Ash Ambirge: Issue Eleven Cover Star!
Hi Ash! Such a pleasure to have you on the cover.
Let's dive in. Right now, how would you define your purpose here on Planet Earth?
To be an icon of our time; to use my platform to make a statement about the modern face of work & life, and encourage women everywhere not to just use the internet to search for shoes, advice or a job, but to search for themselves, help themselves, and MAKE a job. To live and work creatively and use the internet to do exactly that in all new ways that were never available to us before.
(That, and tasting every wine that’s ever been made. It’s a toss up between the two, really.)
How did you come to be where you are right now?
By learning how to trust myself more than any other person, any piece of advice, any fads, and any “shoulds.” I’ve been very true to myself in this whole process, and it shows. I always say that the people who get noticed in the online space are the ones who are unapologetically themselves, because that feels FRESH; on the other hand, the people who hide get exactly what they’re asking for—to be passed over.
In line with that, I’d say that a secondary piece of my success is that I’ve always put my opinion out there—and by opinion, I mean one that might be flawed, and it might be entirely subjective, but it is mine. And people respect people with opinions. They turn to them as leaders. And leadership is one of the big pillars of running an online business that gets noticed. (As annoyingly 3rd grade as that sounds! Anyone remember your teachers talking about being a leader to the point of excess? Maybe they predicted the future!)
Is there such a thing as a typical day (or week) at House of Moxie HQ? What does that look like?
Oh goodness, every day changes so much! Because travel is an integral part of my business & life philosophy, one day I might be getting on a plane (packing is the chore I least look forward to), another day I might be roaming around London, another day I might be throwing actual retreats in some exotic international location for an exclusive group of gals. That said, when I’m at home (which is split between Philadelphia, where I’m from, and Costa Rica, where my fiancé owns a charter boat company), I am writing. Writing. And writing some more. I’m humbled to be represented by one of the most respected literary agencies in New York, and so that means right now I’m spending four hours every day writing a manuscript I’ve been working on, readying it for sale. Then, and only after then, do I jump into any of our team Slack communications to find out what’s happening.
Usually the rest of the day will have me jumping into interviews, writing for The Middle Finger Project, writing for and interacting with my Unf*ckwithable Girlfriends, a private support group for women in online business that I’ve created to be a place where you can go to take off “the mask,” as we call it. I also might have a call with an editor, vendor, web designer, accountant, attorney, or one of the many folks that supports this platform.
Around 3-4pm I go running down to the beach with THE LOS, as all my girlfriends call my love, and then we hike back up the mountain to the top where we have our villa. From there, it’s showers and chopping up all sorts of things for dinner! (Assuming I don’t burn the kitchen down.) And then, at night is when I do all of my Kindle reading, of course. :)
I’m sure a lot of our readers dream of relocating somewhere tropical. Obviously an exceptional perk of location-independent work. Give us a highlight and a lowlight of living beach/jungleside.
Let me tell you what—if it weren’t for THE LOS, I don’t know that I would have actually survived living in Costa Rica, because I am sooooo not a jungle girl / yoga girl / hippie girl, and I basically look like the biggest out-of-place jerk anytime I’m down on the sand. Everyone’s doing all of their sun salutations, and there I am crouching into the water, trying to get the sand out of my bathing suit with one hand, covering up my marshmallow stomach rolls with the other, and hoping a bird doesn’t sh*t in my margarita.
The things I LOVE about having a life around the globe and spending a lot of time in this tiny little Central American country? No rush hour. No rush, period. The quiet to be able to write. Birds chirping as background music. The monkeys that come play on our deck in the afternoons. The ability to use nature as religion and find it as often as you’d like. And also other fun perks like massage therapists that come to YOUR house for $50 an hour; car rental agencies that come and drop the car off to you (and you not only know every employee’s name by heart; you know their kids’ names, too); feeling like you’re a part of a community where anywhere you go, it’s like walking into a Cheers bar; not having to worry about Donald Trump. :)
The things that are ROUGH? Electricity going out several times a week, especially during rainy season. (It loves to happen when I’m giving online workshops and have 1,000 people live streaming with me.) Really slow and expensive internet. (We pay $200/month for 15 MB, and on average, get about 7MB.) Having to travel 20 minutes by plane, or 3 hours by car, to get to the nearest shopping mall. (You should see how I react when I spot an Applebee’s!) Not being able to walk outside without sweating. (Which basically means you can’t dress yourself in any proper way, either.)
