21 things I did in my 4th year of business

I accidentally started to get the hang of running a business this year. I say accidentally, it was three years of advice, gentle prodding in the right direction from mentors, and finally seeing what people meant. Sometimes you need to be in the right place for information to fall into place. This week I am celebrating my 4th year in business and, as it is 2021, I’m sharing 21 things I did over the past 12 months.

A caveat: this was my best year in business, but it wasn’t my highest revenue year. In fact from February to April I didn’t really have a business. I brought in just £120 in March. Stories I don’t think we share enough as business owners are about money. We hear about the ups, but not so much about the downs. I found it impossible to run a business while dealing with grief. This is a story about listening to good people, friendship and community.

Simplification really works

When I started my business, like many people, I would write anything for anyone. I had a complex jumble of offers. When I emerged, blinking, into the sunlight over the summer I realised I had recovered my business – and I was writing the same thing for everyone: 6 page websites. Each one has a homepage, about page, work with me or services overview page, and 3 sales pages.

It enabled me to be very clear in my messaging about what people got when they worked with me. I do also offer case studies and help people with content creation, but first and foremost, I’m a website copywriter.

If you’re struggling to get across what you do, pick one offer that works really well for you and your clients and talk about that.

I won Blogger of the Year at the Digital Women awards

This was totally unexpected and a lovely surprise! I don’t really have a business lesson to share from this except that, for personal reasons, I didn’t attend the event and I regret not going along and meeting everyone. If you get the opportunity to go and be part of an event, do it if you can.

I worked with awesome small businesses

I’ve been lucky to work with so many amazing people over the past 12 months. One of my favourite aspects of what I do is getting to find out about other people’s businesses. 

You probably don’t notice how brilliant your work is. You help people get results. You have knowledge people need. And you have created a unique offer. Give yourself a high five!

I teamed up with Laura from Worditude

Laura Robinson runs a brilliant community for people who want to write for their businesses and would like support along the way. It’s called The Worditude Club and members can send in their latest website copy, blog posts, or emails for feedback. Laura asked if I could help her with the workload (and allow her to go on holiday). It’s been the highlight of my year! I’ve loved getting to know everyone and help them hone their writing.

I’ve always believed in community over competition and this is a great example of how it works. There is more than enough work to go around for everyone. Help out others, share your knowledge, and keep an open mind. It’s a lot more fun than feeling like a squirrel in autumn all the time!

I read Fix This Next

One event I got a lot of value from this year was a masterclass with Mike Michalowicz, which was part of the Youpreneur Incubator. He had just written Fix This Next, which he describes as a compass for your business. Whenever anyone has asked me for a business book recommendation over the past few months, I have said Fix This Next. 

I had spent 3 years blindly blundering around, attempting to work out how to run a business. I didn’t make great business decisions. I wanted to make the business rollercoaster be less terrifying. Fix This Next helped me start to cushion the ride. It was instrumental in helping me to do this…

I sorted out my business finances

As I said at the start, this was my best year in business but not my highest revenue year. However, it was the first year I made a profit. Why am I telling you this? Talking about money is vulgar isn’t it? Well it can be but if you are struggling to make ends meet and feel awkward when someone asks ‘how’s business?’ you are not alone. I’m also going to share, briefly, how I did it:

  • I took a pay cut
  • I went through all the business outgoings and decided whether they were necessary or not
  • I put 25% of everything that came into my business in a separate bank account
  • I made a cash flow forecast so I could tell if I was able to spend money or not
  • I budgeted for equipment, like a new laptop, and put a portion of the money aside each month

I still got the occasional shock. This month my website hosting company charged my card early when I had intended to switch to a cheaper supplier.

I switched the start of my year to September

This might seem like an odd one but you probably have a couple of different times that you view as ‘the start of the year’. I could have January, as the anniversary of starting my business and the start of the year, or April, as the start of the tax year. Over the summer, I decided to run my business September to August. I have two young children and I try to take August off. I haven’t managed to this yet. By making my year start in September, I can work towards that goal more easily.

Fix This Next and Atomic Habits, which I read over Christmas, both promote the virtue of making things easy for yourself to set yourself up for success. What could you do to help you achieve your goals without additional effort?

I gave myself a business development month

As I said, I failed to take August off again this year, but come September, I decided to make use of it being the start of the year to have a business development month. I didn’t take on any new clients and instead sat down and looked at what I was doing in the business and where I should focus my efforts. It gave me the time to actually do the work of some of the online programmes I had signed up for.

How could you make time to work on your business? If you read that and thought ‘ a MONTH?!’ could you carve out a week, or a regular day when you can dream, map, and create?

I rewrote my website (again)

This was one of my September tasks. Having realised what the focus of my business was, I rewrote my website to reflect that. Having a website is like painting the Forth Bridge, it is never finished. You can redress your shop window to reflect the focus of your business each year, six months, or quarter. Don’t feel wedded to things you have sold before if they are not working for you.

Website screenshot

I found not going to networking events felt good

Before lockdown happened in March, I was used to going to face to face networking events almost every week. They were all great events, with a lovely crowd and good speakers. But they often took me out of the house at teatime and I felt zonked when I got back home. I know lots of people are really missing going to meetings, but I have to confess I’m not. One of the things I have become more aware of is the growing introvert entrepreneur community led by people like Fifi Mason and Susanna Reay. I used to think I had to go to all of the events, now I realise that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself.

But I missed my favourite conferences

There are some key events in my calendar every year where I meet up with people I only see at conferences. I started going because the speaker line ups are good, and that’s still the case, but now when I walk into the room, I know people and can have a catch up over coffee or in a bar. I’ve really missed this! I can’t wait for autumn when I can hopefully go back to MarketEd.Live, Atomicon, the Youpreneur Summit, and Cambridge Social Media Day.

