10 things I’ve learned from my second year in business

Planning or working on a start up business? Read 10 lessons one entrepreneur has learned from her second year in business.

The first few years of running your own business can be tough. In fact, according to Dragon’s Den’s Theo Paphitis, as many as 50% of start up business fail in the first two years.

So it’s important to get as much help and advice as you can in that time. A year ago we shared six important lessons HR consultant Michelle Gyimah had learned in the first year of starting her business (you can read them here).

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We loved Michelle’s advice so much, we asked her to to share any further lessons she’s learned, after two years of being an entrepreneur. And here they are. We hope you find them as insightful and helpful as we do!

10 things I’ve learned from my second year in business

So, here we are year two in my business Equality Pays. It’s been an interesting year full of many more lessons. I always like to read true accounts of what it’s really like to be in business, so I hope that you find it useful.

1) Your value/success is not only tied up in your level of expertise

This was a big one for me. During the second year of my business, I redefined where my focus was – which meant it was almost like starting again. Re-writing my website, creating new blogs, looking for different clients and networking with different people.

It had taken me a while to be honest about what I really wanted to focus on, versus what I thought and was being told was the sensible path for me to take. It was a real leap of faith for me, but one that has definitely proved to be right.

The downside is that because I was effectively starting again, I was turning down offers of work in my old area of work while getting ready for clients in my new area.

This was tough. I felt like I was going backwards and began to start tying up my lack of clients (i.e. no money) to my value and level of expertise. It took me quite a while to realise that this wasn’t true, and was only limiting my self-belief and re-enforcing a vicious cycle.

Once I believed that my skills were worth paying for, I started to see many new and interesting opportunities, which has not only bolstered my confidence, but also my network. This in turn has turned into potential and actual clients.

2) It takes longer than you think to get the money momentum going

This was another tough lesson to learn and one that I’m still learning now. I’ve found that focusing on the good clients and money that has already shown up helps me stay positive and believe that more are just around the corner.

I know so many female business owners that trapped in that cycle of ‘my business is a failure, no-one wants to buy my stuff’. I always tell others that when a new client does come on board out of the blue, you never knew they were coming, but they turned up anyway.

So while you are working away, remember that you never know what is just around the corner.

Michelle Portrait Session (56 of 138)

3) Write down your goals regularly

This is something I’ve heard loads about but only really have just got into. There have been so many days where I’ve just drifted the day away because I didn’t set any boundaries. But on the days (when I remembered to!) that I wrote my goals and kept that page open while I worked, I was much more focused and more productive.

Writing down your goals every day (or as often as possible) helps to focus what you are doing and makes you question more why you are doing something. It can be so easy to get dragged along with the next craze/opportunity, but if it’s not aligned with any of your business goals then it can set you adrift and make it difficult to come back.

4) Time to re-set boundaries

I’m STILL pretty rubbish at this. I’m still finding it hard to set boundaries for myself – maybe I’ll get better this year?!

Boundaries can be about anything: giving too much away, working for free, bartering services, being cajoled into things or procrastinating on things you need to do. Mine are around managing my time.

I’m still either wildly optimistic about how much I can get done in a working day or my free time, give myself really tight deadlines to complete things for other people (because I want to be viewed as superwoman), or take too long to settle down in the evenings to do more work after putting my little one to bed. I’ve recently taken on a full time role until October (why you ask? see point 2!) so time is even more precious at the moment.

I’m getting better though. I now schedule my time better and have begun to outsource the more boring tasks and things I’m not brilliant at/can’t be bothered with but need to be done! (See point 8.)

5) Invest in a business coach or mentor/business group/accountability buddy

I’ve had a few business coaches and I have to say that when I’ve been consistent with a coach is when I’ve been most productive. Running a business is hard work and you need the professional ear of someone who has done it before/is doing it to keep you sane and steady.

There are many business coaches out there, so do your research before you start with someone. Check out their social media and testimonials. Ask if you can contact their previous clients to find out more about how they work and what results they get. Sign up to their newsletters to get a sense of who they are.

Ask trusted business friends who they use and ask for recommendations too. I’ve met all my business coaches from Facebook groups that I’m in, asked for recommendations and joined their newsletters and free groups. I’ve heard terrible stories of people being ripped off by coaches who claim to be more than they are, but I’ve not had that experience and I believe that is because I’ve done the right research before investing.

