Kat Norton, who goes by Miss Excel on the internet, is living a life most of her millennial peers could only dream of. By age 29, she built a business that brings in over $2 million a year, bought her first home, and created a lifestyle that is both balanced and fulfilling. How did she do it? By teaching spreadsheet tricks online, starting with TikTok.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Norton used her free time outside of her corporate job to build a side hustle on TikTok, under the name @miss.excel. Translating her knowledge about Excel into digestible, useful tips, her fun-to-watch videos swiftly got traction on the app. Several viral videos later, her TikTok follower count soon climbed to 100,000. But it’s how she leveraged her new social media fame that led her to growing a lucrative business.
Norton saw an opportunity to offer something more to her audience. In November 2020, she began selling an online course on how to use Excel. Within two months, she’s earning more from her course than her monthly salary, prompting her to quit her day job to pursue a full-time career as a creator. Since then, Norton has launched nine more courses teaching other Microsoft programs and Google Sheets. By April 2021, she had her first six-figure month, raking in $105,000. Six months later, she made $100,000 in a day. Yes, you read that right.
It’s tempting to think that Norton achieved her success overnight, but it would be overly simplistic to say so. On top of acquiring skills in Excel and other softwares, learning how to edit videos, building her courses and marketing them, Norton said it’s doing inner work that prepared her for her journey to entrepreneurship. Read our conversation below to learn how she made the leap to making money on her own terms.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit, even before running your business as Miss Excel?
As a kid, I was super shy and had pretty severe anxiety. I hated having any attention on me, so public speaking was a no-go. But growing up, I did have this entrepreneurial flair. For example, in kindergarten, I got sent to the principal because I was selling paper fortune-tellers to other kids in the cafeteria. Then, I went on to write a little magazine for my neighborhood in third grade, trying to sell it door-to-door. In college, I created a line of high-waisted jean shorts and sold them on Etsy.
While I was always trying to do these things, I had my inner battles with anxiety and shyness. [Entrepreneurship] was something I had always seen as an outlet for my creativity, but I’d never really successfully pursued it until Miss Excel.
How did Miss Excel all begin?
In March 2020, I was working full-time at a consulting firm. For almost three and a half years, I’d fly to a different state for work every week. At the start of the pandemic, I stopped traveling for work, and found myself back in my parents house. I had never moved out at the time, because I was traveling a lot and I was also buried in student debt. So I ended up back in my childhood bedroom at 27 years old, being like, “What am I doing?” I had to figure out what lights me up and what I actually like to do. Yes, this job pays the bills, but I don’t feel creatively fulfilled.
For two months straight, I did a lot of inner work. I was meditating, reading books, and trying to understand my mind and my anxiety. I was committed to working on myself.
Fast forward to June 2020, I started getting a lot of these different ideas. Backstory: On the side of my day job, I was teaching Excel for fun internally at the company. It backed me and flew me around the country to host these Excel training sessions. I was really good at it. And it was a good way for me to push myself out of my comfort zone.
One day, I was on the phone with a friend, and I said to her, “What can I do with my Excel skills? What’s a side hustle I could have?” And I’ll never forget what she said: “What if you put them on TikTok?” When she said that, I immediately had a vision of what the video would look like: an Excel screen above my head and me dancing below it to trending music. While my brain was like, “You absolutely cannot do that. You have a corporate job. You cannot dance on TikTok at 27 years old,” my gut was like, “Make a TikTok!”
What happened after you got the idea of starting a TikTok account?
At that point, I didn’t even know how to edit a video. So I thought, “Let me try a dry run.” I tested out filming to the Drake song “Toosie Slide” (“Left foot up, right foot slide”) to explain the LEFT and RIGHT functions in Excel. I got super excited and made 10 more videos. Then, I started posting one video each day on TikTok, without telling anybody besides my mother and my boyfriend.
But when my fourth video reached 100,000 views, it got pushed to all these people I know. And by the sixth video, the CEO of an IT company reached out. He said, “Hey, I love your teaching style. I’m looking for someone to create G Suite (now called Google Workspace) training videos for students, parents, and teachers.” This was when all the schools were starting to go digital in the pandemic.
