Sitting in the corner of our little bedroom in our little duplex, I typed my very first post. I had started my photography business about a year prior and finding resources and information was nothing like it is today! Pinterest didn’t exist, and blogs were not plentiful. I would scour and scour, and when I found something that could help my little business, I’d get so excited that I had to tell my hubby that very moment.
There was just one little problem. I did my scouring after everyone went to bed, so he would frequently be woken up in the dead of the night because I couldn’t contain my excitement. His enthusiasm never seemed to match mine as he sleepily tried to comprehend what I was waking him for. But the thing was, I just knew I couldn’t be the only one trying to find this info – so, I decided to start a blog, this blog. Back then it was called Go4ProPhotos. That’s because I was the one going for pro. It makes me smile…
Time has an amazing way of expanding our minds to what’s really possible.
Back then my babies really were still babies (but I’ll talk about the lessons of growing business and babies later this week). None of them were even in school yet, so I would work on my business and my little blog while everyone slept. I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of it. It sounds like a perfect love story, but the reality is that eventually “never being able to get enough of it” landed me in an ambulance. Lessons… so many lessons have been learned.
That’s what time does. Time teaches you what you should have seen all along but didn’t have the maturity to recognize yet.
So seven years later… What have I learned? I sat down and started writing a list. I was thinking back on what made the biggest difference for my growth, as well as what some of the most painful lessons had been as well. Here’s what I came up with…
1. Bravery matters in business (a lot). Being a business owner means taking risks and putting yourself out there. You may be rejected, you may have an idea that’s a total flop, or you may get mean emails that make you cry. None of that means you’re a failure. YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. The only way you actually fail is if you quit out of defeat. Teams lose, but it doesn’t mean they stop showing up to the rest of their games. You’re going to lose some. Take your losses and learn from them. Review, revise, revamp, and re-try! Being brave has nothing to do with not being scared. Being brave is about being terrified and moving forward anyway.
2. Only spend when you know what those dollars are going to become. Spend your dollars like they are the last ones you’re going get. If it’s not going to make you more money or save you more time… Don’t invest it, especially at the beginning. I get it. You feel cool saying you’re on the 27″ iMac and the latest iPhone. You own some crazy expensive handbag or camera bag, and all of this cost money that you didn’t really have. Let’s be honest, these items (whatever your “things” are) are not giving you more time or more money. If you’re being completely honest, it helps you feel and probably even more so look like you made it, but it’s not actually helping you make it. What will help you make it is more money in your bank account, and less or no debt. That’s when you’ve really made it.
3. Business hours aren’t (or rather shouldn’t be) just for those 9-5 folks. “I’ll be able to do this when it works for me.” That’s what I told myself. “It will give me so much freedom.” That’s the magic word that draws countless of us in to this crazy (but also awesome) world of entrepreneurialism. We want to do what we want, where we want, when we want. The idea is always the same – ‘owning my own business will allow me set my own rules’. For most, that turns out to be a huge myth. Due to poor planning, a lack of attention to creating systems and procedures, and an often overwhelming desire to just focus on the “fun” stuff, we find ourselves working ridiculous hours that if you weren’t the owner, you’d never stand for!
I was slow to get organized and build my systems, and it’s one thing I wish I could have learned earlier. There is regret there because this is the area that internally affects those we love the most. When I finally did get those things in order, I no longer felt controlled by my inbox, my workload, and my to-do list. I created hours that worked for me and my family, I scheduled time for myself, I outsourced, and hired my own little virtual team, and to my surprise, my profits soared!
4. Be kind and make connections. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. Friends and family rarely get what we do. They don’t know if they should treat your “thing” as a hobby or real. This can often leave business owners feeling deflated. Don’t let it. You have a rare sparkle in you called entrepreneurialism, and it is a gift. It makes you special! It is something that you must cherish and understand that while many won’t get it, it doesn’t mean they don’t need to see it. Because it does get lonely, it’s important to make connections. Today, this is easier than ever. It used to be really weird to have online friends, but now any long standing online business owner will tell you that they have virtual friendships that mean just as much, if not more than many of their “real-life” friendships.
5. Brand Perception isn’t just real – it’s everything. This is one of those “wish I would have sooner” things. People make a decision – a judgment – about your brand in less than half of a second. I can’t even snap that fast! That’s how quickly it happens and they don’t get to really know us. The great news is this… we have the ability and the power to guide their perceptions directly to what we want them to think. When decisions are made in that short of time, what are they judging? Visuals… It’s all about the brand.
