As I am entering my 4th (!) year as a small business owner I still pinch myself that this is my job now! That I actually pulled it off and am earning a living from being a Squarespace web designer and Authorized Trainer. A pretty decent living at that, too!
So I figured it's time for another 5 Things I learned post, you can read the previous two here:
1. You will spend a lot of money on things you don't need
Yes, I did go down that rabbit hole and succumbed to the lure of some very affective marketing and spent money on software, courses and coaching that, with hindsight, did very little to help my business or enhance my life. This was a very good year for me financially but instead of being mindful about my spending (hello, personal budget and neglected savings account!) I felt like a kid in the candy store and went on a bit of a digital and spiritual spending spree. (I will say this though, I don't regret hiring two fabulous coaches: Sas Petherick who grounded me during a time where I felt a little all over the place, and Sophy Dale whose practical and strategic approach is helping me transition to the next level in my business.) Doing my accounts at the end of the year was a bit of an eye opener and while I meticulously tracked all my business expenses I just wasn't very discerning about where the money went. So a few days ago I signed up to You Need A Budget and I am excited about starting to actually manage my money!
2. You will burn out and upset clients
I consider myself very lucky because over the last three years I've had nothing but wonderful clients! Seriously, from small brick & mortar business owners to creative entrepreneurs they've all been such a pleasure to work with, resulting in consistently happy client experiences. However, last summer I was still trying to catch up from illness and injuries incurred at the beginning of the year, plus a couple of clients had delays themselves, so at one point I ended up juggling 5 website projects at once and it got too much. Two projects were abandonded half way through and one ended in tears. Phew. While it wasn't all my own doing – there were some clientside dynamics at play that were out of my control – I felt terrible. But I also learned a lot about my processes and how to handle tricky situations with dignity and empathy. This was when I decided on my one-project-a-month schedule for 2018 which works so much better for my sanity and also for the client who gets my undivided attention during that month. As for the upset clients, I am glad to say that it's all been ironed out and we are back on amicable terms.
3. Less is more
There are so many productivity apps and systems out there that my German brain goes into overdrive at all the possibilities of getting even more organized! But last year I realized that many of these tools are just another distraction and that I can easily spend more time “getting organized” than actually working. So I reigned it all in and focused on keeping it simple:
→ 17hats is my go-to program for all client related administration, such as proposals, contracts, invoicing, automated workflows, bookkeeping, time tracking, questionnaires and more. I love 17hats, it makes my biz life so much easier and more efficient!
→ Acuity is embedded into my website for quick & easy scheduling of my free consultation calls and Ask me Anything sessions. This is saving so much time that would normally be spent on back and forth emails, and I love that appointments are automatically added to my calendar.
→ Apple Mail. I keep email overwhelm at bay with three simple folders: 1. To Do This Week, 2. To Do Next Week, 3. To Do Bookkeeping. I only keep in my inbox what I am working on today, everything else gets filed respectively. Most of my clients prefer email and this system works!
→ Apple Notes is my digital catch-all app for notes, ideas, lists, resources, documents and links. Folders make it easy to organize (you can password protect them, too) and I love the at-a-glance overview of all attachments. Plus, Notes syncs across all my devices for easy access.
→ Leuchtturm Bullet Journal. This is my beloved analog catch-all! Here I keep my weekly calendar, to-do lists, blogging and Studio Notes schedule, day-to-day notes and doodles. Using this analog system helps my brain prepare for the week ahead and stay focused and organized.
P.S. For the first time ever I am using affiliate links with three of the above apps! In the case of 17hats you should get a 10% discount, or 1 free month with YNAB.
4. Get out more!
This may not be an issue for everyone but it is for me! Working from home has turned me into a bit of a hermit and made me a lot more sedentary. Experts talk about the addictive nature of screens and they are not wrong. Add to that my tendency to get very focused once I am in the zone and I don't leave my chair for hours, nor the house for days. It feels pathetic admitting this but it's not just that: in my case I've also (re)gained a lot of weight and my health doesn't like this inactive lifestyle one bit. So this year I am refocussing on my physical and mental wellbeing: I created a new schedule that includes most-daily walks in the fresh air, regular mornings working at coffeeshops and bi-weekly massages. Small steps and routines to get me out of my head and back into my poor neglected body.
5. Wow, I run a business (No, this is not a hobby!)
I am not sure why but it wasn't until last year that it really hit me that I run a 'proper' full-time business. People pay me good money for my services, I have more than trebled my income in three years and send checks to the IRS, I have an office and an accountant and there is an LLC in my name. I am no stranger to the imposter syndrome and a part of me still worries that one day the clients will stop coming and 'puff' my business goes up in smoke! But that's the part that also thinks this is still a hobby and that I'll be found out soon. However, the business woman in me knows that this is simply not true and last year I felt a decisive shift in my perception and now, when someone asks me what I do, I am very proud to say: I am a business owner.
Bonus 6: Ignore the hustle
The shouty six-figure marketeers were seriously wearing me down last year. I felt like a loser because – while I got pretty close – I have not yet made six figures by following those easy top secret steps that will get me there in only six months. Ugh. In July I blogged about it and that became one of my most popular posts and a turning point for me. I decided to not worry so much about the hustle anymore and instead just stay the course and focus on my work, my clients and my students. I talk a lot about running a heart-centered business and while that has become a bit of an overused term, its core message still holds true for me:
It is very important to me to act from a place of integrity, substance and caring. Above anything, I believe in great service and delivering high quality work, and my business has grown very organically, and steadily, as a result.
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