20 things I wish I knew when starting out in business.

Jack Watkins, designer writing notes in a Moleskine notepad

We spend a lot of time looking forward as business owners don’t we? That’s super important for sure, but I think it’s good to reflect every now and then to notice how far we’ve come. Whilst I was doing just that, I had the idea to write down 20 things I wish I knew when I was at the start of my business journey… here goes!

1. You don’t need to be at your desk for 8 hours per day.

Sounds obvious, right? But I think it’s something that’s indoctrinated into us by society. I used to feel guilty if I wasn’t at my desk for 8 hours per day… and yet, I find that if I limit my working hours to less, I work smarter and am more productive anyway.

2. Being yourself is the best form of marketing.

I show up on Instagram almost daily, and don’t censor myself all that much either. I’ve found like-minded people, dream clients, and a supportive community of fellow business owners, and people who understand the daily joys and struggles of running your own business. People sometimes ask “Have you tried networking events?” And frankly, no I haven’t. The thought of having “business over breakfast” with a load of sales-y business people and passing work to people just because they go to the same networking event as you makes me cringe. I’d rather be recommended for being good, wouldn’t you? And in this world of online business, you don’t need to be limited by your locality either… the world is your oyster!

3. You attract what you put out.

Speaking of being yourself, and attracting like-minded people… I’ve always found that the kind of work you put out into the world, is likely to attract similar kinds of enquiries. For example, when I launched the Finch Bakery project, it attracted dozens of other bakery enquiries… some good, some bad. And recently, I created a branding project for a fictional ballet school, and when I posted about it, the week after I had an enquiry from a theatre school… yay! I think I’ll work on a fictional brand project for an international pop star next ;)

4. Celebrate the small wins, as well as the big wins too!

We get so engrossed in the day-to-day nitty gritty work that keeps our business running, that we often forget to take a look back and see how far we’ve come. The small wins are just as important as the big ones!

5. You don’t need to be working all of the time.

Weekdays, evenings, weekends… you name it! I’ve worked it. And in all honesty, I don’t mind too much depending upon what I’m working on. But having dedicated time each weekend to relax, rejuvenate, and do something other than running your business is an opportunity not to be scoffed at. Use it wisely! I also think it’s important to give yourself permission to work when it’s best for you. I’m often quite creative in the evenings and late at night, and I used to feel bad for working at that time… who cares? If it works, roll with it!

6. You can’t please everyone.

When I started my business two years ago, I was offering graphic design, web design, photography, video production, music production… all things I like to think I’m pretty good at. And I guess at the beginning of your business journey, you kinda need to try a few different things to see what works, what doesn’t, what resonates, what you enjoy the most, and which things you’d rather not be doing. Since narrowing my offering to be focused on brand design (and web design as a secondary offering to those who’ve been through the branding process), I’m able to be more targeted in my communications, have a clearer idea of who my dream clients are, and can be more intentional about everything I’m doing, because I’m not trying to be all things to all people. I use to think narrowing down my focus would narrow my creativity and reach, but it’s actually done the opposite!

7. It’s just as important to say no to projects, as it is to say yes.

Not every project or enquiry that comes in will be right for you and your business. It sometimes makes more commercial sense to say no to a project, than it does to say yes. The more projects you do, the easier it is to see the red flags e.g. unrealistic timelines, pushy emails, unrealistic budgets, unclear about who they are and what they do etc. If you work on longer term projects like me, it’s important that your clients are a good fit for you and your business… otherwise you’ll find yourself dreading working on a project and that isn’t a good mindset to be in. Trust me, I’ve been there.

8. Bigger ≠ Better

The hustle culture that is rampant on Instagram and the online business world is pretty toxic in my opinion. It promotes the idea that you need to be working all of the time, building a huge team, amassing all of the money in the world. How about defining your own version of enough instead? I highly recommend Paul Jarvis’ book Company of One* if this one resonates with you.

9. Make time for you.

It’s something I’ve written about before in my self care for the self employed post. It’s all too easy to end up working all of the time, and letting other parts of your life slip away. Making time for your own health and wellbeing pays dividends in your business too. If you’re not 100%, your business likely won’t be either.

