This week marks the one-year anniversary of living outside of the safe world of “having a job” and the start of life as an entrepreneur. It’s been an exciting year of highs and lows, with some interesting surprises thrown into the mix that have left me wondering why I decided to take this route some days, and certain that it’s the only way I’d ever want to live on most. It was an exciting year of growth, and an interesting evolution for my business. I can honestly say that it has changed a bit from when I started, but through those changes I’ve learned some lessons that I feel are priceless. So, here’s the lowdown on what I learned after my first year in business.

Money: Have a plan, know what you need to make, and make it work for you.

Of all the lessons I’ve had to learn in business this was the hardest for me to learn and put into practice. Running a business from day to day can be hard – especially when you’re so busy doing the work you’re getting paid to do. Taking a day a week (or a month) to collect receipts, update the financial software and get everything accounted for can be annoying, and a down right pain in the butt.   But you know what, it’s necessary.  Until you know how much you’re spending on behalf of your business from day to day, you have no idea how much money you actually need to make in order to make a profit and make your business a success. Know what else it does? It takes the stress off. When you know how much money you have coming in and how much money you have going out, you can make plans. You can plan that family weekend getaway, that computer upgrade or outsourcing the irritating bookkeeping work to a VA.  It’s also a clear reminder of how much your work is worth.  You can quickly see how you may be wasting time on services that are eating up your time and not bringing in the money that it actually costs to offer that service, and you can see what services are your golden eggs that you can count on to keep the money flowing while you keep your sanity and truly enjoy what you do. It has taken me nearly a year, but now I make sure that I set aside a few minutes during the day to enter any expenses I may incur into my bookkeeping program the same way that I’d take a few minutes to produce an invoice once a job is done.  That way, when the time comes to sit down at the end of the month and reconcile everything, it takes an hour or so, instead of the hours, turned days of frustration that often resulted in the financial stuff getting pushed to the back burner until it was absolutely necessary to deal with it in the past.  It also resulted in me having more money than I realized.

Get (good) help.

I could write an entire book on this one… and forgive me if I sound like an old fogy when I say good help is hard to find, but it’s SO true.  There is good help out there – great help, actually, and when you find it, treat it well and hold on to it for dear life! Here’s the thing: when you’re running a business, everyone who touches the work that you produce on behalf of that business is a reflection of your business and your values.  If you hire a designer who is just looking for a pay cheque, who really doesn’t give a crap about the work, it reflects on you and your brand.  Values are incredibly important to me, and I expect everyone who works with me to share my values of quality, attention to detail, and stellar customer experience.  If I have to chase you for work, remind you that you have committed to a deadline, or have you tell me that you totally dropped the ball on that commitment because you were, like, totally distracted then I’m not going to work with you again. Sorry, but that’s just how I roll.  My clients are awesome, and they deserve the absolute best, and if you aren’t able to deliver get off cymbalta that, then you don’t get to work with my company.  End of story. Early on I spent more hours than I care to mention re-doing work that I didn’t think measured up to the quality my clients deserved.  In the long run, the clients won out, and I realized that finding the right person for the job is essential. I’ve been extremely lucky in having worked with some insanely talented people who share my values. I’ve also had to let a few contractors go. A year in, and I’ve finally found a few folks who are the technical and the creative yins to my yang. One is a ridiculously amazing developer, and one is an insanely talented designer. Both get the importance of details, are super friendly, each have a wicked sense of humour, understands the importance of tight deadlines, stellar customer experience, they take their work seriously, but don’t take themselves too seriously, and they’re both moms.  The mom part has become particularly important to me because, as a mom, I understand how necessary it is to juggle a million balls, where priorities lie, and where not to waste time.  It’s also helpful when you just need to have someone to vent to about the damn dryer breaking down on launch day, all your jeans are wet and you have nothing to wear but that flower print skort that stopped fitting at about 3 months pregnant.

Do what you love, and don’t do the stuff that makes you unhappy

Coding makes me all twitchy and leaves me feeling like I may want to punch cute little kittens, so I no longer do it. I have an amazing developer who totally gets off on working magic behind the pretty screens and graphics so that I don’t have to do it anymore.  I know how to do it, I just choose not to.  Instead, I do the things I absolutely LOVE – like design, production and website content development and management, marketing strategy and so on. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.  My clients like working with warm and fuzzy Lori much more than twitchy kitten punching Lori.

Remember why you’re doing it

When I made the decision to transition to full-time entrepreneur last year, I did it to obtain freedom.  That’s a totally vague concept that gets thrown around ALL THE TIME, and means so many different things for different people.  For me, it meant having the freedom to be at home with my daughter when I wanted to, and not having to justify it to anyone or count allowable family days in order to be able to do so. It meant being able to split our time between here and Europe for half of the year, and still have the ability to have a rewarding career.  I wanted to be in control of my own destiny (in as much as I can), and not have to worry that a boss might tell me after the fact that my 100+ hours of overtime clocked in a 2-week period would amount to nothing, while giving an employee who she favoured the time and pay for overtime on the same project (true story). For me it doesn’t mean rolling in money that I rake in while lying on a beach in some exotic location, while I have people blindly looking up to me as their guru.  It means being financially sound, having the family time I desire, and the ability to travel while practicing my craft and having the opportunity to work with amazing people.  So far, I’ve been able to experience that version of freedom, and I hope to be able to do it for many years to come.

Don’t ever let fear hold you back

Entrepreneurship is scary. It’s chock-full of ups and downs, responsibilities, worries, stress and pressure.  Know what else it’s full of? Reward.  Reward in taking the chance on yourself, facing your fears head on, and reward in being in control of your own life.  It’s awesome.  Most people don’t take that step toward living their dream because of the fear of failure or rejection, and I get that.  But you know what’s worse than trying and something and having it not work out? The possibility of amazing success awaiting, but fear keeping you from ever knowing that it’s right around the corner.

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