I did my research before taking the leap, I thought I knew what to expect, I thought that it wasn’t possible to be profitable right away, I thought it was going to be an extreme struggle to get the first few clients, I thought I knew our core offering… I was wrong!
Let me start off by pointing out that I decided to branch out on my own not to become a millionaire (although wouldn’t this be nice), but rather to somehow structure a life that has more balance for myself and my growing children. Some people were supportive, others told me I was crazy. Some even told me that starting a business was the complete opposite of what I should do if I wanted to spend more time with my family. Let me tell you, those people were wrong. Are there days where I work 20 hours? ABSOLUTELY! But are there days where I can schedule work around mommy-duty and take on only a couple hours of work? Also yes. *Note photo above – riding my bike today on the trail, taking some me time. Could I do something as small as a half hour ride while sitting at a desk for 8 hours straight during the day? Nope! Those little half hour re-charges are worth more than anything to me (even more when I get to do extra special things with my children that I was missing before launching my business).
I’ve learned that by valuing your team and valuing their uniqueness and passions ultimately creates loyalty. I’ve learned that when you share your passion for the business and paint the picture of what it WILL be one day, you inspire people to want to join.
I’ve learned that NOTHING comes without hard work, and being self-employed is probably more work than anyone imagines before they jump two feet in, but it is 110% worth every, single, struggle… because watching it grow and creating opportunities for others is plain old rewarding!
I’ve learned that positivity is contagious and that winning clients over is easier when you live and breathe your core values not only in life but in your business.
I’ve learned that sharing your struggles in addition to your triumphs with your team makes your team super strong. Being a good leader is not about shouting orders, it’s about getting your hands dirty and digging in as part of the team. Leadership is setting an example from the highest level strategy right down to how the company is represented on the customer service front line. If you never act ‘above’ any of the seemingly meaningless tasks, your team will not feel above the tasks either.
I’ve learned that not sticking to your ‘core offering’ can hurt your profitability AND your reputation, and I’ve learned that discovering your core offering can come as a result of listening to your clients needs intently.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that how you choose to treat clients regardless of budget, scope of work etc, will ultimately be the difference between the companies that succeed and those that fail. If your provide a service that’s in a competitive market (like ours) and it’s a service that can be obtained from numerous local freelancers, the ONLY things that will set you apart are your communication skills and your customer service. Turn-around time, pricing, product suite, reporting… all of these things can be duplicated but your culture and your team can not.
Here’s a list, in no particular order of other things I’ve learned in this first crucial year in business:
There is no amount of money that can replace your freedom
Being a leader just means setting an example
Positivity is contagious
There is no perfect science to marketing… ever
Business coaching or mentoring is essential
Your systems need constant attention to streamline everyday processes
I hate accounting (more of a personal vent haha. But really, who wants to chase their own clients for payment… this is just annoying)
You CANNOT outsource your customer service
If you don’t spend at least an hour a day on ‘business development’, you are shooting yourself in the foot
Post your goals EVERYWHERE – if you see it enough, you will make it a reality
Referring business out when it’s not a fit can seem like you’re losing money but comes back two-fold as you build your own referral network of professionals
It’s important to do one thing for yourself each day so you don’t go insane
Giving back feels really good (make time to support causes you care about, whether it’s donating time or money from your business)
Learn when to say no
Not every client is the right fit
Getting rid of clients that are a drain on your team or that are not profitable is probably the hardest thing to do, but when you eliminate the least profitable clients, you can quickly replace them with more profitable, better performing accounts/clients
Having a giant idea/project list seems daunting but is absolutely necessary
You can never go wrong when investing back in to your business
Spying on your competitors is essential (not realllllly spying, more like online ‘researching’ *wink wink)
And one last thing… the key word that’s been repeated over and over in this post is ‘learned’ – because if we do not pursue knowledge with a hunger to learn more every day in our businesses, then we really know nothing at all.
I want to know what did you learn in your first year of business? What stood out the most to you, and when did you really feel like ‘ya… this was the right choice for me’.