Lessons Learned in My First Year of Running an Online Business

 
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Having made countless mistakes in my first year of business, I've learned that some lessons apply to any field—regardless of the dream you're pursuing. In today's particular blog post, I wanted to share some of the lessons that I've learned so far in my journey, as well as timeless advice I've received from people who are either in the same boat or much further ahead in their businesses.

While each person offers a unique perspective on business and success, most —if not everyone I've encountered—seem to agree on the following pieces of common-sense advice:

 

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate or referral links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more HERE.

 

 

1) Open your mouth.

 
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As an introverted freelancer with a tendency to avoid the spotlight, talking to people about what I do doesn't always come naturally. In fact, I must have thought of a hundred different reasons why I didn't have to tell people about my services when I launched my business. The fear of judgment and appearing salesy was that crippling.

In all honesty though, how else will you expect to find clients if no one knows what it is that you do?

If there's anything I've learned from entrepreneurs before me, it's that marketing—even by word of mouth—is a crucial step to launching any business or brand. Even if you're not trying to sell anything to anyone! There's really no harm in telling people about your business if it comes up naturally in conversation. 

By talking about your business, you'll at least get the word out about what you do and keep your name on people's minds. This way, when they encounter somebody who might need your services, you are the first person who comes to mind.

TL;DR? Tell people about your business! Instead of approaching marketing with the mindset of "selling," approach it with the mindset of "serving."

2) Be open to collaboration and talk to other people in your field.

 
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Don't pay too much attention to the "competition." Instead, focus your energy on learning from other people in your field and lending a hand whenever you can. One thing that the entrepreneurs I know emphasize is the importance of creating a support system of people who get what you do and encourage you to keep going when you feel like giving up.

The solopreneur journey can get quite lonely, so even if you don't have a relationship with other entrepreneurs (yet), you can always start out as acquaintances. And the earlier you start to connect with others the better.

Who knows? You might even get referrals from these acquaintances.


**Related: "How to Build a Standout Business with Michelle Ward"

3) Be consistent. 

Don't give up. Take YouTubers, for example. Many successful content creators, such as Casey Neistat and Lilly Singh, did not become sensations over night or from one single viral video. They created content consistently for years and grew their audience over time before becoming well-known for what they do.

Keep creating content that you want others to see and do one small task a day for your business (e.g. planning out your content calendar or setting up a personal productivity system). You might not see results right away, but the little things will eventually stack up. And as long as you're moving the needle, that's all that counts.

4) Be patient.

 
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You can't expect your business to soar in its infancy. If it does blow up from the get-go, good for you. But for most people who start out solo, running a successful business takes a long time. Even entrepreneur and thought leader Marie Forleo mentions that you can't rush success. She had worked hard for years and served and served and served before MarieTV caught on and B-School was even a thing. As she often points out in her videos, you have to be in this business for the long haul if you care deeply about your mission.  

In a similar vein, I often like to tell myself: work at your own pace.

Yes, you might be tempted to compare yourself to others and to seek results fast. Yes, you might see other entrepreneurs launching new products and services left and right and wonder, "Why am I not seeing any results?" Yes, you might see new programs promising you the results you want, and wonder, "Maybe I should get on that too." But if you only pursue what seems to be working for others, you might end up rushing through your own work and/or compromising your integrity, which is something I've been guilty of myself and definitely regret doing.

 
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So all in all, try your best not to make any rash decisions. Shiny Object Syndrome can cloud your vision and prevent you from creating your best work. By always doing what you "shouldbe doing, you'll only end up disappointing yourself.

TL;DR? Be patient and work at your own pace. Focus on what matters to you, create what you want to create, and pivot if you have to. Find the intersection between helping others solve their problems and helping them in a way that feels good to you—not because other people are doing it too. Don't create something that your heart isn't in.

5) Don't sweat the small stuff.

 
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When you're first starting out, don't stress out so much over aspects of your business that you can easily outsource (ex: hiring a designer) or refine over time. For instance, if your business is not related to web design, devote more time and energy into your sales page rather than your website aesthetic.

**Starting a blog? Use websites like Creative Market to find beautiful and affordable Wordpress themes and stock photos. You can always change your design once you publish more content and want to pay more attention to the aesthetic.

Obviously, you want to do a good job and make your website look nice, but what's more important is to focus on the pages that will compel your audience to take action. Think about what's most important for your line of work.

 
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Let's say you want to launch a blog. You do the best with the resources you have at your disposal and invest in a domain and hosting plan. You write ten blog posts to be ready for launch time and edit each blog post about two times and make sure it's search-engine optimized. Your website is pretty much ready to be seen, but you still haven't launched your blog. You tell yourself that you can't hit publish on blog post #1 until you get your mission statement exactly right. So you wait some more.

