To Learn More about Teresa Funke [click here] to view her Media Kit.
Janine: Hey, welcome to the Thriving Solopreneur. I am Janine Bolon and today’s guest is Teresa Funke, who believes that there is an artist in everyone. Her newest book, “Bursts of Brilliance For A Creative Life” helps readers ignite their creative spirit and rediscover their passion, their purpose, and their power. This highly reviewed book is based on Teresa’s popular weekly blog, which was run consecutively since 2014.
Teresa is the embodiment of the modern artist and entrepreneur. She is the owner of Teresa Funke and Company, Victory House Press, and Bursts of Brilliance. She has authored 7 award-winning novels for adults and children set in World War II. One of my personal favorites, “Dancing In Combat Boots” and “War On A Sunday Morning”. Teresa is a literacy community catalyst, speaking widely and running programs that support history, education, and literacy, writing the Arts, and personal development.
She is a frequent podcast and radio guest and a popular panelist on topics ranging from creativity, innovation, to entrepreneurship to Arts Advocacy. Teresa is also the proud mother of 3 amazing grown children and has a goal to visit a new state or country each year. Thank you so much for being with us today, Teresa.
Teresa: Thank you, Janine. It’s great to be here.
Janine: So one of the lovely things we like about this particular show is that we cater to solopreneurs. You were just saying to me before we got on, “Hey, it’s really nice to be talking about solopreneurs and entrepreneurs.” So share with us a little bit about your perspective of the joy of being a solopreneur versus an entrepreneur. You were sharing a little bit about that before the show.
Teresa: Yeah, absolutely. I have been a solopreneur for 30 years. What’s interesting about entrepreneurs is often times people feel like an entrepreneur is somebody who’s going to start something with the intention of growing it, and eventually having a staff and all kinds of people working with them like consultants. Solopreneurs — we don’t necessarily have that desire and goal. We love being on our own, working on our own, learning everything. We do everything from making the highest level decisions to taking out the trash, and we like it that way. So for me to have committed to being a solopreneur for 30 years, I could have gone in different directions but this is how I like to work. I’m really excited to be talking to other solopreneurs because I think we’re a special breed.
Janine: We’re definitely unique. One of the things I’ve learned from many of my businesses is that I love the solopreneur process. My whole goal is to run a business and then when I start getting bored with that business, I set up automation processes. I get things rolling, make it profitable, sell it, start the next solopreneur venture — whatever that happens to be. So that was something that was kind of fun to chat with you a little bit about and wanted the audience to know. But you are in good hands with Teresa because she totally understands your plight.
So talk to us a little bit about the premise of your current book and the reason for writing it because it kind of set you off on a different layer. You kind of moved in a different direction with this new book.
Teresa: Yes. For 27 years, I was writing, researching World War II and loved it — still love it. But when I started to create the blog, “Bursts of Brilliance For Creative Life” in 2014, I kind of knew in the beginning that this was taking me in a new direction. This writing inspirational, personal growth, support, encouragement was very different from telling fiction stories about World War II. So this was a whole new place for me to explore but in the early part of my career, I wrote personal essays to find my voice as a writer. In personal essays, we’re often investigating ourselves and what I found was that I kept coming around to identity like, “What’s your identity?”
And so, writing something really personal and really vulnerable in a way that is hopefully inspiring was not something completely new to me, when I started the blog. I had done it successfully through those essays in the past. But to think of writing a weekly blog, where you have to be on, and inspiring, and really vulnerable every week — that was a little bit scary like, “Is this going to work?” And the key to my blog is that I am very vulnerable. I’m very honest about my journey as an author, as an artist, as an entrepreneur. That’s been the focus of Bursts Of Brilliance For A Creative Life. It has been… journey along with me and see how you connect. Let’s see where do our journeys overlap, and what can I say that might help you find encouragement in the directions that you are taking to follow your own passion and your own energy?
Janine: So you were talking about how you’ve been a solopreneur for 30 years, and that this was something that you were committed to. You knew it was going to be a type of lifestyle, and what have you. Well, 30 years is a long time and that was back in the dark ages before we had Wi-Fi. I don’t think a lot of people understand that when you chose to become a solopreneur, that was a very challenging decision. So what kind of moved you into that category? And then, how did you allow yourself to thrive? There’s a lot of self-development that’s required in order for you to stay as solopreneurs. Talk to us a little bit about that.
