10 Valuable Lessons from my First Year as an Entrepreneur

Saturday marked an important milestone for me – my first year as a full-time entrepreneur.

As I’ve been approaching this date, I’ve been thinking a lot about the whirlwind of the past year, what it’s taken to get to where I am today and how grateful I am to finally be working for myself.

It’s been a rewarding and challenging journey. And in the past year, I’ve learned so many important lessons – about business and myself.

Although this doesn’t begin to encapsulate everything, here are some of the important things I’ve learned in my first year of business:

  1. Build a platform before you need it. One of the best things I did for my business was to build a strong platform before I quit my day job. While consulting on the side, I also spent time building this blog, growing my social networks and strategically building relationships. All of those things made it much easier to get my business up and running quickly. Starting out from square one would have made the journey that much harder.
  2. Don’t be afraid to get help. Like many entrepreneurs, I’m a do-it-yourselfer. But, there are plenty of tasks I shouldn’t be doing – both from an efficiency standpoint and from a skill standpoint. I’ve learned that I’ve got to hire people to fill those needs so I can spend time on the activities that matter most to my business and my clients. This is going to be even more critical as I grow my business.
  3. Learn when (and how) to say “no.”. This is a lesson I’ve always struggled with. I’m a people-pleaser by nature and love nothing more than to help others out. But, saying “yes” to everything is not good for me as it gobbles up time and leaves me feeling depleted. I’ve learned that I’ve got to say “no” more often so I can say, “yes” to the things that really matter. As an business owner, everyone wants a piece of your time, so I’ve had to sharpen my ability to say “no” and learn how to do it with tact and grace (I’m still working on it though!).
  4. Learn from your mistakes. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t tripped up a time or two in the past year. Although I absolutely hate to mess up, I’ve learned a lot from the times I have. It’s not good to dwell on your mistakes, but it does make sense to figure out what went wrong and how you fix it so you don’t encounter the same problem down the road.
  5. Embrace your freedom. Working long and hard has not been the challenge for me – it’s been the opposite. For me, it’s difficult to give myself permission to take time off or pull myself away from the office. But, I’ve learned that it’s absolutely critical. Working myself ragged only drains my creativity and leaves me unfocused and tired. I’ve learned that I’ve got to get out of the office and go for a run, stop working at a decent hour and take a random day off to spend time with a friend in town. Not only does that help keep me energized, but it also gives me the space to think and dream.
  6. Being selective is okay. When I first started out, I was so determined to succeed that I said “yes” to every business opportunity that came my way. And while that made sense at the time, as my business grows, I need to be more selective about choosing the right companies and partners to work with. That way, I’m making sure it’s not only a good fit for me, but for the client as well.
  7. Build systems to improve efficiency. One of the hardest things about starting a business is that you’re doing everything for the first time. Proposals, agreements, invoices, marketing strategies – you name it. The first time you do it, it takes an inordinate amount of time. That’s why it’s important to build a system or process for tasks that you do over and over again so it makes it faster for you and gives you the ability to scale when you’re ready.
  8. Make time for learning. For me to stay sharp, I’ve got to stay on top of marketing trends and what’s happening in the business world. Although it’s hard to pull yourself away from all of the work that needs to be done, it’s good to spend time reading or attending conferences or events where you can continue to hone your skills.
  9. Constantly build relationships. I’ve talked a lot about the importance of relationship building. And, as a business owner, it’s even more critical as that is where the majority of my business has come from. But, the trick is that you have to be strategic about it. It would be very easy to spend half of your time at every networking event in town or engaging on social media all day. You’ve got to find the right balance that works for you and figure out where it makes sense to spend your time.
  10. Find colleagues and mentors you can trust. Entrepreneurship can be awfully lonely. Although your friends and family can be very supportive, there are few people that truly understand what it’s like to work for yourself. I’ve learned that spending time with fellow business owners is incredibly valuable and gives me an outlet for sharing ideas and frustrations. Pam Slim calls this your High Council of Jedi Knights. I’m thankful to have a number of smart people in my council who I can lean on and I’m always looking to expand that circle.