10. Take more holidays.

Speaking of making more time for you, holidays and time when you don’t need to be working in your business are so important. I went an entire year last year without taking any time off other than weekends, and the odd day here and there. Not this year, I tell you! Taking a break allows you to recharge your batteries, and come back with a refreshed perspective, renewed inspiration, and perhaps even some new ideas!

11. Nurture your creativity.

If your business requires your creativity (and really… whose doesn’t?), it’s important to live and work in a way that allows ideas to grow, leaves time for reflection, and allows you to explore and be curious. Meditation, sleep, spending time in nature, doing things just for fun, and doing things that inspire you are all good ways to nurture your creativity.

12. Urgent ≠ Important

It’s the ever constant battle, isn’t it? If we’re not careful, we end up only ever working on the urgent tasks, and the important tasks are always pushed to the bottom. Make time to work on your business, as well as in it to ensure you continue to develop and improve your business. I try to take one day a week to work “on” my business, rather than in it. It doesn’t always work that way, but it’s something to aim for isn’t it?

13. You have to consciously unlearn things you were told and taught in the corporate world.

The working eight hours a day thing for one. The bullshit opinions of toxic bosses. The idea that your worth is equal to your productivity. The idea that you have to be available between the hours of 9-5 Monday to Friday. The idea that it’s safer to keep your opinions to yourself. I call it “The Corporate Hangover”. When you work in these sorts of environments for multiple years, it requires conscious thought and “unlearning” to train your mind to think differently. Don’t let it dull your brilliance!

14. You need mental strength, grit and tenacity to keep things going.

There’s no denying that running your own business is hard, and not for the fainthearted. It can be lonely, stressful, isolating and draining. It can also be rewarding, enjoyable, fun and take you to places you never even dreamed of. I think you do need a certain amount of mental strength and grit to keep going in the difficult times though. It also requires a certain amount of self-awareness to know when things aren’t working, and what you can do to change that.

15. No one cares as much as you think they do.

I used to get so caught up in worrying what other people might think, and really I don’t think anyone cares as much as we think they do. Trust the process, push past the fear and imposter syndrome, and go for it!

16. Connect with other humans.

This has been a game changer for me over the past few months. When you work from home, or if you’re a company of one, it’s all too easy to spend your days without seeing or talking to anyone. Not exactly healthy is it? I now make time in my schedule to see friends and fellow business owners in my week e.g. going for morning walks, meeting for lunch, co-working from a public place, meeting for a brew. It really does help your mental health to talk to other people, so engage with your audience, speak to other people in your offline and online community, and make time to meet up with friends where you don’t need to talk about business too.

17. Business moves in seasons.

It’s only now that I’ve been in business for over two years that I can start to see the trends in when I’m busier with client projects and when I’m quieter. Now that I know summer tends to be a little quieter, I can be more empowered in my decision making and plan for quieter months – perhaps saving a little more in the months proceeding, planning time off for myself at a similar time, or even planning out some projects just for fun (and to nurture my creativity, and to bring in those dream projects remember!)

18. Diversify your income sources.

It’s a dangerous game to rely on one main income source. For me, that’s client projects, and whilst it’s served me well so far, there’s a ceiling to how much I can earn, how many projects I can take on, and the finite amount of time available. As with the quieter seasons of business mentioned previously, having multiple revenue streams takes away some of the pressure when one income source may be quieter than the others.

19. Invest in yourself.

Hiring a coach / therapist / mentor are some of the best investments I’ve ever made in myself and my business. Having someone to talk to who is there to listen, guide and support you is invaluable. When you work in a team, you can say “Hey, what do you think of this?”, “Oh god, how do I deal with this?”, “Would you mind having a read of this?”… but when you’re a company of one, that disappears. There’s a balance between learning to trust your gut and intuition, and having external advice… but I wholeheartedly recommending investing in yourself and your business with a coach, therapist and/or mentor. Find someone you connect with, someone who inspires you… you’ll be surprised how many doors it will open for you.

20. Have fun!

…and do things other than running your business! It’s not the be-all and end-all.

Knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself if you think back to where you were two years ago?

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20 things I wish I knew when starting out.

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I’m a firm believer that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

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