And my least favourite part of Costa Rica? Jumbo-sized cockroaches! Here, it’s not about cleanliness; cockroaches are a part of the jungle, and we’ll usually spot one once a week…which is only because we have exterminators come every month to spray. If we didn’t, there would be more! Ack!
It’s probably a common assumption that copywriters who go out on their own work their buns off writing about pages and marketing flyers for minimum wage. I am fascinated at how you’ve avoided this model, and grown essentially a one-woman service into the raging successful business it is today. What does your current business model look like, and how has this evolved since you first started out?
I am on a personal mission to eradicate $5 “content” articles writing for places like about.com! Ha! I give a class once a year called Sentences & Money that’s a six week bootcamp for up and coming copywriters who want to get paid to sell with words, and the biggest stumbling block they tend to come across is feeling like they’re a commodity—just another “writer” competing on rates. The way I’ve avoided that is because I was never just some writer; I was The Middle Finger Project. I built a brand before I built a writing agency. I had an edge. People knew my style. People see irreverent copy written by big brands and they message me asking me if I was the copywriter on the project. They know my style, and having a distinctive signature is gold for marketing.
That said, my current business model doesn’t actually include any more writing services; it became untenable once the platform started to grow and grow and grow, and I had way too much demand for not only my services, but my workshops, and retreats, and support groups. (A first world problem at its finest.) I had to choose between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be a CEO, and I chose CEO.
You’ve been awarded the Most Confident Person on the Internet (just now, by me. Congratulations!), and that shows through your writing and the topics you tackle with vim and vigour. How did you get so ballsy, and why are we collectively (online entrepreneurial-types) so scared of being opinionated?
Thank you! I love that compliment. :) And this question speaks nicely to my answer from before where I credited having an opinion as a key to success.
You know, I have to say: As a little girl, I used to look up to adults as if they had reached this nirvana-like state of wisdom; like they knew so much about the world and once you became an adult, you would automatically be akin to a wizard. Then, I became an adult. I interacted with other adults. My friends were adults. And I was SO disappointed! None of us actually know what we’re doing, ever! For a while, this really deflated my balloon. If we couldn’t turn to the adults to guide us, who would we turn to? If “adulthood” was just this big farce, and these so-called “adults” didn’t actually know much more than we did, then what did that mean?
My answer to that question: It meant that the rules were much more flexible than they appeared. If no one was ever 100% right about anything, then that also meant that no was 100% wrong, either. And that was a really freeing idea for me—that no matter what I did, it wasn’t really that wrong. At least I was doing something, which is a lot more than many adults could say for themselves.
Despite your opinions and swears, to an outsider’s eye, you don’t seem to deal with much backlash, especially in comparison to some other high-profile bloggers. Why do you think this is?
That’s a great question. I don’t deal with any backlash, hardly. No hateful emails; no trolls. Removing commenting from the platform eradicated the 1% who would go down that path. Before, I used to think it was so little because we had a whole community of commenters who were very tight knit and very pro The Middle Finger Project, that I thought it scared them off.
Now, I think it’s a combination of things: The first is that trolls are actually cowards, and having a name like The Middle Finger Project is intimidating. In other words, I’m not an innocent target like a sweet mommy blogger might who decides one day to say the f-word and gets crucified for it. Also, there’s a certain expectation that comes with having a name like The Middle Finger Project. I don’t take shit and I don’t subscribe to the notion that the customer is always right. If you show up in my living room to vandalise my walls, I’m going to call you on it. By which I mean, I’ve actually called strangers in the past on the phone. You’d be surprised how quickly their approach changes. And while I don’t like to always waste too much energy, I’m also a very principled person, and I believe in taking wrong-doers to task. It’s who I am.
Why are you such a proponent of people starting their own ventures?
My friend K just got told her contract was ending in 5 weeks. After spending fifteen years with this company; after JUST taking out her first mortgage, her life has just been turned upside down with the snap of one decision maker’s fingers—someone she doesn’t even know.
