Sam Uhl of The Cheerful Word
Sam shares her ups, downs, and sideways on growing (and then scaling back) her life story business. Once the proprietor of a brick-and-mortar life story studio in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Sam now teaches life story classes, coaches writing clients, and publishes books from her new base in Germany.
Listen as we discuss:
- how Sam learned to listen to older adults from a young age
- all you have to do is show sincere curiosity and ask the first question, and that gets the ball rolling
- how writing small stories as a home health care professional tipped her off to her true passion (“Some day, I’m going to have a business and tell these stories!”)
- the story of Sam’s Life Story Studio in Hendersonville and being a hub in the community
- growing, then scaling back her business
- some thoughts on the obstacles we all face as life story professionals
How teaching free life story classes led to a shift in direction
Sam taught free classes for a local genealogical society; once they grew in popularity, she started offering paid courses.
A favorite class: “How to teach a skeleton to dance” (about talking about the skeletons in the closet)
- Sam became a Guided Autobiography Instructor from the Birren Institute in California
- she rented space at an inn to host her classes
- she charged $295 per six-week class
- she unwittingly becoming a publisher
- she became a memoir writing coach
- she wanted to write bespoke memoir, but that’s not what the community wanted; they wanted Sam to be their guide
- the importance of adapting to what the market wants
- customers are mostly women 55-75; they want to work with her in partnership mode
Despite lots of success, Sam was nearly homeless during this period. All of her money went into the business and supporting the costs of the studio. But she was also happy because she was finally doing what she wanted. [Lesson: We have to tend to the business side of our business, but we also have to believe in what we’re doing.]
Other topics we cover:
- some perils of having a partner
- working virtually over Skype and Facebook Video (in this case, from Germany)
- the payoff of working virtually
- making sure you run your business in a way that gives you satisfaction, not just an income
- the need to cut back on products and services
Sam’s new focus:
- writers retreats
- online workshops
- coaching writers
If you want to teach, look into the Guided Autobiography training. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel! Sam took the “Train the Trainer” class with Cheryl Svensson, Ph.D., an experienced GAB instructor who has taught in the Autobiographical Studies Program at the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Gerontology.
Want to know more about James Birren, the father of Guided Autobiography? Download his life story or read his book, Telling the Stories of Life Through Guided Autobiography Groups
Check out Sam’s website, www.thecheerfulword.com, for news on writing retreats in Germany and in North Carolina and her online workshops.
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Now go out and save someone’s story.