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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?