My friend M went through the same thing, years ago, when I was first starting The Middle Finger Project in 2009. She was constantly a victim, always at the mercy of strangers and budgets.
My friend L wants to marry someone from a different country—but how will they split their lives?
My friend J wants to travel more—she feels like she’s a prisoner of her own life.
The answer to all of these problems that we so often find ourselves in, is to find a way to become indispensable to the world—not to a company. Technology has allowed us to CREATE our own jobs, not merely look for them, and it’s an opportunity that’s right in front of everyone’s faces, if only they would stop being so damn afraid.
I’d love to hear your advice for women who are already running their own business, but are struggling, hit an income ceiling or frustrated with getting enough clients, whatever the case may be.
Besides travel, another integral part of my work and life philosophy is that you have to LIKE what you’re doing. Really, really, really often, we ultimately find ourselves running businesses, working with clients, doing things we really abhor…because we either fell into them, or we didn’t change course when we should have.
Don’t be afraid to change. Usually being unhappy in business is a sign that something needs to change. Be honest with yourself: What’s the thing? And where can you look for clues about what you *do* really like doing? Is there a part of your work you look forward to? Why not make that part your specialty? Can you focus on just that for a while? The side benefit is that the most specific you get, the easier it is for people to think of you when they think of that thing. You inadvertently end up giving yourself a signature—a hook in people’s minds. And that’s the best form of marketing of all: When you can get inside somebody’s head and stay there. :)
What has been your most rewarding project to date?
Definitely, without a doubt, the book I’m working on.
It’s a memoir, and a very personal one, that takes you through my journey of growing up in the poorest county of Pennsylvania, in a gold and white trailer, using food stamps and sometimes not having enough money to buy one-ply toilet paper, to both of my parents dying and becoming orphaned at the age of 21, and then turning to all of the wrong people for security…until one fateful night, when I had no other choice but to turn to myself for help. And that’s when I started The Middle Finger Project, and went on to make over $100K that first year, and now have this million dollar online empire from ashes—kind of literally. Ashes to Ash’s—maybe that should be thrown in the ring for titles! Ha!
What three key lessons have you learnt in your entrepreneurial path, which continue to carry you forward?
1. You will be rejected every single day.
But remember: Nobody actually knows what they’re talking about.
2. That said, sometimes the people that don’t know what they’re talking about will include you. If you’re spinning your wheels, hire someone who knows more than you. The problem will go away immediately, because it’s now their job to make it go away. Relief!
3. Oftentimes, it’s not the THING that’s defective—it’s the angle. If something doesn’t work, before you throw out the idea, try a different approach to the idea. Keep coming at a problem from different angles. The right angle is enough to be the difference between a $5,000 diamond and a $50,000 one. Don’t underestimate it.
Please tell us your favourite:
Book:She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Because it was the first time I realised that stories could speak.
Website: Does Damn You Autocorrect count? ;) (Ed's note: it absolutely does).
You know, I really like LennyLetter.com. I think they’re saying some important things for young women to hear, and in very bold ways. That inspires me. Also, you can’t beat my Insider’s Subscription from The New York Times. I love that!
Early morning activity: Writing for 4 hours, no matter what. I usually start at 5am.
Late night activity: Reading on my Kindle! Though I do really enjoy a good TV Show on Apple TV these days. I never used to watch TV but recently discovered the glory that is Downton Abbey (and binge watched the entire thing!). Actually, that’s one reason why I’m going to London: I’ve got tickets to go tour the castle! Not even making this up. Apparently, once a fan…
Gourmet snack: Oh my god—Stuffed Grape Leaves! I cannot get enough!
I even tried making some at home the other day, but given that I can barely make a grilled cheese without burning it, you can imagine that my foray into stuffing and rolling delicate little leaves with rice was one big hilarious disaster. Kind of like life, you know?
Ash is the CEO of House of Moxie Creative & The Middle Finger Project blog, where she helps business owners screw “business as usual” in favour of unusually better business – and never uses ugly, lazy, offensive, irresponsible language like, “Sign up for my newsletter!”
Visit Ash at The Middle Finger Project (you'll be very glad you did!)