It’s gonna sound totally cliche, but the past ten years flew by! I still remember very clearly, hiding in my car during my lunch break from my terrible job, and reading books on how to start my own business.
Look how far we’ve come!
The past ten years have certainly had their ups and downs (you can read about my biggest mistakes here!), but I’ve learned and grown so much that I’m not sure that if I could go back in time that I would change anything. Well, except I’d buy Bitcoin, obvs.
So let’s count down what I consider my ten biggest accomplishments of the last 10 years of running my own business!
10. Taking the leap
I didn’t plan on going into business for myself, but after quitting a terrible job, in an even worse economy, I didn’t have a lot of options.
When I heard of someone who needed a website, I decided to just take the leap and start my own business.
Now, I definitely don’t recommend just quitting your job and then figuring out how to start your own business. My first year was ROUGH. I had no idea what I was doing, where to find more clients, what to charge, or even how to manage my time.
I literally had no idea what I was doing! Everything was figure-it-out-as-you-go, and absolutely terrifying.
But I was figuring it out.
What I learned: The scariest part of starting a business is getting started. Even if I had planned on starting my own business, I never would have been “ready.” Ever. While I highly recommend knowing more than I did before getting started, I also recommend getting started before you feel ready, because that day will never come.
9. Making business friends
One of the hardest things when I was starting my business was not having anyone to talk to about it. Or, the people I didn talk to, although well meaning, just had NO CLUE what it was like to run a business.
By breaking out of my introvert-bubble, I was able to start making friends who also had their own businesses, and share ideas and get and give support.
Not only was I able to collaborate on projects and get and give referrals, I was able to make connections and friendships–something that’s hard to do as an adult! Now, some of my very best friends are people I met through entrepreneurship.
What I learned: Being a creative entrepreneur is so much harder when you don’t have people in your life you “get it.” Surround yourself with others who are doing something similar, and you and your business will grow.
8. Inventing the Intro Packet
Back in 2014 it felt like I was always attracting clients who turned into nightmares.
They didn’t respect my office hours or other boundaries, they never got me what I needed to make their website on time, and my projects always took much longer than I thought they should.
I decided to lay out everything I thought a potential client should know, and send it to them before I even got on a call with them.
I called in an Intro Packet, and it changed my entire business.
Clients started respecting my boundaries, giving me what I needed on time, and projects started wrapping up even faster than I thought they should.
From there I was able to tighten up my boundaries even more, and discovered that as long as you told potential clients about them before you started working together, they were completely fine!
And if they were someone who wasn’t fine with scheduling calls or using a project management system, then they didn’t waste their time or mine by scheduling a discovery call.
I started sharing this idea with others, and the Intro Packet started having a magic effect for other web designers too!
Now, the idea of the Intro Packet has spread far beyond my business and the web design niche. When my students started using an Intro Packet with their clients, those clients started using one with their clients, and so on. You can now find Intro Packets in just about every service-based niche.
TBH, I was a little ticked about this a few years ago. Many of my students even started selling Intro Packet templates based on my original template and including a lot of the same text, which wasn’t (and still isn’t) cool. But now? I am more thrilled about the idea that something I created has been so useful that it’s now commonplace!
What I learned: Your potential clients don’t know how you work or what’s expected of them. If you lay out everything beforehand in an Intro Packet, clients know what they need to do and can be prepared–speeding up your projects and making everyone happy. Also, good ideas get stolen, and if they’re really good, become commonplace. Learn how to create your own Intro Packet here!
7. Making incredible products
Not to toot my own horn, but… toot toot!
I have taken courses and bought products that uhhh…. suck. To put it nicely. They had incredible marketing and looked beautiful, but the content was lacking. Buying these products/courses sure taught me what not to do.
While sure, I have had a few unhappy customers (mainly ones who didn’t read the sales page), my refund rate is incredibly low, and that’s because I have put my heart and soul into every product I’ve created with a huge focus on the CONTENT over design.
This has paid off, big time. I’ve turned products into my main source of income and get to impact thousands of students/customers each year. Even though many of my products are “simple” Google docs! While they aren’t fancy, they are effective.
The biggest compliment is when others share about my courses or products because they’ve loved them so much!
What I learned: If you put in the work to make a great product that solves a problem for your customers, you’ll reap the rewards–even if it doesn’t look fancy! On the flip side, you could make the most beautifully produced course or book ever, but if it doesn’t solve your customer’s problem, you’ll be giving a lot of refunds.
6. Teaching over 12,000 students
I went to look at my numbers for this post, and was shocked to see that I’ve now taught over 12,000 entrepreneurs!
At the time I’m writing this, the number is actually 12,824.
This number is spread across my courses, and doesn’t include conference/summit workshops or presentations.
I am so honored that so many have found what I have to share worthwhile.
I never could have dreamed that I’d be able to impact so many others through my business. I am really at a loss for words because I’m so amazed!
What I learned: You can have an impact far beyond your wildest dreams.
5. Enforcing my boundaries
I mentioned before that I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so this is a big accomplishment for me.
I used to work constantly, and be available 24/7 for my clients. I was miserable, my time was maxxed out because clients would just call and I’d drop everything, and therefore my income was also maxxed.
Boundaries (laid out in my Intro Packet) changed all that. Well, when I started really enforcing them.
Client calling at 10am on Sunday? I didn’t even hear it because I set my Google Voice not to ring.
Just adding one tiiiiny thing to a project? Sure, if you pay me more.
Wanna be friends on FB? Nope. Delete.
Enforcing my boundaries was really hard at first, but became easier the more I did it. Now, I’m pretty darn good at it! I’ve got a list of things that are automatic nopes, and when I stick to them, I enjoy my business and my life so much more!
