The 12 biggest lessons from my first year in business

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The 12 biggest lessons from my first year in business {Part 2}

This is Part 2 of the 12 biggest lessons from my first year in business. Read Part 1 here. (Half this list–#7, 8 & 9–are pretty much the direct result of the investment I talked about in lesson #6 so you might want to start there first!)

The 12 biggest lessons from my first year in business

7) Start small and specific (Tweet that!)

Once I’d worked with enough people for free (see lesson #2) and I had a clearer idea how I could help people, it was time to think about packages for paying clients. But I didn’t come up with something that I loved (and sold well) until Jenny Shih advised me focus on one small transformation I could deliver for my clients and make a “bite-sized” offer. (This cornerstone of her Make it Work Online program is a game-changer!)

My Rock-Solid Strategy Sessions were born. A small, specific focus with a concrete outcome I knew my clients wanted: a month’s worth of rock-solid content and the tools to do it again yourself. I knew this service would really help my ideal clients and I was 100% confident I could deliver: this “bite-sized” offer was the key to my very first full client load (and waiting list!). So start small, think of one concrete transformation you can deliver and design a “bite-sized” offering.

8) Recognize fear & resistance (Tweet that!)

Turns out starting a business is scary. (And I’m not talking about financial risk because I was lucky enough to have my husband’s steady monthly income to fall back on.) For me it’s primarily the fear of failure, of not being good enough. (But there are lots of other fears too!) And this fear shows up as a resistance that makes me professional procrastinator. (Sometimes that looks like so-called ‘productive’ procrastination: errands, chores or ‘busy’-work. Sometimes that looks like binging on TV shows on Netflix…)

But now I’m getting good at spotting this fear. Bev Barnes (super-talented life coach) taught a workshop about fear as part of Make it Work that really opened my eyes. I’m what Bev calls a “Freezer” : I try to hide from fear by standing still like a deer in headlights (ie procrastinating and worrying rather than taking action). This piece of knowledge lets me see my “freezer” behaviour and deal with it. (Plus I now have a sign above my desk that says, “I’m DOING it” to remind me!)

No one tells us that going into business is going to be a source of powerful personal development but I've learned way more about myself this year than I did in all the years when I worked “jobs” combined. Figure out how your fear & resistance shows up so you can handle it (your business is going nowhere fast without some self-awareness).

9) Have 7 backup plans (Tweet that!)

So that “bite-sized” offer from lesson #7? The one that filled my client roster and earned me my first waiting list? When I first released it, it didn't sell. Not even one spot. I knew it was a great service. I’d had help and feedback on the copy. I had a beta-tester with AWESOME results. It was ready for the world! And all I heard was crickets… I felt deflated. But thanks to Jenny, I didn't let it fizzle out. During Make it Work she encouraged me to come up with a list of at least 7 backup plans to get the word out about my new offer. It was the 8th tactic on that list that worked (hold a free webinar). This was a super valuable lesson. If I had just given up after trying one or two things, I’d never have filled my client list or held what has been my most popular webinar ever (and helped me double my list). Make a plan, then make 7 backup plans–you never know what is going to be the key to success.

10) Work the plan (Tweet that!)

Like every busy solopreneur, my to-do list is a mile long and I’m starting to accept it’ll never get any shorter. Especially as my client roster got full and I had less time to work “on” my business, I had many weeks in the last two months where no matter how many hours I worked, I felt like I was chasing my tail and not making any real PROGRESS. Until I took a step back and got some SYSTEMS in place. Systems to streamline my client process, to manage my to-do list and my time. Systems to keep me on track and focused on the real priorities. Every single new system that streamlines a process for me and allows me to be more productive makes me feel lighter. If you feel like you are spinning your wheels, take a step back and get some systems. In the wise words of Chris Brogan: “Work the plan. (And if there is no plan, make one.)”

11) Connect with other business owners (Tweet that!)

Every single successful online business owner I've heard interviewed has said “you can’t do this alone” or some variation on that theme. It seems counter-intuitive at first since by the very definition of “solopreneur”, I’m a one-woman-show. But I've learned that precisely because I’m on my own without a team, it’s even more important to have supportive relationships with other entrepreneurs. To get feedback on ideas, encouragement when I’m in a slump, to celebrate our successes together and just generally to talk to people who really UNDERSTAND this crazy journey we are on. (My scientist husband is wonderfully supportive but he understands about as much about this online biz thing as I do about his cold-atom physics experiment.) This doesn't have to feel forced or like deliberate “networking” but if you bump into someone online and love their stuff, send them a tweet or an email or reach out for mastermind buddies in an online group like The Uncaged Lifers or the Freelance to Freedom Project Community.

12) Make your own luck (Tweet that!)

Probably the biggest lesson I've learned is the ‘make your own luck', or ‘good things come to those who hustle’ mindset could not be more true. Months in France went by without any forward motion after we first moved here. Until I signed up for BSchool and committed to becoming an entrepreneur. Then, everything changed. Because I started taking ACTION. I put my website up, I let people know I was starting my own business and I began blogging weekly. And the world came knocking! Clients, interview requests, telesummit invitations and guest posting opportunities all started to show up. Sure it didn't all happen within the first few months, but I can’t believe how far I've come in a year, just by putting in the work and making my own luck. Get moving, put one foot in front of the other and watch the magic happen.

