25 Lessons I’ve Learned During One Year of Business
I’ve been running my business full-time for just about a year, and you better believe there have been a lot of lessons learned in that time! I’ve made a list of 25 (even though there’s way more!) that I hope will be helpful to those of you still in the very beginning steps of entrepreneurship.
1 | Embrace progress over perfection.
Perfection does nothing except make you doubt yourself and drag your heels. Get started before you’re ready; you’ll figure it out along the way. If I had waited until I felt my website was perfect, I never would’ve launched it.
2 | It’s okay to say no.
If someone isn’t going to pay you fairly for your time or your talents, it’s okay to turn the project down. However, just because a client isn’t “ideal” in the beginning doesn’t mean you automatically turn them down. You can learn a lot from all different kinds of clients, and you might end up being surprised at who you enjoy working with most. Working outside your comfort zone can challenge you creatively, plus experience is always a good thing (and at the end of the day, bills need to be paid).
3 | Get dressed in the morning.
Sure, wearing yoga pants or leggings (my personal fave) all day everyday can be great, but there’s nothing like getting dressed and ready to feel prepared to face the day. When you’re lacking motivation in the morning, I recommend ditching the sweats.
4 | Have a routine.
Being able to make your own hours is ah-mazing, and I love it. However, I’ve gone through phases where I feel unproductive and disorganized. Those phases are typically brought on by my routine falling by the wayside. Having some semblance of a routine, especially a morning and even a weekly routine, will help give you more order/structure/sanity.
5 | Keep your eyes on your own paper.
Just because everyone else in your industry is doing XYZ, doesn’t mean you haven to do it too. Your business should be just as unique as you are, so keep your eyes facing forward and don’t get distracted from your personal ambitions and idea of success just because they look different from others’.
6| Find and clarify your focus.
When I first started my business, I wanted to design ALL the things from branding and Squarespace site design, to lettering and illustration. It’s tempting, especially if you enjoy and excel at doing a variety of things, but trust me when I say that it’s better to narrow in and focus on one thing at a time. Clarify what you like to do, who your ideal client is and what they need, and how those things fit together. Paring down and combining skills and services has proven to be much more beneficial for my business and much easier for me to find my focus and set big-picture goals.
7 | Don’t rush decisions.
Over the last year, I’ve gotten a million different ideas for things I want to try, services I want to launch, etc. Before you take action on anything, ask yourself: 1) does it fit within the parameters of my brand? 2) Is this just a distraction or is it something of merit that can be planned for and pursued later? 3) Do I feel pressure to do this because everyone else is, or am I doing it because it’s going to strengthen my business?
8 | Make time for fun, friends, and family.
There have been too many days and nights that have been spent glued to my laptop. It’s okay to stop working to have fun and pursue your other passions. The work will always be there, but celebrations and memories with friends and families are much more precious and fleeting.
9 | Find your tribe, and if you can’t find it, make it.
Working for yourself, you can really feel the impact of the “solo” in solopreneur. Having a tribe of people, particularly other creatives or business owners is priceless! Find people in Facebook groups and in your community. I missed the community of working in an office, so I started a mastermind group! The Rising Tide Society also has groups around the country of creatives who meet up each month. Click here to see if your city has one!
10 | Kindness never goes out of style.
Be kind to others, especially those in your industry. Regardless of if they have the same niche as you, if they are working toward the same goals as you, if they are trying to get the same client as you, be intentional about exercising grace and encouragement. Running a business is hard, you guys. Why not support and uplift each other? There’s room for everyone to succeed!
11 | Invest in a good planner.
When I was in college, I couldn’t live without my planner. It told me exactly what I needed to do each day and where I needed to be and when. Once I started working full-time, I stopped using a planner as much since my schedule was pretty predictable. However, when I quit to run my business full-time, I knew I’d need a good planner to help keep me organized and on task. I’ve used the Inkwell Press LiveWell Planner and the Day Designer. Both are great, but I find having to-do lists for each day to be incredibly helpful! Here’s a list of 10 more of my business tool must-haves!
12 | Get organized.
Organization seems to be short-lived in my life! My desk gets messy almost as soon as I finish cleaning it, and my pile of mail (aka my paper monster) gets out of hand SO FAST. It’s the bane of my existence. Of course you want the internal affairs of your business to be organized (especially when tax season rolls around!), but I’m talking about having an orderly environment. Since I work from home, rather than a co-working space, it’s crucial for me to have a tidy, designated place to work. When my apartment is messy, it’s distracting! Take the time to get super organized once, that way it’s just a matter of maintaining. It’ll do wonders for your productivity!
13 | Make time for rest.
This one is HUGE, you guys. Hustle is glorified within the small biz community, but the effects of keeping that pace long-term is disastrous. When you take the time to rest, it’ll equip you with the energy to keep going far longer than if you push yourself past the point of exhaustion. Don’t feel guilty for taking the time to rest and relax! After all, a big perk to running your own business is the ability to set your own hours and create a lifestyle that is fulfilling.
14 | Keep your inbox at zero as often as possible.
Once upon a time I had a couple hundred unread emails. Seeing that number on my phone stressed me the heck out. Most of them weren’t even important; they were either promotions or newsletters I had intended to read later. I couldn’t stand seeing that anxiety-inducing number, so I went through my inbox to clean it out, organized emails into folders, read emails I was interested in, etc. Getting that number down to zero was such a relief! And now that I took the time to get it there, I’m much more intentional about keeping it that way.
