2017 has started fast and furious with client work and projects I’m really excited to be a part of! However, the jam-packed schedule hasn’t left much time to fully reflect on everything that happened in 2016, both the wonderful and the, well, not-so-wonderful. So, writing this blog post is the perfect excuse to sit and reflect on all that's changed within the last 365 days or so. 😊
Last year marked the first full calendar year that I’ve been running my business full-time. Woohoo! No 9-5 office job to work around, no side-hustling after work/on lunch breaks/on the weekends, no being held accountable by a supervisor—just me making things happen. Definitely a little (okay, a lot) scary, and certainly very revealing about personal strengths and weaknesses. In an effort to take the time to reflect on things I learned, and share them with others who are still fairly new to the entrepreneurial journey, here’s a compilation of what I consider my biggest successes and mistakes of 2016.
Starting on a high-note, let’s talk about wins from 2016!
1 | Took the time to develop my brand and branding.
As a designer, I knew I needed my personal branding to be an accurate reflection of my style, my skills, and my expertise. It took awhile to finesse and refine my branding to get it where it is today (designing for your self is SO HARD, you guys!), but I am so happy I took my time. I’ve had many clients say they were interested in hiring me because they loved my branding, the attention to detail, and how easy my site is to navigate. That makes the time investment so worth it! Many business owners get so bogged down in their daily tasks or building their client list that they often neglect themselves. If you’re running a service-based business, make sure you’re leveraging those amazing skills starting with your own business. What you create for yourself can be the crowning jewel for your portfolio or help build your credibility!
Read more about leveraging your skills within your service-based business here. Or if you're a designer struggling to create your business branding, this post could help you out!
2 | Refined my process and procedure.
I remember booking my first big client in 2015, and scrambling to get things together so I seemed professional and organized. Things have come a long way since then! I spent a lot of last year focusing on refining my process to include steps that would give me all the tools I needed to create a successful end product and that would give my clients an enjoyable experience. I took the time to create several in-house documents to use when I got an inquiry, when I was on-boarding a client, etc. Having those pieces ready to go makes it super easy to send information in a concise, professional way that’s sure to make a positive impression.
I also built templates in 17hats to help streamline and automate my process, as well as create workflows in Asana. Your process doesn’t have to be perfect when you first start out, but it’s certainly something to pay close attention to as time goes on. Keep what works, get rid of what doesn’t, and add things that will benefit both you and your client. The goal is to always make things as easy as you can for yourself and as stress-free and enjoyable as possible for your client.
3 | Carefully invested time and money in education and resources.
When I was first starting my business in 2015, I was trying to absorb as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. Blog posts? I read them—a lot of them. E-books? I downloaded them. Webinars? I watched them. However, there comes a point where the consumption of so much information stops being helpful and starts being overwhelming. There’s a time when you need to stop researching and start doing!
This year, I noticed a big difference in how much information I was consuming. Time is a precious commodity, so I only invested it in reading content that truly benefited me and aligned with the goals I had for my business. That meant unsubscribing from several newsletters and being picky about which blogs I read.
Besides wisely investing in time, I also made sure to wisely invest in the education I wanted to receive. As a new business owner I think there’s a pressure to take XYZ course because it’ll teach you to do this one thing you absolutely *must* know to be successful. Online courses are a wonderful way to learn, and there are so many options to choose from!
However, taking every course under the sun about marketing, building your email list, creating passive income, etc. is not going to guarantee success. Getting out there, putting in the hours and elbow grease, and being smart about how you run your business is what makes you successful (in whatever way you choose to define success). So, be picky about education you invest in! I’m all about bootstrapping and DIYing, but there does come a point when it’s a better use of your time to invest in learning from an expert than figuring it out on your own.
Learn to tell the difference and invest in education that will help save you valuable time, will give you good results, and comes from a reputable source.
4 | Pared down service listings and restructured services page.
