10 things I’ve learned in 3 years of business

Cupcakes with happy business birthday candles.

My business turned three this week. After surviving the birth and subsequent sleepless nights of a new business, I’m excited to see what the next year will bring.

At this important milestone, I’ve decided to reflect on the things I’ve learned over the past three years. If you’re thinking of flying solo, or feeling panicked with a newborn business on your hands, I hope it helps.

1. Running your own business is hard. Not hard like deciding what to grab from the Cornucopia in the Hunger Games, but hard because there’s noone else to hold your hand. So you need to take complete responsibility for Every Single Thing You Do. This is both good and bad.

2. Having a good accountant, bookkeeper and financial planner will make all the difference. Pay up now, so you can have more later.

3. Don’t lower your rates for a client. Ever. It’s better to take a part-time job and build up your client base slowly than to get a reputation for being cheap.

4. Your systems and processes may evolve, but they need to exist. From sending a quote to paying an invoice, creating templates and processes will help you streamline your sales and allow you to focus on doing the work.

5. Trust your gut. The great thing about working for yourself is that you can choose not to work for the Crazy Ones. I can’t tell you how to spot the Crazy Ones, but you’ll soon learn. You’ll also learn that saying ‘no’ to these potential clients is less painful than the shame spiral of misery and regret they’ll cause.

6. You won’t make it in business if you don’t love what you do. And by love I mean work. On weekends, public holidays, 10 o’clock at night and 6 o’clock in the morning. If you expect to be successful at what you do without giving it everything you’ve got, then perhaps you’re better suited to full-time employment. Or you’re a mad genius and I want to know more.

7. Like parenting (so they tell me), people who don’t have their own business won’t understand the challenges and joys of your day. Not really. So you need to find yourself a tribe of people who aren’t clients or anybody you’re trying to impress, and share. This isn’t networking, this is support. And it’s essential if you want to maintain your sanity.

8. Networking is fabulous, but only if you learn something new and meet someone different. If you don’t do both, it’s an expensive waste of time. And forget about spending hundreds every month to listen to famous people telling you how you should ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘never give up’ and other inspirational lessons. Inspiration does not pay the bills. Get back to work. And when you’re done, watch some nice videos on TED that will tell you exactly the same thing.

9. Perception is everything. Even if you’re at a BBQ with friends and someone asks what you do, make sure you sound professional and passionate about your work. You never know where you might find your next client.

10. Who you think your target audience is today, may not be that audience in three years. In fact, it probably won’t be. You’re very likely to be heading down a completely different path than the one you were walking down when you first started out. And you’ll probably be surprised at how grateful you are that you decided to head off that path in the first place.

Running my own business has been one of the most rewarding, creative, interesting and challenging things I’ve ever done. I hope you feel the same way.

How old is your business? Do you recognise these lessons, or have any of your own?

I'm an SEO copywriter and brand storyteller based in Sydney, who's besotted with words, good stories and hot chips. I'm currently studying a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Macquarie University.

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