6 Lessons from My First 2 Years as a Business Owner
Here we are, a mere four weeks away from wrapping up 2021. Time flies when you’re in a pandemic, huh? Whew!
At least we made it through together. And I hope you and your loved ones have managed to stay safe and healthy through a year that has been challenging in a plethora of ways.
I also realized that September marked two years since I launched my business! I didn’t even really have time to officially celebrate or acknowledge it—except to tell people in passing what I do and how long I’ve been doing it.
So I decided to take some time to reflect on the most important lessons these first two years have taught me. I’m sharing them here as a loving message (or reminder, because sometimes we need one) to anyone who may have a new business or is aspiring to start their own.
It’s ok to not have it all figured out right away.
Being in marketing and opting to specialize in content and copywriting, I saw a LOT of advice saying to pick a niche. But since I was just starting out, I wasn’t sure what industries or topics I wanted to focus on.
This can apply in a lot of professions and industries. People tell you to niche down in order to be successful. This makes sense, to a degree. But we often have to try (many) things to find out what work lights us up...and what does not. Besides, I’m of the belief that you don’t know until you try.
Many business owners start out without a lot of specific direction or a “niche,” as they say. I started out wanting to do all of the content marketing for everyone, not really knowing what I wanted to do or what kind of clients would best align with me and my business vision. So instead of pigeon-holing myself, I took a variety of projects to gain experience and build my portfolio. As I did, I began realizing what brought me the most joy—and what I would be perfectly happy with never doing again.
My two cents: Take time to work on your business and vision and it will come to you. Try all the things that intrigue you (as long as they align with your vision, of course). As you do, pay attention to what brings you the most joy. Is it a certain type of work or project? A certain industry or type of client? Remember, it’s ok to figure it out as you go!
For example, I have come to realize the most fulfilling work for me is website copywriting because it allows me to work closely with the client on their brand message, get to the heart of why they do what they do, and tell their story. There isn’t much better than hearing from the client how much they love the messaging we’ve developed and how it captures the essence of their brand.
There is always a lesson to be learned.
That’s right, it’s a lesson on lessons. Every client you work with and project you work on, whether a positive or negative experience, can teach you something. Or at the very least, serve as a reminder/reinforcement of something you may have already known deep down.
And if you own a business already, whether you’re in the early stages or you’ve been established for years, you’ll understand this concept. Taking the time to observe and reflect on each project or client will also help you reach new levels of income, business volume, clients, and confidence.
Some of the crucial lessons I’ve learned following certain clients or projects include:
Setting expectations from the start (e.g., timeline, pricing, contract terms, etc.)
Communicating more clearly and effectively
Setting boundaries and sticking to them
Making processes easier and more enjoyable for both myself and the client
The fact that we all have blind spots in our businesses
We can’t do it all on our own
Knowing my worth
During the Connect Mastermind program that I participated in with the amazing Jodie Gallant, we talked frequently about our tendency to finish one project or task and rush onto the next. Jodie was always reminding us to take a breath and celebrate our wins. I think we can also use this “breath” to reflect on what went well, and what things we’d like to improve on for next time. That is the only way we can continuously do better for ourselves and our clients!
Things change and you change, and that’s ok.
Your vision and the things you want in life are going to keep taking shape and evolving. This goes for both your work and personal life.
It’s ok to set goals and aspirations, and it’s also ok when life takes you in a different direction. It’s ok when you decide that something doesn’t feel right, make you happy, or serve you anymore. Don’t be too rigid about it.
I’m still working on this myself, so that’s really all I have to say on this one at the moment. After all, we are all a work in progress.
Putting yourself out there is crucial.
It’s not always easy, but it’s the only way to grow your business. This truth applies to things like your marketing strategy (e.g., blogging, email marketing, social media presence) as well as physically (or virtually, thanks to COVID-19) getting out there and meeting people.
Networking has been absolutely vital to growing my business. When I started this thing, I had no contacts. I came from a corporate job, so I was starting from scratch when it came to building a network of prospective clients and referral partners. Meeting people in person helped me establish relationships and gain traction much faster than marketing or job sites (e.g., Upwork, Fiverr, etc.) alone.
