I have never been a big fan of road trips. Always wanting to be at the destination without the time spent on the road. But one year into running my own business has awakened a new-found respect for the journey. I am a bit of a sucker for a good analogy, and can’t get passed the idea that running a business is a lot like a road trip, with the destination unknown. At least in my case. There are so many bumps and bends in the road, new people to meet, an endless horizon of possibilities, and, of course, lessons to be learnt.
To celebrate my first year in business, I want to share a few of the key things I have learnt, and perhaps help someone who might be commencing their business journey.
No is NOT a Dirty Word
As a parent, I discovered early on that the word ‘no’ doesn’t always have the desired effect. At times, you need to be creative and take a more positive approach to elicit a response from a child. In business, however, successful communication comes from being clear and direct. But perhaps more importantly, saying ‘no’ can help you define who you are and what you offer.
When I first started out I was tempted to say yes to every job, to every request, to every client. But reality quickly set in, and I realised that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what I was passionate about and all the other little things I had said yes to. I had to get comfortable with saying ‘no’, and determine what sort of work and people I would say ‘yes’ to.
Of course, making money is a huge motivator when it comes to making decisions in your business, but understanding that it is ok to say ‘no’ to something or someone that doesn’t align with your offering can actually help you to grow. Following your passion will have its own reward.
Work to Your Strength
Trying to be something you are not is never a good idea. ‘Owning’ who I am, and what I have to offer has helped me define my business. This hasn’t always been easy though. Just like saying ‘no’, my personal offering and what I could contribute was something I had to come to terms with.
Because much of my experience was founded in a full-service agency environment, it has been hard for me to walk away from the idea that I had to offer (and be great at) everything. This is obviously not realistic, and can lead to moments of ‘comparisonitis’, where you constantly liken your business and your service to that of others.
While re-assessment and continuous learning can be good; to maintain sanity, particularly as a one-person show, honing your skills and focusing on a specialisation can lead you on a more focused and fulfilling business journey. Plus, if you establish a solid network of freelancers you trust, you can complement your own offering with their skills and expertise.
The Juggle is Real
I already knew that juggling work and family was a trick that most parents try and master. But having your own business and kids sometimes feels like you’ve upped the ante and replaced the juggling balls with knives.
Like many small business owners, I started my own gig to find a sense of balance between work and family life. Even though I had modest expectations of how this would look, I have found that the coexistence of both is ever-present. It is hard to separate the two, particularly when you have a three-year-old that is always keen to play ‘My Little Ponies’, and has no regard for looming deadlines.
To survive the juggle, I had to learn that balls (or knives) will inevitably be dropped. The trick lies in maintaining the ‘right’ balls and ensuring that you keep what is important in the air, while letting go of additional pressures that may not be essential at that time.
Working on Your Business Takes Work
You know that saying about a mechanics car being the one with the leak? Over the past 12 months I have found this to be true for my business. While it would be good to religiously practice what you preach, it doesn’t always turn out that way.
Like many business owners, I have put client work ahead of my own marketing efforts. I am guilty of letting my own content slide, and not posting to my social media accounts as much as I should. But once again it is about establishing realistic expectations of yourself. And, a plan can help. Putting something in writing has a way of making you more accountable, and while there will be times when my own work needs to be pushed back, my plan will be there to help get me back on track.
You Are Worth It
This would have to be the biggest and most valuable lesson I have learnt so far – my skills and services are worth charging for. Sure, this might sound like a pretty silly thing to have to realise, but ideas like “my service isn’t as respected, experienced, impressive or credentialed as others” impacted what I thought I could and should charge.
But here’s the secret I have discovered – if you can’t take a chance on yourself, and charge what you really deserve, you are not the driver of your business. Without understanding that your skills and services are valuable, you are a mere passenger, simply along for the ride. To succeed you need to start betting on yourself and your abilities to deliver. While I still struggle with pricing at times, knowing that my skills are needed and in most cases valued, pushes me to get behind the wheel and drive my business in the right direction.
Celebrate the Wins (Big and Small)
When you have your head down working diligently on building your business, family and life, it can be easy to overlook or forestall celebrating your wins – especially the more subtle ones. And these celebrations can become more infrequent when it is you who must hand out your own ‘pats on the back’. A physical challenge to say the least, but these ‘pats on the back’ are important for so many reasons. They help to balance the downs with the ups, keep you motivated, and when you take time to celebrate the milestones, you increase your ability to sustain a positive mind-set when moving towards your goals.
At the end of the day, it is all about maintaining your sanity while you juggle and manage what is important. For me it is all about my family and my clients. After all, I am one of the 350,000 or so mothers in Australia who have established their own business to find some sense of flexibility.
While working at 5am, 11pm or any snatches of time between school drop-offs, pick-ups and all those duties that need to fit within 24 hours is not ideal, it can work. And to make it work, you need to find the right people to work with. I am one of the lucky business people who has found a handful clients that get it. Working with like-minded small business owners who are also passionate about their work and families, would have to be a top highlight of my business journey. I feel honoured each day to be able to share their business story, while continuing to work on my own.
Have you embarked on your own business journey? Drop me an email or comment below to share your story.