I’d love to hear from you

What's the biggest lesson you've learned from being in business? Please share in the comments so we can all learn from each other! And if you've found these lessons helpful, please use the Facebook, Twitter and Google+ buttons right below to share it with other new business owners.

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26 Responses to The 12 biggest lessons from my first year in business {Part 2}

  1. Dayna May 15, 2014 at 18:53 #

    I LOVE #11 Jackie. I couldn’t agree more that the relationships we build form the cornerstone to our businesses. Congratulations on your first year in business!!!

  2. Leah May 15, 2014 at 19:00 #

    Loved these insights Jackie! And you’ve reminded me it’s just about time for my 1 year bizversary post! #7 is so important. I think when coming up with services to start, it’s so easy to get caught up in solving ALL the problems we think people have. But the real needed stuff is much smaller. Having experienced your Rock Solid session, it’s so obvious why. We have on going issues all the time, but at any given moment there is usually one pain point that can be solved pretty quickly. So glad you had that small offering because it definitely solved my pain point and fast!

    • Jackie Johnstone June 12, 2014 at 17:44 #

      It was SUCH a pleasure to work with you, Leah! And to go through this first year in biz together :)

  3. Devorah May 15, 2014 at 19:05 #

    Yes on the #11 connect with other biz owners. People have been so inspiring and helpful! I love talking with others about my own experiences too, and enjoy how transparent other founders are about their triumphs and challenges.

  4. Andrew May 15, 2014 at 19:18 #

    I friggin’ loved these two posts. So enlightening and I obviously have huge admiration for what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. A true rockstar solopreneur.

    I’m gonna focus on #8 (even though they were all awesome). I come from a heavy line of back-to-back cubicle jobs and the one thing I’ve gained thus far from freelancing and starting my own itty biz is the freedom to learn more about myself. When I was working the cube, life became monotonous. Monotony was inevitable. After all, that’s why they have ‘promotions.’ You work your ass off to get the opportunity to WAIT FOR something better. Essentially, you have to fight for any challenging work!

    The best part of running my own business is the freedom to be challenged every single day. It makes me constantly question my ability to rise to the occasion, face my fears, and stretch myself. My father is an HR coach for executives and when I started this thing, the first thing he said to me was: “Just know that with entrepreneurs, their most important relationship is with their business.” I totally get that now. My business is just as important to me and just a part of me as my other relationships. It teaches me, supports me, and forces me to reexamine the way I live my life. What can be more awesome than that?!

    Keep going, Jackie, you rock!

    • Jackie Johnstone June 12, 2014 at 17:46 #

      Aw, thanks Andrew! Also: “My business teaches me, supports me, and forces me to reexamine the way I live my life” I could not agree more!! Love it.

  5. Maria May 15, 2014 at 20:20 #

    Have 7 backup plans… Or 287346!
    Loved it, thank you!

  6. Cristina Roman May 15, 2014 at 22:23 #

    I sat here trying to choose my favorite point but I couldn’t haha. I really like the idea of having 7 back-up plans though- hadn’t thought of it like that before!

  7. Beth May 16, 2014 at 02:41 #

    Numbers 7 & 9 were good for me to see. Trying to figure out what offer to start with is paralyzing, and I feel like you just gave me permission to start smaller. Thank you!

    • Jackie Johnstone June 12, 2014 at 17:49 #

      Yes! Start small. It’s the best thing you can do for your biz, and your confidence!

  8. Nat, Website Superhero May 16, 2014 at 02:59 #

    “Have 7 backup plans” – wow. This lesson is a big deal. Thanks for sharing this and what worked for you! :)

    • Jackie Johnstone June 12, 2014 at 17:51 #

      You are so welcome, Nat!

    • Keiwa October 22, 2019 at 23:53 #

      this list is totally awesome! I definitely want to start working on my own luck. Need to keep working the plan until the plan works! Those tips were truly awesome!

  9. Lane May 16, 2014 at 04:16 #

    “No one tells us that going into business is going to be a source of powerful personal development.”

    Amen, Jackie. A to the -men.


  10. Rita May 16, 2014 at 09:40 #

    I can so identify with all the points you are making, Jackie … even down to the supportive but scientifically-minded husband! Setting a date and telling everyone that you are going to do something is so effective to get you out of that procrastination phase. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

  11. Nela May 16, 2014 at 18:21 #

    Thanks for sharing these lessons, I know I’ll have to go through them myself in order to integrate them, but it’s very helpful to see what to work on.

    The backup plan point seems to stand out for me. I’m often too quick to throw in the towel if things don’t turn out well the first time I try.
    Having that plan prepared in advance would probably help with focusing on moving forward, instead of moping because I failed.

    • Jackie Johnstone June 12, 2014 at 17:56 #

      I struggle with failure too, Nela! I’m slowly learning that I should try to celebrate it and what I can learn from it rather than dwell on it. It’s hard!!

  12. Sofia May 16, 2014 at 19:18 #

    Jackie, I loved these two posts. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight. I’ve seen and heard myself whilst reading them and will apply some of the 12 lessons you shared in moving forward with my business which is at a standstill in some ways. And when the time is right, I look forward to hiring you!

    You’re the best :)

  13. Jackie March 5, 2017 at 22:32 #

    Jackie! Light bulb #9. I also took Jenny’s MIWO program and have my bite-size-offer that’s amazing but when I accounced it to the world there were crickets. I made a list of backup plans and am ready to sell some BSOs. Thanks for sharing all of these tips, so helpful!

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