A year ago I made the scariest decision of my life. Being a natural born control freak, scary decisions were something I avoided at all costs. But, the decision to pack in my full-time job to go at it alone in my own business, was about as close to throwing caution to the wind as I’d ever come.
Nonetheless, I did it. And 365 days later, I feel like a totally different human. Although my face is a little more wrinkly and my pocket certainly isn’t as full, my head and my soul are so much better for it.
When I went to university I thought that would be the pinnacle of my education. While I did become fully versed on the most palatable boxed wines on the market, it was nothing in comparison to the learning I’ve done in the past 12 months. So with that in mind, grab a glass of your favourite cheap plonk and have a read of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt about the first year of building a small business.
Taking a small business from a sideline into being a full-time occupation was a big step for me. I did, however, think that I pretty much knew all there was to know about how my business behaved. I’d been through a few seasons with it, had the bones of the business sorted and had made enough mistakes to know what I didn’t want for my brand. All good, right? WRONG. There’s a big difference between having a sideline and relying on a business to pay your share of the mortgage.
There were so many things I hadn’t thought of and so many expenses involved in establishing a business. All the accounting lingo that I couldn’t decipher, the retail talk that I was clueless about and the general business principles that were lost on me. All made me feel like a total idiot and imminent failure.
And still, every day I’m learning new things about my business and business in general. Instead of freaking out about my lack of knowledge, I’ve changed my approach and decided to enjoy this education of mine.
Lesson learnt: Never in the history of ever has anyone known everything. My guiding thought is fake it till you make it, and learn to type very quickly and specifically into Google so you can read up while they’re none the wiser.
I remember my sister (who is also a small business owner and all round #girlboss) saying this to me when I first left work. And boy, was she right. When you’re selling a product, it might all seem like sunshine and rainbows as the orders start rolling in. But unless you’re reinvesting almost all the money the business is making, you’re bound to become stagnant very quickly.
There’s going to be some serious graft before you’re sailing on a yacht in the Mediterranean. The first few years of your business will more likely resemble keeping a rubber dingy afloat in a largish puddle. No one has ever been an actual overnight success. If you’re going into business to make a bunch of money in the first six months, you, my friend, are delusional.
Lesson learnt: There is light at the end of what seems like the world’s longest tunnel. Push yourself and the business hard and you will totally redefine what success means, and learn to celebrate the smaller wins.
Most people who have never had their own business will think that you’re just having a laze around in the sunshine most days. You’ll get raised eyebrows, condescending looks and a discerning frown if you dare to compare your daily work to that of working in a corporate environment. For me, my business has been seen as some sort of glorified crafting hour. A hobby, if you will. Yeah, I stay awake at night worrying about the success of my hobby. Right.
Thing is, none of that really matters. My skin has never been thicker since running a business full-time and yours will need to be too. People are always going to have an opinion. And like my Dad says when debating the validity of climate change, people are entitled to those opinions.
Lesson learnt: Don’t waste your time worrying about what other people think. It’s a fruitless exercise that leads nowhere. Let them have an opinion, and when you’re rich and famous don’t send them so much as a Christmas card.
There’s going to be some serious graft before you’re sailing on a yacht in the Mediterranean. The first few years of your business will more likely resemble keeping a rubber dingy afloat in a largish puddle.
I can almost guarantee that most people dream of working at home all the time. The long lie-ins, the ability to cook yourself a fancy well-balanced lunch and so much free time on your hands, you’ll finally be able to master the art of crocheting that you’ve been attempting for years. Lies. All lies. I was like most and longed for those very things when I worked in the city. But let me tell you, working by yourself at home is much more difficult than you think.
There are days where I literally don’t speak to anyone at all. Those days by the time my husband gets home, I’m more excited than our puppy Obi to see him. The moment the front door clicks, I’m ecstatic to interact with someone who isn’t covered in fur and named after a Star Wars character.
If you’re considering becoming self-employed, you need to be prepared for spending A LOT of time by yourself. And, even more importantly, being able to stay focused and motivated when there’s no one around spurring you on. Just like most things, the longer you’re doing it, the easier it will become. So don’t let that feeling of isolation you’re bound to get in the first few months deter you from your hustle.
Lesson learnt: After a few minor breakdowns over feeling isolated, I’ve learnt to make sure I’ve planned to see friends during the week; even if this means sacrificing some of my weekend to make up for it. And even though I’ve become much more confident being alone all day, I still FaceTime my family most days just to make sure I’m somehow connected to the outside world.
A very wise woman once said to me that if we never make mistakes, we never learn anything. Well, I’ve made some serious blunders in the last year and yes, just like she predicted, I’ve learnt loads from them.
I’m the kind of person that gets really excited about new ideas. So much so, I like to run away with them to a land far far away where no one from reality can find us. This propensity to drop everything for something new and exciting is a sure-fire way to make mistakes. To cut a very long example short, I bought some machinery last year without properly researching it. I didn’t read the fine print of the contract and ended up having to pay a fee to return it to the tune of about £250. A lesson much costlier than my adolescent violin tuition, but much more valuable in terms of what I learnt.
In hindsight, it was actually a reasonable fee to change the way I operate with new ideas. I’ve taught myself restraint, something fairly new to me. Instead of marching ahead, I talk new ideas through thoroughly with someone (namely my long-suffering Husband). This step is so important because discussing it with someone else can bring forward a bunch of issues that may need solving before taking the leap and investing in the new idea.
Lesson learnt: Instead of beating myself up about making mistakes, I take a different approach. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself in small business. So, when you make a mistake, it’s time to put your big girl pants on and take away the good from it, instead of dwelling on the bad. Find the lesson, learn from it and walk away a smarter business owner.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt has been about money. When I worked in the city I was on a salary that afforded me nice new clothes, a few too many nights out and a whole load of crap that I didn’t need, but bought because I could. Now that I’m self-employed, there’s been many an occasion where I’ve had to go without. ‘Ohhhh poor Andy’ I hear you cry. But, I don’t say that to make you feel sorry for me. I say it because it’s actually rather liberating still enjoying life without spending a pretty penny on useless things.
When I think back to it, I’m fairly certain that a lot of my frivolous spending was to make me feel better about the fact that I really wasn’t all that keen on my job. It’s easy to cover up deep seeded unhappiness with a new Michael Kors handbag. And even though you’re struggling with some pretty serious inner turmoil, at least your packed lunch has a designer vessel to ride the tube in.
These days, I’m a leggings and hoodie kind of girl, complete with a Sainsburys bag for life. And while I’m still partial to a pair of new Nikes, my need to stuff my life full of superficial mood enhancers has totally curtailed. And surprisingly, I’m happier than ever.
Lesson learnt: When you’re starting a business, you won’t need nearly as much personal money as you think you do. Commuting costs disappear, the £3 meal deal will become a thing of the past, and more than likely your social life will be much quieter without all those cheeky pints after work. You’ll learn to do more with less and that’s seriously rewarding.
There you have it. A whole year of working for myself and the lessons that have come with it. My final piece of advice to anyone considering starting their own business: do it. Stop thinking about it and talking about it and just do it. It’ll be full of ups and downs, good days and bad, but it will be more rewarding than you can ever imagine. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life wondering what if, so turn your dream into a plan and get a move on.
Andy is the owner of Bettie Confetti, a snarky greeting cards line available at Not On The High Street, Etsy and select independent retailers in the UK. For a comprehensive guide to getting your business up and running, download our how to start a business in 20 days ebook.
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