Behind-The-Scenes: My First Year in Business

Behind-The-Scenes: My First Year in Business

One year ago, I made a life changing decision.  A decision that took me way out of my comfort zone. A decision some might consider foolish.

I left my safe, “secure” 9-5 job to start my own business.

I agonized over the decision for months before making the leap. I crunched the numbers, I reviewed my client roster and I considered all my expenses. Once my husband and I decided we could afford for me to make this jump, I still hesitated. Why would I leave a steady paycheck behind in favor of inconsistent income? That was crazy, wasn’t it?

Then I considered my passion for marketing and public relations. I knew there were many small business owners out there who needed help promoting their business but didn’t have the budget to hire a big agency. I had something to offer those individuals. The thought of working with new people on new projects excited me.

Next I thought about my commute into the city everyday. I tallied the cost of parking, monthly train pass, city wage tax…and it started adding up. All the while I’d be leaving my son, who was born a few months prior, in the hands of someone else. There was the possibility I’d miss milestones in his life. I wasn’t comfortable with that.

I remember my husband telling me, “You’re never going to feel ready to start your own business. That’s why you just have to start.”

My mind was made up. It was time to leave. Next up? Telling my boss and colleagues. Gulp.

Thankfully, everyone was extremely gracious and understanding. Their support didn’t lessen my feelings of nervousness and self-doubt, but it certainly helped to know there were people out there who believed in me.

This first year of business has had many ups and downs. The life of an entrepreneur is never easy or simple. Owning a business means testing your limits and pushing yourself to the next level. Any growth is painful and I’ve certainly experienced some pain this year!

In honor of my one-year business anniversary, I decided to write a post about the 10 lessons I learned in my first year. Whether you’ve officially made the leap and started your own business or you’re still on the fence, I hope this post will encourage and inspire you.

Lesson #1: Walk before you run.

Let’s just say I’m not the most patient person in the world. I get anxious when things are left unfinished. I have a tendency to want immediate results. This first year of business has taught me to find peace in the waiting process. It takes time to build a business from the ground up. Part of the experience lies in taking things step by step. Progress means putting one foot in front of the other. Growth may not seem like it’s happening, but trust me – you’ll look back and realize how much you’ve accomplished.

In my first year of business I created a logo/brand, built a website, launched my social media platforms, started a blog, wrote five free resources, networked with other professionals, hired a virtual assistant and worked with 12 different clients. That’s a heck of a lot of progress in just one year!

 Lesson #2: Trust your gut.

As a business owner, one of the toughest adjustments has been making decisions on my own. Wishy-washy doesn’t work in business. You need to stand firm and be confident in your decisions – even if others around you aren’t. There were many circumstances where I wavered on one decision over another. Looking back, I think it hindered my progress at times.

The truth is, clients and customers expect you to have the answers. In fact, they’re paying you to have the answers. Yes, you may need to do some research or talk to others in the industry to make an informed decision. But once you have all the facts, create a path forward and stick to it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 Lesson #3: Take your business seriously.

This sounds like a no brainer, but how many of us have ever felt like a fraud at some point? How many of us have questioned whether we truly have the skill set to succeed?

I let “imposter syndrome” creep in quite a few times this past year. I think most business owners face this. The key to moving forward? Focus on what you’ve done right. Think about a happy client or successful project. Remind yourself of your successes. Don’t let self-doubt infiltrate your business.

Taking your business seriously also means being selective about which clients you choose to work with. There were times where I took on a client or project that I knew wasn’t the best fit for my business. I chased the money and in turn, I suffered from stress and projects didn’t move forward as quickly as I would have liked.

In other cases, I allowed clients to reschedule calls last minute, add on projects that weren’t in the original scope or delay payment. Now I’ve learned to stand firm and make sure you have an ironclad contract in place. Outline the scope of work very clearly and include a deadline for payment (and a late fee if the deadline has already passed).

Your business is your livelihood. Treat it as such. If you have clients who don’t take you seriously or respect your time, then it’s time to reevaluate whether you should be working with them.

 Lesson #4: Don’t compare yourself to others.

This is a tricky one. It’s always good to have a pulse on what your competitors are doing (or not doing). In fact, I always advise my clients to research their competitors before creating a product or promoting a service.

However, this can be taken to an extreme. For example, I spent the first few months or so following other business owners in my field and obsessively reading and digesting everything they put out there. And you know what happened? My confidence took a huge hit. I started wondering why they were successful and I wasn’t. I started questioning my own business and my own progress. Soon it felt like every other small business owner was succeeding when I was failing.

Of course I see that wasn’t true. Every business owner has his or her own journey. What works for one person may not work for another. I had to focus on my own journey and make decisions based on my business and my clients – not on another entrepreneur.

