32 Lessons from my 1st Year in Business
Last year, I was working as Creative Director at an ad/marketing agency when I was offered a significant pay raise to run the business. For me, this was a no-brainer. A win-win position with independence and security. I called my friend/business coach to tell him the great news. He asked why I would run someone else’s company when I could run my own. Why not build something the way you want it, that can’t be taken away from you? He was right, but that didn’t change the fact that I was scared, overwhelmed and second-guessing everything.
Reflecting on the past year, I am so dang proud. We’ve built a fantastic portfolio with more than 20 happy clients. I pay myself a higher wage than my former job, and the business is profitable! (yahoo.) Is it hard work? YES. But the process is fun and rewarding. I came up with 32 lessons I’ve learned along the way. If you are a business owner, I’m sure you will relate. If you want to be a business owner, you have an exciting journey ahead of you.
Not all things are equal. (So don’t give them equal energy.)
Each task has a priority, and should be treated accordingly. If you write down all your tasks and work away at them 1 by 1, the tasks towards the bottom of the list either don’t get done or get done when you have less time and energy. Figure out which tasks matter the most, and give them priority in the day, and the lions share of your mental energy.
Sales is everything.
I thought in order to own my business, I just needed to be really good at what I did. I was SO wrong. There are so many people that are very talented. But it takes a different skillset and confidence to effectively communicate what you can provide. I learned within a few weeks that I had a gaping hole in my ability to SELL and am working every day to improve!
Farm out your weaknesses. ASAP.
For me, it was bookkeeping. I hired a bookkeeper before I could afford to because a business with clean books was really important to me. Our bookkeeper, Ivy, is like pure gold. Honest to a fault, super encouraging and over the top gracious. Think about the elements of your business that are causing stress or not playing to your strengths and find someone that can do them better!
You are not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s ok. When you know who you are, you can focus on learning about other people. And you attract the right people that want to work with you. There are people that will think you are really lame and people that think you are great. One of the biggest reasons I pivoted to the construction industry is so that I can be myself — I work hard but I also wear sandals to work, drive a crappy truck, love beer, and am always laughing — I love that I don’t have to be someone else in front of my clients!
Set big goals with smaller goals to reach them, and reward yourself along the way. I have a financial goal each month. When I don’t meet it, no treats. When I do, I have a list of things I can buy myself — new leather bag, new dress, booking a trip. My husband and I go out for a drink or dinner every time I sign a new client. No new clients = eggs for dinner.
Write down why you are doing this.
It needs to be big, and something that you want really bad. Because there will be bad days and plenty of reasons why you can’t do this along the way. Some days, things just aren’t working. But if you have a greater purpose, you will stick with it. The bumps along the way will slow you down, but they will not stop you. Because “you hate your current boss”, or because “you think it will be fun” are not enough. Think bigger!
Be eager to help.
Business is about solving problems for people. Define what you do for people, and then be on the lookout for who you can help. Like a shark, you gotta sniff out those problems. Not everyone is eager to disclose their problems, so learn to ask questions and be intuitive. No one cares about what you do, until they realize you can help them. I think about how I can help people, then I find people I can help, then work on convincing them that I can help, and then work out what to charge — in that order.
It’s not about you.
I’m still working on this. Until I started my own business, I had no idea how self absorbed I was - not in a conceded way, I was just always concerned about what people think of me. Newsflash, people don’t care about you. These are not your friends. They care about their business problems and how you are going to help them. Now is not the time to build rapport or talk about the funny thing your dog did the other night. Now is the time to focus on them. Keep it 100% about them and you will have happy clients.
Protect your energy and willpower like they are diamonds.
Willpower is not limitless. It is a precious resource, dispersed in limited amounts on a daily basis. Good diet, sleep and exercise can improve your willpower, but nothing can make it limitless. Be mindful of how tasks or clients drain your willpower. Give the most important things in life more willpower, and learn to let go of the things that don’t matter.
Acting like you already know everything does not make you look smart. It makes you look inexperienced and desperate. Stop thinking you know everything. Listen, not with the desire to reply, but with the desire to understand. Let’s pour one out to all the projects that were abandoned and deposits lost because the vendor did not LISTEN to what their client wanted.
Know your worth. Then add tax.
Do you find yourself always wanting to help people. Me too. But maybe your work isn’t the place for it? Why not do what is fair, and save favors and charity for outside of work? If someone wants to treat you to coffee and “bend your ear”, ask yourself if an hour of your time and sharing advice that it’s taken you years to learn, is worth $4.50. Don’t be afraid to say no. Most people already know your worth — they are just hoping you don’t :)
No one succeeds alone.