Teresa: That’s a great question because as an author, no one tells authors or young writers when they start out that you’re going to be owning a business if you are a writer. No one tells us that. Even if you’re with a traditional publisher, you still are going to be potentially doing some speaking, or some school visits, or some other things that you’re going to have to account for and have to set up a business and some structure around that. So, that was a surprise to me. I mean, I was a Liberal Arts major. I didn’t ever intend to own a business, so I kind of stumbled into owning a business in the beginning. So an author, I was sort of automatically a solopreneur.
Then as I started to grow the business, I realized there were a lot of things I could do in the community. Community programs and community outreach that I could run through my business, through sponsorship models, or through partnership models that I could do myself. That’s when I started to feel more like an actual solopreneur, like somebody who wasn’t just an author who was managing their author business.
At that point, I read a lot of business books. I read marketing, tens of marketing books, right? I became sort of an expert in marketing, particularly for a lot of authors, but also for just these programs I was doing in the community that really meant a lot to me. I was supporting book ownership for children. I was supporting literacy. I was supporting the Arts. So, yes, I did have to kind of grow into becoming a solopreneur and treating this like a business.
And then, as you mentioned, sometimes we start something, it works really well and we can turn it over to someone else. We can sell it or we can have somebody else help us run it. Or sometimes we do something really awesome and wonderful and it runs its course. That’s never for me, that’s never been a sad thing. It’s always, I’m really proud of those projects. I learned so much from them that when something does run its course and it’s time to let it go, I always feel really good about that.
So I think as solopreneurs, a big part of our process is thinking about what’s here for the long haul? What’s here for the short-term? Are there things that I can build that don’t require me, that could be handed off in some way? So that’s a very interesting perspective.
Janine: Well, I like the fact that you’re talking about there are things that run their course. Some people will call that failure. You’ll set up an idea, you’ll run something for a period of time, and then it just stops quote-quote working. Some people see that as failure where folks like you and I say, “No, it was complete. It was done. I got what I wanted out of it.” Yeah, it may have cost me money instead of making me money, which was always the hope. But really sometimes, that’s not the end goal. So talk to us a little bit about how sometimes we just do things because of the sheer joy of the creation of it. Can you kind of talk to us a little bit about your story on where some of those things worked out for you?
Teresa: Well, I know this sounds kind of cliche but I don’t really actually believe in failure. I think that everything that I have done that hasn’t worked out so great where maybe I lost a little money or it didn’t have the response that I thought it would have — I’ve learned from it. Because I learned from it, I’m able to do better the next time.
Sometimes I’ll develop something like — we developed a program a while back for a nonprofit organization and we put a lot of work into this. In the end, it didn’t wind up going. It didn’t get approval. Now, you could have looked at all that time spent as wasted time, but we’ve been able to pilfer from that program we developed, as we’ve developed other programs. We’re like, “Wait, didn’t we do this once already?” And we go back and we pull pieces and parts from it.
I think most writers understand this because when we’re writing our stories or imagine stories, there are scenes we have to cut. It’s called “killing your darlings” and it hurts. It really hurts to kill your darlings but you know it has to happen for that book. But there’s always this thing in the back of your head where you say, “Well, maybe I can use it in another book or story.”
It’s the same thing with our businesses. So when I start a project that doesn’t have the result I would have preferred, I know that there’s a possibility I can come back to it. Maybe the time wasn’t right for it, it might have been ahead of its time a little bit, or that there’s a piece of it that I can pull to create something else, new and different. So I’m always really proud of everything that I’ve done and the consultants have helped me create. So, yeah. That’s kind of the attitude I have. There’s no such thing as wasted effort, ever.
Janine: When I mention “failure”, sometimes I’ve had people label that for me. They’re like, “Oh, so that was a failure.” And I’m just like, “I’m kind of more along with Teresa’s camp on that one.” Which is I don’t see it personally as a failure, but other people may label it that way. So one of the things I like to share with solopreneurs is, whether you label it a failure or success or whatever your markers were, I love the fact that you brought it up. Maybe the timing wasn’t right. I’m notorious for being 7 years ahead of my time on certain things, and then I’ll see somebody else be insanely successful but it was because you were right. It was a timing issue. People weren’t ready for what I had or the way it was run. Thank you for bringing that point up.