15 | Be real with people, even about the not fun parts.
In a world full of flawless feeds on Instagram, the reality of what life actually looks like as an entrepreneur gets skewed. The fact of the matter is this: my desk is a whirlwind of sketches and old to-do lists, most days you can see me bare-faced with a topknot, wearing leggings and an old sorority tshirt. There are days I feel discouraged and unmotivated, and days I feel really on top of things and hyper-focused to execute everything on my list. It’s a huge relief to see that there are people just like me out there. Women who have messy desks and messy hair, who feel the pressure of comparison and the encouragement of community. I enjoy seeing authenticity from others, even when it means sharing the not so great parts, so I strive to be authentic as well. Being genuine is a lot easier than trying to hide behind a facade.
16 | Embrace your weaknesses, your business will be stronger for it.
Before I took the leap into full-time entrepreneurship, I wanted to make sure I had realistic expectations for what lie ahead of me. The fact of the matter is that running a business on your own is hard work. I knew that I would probably struggle with procrastinating on things I didn’t enjoy (anything involving nitty gritty details, like finances, invoicing, etc.) and not becoming a hermit (any other introverts out there?). Coming to terms with the things that aren’t my strong suits prepared me to run my business more efficiently, have a better mindset, and put procedures in place to help me out. Everyone has their individual strengths and weaknesses. Embrace each of them and make the best of it.
Another post you might like: Why It's a Strength to Know Your Weakness
17 | To everything, there is a season.
In the early stages (and probably every stage) of entrepreneurship, there are seasons of confidence and doubt, feast and famine, unmotivated and energized. Accept it, make it work, and look forward to each phase you’ll go through. Even if it’s a tough season, it’s a guarantee that you’ll learn and grow from the challenge.
18 | You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. And that’s okay.
Like many creatives out there, I would classify myself as an idea person. There have been many occasions when I have a new, shiny idea for something and that’s all I want to work on. However, I’ve come to learn that those new, shiny ideas aren’t always something I can pursue in the present. While I’m still in the beginning stages of building this business, it’s essential to focus on the task at hand. I have a list on my computer where I compile all my different ideas and things I eventually want to try. As the saying goes, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Take things one step at a time!
19 | Work from bed every once in awhile, just because you can.
Working from home is a wonderful luxury, and it’s definitely one of the big perks to being self-employed. For the sake of productivity, there are days that should be spent working at a desk, but there are other days (usually cloudy or rainy or snowy) when it’s nice to take advantage of staying snuggled in bed with Griffin, my scruffy terrier. Even though structure is a necessity for me, it’s nice to break routine. Don’t be so rigid that you don’t take full advantage of the lifestyle you’re building as a business owner.
20 | Don’t start your day by checking email and social media first thing.
I used to start my day by checking email or scrolling through Facebook and Instagram while laying in bed. I realized that I didn’t want to start my day off by sorting through a crowded inbox and feel rushed into working right away when I saw an email from a client. I also didn’t want to kickstart my day by seeing what others were up to, and fall victim to comparing it to what I had lined up on my to-do list. I’ve become very intentional about not even looking at my phone until I make breakfast, do a morning devotional, and enjoy a quick workout. Focusing on starting my day on a positive, leisurely note with a focus on my physical, spiritual, and mental wellbeing has been very beneficial.
21 | Find a passion or hobby you can do outside of your line of work.
I’ve started focusing on finding things totally outside my realm of work so that I can have a clear line of separation between things I do simply for joy and things I do for work. I’ve started doing more art pieces, sewing, gardening, and spending time outdoors. Find something you love to do, and make sure you take the time to do it! You’ll feel rested from your time away from the computer and to-do lists, and you’ll feel fulfilled by doing something you enjoy.
22 | Be smart about what you invest in: time, money, and energy.
As I keep getting further and further along with my business, I’ve become more particular about what I invest in. When you’re first starting up, there are certain necessary expenses, but beyond that I’m careful about what resources or classes I spend money on. I tend to be a total DIYer; I want to figure out how it works on my own. As you get busier, it’s smarter to invest in learning how to do things (or have it done for you) so that you can save time that would be better spent elsewhere.
23 | Take the time to get your process/procedure in place.
Sitting down to hammer out an organized, thoughtful, and reliable procedure for the different segments of your business is tedious and time-consuming. However, I promise it’s worth it. Whether it’s a process for creating content, organizing your finances, or project workflow for clients, it’ll help you keep things under control. When things get more and more busy, it’s much better to have a reliable process in place than need to carve out time to quickly throw one together. As time goes on, you can improve, refine, and add things to the process as your business grows.
24 | Find the time that works best for you and stick to it.
The beauty of working from home is that you can craft business hours that complement the times of day when you work best. The only downside is that you can easily work from the time you rise to the time your head hits the pillow if you don’t create a schedule. I’m still working on finessing my business hours to suit the times of day when I’m feeling productive with when my clients are working, and still balance it so that I’m not up working in the wee hours of the morning (I’m in the zone around 10pm!). There’s no exact time you have to punch the clock, but having a consistent schedule is a good practice to put in place. Whatever times you decide on, remember to take breaks to eat lunch and dinner and spend time off-screen.
25 | Be consistent.
I’ll always press the importance of consistency in branding, but consistency goes way beyond that. Consistency is key to creating a solid, productive routine, a good reputation, a loyal audience, an organized workflow, etc. In all things, be consistent.