And everyone knows it! Give credit where credit is due. It takes a team of people to successfully complete a project. Humility is an admirable quality. Plus, being grateful is good for your health. I keep a stack of thank you cards in my bag. Every time someone gives me a referral I treat them with a thoughtful gift. I TELL people that I use a team - and I tell them how awesome that team is!
Make it easy for people to work with you.
This applies to the process, and to your personality. Is it easy to get started with you? Is the process clear with bite-size pieces? If they ask questions are you flustered? If they question the price are you defensive? I am still learning to explain our services in a simple and emotionally neutral way. In the beginning it was more like an encyclopedic dissertation that ended in eyes more glazed than a Krispee Kreme donut.
Save your marriage, Keep a journal.
Assuming your spouse is not your business partner, their role is to be your team mate in life. Their role is not to be a dump where every high and low of your business gets dropped each night. Not to mention, most often they are not qualified to give you business advice. A few months ago, I started keeping a work journal on my lap top to track my priorities each day and rate how I was doing along the way. When something sucks, or something is really great, I rant away on my laptop. Then I can go home and talk to my husband about something more interesting than work. Plus, its more professional — likely your spouse knows many of your clients.
Santa Barbara has .02 degrees of separation.
It’s a much smaller circle here than the typical 7 degrees. Never, ever, ever speak poorly of anyone ever. Never. Even if there is no connection at the time, there may be in the future. Stay neutral on everything, like Switzerland.
Find your cheerleaders!
There will be people that LOVE what you do. Stick with them, thank them, and be gracious to them. They will open up doors for you. They will give you referrals. They will introduce you to people that could forever change the trajectory of your career. One of my biggest cheerleaders is the CFO at Sun Potion, Natalie Roth. She sings our praise from the rooftops. She has opened up doors to our biggest clients, leads and opportunities and it means the world to us! It’s amazing the momentum just 1 person can bring to your business.
Stop trying to win over people that don’t like you.
Along with your cheerleaders, there will be people that just don’t like you and don’t respect what you do. It might be that they don’t like how you work - it could also be that you remind them of their school bus driver that they hated. Point being, don’t get bent out of shape because it’s usually not personal. Focus your energy on positive vibes and keep being true to who you are, and what you know.
Stop hanging out for thank yous, compliments and referrals.
Dang, I am so guilty of this. I’d be left with my mouth gaping open when I learned someone didn’t refer me for a service they knew we do. Also guilty of hanging out like a golden retriever for a thank you. I realized the reason I cared so much, is because I wasn’t confident yet in what I was doing. I wanted other people to tell me I was good. Once you gain the confidence in what you do, you don’t need other people to fill the holes and then you could care less if they say thank you, it feels great.
A good mentor is a game changer.
If you refer to the intro of this article it was Business Coach, Patrick Martinez from Fivestone Solutions that is the reason I even started a business. And it’s because of Business Coach Karan Dhillon that I pivoted to the construction industry, and who trained me how to sell. And Andrew Tomlinson from Vistage that I have to thank for helping me put a solid and productive daily routine in place. Whom none of which have yet to charge me a dime. Respect people’s time, help THEM how you can, but be open to people that are kind enough to help you in your journey.
Give your customers what they WANT.
How often do people come to you, explain what they want, and you proceed to tell them why that’s a bad idea. I used to be out to change the world and give them what they NEED - “Listen to me everyone! I have all the answers!” Turns out, people don’t buy what they need. If someone WANTS something, and it falls under your services, good grief, give it to them! Likewise, work hard to learn what people WANT. This is their party. Be thankful you are even invited - don’t get taken off the guest list with your big mouth.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (and smarter.)
You know how people say be grateful for the tough times. I never got that. Now I do! You don’t learn from success, you learn from failing. I used to carry a chip on my shoulder from challenging jobs and personalities in the past. Today, I am so THANKFUL for them! They make me appreciate what I have now - the freedom to run a business how I want! I 100% believe that unless you’ve had some really crummy jobs, you will not appreciate or stick with running your own business. Things need to be bad, in order to appreciate the GOOD.
Sell 20 jobs. Then decide what kind of business you want to have.
One of my mentors told me this from the start and it’s solid advice. So many people delay starting a business because they need everything to be right. “I need a good website, I need a good logo, bla bla bla.” The truth is that you want those things because you think they will bring you work. You are SCARED to go out there and get the work yourself. You can do all those things perfectly, but you will still need to go out and sell yourself when it’s all done. Once you do get started, if you are really listening to your client, you will need to pivot. I started as “Jade Flogerzi Digital Marketing.” That was dumb. Then I made a website targeting the wine industry. Also dumb. Then I made Clever Punch, and after 20 projects, I pivoted to construction and that’s when everything clicked. I’m so glad I didn’t wait until everything was perfect to start, because I would have never started. And I’m glad I didn’t spend a fortune on my branding and website because I scrapped them, twice.
Be in control your day. Not the other way around.
