10 Lessons from 10 Years in Business
I remember when I was in my second or third year in business. A colleague had invited me to the ten-year anniversary party of her company. I was in awe. Listening to her reflections, witnessing her success. It gave me hope and determination. At the time I was struggling with imposter syndrome on many levels. I had been in business for about 2 years but still didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur.
Afterward, I thought to myself, I'm going to have a huge celebration when I reach my ten-year anniversary. Then I put my head down and worked.
Much to my own surprise, this year marks the tenth anniversary of Rosabella Consulting. And given that we're still in the midst of a global pandemic, I won't be having the kind of huge celebration I had dreamed of back then. That's ok. If there's anything the last year has taught us, it's that adaptation is a strength and there are other creative and meaningful ways to celebrate accomplishments.
It’ll come as no surprise that I value reflection as an important part of celebrating. We tend to spend so much time being future-focused we forget to pause and take stock of where we have been. As I celebrate this milestone, I’m sharing my reflections - here are my 10 lessons learned from 10 years in business.
1. "No business plan survives first contact with its customers" - Steve Blank
The program I initially envisioned building my business around never earned me a cent. This is a common struggle. I discovered the disconnect between my plans and my customer's needs quickly. As a result, Rosabella Consulting pivoted before I even officially launched the business. And it has continued to pivot over the years in response to both market demands and personal interests.
2. Not knowing can be your greatest strength
When I started Rosabella Consulting I was barely 30 years old and was often mistaken for a college student (I attribute this to my exuberance and youthful complexion). Because of this, I wanted to show I had all the answers. But the reality was, my clients, didn't want someone that had all the answers, they wanted someone that was willing to listen. I quickly learned that not knowing was my greatest strength. Not knowing allowed me to be open to influence, willing to experiment with solutions and deeply attuned to each of my client's needs and aspirations. As a result, my clients told me again and again that I provided superior services. When we believe we know the answer and are entrenched in being right, we become more rigid and less flexible. There is not one right way to providing coaching, training and facilitation services. There's the best way for the client.
3. Self-care is essential
In my last job (before I started Rosabella Consulting), the founder wore busyness like a badge of honor. He worked himself ragged. When I started Rosabella Consulting, I too was drawn to the go, go, go mentality. But my body (and mind) couldn't sustain it. It took a lot of effort for me to shift my perspective. To recognize that prioritizing self-care is an essential part of doing the work. What's more, practicing self-care regularly improves the quality of the work I produce. Now I make it a priority to do self-care daily. My mornings start with heart-focused meditation and journaling. And I always make time for some sort of physical exercise.
4. Ignore well-meaning advice and listen within
Everyone and their mother wants to tell an entrepreneur what to do or how to build a successful business. If you get too caught up trying to heed everyone else's advice, you'll lose yourself and your drive. Early on I gave myself whiplash trying to apply all the ideas people shared with me. On many occasions, I agreed with someone’s advice because I wanted their affirmation only to regret it later. For me, part of listening within has meant finding ways to self-affirm. As someone once said to me "Seek validation inside, seek inspiration outside." I might gain inspiration from others, but I must choose my own way consciously and with intention. My self-care practices help me do that by heightening my skills for listening within.
5. No one is an overnight success
One of the problems I have with spending too much time on social media is that I'm prone to comparing myself to others. It's easy to look at someone that appears successful and think that it came easily to them. For me, this was often followed with a litany of negative self-talk that's demoralizing.
Hearing the struggles well-known entrepreneurs endured to get where they are today has been eye-opening. I particularly like listening to the How I Built This Podcast. Hearing their stories and the years of effort that went into building their businesses offers me a much-needed perspective. After 10 years in business, I now see success requires sticking with it.
6. Rebounding rituals
I have often turned to this quote by B. Smith when I need some encouragement. "I have stood on a mountain of no's for one yes."
Setbacks happen. Rejection is just one of them. Health issues, family emergencies, or global pandemics can thwart everything. That is why it is important to have rebounding rituals. When you’re in the throes of a setback it can be hard to think of ways to pull yourself up and out of it. Brainstorming a list of the things that rejuvenate you and have helped you rebound before is a highly valuable resource to have at your disposal. I review my list anytime I’ve reached a low. Methodically going through it ensures I make forward progress. Even if it’s just baby steps, the improvement is welcome.
7. Choose who is in your lifeboat wisely
Over the years, I've learned who I can count on when I need counsel or support. This includes who's services I enlist for coaching as well as the friends, mentors and peers I allow myself to be vulnerable with. These are the people I can call on when I'm feeling full of self-doubt or have a deep and persistent wondering that’s as bothersome as a bug bite.
The worst part about opening up to the wrong person isn’t that they will steal your idea, it’s how they make you feel. I’ve left peer groups because there were toxic people who were draining. I specifically have no room for judgmental and shame-ridden comments. I welcome being challenged. I appreciate it when people point out my mistakes. But there’s a distinct difference between someone who’s doing so to build you up and someone who squashes you like a pestering mosquito.
8. Just ship it
It's so easy to get in your own head, and wait to put your work out in the world for what seems like very good reasons. I've fallen into that trap myself, as a protective reaction to repeated rejection. It’s easy to find excuses to wait. Mine have typically revolved around needing to have it all figured out first. Turns out, doing the work and shipping is how you figure things out. What’s more, shipping your work builds your credibility.
Shipping is akin to the modern-day “Open for business” sign. Whether you’re a photographer, a consultant, or a furniture maker - if you’re not shipping your work, no one will even know that you have something of value to offer. Publishing blogs, posting on social media, speaking at events, making an offer, displaying your art are all forms of shipping your work. The point of shipping is to get your ideas in front of other people. When I committed to consistently publishing blogs last year something miraculous happened, people started contacting me to ask for my services more often!
9. It's not about you
I started Rosabella Consulting with an overarching goal - earn a living while being true to myself. For me, that meant building a business that’s serving a need while staying aligned with my values. It turns out that achieving that goal requires empathizing with others and not fixating too much on my own feelings.
This is hard. I have struggled with taking things personally. When people unsubscribed from my email list I used to feel so wounded. I would let that hurt distract me from doing my work. When I shifted the focus away from feeling bad for myself, I was able to look at things more objectively. I realized people’s choices are not about me. Others are doing what’s in their best interest. The question shifted from “Why me?” To “How can I better serve my clients’ needs?”
10. Success doesn't eliminate pain and suffering
As I reached new levels of success in my own business I learned that challenges remain present, rejection still hurts and you will still encounter roadblocks. So many of us tend to have, “Once this happens, I’ll be happy” thinking. The year my first book came out, I also reached new levels of success in my business. After the initial joy wore off, I entered a tailspin. New levels of success lead to new obstacles. Expecting it to be any different is like looking for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Since I cannot eliminate pain and suffering I often choose to invoke the other 9 lessons. When I do that consistently the hurt stings less. The moments of pain are no longer a sign that I’m a failure, but a reality of being human.
I first articulated many of these lessons in A Misfit Entrepreneur's Guide to Building a Business Your Way. Five years later, many of these lessons have proven quite valuable and relevant when applied consistently to my efforts.
What have you learned from your entrepreneurial journey?