As a creative who enjoys dabbling in a lot of different areas of art and design, it took me longer than it should have to pare down my services, create packages, and revamp my services page. But in 2016 I finally did it! I think there’s still some refinement that needs to happen in this area for 2017, but for the time being, I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made.
Being known for one thing is important for gaining traction for your business and booking clients, and paring down my service listings and making them very clear on my site has been paying off. And if you're still figuring out what services you want to offer, don’t feel like you’re putting yourself in a box. You can always evolve and adjust over time!
1 | Not setting specific goals.
I’m a big picture/dreamer/always has too many ideas kind of person, so when it comes to day-to-day things and planning out precise steps sometimes I prefer to wing it. Taking the time to plan specifics isn’t easy for me, and that’s something that didn’t work for my benefit in 2016. When you don’t have specific goals, whether it’s steps to launch a new product/service or setting yearly, quarterly, and monthly financial benchmarks, you’re going to spin your wheels and wander through your week in a daze. So, with that lesson firmly planted in my head, I wanted to start 2017 with an intentional plan and actionable goals that I write down and stick to throughout the year.
The tool that’s helped me buckle in and focus is Lara Casey’s PowerSheets. They really made me be still, exercise some self-discipline, and reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and how I want the new year to look like from a business and personal perspective. (I will definitely be using these each year, and I highly recommend them if you need help setting good, thoughtful goals!)
It’s only a couple weeks into the new year, and the simple act of writing something down and making the idea concrete has paid off. Things I’ve said I wanted to do this year while brainstorming in my PowerSheets have come to fruition. Whether you want to think of it as making room in the universe or planting the idea in your subconscious, it works. So, write your goals down, and not just at the beginning of the year. Write them down continually. Tell yourself what you want to happen this year, and be specific. Knowing exactly what you want and need is the first step to making it happen.
2 | Inconsistency.
While one of my successes in 2016 was taking the time to create a consistent and cohesive brand, the area where consistency took a turn for the worse was in my scheduling. There were points throughout the year where I had a really good schedule down, but when I got really busy, that was usually the first thing to go. Being inconsistent with my social media presence and creating new content for my blog was certainly a weak point that I think hurt my potential for growth. One of my biggest goals for 2017 is to establish regularity and rhythm to my life so there’s less stress and more balance. I’m going to be re-instating weekly planning, begin batching more social media and blog posts, and working to book out further in advance so I know exactly what to expect from week to week.
3 | Putting my business on the back burner when I got busy with client work.
As I alluded to in the previous point, one of my mistakes last year was shoving my business to the bottom of my priority list when things got busy. In part, that was because I didn’t always plan well, and other times it was because I took on too much work at once. Even though I was working on project for my clients and bringing in money, I was hurting my business by putting it on the back burner again and again. I think have a consistent and sustainable schedule will really help me keep my business a priority, even in the midst of deadlines and projects.
4 | Not taking myself seriously.
This is maybe the biggest epiphany I had coming into this new year, and it's something I regard as my biggest mistake of 2016 and the biggest thing I'm changing in 2017. Basically, by telling myself that the first year as a business owner would be hard, it almost acted as an excuse not to thrive. Yes, starting a business certainly has it’s challenges but being the new kid on the block doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, make beautiful things, and help others.
Take yourself seriously, my friend! Give yourself permission to thrive and be bold in the pursuit of what you’re passionate about building and creating.
Of course there are going to be mess ups, trial and error, and room for growth (especially in your first year of business!), but where there are mistakes, you can still find plenty of successes to be celebrated. Looking at the growth and insight I gained last year makes me even more excited about all the possibilities this year has to offer!
If you’re a new business owner, I hope you found some of these points helpful or encouraging as you build you business. Just remember that your story is unique. Your journey and your definition of success isn’t going to look like anyone else’s. And that’s a good thing! Take the mistakes in your stride, and remember to celebrate your victories, even the small ones.