What I learned: You have to enforce your boundaries for them to work. When you do, you give yourself freedom.
4. Investing back into my business
When I started my business, I was SO scared to put money back into it. For good reason, I mean, I wasn’t exactly swimming in cash, and I had bills to pay!
In the earliest days, I felt like spending $20 on a business book was a big investment. But each book taught me so much! (Books are still one of my favorite ways to learn about business.)
Then, I finally saved up the money to invest in a big program that I’d heard great things about. Only to have a TERRIBLE experience and end up getting a refund (after jumping through a lot of hoops to get it!).
Looking back I think the experience was a mix of my expectations being too high, and the program being over-hyped.
It took me a while to get over that experience. I was hesitant to spend money on anything. Courses, software, memberships, conferences… What if they ended up like that one program?!
So I did things the hard way, tried to figure it all out on my own, and DIY’d things that took me weeks, when I could have bought a solution or hired someone and had it done in an afternoon.
Eventually I realized that lack of investing back into my business was actually costing me MORE, because it was taking up so much of my time. So, slowly, I started investing again.
I took some amazing courses (many are on my recommended list), made great connections at conferences, and got my business automated with software. With my new knowledge, connections, and time, I was able to start bringing in more money, much faster–and start taking time off!
What I learned: While you want to do your research before investing, putting money back into your business will help you make more money in the long run.
3. Defining my own vision of success
I don’t know about you, but for a long time, I thought success had to look a certain way. The business women I followed all looked a certain way, seemed to have a certain lifestyle, and let me tell you: I was falling SHORT.
After years of struggling to reach what looked like how success was portrayed on Instagram and YouTube, I finally realized: I didn’t give a f*ck.
I was chasing someone else’s dream.
And it was making me miserable.
Even though I KNEW that not everything in their lives looked like it did on Instagram, I still felt like a failure.
Until I really sat down and figured out what I wanted. That’s when I realized that very little of the life they were showing matched up with the life I wanted.
And then my whole business and life changed. With my newly defined vision of success I was able to finally start designing my business to match–not to meet what success meant to others.
What I learned: Success is personal. You get to define what it means to you. You are not failing if your vision of success looks different than someone else’s.
2. Designing a business that lets me spend more time out of office
In the early days of my business, I never could have imagined that I’d be able to spend most of my day playing with my kids and still make money.
I thought I had to hustle, constantly.
And of course, in those early days, I did. The business I designed was based entirely around trading my time for dollars–and not nearly enough dollars.
When doing web design, my income was entirely active. If I wasn’t working, I wasn’t making money. That meant that if I took a day off, I didn’t make money. If I went on vacation, I didn’t make money. If I didn’t land a client that week, I didn’t make money. Talk about stress!
While I think active income is great (you can get paid a lot of money for your direct time) you should also be making money passively. That way you can be bringing in money, even when you’re playing with your kids, traveling, or sleeping.
A really quick overview of types of income:
- Active – Meaning you’re trading your time for money (even if it’s a package/productized or a retainer). Think of web design, copywriting, consulting/coaching, VA services, photography, website maintenance, etc.
- “Passive” – There’s no such thing as completely passive income, but here we’re talking about no longer trading time for money. Meaning you put the time in, and get paid later, often with no cap on how much you can make. Think of blogging, courses, books, or other digital products, as well as affiliate sales.
- “Passive” Recurring – Again, no income is 100% passive, but there are ways to keep making money after the initial sale without doing more work. Primarily through affiliate programs that offer recurring payouts. You make the initial sale, and then get paid out as long as the person you referred keeps paying the company. Companies like Teachable and Convertkit offer this!
I dipped my toe into passive income in 2014 when I released the first edition of Say What?! (then called Designer Scripts). I made a few thousand dollars initially, and the money kept coming in. I was amazed!
More products followed, and then I finally started tapping into income that was passive after the initial sale–recurring affiliate income. How cool is it that I get paid every month for a sale I made years ago? Pretty damn cool.
Now, my business is primarily made up of passive income made via course/digital product sales, with a good mix of passive recurring income via recurring affiliate programs. I rarely do active income activities anymore, though they are nice to throw in every once in a while for a quick income boost.
This mix of income has allowed me to make money even if I’m not at my desk. I could be at the park with my kid, on a roadtrip, or even out of the country!
I never could have thought this was possible in the early days of my business, and I’m so proud that I’ve been able to design a business that allows me to work 10 hour weeks so that I can spend time with my kid and travel, and still make a great income.
What I learned: While active income is often the easiest way to start a business, you don’t have to stay in the hustle forever. Add in passive and passive recurring income to free up your time and spend more time out of office.
1. Sticking with it
In my first year of business, I worked harder than ever before, and in the end made a profit of about $12,000.
I remember crying as I was filing my taxes, feeling like such a failure and wondering how I worked so hard and made so little. I almost quit.
But I decided to make it work.
I got really good at what I offered, set a strong business foundation, learned some basic marketing, and most of all, didn’t give up. I definitely wasn’t an overnight success, but slowly grew my business year after year.
When I was sitting in a cubicle making $28,000/year working full time, I never could have imagined that just a few years later I would make more than that in a month, working part time.
I’m so happy I didn’t quit after that first year!
Of course, there were a lot of other low points over the past 10 years, many times I felt like throwing in the towel, and even considered working for someone else.
But I’m still here. And I plan to be for a long time, even through the future mistakes and low periods.
What I learned: Entrepreneurship takes a lot of faith in yourself and sticking-with-it-attitude when things get rough.
I’ve accomplished so much over the years! Running a business has brought so much joy to my life through impacting others and making a life that I truly love. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years brings!