I never expected to become a small business owner, but I’ve been full-time self-employed since 2009. (I know, it’s a million years in internet time!) Still, how my work looks day-to-day has changed a lot over time. I’ve gone from having a studio, being a web designer and working with a big team of freelancers to now working from a cozy home office, just me and my clients. While most of those changes happened slowly, this year has been particularly big, stressful and exciting in my life and business. How much happened?
Just to name a few milestones, I…
- Ended my longtime business partnership
- Wrapped up work with my final web design clients
- Took a month off to explore Europe with my husband
- Apprenticed as a strategist under my mentor, Tara Gentile
- Launched my new business as a business strategist!
- Published as much useful, actionable content as I could muster while figuring everything out on the fly!
And no, I’m not super human. There were also many late nights, tears to dry and walks around the block to try and clear my head.
This is my last post for 2015 this year before taking a break until January. With that in mind, I want to share a few lessons I learned this year and the biggest takeaways that might help you learn from my experience, wins and missteps.
1. I don’t say yes to anything I’m not willing to do today.
What do you imagine when you think about what your life will be like in the years to come in the future? On some level, I bet that part of you imagines a life when you’ll have more free time, more hobbies and less stress. (I know that’s what I do!)
Since that time hasn’t arrived yet in my life, this year I tested a thought experiment that “tricks” me into making decisions that are a better fit for me.
Here’s the shortcut: When I make decisions about what I’ll do in my work or what goals I set, I ask myself if I’m willing to do that today. If it is, I move forward. If it’s not, I decline.
It’s helped me get really clear on my priorities, and on what commitments sound good in the moment, but aren’t really a fit for my life. I’m focusing on what I can do now, instead of what I might do later, and I’m adding daily habits into my life that reflect that.
Takeaway: Your success is directly tied to how willing you are to take action, even if you don’t feel like it. Taking action in a small way today, even with 15 minutes of your time, is a bigger accomplishment than the big dreams you never put into action.
2. Ending a business partnership with a friend is hard – but it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think.
At the end of 2014, I ended a 5+ year business partnership with my best friend, Leigh-Ann Keffer. After running day-to-day operations of web design business I’d fallen in love with running the business, teaching online. I also fell out of love with design, and of being a small business owner with another person, no matter how much I like that person.
The initial conversation was hard, but we soon realized that it didn’t have to end our friendship. We resolved to make sure that we ended our work together in a way that honoured the spirit of our friendship. We ended the business by announcing it online with a joint podcast expressing our respect for each other and a mini-website to explain the split. Of everything we did together, I’m most proud of how we stuck the landing on ending the business.
It wasn’t easy, but going back to being a one woman shop has been wonderful. I love the independence, rediscovering how I work best and the glorious lack of meetings! Now when I see my former business partner we get all the great parts of our friendship without the stress, and that’s been a gift too.
Takeaway: Working with caring people is good for business, especially when the going gets tough, or things come to an end. Successful relationships can end without having a winner and a loser. Everyone can win if you pick the right people for your team.
3. You don’t have to wait for the right time, and you’re capable of more than you know.
If you’re a high achiever like me, you might fall into the pattern of wanting to do things right… so you decide to wait for the right time. Which may or may not never arrive. This year, it surprised me to find that “the right time” doesn’t matter as much as I thought. In fact, and there’s huge power in taking action now.
If there was ever a year that my business should have faltered in, 2015 was it. I took a month-long holiday in Europe, left an established business and spent most of my year training to become a strategist. I also wrote more than I had in years, launched an online course and mastermind program.
In the end, I exceeded my goals and had my strongest year in business yet. Now, I’m going to be real with your: I’m not super human, there were many naps and tears too! But it was a year of amazing change and growth.
The crucial change was that instead of trying to do more in my business, I focused on doing things that were more meaningful. I looked for what would make getting other things done easier (aka. Force multipliers) and focused on the big, meaningful goals in my calendar instead of dozens of tiny tasks. I often get overwhelmed by lots of little details, so the big picture inspiration helped me do more with a lot less stress.
Takeaway: Instead of trying to do more every day, try focusing on the big, meaningful things that you can work toward every week. As you break out the main events into tasks to work on each week, the smaller pieces along the way will take care of themselves.
4. Getting a mentor is much less expensive than being a part-time small business owner & part-time economist/mad scientist/marketing psychic/crying and stressed out person.
Becoming a licensed business strategist was wonderful and intense. It meant that every week I was working on my business live with my mentor and other savvy business owners. It was an exhilarating and eye-opening experience, and it was also the best money that I’ve ever spent as a small business owner.
It also helped me realize that reinvent the wheel is about as effective as having money bonfire.
A lot of the work that freelancers and small business owners attempt to take on, and often get stuck on, is incredibly specialized and really slippery!
Working in isolation and inventing solutions on your own takes dozens upon dozens upon dozens of hours. I used to do this too. I’d design my own systems and hope my business would change. What I didn’t add into the equation is that this approach was costing me a huge amount in lost income, year over year.
Taking courses and getting one-on-one support in my business this year has transformed my confidence and profitability. Putting someone’s experience to work for you lets you fast forward through a huge part of the learning curve. If you’re considering going full-time or trying to earn money from your project, a mentor is a fast way to make sure you’re on the right track.
Even better? When you find the right person, it makes work get really fun.
Takeaway: If you invest a lot of time in any area of your life – including business – consider investing some money. By learning from someone with a proven track record, you can fast forward your journey and shake off what’s holding you back.
5. Habits make worry obsolete.
The most helpful book I read this year was Better Than Before, by Gretchen Ruben. It explores how different people have respond to inner and outer obligations, and how to work with that through a personal approach. (Have you taken the official quiz to find out your habit tendency? I’m a questioner – share your tendency in the comments below!)
It’s fascinating, and has helped me start working out every day and start writing every day for the first time ever. Highly recommended holiday reading, if you need something to geek out over.
One of her points is that if you set and commit to the right habits, great outcomes take care of themselves. You can stop worrying about big areas of your life when you have positive habits that govern them.
This was a huge lightbulb moment for me. I’m an idea generator, and that can mean that I endlessly run through possibilities in my mind – including worries. (I’ve got an anxiety disorder, after all!) To change that I’ve shifted my mindset to stop looking at habits as obligations. Now I see them as a way to eliminate worry and automate my goals.
A small example is that I now write every day. It means I never have to worry about getting blog posts and content upgrades done, because they happen automatically.