What I learned in my first year in business

I set up Mad and Sad Club a year ago this month. 

In that time, I’ve learned how to build a website, how to market myself, how to price my services, how to save for taxes, how to pay myself. 

Innumerable practical things. 

But the biggest thing I’ve learned, the thing that has carried me through that first tough, but wonderful year was this:

My business is for me first.

It might sound selfish at first reading. But I’m not ashamed to say it. 

In a small business world where ‘the customer is always right,’ in an entrepreneur world where you need to ‘give value to people’ I think it’s easy to lose sight of why we are doing this. 

Of course I want to do good work and have an impact on people, but the foundation of why I’m doing this is to have the space to live and work in a way that makes me happy and healthy. 

So I thought I’d break down more of what I’ve learned this past year and give a little advice (if I may!) to anyone wanting to work for themselves, or who already does but feels like their business is leading them, not the other way around.

Learning one Why before what and how

There’s a marketing reason for this approach, and a personal one.

The marketing/strategic reason is – people don’t buy a thing. They buy what the why behind the thing. The story, the reason, the benefit. 

Rather than marketing your thing by focusing on what it is and how it works; a more effective strategy is to focus on WHY you developed the thing, WHY it is valuable for people, WHY it will make a difference to them. 

The personal reason for starting with why is this: my why is all about building the life I want. And to build the life I want, I need to build my business in a way that facilitates that, rather than undermines it. 

I want to work part time. I want to work mainly from home. I want to have freedom to work on different projects. 

That why helps me to decide what services to offer and how to deliver them. It helps me know whether a project or client is right for me and my business. It makes it easier for me to have strong boundaries in place. 

My why is the foundation stone for my business. It keeps me on the path (however windy!) to building the life that I want and I’m so so grateful to have that why ingrained within me.

Learning two

If I give myself an inch I will take a mile

This one’s all about my thought processes around work. 

After three years and four therapists, I now know that work for me is my source of validation and confidence. 

For me, that means that I will pour myself into work to feel worthy, to feel I have value. And that tendency becomes even stronger if my mental health is on a bit of a dip. As my mood dips, I need reassurance that I’m not a failure, so I turn to work and push myself, which makes my mood dip even further.

There continueth the vicious cycle.

I know therefore, that I need strong boundaries around work – both mentally and practically. 

I know that if I do a bit of work of an evening, that I’ll just continue. That evening working then could easily become the norm. That evening working could spill into weekend working. That all of the time I NEED to keep my brain on an even keel is eaten up.

For me, self awareness is the starting point, the foundation to managing my mental heath. It’s the starting point because, once you’ve come to that realisation you gotta act on it.

So I keep this realisation in mind throughout my business. I don’t organise work for the evenings or weekends (there are some things I will flex this rule for!); in my 121 work I need to work with people who are able to have our calls in the day time; I work in our spare room and keep my work space very separate to our living space; I do things that aren’t ‘work’ in the daytime to work towards that goal of working part time.

All these things help to shift my mindset around work and start to decouple my self worth from my work.

Learning three

the nuts and bolts of building a business for me

I’m a pretty practical person, so while I have done a lot of work on my thought processes and mindset, I NEED to be able to translate that into the nuts and bolts of how I run my business.

So, here’s a bit of an inside look into how I’ve built a business that works for me and my (mad and sometimes sad) mind.

  • Firstly, I ask myself: How many hours do I want to work?
  • Then how much do I want to earn? I think about this in three phases – how much I NEED to earn – a baseline; how much would make me feel comfortable; and how much would be amazing – a stretch goal if you like
  • Next up, how do I want to spend my time? This helps me work out my services, packages and products – how do I want my time to be split between corporate work and human to human?
  • Finally, I consider three things to help me figure out my pricing:
    • What value does this thing bring to the person it’s for?
    • What impact does delivering this thing have on me?
    • How long will it take me to deliver it?

What’s spat out of that process is a clear idea of the services I want to offer, what my capacity is for those services and how much I will charge for them.

Learning four

Look for examples of people doing it their way

In the entrepreneur world – particularly the online entrepreneur world – you can’t move for people telling you how it’s HARD WORK. How they worked 18 hour days as standard for the first year. How they sacrificed holidays, days off, treats, sleep for their business, but it was all worth it.

I just DO NOT hold with that. That isn’t what’s right for me. 

I don’t want work to be hard and I don’t believe it has to be. I’ve built a profitable business in a year that shuns all of that traditional ‘wisdom.’

So I’ve actively looked for people that I do hold with. People doing things differently, people putting themselves first in their businesses.

Here are a few of those people if you’re looking for a bit of inspo too:

  • Ruth Poundwhite – business mentor to quietly ambitious humans – Ruth has built her business to support how she wants to work as an introvert. Every course launch, challenge, mentoring space opening is done in a way that works for her and in doing so, attracts people who want more of that
  • Jessica Rose Williams – writer and simple lifestyle blogger – Jessica is so true to who she is and the life she wants – unapologetically so. It’s inspiring. Jessica recently launched a YouTube channel and sadly has received some trolling comments. Instead of soaking those comments in and carrying them with her, she took the bold step to develop a trolls policy. She now deletes all hate comments, to both look after her own mental health and to make sure that her corner of the internet remains a positive one
  • Alice Benham – digital marketing coach – Alice is one of my wonderful mentoring clients and is on a journey to fundamentally shifting the way she does business to allow her to look after her mind and live the life she wants. Alice is moving from a 121 heavy business model to one where she has a range of income streams, works with fewer clients and opens up slots to new clients only three times per year. Alice is proof that you can turn the juggernaut of an established business to work better for you

So what next

A year in and I know how to run my business in a way that works for my mind. Well, I have a framework – every day something new comes up for me to get my brain around!

But, I know that so many people feel like their business is running away from them, or that something feels off, or that they don’t have the time to look after themselves, or that they dread one part of their business. And they’re not sure how to change things.

And I feel ready to help. To help you:

  • Diagnose where you are and how you got there
  • Uncover and untangle the knotted thought patterns around work 
  • Straighten out the practicalities of how you run your business so that it supports your mind and facilitates the life you want, rather than undermining it
  • Figure out what changes to make and how to talk to people about them

I’ll be doing this through Four Weeks of Space – an intensive group programme for just 10 people.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dan

    As always Jo, thank you for sharing your own personal experience. I was reading through and felt my head nodding in agreement over some of those doubts you highlighted about going self-employed.

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