5 Things I’ve Learned (About Running a Business) in 5 Years

We’re all learning things about ourselves, about others and about running a business, all the time. I don’t tend to do a lot of reflecting generally but five years in business seems like the kind of milestone that deserves some extra thinking space in my brain.

I came up with the idea of 5 things I’ve learned in 5 years because it meant I wouldn’t get carried away and write the longest blog ever. Then I realised I needed to come up with five things I’ve learned, that are worthy of the space and useful. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be but here are my ‘top 5’…

(fair warning: this post became quite long, so you might need a comfy chair and a cuppa)

Lesson 1 – You can say no

It’s taken a long time to learn this but it’s ok to say no to things. In fact, saying no to things is great because when you say no to one thing, you’re saying yes to something else.

When my business changed (see lesson 3), I felt like I needed to say yes to every opportunity that came my way. I don’t regret it because without doing that, I wouldn’t know what I know now. It taught me which projects I do/don’t enjoy so I can focus my energy on the things I love.

Now, I find saying no much easier. I look at it from the perspective that if it’s not the right fit for me, I’m not going to do my best work and that client deserves better. I used to always justify myself when I said no. That’s something I do less and less, thanks to Clare, my business coach. She taught me that I don’t need to explain myself or justify my decision, just saying no is enough. I rarely just say no though, I always make a recommendation where I can or offer my advice but I no longer feel like I have to explain myself and neither do you. Just say no.

Lesson 2 – It’s totally ok to put your prices up

Look, I know, putting up your prices seems sh*t scary but guess what? You’ll get over it. Just like I did.

The first time I decided to put my prices up I hadn’t even been going that long.

I remember it so vividly. I was at a networking event and we were talking about pricing. I told someone what I was charging (£15/hour) and they told me that if they were looking for a marketing consultant and I told them that price, they would assume I was rubbish. Based purely on the fact that I seemed too cheap. There and then they convinced me to double it. I didn’t do it straight away but I did do it pretty quickly.

You see, when you leave a job and you think to yourself “ok, I want to earn a bit more but I also have to convince people to work with me”, you tend to choose a rate that feels comfortable to you, rather than choose a rate that reflects your skills and abilities.

As time goes on, not only do you get better at what you do, you also have to live and the cost of everything is constantly going up!

I’ve put my prices up a few times now and I no longer lose sleep over it. I used to panic SO much that everyone would leave me, no one else would come to work with me and that I would have to either put them back down or get a job to survive.

No one has ever stopped working with me because of a price increase (that I know of). If they did, I would try and look at it as a reflection on their budget, not on my worth/work.

The moral of the story: prices go up and so should yours.

Lesson 3 – Your business will change and that’s ok

Over the last five years my business has changed a number of times. Each time I’ve been worried about the outcome and each time, nothing has gone wrong. Sure, there’s been moments of questioning whether I’m doing the right thing, but I put that down to caring about my business and about my clients. Businesses change, and that’s ok!

When I started my business it looked completely different to the business I run today. I had three clients, who I worked for in house, on allocated days of the week. On those days, I was at their disposal and I worked on whatever marketing activity needed doing. From campaign planning and delivery, to ad hoc marketing tasks and even what I would consider admin. Having retainer clients pay me every month was great and it was certainly what I needed to be able to leave employment but it didn’t fill me with joy. I felt like an employee, doing three jobs for three very different businesses.

Today, I work primarily on a project basis and my biggest source of income is my creative design work, not marketing. When I made the choice to move away from marketing consultancy towards graphic & website design, I wasn’t sure what would happen to my business. Would I get enough work? What if no one wanted to work with me on these new services? How would I market myself? I had so many questions but I knew I needed to change my business because I wasn’t happy. I made the change gradually to ease the transition and make sure I could still pay my mortgage.

If you’re thinking of changing what you do or moving in a new direction, just do it. That’s the joy of being self-employed, you don’t have to do a job you don’t like!

Lesson 4 – It’s not always easy but it’s worth it

The number of times over the last five years that I’ve considered jacking it all in and getting a job might surprise you. Or maybe not if you follow me on social media – I’m pretty open and honest about these things. Running is business is bloody hard. In my opinion, anyone who thinks running a business is easy, is lying to themselves (and you).

I don’t think running a business is meant to be easy. It’s also not meant to be so hard you feel like giving up every day. There’s a happy medium to be found but no matter what your business, there will always be tough moments, difficult decisions and hard days.

The thing is, there is SO much to love about running your own business. The freedom to do what you want and love what you do. The ability to make your own decisions and implement them without any red tape or overruling (unless it’s required in your industry of course). The satisfaction of paying the bills with money you have earnt, in your business. The joy of seeing your customers/clients happy. Being able to make a real difference to those around you. The autonomy to work when you want, on your terms.

There are loads of other reasons running a business is amazing but no, it’s not always easy.

Lesson 5 – Support from others is essential

Running your own business, by yourself, from home, can be very lonely. So, it won’t come as a surprise when I say, you need people in your life who get it.

I’m a sociable person but I also love silence when I work. I didn’t think I would miss having colleagues as much as I did. I underestimated those interactions you have whilst making a cuppa together, as well as having someone to bounce ideas off. Those moments when you create something or come up with an idea and want to just ask ‘is this any good’ become much harder when there’s no one there to ask.

It’s taken a long time to find the balance and a substitute that doesn’t require renting a shared office. These days I get my support from a small group of business owning friends, the networking group I set up – Goldfinch Gatherings, and through being a member of The Collective.

The Collective, run by Clare Farthing, is a monthly coaching membership, where we get together online five times a month. This is through a mix of coaching/mentoring calls, co-working sessions and networking. The membership has given me the opportunity to ask those ‘colleague questions’ and be supported to move forward with things in my business. It’s been amazing having someone to run my ideas past, discuss plans with and be supported by when I’m struggling. This isn’t an ad by the way, I just love being part of Clare’s community.

If you haven’t found your ‘people’ yet, I really recommend making it a priority. It can make such a huge difference to your business and how you feel about it.

Well, this has turned into quite the essay! Congratulations if you got this far, you deserve a biscuit (no biscuits available). If you have any questions about anything I’ve mentioned here, or about running a business in general, I’d love to hear from you. You can find me mostly on Instagram or drop me an email to connect.

Wherever you are on your business journey, you’re doing an amazing job.

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