From Homelessness to Financial Freedom – Janet Kozak Tells Her Story of Entrepreneurship

From Homelessness to Financial Freedom – Janet Kozak Tells Her Story of Entrepreneurship

Janet Kozak is a content strategist and has written more than 500 ghostwritten and by-lined articles for various print and online publications like Productive Muslim, Muslim Matters, and SISTERS Magazine to name a few. She has also been interviewed for publications such as Unread, Azizah Magazine, The Huffington Post, and NBCNews.

It is my pleasure to interview Janet today.

Assalaam ‘alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh Sister Janet. Welcome to Working Muslimahs and thank you very much for being here!

Wa ‘alaikoum assalaam warahmatullah wabarakatuh. Thank you so much for having me!

My pleasure! Please tell us a little about yourself. 

Sure! I’m a digital marketer and SEO copywriter originally from California. I’ve been living in Karachi for the last five years. I have a background in the arts with a BA in Art from California State University Sacramento (CSUS). My degree and experience in the arts come in handy when I’m visually designing websites and other graphics. I also hold 14 digital marketing-related certifications and regularly speak at various international online conferences.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

I equate entrepreneurship with financial independence. I firmly believe entrepreneurship is a way to get out what efforts we put in (as compared to traditional staffed employment).

I had to rebuild my life from scratch after my divorce at age 31. It dashed my whole life to pieces. I literally lost everything: my house, most all my clothes and belongings, my good credit rating, my investments, and my savings – all because of a financially abusive ex-husband. I’ve worked to build myself back up from a rock-bottom period of homelessness these past eight years.

While things have improved somewhat since my months in a shelter, I’m still not where I want to be in my life. I’ve saved nothing for retirement. It’s also a scary thought to have no savings for an illness or a rainy day… and I’m almost 40 years old! 

Through entrepreneurship, I’m both getting myself safe and settled while also passionately teaching and helping other women do the same thing. I want to see every woman-owned business succeed in the same way I am. I never want to see a woman left high and dry because she was using her man as her “financial plan.” Not on my watch!

What inspired you to pursue entrepreneurship?

For me, entrepreneurship solves unequal opportunities for women in digital marketing. Many women working in digital marketing perform tasks like social media management or community management. Because of glass ceilings, many women don’t get to develop big-picture strategies or lead teams. 

The digital marketing and data analytics field is a heavily male-dominated industry. So I started my company as a solopreneur to build my brand and reputation as a content strategy consultant.

Why did you choose to become a content strategist?

I didn’t want to take my client’s money to just implement random checklists found online or jumbled action plans. Instead, I wanted to hold each client’s hand and lead them on their unique strategic journey into bigger, bolder, businesses. I wanted to help them decipher what types of content will work best for where they are in their business right now.

I could also call myself a business coach or consultant because I help entrepreneurs craft powerful and creative business models and really get inside the heads of their target market. You could say I often wear the hats of both a business consultant and marketer, with some generalized web development and design knowledge thrown in there as well.

I’m no spring chicken, so I bring all my years of experience in many roles to the table when I consult with my clients. I also tell them from the beginning that they will occasionally get unsolicited (but well-received) advice about improvements to their business.

What were your short-term and long-term goals when you became a content strategist?

My main goal has always been to learn as much about the field as quickly as possible. I spend every down moment in between clients researching, taking courses, and adding to my skill-sets. The industry changes and grows quickly so there is a lot to learn and a lot to keep up with!

In the beginning, I also heavily networked with other small business owners so I could learn their most common pain points related to SEO copywriting, content, and digital marketing. I still stay connected with many entrepreneurial groups and do my best to give free advice that helps as many people as possible, especially women!

By tapping into the network of entrepreneurs in my immediate circle, I learned a lot about how I could use my skills and experience to help grow their businesses. I also connected with many other content strategists to learn the tricks of the trade and expand my tool-kit. 

However, in the last three months, I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve maxed out what I can accomplish for my clients on my own. I’m planning to scale my business so I can both provide more services faster and also employ other freelance writers and digital marketers who want to work in this industry.

Ideally, I want to start an agency and have a 100% remote workforce with at least half a dozen part-time consultants and freelancers by the end of next year. 

Did you face any challenges when you started your journey?

Oh, lots! Because I’m American by birth, I grew up accustomed to my very first-world construct of how things work. But so much of my ability to do business from Pakistan is now contingent on the local infrastructure and systems.

So, for example, days-long power outages, internet breakdowns, rioting in the streets, and even the senseless complication of what I consider simple banking procedures, have all quadrupled the amount of stress I face daily in my business. I now have to put in double or triple efforts just to compete in this global gig economy.

