What I've Learned in 1 Year as a Full-Time Biz Owner
It's crazy, but true: a lot can happen in a year. Not to sound like a bad cliche, but I've experienced it first-hand. One year ago (well, technically in January 2015) I was struggling. I had just left my full-time position as a public relations executive for a national firm where I worked remotely. I had about $3,000 in the bank, a lot of big ideas but no direction. I went through a period of major self-doubt, which led to depression and anxiety. My life - and career - was at a standstill.
Flash forward to now - February 17, 2016. I'm finally confident in myself and in my skills and purpose in this world. I was able to push through the period of struggle and the outcome was oh-so-worth-it. I went from zero clients to eight that are full-service and work with me on a monthly basis. I went from zero projects, consulting gigs and fun opportunities, to working with more than 30 brands, consulting one-on-one with amazing entrepreneurs and business owners, and taking on multiple events that I can't even count at this point.
That all sounds like an amazing success story, right? Well, the truth is: I hustled, hard. And I learned a lot along the way. I fell down several times, cried at my desk more than I dare to recall and spent a few sleepless nights working on deadlines. You're probably thinking...that's all part of being a business owner! Yes and no. The answer is a bit gray. So, I wanted to share the top lessons (and mistakes) I've learned within my first year as a full-time business owner. Read on.
1. You can do it - but you can't do everything. This is one I always come back to. As a type-A, workaholic control freak (there, I said it) it's super hard for me to hand things off and to ask for help. And I didn't at the beginning, but became completely exhausted and overwhelmed. The reality is that you can't do everything and you shouldn't. Focus on your skills and find others that can help you with the rest. For me, that includes accounting, taxes, graphic design and sales work.
2. Listen to your gut - what is it telling you? There were so many times that I went into projects and clients that I felt unsure of. I swear my gut was telling me 'this is NOT a good idea', but I allowed my ego and fear of financial scarcity to get in the way. I said, 'yes' to those projects when I should have walked away. And I regretted the decision the entire time! Ultimately, all of those business opportunities that my instinct was going against ended up not working out. A few ended up being challenging to work with (too needy or demanding), never satisfied and always wanting more (without paying for the work!) or we're slow to pay and always filled with excuses. The resolution? I ended up letting go of all of them! Think of all of that time, creative energy and even money that I ended up losing. Take it from me - stop saying 'yes' to every opportunity and only hone in on your ideal clients and work. You will be more excited, passionate and happy with the results.
3. Make time for YOU - you deserve it! The first 6 to 10 months I was in business, I made no time for myself. Work came first, followed by family and friends. I wasn't taking care of my mind or body and it showed. I gained a few extra pounds (let's call it the 'first year in biz 10'), wasn't getting proper sleep, drinking enough water, or just taking time to relax. My skin was a mess, I didn't look or feel healthy, and even started to loose hair from stress! Not a good look. I learned quickly that I need to take time for myself. Even if it's just 30 minutes per day. Treat yourself to that monthly pedicure, facial or massage. Step away from the computer for 10 or 15 minutes for a quick walk outside. Hit the gym for that class you love, but never could attend. Make time for YOU, because you deserve it.
4. Set up systems and keep them going. This is without a doubt one of the hardest lessons I've learned. What are systems and why are they so important? They keep you on top of your business and make the flow of work that much easier. Think of a process that you go through on a regular basis (like getting ready for bed). You likely shower, wash your face and brush your teeth in the same order - every day. Imagine if you had a routine that came natural to help with your business? I didn't have systems in place at first. I did everything as it happened from invoicing to reporting, financial tracking and so much more. I was spending MORE time on these simple tasks than doing the actual work! That meant longer hours and time spent on my computer because I wasn't being efficient. Think about systems you can put in place NOW that will help you down the line. Even the little things can make a different. A few examples: set-up canned responses for frequently asked questions in your email, find a social media scheduling program that works for your needs, block time for important tasks so you aren't doing them daily. Get organized!
5. You don't have to be everywhere, just the right places. I remember my first week as a full-time business owner. I had no big leads or clients, so I spent all my time on business development, which was great BUT I went about it the wrong way. I scheduled coffee dates on coffee dates, met with just about anyone I could find on my Facebook newsfeed or phonebook. I penciled in networking events as much as I could. Some of the networking was great. It gave me fresh ideas and leads for my business. But most of it was a waste of my time and energy. Networking with the RIGHT people is key. Instead of being at every networking event in the city, find two or three that really connect with you and your business. Only go on coffee dates with people that are truly interested in what you are doing (and vice versa) and will support you long-term.
6. Brand yourself now and maintain a marketing plan! Whether you are a consultant, coach, event planner, dentist or dog walker, it's so important to establish a brand for your business and to develop a marketing plan. I did a pretty great job of honing my brand - my colors, messages and themes were consistent and it truly reflects my personality. I conveyed that through a consistent website, business cards and even how I would dress for meetings and events. I wanted people to remember who I was immediately by looking at anything that reflected my brand. I also made sure my brand was reflected on ALL of my social media platforms. I created consistent profiles with content that reflected the channel and what I wanted to share. Social media was a huge proponent in growing my business. Why? Because my ideal clients went to social media first (or found me there) and immediately can learn about me, what services I offer and my work style. Those clients booked me vs. my competitors because they connected with my brand. If you aren't marketing your business - how will people learn about your services and offerings?
7. Always keep learning. You may consider yourself an expert, but that doesn't mean you can just stop learning and growing. Investing in courses in the areas I consider myself to excel in has only propelled my business further. Taking advice from other professionals gives me a different perspective that I can refer back to. Attending conferences, workshops and other educational events always inspires me and usually I walk away with a fresh idea or tip. It's so important to keep learning because things change, especially in the online industry. Plus, learning is fun!
So, these are just a few of the key tips I have learned in my first year of business. Trust me, there are so many more things I could share but wanted to start with the most important lessons. If you have been in business for less than a year, one year or more, or even 10+ years, what are the best things you have learned along the way?