What I’ve learned from my first year in business

This week marks the end of my first year in business! It?s a clich??to say it?s been a rollercoaster but it has. I had no idea what running my own business would involve when I started out. Highlights have included getting to live tweet a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels, learning to make videos, having the courage to go on camera, and making lots of new friends.

Here is what I have learned during my first 12 months:

Networking is not as bad as it sounds

Photo of a cupcake with frosted icing and a lit sparkler on top by Audrey Fretz on Unsplash.
I’m celebrating my first year in business! Photo by Audrey Fretz on Unsplash

I don?t do small talk. Walking into a room full of strangers and having to ?make conversation? does not appeal. But I have learned three things about networking:

  1. You?re not the only person in the room feeling that way. In fact, I would guesstimate at least 50% of the other people would also prefer to run away and not talk to anyone.
  2. There is networking and networking. There are the events where people ask ?what do you do?? and thrust a business card in your hand. Then there are the events where people want to have an interesting conversation.
  3. Meet Up is a wonderful way to learn about things which interest you and meet like-minded others. I go to a Meet Up event at least once a month now.

Making connections takes time and networking is not a one-off activity. But keep trying until you find the spaces which work for you, where you look forward to going out in the evening rather than dreading it, and you will quickly find new friends and connections.

You can be in business but not actually doing business

This is an uncomfortable truth but there were many months during this year while I was in business but not actually doing any paid work. It?s easy to make excuses: ?I?m just starting out.? ?I don?t know how to find leads.? ?I?m no good at networking.?

But after a while you have to face the fact that if no-one is employing your services and giving you cash in return (money, not exposure. Exposure doesn?t pay the bills) everything is going to come to a sudden stop.

I reached a point where I had to have an honest conversation with myself about making changes or going back to being employed by someone else. Thankfully I got the help I needed to turn things around.

Help is out there – and there?s nothing wrong with asking for it

Freelancing and running your own business is lonely. You are the only one who knows the numbers. You are the person looking at the bills going out each month and having to make everything work to pay them. When you work on your own you are not just doing your own job. You are also the CEO, sales manager, accountant and marketing department. There were, and are, lots of things I don?t know how to do.

There are plenty of great places to learn, meet others in the same boat and find other small businesses who you can outsource to. A huge shout out to the wonderful Drive Tribe who have been a constant support over the past six months.

It’s ok to change direction if things aren’t working

Ever had an idea for something and when it came to doing it, it didn’t quite work out how you had planned? So it was with my first business. It just didn’t suit me. Panic set in. I had spent months trying to get a business off the ground, going to events and introducing myself and it. I had created social media profiles and built up followers. Would it be ok to do something different? YES!

No-one questioned my decision. It wasn’t?embarrassing to shelve the website or turn up to the same events and say I was doing something different. I felt happier. And after all, what’s the point in working for yourself if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing?

You need to be accountable to yourself

However successful your business, you know there are things you would like to do (or need to do) to drive it forward. When these things don?t happen, it?s easy to say they don?t matter. After all, you are the only person who knows they haven?t been done. There?s no-one asking where your blog post is, why you haven?t done anything about your social media or what you are doing to develop the next product. Creating ways of holding yourself accountable are important.

I?ve been lucky to make business friends who I can talk to regularly about what we?re doing in our businesses. I also have a wonderful business mentor who keeps me focused and gently steers me in the right direction when I go off course.

Collaboration rocks!

I always used to think being in business was competitive. But the most important lesson I have learned this year is that it?s much better to work with, and learn from, others – even if they are in the same field as you.

I am very lucky to be a member of the DM Collective, a group of social media managers trained by Digital Mums. We are all there for each other around the clock. We keep each other updated with the latest developments, commiserate when things go awry and support each other as we grow our businesses. We?re a team.

I have also been privileged to get to know lots of other business owners locally, some of whom do the same things as me, some of whom don?t but are in the same sphere. By working together we can create brilliant events and help others to achieve their goals. Collaboration allows us to do new things and take on projects we couldn?t do otherwise.

I?ve made lots of wonderful friends this year and that?s been the biggest win of all.

Picture of Rachel Extance

Rachel Extance

Award-winning journalist and blogger. I help service-based business owners communicate who they are, what they do, and why. If you struggle to talk about yourself on your website or your content marketing, get in touch with me.

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2 Responses

  1. You’re on fire this year Rachel! Cracking blog posts to start 2018. You should consider writing for a liv…


    As someone who, one day, aspires to be where you are it’s fascinating to read your honest appraisal of your first year. Thanks for sharing it.

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