How do YOU think I make money?

I’ve bristled twice recently in relation to my business.

Bristle One

Someone whom I’ve known for about three years asked incredulously, “You make money doing Mac & Cheese?”

I stared back with a “How do you think I bought that chair you’re sitting in?” stare. These clothes, that exposed brick wall, the drink in your hand.

Others have similarly inquired over the years. The fourteen years since I turned getting fired into a business. Which makes me wonder at what point am I deemed legit and how people think I make money. Do you surmise that I secretly work at Starbucks 20 hours a week? I guess now that I’m married, people could assume Best Friend covers my costs (he doesn’t, even though I beg him to be my Sugar Daddy). But M&C was five years old and at the height of its income, popularity, and overall thrive’ness when we met (through one of my *cough* income-producing offerings).

I didn’t leave a corporate job where I had saved up gaggles of coins; I had $300 in savings when I started Mac & Cheese. No wealthy uncle bequeathed me a financial windfall [tangent: I’ve had tons of generous people help me financially, whether it was Mom buying me an iMac when I started the business or Aunt giving me a no-interest loan when I was on unemployment or in-laws helping us pay for our wedding or loved ones almost fully funding our two week Hawaii honeymoon via our Honeyfund or or or. But ya know what I mean; that wealthy uncle who leaves you a safe deposit box filled with Apple stock or who pens you an obnoxiously large check]. I’ve never won the lottery. My husband refuses to bankroll me (why did we even get married?!). There is no magical tree in our magical yard that grows bills. Yet, I don’t have debt, am able to live a life filled with travel, pedicures, and (an occasional) Whole Foods hot bar, and sometimes even *gasp* turn a profit.

Bristle Two

In response to me stating that I don’t want to be a full-time house cleaner*, a client nodded and said, “Totally. You still want to do Mac & Cheese stuff.” Cleaning is Mac & Cheese stuff.

Many people over the years have had trouble viewing what I do as I do. Yes, my offerings are random and disparate. But in my mind, the common threads weaving together the seemingly unconnected are obvious — 

  • I’m good at them
  • I enjoy them
  • people repeatedly pay money for them and repeatedly tell other people to pay money for them
  • they pay my bills

Thus my offerings all fall under the Mac & Cheese umbrella. There is no Mac & Cheese Productions℠ and [insert income stream]. There’s just Mac & Cheese Productions℠.

This reminds me of one of the common struggles I see in my business consulting and bootcamps, where people can’t fathom having both a dog photography business and a web development business.

“But what will people think?!”

That you have multiple interests.

“But doesn’t it look unprofessional if a web client comes to my website and sees that I also offer dog photography?”

If unprofessional = “Ohhhh, I didn’t realize my web developer does doggie work too. I should hire her to take a pic of Mitzi and I!”, yes. Way unprofessional.

“One website that has all my offerings?! But that’s… weird. Different. I’ll stick out.”**


And if you have a client that is weirded out or leaves you because you generate revenue doing something other than what they pay you for, do you want that client? They’re an idiot. Unless the something is you sell puppies and children to mean people. Then you’re the idiot.

I get it

I have a difficult to describe and difficult to understand job. Is it even a job? A career? A portfolio? When my insurance agent was trying to fill out a form for me, got to the “occupation” section, and asked what he should put, when I answered “I help caterpillars discover their wings and transform into butterflies,” well, let’s just say it was silent for an awkward amount of time. Guess there wasn’t a butterfly bubble for him to fill in.

If multiple people have had similar thoughts about my income sources, it’s me not them, I guess. And in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? No. Which I know. Which is what caused me to wonder why I bristled.

I always think it’s interesting and enlightening to pay attention to your reactions or feelings, especially those that don’t occur frequently (which is how I wound up in the Tribune and on WBEZ after I investigated the envy I experienced as friend after friend left Chicago).

I should say that Bristle One was definitely a bristle. I think the question was rude, uncouth, insensitive. Though of course I’m sure they didn’t mean to be. Bristle Two was less of a bristle and more of a “Sigh. Why don’t people get me/it?! Sometimes I wish I was a “teacher” “lawyer” “mechanic” — that’d be easier.” But no shade thrown that asker’s way.

I don’t know if specifics about how I make money is helpful in clearing the air. Especially because I’m pretty TMI about most of my life, including getting paid and making it rain, er drizzle, somewhere in between. I don’t think this is news to anyone but in case you’ve also wondered, list below for your perusal.

Come at me asking “So how much did you make last year?”, well, you’re gonna be the subject of another blog post chapter of my New York Times best-selling book. Don’t get greedy.

*I don’t want to do anything I do full-time.

**If you’re someone who struggles with having a myriad of interests and with not having one direct path, watch this. You’re not alone.

Ways I’ve made money in 2018

  • Mac & Cheese store items — Life of Yes℠ note cards, posters, etc.
  • House cleaning — directly and indirectly, for my cleaning services and for my crew’s cleaning services
  • Consulting — running a business/side hustle, living a fulfilled life, entrepreneurism, productivity, networking
  • Webinars — travel hacking, productivity, Evernote
  • Mac & Cheese Virtual Garage Sale and VGS groups (virtual garage sale groups on Facebook)
  • Sponsorships — companies pay to support what I do, be affiliated with my offerings, and have me promote them*
  • Event curation & hosting — supper clubs, bootcamps in things you hate (sales, self promotion, public speaking), adult sleepaway camp, adult talent show, events where you say you “can’t” and it’s shown you can, days to focus on and get stuff done, etc.
  • Exposure to the Cheese-It community — people pay for me to market them both personally (rent my home, I’m selling XYZ, etc.) and professionally (job postings, business services, events, etc.)
  • Affiliate programs — you buy something I recommend, I get money* (Sleeping trouble? This! Want goodness delivered to your door? This! Wanna be more interesting? This!)
  • Focus groups — companies pay me to test out an idea/product of theirs and/or to share my reflections on an idea/product of theirs
  • Speaking engagements — keynotes, conference sessions, company lunch & learns, etc.
  • Workplace facilitation — staff retreats, professional development sessions, client events
  • M&C membership subscriptions (or as I call it, a Tip Jar, or them, Official Cheese-It Cheerleaders) — people who pay me monthly not for a specific thing or service but because they like, benefit from, and want to support what I do

Ways I’ve not had to spend money or been able to spend less money in 2018

  • Bartering, e.g. website overhaul for comp’ed M&C offering registration
  • Thank yous — people I’ve referred business to sending me Amazon gift cards or the like or giving me Cheese-It discounts on services
  • Referral links, e.g. sign up for Airbnb via my link, we both get credit, or for this productivity app I love, I can continue using the free version*
  • Hacking, usually travel related, e.g. first class ticket to Japan for $250 instead of $24,000
*I take referrals and recommendations super seriously, being someone who exists because of them and because of reputation, so am super selective in what and whom I thumbs up. You can see my lists — Service Providers, venues, apps, etc. — on my FAQ page.

How do YOU describe what I do?

Does it start with “I’m skeptical that she actually makes a living doing what she does but there’s this girl who…”?
I’m always looking for a wonderful elevator pitch for my “you make money doing what?!” business. If you can succinctly, impactfully, and accurately describe what I do, I’d love to hear it!
Alright, gotta run. I feel another random branch growing on the Mac & Cheese tree. Who knows if people will see me as successful or the real deal if I add this branch, but also, who cares? I did and then I wrote this musing, and now I don’t.