How NOT to run your business - lessons learned from year two
After posting my year one ‘exposé’ (where I outlined all the mistakes I made in my first biz year), I heard from some amazing entrepreneurs – many of whom are tripping up on the same things (blessed relief!) – or, even better, have now learned my lessons in advance. If you missed it - here it is again: year one
April 2014 marked my second ‘bizniversary’ so I’ve collated my experiences in year two to share with you. If you’re running your own business, I hope you find some useful lessons here, including links to amazing resources for your own journey.
Things that went wrong…
Life (and death)
It was April 2013. I was excited. My copy was making waves: selling out events; getting people awards; boosting lists and feeling good. I’d just emptied the rest of my savings into a special, intensive copywriting course. I was a bit nervous but it was spring and the sun was shining... what could go possibly wrong?
A few weeks later I got a call. My uncle Adam had killed himself.
As lovely as I know you are, you’re not here for that tale of woe, so suffice it to say it was heartbreakingly sad. But let’s move on to what that meant for business: basically, it ain't good. Without a team to pick up the work, I had to let go of a full diary of clients. Obviously I didn’t have any savings left so I had to empty my normal account, and its overdraft.
A few months later business was just picking up.
Then my dad died.
All I can say is thank f**k it was one of the best summers (weather-wise) the UK has ever experienced. If it had been winter I might have crawled under the bed covers and never come out.
I had to cancel clients again (who must have thought I was cursed) and without a cushion of savings, staff, freelance support or a passive income I went into more debt. I'm fortunate indeed to have a wonderful partner, family and friends for emotional and financial support, but regarding the latter, depleting everyone elses’ hard-earned savings made me feel crap.
Pack a damn parachute! When it comes to business, I’ve heard plenty of renegade folk crying, ‘Burn your bridges!’ or ‘Invest your last penny – it will motivate you to succeed!’ It sounds exciting and brave. One high profile entrepreneur told me she doesn’t bother saving any money at all because she knows she can just make the money back. I really hope none of her loved ones die suddenly (truth bomb: this is inevitable) or that she never becomes too ill, tired or plain overwhelmed to go to work.
It doesn't sound sexy to save money, but it’s not just a ‘nice-to-have’ it’s vital. Yes, it’s good to take risks in business, but always have a back-up plan. This doesn't make you soft, or liable to quit, it just means you won't destroy everything you worked hard for.
It’s not just about the money of course. A support network, whether consisting of loved ones or valued freelancers to whom you can outsource, can literally save your mind - and heart.
I compared myself to… well, everyone
I didn't compare myself unfavourably to anyone in my first year. After all, I was brand new on the scene and still learning. But according to seemingly EVERY coach and marketing guru (suspicious much?) after your first year (or even during your first year) you’re supposed to suddenly be successful: “Follow my plan to get 6 figures!”, “10 days to £10,000!”
Inevitably, we look to those who are succeeding and measure ourselves against them. It feels wrong to compare ourselves to those who aren't doing so well so we look upwards… and are always found wanting. Ugh.
- Avoid the comparison trap – everyone has their own journey and each of us is unique.
- There are 7 billion people on this planet - that's too much comparison for anyone. Just be you.
Resource: the wonderful Denise Duffield-Thomas saved me with this blog about jealousy.
I was anxious to get out of debt, impatient to make my website look better, frustrated about being behind everyone who was doing better than me... Aaargh!
I ended up stressing myself out, sleeping less, getting frustrated over little things - and then procrastinating when my brain decided to go on holiday without me. It's hard when you know what you want to do in the world but your mind/body/life/circumstances aren't catching up with your intentions - or even your hard work.
- This business thing takes time despite what some might say.
- Slow and steady wins the race. Doing things bit by bit all adds up and then, before you know it, well, you're there!
Resource: this video about patience and creativity was another sanity saver. It has to be watched http://vimeo.com/24715531
I became social media’s bitch
Curse the wonderful Upworthy website and their enticing headlines, damn YouTube and its infinite animal videos. If those aren't the biggest time suck the world has ever known, there are also forums and Facebook groups: people constantly asking for opinions and making comments that hook you in...
