The most successful businesses are ran by those who have found their passion and use it to help others. Sam Uhl does exactly that at The Cheerful Word. Using her incredible gifting as a story teller, Sam helps others create their own memoirs. Her workshops, retreats, editing services and publishing has helped countless people take their lives from memories to actual books.
There is no one more qualified to tell Sam Uhl’s story than herself and today she has taken the time so share her journey and lessons learned with us all. You can find out more about The Cheerful word on their website, Instagram or Facebook.
This week we are giving away one spot in her Writing Your Extraordinary Life Online Workshop. Be sure to enter!
Tell us about yourself.
From birth, I was destined for a path of listening to and preserving stories. For as far back as I can remember, I sat at the feet of wise and witty elders. My parents revealed my path to me in different ways. My mother often took me to the nursing home where she worked, and I’d toddle into the rooms and wait for people to tell me stories. I heard some doozies!
My father taught me by example that showing genuine curiosity in others got them talking about the things that mattered most to them. He may have had only an elementary education, but Dad knew the hearts of men and women. Everyone adored him for his generous friendship.
My parents were older, and I was privy to the banter of their many visiting friends. Their voices filled my childhood with captivating tales of adventure, heartache, and inspiration. During dinner and cocktail parties in our home, I witnessed the importance of sharing one’s own story with caring others, and what it felt like to be accepted despite your shortcomings. I was an observant and empathetic child; a perfect skillset for a budding guide and memoirist.
I set out to become a trusted teacher as others sought to learn how their experiences shaped who they are today, define who they want to be tomorrow, and how they want to be remembered by writing the chapters of their lives.
It took me nearly 40 years of growth through various positions of leadership and business ownership to achieve my goal. Now, as founder of The Cheerful Word, I’ve taught hundreds of women and men the magic of memoir to transform their lives.
I love to help people learn to love their lives by teaching them to write their memoirs in retreats and workshops. I also coach writers, I ghostwrite bespoke memoirs, and I am a boutique publisher of non-fiction.
How did you get into your business?
I was caregiving for my mother, who was living with us after a heart attack. It turned out this career nurse had been cleverly downplaying several health struggles, which became apparent once she was with me 24×7. After a tough year of increasing isolation and occurrences of my own migraines, a friend insisted I come out to a women’s networking coffee.
After several months of nagging, I relented. Me, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with my hair pulled into a ponytail, I was so relieved to be welcomed by this group of eight delightful women. As is customary, I gave a brief, lame elevator pitch, “I write articles for caregivers. And I am a caregiver.” Yeah, not a big seller. One of the women, a sleek 79-year old named Dr. Ileen Cummings, invited me to coffee and changed my life with one question. She asked, “If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do with it?”
Well, I had the answers right away, as I dreamed all the time what I’d do after Mom died. “I’d write people’s life stories, teach classes, rescue Boston Terriers, ride the Harley from coast to coast, travel around Europe…” She stopped me and told me to explore my first answer, which made my eyes and my voice sparkle, and to come back next week with an elevator pitch about it. She also asked me how much I’d charge to write her memoir.
The Cheerful Word was born that day.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Surrounding myself with people who think small has been my biggest challenge. After launching The Cheerful Word while caregiving for my mother, people close to me told me I was taking on took much, investing too much money and time, and setting my sights too high—that I’d ultimately let myself down.
When my mother died (at the end, she became my only cheerleader), I took a radical step into a new life. I moved to my dream city, Hendersonville, in the mountains of North Carolina on my own for the first time in 28 years and became an overnight success. I’ve been keeping up with the business ever since!
What do you wish you’d known when you started?
I wish I’d known to develop a circle of female friends who I could spend time building up and let off steam with while I was growing my business. I had many acquaintances, but no friends for my first two years in my new city. I worked seven days a week with a total focus on teaching workshops, designing books, and developing contacts.
Luckily, when I met my soon-to-be husband, a native of Hendersonville, he introduced me to all the positive female business owners in downtown and his other favorite women friends. Many of them are my dearest friends today. My life and business are enriched because of their love, support, and friendship.
If you could narrow your success down to one thing, what would it be?
Being a good steward in my community is the most natural thing, and it’s easy to give when you have a cheerful heart.
You can find me listening to almost anyone, anywhere in town. Whether I’m in the grocery store line, sitting at the local craft brewery, or standing at the corner with a homeless person, I strike up conversations because I’m genuinely interested in the lives of everyday people; where they’re from, what they treasure, what makes them happy.