Yep, I said it. Nothing beats facetime, even when done via Zoom.
Something that boggles my mind is when I see fellow entrepreneurs asking for other ways and avenues to find new business, and no one really mentions networking! It only makes me sad and frustrated because I want other people to know that they can grow their business this way.
There’s nothing like making a warm connection with someone and building that trust and personal relationship. Those relationships will be prosperous in more ways than financial. A number of professional connections I’ve met through networking have now become good friends.
Before you claim networking isn’t really your thing, let me put a disclaimer out there: I am a shy person. Walking into a crowded room and introducing myself to strangers? WAY outside of my comfort zone. But sometimes, we have to step outside that comfort zone to grow. And there really is a networking group or event for everyone.
I am a member of a BNI chapter and the Concord Chamber of Commerce, and I’ve received business and made important connections in both. I would simply encourage you to try different things, and I promise you’ll find something that works for you!
Not everyone is for you.
We all probably have a sense of this on a personal level, but it goes professionally as well. Not everyone is your ideal client—otherwise there wouldn’t be such a thing as an “ideal client.”
There will be times you feel like you give your all to a conversation or proposal with a prospective client and it still doesn’t work out. It’s a bummer, especially when it was someone you really wanted to work with (and when you’ve put a heft chunk of time into that proposal).
But I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. If that one deal didn’t work out, it means something better is coming and now you have the space to receive that thing, whatever it is. Chances are, that person wouldn’t have been the right fit anyway. This is especially true for the clients who ghost you or say you’re too expensive. That is a them problem, NOT a you problem. And you don’t want people who are poor communicators or are going to squeeze every last drop out of you to ensure they get their money’s worth.
I can’t tell you how many times over the last two years I have started to stress when business slows down and projects fall through. It seems that right as I do, a great opportunity comes my way and things pick up.
What is meant for you, will come to you.
Learning to say no is a must.
I’m still working on this and most likely will be perpetually remembering to listen to my gut. But the good news is not only did I not perish from saying no to things, but turning things down and setting boundaries can actually feel FANTASTIC! I have done it and literally felt lighter afterward.
Another side of this is not feeling like you need to explain yourself for every decision you make. You can handle things professionally and politely without over-explaining. And you’ll be taken more seriously and more respected for it.
This goes back to the concept that not everyone is for you. This goes for all the clients, projects, and requests—they won't all be the right fit. In the cases where it doesn’t feel right, it is healthier to just say no. Trust me, I understand operating from a fear mentality, afraid to turn down the project and pay. And I also understand if you are in a financial situation where you cannot turn down the pay. But if and when you can afford to be picky with your clients and work, do so.
A few tips:
Take a beat. You don’t have to reply to things right away (I still have to remind myself of this). Sometimes that space you give yourself is what you need to hear (or feel) the right decision.
Listen to your gut and pay attention to the red flags. If you already felt yourself raising an eyebrow, frowning, or giving some other NO signal at more than one statement from them, listen to that! Are they ignoring your boundaries? Communicating the way you ask? And everyone’s favorite, questioning your pricing?
Imagine working with the client. Consider what your day-to-day would be like based on your interactions thus far (see above bullet). Would it be more stressful? Frustrating? If your gut says yes, then it's likely not worth your time and energy.
Bottom line: Just say no...to clients who don’t respect your time, worth, experience, and boundaries.
I hope that if you’ve read this far, you’ve at least gleaned a little something from my experience that you can keep in mind on your own journey. Whether you run your own business or not, I think these lessons can apply in a variety of work and life situations.
Another quick appreciation shout out to Jodie Gallant, who was a big support as my business coach for a large chunk of this year and helped me work on several critical areas of my business (and myself). Many of these perspective shifts and revelations came as a result of our work together. So I guess the bonus lesson is to find yourself a coach or mentor who can give you accountability and act as a sounding board, because you don’t have to do it alone!
Do you have your own business? Tell me about it and some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way in comments, or you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if any of this has resonated with you!