Lessons Learned From My First Year in Business

When I launched my business as a side hustle in December 2016, I had grand illusions of becoming this overnight success. After all, marketing and social media is what I do! How hard could it be, right? My experience to date, however, has not lived up to the hype. That said, I'm keeping a positive mindset as I move into 2018 and continue to develop my personal brand. Here are four lessons I learned after my first full year in business that I'm carrying into this year.

Take Advantage of All Available Resources

Looking back, I'm frustrated with myself that I took the easy route of enlisting an online legal service to file my paperwork to register as a business. That was literally hundreds of dollars out the window that I could have spent on something that would have added more value to my business. What I wish I had done instead was haul ass to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) on the college campus and met with a business coach from day one to guide me through completing and filing my own paperwork.

I finally took advantage of a business coach (for free, by the way) in October when I chatted with a friend (and fellow entrepreneur) about wishing I had a partner to keep me accountable and give me direction. He reminded me of the SBDC and I made the call. While we've only met a few times, my business coach has been a valuable asset in regaining focus in my business. Even with parts of my business I knew how to run, it was good to have someone help me establish priorities.

Takeaway: I'm all for bootstrapping a biz from the ground up but look for efficiencies that can get you from zero to one quicker.

Be Realistic About What Can be Accomplished

I started my business with a newborn, a preschooler, a full-time job and some semblance of a social life. Consulting was supposed to be a pilot test but I treated it like a full blown launch. Right out of the gate, my expectations for myself were way too high. And when I couldn't possibly meet them, I felt like a failure and it swept the wind right out of my sails. I was trying to do all the things (content creation, lead generation, social, thought leadership, course creation) but it simply wasn't productive or sustainable. In hindsight, I should have set S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based) with emphasis on attainable! 

This year, I'm implementing a batching system and focusing on developing a library of helpful content for my readers and creating digital products that help my customers. My long list of blog topics is overwhelming so my first goal is to prioritize and schedule out my content to make each batching session as productive as possible. Second, I want to outline my course ideas to find the most viable opportunity.

Takeaway: Set S.M.A.R.T. goals and work backward to develop your task list.

Consistency is Key

Throughout 2017, I struggled to maintain a consistent schedule to work on my business. I started out staying up until all hours of the night to get things done but as my infant's sleep schedule became less predictable, it became more difficult to count on a healthy amount of sleep. My kids were dictating when I woke up and it was increasingly frustrating. My youngest son was getting up between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. so I decided to try to reverse my schedule.

I began going to sleep as soon as my oldest son was in bed and waking up before the crack of dawn to work on my business before the boys got up and the day was off and running. As if he knew, my infant began waking up around 5 a.m. regularly, making it near impossible to get work done. My process crumbled and I became less productive and lost motivation. As I mentioned, 2018 will be devoted to batching work, scheduling it into my calendar and carving out time as needed.

Another issue was that I didn't have a devoted workspace. I was storing everything I needed on a side table in my living room, moving things when my now-toddler got inquisitive. It was tough to stay organized. My devoted desk in our finished basement was uninspiring and was continuously piled high with items to file away. I'm working on a more sophisticated workspace and organizing system to clear up some mental space and allow me to work more efficiently.

Takeaway: Carve out the time and space you need to get the work done. Don't expect it to create itself for you.

Make Time for Me Time

In 2017, my blinders were up and I focused all my energy on being a great parent, a good colleague and a competent business owner. There was no time for me to be myself and as a result, I was disappearing. I wasn't sleeping enough, eating well or caring for my body. It took a toll on my mental and physical health. I've struggled with depression throughout my life and recognized signs that I was having "an episode." I started eating to try and feel anything and began gaining weight. My sleep quality began to suffer. Near the end of 2017, I was diagnosed with depression, sleep apnea and put on about 40 pounds. Ugh. It was clear I needed to take action or I was in big trouble.

In November, I started seeing a therapist, got on an incredible antidepressant and began using a CPAP machine while I slept. Within a month, there was a noticeable change. My mood improved, my appetite leveled out and the headaches and body aches disappeared. I even began to lose weight without changing much in my diet. The only piece missing was the physical fitness. So, in January 2018 I cut back at the marketing agency to build in time for self-care. I've averaged three workouts per week and am feeling like I've found the right balance.

Takeaway: If you're sick, down or downright unhealthy, you won't be a help to yourself, your business or your support group. Take care of number one, people!

There ya have it. A year into my "side hustle" and a year of valuable lessons learned. In the grand scheme of things, 2017 wasn't a bad year. A lot of wonderful things happened and I'm grateful for that. But I think 2018 is going to be amazing.

How about you? What lessons did you learn in 2017 that you'll carry through to this year?