In the spirit of the new year (and new decade), I've been reflecting on all the things I've learned over the past three years of growing my business. It hasn’t always been easy and I’ve had to learn many lessons the hard way. There's a reason why 50% of small businesses fail within 5 years! Being a business owner takes some guts, a ton of learning and some major perseverance.
I know you might be going through the same things, so I wanted to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained on my business path in order to help you succeed on yours. Here are 21 things I learned from my first 3 years in business. I hope they help you find success in the year ahead.
(Pssst... if you haven't opened your business doors yet, pay special attention to numbers 5 + 6. They will fast track your business and save a lot of heartache in the long run.)
1. Have Patience
When you’re first starting out you’ll hear stories from others about the 2,000 subscribers they gained in a week, their $40,000 launch, or the single Instagram post that boosted them to thousands of followers and it will leave you feeling deflated and disheartened. Just keep in mind that in the real world nothing happens overnight. If you had seen what happened behind the scenes for years to get people to that result you’d feel a sense of relief because their success wasn’t as instant as it seems. Businesses take YEARS to gain traction. There are some things you can do to help you get there faster, and I will share some of them in this article, especially #5. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you don’t make a fortune on your first webinar, that’s normal and you’re still on the right track, keep going. Be kind to yourself and celebrate your wins, no matter how small they are.
2. You Are Not a (Yoga Instructor, Health Coach, etc), You’re a Business Owner
Obviously, that statement isn’t 100% accurate, you are an expert at what you do. But, what I mean is that when you decide to launch your own business you need to decide to be a business owner first. I used to say “I’m a photographer, not a business expert” and that was my way of excusing the fact that I didn’t know anything about marketing, and I didn’t want to learn. But, I was holding myself back. Stepping into the title of “Business Owner” required me to think differently, look at the world differently, and more importantly, run my business differently. Don’t let the excuse of not knowing how to do something hold you back. There are a ton of amazing online resources where you can learn how to be a business owner, but more on that later.
3. Learn From Others Who Have Already Figured It Out
It’s highly likely that whatever you’re doing there is someone out there who has already figured out a successful way to do it, or at least something similar to it. Even if you’re releasing a totally new product that you’ve invented…someone has released new products before and mastered the steps to do it. Learn from them. What did they do that worked for them? What actions did they take when they were getting started? What tools are they using? Is there an influencer in your field who clearly has their Instagram plan figured out? Maybe they’re using stock photography to grab attention and save time. (And yes! It is completely ok to use stock photos on Instagram!) Find out the answers to these questions and start there! As you go you can make modifications to better suit you and your brand. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when you’re just getting started.
4. Don’t Take Business Advice from Anyone Who Hasn’t Built a Successful Business
People love to give their advice on everything, it’s just human nature. But, not all advice and opinions are created equally. So if you’re starting a new business, you want to get your advice from someone who has started a successful business. Even if someone you know has a wealth of knowledge from online courses or going to college, they don’t have the applied knowledge to do what you’re doing. However, if you know someone who has started a restaurant, or owns a boutique online, their advice has a lot of value, even if what they did isn’t the same as what you’re doing. Remember, you’re a business owner first and everything else comes second.
5. Get Educated
Successful business owners never stop investing in their education because there is ALWAYS something new to learn from someone. This is something all the experts will tell you. It’s easier than ever to get that education thanks to online courses. In a past life, I tried to build my business based on trial and error along with a helping of a few bits of information I’d gathered from free online webinars and ebooks. But I had no clue how to build a successful business! Because I insisted on taking the excruciatingly slow route of DIY-ing everything I ended up feeling completely overwhelmed while juggling 10 side jobs to stay afloat while I tried to get my dream of working for myself a reality. In the end, that business never got off the ground.
But, when I launched Wellness Stock Shop that changed. What did I do differently? I sought guidance from someone who was already doing exactly what I wanted to do, run a successful business. That someone was Marie Forleo in her life-changing online business program B-School. Taking this course was one of the best decisions of my life. That isn’t hyperbole, I genuinely believe it is what helped me reach my dream. The 6-week program took me from completely scattered, with no clue where to start and sinking thousands of hours into meaningless tasks to having crystal clarity around how to build and scale my dream business. Here I am today running my dream business and making more money than I ever have before, all without scrubbing toilets or scooping up dog poo (Yes, I did that!).
