12 Lessons from my first 12 months of business
This week, I’ve officially been running Black & White Studios full time for a year! (Enjoy the cheesy group photo of me & my pals celebrating the milestone!) To celebrate thought I’d share 12 things I’ve learnt in the last 12 months that could help someone else with their business!
1. Hire a good accountant
I will shout this to the rooftops but one of the first things you should do is hire an accountant. There is SO much involved with accounting and taxes and all things financial that you just don’t have the time to learn and literally can’t afford to get wrong. Managing your finances is a whole new ballgame when you run a business so a good accountant will pay for itself over and over again, plus (in New Zealand anyway) you can claim that back as a business expense anyway so just do it!
2. Understand the numbers and stay on top of them
If you have an accountant, that doesn’t mean that you can just ignore the numbers. Sure, they’ll help you with a lot, but if you don’t understand anything they’re talking about it, it’s not going to be much use. Learn what you can about your finances and the other numbers in your business and stay in touch with them. Track things that are important to your business (clients, projects, followers, engagement, etc) and check in regularly to see how they’re changing. You’ll be able to feel the pulse of your business and make better decisions!
3. Enjoy the freedom but embrace some structure
When I first started working for myself full time I was so excited to sleep in, work in my pyjamas, and take time off whenever I felt like it. This didn’t last too long because I quickly realised that working that way isn’t productive and will not help you pay your bills! The amazing thing about being self-employed is that you can be flexible with your time and work in a way that is best for you and your lifestyle, but you still need to maintain some sort of structure and schedule in order to be the best that you can be. I get up relatively early, have a pretty solid morning routine and know what times of the day are the most productive for certain types of work, but I still give myself the luxury of taking the afternoon off to spend time with my sister on her day off, or to teach a class or run a workshop. It’s all about balance!
4. Get to know yourself better
Learning the ways that I can be the most productive and the best routines for me has all come with getting to know myself better. I’m a sucker for a good personality test and I think that everyone can benefit from understanding how they work and why. Knowing that I’m an INFJ-T (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging, turbulent) and reading a lot about it, not only helps me to get to know myself better, how I work the best and what I’m like as a friend, partner and business-owner and why, but also helps me to not feel alone in those things! It helped me to understand that working for myself is the best option for me and why that is, what my values are and how my personality type influences those, and how I want my business to run based on that too. I can’t recommend taking some personality tests, reading more about them, journalling to process and understand your feelings and spending more time with yourself to get to know who you are and why!
5. Stick to your values
Once you get to know yourself and your business, you’ll hopefully understand a bit more about your values as a business and it’s important to stick to those as much as you can. It can be tempting when you’re new in business, and I’m totally guilty of this, to take any work that comes, work wherever you can and do things that don’t quite sit well with you. Temporarily sacrificing your values for some extra money, a networking connection or new project seems like it will be worth it but it never is. Doing this only makes things difficult, uncomfortable and upsetting. I know it’s difficult, but stay firm to your values and not only will it strengthen your brand, but you’ll be much happier and more satisfied with your work in the process.
6. Learn to say no
Sticking with your values often means having to say no to some things. I am notoriously bad at saying no to things because I just want to help everyone, but this can actually be pretty detrimental to my work, my business and my mental health. Sometimes a project just doesn’t fit with your values, your schedule or your services and however difficult it is to turn something down, it’s important that you really evaluate whether you should take it on. Economist Tim Hartford hits the nail on the head when he explains that ‘saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else that you could have done with that time.’ Will you take on a new project and have less time to do a great job for your current clients? Will you speak at that event instead of having date night with your partner? Will you keep working all night when you should be taking some time for yourself? Stick to those values and learn to say no to the things that don’t line up.
