6 valuable lessons from six amazing years in business

Sep 5, 2019

Six years ago, I glanced around the open plan office for the very last time. As I exited the lift and walked out into the street, it finally hit me.

I was really doing this!

You see, I wasn’t simply leaving a job. I was saying goodbye to my corporate career. And embracing my new life as a business owner.

This week, I’m celebrating my six-year business anniversary!

Six years since I left my corporate job, days before my 30th birthday to start my own business. I remember that day. Walking through the city, wind in my hair. Feeling nervous, yet unbelievably excited about all the possibilities ahead.

I’ve learnt so much on my 6-year business journey. And I continue to learn every day. I’ve experienced tremendous success and great challenges. Ended up in a place I’d never expected. And learnt many valuable, life-changing lessons along the way.

To celebrate my 6th business birthday, I’ve chosen to share 6 of the important lessons that’ve shaped me as a business owner.

Whether you’re an early stage entrepreneur, dream of starting your first business or are a seasoned professional committed to developing your current career – these lessons will help you up level your business and transform your professional life.

Read on to discover the 6 biggest lessons I’ve learnt in my six years of entrepreneurship. And how to apply them in your own business, career and life.

LESSON #1 – ASK FOR HELP

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt over the past 6 years?

You can’t do it all on your own!

In my early years of business, I worked longer hours than I ever had in the corporate world. Yet I refused to ask for help, insisting on doing everything myself! My inability to let go of control resulted in stress, overwhelm and eventually burn-out. And working on tasks not aligned to my strengths and passions drained my time and energy.

The answer? Seek out support. Delegate, automate or outsource anything outside your area of expertise.

For me, this looks like outsourcing accounting, website and graphic design. As well as automating aspects of my marketing, customer service and client onboarding processes.

LESSON #2 – CREATE BOUNDARIES

The second lesson I learnt is the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say no.

Prioritise self-care

Like many entrepreneurs, I’m extremely passionate about my work. I easily become engrossed in an exciting creative project, sometimes working away on my laptop well into the night. In the past, this quickly escalated to consecutive 16+ hour days, late nights and weekends. And became unsustainable.

These days, I recognise the need to establish boundaries and prioritise self-care to limit overworking and prevent burn-out.

To me, self-care looks like an ideal morning routine of meditation and exercise, sleeping and eating well and limiting my working hours. Whilst this can be challenging to stick to and I’m not always consistent, I now understand the need for balance. As a natural ‘doer’ – someone who’s always in action and working towards the next goal, I’ve learnt it’s equally important to take time out to just ‘be’.

Saying no

Secondly, I’ve learnt to set boundaries around the type of work I take on. By saying no to work, clients or opportunities outside my ‘zone of genius’.

This is a concept explored by Gay Hendricks in his book, The Big Leap. Your ‘zone of genius’ is the work that comes most naturally, almost effortlessly to you. The tasks you’re doing when you feel ‘in flow’. It’s work that gives you fulfillment and meaning. Whilst being aligned to your innate strengths and what you love to do.

I learnt a long time ago taking on tasks you don’t enjoy or have the skills for creates stress, overwhelm, procrastination and plenty of sleepless nights! Meanwhile, staying within your ‘genius zone’ leaves room to focus on the work that energises you.

It’s natural to feel uncomfortable about turning away work. But in the long run, it actually creates space for the projects and tasks you’re good at and love to do.

Recently, a client realised the significance of this lesson. They were struggling to complete a project they’d agreed to take on because it wasn’t work they wanted to do. Recognising this, they said no to a similar project that later presented. And then received two new work enquiries within their area of expertise!

LESSON #3 –  HAVE A CLEAR VISION

A major lesson I’ve learnt over the past 6 years is the importance of knowing WHAT you’re working towards and WHY.

It’s about having a clear vision for the business, career and life you want to create. As well as understanding your purpose: Why your business exists. The ‘why’ that personally drives you. And the impact you want to create through your business.

Without a clear vision, you’ll be driven by your to-do list, deadlines and the agendas of others. Or the pursuit of money, success and other empty goals.

Eventually, you’ll burn-out, lack motivation and fulfillment. Or, will begin to feel stuck without a clear sense of direction.

This is a lesson I learnt the hard way. I came from a successful corporate consulting career where I was driven by financial targets, promotions and pay rises. And unknowingly, I went on to replicate this way of working in my own consulting business. Although I had some idea of the life I wanted to create, I failed to consider the vision and purpose for my business.

As a result, I quickly got swept up in the ‘busyness’ of work. Other people’s priorities. And continually driving myself to beat my own financial results and targets! By the time I asked myself WHAT I really wanted from my business, I was a few years in, completely burnt-out and unhappy.