Thankfully, I’m blessed to have clients who respect my situation. They value my insights and know I’m constantly creating solutions to challenges that come up. For example, I usually have at least two backup internet connections and know all the free generator-powered coffee shops around town.

How do you stay focused despite all the distractions and challenges, and what motivates you?

Gosh, besides a desire for financial stability and independence as I explained above, I have two other powerful motivations so I can’t choose just one.

First, because I’m a boutique content strategy firm, I get as passionate about my client’s businesses as I am about my own! I take my client’s timelines, launches, and business goals to heart and do everything in my power to keep them on track. Seeing them succeed gives me such a sense of pride and accomplishment as if it was my passion project. That feeling keeps me motivated to overcome all obstacles for them.

My other motivation is my youngest daughter. I want her to experience entrepreneurship from a young age so that she knows that there are options for her when she’s older. I don’t want to raise a daughter that is “taught to the test” or trained to be a cog in a machine. I want her to feel passionate about uniquely solving big human problems. She is already showing signs of being an excellent delegator so I know with more exposure to entrepreneurship she is going to achieve great things, insha’Allah. 

How do you maintain a balance between work and personal life? 

It’s a struggle to keep work out of my downtime. As a solopreneur, if I don’t work it doesn’t get done. I’ve worked while sick (to take my mind off early labor!) But no matter how I divide my time, I always feel like I am coming up short. But I’m also sure I’m being too hard on myself about it.

I also think most women hold a lot of guilt about whether they are “balancing” everything “right.”  But we shouldn’t. We don’t see fathers worrying about all the hours they put in at the office while they are not home with their kids.

The key to balance for me is to be fully present in each activity that I do. I work in work mode and play in play mode and try not to mix the two.

As a Muslim woman, how does Islam impact your entrepreneurship journey?

Islam has inspired me to be an entrepreneur and to want to have control over my own financial destiny. The more I learned about my financial rights (and learned from experience what can happen when I don’t stand up for those rights) the more I wanted to rebuild what I had invested into (and lost) throughout my first marriage.

Islam has also made me more mindful about writing very specific work contracts. I try to, as the hadith says, pay my contractors “before their sweat dries.” I take paying on time to those that work for me very seriously.

Do you have any time management tricks?

I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro time-management technique. Breaking my time into 20-minute chunks works well for me. I also use marketing time-saving software solutions like CoSchedule (that has a useful plugin for WordPress) and I manage almost all my projects in Asana.

Great resources, maa shaa Allah! When are you most productive?

I’m a night owl and work with English-speaking clients in the U.K. and in North America. So, due to the time difference, I keep office hours from 12 to 8 PM and often also work on my personal and most creative projects in the late evening.

How do you deal with ‘bad days’ and ‘negative thoughts,’ if you sometimes have them?

I have lived with depression my whole life which was compounded by a very abusive 10-year marriage. In the last five years, I developed anxiety as well.

To survive it all, I’ve learned to ignore many of the negative thoughts and accept them as just “thoughts” and “feelings” that don’t have to dictate what I do. I find distraction and regular prayer works well to get my mind off my frustrations and negative self-talk.

That being said, I do still have days where I need to reach out to a friend to vent.

As a Muslim woman in today’s society, do you find it challenging to achieve personal and work goals?

Entrepreneurship has really opened up avenues to me that were closed to me before because of my age, circumstances, and hijab. After my divorce, the only job I could get was a part-time teaching position at a local Islamic school. No non-Muslim businesses wanted to hire me.

But after embracing both entrepreneurship and remote work, I’ve gained enormous flexibility in what projects I can collaborate on. I don’t have to be local to anyone anymore. This means I can work with companies all over the world who are doing things in line with my core values.

I’ve promoted some amazing projects, participated in powerful events, and worked with leading businesses in the Islamic space.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far as an entrepreneur?

To invest in me. This means investing in training, a streamlined and branded website, and digital tools that make my work-life easier. 

What advice do you have for other Muslimah entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs?

Focus some of your time and money into things that are not money-making schemes! Buy things and experiences that make you happy and help recharge you: both creatively and spiritually.

I’ve learned I also need hobbies, vacations, women’s-only retreats, and short weekend holiday staycations away from work. I encourage all women to make time for the same. My visual art is one such indulgence for me.

Where do you find inspiration?

I look to women who are farther along in their entrepreneurial journey. I take cues from how they’re organizing their time and business. I aspire to be a non-hard-working entrepreneur. I would much prefer to work smarter like many other women I see as leaders in their industries.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

No, I think I’ve gone on long enough!

Where can you be reached?

You can learn more about me and my work at JanetKozak.com

Thank you very much for your time. Assalaam ‘alaikum.

Wa ‘alaikoum assalaam warahmatullah wabarakatuh.

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