Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned From My First Year Of Business

Celebrating first year as a business owner, holding felt board with business name and a cupcake with one candle

This time last week, I was knee deep in cake celebrating my first anniversary as a business owner/freelancer/sole-trader/whatever I’m calling myself this week.

I shared this photo on Instagram and got some lovely comments of congrats from people, so before I dive into things I want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has taken the time to say nice things to be about my achievement. Y’all are awesome.

So, one year into owning my own business is pretty wild, huh? Time for a cliche, because it really does feel like just yesterday I was working my final days as a full-time employee. I loved my job, but the time was right to tip my toes into the ocean of self-employment.

Being a business owner is hella hard work, you guys. It’s a lot of stress and tears, but it’s also a lot of achievements, milestones and generally super happy moments – especially when an invoice gets paid on time. Sweet jesus, that’s like an orgasm.

Today, I wanted to share with you some of the valuable lessons I learned in my first year because that’s the ~content~ I would have wanted to read when I was first starting out. Plus, it’s going to be fun to look back at in another year’s time when my cupcake has two oversized candles instead of just the one.

Lesson #1 – Know what you’re worth

I’m not talking how much you should charge here – because that’s something you need to decide for yourself. No, what I mean is knowing your self-worth.

Imposter syndrome is an absolute bitch, but if you can keep reminding yourself of how you are actually amazing at what you do and you care about it, then you’ll be fine.

I have had people approach me and want to take advantage. Whether they want something for free or scoff at paying a decent amount for an expert, those losers should never bring you down or make you feel any less. They’ll try, but you’ll learn to show them the door.

Lesson #2 – Contracts are boring but necessary

One of my lowest points in this journey has been the time I got conned by an agency out of almost £300. Long story short, I should have had an agreement in place with them with clear terms to ensure I didn’t end up out of pocket.

When money is tight, it’s hard not to totally freak out about something like that. But after tears of frustration, I got over it and learned from it. Now, I have a contract agreement in place with anyone I work with, and *touch wood*, I haven’t had any issues since.

Lesson #3 – Get yourself known

I’ve written about how networking makes me shudder before, but without it, I wouldn’t have any of the clients I have now (or in fact, almost all of my previous clients). In order to make a name for yourself, it’s a huge help to get out there and meet people.

Sure, you might be able to establish a business from your spare room without any human interaction at all, but people buy people. Being me, and being nice has done me and my business the world of good.

At the moment, I go to a few local networking groups each month, but I’m looking to amp this up and hunt down more suitable opportunities from now on.

Lesson #4 – Try and avoid “content overwhelm”

This is difficult, and it’s something I still struggle with. “Content overwhelm” is the feeling of being overwhelmed by ALL OF THE CONTENT that is online which tells you how you should run your business.

From endless business plan templates to blog articles telling you that you should be earning £30k a month by now, it’s easy to suddenly feel inadequate and like you don’t know where to turn.

The best advice I have for trying to avoid getting overwhelmed by it all is to take a step back and think about what you *want* rather than what randos on the internet are telling you that you need.

Lesson #5 – Calendar blocking is a godsend

Calendar blocking is the process of using an online calendar like Google Calendar to manage your time. I put my whole life into my Google Calendar – from client work to cinema trips. It helps me feel more in control, helps me plan ahead and ultimately allows me to be flexible with how I am utilising my time.

For example, when it comes to client work I will have put together a project plan with deadlines or milestones for a client – once that’s signed off, I will block out that time in my calendar and add the deadlines so I can easily keep on top of my workflow.

Holly has an amazing guide to calendar blocking (or as she calls it, time blocking) so whether you work for yourself or not, seriously consider adding this valuable method into your life.

Lesson #6 – Say no when you need to

I expected it to take longer than it did for me to learn to say no, but I started sniffing out timewasters pretty quickly. Even if you ~need~ the money, there is no harm in turning down a project if it’s going to be detrimental to you.

I have turned down projects where I knew the client was going to be overly demanding, or where I felt like it was something that wouldn’t further my business. I needed more work in all of those situations, but it wasn’t worth saying yes.

The word “no” is incredibly powerful – it’s important not to overuse it, but to know the value of it to your business, and also to your mental health.

Lesson #7 – Sometimes say yes

On the flip-side to the above, opportunities may arise that take you out of your comfort zone. For example, a few months back I delivered a talk to a room full of business owners all about creating compelling content.

At the time when I agreed to do it, I was dreading it. I get nervous when presenting, and as the day got closer and closer, I was really regretting signing up. But y’know what? It went really well. Pushing myself to do something that made me feel uncomfortable was a liberating feeling in the long run.

Lesson #8 – Count your blessings

Pitching for new work and trying to market your business is a tiring job, and often feels thankless at the beginning. It takes a long time to build up momentum, and that momentum can dip from time to time too. In short, business is often seasonal. May and June for my business were scarily quiet, and so there were times when I felt a bit shit about it.

To overcome those feelings, I got into the habit of writing my daily successes. If I got some good feedback from a client, I made note of it. If I got an invoice paid quickly, I cheered and made a note of it. If I simply got all the to-do list ticked off quicker than expected, I made note of it (and finished up the day early with a celebratory cuppa). Those successes were reminders to tip the scale when I’d had a not so good day.

Owning your own business is liberating but scary, stress-inducing but rewarding. It’s an absolute rollercoaster – but I wouldn’t change a thing.

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