So when it comes to what you’re doing with your business now versus when you were first starting out, as you said, you read a lot. You read a ton of books on marketing because as an author, not really good on that. I mean, my career path didn’t help support me for that. So what do you recommend for folks who are just getting into business or they’re just starting their business? There comes a point where you have to stop taking other people’s advice and just do it yourself or do your own way. What do you recommend? Because I was very impressed when you said that you don’t write your articles to the SEO. You’re not worried about the level of “Yo”s[?] that you have with your design. The fact that you kind of throw all that out and just write to your passion is very important. There’s that balance of marketing versus writing to your passion. So do you mind talking a little bit about that?
Teresa: Sure. Yes. I think it’s really important that… for me, with the learning aspect of it you asked about, I do read a lot of books and I am very careful about the books I choose. I choose books that other friends have recommended, particularly my intuitive friends who follow their intuition in their businesses. What I do is when something sparks, I take that piece of advice. I don’t take all of the pieces of advice. I’m not the type of person who’s going to sign up for a course with a coach that’s going to walk me through a set type of practice. I tend to be more aware of what works for me and what doesn’t, and I want to be able to build my business knowing what my strengths and weaknesses are.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time studying my strengths and weaknesses through things like strengths finder or even just being aware of things like your — Myers-Briggs is like, “Okay, what are my strengths and my weaknesses? What gives me energy? Because those are the paths I should follow.” If something’s going to drain all my energy — and yes, as solopreneurs, we have to do things that we don’t always enjoy. But I try to put the most of my effort into the things that are going to raise my energy and hand off the things that drain my energy, which for me is more like the spreadsheet type of activities. So I think it’s really important that you do the learning, you talk to people, you see what works for other people, and then you do have to adapt it for yourself.
And the second part of your question, I did make an intentional choice when I started this blog. I even put it in the blog, “I will not be writing to the trends, or keyword searches, or SEO, or whatever is going on in the country right now that everyone feels obligated to talk about. I’m going to write where my inspiration leads me to write.” I had to just trust that because the SEO people that I went and did a consultation with were like, “No, no. That’s the wrong way to do it.” I get that advice a lot in my career, with people saying all of the books, all of the studies, and all the research shows you should do this. You’re doing it the opposite way. It’s not going to work but for me, that feels authentic and it does work because I’m following my chosen path and what I believe in, versus trying to manufacture success based on these rules of the game.
Janine: I like the way you say that — the way to manufacture success. That puts us in the Henry Ford model and the conveyor belt, which is the antithesis to solopreneurs. If we were running things like everyone else, we wouldn’t be driving. I mean, most of us get into business because we think we have a better way. We have a better idea. We have a solution that our community needs that’s outside the box. So to put us on any kind of a conveyor belt, or use any sort of manufacturing, is not appropriate at the initial stages when we’re first starting out. But then once we have systems and processes, then we can start manufacturing our success because it’s based on our own systems and processes.
So I would love for you to share with us a little bit if you can, an actual example of something that you had to do your own way and then ended up starting to manufacture your success based on your internal model.
Teresa: Let’s see here. There are several of them. I think for one thing — sorry. When I went into self-publishing, and this was back in 2000 — I’m so sorry.
Janine: Go ahead, just take a moment. We’ll just pause. Brian will need you to cut for just a minute, and then you take a moment, clear your throat, do what you have to do, and then Brian will come back on. We’ll let you just start from the beginning when you first started your processes in 2010. We’ve been talking a lot, it happens.
Teresa: Actually, that never happens to me. I teach a 6-hour workshop and this never happens. So, okay. I think I’m okay. Tell me when you’re ready.
Janine: We’ll just wait for another pause, and then Brian will cut based on the pause. So you start when you’re ready.
Teresa: I think one of the first times that I did what you’re asking about was back when I decided to become a self-published author. So, this was in the early part of the century, around 2000. I was considering self-publishing my novel and all of my friends told me not to. They all said, “You will sink your career if you self-publish a novel.” At that time, self-published nonfiction was maybe okay but not fiction. They said “You know, you will never get that book reviewed. Nobody touches the self-published book for reviews.” And I said, “Well, 10% of people read the reviews and newspapers, and 85% read feature stories. So I’ll get feature stories.” And I did because my story was based on a true story.
