The five lessons of being an entrepreneur, as told by yours truly.
I can’t tell you the exact date I decided I wanted to start a business. The data nerd in me regrets that because I do love specifics.
It was more of a gradual realization over time. Through a series of jobs where my skill set expanded tremendously, my character was built through the inevitable interpersonal challenges of dealing with other people (of varying levels of difficult personalities), I came to realize that I was most happy when I was working solo to solve a problem. Issue a challenge and leave me alone to chip away at it, and I was content as could be.
Intermix cranky bosses that interrupt, disrespect, change timelines, and place unrealistic demands, with unreliable unemployees and moody coworkers, I realized the nine-to-five grind was something I could do without. Ironically, while all those factors made me a better employee, they also increased my longing to make a living on my terms.
The plot thickens
One thing that set my self-employment desire on a hotter track was a conversation I had with an associate who was helping with staffing at my last full-time gig. She had started her own business and was gleefully living her dreams. In a conversation with her, she confided in me that she wished she had started her business sooner, instead of waiting until her 50s.
That resonated deep within me. I didn’t want to have that same regret in 20 years. So I became more determined to get started sooner than later. That is some brief background into how SummerTime Communications was born.
Now that I am a year and a half into my self-employment journey, I am pleased to say the lessons of a business owner are many. Learning early and often is the constant path of the business journey, so I know my knowledge will never be complete. However, a few things have helped me navigate the murky waters of entrepreneurship.
Maybe they’ll help you too, whether you have a business, a side hustle, or are considering options for a passion project.
#1) Determine Your Ideal Customer or Industry
I was given this advice early on, but I wasn’t ready or able to act on it. I see now that it is quite helpful to determine the ideal type of customer or industry you are looking to serve.
When that is dialed in, so much else flows from there:
- The look and feel of your website and marketing materials
- The tone you use in your written materials
- How you go about doing your marketing
- On whom you focus your marketing efforts
It all becomes so much more clear when you have an intended target in mind. While I still serve a variety of clients, all of whom I appreciate, and will continue to do so, I am pleased that I have narrowed down my ideal customer to small businesses in the outdoors/fitness/wellness industries.
#2) Decide Your Priorities
Figuring out what is a priority can be a challenge. In every area.
What aspect of my business plan should I focus on first? What’s after that? Where do I want to be in a year? How about two or three years? How do I work backward from that to get there?
The same is true for networking. For those of us who choose to invest our time in networking to grow our business, the options are boundless. We have to survey what those are carefully, determine what would be the best fit for our goals, and be decisive in which to get involved.
Very closely aligned with deciding priorities is …
#3) Guard Your Calendar
This one is near and dear to my heart. Why? Because the calendar represents the most valuable resource we have — our time. For that reason, I choose to guard it carefully.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post that while building up my business to a full-time income, I have a part-time job that takes up 15 hours per week. While it is lovely and necessary to have a steady income, it also limits the amount of time I can use in my business—a double-edged sword.
With that being the case, I have to be extra careful about what I agree to, and how I use my time daily. This has forced me to become more vigilant about scheduling to make sure I am not overcommitting myself, and that I have time left to do things that I need to do for my business and personal life.
(Update: as of September 2021, I am working for myself full-time! So these lessons I’m sharing must have helped.)
A calendar hack I recently learned
I’d found that my list of administrative tasks that were crucial to furthering my business plan was not getting completed. They weren’t even getting touched. Not because I didn’t desperately want to work on them, but because I didn’t schedule a time for them or didn’t honor the time I had set aside.
Something always comes up, right?
A new networking meeting
A client project
Being tired after meeting all my deadlines for the day or week
The list could go on forever. The result was that I didn’t take the time for my business development.
So the hack I recently learned is to block out chunks of time on my calendar each week that are specifically, exclusively devoted to my current administrative project. And then, the secret is to stick to it. Refuse to let other things take up those blocks of time.
If someone requests a meeting during one of those times, you can simply say, “I’m not available then. How about we do it at this time?”
There are many other calendar hacks that I am learning about and implementing, but that is the most recent and powerful.
#4) Put in the work
This one is pretty straightforward. To get better results, you have to do more. Or at least do better—usually both.
After a few months of dilly-dallying after launching my business, and just hoping clients would magically find me, I decided to get serious about it via:
- Regular networking – committing to a weekly meeting where I had to pay to be a part of it (BNI)
- A commitment to regularly invest in my professional growth through conferences, training, and even some consulting
- I made growing my business a top priority
Recently, I committed to working a minimum of 50 hours per week until the end of the year to see where that takes me to reach the goals I set for myself in January.
#5) Don’t forget to relax … and don’t feel guilty about it
In the last year and a half, I’ve become even more of a workaholic than I was while in salaried positions. When you own your own business, the work is never done. As I’ve started gaining more clients, I’ve gone through seasons where all I do is work from the time I get up until the time I go to bed.
That can be exhilarating for a short while, but it is not sustainable. As I mentioned above, sometimes I am so beat after finishing client projects that I sluff off the things I need to do for my own business. While I am addressing that through the calendar hack in #3, I’ve also realized –
I need to relax too. We all do.
The entrepreneurial life, at least for me, means working on weekends to get caught up on the things that didn’t get finished during the week. I’m OK with that, but there has to be a limit.
One way I plan to relax
My husband Mike and I love to be in the outdoors, hiking, swimming, camping, kayaking, and more. Since ideal weather for that is mainly in the summer, our warm weather months get filled up with outings pretty quickly.
I’ve found myself wrestling with guilt over being gone on multiple weekends, some including Fridays. When I catch myself feeling that, I try to remember two things:
- The primary reason I started my own business was so I had the freedom to arrange my schedule the way I wanted. So why would I feel bad when I was doing exactly what I set out to do? That’s crazy talk!
- It occurred to me, eventually, that I needed to relax since I was working such long hours. So rather than feel bad, I decided I would use that as an incentive so I could enjoy my time away. In other words, if I can get my 50 hours logged in four days, my reward would be enjoying my outing without feeling guilty. Do you feel me?
I think I might combine #3 and #5 by scheduling time in my calendar to relax, too! If I have it scheduled, it is more likely to happen. There’s some thinking on the fly for you. 🙂
If I remember and act on these five points, I am more apt to be focused and efficient in how I do business.
Which of these do you have a hard time doing, if any? Is there one that you need to implement? I’d love to hear your feedback!
P.s. I also recently devised a plan that I think will help get those pesky admin things done that I mentioned in #3. Read about it here.