I’m so grateful to my family, friends and colleagues who have supported and encouraged me along the way. Thanks to you, I’m looking forward to many more years of entrepreneurship ahead!

What about you? What has entrepreneurship taught you? What lessons have you found to be most valuable?

Image credit: The fine folks at Proof Branding designed this awesome poster. You can purchase it here.

About Laura Click

Laura Click is founder and CEO of Blue Kite Marketing, a Nashville-based integrated marketing firm. In addition to being the lead blogger on the Blue Kite blog, Laura is a proud Mizzou alum, avid runner and dog lover. You can connect with Laura on Twitter at @lauraclick, on LinkedIn or Google Plus.

  • http://twitter.com/nash_jen Jennifer Nash

    Great points! I can particularly identify with the first one. I’ve successfully worked as a consultant in a different field, but I had the platform. This time, however, I was pushed, so to speak, before I had the platform in place. Now, I face the difficult decision of backtracking and doing this work as a side job or forging onward.

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Certainly, building a platform first is always going to be ideal. But, I know that’s not always possible. I sounds like you’re in a tough spot – perhaps some outside perspective from a business coach or trusted colleague will help you decide what to do. I hope you can find the answer that makes the most sense for you!

  • http://twitter.com/TheSalesLion Marcus Sheridan

    Laura, it’s been great watching you spread your wings this last year and do what so many others want to do, but never have the faith to take that leap. Regarding “saying No,” that was also the #1 lesson I learned my first year, especially because, like you, I don’t want to sound rude or unkind to others…but it ends up coming at a steep price. I think the key to much of this is learning to say “no” much more than learning to say “yes.”

    Big smiles and keep up the great work!!

    Marcus

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Marcus! That really means a lot coming from you. :)

      The saying “no” thing has ALWAYS been hard for me. I’ve learned that saying “yes” gives you instant gratification, but leaves you frustrated down the road. But, it doesn’t make it any easier to do!

      Hope things are going well for you too, my friend!

  • http://twitter.com/BillSeaver Bill Seaver

    Congrats on this milestone. I knew you could make this leap succeed.

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks so much, friend! I really appreciate all of your encouragement along the way!

  • http://www.312digital.com/ Sean McGinnis

    Awesome post Laura. Some great reminders I really needed to hear this week. I couldn’t agree more about that first one. Having a platform has helped me back-fill my income while on my own as I’m starting out this year. Thank you for taking the time to write this. See you at Social Slam!

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks so much, Sean! So glad you’ve found it helpful. It’s been fun to watch you join the ranks of us entrepreneurs and I remember how I was in your shoes exactly one year ago. Time flies!

      And yes, the platform piece is huge. The fact that you’re already known in the digital space has got to help you get things up and running. Can’t wait to see you in April! It will be a blast!

  • http://twitter.com/jwidmer Joel Widmer

    Your incredible Laura! So proud of you and it’s been a privilege (and a ton of fun) watching you and your business grow like crazy!! Happy 1 year!!

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks for the kind words, Joel! I appreciate you being so supportive along the way. I appreciate having you in my corner! :)

  • http://twitter.com/AnneDGallaher Anne Deeter Gallaher

    Great post, Laura! I’m in year 13 and agree with all your points. Our connections on Twitter have helped immensely with finding the right skills to have “on my bus.” Permission to enjoy time off is always a challenge because we’re the business. On Mother’s Day I did leave my iPhone at home and our family went away for the weekend. My sons thought I must have a fever!! Continued success to you and to Sean!! See you both at SoSlam in April! Can’t wait.

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks for stopping by, Anne! It’s good to hear from you.

      You’re right – Twitter is absolutely invaluable. I can count a lot of my success as a business owner on the relationships that sprung out of Twitter.

