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The 12 biggest lessons from my first year in business {Part 1}

The 12 biggest lessons from my first year in businessI certainly wasn't born wanting to be an entrepreneur. I avoided business classes in high school and university in favour of science and languages.

But when my husband and I moved to France in the fall of 2012 (for his work), leaving behind my full-time communications job in Toronto, I didn't have a clear idea what I wanted to do with my life here. I had no real “job” prospects that lit me up and I spent the first few months here in Bordeaux feeling lost.

Until the idea of ‘solopreneurship’ found me in early 2013. It was exciting to think I could control my own time, my own income and my own projects. Just after my 30th birthday in late February of 2013, I signed up for Marie Forleo’s B-School and committed to becoming an entrepreneur. It felt RIGHT.

One year ago today — May 8th, 2013 — this website went live with my very first blog post and my business was born! (Even though at the time all I was offering was 30min free social media help sessions.)

This past year has been one of profound growth (personally and professionally), ‘pinch-me-is-this-really-my-life’ highs and ‘can-I-really-do-this’ lows and an incredible amount of learning.

So I wanted to share the 12 biggest lessons I learned in my first 12 months in business:

1) Set a date & tell the world (Tweet that!)

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d owned this domain & server space for years telling myself “someday soon I’ll put up my website”. BUT at the start of B-School I committed to having a website up by the week after graduation and while there were a lot of LONG days fighting with code, I made it. Mostly because I set the actual DATE (rather than just saying “soon”) and told people about it (gotta love public accountability!). So pick a date, tell people about it and make it happen!

2) Work for free (at least at first) (Tweet that!)

While I had lots of work experience working WITH social media, I didn't have a lot of experience teaching it or being a consultant to other business owners. So I started blogging and giving away free social media help sessions. I wasn't making any money yet, but I felt like I was finally sharing my value with the world. And I was getting super valuable feedback on how I could HELP, who I liked working with and what was the most fun for me. I did something like 20 free 30min sessions before I ever had a paying client and I learned something for each and every one. My coach, Jenny Shih‘s sage advice was to do them until they were no longer serving me, until I was no longer learning something for them. Don’t be afraid to give it away, especially in the beginning! (And actually, I still give away lots for free including free 15min mini-sessions for my webinar attendees and I LOVE it.)

3) Say NO to clients or projects that drain your energy (Tweet that!)

Once my website was live and I announced I was in business, opportunities started showing up. Not having really worked for 9 months, I said yes — to everything. At first it was great just to be making some money again, but one of the projects I had taken on got routinely left to the end of the week and felt more and more like pulling teeth every time I had to work on it.

So at the end of my contract, I said No to a renewal — even though it was the most regular source of income I had at the time. It was hard to say no, to feel like I was disappointing them, but it actually would have been a disservice to us both if I’d stayed on. This particular contract was only about a day’s worth of work per week but it sucked up MUCH more of my energy than that because I was working outside of my zone of genius and wasn't enjoying the work. And you can’t do your best work when you feel that way. So pay attention to your work habits, your mood, your energy around projects and only say YES to the stuff that feels GOOD.

4) Say YES when it scares you (Tweet that!)

The first time someone asked to interview me on a podcast, my first reaction was to say no. Same thing the first time I was asked to speak on a telesummit. But luckily, even though I’m still learning to trust my intuition in business, I recognized that gut reaction as nerves, not a true ‘No’ and said YES anyway. (Turns out I really love doing interviews and speaking!) I really believe in the ‘say Yes now and figure out how you are going to do it later’ approach : )

5) Launch before you’re ready (Tweet that!)

When the idea for a 6-week group class to teach business owners ALL the essentials of using Facebook for biz (Facebook from Scratch) grabbed me in the fall last year, I mapped out a high-level program outline, put up a sales page and had a beta group of students enrolled before I had written ANY of the actual lessons. I planned, researched and wrote each week just before I delivered it live and it was the best decision I could have made. I learned a lot from my students as we went and was able to tweak more easily along the way. I also had a hard & fast deadline each week — no room for resistance or perfectionism procrastination. This also a great way to see if there is any real interest in a service or product BEFORE you spend oodles of time creating it.

6) Invest in coaching (Tweet that!)