When people posted their sales page or website word conundrums, I felt honour-bound as a copywriter to solve them. But when you’re subscribed to as many as I am that can become a full-time gig – an unpaid full time gig.
I was spending a lot of mental energy in the virtual world, more than I had to spare. I was getting headaches, eye strain, an achy back and felt restless at night. I also used up the energy I needed for my proper brain work - you know, the one I'm paid to do.
- It's essential to monitor (and minimise) time spent on the Internet in general, let alone social media
- The online world is full of chitter-chatter, questionnaires, crises, intimate stories… There's literally no end to it. Trust you'll see what you need to but let the rest go
Resource: Stayfocusd – a Google chrome extension which kicks me off certain sites after an allocated amount of time.
Things I got right
Eventually leveraging social media
The online world is wondrous and varied: communities, forums, webinars, Skype… Spock and Kirk fan videos… it’s all there.
Interesting people (particularly women) are rising up and creating their entreprises purely online. It’s inspirational, powerful, helpful.
I joined some brilliant entrepreneurs' groups, got access to free courses and even enjoyed online meditation. Getting immediate answers to pressing business concerns, support from fellow solopreneurs and being able to test my ideas in a live marketplace has been superb. The Internet is awesome. Fact.
The journey to me
In my own life I can’t help but be myself - which is mostly passionate and daft. I’m a private person but I like to be authentic. While crying on YouTube will never be my thing I realised that in order to make more genuine connections with my readers and clients, I needed to be more me.
It’s a process as I figure out how much I want to reveal, but I realise that I shine when I'm more moi – and I attract like-minded people including my dream clients. I ‘came out’ as a bit of a geek on my Facebook biz page and the post got over 100 likes and some new fans, including a guy from the United States Air Force...
I've learned the following: there are many of us out there; some geeks don't look like geeks; pretty much all of them are fabulous; and that it pays to be yourself.
Being selective, darling
Just because you can do a job doesn't mean you should. As a skilled copywriter I can persuade people to buy things so I have to be careful about where and how I use my powers. It's also a real brain-intense activity, this wordsmithery, so I have to use my energy wisely.
Ultimately, I decided that I wouldn't write the copy if (a) I don’t agree with a company’s ethos or product (b) I don't understand (or want to understand) the company (c) I don't connect with it or them or (d) I have too much other work going on.
I was anxious to keep the business afloat, but I also knew I had to do work that made me feel good - particularly after the sadness of bereavement. It's important to work from your 'zone of genius' e.g. doing the thing you love and are great at to produce your best work. The funny thing was as soon as I started to turn people down, more dream clients and projects began to come my way.
Resource: I'd like to shout out to Rebecca Merrifield of The Marketing Movement who helped me get unapologetically selective.
The morning routine
After all that death, I found it comforting to stay in bed a bit longer in the morning. I used the time to read and then started meditating. I’ve now added morning stretches and a strict no phone-checking-while-in-bed policy and life just feels better.
Somewhere along the way I'd forgotten that I’m my own best asset (shocker!) so although I serve others, I now recognise my importance. My biz is me, and no one will get the goods if I’m not taking excellent care of myself.
Resources: The book Thrive by Arianna Huffington has some great thoughts on why looking after yourself if essential for modern success and Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Pelman saved my marbles during a difficult time.
Balancing the books
As you may have guessed, I didn’t get the doubled income I’d been aiming for. Final figures were a little less than my first year coming in around £15k, but this was a small miracle considering how it all went down.
As I’d invested nearly twice as much as I’d done in the first year, this time I didn’t make a profit. The upside? No taxes.
My clients were amazing during these upheavals and I was able to reward them with some TLC. Highlights include the director who won an award for her amazing sign-writing business after I wrote the copy for her application; a coach who sold out his first VIP programme with our sales page; then there was the script I wrote for a promo video which won my client business from an incredibly wealthy royal family.
Now I step into this third year with plenty of skills and so much knowledge – I’m still keen on making mistakes, just all new ones.
The reminiscing will be over in the next blog as I return to focus on copy wisdom. If you’d like to know more about how to make your words stand out from the crowd and attract your ideal clients sign up to my list. You'll also get first dibs on services, discounts and special pearls of wisdom I only share with my tribe.
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