I am a steward not only of my heart and my time, but my talents and money. There are people who cannot afford to pay me to write their life stories, so I do pro bono work, especially for veterans and the frail elderly. I also reserve one seat in my workshops for those who can’t afford to attend. I financially support local non-profits that are close to my heart, including Veteran’s Healing Farm, Sweet Bear Rescue Farm, and Boston Terrier Rescue of NC.
Where do you see yourself in a year?
I see myself putting roots down back in Hendersonville, NC after a three-year adventure living in Germany and traveling around Europe. Let me explain.
After three years of success in Hendersonville, the business needed to shift gears. I’d just released a partner from my business that didn’t work out and I needed to recover financially. I had no place to live and was moving into my Life Stories Studio when I met Fred. It was love at first dance (which I thought only happened in the movies!). Izzy, my Boston Terrier and I moved into his condo on Main Street while he worked in South Carolina. We saw each other every other weekend for three months, until he invited me to move to his new job location with the Army—in Germany!
Since my workshops were done and my three memoir books could be done online, I said yes to the biggest adventure of my life yet. We married on the fourth of July in 2016 in Denmark and haven’t look back. However, we do look forward.
I’ve been back to the States four times to tend to my clients, launch a second business, Vintage Photo Scan last year, and see the birth of my grandson.
In a year, we plan to have purchased a house in or near Hendersonville with enough rooms to host writing retreats and workshops. We’ll keep our renovated condominium on the top floor of the Historic Skyland Hotel on Main Street, and rent it out to long-term tenants.
I also expect to be doing more public speaking. I’ve been asked to speak about the importance of writing and sharing life stories in Germany for Americans Working Around the Globe, Army Community Service, and the USO and have enjoyed it tremendously.
What are your top three tips for women starting a business?
- Make sure you engage in a business that you are wholeheartedly passionate about. Make sure it’s your dream and not someone else’s. Your passion and desire to serve your people will be the juice that fuels you over the hurdles when difficulties arise.
- Have a one-page business plan that you see as a living document. Something that will grow with you as your business matures.
- Have a trusted financial person in your corner to give you advice and complete your accounting for you or with you. Should you develop the need or desire to become an LLC or an S or C corporation, this person will be a valuable asset as you grow because they already know your business inside and out.
What is a typical day for you like?
A typical day for me starts out about 0600 with quiet time to meditate, write, and reflect on the coming day. Then I write my two accountability partners my Badass Make It Happen plans for the day via email. We do this every weekday, all year. It consists of a list of celebrations, lessons learned, gratitudes, and things we commit to doing today.
0800 I eat breakfast and scroll through Facebook, post my encouragement of the day related to writing, and respond to relevant or important posts. Limited to 15 minutes. Then I open email and delete what I don’t want to read, file what I can, and flag the others with color-coded flags according to type of action I need to take on them. I only leave anything action items in my inbox, and I try hard to keep them to 10 or fewer by the end of the day.
0900 I begin work on my client projects. Taking a break at 1130 or so. Sometimes to go walking and do my PT for my shoulder surgery, then shower if I didn’t first thing. Then lunch.
1330 Client writing/editing projects and online coaching in the afternoon. Answering email. Stretching or a load of laundry in between.
1500 Done for the day. Unless I need to meet a deadline, then I take a break and work again.
1730 Dinner with hubby and watch a documentary (or mindless entertainment if it’s been one of those days). Take a walk, chat.
2000 I’ve been known to get a second wind and write the bones for a blog article or ideas for chapters in my memoir or other business idea and file it away.
2100 Write in my minimalist journal. 5 min. Then go soak in a deep bath and read before bed.
2145 Lights out. Deep, belly-breathing till I’m asleep
What is your business motto or quote your live by?
Everyone’s life is a story worth telling.
If you were starting your business over again what would you do differently?
I would charge more for my services right from the start. I undervalued myself, my own worthiness for years, and as a result I undercharged the gifts I served to the world.
What I do is so healing and life-changing that people cry with joy when they share their own stories out loud and when they hold their published books in their hands. It took me a long time to learn that most memoir teachers don’t provide this kind of safe space in which to explore their life stories with others.
I had to overcome my own doubt before I was willing to see myself as worthy enough to charge what I am worth. Knowing what I know now, I would start right out with all the joy and passion of knowing what I am capable of, and build my costs accordingly.