Small business advice for women

Business advice for women creatives

Photograph by Karina Louise Photography

Shaleah Dawnyel is one half of a team that offers a series of online eCourses and eBooks aimed at and predominantly for women running their own creative small businesses. Shaleah hails from L.A, California, and has found her way over to Berlin a few times now. The creative city of Berlin has her coming back for more.

After her short return to California, she moved to San Francisco to start up Seeing Beauty with Karina Louise, offering small business advice for women through their online resources. I’ve had the opportunity to try out several of their eCourses and they’ve helped me to figure out whether running a small business is the right thing for me, and how to do it in a way that suits me. As a freelance yoga teacher and filmmaker, the idea of running my own business was daunting and I was downright resistant to the idea of marketing. Working with Shaleah, and doing the eCourses helped me to see how I could make it work and have it fit with my own values. Here I’ve interviewed her to gain some insight on how she came up with these ideas and what she likes about working with Creatives.

What’s so great about Berlin, what draws you here?

I absolutely adore the energy in Berlin! There is a creative spirit here that I have never encountered anywhere else in the world. The pace leaves lots of room for both personal and professional exploration and the diversity and reasonable standard of living also make it primed for creating new things.

How did you get the idea to start this business? What were your motivations?

A couple years back we had an idea for a photography course for camera shy Creatives. At that point Karina and I had already been working together for over 5 years before we started Seeing Beauty. She had experienced some really transformative things while building her brand and wanted to share this experience with others. But we both knew that most people can’t afford to hire a consultant so we wanted to make what she and I had been doing to build her business practically and affordably available to more people. One eCourse became two, and the next thing we knew, we were co-founding a company. I guess you can say this idea found us!

As someone who predominantly works alone on your own consultation business, what is like for you to work with a collaborator on Seeing Beauty?

I actually never work alone as I am always collaborating with clients! My small business consultancy let’s me work with artists, makers and wellness workers to find their unique talents, leverage their resources and develop creative work that actually fits them. So many people leave nightmare jobs to create nightmare businesses! Figuring out what you really want is really the hardest part. Once you know that, the rest is just details. I help with the figuring AND the details.

But my favorite part of SB is working to collaborate with other badass biz ladies. So far we have 4 eBooks for Creatives, all developed by us and authored by experts who we asked to work with us. So many awesome people are too busy or humble to get this stuff out there. We love taking things that were sitting on the shelf, or ideas that haven’t yet come to life and making them into stuff our creative community can use.

Can you tell us a little bit about the e-courses that you offer?

Most of our products are things we have needed ourselves while building our own businesses or resources that my clients have needed along the way. At the moment this includes a Marketing Course for Creatives, US Small Biz Tax Guide, a Designer guide for Small Biz, and a Content Basics eBook. We actually just launched our new photography eCourse, the initial reason we started the company last year, and so far the reviews are awesome!

Our eCourses are highly personal and exploratory- helping people to tap into their own inner wisdom about their creative work. The eBooks are all written at the basic level to make sure the reader has a good handle on the subject. With so much non-sense out there trying to tell us what to do as entrepreneurs, we wanted to create practical resources filled with soul. I think we have succeeded so far…hopefully you agree?

I find your questions throughout the eCourses quite creative and thoughtful, they’re not the obvious ones one normally gets in questionnaires to find out “what I should do with my life.” I’m curious how you came up with these questions.

The questions come from my consultancy work. After working for over 7 years with Creatives from all over the world I have found that often asking the right questions is better than giving answers. Our work is geared around learning to hear your own voice and trusting yourself to lead your best work.

What kind of feedback have you received from those who have taken your courses?

The feedback so far has been really amazing. Like teaching anything, its insanely rewarding to see people have those “ah ha” moments where they really get something that changes their perspective and empowers them in their creative work. It’s also great to be building an actual community of dynamic, talented people who are trying to make the world a better place.


Shaleah has been an active part of the English Yoga Berlin community, attending our Hatha yoga classes and offering us consultation. We offer yoga classes in all different styles: Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Tantric yoga, Restorative yoga and community classes.


Top 10 Tips for Freelancers in Berlin (Part Two)

Last week we presented you with the first part of this blog.  Here is the eagerly-awaited conclusion with the rest of the top tips for low-income freelancers in Berlin.

3) If you are a broke-ass freelancer and you’re registered with a German Health Insurance (a gesetzliche Krankenkasse) company, you may be eligible for a reduced rate.  As a freelancer, they’ll usually assume that you make lots of money, so they’ll give you some heart-attack-inducing monthly rate (usually around 300euro). Don’t cave and pay it! Rather, tell them that you’re broke and they’ll send you a form about your income (Einkommensermittelung), from which they will calculate a monthly rate (a legally-defined percentage of your income). They have to charge you a minimum of (for 2014) 158e per month; it starts to rise when your take-home income goes above 927euro per month. Sometimes health insurance companies only offer these reductions for freelancing that is part-time (which they define as less than 19,5 hours per week, on average, and is considered nebenberuflich).

