It’s safe to say that the last three years since I set up my business, have been have been one hell of a steep learning curve for me, but none more so than last year.
2019 began with me doubting I was really cut out to keep going with my business. I was confused, deflated and had well and truly lost my mojo. January ended with my fiancé and I sat in our favourite coffee shop in Glasgow, and him being faced with me bursting into tears, telling him I didn’t think I could keep things going and I was going to start looking for an office job.
Basically, I’d given up. Things hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped, I was frustrated by how unpredictable my income had become and the restrictions that came with that, we had a wedding to pay for, and I felt as though I couldn’t keep up with all the things that I kept seeing online about what entrepreneurs and business owners ‘should be doing’.
Thankfully he calmed me down and persuaded me to give it six more months. We briefly considered postponing our wedding, but ultimately decided that wasn’t necessary, and having something fun and exciting to work towards was a good thing.
I also took some time to reflect on the two years prior – what had gone well, what hadn’t, what did I want in the future etc.
So, here are my biggest lessons from my first three years in business.
1. Take your own advice
If you’re not doing it, then why will your clients do it when you tell them to?
Although for my first two years I worked in a done-for-you capacity with my clients, inevitably they would also sometimes ask for my advice about their content strategy. They would say the same thing to me over and over again:
‘Erin, I can’t keep up with it all. There are too many platforms, too many types of content and too many options!’
And each time, I’d respond with the same advice:
‘You don’t have to be everywhere. It’s a lot for one person to take on without a team behind them to help produce that level of content.’
Of course, when it came to my own business, I threw that advice out the window.
Instead, I thought that if I was pitching myself as a content expert, then surely, I had to lead by example and try to cover Twitter, Facebook, Instagram LinkedIn, blogging, emails, videos, Instagram Stories, online courses, a Facebook group, PR and everything in-between! So, it’s little wonder that I ended up feeling totally overwhelmed and reached a point where I was barely producing any content for myself.
Throughout 2019, I kept an eye on what worked well for me and what I enjoyed doing the most, so these days, I keep things far simpler.
Instagram is my main focus for having a public social media profile; I find it more interesting, fun and friendly (most of the time), and I get more leads from it than any other platform. I do have a Facebook business page but tend to use FB more for taking part in membership groups I’m part of. I’ve ditched Twitter altogether, apart from for research purposes; I occasionally dip my toe into LinkedIn; the online course is on the back-burner for now; I’ve got no plans to launch a podcast, and this blog post right here is me picking back up with blogging as a regular commitment.
So, as I head into 2020, I only really have three places where I feel that I truly want and need to show up regularly – Instagram, email and this blog. Anything else is a bonus, and I won’t feel guilty about that.
2. Trust your gut
If you get a funny feeling about someone or something, it’s probably right.
I’ve been caught up in sales hype (and paid the price, both literally and metaphorically), ignored warning signs, gone along with things because it seems to be the done thing, and I’ve worked with difficult clients and inauthentic coaches.
Chances are, you won’t get through running a business without one of these things cropping up at some stage.
Try not to beat yourself up about it, it’s a lot more common than you think, even if people don’t admit to it publicly. The important thing is to learn from it and not let it hold you back.
3. Invest in your business when you can
Spending money on things like brand design, coaching, IT support, professional photography etc. can be pretty daunting, and in the early days of business there’s a big temptation to try to do it all yourself. When income isn’t always predictable, handing over large sums of money can feel uncomfortable, when you’d rather keep it in your savings account just in case you need it later.
DIY is certainly a great place to begin and that’s exactly how I started out, but getting the pros in when you can, can make a huge difference.
Investing in my branding alone has not only given me a stronger online identity but it’s also saved me a heap of time when it comes to things like creating social media graphics (thanks Hollie Ellis Design). Likewise, with having a professional photoshoot – time saved because I have branded images available, but also it helped with my confidence in getting my face out there a bit more, which is great when you’re an introvert who’d rather hide behind her laptop (Amanda at AKP Branding Stories is wonderful).
Lastly, I can not recommend working with a coach or mentor enough. If you don’t have the funds for 1-to-1 support, a lot of great coaches also offer affordable memberships, which means you get access to them for questions but within a group setting. Lisa Johnson and Zoe Dew have helped me a lot over the past year and I don’t think I’d be anywhere near as calm or determined if it wasn’t for them.
However, if you take only one thing away from this post, please let it be this:
Do not, ever, allow yourself to be pushed or bullied into investing money you don’t have, or investing in something you’re not comfortable with.
I’ve seen too many people being guilt-tripped and pressured into racking up debt, or buying services they’re not sure about.
It’s fascinating to discover some of the stories we tell ourselves that can hold us back, and how deep-rooted they are in our pasts.
4. Mindset is not woo-woo crap, it’s real and it matters
I wouldn’t say I’m dead set against the woo-woo side of things. I do kind of believe in fate and that some things happen for a reason, and I’ve definitely experienced a fair few spooky coincidences in my life. I also believe that our minds and bodies can be pretty in-tune with things around us, if we only allow ourselves to listen. As for asking the universe for things and visualisations, I’m not totally convinced on that score, but if you are, that’s cool.
For months and months, I kept seeing all this talk of mindset – money mindset, success mindset, growth mindset etc. Ultimately, I ignored it all, lumped it in with visualisations and said, ‘no thanks, not for me’.
Then I got hooked on the content that Lisa Johnson was putting out. I’d been following her for a while but it was at the start of 2019 that I decided to really pay attention to what she was saying. She describes herself as woo-adjacent. She doesn’t disagree with it but she’s not totally onboard either, and I thought, ‘that sounds like me’. But then that word came up again… mindset.
So, I started thinking, maybe it’s not a concept I should be writing off so quickly. Cue me taking part in one of Lisa’s challenges, which involved working on money mindset.
WOW!! It was quite a wake-up call. It’s amazing how much our subconscious mind can influence us, and fascinating to discover some of the stories we tell ourselves that can hold us back, and how deep-rooted they are in our pasts.
If you’ve never done any mindset work, I highly recommend it. You’ll be amazed by some of the things that might come up, and it will do you a world of good to clear out any restrictive thoughts.
5. If you build it, the will (probably) not come
However much marketing, networking, PR and social media engagement you think you need to do, you probably need to be doing a LOT more.
When I was at my in-house job, we had a large, established audience, but when you’re starting from scratch, you have to be willing to put in the time to build the audience to start with and then establish a relationship with them. It doesn’t happen overnight and simply throwing up a website and a few sporadic social media posts will not cut it.
I’ve increased my marketing over the last year and if I’m honest, there’s probably even more I could be doing, but even just increasing it a bit has had a huge impact. Seeing that extra effort pays off, spurs me on to keep going, and encourages me to put myself out there more and to seek out new opportunities.
So, the start of 2020 looks VERY different to this time last year!
I hope you can learn from my lessons and if you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you over on my social profiles or in my Facebook group.
Until next time.