I started my business on accident almost two years ago. Since then, running my own business has undoubtedly been one of the best and most fun experiences of my life. But along with the successes, paychecks, and celebratory high fives have also come tears, doubts, and lessons learned. I now feel very grounded with where I’m at, and I have a clear vision of where I intend to go. Today, I want to look back on the past couple years and share a few lessons I’ve learned as a business owner and entrepreneur.
Your clients will only respect you as much as you respect yourself
In the beginning, I was a little timid about running my business. I was scared to raise my prices, to hold my clients accountable if they violated our written contract, and to essentially respect myself as a business owner. For that reason, I “let things slide” at times and spent a lot of time doing extra requests for clients (for free), even if it wasn’t part of our original project. Like many entrepreneurs, I didn’t know how to start a “money” conversation effectively.
Now, I realize that I was doing a disservice to myself and to my clients. By not creating a clear process and set-in-stone policies, it garnered confusion from customers and turned me into a freebie workhorse. If you want to succeed as a business owner, you must first respect yourself as a business owner. This means respecting your time, value, and expertise. Don’t waiver on the things that are important to you.
The 9-5 mindset can be damaging and limiting to a creative business.
Creative inspiration doesn’t typically come during a specific time each day. To succeed, you sometimes need to let the 9-5 mentality go, and allow yourself to work when you feel most inspired. Yes, this can lead to irregular working hours, but I also think it leads to better, less “forced” work. Generally, I aim to stick to the same working hours each day, but if I’m just not feeling inspired or motivated, I know that I need to take a break and come back to it later.
I also know that I need to eliminate the “guilt” that surrounds unmotivated feelings. Since I’m steering the whole ship, I can begin to feel guilty if I’m not inspired to work normal hours. The 9-5 mentality has been so hammered into my mind that it’s hard to accept that there are other ways (and times) of working. But when I let myself work when I’m ready, I know I produce the best work.
Money isn’t as hard to make as you might think. Motivation, though? That one can get tough.
When I quit my job to pursue web design and blogging full time, I was most worried about making enough of an income to survive. To my surprise, making the money wasn’t all that difficult. The hard part was finding motivation to work 8+ hours a day, at home, on my own time. I’ve noticed that my motivation tends to dip in and out. Some days, I’ll feel motivated to work ten hours, and others I can barely concentrate on my morning emails. I’ve found ways to get things done even when I’m unmotivated, but getting to that point took skill and time.
When in doubt, make a list of your top three priorities for the day. Then, just dive into one. The hardest part is sometimes just getting started.
You need to celebrate your successes.
I’ve had some notable successes in my business — from launching sites I’m excited about to the first time I made $10k in a single month. But rarely, if ever, do I celebrate those successes. More often than not, I let them pass without considering their significance or achievement.
When you don’t celebrate your successes, then they tend to just pass you by. You create new goals to replace the old ones and the cycle continues. I’ve found that it’s important to stop every once in awhile and reflect on the moments and achievements that have been important to you. Write down your goals and reward yourself when you reach them. Make it memorable. If you don’t celebrate your successes, then you have a higher chance of burning out or being left with the question of “why am I doing all of this?”
Things can get lonely.
This isn’t something I predicted, but it’s one of the most difficult aspects of running my own business for me. I’ve been lucky to connect with lots of other business owners, but have still found it hard to find people who are in the same place as I am.
Basically, even though I might know lots of people who run their own businesses, I don’t know many who have a similar level of experience as me, which I think is somewhere in the middle. The middle, I’ve found can be a very grey area. In the early stages of starting my business, it was easier to connect with other business owners because our questions, problems, and ideas were pretty similar. Now, however, many adolescent businesses like mine have a wide variety of questions and options, so it’s harder for me to find people who really “get it.”
Either way, connecting with other bloggers and business owners reminds me that I’m not alone, and it’s that connection that is so important to me.
The customer is not always right, but is always deserving of respect.
This is one of the most valuable things I learned, both as a business owner and as a person. You may have heard the adage that, “the customer is always right.” While this may not necessarily be true, it is true that each person is deserving of your respect and professionalism.
By now, I’ve worked with almost 150 clients. Most of them were wonderful relationships, some of which even turned into friendships. But of course, there were also some clients who were less-than-kind or disrespectful. When a client (or anyone, ever) is rude or unkind, I think the best thing to do is to treat them with respect and professionalism. There is absolutely nothing positive that can come from trying to “prove that you’re right” to an angry client. Instead, I try to understand their perspective, let them know that I hear them, and then decide on a plan of action to either solve the problem or let them down gently and professionally.
Fight the urge to want to be “right.” Instead, aim to be helpful and respectful.
Investing in your business is crucial.
As an entrepreneur, it has always been a priority for me to invest back into my business. Investing in your business allows you to continue growing. I think a lot of people carry the idea that if your business (or blog) isn’t making much financially, then it’s not worth it to put money into it until it is. This is absolutely backwards to me. If you want your blog or business to grow, then it’s important to spend a little money on things that will help you elevate your brand. You don’t need to break the bank, but investing a little more each month, or starting a savings account for big biz purchases is a great idea.
Some of the best investments I’ve made are in hiring people to help with this blog and my design studio. Hiring people isn’t cheap, but there’s no way I could grow my business without their help.
Think you know everything? Read a book.
After running a business for two years, I tend to do similar things each day. Whether it be designing a new website or writing a blog post, I totally get the process and feel very comfortable with what I do. Sometimes this can lead to the outrageous idea that there’s not much left to learn. Wrong! You could spend a lifetime learning new things about your industry. Now, when I start to feel like my routine is giving me that anti-growth mindset, I do something simple: I read a book. Books have an incredible depth of information and I’ve learned so much from reading business books.
Be genuine. Be valuable.
Last but not least — and perhaps the most important lesson of all — is to be utterly genuine and totally valuable. Even though I have a prideful streak (where I dislike sharing my shortcomings or mistakes), I’ve learned that in business (and life, really), it’s so much more meaningful to admit when you’re wrong, be kind and genuine, and try to offer a ridiculous amount of value to the people you serve.