That was one of those times when I could see a trend coming. First of all, self-publishing was going to grow and I could see that things were changing in the publishing industry. We’re making it harder to get stories like mine out there, even though the editors were telling me what a great book it was. And so, I was able to say to myself, this is risky. This is not recommended. Everyone’s telling me not to do this. This is not the standard way to get your books published, and I did it anyway. It wound up launching my career. It launched 8 books and a lot of other aspects of my career.
So, it wasn’t that I was unaware of the traditional way to publish a book or the proper way to publish a book. Even when I did my marketing, I was able to do new things with marketing because I wasn’t tied to a publisher that was telling me what to do and what
not to do. I was able to create some new types of publishing that then my traditionally published friends were coming to me and saying, “How did you do that? Do you think that could work for my book?” And I was able to have that freedom to try that. So that would just be an example of being aware of the rules so that you know how to break them. That’s what I did.
Janine: It’s like so many aspects of life. When you’re a new person to something, you follow the rules to start off with. But as you master those rules, that’s what a master is — somebody who knows how to break the rules appropriately. When you and I were first starting to run through our publishing experiences, it was during the time where self-publishing was called “vanity publishing”, remember? You were so vain that you were publishing your own material. You weren’t good enough to be able to be a part of the publishing houses. But I made a decision myself. After 12 people said, “Oh, this is a great book but no, you don’t have the authority to write on money since you have no experience with it.” I’m like, “I’m wealthy. Isn’t that enough experience?” You know, I had these experiences. I had people I was teaching. And so, one of the things that ended up happening was I then fell into debt and then came back out, so I felt like I had experience on this. I wasn’t considered an authority by the publishing standards, as you said, but “vanity publishing”.
So you decided, “I was going to write a novel. I’ll write a feature story.” All that happened. Talk to us a little bit about how Bursts of Brilliance — okay, so you started off on this path of writing World War II featured stories. You were interviewing people. Then you decided to take your blog and make it a book. Talk to us a little bit about the business side of that, which caused you to have to kind of shift your focus in ways that you didn’t have to do with your first book or your first set of series.
Teresa: Yes. That’s very interesting because, with the first book, I sort of became the World War II lady. That’s what the kids would call me. My persona was around this World War II author, which was intriguing in itself because I write in a really unique manner in that all of my books are based on real people that I interview. So, if you go to the Teresa Funke company website, you will see me very present on that website. It’s me and my books. It’s me and what I can share with you about writing. It’s me and how I can connect you to more resources for World War II.
When we developed the website and the social media for Bursts of Brilliance, we made the decision that I wouldn’t be as visible. The concept would be put forward more so than me. So this wasn’t my author website. This was the Bursts of Brilliance website and it was about the blog, and the book, and the inspirational social media we do. It’s built so that in the future, it can incorporate some other ideas that I have, maybe even ideas that I could then eventually sell.
So yes, I did make a decision with Bursts of Brilliance that in that case, the concept would come first. I trademarked the term Bursts of Brilliance, and I treated it very much like this is a business about inspiring people. I happen to be the founder, but this isn’t “Teresa and her Bursts of Brilliance”. It’s a very different mindset. When we’re creating social media, for example, we have to shift gears in our head between “Teresa Funke and World War II”, and over here “Bursts of Brilliance” and all that we can provide for the people who follow us there. It is built to be a different kind of a business so it’s really interesting that you picked up on that.
Janine: There are a lot of times that authors struggle to do what you just did, which is… some of my books, it’s all about me as the creator. Then the other books are about my reader and the message I’m trying to give to them. That almost, I like to affectionately call, “schizophrenic” bouncing back and forth between, where is the focus? Is it on me as an interviewer, or is it on my reader, or what have you?
So as solopreneurs, we actually have to do this as business people all the time. Would you like to share a little bit about where you have to shift those gears as a business owner?
Teresa: Yeah. I mean, I think again, as a business owner… even looking at things like what sells best with my World War II books as my bundles? You can buy the Home Front Heroes Collection, which is all 5 of my children’s books, or the Teresa Funke collection, which is all 7 of My World War II books together. And that sells best. It makes me the most money.
So when Bursts of Brilliance came out, it’s like, well, how do we do that? How do we take that concept of the bundle over with just one book and a blog? What are we bundling? And so, I decided to focus on groups: organizations, businesses, education, and book clubs — people who would like the concept of increasing creativity in the people they work with, and they can buy the books like if you buy two… I think if you buy 2, you get 1 free. If you buy 4 or 5, you get 2 free. That’s it. That’s the bundle.
