Three years ago today I started working in my business full time. I was done with long days of teaching and the stress of not being home for my daughter. And I was ready to grow my business into something I could be proud of.
That first year was a struggle, to be sure. Some days (and weeks and months), I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. And others, I was wondering where the windfall of new clients came from. I’ve had more than my share of tears—both terrified and grateful—and came away with some huge lessons that I can apply to both my business and life. For what it’s worth, here’s the “short” list of what I’ve learned in three years of full-time business.
- Ignore the shiny objects. Or most of them, at the very least. There are SO many Facebook groups, courses, freebies, opt-ins, pages, webinars, gurus, challenges…If you try to do them all, you’ll go crazy. I know from experience. After three years, I now know which “shiny objects” will help me move my business forward and I do my best to ignore the rest.
Because it doesn’t make sense to use my time (and money) to buy things that I’ll never actually use.
- Connection is the key to success. I’m pretty introverted and genuinely dislike traditional networking. I think it results in a lot of small talk that doesn’t amount to much. And I’m beyond uncomfortable walking into a room full of people I don’t know. But personal connection is essential to success in business and in life. There’s only so much time you can spend on social media before you get a distorted sense of reality—who’s really doing what.
The more I connect with others, the better I feel and the more successful I am.
- Do business on your terms. I am the owner of my business, and that means that I can set the terms for who I do business with and how. It’s one of the huge perks of working for myself (that, and no dress code). I like working with clients who know the value of online content and trust that I know what I’m talking about. I’ve let go of clients who didn’t trust me because it didn’t benefit either one of us to work in a place of distrust. And I’ve referred out potential clients because I felt we just weren’t a good fit. Doing this has opened my schedule for those clients who I love working with. I’ve stopped offering some services because I just didn’t enjoy the work, and I’ve added some services (like content coaching) because it’s something I’m truly passionate about.
Doing business on my own terms also means that I can grow my products and services on my time, in my way.
- There’s no such thing as competition. WHAT!? No such thing as competition? Okay, this is stretching it a bit because, let’s face it: I want that copywriting job just as much as the other content writer. But the reality is that not every prospective client is a good fit for me. And that’s okay. I have regular meetings with several other women who are considered my “competition.” We write together and exchange ideas. We enjoy one another’s company and talking about what works and doesn’t work in our businesses. And it works for us.
Working with others in my industry has helped me grow as a writer and a business owner.
- Comparison is the thief of joy (and success). How many times do you look at someone’s Facebook page or website and think, “I’ll never be that successful”? A lot, huh? Looking at someone else’s business and trying to emulate them can steal your confidence and your ideas. Quickly. You don’t know where the other person is on their entrepreneurial road, and you certainly don’t know if your goals align with theirs. And, more importantly, you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Live your life and run your business for you, your clients and your family.
When you’re happy and fulfilled, everything else will fall into place.
- There will be bad days (and weeks and months). In the fall of 2014, I panicked. I had a few bad months in a row and I lost hope of making my business my livelihood. I thought I had failed because I was working too much and barely making ends meet. So, I called up the principal at the school where I used to work to ask her about a job she had posted. (Talk about a hit to my ego!) She hired me to work almost full time with kindergartners, doing reading interventions. I was miserable almost immediately and ultimately didn’t last long, because I was reminded how difficult it is to build a business when you’re working for someone else.Since then, I’ve had some amazing successes in my business, but also some very difficult months. I track my income each and every month, so I can keep track of when those slow months might hit. And I plan for them. I’ve had months where I’ve hit it out of the park, in a big way. And I’ve had months where I’ve barely covered my expenses.
But now I have a buffer that keeps me from sweating those slow months too much. I use those slow months to work on the back-end of my business so I’m ready for the big months.
- Investing in yourself means so much more than hiring a high-end coach. Shortly after I went full time in my business, I met a high-end coach at a networking event. I was struggling and she reached out to me. We had several conversations, during which she tried to sell me on her services and I resisted. Why? Honestly, I was more worried about paying the rent and putting food on the table. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I didn’t hire her (at about $2,500—that I didn’t have—for one intensive session), my business would flop. Well, I didn’t hire her. And I’m still in business, three years later. Let me be clear: I DID hire a coach. And I hope you read all about that experience. But it didn’t cost me two months of rent, or my daughter’s clothing budget for the next five years. In the process, I also learned that I can invest in myself in other ways. I now take at least 30 minutes a day for personal development, reading a motivational book away from my computer. I also invest time in networking, both online and in person, so I can meet other like-minded business owners for collaboration and referrals. Over the years, I’ve taken online courses that have helped me move my business forward in ways I never would have been able to do on my own. And I’ve also gained a few new friends and collaboration partners who have offered the emotional and professional support I need. I don’t have to fork over a ton of cash for something that doesn’t feel right to you.
Investing in yourself means taking the time to do what works for you and your business.
- Value Yourself. When I first started, I was pretty desperate to make sure I built a client list and made an income. As a result, I offered my services for well below value. Giving your time away for free (or cheap) results in a lot of resentment and way too many hours in front of the computer. And when you’re in a place of resentment, you’re not doing your best work.I no longer discount my services (because that would mean discounting my time) and I only take on projects I know I’m going to love. It’s not worth it for me or my potential client to take something on that I won’t love doing.
My time and my life are a priority and when someone asks me to discount that value, I know they’re not right for me.
- Not everyone will understand. If you’ve quit your full-time job to start your own business, you likely had some baffled friends and family members when you announced your intentions. I know I did. No matter what you do or say, not everyone will understand why you made the choice you did or how you run your business. That’s okay. And that’s why making connections with other like-minded individuals is so important. The people you connect with are vital to the success of your business. Find out where your ideal client hangs out and connect with them. That’s where you’ll find accountability partners and mastermind groups that will help you move your business forward.
The people who understand where you’re coming from are the same people who will help you grow your business.
- I’m on the right path. After school, my daughter usually comes into my home office to chat for a bit. She tells me about her day or the books she’s been reading. One day as we were talking, she said, “Mom, you’re so much nicer now than you were when you were teaching. You’re less crabby.” I take that as a huge win. I was not a nice person when I left the house every day to teach a room full of kids. I was overwhelmed with a lack of time to do what I truly wanted to do and an overload of responsibilities. I blame the fact that I was freelance writing in the evenings to make ends meet. But I also didn’t truly enjoy teaching as a teacher should. I am so much happier (and nicer) today than I was back then. Just ask the friends I used to teach with!
While some days (and weeks and months) I just feel “off,” I know that I’m on the right path and doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.