One of my mentors said to write down the three most important things I need to accomplish each day. Then at the end of the day, if I did them, and how I felt about the day. I still do this, everyday (see work journal tip no. 14). It’s too easy to let the day take you for a ride, with tasks that are the easiest, or clients that are the loudest. Then you look up and you are off in the wrong direction, you missed the sale that really matters, or you weren’t prepared for the meeting that really matters. Write your list every night when you finish the day and be determined to stick to it regardless of the emails, calls and texts that come in. When you look up, 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years down the road, you will be right on track.
A consistent morning routine will change your life.
When I started writing down how I “felt” about my day, the strongest correlation for having a great day, was having a great morning. My perfect morning is wake up, go to workout, go in to work, shower while listening to something inspirational, make my coffee and breakfast, and read a scripture all before 9am. Then look at my list and complete at least 1 task on my list, THEN look at emails and texts halfway through the morning. It took many weeks to become consistent. Try it. Write out your perfect but achievable morning. It’s a GAME CHANGER.
Everything is a mindset (no exaggeration, everything.)
What you are capable of, who you will work with, what you will achieve, the relationships you’ll have - 100% mindset. By mindset, I mean, what you believe is true or possible. To be positive does not mean to be unrealistic. Don’t stop wearing a seatbelt because you feel positive. It means you are open to and even looking for possibilities. Example: my husband is terrible at parking. He complains every time we have to park. It takes him forever to find a spot and he usually ends up parking really far away from where we are supposed to go. Whereas, I always find parking. I squeeze into tiny spots, and end up super close to where I want to be. What’s the difference? I believe I can find a great spot. And then I do. Mindset baby!
If you go in with no expectations you have nothing to lose.
This should be applied to everything in life actually. When you are expecting something, you act funny and people feel it. Stay neutral. Don’t have expectations for people or for your work. You will never be disappointed. You will be constantly delighted.
Be in it for the long game.
This applies to so many things in business, but mostly I want to stress to be in the long game with relationships. If someone isn’t ready to work with you, it’s ok. Don’t be desperate. They will be ready one day. If a job isn’t going perfectly, or expectations aren’t being met - look at the longterm, look at your reputation and look at the referral instead of being antsy for the money. I’ve had clients that end up not making financial sense to me. I’ve had clients that can’t pay their invoice. Don’t be rash. Remember it’s a small town. Be open to different ways to working together. See the big picture, and imagine your business 10 years from now and what you want to be known for.
If you can’t hire out what you do, you can’t grow your business.
The only bottle necks you want to see, is that bottle of wine at 5o’clock. You cannot be the bottle neck! Every task I work on, every service I offer - I am constantly asking myself, “Could I teach someone else to do this, and quickly?” If not, you need to phase out of that service, and fast. Otherwise, you will not be a business, and there will be no value to your business because YOU are the business. That means never fully leaving for vacation, never retiring, and never selling your business. If you want a business, you need to create systems and processes along the way, that can eventually be delegated to teams, that you need to pay and still have profit leftover. “No one can do it like me”, means you will never grow.
You will never exceed the limits you give yourself (so go big.)
Have you ever had a plant for years, and then moved it into a bigger pot. Seems like it grows over night and you’re like “Hey! that little plant was holding back this whole time.” We are the same way. We can never exceed or out grow the limits we see for ourselves. I hear people say, I’m going to do this little thing and then see what happens. Newsflash, you won’t grow beyond that little thing. Why not shoot for the moon, and plan accordingly with the moon in site. What’s the worst that can happen?
The person in the most control of their emotions wins.
What goes up, must come down. If your emotions are up, your intelligence goes down. Learn to control your emotions, and you will stay in the game, and be thinking smarter along the way.
There is a way through, under or around every problem.
Life is more fun when you learn to ENJOY problem solving. You cannot avoid problems, and trying to will keep you in a small dark hole. Get out of the hole and embrace the problems. See them as a game. And reward yourself when you find a way around them. I friggin’ love solving problems. I LOVE when people say no. I’m like, oh great, challenge accepted. I don’t give up. I just marinate, marinate, marinate until they roll over and say yes.
Watch what you fill your mind with.
Our thoughts give us energy - for better or worse. Why do you think “gratitude” and “being "grateful” have become so catchy lately? Because people realized that when they focus on things they are grateful for, they are happier. Don’t be so casual about what you fill our minds with - TV, music, movies - if affects our thoughts.
Watch who you surround yourself with.
Sparrows chirp and canaries sing. If you take a canary and put it in a cage with sparrows, will it teach them to sing? No, eventually the canary not only fails in teaching them to sing, it starts to chirp. Sad, but factual. We are influenced by who we are around. Be mindful of the kind of person you want to be and double check if who you are spending time with people who match those qualities.
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