When I first launched my consulting practice in 2014, I knew enough to be dangerous – but was FAR from seasoned. If we stick with the culinary theme, I was a dull knife – effective enough, but with a lot of sharpening needed.
Off the bat, there were some initial reasons I could have failed:
- This was my first business venture
- I was launching as a soloist, as in, no partner to help me
- I was, relatively, young with only seven years of experience
- I didn’t have a business school degree
But, I didn’t fail – and now here I am two years later – about to launch my first online product and due with a baby in December.
Ya, things have been a bit hectic – but, honestly I feel more in control of my business and its future than ever before. This evolution has come with its fair share of growing pains, which I’d love to share with you.
Here are the top five things I’ve learned in these crazy two years:
Invest in people and things that will help you shine.
Long before I thought to pay people to help me, I understood the value of connecting with others of different backgrounds and experience levels. I found mentors who would encourage and help guide me, and worked to provide similar mentoring to others in need. They were an invaluable resource as I was preparing myself to make the leap to consulting, and continue to be so today.
When I realized I needed to scale my business beyond consulting services, I decided to hire a business coach who could help me prioritize my value proposition, and strategically align myself with where I wanted to be. We often think that if we are supposed to be the expert, we can’t get help ourselves. Not true. Three months in, my coach continues to be one of my most valuable investments.
And while I’m handy around Canva and QuickBooks, I’ve also invested in support from graphic designers and an accountant to help streamline both my brand and business. Plus, the fact that I can write off their services is a win.
Networking is not a one-night stand.
It’s naïve to believe that there are immediate possibilities when you first meet a new contact, that it’s a “one and done” transaction. In reality, I’ve found that networking pays off generally months (or years) down the road. That’s ok. Do it for the right reasons, not just the cheap thrill of collecting a business card.
I continue to get business referrals from people I met ages ago, and I refer the same way. If you prioritize how you can help others before they (or you) need it, you set yourself up for relationships that last.
And isn’t that what its all about?
Don’t hate on the downtime.
I launched on October 1, 2014 and enjoyed a solid FIVE WEEKS of hustle and bustle before – guess what – the holidays hit. And, who do you think cares about work during the holidays?
No one – except, maybe you.
I panicked, and cried out: “I will never work again!!”
But guess what, I did.
That was an invaluable lesson. It prepared me for the feast or famine mentality of this new life, and made me appreciate the budget I had built it to support myself during slower times.
What’s more, after wasting that “time off” by worrying, I promised myself I would never make the same mistake again. So many of us go into business for ourselves to carve out a life that we love, and many times that means more flexibility. That was exactly what I wanted. So, I made a plan to build in business development and a good deal of downtime into the next holiday lull: reading books (for pleasure and business), outlining blog posts or potential opportunities, and visiting family.
Don’t hate on the downtime, people. It’s precious.
You are your own tech support.
I cannot emphasize this enough– do not underestimate the value that is an in-house IT department, or accounting, or fill-in-the-blank for anything that makes your cringe. When you start your own business, you are not only the owner and operator – but the webmaster, the accountant, the human resources manager…I could go on.
Anticipating future issues by creating systems and cheat-sheets to make solving problems simple will be really helpful in addressing when the next crisis that hits.
And believe me, there will be a crisis. Ask me about when my website went down, or when my Microsoft Office package decided it didn’t want to open one day. Or when it took me two days to reconcile my business expenses, and I had to drop off a quarterly tax payment with minutes to spare before the post office closed.
Take the vacation.
This is one thing I cannot stress enough: don’t be afraid to take a vacation. It is inevitable that when you start a business you will be working longer and harder than your typical 9-5. The good news is that many people, including myself, promise that it is some of, if not the most, satisfying work they’ve ever done.
Nonetheless, you need time to refresh and disconnect.
Think you are resting enough because you work from home and don’t have to commute? No, you still need a vacation.
Worried that everyone is working harder? Get over it. You’ll find that you expose yourself to new waves of creativity and clear thinking when you step away from the screen. Take the flipping vacation.
One year after I launched, my family and I took a 10-day trip across Europe. I prepared my clients in advance, and then I went radio-silent. Guess what: only three emails came in, I didn’t lose any work, and I returned home rearing to go.
So, now what?
Do I have it all figured out? Hell no. My brand is a continual work in progress, I have MAJOR goals ahead of me that still need to be executed, and I am astounded by how much I have to learn from others on a daily basis.
But – isn’t that wonderful?
Isn’t that what we want when we decide to chart our own course: continued education, freedom of choice, and work days that are as enjoyable as a dip in the pool on a hot summer’s day?
It’s what I wanted, and what I’m still working hard to get.
I hope you find the same spirit inside of you to follow the career path of your dreams.