5 things I learned during my first year as a small business owner

1. Having a dedicated office space can make the transition easier.

As a self-employed web designer all I need is a computer, I can work from pretty much anywhere. Which, of course, is part of what I love about my job! However, when I started up my own business I decided to lease an office space away from my home for a number of reasons: It made me feel more professional and like this was, indeed, a ‘proper’ business and ‘proper’ job. It got me out of the house and gave me the kind of structure I needed to develop a professional routine that works for me and my business. And, of course, having a physical presence in the local business community has gone a long way in getting the word out and attracting local clients. 

Last week I gave notice on my office space because I feel ready now to start working from home. Ultimately the external office was always more of a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity and after a year of running a successful business I feel established enough to move my office to my house and allocate the rent money elsewhere. I am actually looking forward to not having the commute and to being able to prepare lunches and dinner at home as well as working out of coffee shops more often again, something I’ve always loved!

2. It is ok to say no to a potential client.

I’ve written a blog post about it, this was basically a situation where the client’s way of working and attitude were not well aligned with my own values and business processes. I missed out on a potential opportunity for regular income but it would have been at the cost of my integrity and, likely, sanity. Now that many months have passed since this decision I still feel good about it and my business is thriving and I am working with clients I love!

3. My business benefits from all I’ve learned during my professional years spent in different industries.

It is no secret that I love organizing and am good at it. I learned a lot in this respect throughout my various careers such as project manager, college secretary, hotel supervisor and school registrar. The skills that I developed are definitely benefitting my business now as they enable me to do a lot of things myself, like setting up my LLC and managing my finances and administrative processes. 

I also draw a lot on my extensive experience in sales, customer service and corporate management when I am dealing with my clients, it helps me understand their needs better and translate those into a website that not only looks great but supports and furthers their own business mission. 

4. Offline balance is important.

Having a web-based business and being a geek who loves being online it is tempting and easy to spend hours and hours glued to the screen and office chair. And I’ll be honest, it does my head in when I do that. I end up feeling all foggy and weird and am more prone to comfort eating and becoming unmotivated to exercise. There is a fine balance, for me, between getting addicted to the screen and being active in my offline life. And I am learning that it is super super important to take a more balanced approach and to ‘get out of my head, move my body and be active.’ For me this could be a walk or bike ride along the sea, time with friends, reading a book, knitting, going on an artist date and generally living more away from the screen. Even setting the timer every hour to go for a quick stroll around the block (fresh air, exercise!) helps. Alas, this balance is definitely a work in progress for me and something I want to cultivate and get better at. 

5. You don't need a clever (or expensive) marketing or sales strategy to grow a heart-centered business.

 
To me a heart-centered business not only aligns with your values and genuine expression of your self, it also honors the way you work best, harnessing your energy levels and personality to make work less about struggling and more about THRIVING. Heart-centered also makes marketing your work a joy rather than something to feel awkward about.
— Susannah Conway
 

I had never heard the term heart-centered business until I joined Susannah’s course The Inside Story. But when I read her words I immediately recognized myself in them. I never had a dream of starting my own web design business and I kind of stumbled into it. However, once I had designed the first site for a friend and the next client was already lined up I realized that I had found something that allowed me to bring together my creative talent, my substantial professional experience and skills that were acquired over decades in a way that felt natural and organic to me. I have, so far, not done any marketing or sales effort beyond having my own informative website and delivering web design that my clients love. I try to meet my clients with integrity, honesty and a genuine desire to help them create a better web presence for themselves at a price they can afford. There are so many truly terrible websites out there and I do feel quite passionate about changing this for as many small businesses as I can. But as Susannah says, this is not just about aligning your own values with your business goals and practices but also about honoring your personal temperament in the process. Making my own hours and being location independent definitely suits my longing for freedom and independence (which also helped a lot when I, for instance, needed to take six weeks off when my mom passed away unexpectedly last November), and because I also love what I do I am more productive and efficient as a result. 

Bonus #6! You don't need to know everything to get started. 

Most of my skills are self-taught, including web design and coding. When I started my business I had been dabbling with Wordpress and Squarespace for years and that was enough to get me going. There was, of course, a lot I didn't know but I am so grateful that I didn't let that deter me from the path I had embarked upon. I just kept learning as I went along and let me tell you, I can be pretty tenacious when it comes to finding CSS solutions and implementing Squarespace tips and tricks to ensure my client's get the best possible design and functionality. But it's not just my technical knowledge that has improved, I have also gained valuable business and life skills as a fledging entrepreneur. The learning, of course, never stops and I still get so excited when I write a piece of code and suddenly something is working! 

* * *

In 2015 I designed 15 websites in all three categories that I offer and despite considerable business overheads (office lease, insurance, new biz incidentals) I made a profit.  2016 got off to a good start and for the first time I have a line-up and am booked into April/May. It’s been an amazing first year and I look forward to further growing my business and to serving more happy clients!