Clearly, I’m a Microsoft girl, but the products are similar enough. I knew I could figure it out. So I formed an LLC, got a green screen and a ring light, moved my furniture out of the way, and started recording videos at night and selling them to this company. I kept making the Miss Excel videos on TikTok, because they’re helping people and I was having fun. But during this time, I was still working my day job. It was an intense period of time, but that’s how Miss Excel got started.
After having some success on TikTok, you then created your Instagram and built your first online course. What made you decide to sell a course?
A lot of people were asking for a course on Excel, and it seemed like the next logical step to create one. For me, it’s all about helping people. The short-form videos are helping people, but what’s the next step? How can I actually get in there and create this transformation in people’s lives? The online course route was the obvious way to go.
Your first course was a hit, and you resigned from your day job just two months after you started selling it. What were some things you considered before making the leap?
You just have to be ready to take the bet on yourself. Because in the end, it’s all you versus you. If you believe that you can do it, that you will not give up on yourself until you get [where you want to be], there’s no risk. That’s the way I viewed it, because there were so many different voices telling me things like, “What if the courses stopped selling?” But I’m taking this bet on me. I know I will pivot, and I will make sure this works because this is my destiny direction.
In terms of the day I actually resigned, I’ll never forget it. I knew the time was coming. I thought to myself on a Friday morning, “I’m gonna quit my job today.” It was the first and only job I’ve ever had. I love the company and the people I worked with, but I had to do this for me. It’s a gift and an opportunity I’m giving myself.
You mentioned earlier that doing inner work helped give you the confidence to start Miss Excel. Can you tell us more about that?
For me, energy is everything. I spend a lot of time studying it and working with it. That’s really how I’ve transformed myself in my life – from living a completely different life three years ago, to doing everything I wanted to do.
In the beginning, I did a lot of inner work on myself, clearing out a bunch of limiting beliefs that I had, and digging into reasons why I wasn’t putting myself out there. I really recommend that anybody does some form of inner practice, especially if you’re putting yourself on social media, because it can be a dicey world out there. I needed to get myself to a place where I could mentally handle the criticism and let it roll off. There’s going to be people that love you or hate you, or are indifferent to what you’re doing. And as you grow bigger, those pools grow as well. So it’s important to get myself to a place where I was able to show up confidently first.
I view content creation as an energy transmission. When you show up on camera, people can tell if you don’t believe in yourself, and your content won’t do well in the algorithm. It’s about getting myself to show up authentically, with so much energy that it hits you on the other side of the screen. There are many people who don’t even care about Excel, but they follow my content for the energy. The more you can show up as you, the better the content does.
Overall, my business has been a game of inbound leads. I was featured in over 50 different press outlets when I first started Miss Excel, and I reached out to zero of them. They all flowed into me because I’ve grown my energy field into a place that attracts them.
Did you run Miss Excel all by yourself in the beginning?
I did run the business by myself for like the first year and a half. In the beginning, it was all me – from the marketing of the product, to creating the courses, to editing every video. My courses are made up of 100 videos. I built out 10 courses over a few months, filmed and edited every single video, marketed them and sold them. I was figuring things out myself.
What were your biggest learning curves in the first year?
In the first six months, I started using Thinkific to build my courses. Hands down, it’s the easiest platform to work with, and that’s why I selected it. I’m an Excel girl and an analyzer, and as I was looking for the easiest platform to use, it was clear that it’s Thinkific. I was able to get my site up and running super quickly. Thinkific was a massive part of my success in that area of being able to get things off the ground.
Something that isn’t often talked about is that I started selling the courses before they were done. It is an incredibly anxiety-inducing technique. However, it does really push you to get the course out the door. And it’s proof of concept, right?
I started selling my course during Black Friday of 2020, and had the course out a month or so later. As long as you’re really clear on those deadlines for presale and launch, then it’s all good. That really helped me get the course off the ground and stayed on a strict editing schedule in those first six months.
Then over the next few months, I created nine more courses. Every week, I was creating a new course with 100 videos. I really got the course creation process down to a science. I’d spend one day in a completely creative flow state, building the outline and fusing it with creativity. Then, I’d spend two days filming all the content. And then, I’d spend three days editing it and have a course out that last day – I’d pop all the videos into Thinkific. I kind of just rinsed and repeated that for all Microsoft products.
What about in the second year of your business?
This past year was really the year of scaling, optimizing, and refining. My new courses came out later in 2021, so 2022 was not as much about creating new courses but scaling what I have.
