A little over a year ago, I officially started my business. As I sat there, trudging through the nuances of creating my own WordPress site or nervously posting content to my new business Instagram feed hoping someone, anyone would like it, I sometimes wondered what it would feel like when I reached that milestone first year as a business owner.
The truth is it’s impossible to imagine, because it’s impossible to know all the things you’ll go through and all the lessons you’ll learn in 365 days. But reflecting back, there are so many things I learned that made this past year one of the hardest, happiest, and most rewarding years of my life so far.
So this post is for all the people out there who are considering starting a business but are scared they’re not cut out for it, or for all the newbies out there who are trudging through and maybe need a little pick me up. These are the biggest lessons I learned in my first year as a business owner and what they taught me, not just about business, but also about myself.
There’s a huge difference between work that you love and work that you don’t
When I worked in the agency world, I thought I was working hard. I would get to the end of a 60 hour work week and feel like my gas tank was literally running on fumes as I boarded the El train on Friday nights. During the little time I was with my family, I was burnt out, tense, and absolutely zero fun to be around. I’ll be the first to admit it (my husband will gladly be the second).
As a small business owner, I think I actually work twice as hard. But I don’t do it because I have to – I do it because I want to. And that, my friends, is a gamechanger. It’s like the difference between treading water to keep from drowning and treading water because I actually like to swim. It might seem like a small shift but it has made a world of difference in the quality of my life.
I know it’s a cliché to say find work you love. One of those things Millennials often get relentlessly teased by older generations for saying (I see you, Karen). But it is truly life-changing. So at the risk of being that eye-rolling, gag-inducing cliché, find the work you love, whatever it is. Don’t stop until you find it, and then work like hell to get good at it.
You are capable of way more than you give yourself credit for
One year ago, little misty-eyed me put in her two weeks notice and struck out on her own. I had never been in WordPress. I had no clue what an email service provider was or why I would need one. I’d never written a blog post, couldn’t tell you what differentiated an LLC from a sole proprietorship, and didn’t know the first thing about running my own business or eCommerce shop.
When I left what some might call a “cushy” (note the sarcastic air quotes) corporate job, I was terrified of all the things I didn’t know. But standing here a year later, I’m floored by what I’ve learned in a mere 365 days, during a pandemic no less. I’ve likely surprised a lot of people this year, but none more so than myself. And I have to admit, it feels kinda good. 😉
We’re often quick to short change ourselves. Quicker than we are to believe that we’re capable. But it is so amazing what you can do when you stop second-guessing your grit and abilities. We should all start giving ourselves a little more credit, wouldn’t you agree?
Just because I like working for myself, doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I’ll be frank – solopreneurship can be lonely. When I make a mistake or have a bad day, there’s no one to vent or complain to. Except my dog. And she sees any and all attention as an opportunity to beg for pets.
While 95% of the time, the introvert in me is totally cool with not having to deal with co-workers who drop by my cube to chat and overstay their welcome by 15 minutes, there is that 5% (okay, maybe 10%) that misses the camaraderie.
Yes, I can do yoga on my lunch, take a catnap when I’m tired, and pick and choose my projects. But I also have to be my own cheerleader, sounding board, and focus group. I have to be my own sales team and customer service representative. I have to manage my own time and hold myself accountable. And I have to do my own taxes. Woof.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still beyond grateful that I made the choice to start my own business. It was the right choice for me. But it’s not all puppies and unicorns. Every decision, even the dream one, comes with its own baggage.
Solopreneurship is one long learning curve.
You know that saying, “If you’re not willing to look stupid, nothing great will ever happen to you”? I’m not sure who said it, but hell if I didn’t look like a prize idiot every day for the past year. I quickly became accustomed to the fact that I didn’t know every thing, and if I’m being completely honest, that I actually knew very little. I was lucky if I knew enough to get past the first step most days.
But all you have to do is do something once, just go out on that limb one time, be willing to look a little dumb, and every time after that will get progressively easier. Until one day you wake up and you realize you’re an expert.
The biggest lesson I learned this year? There’s very little I can’t do, as long as I’m willing to start at the bottom and learn my way up.