In this case, I think it's safe to say, stop stressing. At a certain point, you have to move on and let go of the need to make everything perfect. You'll figure things out as you go and refine your work over time. Don't drive yourself crazy!

6) Focus on your mission.

 
 


To be honest, this is something that I struggled with a lot for the first few months of my online business. In the beginning, I was confident about what the focus would be for each of my websites (i.e. business site + personal blog). But before I knew it, the content started blurring together, and I wasn't sure what to make of my blog anymore. I knew I needed to get a bit more specific.

Who is my audience? Who do I want to serve? Which topics do I want to focus on the most? For instance...

  • Purpose of blog: to share projects and thoughts with other multi-passionate creatives and inspire them to figure out what to make of their interests, passions, and pursuits.

  • Purpose of business: to help creative business owners eliminate overwhelm, as well as to bring their vision to life by helping plan, design, and execute projects that have been left on the back-burner.

The mission and messaging of each site might change over time, but these are the core goals for now. Whether you're working on a passion project/side hustle or starting a business, it's crucial to focus on your core mission!

For instance, maybe you started a blog, but you struggle with choosing a topic to write about. You can plan out as much content as you want, but without any kind of mission or focus, your blog will lose its cohesiveness, and possibly readers. Think about what's of utmost priority to your audience. How can you best serve the people you address?

**Check out Krista Aoki's Career in the Making for more on the importance of mission (as it pertains to blogging)!

7) Don't create content just for the sake of creating content.

 
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This is a mistake that I've made several times. And I have learned the hard way  (*cough, cough...burnout*) that creating content for the sake of creating content is a waste of your time and a waste of your audience's time. Perhaps it's different when you're doing some kind of a 5-day or 30-day challenge to see what you can create in a designated space of time.

But when you're on your own schedule and you're forcing yourself to write content that you're not vibing with just to pump out new content, don't do it. It will show in your writing (or whatever content you create) and come across loud and clear to your audience.

Remember: quality over quantity. Nothing's more disappointing than to scroll through you blog feed (for instance) and see a bunch of mediocre posts that you wrote half-heartedly.

8) Stop selling yourself short.

Whether or not you are where you thought you'd be, you've worked extremely hard to get to this point alone. Give yourself some credit. If you don't believe in your own abilities, then chances are that no one else will.

Practice talking about the mission behind your business and what you're currently working on. That way, you won't get flustered when someone asks you the dreaded question, "What do you do?" I'm still working on this myself—don’t get me wrong—but we owe it to ourselves to get our elevator pitches right.

9) Invest in your business.

 
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If you know someone or something that can help you get to where you want to be—and you've thought about it carefully—bet on yourself and invest in your business. Take that online course you've set your eyes on for a while, or partner up with a coach that you trust and know has your best interest at heart.

Investing in a coaching program for aspiring entrepreneurs helped me launch my business much more quickly than I had anticipated. After all, being a solopreneur doesn't mean you have to do everything alone. Do some digging, research carefully, and invest in the product or service that will help you learn, grow, and make a return on your investment. Getting the results you want will take time, but who says it has to take forever?

*Thinking about becoming a freelance designer? I've heard great things about The Design Skills Course by the Bucketlist Bombshells. Click here to learn more! 

 
 

10) Create other streams of income.

 
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Find a bridge job or start a side hustle so that you aren't relying solely on one stream of income—even if it's temporary. Start multiple side hustles and research passive income if you haven't already. It's always great to have more than one option, so here are just a few (of many) possibilities:

  • Create an ebook or digital workbook and sell it through a platform like Gumroad or Sendowl.

    • I'd suggest starting out with Gumroad if you prefer not to pay a monthly fee and don't have much of an audience yet. Gumroad takes a percentage of your profit only when you make a sale. Sendowl is a better option once you start selling more ebooks and you decide to create an affiliate program for your digital product.

  • Sell old, well-maintained clothes on reseller platforms like Tradesy. (Random, I know.)

    • I understand that this doesn't qualify as passive income, but I suggest giving this option a try because of Tradesy's ease of use. I've actually made a significant amount of extra cash from selling clothes on Tradesy. (And it goes straight into my side hustle savings account!)

    • Once you complete your profile and upload photos/descriptions of your items, you can sit back and relax until somebody purchases an item from your closet. Granted, you'll have to go to the post office and mail out your package, but thankfully Tradesy provides a shipping kit for you should you choose to go the lazier route.

  • If you have a blog, youtube channel, etc. as an extension of your business, start monetizing it through affiliate marketing.

  • Sell your products and services on freelancer platforms.

    • Your website may be your main storefront online but it doesn't have to be the only one. Peopleperhour and Fiverr are other great options to get eyes on your products or services.

Brainstorm right now if you don't have other streams of income! It's never too late to get started!

 

 

If you've got any experience in the world of online business, what are the best lessons you've learned so far on your entrepreneurial journey? What advice would you give to someone who's just starting out?

Comment below!