May King Tsang at CSMDay2019

And I liked chats without agenda

One of the highlights of this year has been Drive The Network’s open chats on Zoom. Anyone can go along. They have a half hour watercooler session on Tuesdays and an hour long networking meeting where you get divided into breakout rooms on Thursdays. It’s been great for human connection, meeting new people, and catching up with friends. Come along and join us!

I dialled down my FOMO

The drastic reduction in available time due to lockdown led to an increase in focus. If you have a client deadline to meet and very little time to make it happen, it’s a lot easier to say no to other tempting calls on your time. I’ve seen many great offers and events happening over the past few months that I have just had to accept I can’t take part in. It’s ok not to join in if that’s going to take you away from what you need to get done (or impact your mental health).

I focused my social media attention on Instagram

A couple of years ago I watched Andrew and Pete present their 90:10 Rule talk. It was brilliant. Focus on one thing 90% of the time, and have 10% for playing with other options. I’ve really struggled to do this with social media. I feel like I need to be on every platform and active there every day. It was taking up a lot of time. With lockdown and having to homeschool as well as run my business, that just wasn’t feasible. I made Instagram my focus.

I chose it because I like challenging myself to come up with a visual post, I also enjoy hanging out on the platform. People are more open, you can get into conversations and find out more about them than just what they do for their business. At a time when I couldn’t go out and meet people, it enabled me to keep in touch and have fun. I didn’t feel it had to be all business. I also didn’t feel I was being sold at. And there’s less politics on Instagram, which over the past 12 months, I found helpful for my mental health.

Being active on Instagram has led to clients choosing to work with me, so if you’re wondering, yes you can get B2B clients on there! I’m still on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn but I rarely post on them and I feel less pressure to be present.

I outsourced

This was one of the scariest things I did this year but it was also incredibly rewarding. Having chosen Instagram as my social media platform of choice, I was acutely aware of my lack of graphic design skills. I wanted to create posts which looked good and represented my brand. I run a text-based business, the words needed to shine.

I asked within my network and came across Nicky Lees. Her work fitted my aesthetic perfectly. I told her about my business, where The Story Cave came from, and what I wanted to do. She created images which brought it all together perfectly. If you need a graphic designer, I recommend Nicky!

An grid of 9 Instagram images

I got more comfortable with being myself

This ties in with Instagram as well but I did relax more this year. Whether it was that lockdown meant I didn’t feel as much social pressure, or that I had a steady stream of wonderful clients, I don’t know, but I was happier to be myself and not worry about what others might think of me. I shared more selfies, I watched what other people did with Reels and stories and learned some of the techniques, I was happy to experiment and not worry about whether it looked professional.

I experimented with live video

How many times have you heard people talk about how video is the future of the internet? With very little time to do my own marketing over the summer I started playing with video. I’d sneak away from the children for a few minutes and hide in the garden with my phone on a mini tripod and just speak to the camera. My show is Copy and Coffee and I use it to give copy and content marketing tips.

Video is a great way of letting people get to see you and if you don’t get too caught up in the editing side of things (or you can outsource it) then it’s a quick and easy way to create useful content for your audience. I found going live made me get it out of the way, then I could download it, add captions, and upload it again.

I took part in Facebook lives

This was the most nerve-wracking thing I did! With face-to-face events no longer available, public speaking opportunities switched to being in Facebook groups. I hadn’t really used Facebook Live before and was terrified of the tech going wrong. It did go wrong occasionally. But I found that when it did, it wasn’t the end of the world. People were accommodating and things usually came right.

If you’re holding back from doing something because of tech fears, or it being an unfamiliar platform, have a go. I learned a lot, including how to keep going if you can’t share your slides.

I tested out three new workshops

As well as delivering talks, I also had the opportunity to test drive three new workshops. Creating courses has been on my business wish list for a while and it was great to be able to help people have breakthroughs live on the calls. The feedback was really positive and I will be launching short courses to help you with content marketing soon.

I created my first product

2020 was going to be the year I wrote a book. For various reasons, it didn’t happen. But I kept coming up with ideas for printed products. This month I took the plunge and actually created one. I learned how to use Amazon’s print on demand service, KDP, and the proof copy came through last week. I need to do some tinkering with it but I am looking forward to getting my product range designed and on sale over the next few months.

Rachel Extance holding My Content Planning Notebook

I accepted the need for rest

Getting time off when you run your own business is hard. You might have to turn down work and that’s quite a wrench. As Christmas got closer this year, I decided I was going to take the full two weeks away from work. I had planned to close in mid-December, instead I worked right up to Christmas Eve, my wrapping, once again, happening ridiculously late at night. But that decision to have a proper break was absolutely right. So often we feel we have to keep going but our brains aren’t built for that. You need to have a rest. Lockdown has already messed up my goal of not working weekends in 2021 but I am giving myself more space this year.

Which of my 21 experiences have you found helpful? Let me know in the comments.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Rachel, thanks for sharing such an interesting range if stuff. I like the sound of Fix This Next, that could be just what I have been looking for. It’s a really encouraging post, hope you have a great 2021.

  2. That’s a really useful post Rachel. It will come as no surprise that I encourage everyone, no matter how tiny their business is, to get a grip of their finances. Its so much better to have everything clear instead of second guessing what you can afford to spend or turn down.
    There are lots of really useful tips here for everyone, whatever stage their business is at.

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Rachel Extance

Rachel Extance

Award-winning journalist and blogger. I help businesses communicate who they are, what they do, and why. If you struggle to talk about yourself in your marketing, get in touch with me.

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