6) Don’t forget PR and joint ventures

For a while in my first year I spent a tidy sum on Facebook and LinkedIn adverts – both of which brought me nothing. Now this could be for a number of reasons, but ultimately I decided not to invest in any more ads.

Now depending on your business, these might be the best thing for you, and you never know, I may go back to them. But for now I prefer to focus on PR and joint ventures. I regularly write for UK and international magazines and I’ve found that this is a great way to increase my exposure for free. The investment to do this is time not money.

As a result I’ve made some great partnerships and now am working in collaboration with other business owners who have clients similar to mine, but provide a different service.

Joint ventures help to cement a better public image and make it easier to target potential new clients. One article in particular is responsible for my latest joint venture which will be coming out later this month.

7) People are always watching, even if they are not engaging with you, so keep going!

At times it can seem like no matter what you write in your social media posts or newsletters, no-one is watching or cares. But they do! I used to think that no-one was watching me, but every so often someone will send me a message saying that they love my work and that I brighten up their day.

And that brightens up my day. So keep going, you never know when someone will need you. Consistency is the key to getting clients, so keep showing up and doing what you do.

Michelle Portrait Session (6 of 138)

8) Invest in help. Even if it’s from Fiverr!

This is a new one for me. I’m in a lot of business groups that advise outsourcing the things that either take you ages or that you are not good at.

For so long I was paralysed by the cost of outsourcing, and worried that I was spending money before I had clients. But in reality you have to.

My mistake was thinking that I had to pay hundreds of pounds for a great service, but then someone reminded me that it all about ‘stretch not stress’. So whenever I get panicked about outsourcing, I always tell myself to start from where I am.

There is no need to leap straight to a really expensive business coach or VA. There are lots of resources like Freelancer.co, ODesk, Elance and Fiverr, packed with talented people who are willing to work for very reasonable prices.

My take on this is that, right now there are some services I’ll try on Fiverr to see if any of them fit my business needs. As my business grows I’ll upgrade who I decide to work with.

It’s still a business investment, but it’s on my terms and it is a stretch but with no stress. Another great tip is to ask your business coach or any business groups. Tap your network; they may be able to recommend people within your budget.

9) Keep going and focus on the big goal!

There have been a few times this year when I’ve just felt like giving up. I was convinced that my new business focus was silly and that no-one wanted what I had to offer. This was even more difficult when I first went back to work, but thankfully those low moments have passed and I didn’t just chuck it all in.

Keeping my ultimate goal in mind and talking about this all the time with my friends and family, business coach and business groups has been an absolute lifesaver. And writing down my goals on a very regular basis helps to cement the vision into my subconscious more as well.

When I’m feeling like it’s too hard and that there’s no point in carrying on with the business I do one of three things:

  1. Talk to someone who understands how I feel to give me a different perspective and something positive to focus on.
  2. Have some downtime and listen to some music (I have three playlists of happy, pick me up songs that I love to bring me out of my funk). Works EVERY TIME!
  3. Do something fun and non-business related. Hang out with my toddler, gossip with friends, have a drink, watch a box set, read or go for a walk.

I’d recommend having a list of things to help you get out the doldrums as it can be too easy to wallow there for too long!

10) Schedule down time

Confession time….I’m still working on this! I was listening to a podcast the other day and this entrepreneur said that his family schedule their family time in his calendar to make sure that they get to hang out with him.

Now, this may seem extreme to some but after thinking about it, I got it. Being a business owner can be all consuming. You’ve 1001 ideas running through your brain all the time. And it is so easy to always put your business first, because everything feels urgent! Unfortunately down time and family time often get pushed to the back. So I get why his family scheduled their time in.

Now I’m not that busy, but I do have regular reminders on my phone and calendar for ‘me time’. I’ve recently started going to Pilates, which I love, and am now going to build in time for aqua-aerobics and reading non-business books. I’m getting there, slowly but surely!

I’m still learning lessons

All in all, this second year has been very educational. I’m still learning lessons from my first year and taking on new challenges.

In terms of clients and opportunities, these seem to be coming in on a steadier basis. A business coach I know once said that it takes around three years to start seeing any profit. I’ll definitely be looking forward to that going into my third year! Keep going too, you can do this.

Find out more about how Michelle helps employers to manage working parents and create inclusive , flexible workplace on her website.