It’s easy to lose sight of our goals when we focus on someone else’s. Keep your eyes on the road in front of you and take pride in what you accomplish along the way.

 Lesson #5: Remember the “why.”

I wish I could say every day of owning my business has been sunshine and rainbows. Not the case. There have been many dark days where I’ve questioned the decision I’ve made. Where I’ve wondered if I’m cut out to be a business owner.

How did I handle those days? I remembered the “why.” I reminded myself of the reasons why I started my own business. I looked back at previous emails from clients who have been happy with my work. On some days, I disconnected entirely and focused on my family.

It’s easy to get burnt out when you’re a business owner. After all, we’re responsible for every detail of our business. It’s not a 9-5 job we can clock in and out of. It’s always there waiting for us.

Make sure you take time for yourself. Time to recharge. Stepping away can boost your creativity and lead to new ideas you never would have imagined before.

Lesson #6: Failure is a good thing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if every single project went exactly as planned? Absolutely. But as we all know, that’s usually not the case. While some projects soar, others crash and burn.

I’ve never been okay with failure. As a child, if I got anything less than a B on a test or report card, I beat myself up for weeks. I set high standards for myself. That’s not a bad thing. However, there are high standards and then there are impossible standards. Impossible standards will only bring you frustration, stress and doubt.

I’ve learned that failure teaches you just as much as success does (if not more). It’s through failure that I’ve come up with some of my best ideas. It’s through failure that I’ve found new, more efficient ways of doing things.

Don’t view failure as the enemy. Failure is only a bad thing if you fail to learn anything from it (see what I did there?).

Lesson #7: You never know who’s watching.

Ask any business owner the number one thing on his or her mind and it’s almost always how to get more clients or sell more products.

I’m no different. I’m constantly thinking of ways to grow my business and secure new clients. I never know where the next client will come from and that pushes me to come up with new ways to market myself.

Know what I’ve learned?

The next client can come from anywhere. I’ve found clients through referrals, networking events, social media, discussion forums and my website. I’ve learned that people are always watching – even if you don’t realize it.

That’s why it’s important all of your channels look professional and tell the same story. Customers and clients should have the same experience on your website as your Facebook page. Stick to your brand, offer value without selling and clients/sales will follow. It’s really that simple.

Lesson #8: Invest in self-promotion.

I may be a little biased given I help small business owners market their products and services, but self-promotion is a critical part of business growth. You can create a website, but if no one knows you exist, then your efforts will have been for nothing.

Allot time each month to promote yourself and your business. If promotion isn’t your thing or you’re not sure where to start, then hire a marketing professional to help (pssst, I can help!). You have to invest time and resources into promoting your business if you expect to move forward.

Lesson #9: You have to spend money to make money.

In the early days of my business, I was fearful of spending money. I quickly learned that in order to be successful and to position myself as a true professional, I had to spend some money.

So I set a budget. Then I prioritized which things I truly needed in the first year of business versus the second or third. It was hard to part with my money, especially when I wasn’t sure where my next client was coming from. But I can honestly say that the investment was worth it. It made me feel like the real deal. I took myself seriously and as a result, so did prospective and current clients.

Here are some of the things I invested in during my first year of business:

-       My website (Squarespace is quite affordable, in case you’re looking)

-       Logo and other brand graphics

-       A registered LLC (a must-have if you own a business)

-       Accountant (those quarterly taxes aren’t going to take care of themselves)

-       Invoice and bookkeeping system

-       Canva – an amazing piece of software that lets you create design worthy graphics for your blog, social media, marketing collateral, etc.

-       A social media management platform (since that’s one of the core services I offer my clients, it made sense to spend some money here)

-       Professional development resources/trainings/webinars (I had to be careful here, as there are so many resources out there. It’s easy to blow all your money!)

I also made sure I set up a business banking account and debit card. That way, I could keep all business income and expenses separate from my personal checking account right from the beginning.

Lesson #10: Lean on your support system.

Were it not for my family and friends, I’m not sure I would still be running my business today. I was fortunate to have tons of support when I launched my business. That support carried me through the tough days and tough clients. Because everyone believed in me, I believed in myself.

Even if you don’t have a ton of support, you can still run a successful business. Your support system can exist anywhere – family, friends, church, a professional networking organization, previous colleagues, etc. The important thing is to find people who will rally behind you and bring positivity to your life.

On the other hand, there may be people in your life who don’t support your business efforts and who bring more negativity than positivity. If that’s the case, keep your distance (as much as possible). This is your dream and you have every right to pursue it without reservations.

I want to hear all about your journey! How did you start your business? What have you learned along the way? Don’t be shy - we can all benefit from one another’s experiences!