7. Say yes to things that excite you
Running a business is about learning to say no but also saying yes when interesting opportunities pop up that get you excited! I’m running Black & White Studios full time but I’ve also taken time to tutor typography at Massey University for a couple of semesters, be the Wellington host of Design Assembly, do a three-month contract in the Wellington City Council design team, be on a couple of podcasts and other fun things! These things all align with my interests, skills and values and I was excited by them so I said yes! The fab thing about running your own business is that you can do those things and try new opportunities as they pop up, so why not?!
8. Never stop learning
Trying these new things happened one, because I was interested in them, and two, because I love to learn new things and I think you should never stop learning. As a business-owner there are SO MANY things to learn along the way that you have to, but it’s important to learn things you want to as well! If you stop learning, your business will stagnate, you won’t grow with the industry and you’ll get bored super quickly. I have a Skillshare subscription so that I can take classes to learn new skills, I read a lot of books about mindset, business and creativity, I attend workshops, conferences and speaker events to learn from other people in the same and other industries to me, I’m in an accountability group where I can learn from my peers and I’m constantly pushing myself to learn wherever else I can! It’s fun, helps you to grow your business and inspires you to step outside of the box.
9. Find working buddies.
I’m a member of a group called Goal Crusher Club and have a smaller accountability group within that. This group of creative business owners answers each other’s questions, helps with the inevitable business panics that arise, celebrates one another’s wins, keeps us all accountable, and does monthly review sessions to track metrics and set goals together. Having people around (even virtually) who can inspire and support you is so important. Even for someone as introverted as me, working by yourself can feel isolated and lonely, especially if the people around you all have ‘conventional’ jobs and don’t really understand what your job entails. I’m so thankful that I can bounce ideas around, ask questions, vent, celebrate and just chat with these people. I also have a few freelancing and studying friends who I love working alongside at a cafe, coworking space or at my home studio so that I have some company sometimes!
10. Surround yourself with people who inspire and support you
As valuable as other entrepreneurs are to have around you, you also need those people who will make you feel better, be there when you need a good cry, laugh or vent, or inspire you along the way. My two best friends aren’t designers, they’re a writer and a lawyer, but being around them inspires me so much! They’re always down for Saturday brunch, a girly movie, or a Friday evening drink and are there for the tears, giggles and rants. My parents are the most supportive people ever and run their own business too so a FaceTime with them is always a perfect mood-booster. I’ve got a loving, hilarious, supportive partner too who is always around, helps keep me sane, helps me out when I’m stressed and laughs, celebrates and commiserates with me through it all, all while inspiring me with his musical genius, hard work and good looks ;) Whoever your people are, be thankful for them and spend time with them when you can. They might not be directly involved with your business but they’re a huge part of its success.
11. Network a lot
Now I am not a natural lover of crowds, parties, or anything that really involves a whole bunch of strangers, but networking is so valuable and integral to your business, particularly in the beginning. Almost all of my clients have come to me through word of mouth and referrals, so it really is true that it’s all about who you know! Head along to events in your industry and your clients’ industry, get to know people and spend time with them when you can. You’ll learn so much from these people, expand your network and who knows what could come from that connection! I met one person a few years ago who refers a big percentage of my current clients, as well as some clients I met who keep coming back! Connections are key.
12. Look after yourself
Running your own business is so rewarding and incredible, but it can also be really difficult, especially if you’re tackling it on your own, so looking after yourself is vital. Your business runs at its best when you are at yours, so take the time to ensure that you are okay physically, mentally and emotionally. For example, I get migraines quite often, have dairy and gluten intolerances and live in a constant state of stress. I’ve learnt very quickly that if I don’t take the time to journal my feelings, get healthy food that is going to fuel me well, sleep my migraines off and be on top of things so that if that happens I’m not just adding to the stress, have a break to spend time with my friends, have some time away from the screen and all of those little things, I don’t run at peak performance and therefore neither does my business. You and your health are the most important thing, so always make that a priority, your business can survive and will do so better when you’re okay.
What are the lessons you’ve learnt so far? Let me know in the comments below! Or share which of these you might try to action!