4) You’re not obliged to pay into the German pension scheme, unless you’re a teacher, midwife, crafts person, journalist, care worker or artist. The pension scheme is 19% of your monthly income, before tax. There was a proposed law last year to force all freelancers to pay in; it got struck down.  If you have the money to pay in, it’s a great idea; it also is very important if you are trying to qualify for residency or citizenship here. You can see a more detailed list of which people are obliged to here.

5) You have to have more than one client. A lot of German businesses tell their employees to become freelance, so that they can employ them without paying benefits for them. It is a really dirty tactic and very widely practiced. Unfortunately, it is the freelancing employee who is penalized for this so-called Scheinselbständigkeit (apparent freelancing). If, during a calendar year, you make more than 83% from one client, you are considered to be scheinselbständig–and therefore are required to pay into the public pension scheme, which is gonna cost you a whack of cash. (They can make it retroactive for up to four years, too!)

6) If you’re here on a visa, make sure your paperwork shows you doing work that your visa allows. Not all freelance jobs are created equal–if your visa is for freelance teaching, you can’t just toss carpentry into the mix (well, not with a receipt, anyhow). Here is a blog on the issue , and another one.

7) You don’t pay tax on the first 8,130e you make (if you’re unmarried). If you’re married, your income is taken together and your partnership gets a tax-free amount of 16,260e. As a single person, it works out to about 670e per month of profit, before you have to start paying income tax. Your insurance is tax-deductible, and so are your pension payments. You can learn more here.

8) As a freelancer, it makes sense to learn about what you can claim as business expenses. For example, if you have office space at home, you can claim a part of your rent as a business expense–but make sure you get your landlord’s permission first, because it could be grounds for eviction otherwise!  You can also make deductions for travel costs, further education, meals with clients–hell, even your bike. Learn about the tax regulations –it pays off!

9) Accountants are really expensive. The cheaper alternative is to join a Lohnsteuerhilfeverein–an association for helping people with their taxes. They’re non-profit associations, and the membership fee is usually pretty low.

10) When everything seems too much and you feel at the end of your rope, take a break, come to one of our classes for a yoga session where you can regroup, relax and take stock before going back into the thick of it.

Top 10 Tips for Freelancers in Berlin (Part One)

What do English teachers, massage therapists, graphic designers, yoga instructors, translators and in-home care workers have in common? In Germany, these professions (and dozens more) are increasingly done by selbständig (freelance) workers. This is a relatively new phenomenon, and there are a lot of complicated aspects of doing freelance work.

We teach English and Spanish yoga classes in Kreuzberg, and many of our students are expats in Berlin; many of them are freelancers, and everyone in our collective has extensive experience freelancing; so, we put two and two together and decided to develop this blog as a free resource, in English, to help people navigate the (often confusing) terrain of Selbständigkeit in Deutschland!  Many freelancers in Berlin are precarious workers, so this blog is dedicated to their needs.

Recent studies have shown that there are over 1.1 million freelance workers in Germany who make less than the state’s proposed minimum wage (i.e., less than 8.50e per hour). This situation dates back to Gerhard Schröder’s Agenda 2010 economic reform.  Since Agenda 2010, economic inequality has risen in Germany and working conditions have plummeted. It’s a criminal situation–but it’s totally legal! So we would like to share with you about what we have learned, to help make it a bit easier…

Disclaimer: we’re yoga teachers, not accountants or lawyers; if you need more detailed information, please visit free legal counseling services or join a union like the FAU or Ver.di and get their help!

Tips for low-earning freelancers…

1) If you’re an EU citizen, you’re entitled to income support from the Jobcentre. The Jobcentres have recently been sending letters to non-German Europeans and telling them that they have no right to Hartz IV benefits (which comprise of money, health insurance and your rent every month). This is illegal–as both the European Court in Brussels and the German Bundessozialgericht have recently confirmed. Hartz IV is a lot of bureaucracy, work and stress, but, if you’re up against the wall, it can help you a lot. We recommend a visit to the following independent and free sources of information:

2) Whether you’re an EU citizen or not, if you are legally living in Berlin, you’re entitled to the Housing Benefit (Wohngeld). As a freelancer, it’s tricky because you need to give them a prognosis of your earnings in order for them to calculate your need. You also need to be officially registered where you live, and have a rent contract. The following counseling services can help you with the forms:


These links and resources should get you started.  Don’t miss the second part of this informative blog, coming out next week with the rest of these great tips.