The lesson? Understanding what you’re working towards and why is crucial to creating a fulfilling, sustainable business, aligned to your highest priorities.

LESSON #4 – TAKE IMPERFECT ACTION

Like many of the ambitious professionals and entrepreneurs I work with, perfectionism has been an ongoing battle my whole life. As high performers, we’re constantly setting the bar higher and higher. Striving for the next, bigger goal.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’m acutely aware of my excessively high standards. And my natural tendency to set unrealistic goals and put pressure on myself to achieve them.

I know from experience the consequences of not keeping perfectionism in check. Overworking and burn-out. Procrastination and failing to take action. And feeling guilty when you don’t!

As a perfectionist, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. Trying to get everything perfect and meet your own high standards, you delay taking action. But no action = no results.

So, at the beginning of the year, I adopted ‘imperfection’ as my guiding word for 2019. And made a commitment to embrace imperfection and take imperfect action this year!

The lesson: imperfect action is about going for progress, not perfection.

Because done really is better than being perfect – and having nothing to show for it!

LESSON #5 – IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO PIVOT

Recently, a client came to me feeling stuck in a business that wasn’t working for them. They believed they’d chosen this path and ‘had to make it work’.

After working together, here’s what this individual realised. They didn’t need to follow someone else’s path. Or create a business the way everyone else in their industry does. Instead, they considered new ways to create a career and business model aligned to their personality, strengths and ideal lifestyle.

This is an important lesson I’ve learnt myself. A couple of years ago, I’d built a successful consulting business doing the same work I’d done as an employee. But something was missing. I was great at the work but no longer enjoyed it. I began to question what I wanted. And this ultimately led to me pivoting my career and changing my business model.

Now, a pivot for you might not be as extreme as a complete career change. But it’s important to remember that like life, our businesses are constantly evolving. And what we want will change during the different seasons of our lives.

Since making the shift into coaching, I’ve continued to refine my business model and offerings. And have niched down to my ideal target client base. I now focus on the work I love, that my ideal clients want, in the area where I can add the most value.

So many people accept a career path or business model they’ve created. They feel stuck or unhappy but believe they have to ‘deal with it’.

Here’s the important lesson: It’s NEVER too late to pivot. If something isn’t working in your career or business, it’s entirely possible to change it! Remember, as a business owner – you set the rules in your business.

LESSON #6 – INVEST IN YOURSELF

At the beginning of my business journey, I lived in a place of fear and scarcity. I carefully saved, resisted spending and was scared to pay myself or invest in my business. Even though I did exceptionally well and replaced my corporate salary in my first few months!

I now realise operating from a place of fear stalls growth and doesn’t allow you to attract the right clients or create abundance. I’ve learnt the importance of adopting a growth mindset, continually developing my skills and investing in my business.

In recent times, I’ve hired experts to help develop my business. Maintained my own personal business coach. Invested in courses to refine my skills and consumed numerous business and personal development books, podcasts and blogs.

To date, for every investment I’ve made, there’s been a positive flow on effect to the efficiency or profitability of my business. I’ve also addressed skill gaps and have been able to share my growing knowledge with my clients.

BONUS LESSON – HAVE FUN & CELEBRATE!

As a high-achiever, it’s easy to become fixated on accomplishing your BIG END GOALS. You get overwhelmed. Frustrated at the time it’s taking to reach your goals. Or disappointed by setbacks along the path to success.

By far, the biggest lesson I’ve learned in 6 years of business is that it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Reward yourself when you reach an overall goal. But also celebrate smaller milestones you reach too. Your progress along the way!

I’ve also learnt to celebrate every action I take, regardless of the outcome. Both success and failure provide an opportunity for learning and should be celebrated. In fact, learning from our mistakes is often where the greatest transformation and growth occurs.

After all, success is never guaranteed. But there’s an opportunity to learn from every outcome, make adjustments and keep moving forward.

To stay motivated and fulfilled as you work towards your ultimate goals, it’s essential to enjoy the process, have fun and celebrate every step of the way!

Final thoughts…

As I reflect on and celebrate my 6 year business journey, I wanted to share my honest confessions and the valuable lessons that have impacted me along the way. My hope is you learn from my experience and mistakes to continually transform your business, career and life too.

Once you’ve read this post, I’d love to hear from you. What’s the biggest insight you’re taking away? And what’s one step you can take right now to turn that awareness into action?

Drop me a note to share your thoughts!

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Stacey Back is a career expert, Career & Business Coach and the Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achieving professionals and entrepreneurs who feel stuck, unhappy or unfulfilled at work to clarify their career goals and create lasting changes in their professional lives.

Stacey specialises in supporting professionals transitioning from the corporate world to start their own consulting businesses. She works virtually with individuals based across Australia and internationally.

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