We started creating those bundles because if you have a book club and you have 8 members, you can buy 5 and get two free. We want to move those books in quantity. That’s the goal because that’s how you make money as a self-published author. It was even just something as simple as that. That’s a very simple example of like, what did I have that worked with Teresa Funke Company? How do I modify that to work with Bursts of Brilliance? And now that Bursts of Brilliance has been around for a couple of years, I’m starting to see it go the other direction, where some things that work for me on Bursts of Brilliance are now being incorporated into Teresa Funke Company.
So it’s a small example but it’s, I think, a really easy one to get your head around.
Janine: Well, it’s huge because when self-publishing first started, that was one of the things that we had to do the most publishing houses didn’t. We didn’t have chains of marketing. We didn’t have marketing outlets. We weren’t producers of the massive content like a publishing house, so we had to come up with new ways. One of those was how do you sell your books? Many of us found different avenues of doing that. We were selling to corporations who were doing off-staff retreats or, back at the time, trying to get people educated on what’s the difference between a traditional or a Roth IRA. I had[?] just come out, and so they were using books like mine that help people get into debt-free living to be able to do that kind of thing. Fun and games, right? Whether you’re a novelist or nonfiction writer, there are always ways that you can sell your books in bulk and partner, and partner with companies and groups to be able to do that.
As we wrap up with this, talk to us a little bit, if you don’t mind, what are some last-minute suggestions or parting advice that you can give to us about how to protect or nurture our bursts of brilliance as solopreneurs.
Teresa: Well, I think as solopreneurs, we have a unique challenge in that we get that burst of brilliance and we’re just lit up with this amazing idea. At that moment, we’re just convinced we’re geniuses and we know this is going to be the next big thing for our business. But the benefit of being a solopreneur is we can pursue and move forward on anything we want to. The hard part about being a solopreneur is sometimes we don’t have a staff, we don’t have a board, we don’t have anyone else to go to run our ideas by them and say, “I mean, do you really think this is going to work? Is this a really good idea?”
And so I think as solopreneurs, we need to have those trusted sources, those people that we can go to at each stage in our ideation process. Our friends that are good at strategy, our friends that are good at just motivation, and our friends that are good at kicking our butts when we start to make excuses for why we are not doing what we said we were going to do. I call it, “Whose voice do you need in your head? Whose voice do I need in my head right now?” So as I’m going through the process of my day, especially if it’s a new idea, I’m asking myself, “Wait, whose voice do I need in my head right now? My friend who does strategy? My friend who’s…” you know, I’m starting to waver a little on the idea. I’m a little nervous about it, and I have that one friend who’s always like, “Oh, Teresa. My God, you’re great. You’re so awesome. You’ll make it work. I know you will.” Versus the friend who’s going to, as I said, you’re dragging your feet making excuses and that friend kicks your butt. So for me, I ask myself that question. Whose voice do I need in my head at this moment? Because we can’t be all of the voices for ourselves all the time.
So having that that group of people around you that you can trust and run those ideas by, I think, is really critical for solopreneurs.
Janine: Having those trusted voices that are not in the day-to-day trenches of your own business — yes, I totally agree. So, Teresa, if people want to learn more about you, where can they go? What’s the best place for them to connect with you?
Teresa: Well, my website is burstsofbrilliance.com, and that’s bursts with an S. We’re on most of the social media channels. We’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, all kinds of places. You can find me in all kinds of places. On the website is the blog, and I would really recommend that people check out that blog every week because I wrote it — I started out writing it for artists and entrepreneurs. That was my goal and that’s still where my heart is when I’m writing. That’s who I’m thinking. I’m thinking about artists, entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs like myself because we do have a really unique, fun, and challenging journey as solopreneurs.
Janine: It’s very exciting. Thank you so much for being with us today, Teresa.
Teresa: Thank you very much, Janine.
Janine: And this is Janine Bolon with The Thriving Solopreneur, where we are the crazy people that have an idea, a suggestion, a way of doing things differently, and we go out on the cutting edge and say, “We’re going to make this new process or system happen.”
So if you need a little bit of upliftment, realize we broadcast every Friday. We will be happy to take you on different journeys of different solopreneurs as they give you tips and advice. Have a great day. See you next week.