This month marks 5 years I’ve been in business for myself full-time.
Time flies, huh? (Seriously, this post is about 3 weeks past my actual business anniversary. Ooops.) Inspired by Victoria’s business lessons, I thought it was time to write my own. Enjoy!
1. You make the rules.
One of the most exciting things about owning your own business is that you get to make the rules. But it took me a while to truly adopt that mindset — because it shows up in every single area of your business, whether you realize it or not.
Sure, there’s the obvious things like setting your own schedule. I beat myself up for a while for sleeping late. I could be doing so much more if I just got up earlier! At least, that’s what everyone told me. Eventually I realized I was letting other people’s standards set the rules for my business. It doesn’t matter what hours I work, as long as I’m delivering what I promise to the people who are paying me. I simply work better later in the day. Beating myself up over that is a waste of time.
But the idea of making the rules goes further than the day-to-day of running your business. Sure, there are best practices in your industry, and they exist for a reason. But if something isn’t working for you, you have the power to change it. It’s up to you to set the expectation of your work up front for the people who are buying from you. They say you teach clients how to treat you — and it’s absolutely true. If, like me, you are constantly apologizing to people for delayed email responses, structure your business to rely less on email (I like to keep client communications to Trello and Slack), and set up canned responses for everything else. This is just one minor example, but you can always tweak any area of your business to help you produce better work, more efficiently. It’s not selfish, and it doesn’t make you any less of a boss. The more you can set yourself up for success, the better job you can do for your clients.
2. Tune out the noise.
It feels like the amount of noise on the internet has grown exponentially since I first started. Facebook ads will tell you the secret to massive 6-figure launches (IN JUST ONE DAY!) if you just click this button right now, hula hoop three times to rid yourself of your self-sabotage and limiting belief that you can’t afford this, and hand over your credit card for 12 low monthly payments of only $997. You wanted to read my article after you saw my click-bait tweet? Too bad, you get my welcome mat first! For bonus points, I’ll insult you if you choose not to opt-in to my newsletter! Because only losers don’t sign up for my 5x daily updates that will help you 10x your audience right now even though you have nothing to say and nothing to sell. (Don’t worry, you can just sign up for my affiliate program and make 6 figures promoting my shit. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.)
Ranting aside (man, that felt really good), you are allowed to tune out the noise. You will go insane if you don’t, I promise. If I could turn back the clock on my business, I’d replace all the time I spent listening to others with just doing the damn work already. Education is important — but protecting your time is even more so. Not all “education” will help you toward your business goals. Be discerning in how you spend your learning time. Ignore lofty promises, and learn about what interests you the most, regardless of how it will affect your business. This goes as much for blog reading as it does for paid programs. Don’t waste your time learning how to use Instagram for your business, for example, if you hate taking photos, just because Jane Boss tells you how it helped her business grow 10x. Jane Boss probably really enjoys photography — and her Instagram followers can tell. Just as they will be able to tell that you hate it.
3. You’re never back at “square one.”
A couple years ago I attended Nathalie Lussier’s Off the Charts Live conference, and she told a story that has stuck with me since and is something I remind myself of regularly: The spiral staircase analogy.
We like to think that business is a straight line, and we’re either going up or down (hopefully up!). But the reality is, you will go through cycles in your business. Sometimes you’ll feel on top of it all. But other times you’ll feel like you’re back at square one, whether you’re starting something new or just trying to figure out how to make your business better.
For the longest time, I thought a magical day would come where I felt like I had my shit together, and everything would just run smoothly from there. I’d be making a comfortable income, and work would flow at the perfect rate, and maybe I’d even get away with working 20 hours a week or taking my laptop to the beach. And while there have been some magical days, weeks, and even months just like that, it’s never permanent.
(For starters, having a laptop on the beach is stupid, speaking from personal experience. Because everyone around you is definitely not working, and you shouldn’t be either. Leave the laptop in the beach house and go play in the ocean, okay?)
You see, if you started a business, you’re most likely just naturally one of those people who wants to do better. No matter how settled you feel, you will eventually want to take things to the next level or try something new — and that’s okay. It’s in those moments that you may feel like you’re back at square one. But the truth is, you aren’t. Things may look familiar, but you have your past experiences to guide you. You’re simply moving up to the next level. And that’s the beauty of the spiral staircase. Though it appears that you’re standing on the same step, you’re actually levels beyond where you started. Once you get started, you never have to start at the very beginning again.
4. Remember why you started.
Speaking of the very beginning, starting a business is exciting, right? Suddenly work no longer feels like work — after all, you’re finally living the dream!
But eventually the newness wears off, and you settle into a new routine. And that’s when your business starts to feel like work again. Like any other job, you still have a to-do list, emails to answer, clients to satisfy. There will be late nights, and Monday mornings where you don’t want to get out of bed. There will be times when you love your business, and there will be times when you find yourself browsing job listings. It happens — and that’s totally normal and okay.
The only way to get through the down times is to remember why you started this journey in the first place. Maybe you wanted freedom over your schedule. Then take the day off and rejuvenate, just because you can! Maybe you wanted your work to mean something. Then take a step back and acknowledge what you’ve already accomplished. It’s easy to see clients as just another task on your to-do list. But on the other end of that task is someone who is excited to work with you, someone who believes in the work you do, and someone who trusted you to help them towards their own dreams. This mindset shift can be the difference between slogging through the day and happily powering through your to-do list like a boss.
5. Be kind to yourself.
As important as it is to keep a positive attitude, it’s just as important to meet yourself where you are. Nothing in life is all sunshine and rainbows, and you shouldn’t expect your business to be either. It’s okay to take some time to feel however you want to feel. If you can’t power through your to-do list like you usually do, it’s probably because you need a break. Maybe you’ll need to make some apologies in order to take that break, but if it helps you do better work, in the end you’re doing a greater service to the client than trying to power through and half-ass it.
You absolutely will make mistakes, and you’ll have a list of things you wish you had done differently. But dwelling on the mistakes takes time away from moving forward and makes you feel bad about yourself.
Besides, if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last five years, it’s that everything usually works out just fine anyway. Here’s to five more years!