I also realized I love marketing; I love pitching businesses; I love having those conversations. We were able to define our roles early on. Me being creative, him being operations.

They also didn’t suffer from comparison; no one around them was doing anything like what they were doing. They felt like trailblazers and were thrilled by the adventure.

Their friends, family, and neighbors, however, were confused, often commenting, “You don’t go to a workplace, you’re always at home, what do you guys do?” Prerna remembers:

People were pretty skeptical because nobody had heard about a business that was 100% online then. Most thought we would just try this for six months and then be back in a job.

But they loved doing something people didn’t quite understand: “It was very different and exciting,” Prerna says.

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Dresser and “grow” art in Prerna and Mayank’s office.

They made $21,000 in their first year.

Which was far below what they made in their corporate jobs. I ask if they considered going back to their traditional jobs after that first year. Prerna answers:

Oh, my gosh, no.

And they assure me they really did love their corporate jobs. They just loved what they were doing even more.

And to them, the $21,000 wasn’t a sign they’d failed – but a sign that people were willing to pay for what they were offering.

They had traction.

They were building something.

And for Mayank, that was the dream come true:

The work was really exciting. We looked forward to Monday mornings. I loved that feeling of building something for yourself – and when you would do something and it would bring success to another business, that would give us a big high.

They’d also learned how to survive on just a little during Mayank’s health crisis. So living off of $21,000 wasn’t that difficult for them. They also kept their business expenses incredibly low.

But what kept them going most of all was the rave reviews they kept getting from their clients. It was just enough to make them think that their business still had the potential to grow into something more – if only they just kept going.

“I feel like the best learning comes from really putting yourself to work.”

But at some point, they were going and going and going – and becoming burnt out. Managing social media accounts for other creators around the world was a 24/7 job.

They decided to pivot away from social media content and transition into copywriting and consulting for creators instead: writing websites, sales pages, and email funnels instead of managing other people’s social media.

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Prerna’s desk.

Prerna loved doing that kind of writing work, so much so that in 2016 she decided to invest in Copy School with Joanna Wiebe.

Prerna loved the course so much that she also applied for and was accepted into an exclusive mastermind with Joanna.

15 copywriters were accepted for the intensive six-months program, and after a series of live writing tests, they would all have the opportunity to get certified.

Since Prerna lives in India, these sessions happened at midnight her time – she’d stay up late and attend all of them, doing these intensive rapid-fire writing sprints.

Only 3 of the 15 people got certified.

Prerna was one of those 3.

From there, she got to work: writing, writing, writing.

I feel like the best learning comes from really putting yourself to work. Writing and showing up, and then learning every time you write something.

Her clients were floored. She was able to offer something incredibly unique – a deep understanding of conversion copywriting (writing that leads people to act or buy) coupled with a graduate-level understanding of literature.

Her writing stood out. More than just actionable, it was also pleasant to read and personality-driven.

They soon changed their business name from Social Media Direct to Content Bistro and were ready once again to pursue a new direction.

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“It’s not just for sending out blog posts, but people are interested in buying from you.”

Around 2014 they also started an email list, using it primarily to send subscribers every new post in their now content-focused blog.

But as the subscribers grew, they realized that in addition to the clients who wanted to hire them to do the work for them, there were also a whole host of creators who were hoping to learn from them and write better copy themselves, especially those who couldn’t yet afford to hire a copywriter or who were still in the early stages of creating.

Mayank, as the COO and a big proponent of packages and offerings, together with Prerna, developed digital products that could help people who couldn’t yet afford to hire them.

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They started selling PDF workbooks to help people improve their copy, such as “Content Cookbook” and “Social Spread,” and were blown away by how many people from their email list bought them.

That’s when they realized their business could be more than just service-based. Mayank remembers:

That showed us that, ‘Huh, our email list can be monetized as well. It’s not just for sending out blog posts, but people are interested in buying from you.’

That gave us an idea that our email list is super important and we really need to optimize and maximize the potential.

After that first year making $21,000, their business kept growing. In their fourth year, they finally got to “the 100K mark,” as Prerna puts it. “That’s when we really felt that this was something real – and that we could grow it much bigger than this.”

And they did.

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“Reach out for help whenever you think you’re stuck.”

As our interview comes to an end I must admit I find myself thinking about any copywriting jobs I could hire Prerna and Mayank for in the future – not because they were trying to sell to me on our call, but because I’m somehow frantically thinking about how to find a way to spend more time with them. iaac-prerna-mayank-content-bistro-painting

Mayank and Prerna have a warmth and ease about them that is fitting to their bistro-inspired name. When you talk to them you feel you’ve escaped into the full-size mural painted in their kitchen – a Paris-like street lined with cafes, and just outside the one named “Content Bistro” are a painted Prerna and Mayank sitting at an outdoor table, toasting.

They exude a kind of lightness as if their lives have been devoid of fear, doubt, drama, or hardship – but in fact, it’s that lightness that seems to have gotten them through the times that were indeed very, very hard.

So before I reluctantly end our call I ask them what advice they have for anyone dealing with a chronic illness who also dreams of becoming a creator.

Mayank begins:

Just start. Don’t overthink, and also reach out for help whenever you think you’re stuck.

Prerna adds:

Maybe start slow, but like Mayank said, you want to start. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help. For us, help came from a blog reader. For you, it could come from any other source.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your struggles. Don’t be afraid to share, don’t be afraid to let people know that you need their support or you need some resources.

You want to start small and you want to start at your own pace. Your pace may not be the same as everybody else’s – like ours is not your overnight success story; but for us, that was the point.

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You can connect with Prerna and Mayank on Instagram, subscribe to their email list, or learn more at contentbistro.com.

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