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6. Start Before You’re Ready
Starting a business is like starting a family, you’re never REALLY ready for it until you’re already knee-deep. If you keep waiting until you’re ready…you’ll never get started. This was some of the most influential and game-changing advice I took from Marie Forleo and B-School. The smartest way I applied this was to launch my email list with an opt-in freebie (with Marie’s guidance) months before I was ready to open my business’ doors. The result? By the time I opened my doors I had an audience of 1,000 engaged followers to launch to and my business made a profit in its first month! All because I didn’t wait, and I took the first steps before I was ready.
If you're still in the early stages of your business - maybe you're still in school, training to be a health coach or yoga instructor, or working on your skin care line - don't wait until you're "ready" to open your business to start taking action. Launch your website NOW. Start publishing blog post. Start growing your Instagram following by posting photos that represent the business you are dreaming up and plan to launch in the future. Even if you don't have anything to sell Now is the perfect time to be building a community of deeply connected followers.
7. Start Publishing Blog Posts ASAP
In the beginning, I wasn't as consistent with publishing blog posts as I should have been. But, the blog posts that I did publish? Even if they kind of sucked, I am seeing incredible perpetual traction three years on. It has a lot to do with why I am now seeing thousands of visitors to my website each month with a 50% organic search rate. Gaining SEO reach happens very slowly and develops with time. (Take note of that. Even if your SEO efforts seem useless, it generally takes 1-2 years to see any results at all.) That’s why it’s especially important to start publishing from the very beginning, or sooner! Start publishing blog posts on topics that are relevant to what you do. They don’t have to be directly related, they can instead be things that your audience would be interested in, like a fantastic healthy recipe you love. Or your favorite essential oil diffuser blends to de-stress. If I were to do it over again, In my first year of business I’d commit to publishing a blog post filled with high ranking SEO search terms and answers to my audience’s burning questions once a week. I know it can seem impossible when you’re first starting because you have just so much to do but do the best you can. Your future self will thank you.
8. Start an Email List – Like right NOW
My business friends would roll their eyes right now because I’ve been stressing how important this is for ages. There’s this misconception that growing an email list means you have to put out super boring monthly newsletters, you don’t! There’s also the stress of asking and what would anyone want to read that I could say? It’s ok, take a deep breath. Start by sending emails full of tips that will support them and add value. Send them the information they want to hear about, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your business. It might sound scary right now but it is actually a lot easier than you think once you’re tapped into the minds of your audience.
The truth is when done right your email list is THE most valuable asset you have for your business. I’ve had friends who have grown their followers by the thousands only to wake up one day to find their social media accounts have been closed for no reason and with no warning and without any way to contact their audience, which in turn has an impact on business. But, an email list takes away that stress and gives you a way to connect with your audience on a deeper level.
9. Keep it Simple
It might be difficult but whatever you’re working on, keep it simple. As business owners, we tend to want to come up with the most inclusive, grandiose vision of everything idea we have. But then one thing leads to another and we’re quickly in way over our heads. When it starts to feel complicated it’s time to take a step back and see what you can eliminate or do in the future instead. A good example of this is when I was putting together my stock photo offerings. I wanted to be able to offer everything, photo memberships, specialty bundles, subscriptions, and a-la-carte. But most boutique stock photo websites like mine only offered one or two of those options. So, rather than pivot my plan I had to find a highly specialized website and get customized by a programmer. In the end, offering all these options only confused my customers and caused me a headache as things went wrong. If I could go back I’d pick one of those stock website options that was clean and simple with a plan to have a custom site and add more options in the future.
10. Listen to Your Customers
It is perfectly ok to ask your customers for feedback and how you can best serve them through every phase of your business - from the product brainstorming phase and beyond. One of the best traditions I adopted early on was hosting an end-of-the-year survey. You’ll get feedback that hurts, but treat it like it’s gold. Because they might just see something that is holding you back that you don’t see yourself.
11. Create Systems. Stay organized. Track your processes
This will save you so much time and frustration and make it so much easier to hire someone when you’re ready. (This is the one I'm still struggling with now because I learned this lesson late in the game.)
12. Don’t Seek Approval for Business Decisions From Your Partner or Family
In the beginning, I’d run investment ideas by my partner - coaches I wanted to hire, courses I wanted to take, even blog post topics! He has never owned a business and has no idea what’s involved or what counts as a smart investment. But even if he had…his information would be biased. He would try not to hurt my feelings or possibly say yes to something just because I was enthusiastic about it. Instead, I now make decisions on my own or run it by other business owners who are much better sounding boards for business ideas.