Time is the solopreneur’s most precious resource.
Everyone thinks the more precious resource is money. And that’s probably a close second. But you can make more money. You can’t make more time.
When it came to budgeting, I spent more time budgeting my hours this year than I did my actual finances. My accountant mother is probably reading this and shaking her head at me. But when you work for yourself, you become very well-acquainted with the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. And you need at least 6 or 7 of those to sleep. That’s 17 waking hours.
While I became the queen of trying to do multiple things at once (walking my dog while answering email, listening to business podcasts while I worked out, cleaning out my inbox while on group Zoom calls) it never worked. Give something half your attention and it’ll get done half as well.
So I had to get deliberate with my time. That meant being more selective in the projects I took on, developing workflows that could become second nature, and identifying ways I could create efficiencies in repeat tasks, like automations and swipe copy.
We all have the same 24 hours. You don’t get any more than that. But how you use those 24 hours can make a world of difference. By working smarter, not harder, you can actually extend how much you can get done in the same amount of time.
Corporate life is not for everyone – and that’s okay.
After almost a decade in the corporate world and a year working for myself, I can tell you that corporate life is not for me. The politics, the processes, the endless stream of meetings – just not my jam. And it took me awhile to realize that that’s okay. Corporate doesn’t have to be for everyone. In fact, it shouldn’t be. But society makes it seem like being a corporate ladder climber is the pinnacle of success. I actually felt guilty for wanting something else.
Now to be clear, corporate America isn’t bad and lots of people love their corporate jobs – my husband included. But there’s nothing wrong with jumping off the ladder and building your own spiral staircase instead. The important thing is that you choose your own definition of success – solopreneurship or otherwise – and own it.
Sometimes you need to rewrite the rules.
The world is literally bursting at the seams with business gurus who have all the answers and are ready to tell you what to do. They all say something a little different and have their own approach for doing things, but their message is usually pretty simple – follow my rules and you’ll be a success.
I hate to burst the bubble, but it’s not that simple. There’s no such thing as a golden ticket.
Sure, you can post to Instagram twice a day every day, and like one hundred posts, and comment on thirty stories, and add all thirty hashtags, and document every second of your life in reels, and do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around all because one Instagram expert told you that was the key to getting 100,000 followers in one month. But that takes a ton of time. And if you’re investing a bunch of time that you don’t have in your Instagram and not in your business, your business will suffer.
Business is not a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for some might not work for you. Take the advice. Join the course. Buy the book. Learn everything you can. But know that it’s okay to rewrite the rules and find solutions that work for you.
Some opportunities move your business forward, some don’t – it’s important to know the difference.
Starting out, I took any and every opportunity that came my way because I wanted to build up rapport and quite simply, I wanted to make money. I probably would’ve mown lawns if someone had offered it to me (luckily I live in the city and lawns are kind of hard to come by).
But as my business grew and more and more things began to occupy my time, I realized that some things would have to give. That meant reevaluating my business opportunities and making some cuts, which is always hard to do, especially if there’s a specific project that is close to your heart or if you don’t like to disappoint people.
You’ll reach a point, though, where things will start to get too heavy and you’ll struggle to hold it all up. Like when you try to cram too many items into your Target bag and a hole starts to rip in the bottom. If you don’t lighten the load quickly, that hole will split and everything will fall, and heaven help you if you have breakables in there, or if you’re still seven blocks from home. The worst.
As a solopreneur, you have to remember that the only person looking out for the interests of your business is you. It might sound like a bad thing, but it’s really not. Because when you think about it like that, it makes it easier to evaluate your projects and opportunities. Ask yourself if it’s moving your business forward. Does it support the long term vision you have for your business?
If the answer is no, you owe it to yourself to cut that project loose or turn that opportunity down.
I’d be lying if I said that owning your own business was easy or that anyone can do it. It’s hard and it takes a lot of work. But what I learned in my first year as a business owner is that you get out what you put in. If you’re nervous about the unknown or that you won’t have what it takes, the great thing about being your own boss is that how this whole journey goes is entirely up to you.
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