Webinars are a big cash driver for me. I really started honing in on that process, creating more value for my community that would essentially draw more people into the courses. I also got my Thinkific website redone beautifully with Course Studio.
How have you grown your business since?
It was really nice to be able to wear all the hats, because I understand how every part of the business works. But now, I have a small team. I have a video editor. My boyfriend runs all my sales. I hired my mom – she’s my momager now. I have an amazing virtual assistant and a graphic designer. It’s been a great crew.
If you could start all over again, would you do anything differently?
I don’t think so. Honestly, this has been the easiest, most fun business. I love it so much! Whenever I want the business to grow, I just work on myself, because we’re just so interconnected. I’m able to expand myself so I can hold more things.
The business grew so fast and got so much public attention – within two or three weeks, I was featured in 50 different outlets across the globe. Going from being shy and having an anxiety disorder, to a year later having millions of eyeballs on you and critiquing you, I had to train up my nervous system to be able to hold all of that. It’s been a really fun journey of self-discovery growing this business. Whenever a task feels sticky, I bring somebody in to help.
With social media algorithms these days, creators may find themselves going viral overnight, but not everyone knows how to leverage their newfound success. What advice would you give other creators?
The biggest thing is figuring out what would serve your audience the best. So talk to them and figure out what they want. For me, it was very clear they wanted a course. In most industries, selling a course is the move – because it’s so scalable, it’s digital, and it’s one of those things that can be completely evergreen.
I’d also recommend asking yourself what your dream life looks like. I was able to build a business around the lifestyle I wanted – I want to work 10-15 hours a week, be anywhere in the world and travel, but I don’t want my business to have any limitations from a financial perspective. So for me, I needed to work on not trading time for money. That’s why I thought creating and selling an evergreen course would be great.
I really recommend taking a step back and looking into what you want. For example, I could have opened a brick-and mortar-store, got up every day and worked in it. But is that the life I personally wanted to create for myself? It’s a lot of soul-searching. You need to figure out what you want, and how you can build something around that to support your vision.
Where do you see opportunities for creators who are just starting out and don’t have a huge audience yet?
With the way the algorithms work right now, things can literally happen overnight. There’s so much opportunity out there, and it’s really a digital playground for you to create the life that you want. You can speak about what you’re interested in, find other people virtually who are interested in the same things as you, and create offerings around that. It’s really the most incredible time to be in the online space.
How do you structure your days or weeks to avoid burnout?
I have this energy-hacking method, where I’d write down all the things I want to do, then mark them as either left brain or right brain activities. Left brain activities are like the analysis, the data-digging, the to-do list, and going through emails. Meanwhile, my right brain days are the ones when I’m in a creative flow state – being in nature, doing yoga, meditating, brainstorming, getting the ideas and creating the content. Basically, I separate my days out by the energy types of the activities. A lot of people don’t realize it’s actually difficult to switch your brain back and forth.
On my left brain days, I’d have a giant to-do list and a lot of my meetings. I’d be working through different Excel files. Then on my right brain days, I’m coming up with content ideas, and ideas for new courses and different projects.
On a typical day, I’ll wake up early, meditate, and exercise. Then I’m out in the hot tub or the pool – like I said, I’m trying to create the life I want. I usually start the day around 11 a.m., and work through whatever activities I have for the day. My boyfriend Mike and I try to stop working around 4 p.m. and spend time with each other. We live in Sedona, so we basically live in a national park, and it’s great to be outside after work.
What’s the most fulfilling part of this whole journey?
The most fulfilling part is being able to help people. I was never fulfilled in that aspect of my life – not to this extent. I get messages every day in my DMs and emails from students of my courses. They’d tell me, “I got a promotion!”, “I got a raise!”, “I did this [trick you taught] at my job and my boss noticed it.” Getting that love lights me up so much. It makes me feel fulfilled, and it makes me want to keep creating things to help people more.
My goal on the planet is to light up as many people as I can and get them doing what they love in life. I want to help people become more efficient in these products to save them time, so they could go do what they love. I understand not everybody loves Excel like I do – I mean, a lot of people do after taking the courses – but it just makes me feel so happy and fulfilled to help people become more confident and feel good at work. To be able to clear someone else’s anxiety when they open these programs, that’s what keeps me going.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Photos: Courtesy of Kat Norton
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