Client (specifically the right clients) opportunities, such as speaking engagements, interviews, features, and collaborations, all increased, improved, and became a lot more inspiring for me once I finally committed to building a strong and very intentional brand! I don’t think I would have ever been asked to keynote for Inspired Retreat or speak at Blink Conference, Chic Retreat, Luxe Workshop, or any of the others I’ve had to decline if I was still rocking that original orange mode-podge branding (it was bad!). In fact, I know I wouldn’t have.
Need a little help refining your brand perception? We have an amazing 2-part video series and free brand development guide here, that I highly recommend featuring brand designer Ashlee Proffitt.
6. Be a sponge… The huge thick absorbent kind. There is so much to learn and know, and we are in an incredible era where knowledge literally surrounds us and is at our very finger tips. Utilize this! Learn, study, grow… Don’t stop. And don’t let yourself get to busy to make time for learning! I think by now, I’ve read over 100 business books and taken over a dozen courses and trainings. Guesstimating the average business book takes 9 hours to read and the average course about 15 hours to complete, I have invested over 10,000 hours into educating myself as an entrepreneur over the last 8 years. That’s not including the conferences, retreats, and workshops I’ve attended. I am constantly looking for new ideas, how I can be different, and where I can be better. Not better than someone else, but better than the me that showed up last year… last month… even last week.
7. Build your list every single day. This is one I wish I would have done even more vigorously and earlier, but I’m still pretty grateful to have learned as early as I did that your business’ success is in your list. List building (i.e. gathering email addresses of clients and potential clients who are interested in what you have to offer and how you can help them) has been and continues to be the most important asset I have in my business. Learning to offer great value, share your personality, create interaction, and get your readers to open your emails is probably one of the most important lessons any entrepreneur in the digital age can learn. I haven’t mastered it yet, but I love that I get to keep working on it.
8. Acknowledge what you suck at. This one may seem like a bit of a downer, but the earlier you recognize where your strengths are and just as importantly what you suck at… the better your chances for success. It all comes down to time. In order to reach big dreams, you must be focused, diligent, and productive. When you’re taking on tasks that are not your strengths, you’re slow, you’re easily distracted, and your holding yourself back from getting the goal. As quickly as you can, learn to outsource. Hire people who’s strengths are your weakness and allow them to help you push the goal forward. Do it as quickly as you can.
9. Engage, engage, engage. One of the worst feelings that a potential or current client experiences is being ignored – plus it’s just plain rude. Now sometimes an email is going to slip through a crack, or a mistake will be made. Apologize, make it right, and move forward. But I am not only referring to the negative. I also want to strongly encourage you to interact with people to build relationships. If someone engages with you by leaving you a comment on your blog, reacting to a post, or leaving you a review – Respond! Say hello, say thank you, say something…They are the lifeline of your business. Let them know how much you appreciate them.
10. Some people are just bad apples. You’re going to run into them. It might be in the form of a client, an email from a reader, a blog comment, or a video made and shared to make fun of you, your beliefs, and your family (all of which have happened to me). If you dare to stand out, it’s not going to be only the nice people who notice. It’s going to happen. And now that you know it’s going to happen, I want you to promise yourself two things. First, when you see it happen to someone else, be brave enough to stand up for them and not let them feel alone. Second, if this is happening, you will acknoweledge that you are doing something right, and while you may need to cry in your closet for a little while (I did), that you will eventually stand back up, wipe your tears, and get back to work. The only way to really shut them down is to show them just how brightly you can shine. And hey, it could be worse – you could be married to that jerk!
11. Make sure your dreams scare you & dreams rarely come true on the first star. Dreams grow as people grow. One of my first small business dreams was to earn $1000 per month. That seemed like a far stretch back then, and I had to work hard for it! As I reached that dream, a new dream (or goal) took it’s place. Over and over, I’ve dreamed bigger – let it scare me – and then went after it. When I don’t achieve it on my first try (and I never do), I don’t for one second think “well there you go, it just can’t work for me”. I think, “Okay. That’s not the way to get there. Maybe this is…” Then I try another road and another road, until I learn my way around enough to finally get to my dream.
To sum it up, I’ve learned that bullies exist even in grown up form. I’ve learned that being optimistic and hopeful is a lot happier way to live. I’ve learned to know my why (why I do, am, live, what I do) and to put the roles I play (wife, mom, business owner, etc.) in their proper order according to that why.
I’ve learned that dreams, growth, and goals take time, and that they also take a lot of uncomfortable hard work. I’ve learned that being your own boss really can be as incredible as you hoped it could be. I’ve learned that kindness really is a great business policy,
even especially when they don’t deserve it.
And most importantly, I’ve learned to dream big, if not for you then, because others need to see what’s really possible.
I’m obsessed with these products, so must give a shout-out to: