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12 Things I Learned During My First Year in Business

I mean everything. I heard this before I started out yet I didn’t know what it felt like so nothing could truly prepare me for it. There isn’t any aspect of my life starting my own business did not impact and how could it not? It’s suddenly your sole focus because not only are trying to build something new but you become entirely responsible for your own income. I had to say goodbye to my lifestyle as I knew it; both financially and socially. I learned pretty quickly that if I went out at the weekend, feeling groggy on Monday would be reflected in my paycheck so what I did on my downtime changed too. As the person in the group, you can usually rely on for the party, it was tough to start saying no but you have to also give up the guilt of denying the invitation too, or you won’t get anywhere. I was advised to see starting my own business as the equivalent to a friend who is having a baby or trying to build a house, you just know it’s going to take over their lives for a while. When it’s put in that context, it gives you a better understanding of the level of change to expect and more self-compassion towards your newfound priorities.

2. Slow Progress is Still Progress

One of the toughest obstacles I had to grapple with this year was calming my inner big thinker. Sure, it’s this way of being that means I operate as if the sky is the limit, but when you are turning up daily building something block by block with only your two hands, when 6 pm rolls around — even though you have been working all day long — you feel like you have achieved very little. I had to learn to view every word I write, every email I sent and every phone call I took as a building block on the empire of my dreams. It was the only way. When my mind thinks globally, it’s hard to make peace with a day I felt my impact was minimal. The trick is to keep reminding myself that it’s all working towards the bigger picture, even if the progress doesn’t seem huge, one day I’ll turn around and see what I’ve built.

3. It’s Less Professional and More Personal Development

I set out knowing where my skillset lay and as I don’t have a business background, I thought this is where all the learning would be. Little did I know, the real learning would be so deeply personal. As I stated above, your entire life changes and in ways I could not have imagined. As someone who has always been open to, and continues to work on my own self-development, I didn’t know there was still so much I could learn just by ticking the self-employment box. Consider the personal evolution switched to the speed level extreme.

4. The Crucial Role of Community

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, community is what makes the world go around and the good stuff possible. If it wasn’t for friends and family checking in, cooking me the odd dinner and inviting me out — even if I had said no to everything for the last umpteen months — I don’t think it would be possible. Nobody gets anywhere in this life on their own. No one. We all need support. It takes a village as they say and it truly does.

5. The Importance of Your Network

This is separate albeit similar to a community but of a professional kind. It was almost like as soon as I used the word ‘business’, all the entrepreneurs appeared out of the woodwork as if I had shone the start-up bat light into the sky as a call to action. This you would not survive without. It’s simply the people you can soundboard ideas off, share knowledge with, ask advice and most importantly, it’s for the empathy experience. They are doing what you are doing but in their own way, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s tech, creative, product or service, this is like your professional community who reach out to each other so everyone can keep moving in the right direction.

6. Take Holidays

I don’t know how many times in my life I have to learn this lesson. Honestly, and I love holidays so I have no excuse. I now realise that I need a few different kinds of holidays. First, there is ‘me time’, away from humans and technology and then actual breaks with friends and family. It might seem odd when I work alone to still require alone time, but I actually need the space just to recharge my own batteries and reflect. I also need the group activities to energise, invigorate and inspire. Holidays are not a luxury, they are essential.

7. Celebrate the Wins

I’m always looking to improve things whether it’s how an event could run more smoothly, how to make a process more efficient, or even just myself; it’s how my brain works. As a result, I never really stopped to smell the roses when it comes to my own personal achievements throughout my life. Well, working for myself quickly knocked that out of me. As a wise mentor of mine said: “You have to celebrate the wins, as you’ll need that good energy for the dark days, and there will be enough of them.“ These words are so painfully accurate. Now, I celebrate every single thing, I don’t care how insignificant it might seem. It could be finishing a project, receiving positive feedback from a client or signing a new one, I’ll take a moment to take it in, share it with someone and celebrate the win.

8. Fill Up Your Cup

This is a non-negotiable if you want to survive. You have to restock the provisions and know how to do that for yourself. I found this particularly relevant I think because I pursued a creative profession. Not only did I have to figure out how to fill myself up to be able to show up every day for my business and my clients, but I also needed to keep replenishing the creative reserves alongside the physical, mental and emotional ones. This is a trial and error process and if I’m honest, I’m still learning. It’s a fluid exploration but essential. You will feel every drop of depletion if you don’t keep on top of it. It’s like breathing, you need to inhale as much as you exhale so finding your oxygen supply is imperative.

9. Be Big on Boundaries

This is a biggy as it comes in many forms. Firstly, for yourself. I found moving into a wonderful co-working space — shout out to all the crew at Zero Seven One — instantly gave me a balance between work and home which I didn’t have when I was working from home. Now, even if I need to, my entire being does not want to work when I get in my front door, which is great. It means work is work and home is home. Boundaries naturally needed to be set for my clients too, as well as when it comes to working with friends or family. Just because you have relatively flexible working hours does not mean you are available to everyone at all times for example. I’ve been really lucky insofar as I’ve never felt like I’ve been taken advantage of, people seem to respect my boundaries which just shows the importance of them being in place. As the quote goes: “If they get upset from you setting boundaries, they were benefiting from you having none.”

10. Know the Days to Walk Away

No more than the holidays, this is a lesson which took me a few attempts to figure out. My default setting is action but a great warrior knows when not to move as well as when to move. By the end of the year, I found some days where I started knowing I had tons to do, I might end up at the beach to clear the head or even back in bed by lunchtime and that was ok, no one died. Know when you need to switch off, then do it and the work will always get done.

11. Work You Don’t Enjoy Will Cost You

This speaks for itself. There were times when I said to myself: “I’ll just do the project.” as I could do with the work but if it’s something you don’t actually enjoy in some capacity, it will drag, time will pass and before you know it, it’s cost you mentally, emotionally and financially. Just say no. If I find myself in a week where my energy is low, trying to complete something challenging in a deficit space is not worth it. Replacing it with something invigorating is the way of the future.

12. Keep Going

Your greatest achievement could be just around the corner so wouldn’t it be the saddest story in the world if you decided your path ended right before the turn? I often found my biggest wins were moments after a grim couple of days so it’s important to just keep going, trust the process and it will all make sense in the end.

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