When I decided I wanted to work for myself and become an entrepreneur, I read, and googled, and read some more, desperately seeking resources and support to help me get started. I had lots of social media experience but zero business experience, and no clue how to run an online business. Investing in B-School, and Jenny Shih's support through her B-School bonus was a complete game-changer. But last fall I took investing in myself and my business to the next level when Jenny released her brand-new Make it Work program — I committed to much more in-depth and personal business coaching for 3 months early this year (including an in-person retreat in Portland, OR).

Jenny and Make it Work helped me on so many levels (lots of which are still becoming clear now!) but HUGE shifts are happening in my business. I am finally consistently profitable, I am starting to build a waiting list and most of all, I’m feeling a real momentum because I no longer wonder if I’m doing the “right” thing. I am confident I have the skills and knowledge I need at this stage and I have a solid plan for at least the next 6 months — and that feels amazing. Figure out what kind of support or training you need and find a way to make it happen, your business will thank you for it SO many times over.

Read Part 2 for the final 6 biggest lessons I learned in my first year in business, including #9: Have 7 backup plans which has been a HUGE key for me in the last few months.

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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>> In this free training you'll learn:

  • The number one mistake people make when it comes to their social media content
  • How to generate a month’s worth of content in a few short hours(using the same system I use AND teach my private clients)
  • What works (& what doesn’t) on Facebook and Twitter (with TONS of real examples)
  • How to automate this piece of your social media presence so it works hard getting you noticed while you’re busy doing other stuff

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32 Responses to The 12 biggest lessons from my first year in business {Part 1}

  1. Jess May 8, 2014 at 20:39 #

    #3 and #4 I have to remind myself of all the time! I have SUCH hard time saying no to projects!

    • Jackie Johnstone May 8, 2014 at 21:22 #

      Right?! I still struggle with this but the more I practice tapping into my intuition, the better I get at this.

  2. Elizabeth May 8, 2014 at 20:52 #

    Hooray! I love these lessons – 3,5 and 6 particularly resonate with me. Congrats on your first year anniversary :)

    • Jackie Johnstone May 8, 2014 at 21:20 #

      Thanks, Elizabeth! I’ve been so enjoying your 2nd year in business look-back series so thank you for the inspiration!

  3. Leah May 8, 2014 at 21:02 #

    Oh Jackie- these are some great lessons and it’s been so fun being on this first year of business right along with you. I have to say, your lessons are the same ones I’ve learned and I love hearing your take on them. Congrats! It’s time to celebrate!

    • Jackie Johnstone May 8, 2014 at 21:20 #

      Yes, cheers to you too! It’s been so nice ‘growing’ through our first year together : )

  4. Paige May 8, 2014 at 21:15 #

    Jackie- it’s wonderful reading these from the perspective of someone who is just starting. I will definitely keep these lessons in mind as I trek through my first year of business. And, I am all about #6. Hiring a coach was the best investment I could have ever made!

    • Jackie Johnstone May 8, 2014 at 21:19 #

      YES! And enjoy the journey! It’s full of ups & downs but when I step back and get perspective, I realize how fun it really is : )

  5. Rebecca Gruenspan May 8, 2014 at 21:24 #

    Jackie, you are awesome! OK, so you’re a bit ahead of me in business and sounds like you’ve had some great success. You go girl! An important lesson I’ve learned is to close the computer, shut down my brain and maintain a bit of balance! I was feeling myself burning out really quickly at the very beginning when I was running on adrenaline, but it catches up quickly. Look forward to your next 6.

    • Jackie Johnstone June 12, 2014 at 17:59 #

      Thanks Becca! I love your lesson of closing the computer to get balance — I’m still working on that one myself : )

  6. Val May 8, 2014 at 21:28 #

    Awesome and inspirational post, Jackie! Nice job.

  7. Sue Ferreira May 8, 2014 at 22:22 #

    Congratulations, Jackie, on your First Of Many Anniversaries.
    Thank you for your wisdom and problem solving I have learned from you in this year.

  8. Kimberly Crossland May 8, 2014 at 22:45 #

    #3 and #4 are HARD lessons for many entrepreneurs. It took me awhile to learn them too. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Jackie Johnstone August 23, 2014 at 10:55 #

      YEP! But so important :) It’s all about trusting our gut & our energy, eh? Thanks Kimberly!

  9. Elizabeth May 8, 2014 at 22:50 #

    Congratulations Jackie on your first year in business! ‘Chinks imaginary glass of champagne to you’. I have set my date and Im working towards it. I’ve found setting my date really has helped with my productivity and to get things moving and has made it all seem more real. Your post as so many useful insights in it. Thank you. Congrats and well done again!