      Carving time off can be challenging – especially in our overly connected world. But, I think it’s really healthy to do it. I try to be largely off of social networks and email on Saturdays. It really helps me refresh.

      Looking forward to seeing you again at Social Slam! It’s going to be a blast!

  • http://www.comprehensivemedia.com/ Joel W. Smith

    Great stuff Laura and Congratulations! I wish I had known these when I started my business – now some 23 years ago!

    As relates to “making time for learning”, I’ve had an executive coach for about 3 years now and it’s been one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. So I can’t agree more with you.

    BTW – On “building a platform”, if you’ve not already read it, Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform, is a great foundation on “building it before you need it”. I highly recommend!

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Hi Joel – Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your experience. I love your point about an executive coach. I worked with one when I was first starting consulting on the side to work toward the leap toward full-time entrepreneurship. And honestly, it might make sense to do it again. It’s really useful to have an outside perspective to bounce ideas off of.

      I’ve not read Michael’s book yet, but I follow his blog and he offers tremendous advice for building a platform. He’s certainly modeled that very well. I’ll have to check out his book!

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      • http://www.comprehensivemedia.com/ Joel W. Smith

        My pleasure Laura. You’ve built a GREAT platform.

        BTW – I use Building Champions as my Executive Coaching Resource. You can find them here – http://www.buildingchampions.com.

        Are you attending Michael’s Platform conference next week? If so, look me up! We’ll be there videotaping the event.

  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    Hi Laura,

    First of all, congrats!

    Love the list …

    The “Don’t be afraid to get help” thing is invaluable. I’m a do-it-yourselfer as well, but man that can get you in trouble.

    I’ve always embraced the freedom and now realize I could never work for someone else, but my challenge always came with number 3: Learning to say “no!” It took me a very long time to say no to certain projects, but saying “yes” too often will indeed hold you back.

    I’m still working on number 9 ;)

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by, Craig!

      These are definitely lessons I’m still trying to master – especially getting help and saying no! They are hard lessons, but ones we all need to learn, I think. As for #9, I think that’s something we should always be doing. I think owning a business has just made that even more critical.

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ Davina K. Brewer

    Adding this to a draft I’m tweaking.. also a DIY type but realize, there are times you need to go pro – the pros know. Think 9 and 10 were and still are my sticking points – didn’t have that vast network of contacts when I started, struggle to build it and even w/ social, it’s important to keep it positive, productive. H/T on the first year Laura. FWIW.

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      It’s interesting how everyone has a different pain point on this list. I have no problem building relationships – but identifying people I can trust and lean on for support and advice is definitely a bit harder.

      But, hopefully, knowing that will make us both more deliberate about making it happen, right?!

      Thanks for stopping by, Davina!

  • http://twitter.com/kateupdates Kate Finley

    So happy for you, Laura! This is a great list of advice. Very timely for me. Thanks for sharing … I look forward to following you and getting to know you more.

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Thanks for the kind words, Kate! And congrats on making the leap yourself! Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to getting to know you too! :)

  • http://www.ltc-associates.com/ LTCA INC

    Hi Laura,

    I can’t even remember how I stumbled across you or your blog, but yours is one of the few I consistently read in my (very) hectic workday. As you can tell, even when I’m several weeks behind, I still read my “back issues”!

    In my case, what resonated for me was item # 7. As a small business, we’ve had to create so many proposals, agreements, contracts, brochures, templates, schedules, releases, you name it! You are so right– the first time you build your template naturally takes the most time. But once you’ve got it out of the way, you can begin to focus on the creative side!

    • http://flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

      Stephen – It means so much that you come back time and time again to read my posts and share your thoughts. Thanks for taking the time. I really appreciate you!

      And yes, I think #7 is huge. This is something I’m still working on, but I think systems thinking is so important for businesses. That way, we’re not reinventing the wheel each time we do something.

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