13. Don’t Accept Criticism from Anyone Who Hasn’t Done What You’re Doing
When it comes to how you’re running your business you shouldn’t accept criticism from anyone who hasn’t done what you’re doing, because they don’t know what they’re talking about! They have no idea what you’re doing, how much time you’ve poured into getting to where you are, or the limitations you’re facing. So take everything they say with a heap of salt and keep doing your thing.
14. Make Sure the Recommendations You Receive are Legit Before You Hire Anyone
This year I was scammed by a high-end copy writer turned “business coach” who came highly recommended by several people in a business group. It turned out though that not a single one of those recommending her had hired and worked with her one-on-one. The only experience they had was inside her free Facebook group where she poured on the charisma. Hiring someone is a VERY different thing and just because someone puts on a great face while they’re trying to get customers doesn’t mean they’re worthy of your investment.
15. Let Other People Sit With Their Doubts and Insecurities
There will always be people in your life that feel threatened by change or when you do things differently. That’s their own fear and insecurities and you shouldn’t take them on as your own. Don’t let them stop you from pursuing your dreams! As you grow and change you may find that you have to let some relationships go because they can and will hold you back.
16. Flex Your Tunnel Vision Muscle
You’re going to find oh so many flashy things, exciting opportunities, and things people say you “need.” But if you take on too many things at once you’re going to find it impossible to finish anything! So, put on your blinders and stay focused on one thing at a time. Marie Forleo calls this getting on the “no” train. Say no to anything that will derail you from your current project. If you're suddenly struck with a brilliant idea, write it down and come back to it another time.
17. Remember to take time off
It will always feel like you can’t afford to take time off. You’ll think to yourself that you can’t take a break until things get off the ground. But believe me, it’s much more expensive and difficult when you burn out. So take some time to take care of yourself, take a vacation. Hire a virtual assistant if you need to, even just for 5 hours a week then use that time to meditate, do some yoga, relax and have "you" time.
18. Automate Everything
It will feel like you need to do everything yourself every time but let me tell you, there are SO many things you can automate in a business and you should! Email responses, on-boarding sequences, client booking systems... the less time you spend on the little things, the more time you’ll have for everything else. Part of this is about releasing control. When we start out, we often feel we have to do everything all by ourselves, otherwise we're being "un-authentic". If you approach your business this way, you will burn out and won't have the bandwidth to support your clients or others who need you. So don’t worry about the fact that your social media account is mostly automated, it’s giving you time to do something else to grow your business and create balance in your life.
19. Trust Your Intuition
When you’re uncomfortable about making a particular decision to hire someone or invest in a course, it can be hard to tell whether it’s just the discomfort of up-leveling and stepping into a place of expansion, or whether it’s your intuition telling you it’s not the right fit.
Train yourself to decipher between these two feelings. Personally, I check in to see if I resonate with this person and their style. Are there any red flags? Does it feel expansive?
B-School is the best example of a scary investment that challenged me to expand and ended up paying off in massive ways.
Whereas in 2019 I hired a business coach despite the red flags and a gut feeling that I just didn't resonate with her, and she ended up scamming me.
FYI, you will definitely invest in things you wish you hadn’t. Don’t beat yourself up, this is just the process of building a business. But you can learn to trust your intuition to guide you to make the best business investments for you.
20. Always Take Away a Positive Lesson From a Bad Experience
Bad experiences, be it from hiring so-called experts who are anything but or dealing with a nasty company are all opportunities to learn. In these situations, I always ask myself "what does this experience have to teach me?" Then, if I find myself in a difficult situation with a client and am torn on how to remedy the situation, I find incredible value in reflecting on the previous bad experiences and ask myself, “What outcome would I want from this situation if I were the customer?” (Note, when I do this I make sure that the solution I decide on also feels good to me and that I won't feel taken advantage of or communicate poor boundaries.) But even if a customer decides Wellness Stock Shop isn't the right fit for them, I always want them to remember my brand with a positive vibe and high integrity. I want them to say to others "Wellness Stock Shop wasn't the right fit for me, but they're awesome and I still highly recommend them."
21. Believe in Yourself
There are times when it will be difficult, when it seems like you just aren’t cut out for being a business owner, but you need to believe in yourself. If you go in with an attitude of “I don’t know what I’m doing” or “This is going to fail” guess what? It’s going to fail! Be proactive. Seek the support you need to feel safe and confident. Keep your chin up. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Know that you've got your own back. Be your own biggest fan.