5 things I learned in my second year as a small business owner

5 Things I have learned in my second year as a small business owner | kerstinmartin.com

Sometimes, when people ask me what I do, I still have a hard time believing that I run my own business, not only doing something I love but actually earning an income with it! Looking back I can definitely see how having had such a diverse professional career is serving me well now in how I manage my business and my clients. Alas, there was and is of course a lot that I am learning along the way! 

A year ago I wrote a post about the 5 Things I Learned during my First Year as a Small Business Owner and now that I am entering my third year I thought it might be interesting to share the highlights of year two:

1. Don’t wait a whole year to do your bookkeeping!

A hard lesson to learn! I am the first to admit that my relationship with money has never been great but over the last ten years I’ve become more responsible and generally much better with my finances. However, I definitely let this one slip last year. All the intentions were there, the software was in place (17hats.com) but I didn’t do anything with it until January came around and I suddenly realized that I have to do my city taxes by 1/31! Enter the panic monster! And then 17hats went all pear-shaped on me and in the end I had to do all my transactions manually in a spreadsheet. Phew. I was only a day late for my city taxes (which only required my gross income) and then I spent a week doing all my expenses and creating my profit & loss statement. Finally I knew how much I had actually earned (a 60% increase on the previous year) and where I had spent most of my money. So this year I am being smarter. I got 17hats bookkeeping back on track (it’s actually a great system) and am also using a spreadsheet as a back-up. I am logging transactions as they come in and then I do a profit & loss summary at the end of every month AND I put 30% of my monthly net earnings into a tax account that I opened specifically for that purpose. It feels so good to be on top of my money! 

All my receipts for 2016!

All my receipts for 2016!

2. Don’t be afraid to try different productivity systems until you find what works for you

There is a lot of advice out there on how to best organize our small businesses and it’s taken me two years of trying different systems (Asana, Google G Suite, Ulysses, Evernote to name a few) to finally arrive at a place where I found my groove with what works best for me. To get to this point I had to become clear on what was important to me:

  • It needs to be simple. I did not want to spent a lot of time learning new systems and managing them, I don’t want or need all the bells & whistles.
  • Seamless functionality across all my devices
  • Something that doesn’t over-organize me. Organization is a wonderful thing but with all the fancy productivity tools out there we can spend more time organizing than actually doing the work. I am certainly guilty of getting all excited over a new system and efficient list-making and enhanced productivity methods, but more often than not this turns into a procrastination and distraction exercise that keeps me from focusing on my actual job.
  • Cost effective. When you add everything up you can end up spending a lot of money on your ‘systems’. There are many free resources out there or included with your operating system, I want to make better use of those.

Here is what I am using these days and it all works beautifully:

  1. My Bullet Journal
    Every week I create a weekly schedule and to do list and use the subsequent blank pages for all my notes and odds and ends that are worth keeping. Until a new week starts and I begin all over. I also designed a monthly project calendar that has been a life changer in how I organize my work. There is just something about having this analog element in my work flow that makes my brain work better and I never tire of the tactile feel of the notebook in my hand, or of using my favorite fountain pen to make notes.
  2. Mac Notes App
    This is a free app that comes with the operating system and works across all my devices. I ignored it for years! I tried Asana, Evernote and a few others whose names I don’t remember. Then I came across an article that mentioned password protection in the Notes App and that got my attention. This was perfect for easily keeping confidential data with access from my computer and phone. You can create beautiful lists and folders and subfolders, and add documents and photos, draw things and even share notes with others who are on a Mac. It’s a very simple and basic app that does everything I need without too much fuss. It’s the perfect digital companion to my analog Bullet Journal system.
  3. Dropbox & Dropbox Paper
    I ditched Google even though it’s powerful and gives you a lot of free storage. I am good with technology and I find Google utterly confusing. They have so many apps and products and it’s like one giant octopus with tentacles that go everywhere and threaten to suffocate you. I can totally see the value for companies with employees and businesses that need a platform where they can coordinate their services. But for me, it always felt too clunky and too much. Because I still need a cloud based filing system I decided to go with Dropbox. Which feels so much cleaner, calmer and easier to use. And then I discovered Dropbox Paper which is a fantastic and very intuitive tool for note taking, brainstorming and collaborating with other people. I use this with the designer who sometimes helps me out and we both love it. Right now I am still on a free Dropbox plan but I’ll happily pay the upgrade as and when I need more storage.
  4. 17hats
    Last but not least, 17hats takes care of everything else: a beautiful and very efficient CMS that manages all my client information and communications, quotes, invoices, questionnaires and contracts. It has great bookkeeping tools and reports and everything is customizable and I can create workflows that remind me when to do what, it has a calendar and a time tracker for when I charge hourly work which I can then easily convert into an invoice. This is as good a one-fit-all solution as you can get right now. Yes, they were having some teething problems and I was not impressed with the bookkeeping issues I had. But that’s all resolved now and working beautifully. In fact, when I had these issues I started shopping around for another system because I was seriously upset with 17hats. I looked at many systems and trialled a few and you know what? None of them do as much as well as 17hats. So I decided to stay with them. Plus, they actually have really good and responsive support, almost as good as Squarespace! :) This is the only system I pay for and it’s worth every cent.
Weekly bullet journal spread

Weekly bullet journal spread

3. I prefer to work alone

This was a bit of a revelation. Last summer I reached a point where I was so busy that I either needed to refuse work or get help. At the same time a young designer approached me saying he wanted to work with me. Serendipity, right? So we collaborated on a few projects and overall it went very well, he’s a smart guy with good manners and it was nice to have someone to talk shop with! Alas, I soon realized that I was exhausted from not just managing my client relationships but also managing the space between my clients and my assistant. He was great and this is purely a reflection on my HSP nature which does not handle multiple energies too well. I am at a point where I could probably start growing my business into an agency but I realized that this is not what I want. I am happy to hire help where needed (perhaps a bookkeeper one day!) or to collaborate with other business owners, but I don’t want to manage staff, I like being my own boss and no-one else’s! 

My little office assistant!

My little office assistant!

4. I love working from home

Now that I have done a full year of working out of my house I know that I love it! Some of you may remember that I rented an external office space during my first year which was very helpful during the transition from full-time employment to running my own business. It made me feel like I still had a proper job! And I enjoyed being part of the local business community and made some wonderful connections. However, given the nature of my job there was no real need for an offsite office and deciding to save the rent money and put it towards our mortgage was a good call. I love my routine at home, from having easy access to my kitchen to the company of my little furry assistant who loves snoring away on a pillow on my desk. Plus, when he is not traveling my husband also works from home and I treasure those days when he is here and we can have 'water cooler' chats and go for spontaneous lunches. Do I work more because my office is in my house? Probably. But I don’t mind because I love what I do and value the flexibility of making my own hours.

Thank you cards | kerstinmartin.com

5. Say thank you more often

This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I finally got around to ordering these beautiful cards (my design, their stock) from one of my favorite companies, Moo. Most of my business comes from referrals and I am super grateful for this. I’ve never had to do any advertising and my business would not be where it is without those wonderful clients and friends who keep recommending me. Sending a handwritten card feels like only a small gesture for their support but it’s a start :) Thank you so much - your support means the world to me!