  10. Andrew May 8, 2014 at 22:50 #

    Congratulations Jackie! I love this list (and I already can’t wait for the next one). I think my favorite is to say yes to things that scare you. As hard as it is at the time, we’re ultimately better for it. I also think opening yourself to things you fear teach the greatest lessons in the end.

    Congrats again!

  11. Peggy May 8, 2014 at 23:12 #

    I definitely resonate with #1. I just that for the podcast I just started. Having publically announced the date to everyone on my mailing list got me to do what I needed to do to launch. It’s not perfect, but I know i will always be tweaking it.

  12. Anna Long-Stokes May 9, 2014 at 00:00 #

    Thank you so much for sharing your lessons Jackie! You have clearly had such a successful first year in business and I’m so proud of you!

  13. Beth May 9, 2014 at 01:00 #

    I am still working on #1 and #2. Number 3 would require actual clients to turn down, which is not a problem I am currently experiencing, although I am still receiving an education in the types of people I DON’T want to work with! I love hearing about your journey and can’t wait for part two!

  14. Nicole May 9, 2014 at 02:05 #

    I’m about to try #5 as I create my first e-course! It makes me sooooooo nervous to do this so reading this in your blog is great. Congrats on a successful first year!

  15. Sherree Mongrain May 9, 2014 at 02:44 #

    Congrats Jackie! I’ve gotten to know you (should I say silently stalked you! lol) since I started B-school this year and I really love your style, your kindness and your smarts! Thanks for sharing so freely. I feel exactly like you did a year ago and I know I’ll learn even more from you as time goes on.

  16. e'Layne Koenigsberg May 9, 2014 at 03:42 #

    thanks for sharing and looking forward to next week…I just got a coach and as you said it is a huge game changer…Having someone to hold you accountable is priceless. What I am finding is I’m more relaxed and don’t feel like I’m chasing shiny objects anymore…I’m able to focus on exactly what i need to focus on…I appreciate you talking about just doing the sales page…I’ve been considering that…beta testing…I need to look that up…thank goodness for google…lol…congratulations on your first year!!!

  17. Sophia Chang May 9, 2014 at 04:08 #

    This is SO DAMN good I almost hate you. :) (but actually I’m learning so much from you)

  18. Elloa May 9, 2014 at 16:17 #


    What a brilliant read this was. I admire you so much, and have learned so much from witnessing you over your first year in business. It’s an honour to be able to share part of the journey from you. When it comes to my FB page, I often stop and ask myself, “What would Jackie do?” :)

    ALL of the lessons are big for me, but at the moment, number 3 is waving its flag at me, as is number 4.

    Here’s to your second year!

  19. Desiree May 9, 2014 at 20:59 #

    Thanks so much for sharing these lessons! I am totally stuck in lesson #2 and it is good to know that it is possible to move beyond that into being successful at what I really love. Lessons #4 and #5 also particularly resonate with me. I can’t wait to read the next installment!

  20. Jamie May 9, 2014 at 21:37 #

    Great post and amazing advice. Thank you so much for sharing!! The “Set a date and stick to it” rule – is my favorite. It’s one that I try to apply to everything I can. Even though it’s one of the hardest, it’s really SO TRUE. It’s so nice to hear it from you and get the reminder/encouragement. I love that and #5 so much – just jump in while the water’s nice and freezing cold and learn to swim. It’s clearly working!! Very inspiring. :)

  21. Laura G. Jones May 13, 2014 at 03:19 #

    This is so good, Jackie! I’m a big fan of Jenny Shih as well, and I already can’t wait for the rest of the tips in this series! I didn’t make any money in my first year so I’m still learning these lessons as I go along :)

  22. Shelby Wallace August 15, 2014 at 17:47 #

    This is definitely encouraging since I launched my blog this week and still trying to get everything going. I have three freelance clients on the side while working my full time job in marketing. My freelance projects are so filling and I love working for myself. I’m hoping to freelance full time soon and learn these lessons myself :)

  23. Mallory February 23, 2015 at 04:54 #

    I love the point about launching before you’re ready. I have a perfectionism problem myself, and have to occasionally remind myself that it’s not worth stressing over sometimes! I also think that sometimes I’m better with a strict deadline, so I like what you did with creating the course material during the week before each class – something similar would probably work well for me too!


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