Important Lessons From My First Nine Months of Business

lessons from my first nine months of business

I'm a self-taught website designer, trained life coach, and former nerd herder (project manager for video game developers).

I started Simple + Soulful last April - less than a year ago - because I needed to make some money on the side until I could find another full-time job.

My project manager position had just ended. It had been my safety net during my coach training. It's what paid the bills while I attempted to attract enough clients to create a sustainable income as a life coach.

By the time I was dusting off my resume (nine months ago), I was exhausted, frustrated, and my back was up against the wall.

I felt really stupid.

Why had I spent so much time, energy, and money on a coaching career path that didn't seem like it was going to work?

Was I the butt of a cosmic joke? Was I a terrible coach? I took B-School and did everything I was supposed to do. What was the dang problem?

My husband and I have a family to support, so NOT making money was NOT an option. I threw in the towel on my coaching dream and took personal inventory.

I asked, "What do people want to spend money on, that I can do for them?"

While I sent resumes and went on interviews I figured I could use my writing skills (B.A. English), my marketing experience (B-School), and my personal obsession with design to build websites for people who find the whole process overwhelming. I hadn't even considered that my project management experience and life coach training would be a factor...

But then I sold a website.

And the process of uncovering my client's truest dreams and helping her align and convey them on her website lit up ALL my creative circuits!

So I kept moving in this direction. No plan. It just felt good and worked.

Nine months later I've given birth. Seriously, that's what it feels like.

I've birthed a unique business that allows me to be exactly who I want - while doing a lot of different things I love: 

  • playing with colors, shapes, images, and letters
  • writing stories
  • excavating underneath clients words and emotions to find the truth of their dreams
  • creatively connecting with like-hearted people
  • organizing the geeky aspects of technology projects

Life coaching was just a piece of the puzzle, rather than the whole picture. And the only way for me to realize that was to have all my safety ledges crumble out from under me.

It guaranteed I'd get uncomfortable enough to move my ass.

Here's the deal:

You can take every e-course under the sun. (me)
You can get advice from coaches, consultants, and cousins. (me)
You can mind-map, strategize, and vision-board 'till the cows come home. (me)
You can wait until you discover your true calling. (me again)
You can be stubborn about your idea of what you should be doing. (aaannnnd me)

But eventually you'll have to move your ass. So you may as well just get on with it.

The longer I stayed in planning and learning mode regarding the life coaching practice I stubbornly demanded, the longer I stayed ignorant of opportunity all around me to build a cash-flowing business that allowed me to live the life I wanted.

I learned a valuable lesson:

Your work should be a beautiful expression of who you want to be. I also learned, if a business idea isn't working, it may be the wrong container for this expression.

Back then, the few coaching clients I had loved working with me and they were shifting their lives in amazing ways! But I couldn't make a real living at it.

The work wasn't the issue. The container I had created for it - my business model - was the problem.

When I was comfy, with a full-time income, I didn't have to look at whether I had the right container for my work. I could just keep forcing things. I could keep spinning my wheels, making excuses, and stubbornly insisting it must look like THIS.

Once I stopped resisting anything that wasn't life coaching and started taking real action (because I have a mortgage and all), I discovered new ways I could serve people beyond life coaching, and still feel deeply aligned with who I want to be.

Nine months later, I have a business that's working.

It's an honor to welcome clients into my world (who usually become dear friends); and intuitively guide them into the heart of their work. Together we bring forth beautifully aligned website experiences that support how they want to show up in the world for the people they serve.

I also offer personal life coaching - but I don't advertise this service. Clients find me somehow and when they do, I know our paths crossed for a divine reason. 

The thing I had to have is gravy. An added bonus!

While my infant business requires as much nurturing, patience, and stamina as a real baby, I know I'm on the right track because the payoff is flow, validation, and success that feels deeply fulfilling and sustaining, which gets me through the turbulent times of flailing and figuring things out. Which is a natural part of the solopreneur journey and leads me to...

What I learned creating a business I love
with a sustainable income in my first nine months of hustle:

You don't need to know your purpose or have a plan.

So stop fretting about it. I don't believe you are meant to do something amazing in your lifetime. I think you are simply here to be amazing, no matter what you're doing

Just start moving in a direction that interests you...like now. Right, freakin', now.

This doesn't mean take another course. It means land some work doing something you are interested in and have the skills to carry out. 

As you start turning projects around, your experiences will either feel expansive or contractive. Course-correct based on expansion.

Give'em what they want. Infuse it with what they need.

If people don't want to buy what you're selling, figure out what they actually want to buy and then tweak what you are offering around that.

You and I know your dream clients may need a particular solution. But that doesn't mean they want to buy it.

A person may really need to get organized.
But perhaps what they want to buy is a solution to give them more time with their kids.

My clients want to buy a website experience that feels stress-free AND results in an online home they love. I know they need to get clear about what they do and who they serve (because that's the soul of their business and the foundation their online home must be built upon).

I give them what they want.
I infuse it with what they need.

Don't limit yourself to what you currently know how to do.

I used to shy away from things I didn't know how to do, mostly because I didn't want to look like an idiot. Talk about limiting!

How did you learn to ride a bike? By eliminating every single risk of falling beforehand? Of course not! You had to hop on and start peddling. You learned to balance your bike and propel yourself forward by actually moving your feet, not sitting on your butt reading the manual over and over.

Figure out how you want to feel and the impact you want to have on others. These are your intentions

Keep your heart filled with your intentions, your mind open to unexpected opportunity, and YOUR FEET MOVING. The universe will guide you in synchronistic ways you can't even imagine.

Be okay with starting small.

The internet is filled with classes, groups, and masterminds to help you "build your six figure empire." How about getting your feet wet (and collecting feedback and testimonials from real people) by hosting a small class somewhere in your community? 

Learn your way along your new path by doing, gathering feedback, tweaking, and trying again; instead of opting for more courses and formulas promising to catapult you into the stratosphere.

How terrifying would it be to go to the deep end of the ocean and start scuba diving without ever having paddled around the shoreline? 

Get back in your lane.

Whenever you start to feel like you don't know enough, it's because you're comparing yourself to someone else. You've jogged up next to that person and are pushing yourself to keep up with their pace, even though you haven't built the muscles or endurance yet to do so.

You can only get better from where you are, so don't try to sprint alongside someone who endured what it takes to run at such an impressive clip.

Learn how to manage your thoughts.

Out of control thoughts are like unsupervised toddlers on a sugar binge (that's how Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School describes it). 

I took life coaching classes and have read kajillions of books over many, many years. But you could seriously shortcut things by reading and applying the wisdom from this brilliant book by Jen Sincero: You Are A Badass 

(A good life coach is a great alternative if you need a bit more thought-pattern exploration, hand-holding, and accountability. My Jedi master in the early days was Sarah Yost. I love her. (I'm a personal life coach as well;)

 
 

In the beginning you won't know what to charge.

This is absolutely fine. You don't know what to charge because you don't know your value.

You CAN'T possibly know the value of what you do until you take action doing your work!

I believe your value is reflected back to you through the people you serve. This means in the beginning - to get a few client experiences under your belt - you may need to work for peanuts.

Just because you start small doesn't mean you'll stay small.

My rates have increased three times in the last nine months. As I increased the value I offer my clients, I increased my rates. 

When your value and rates mirror one another, work flows. When you pick a price out of thin air because that's what she charges, you feel like a fraud on the inside. People sense this.

My rates feel good. I am proud of them. I know the value I deliver is completely aligned with them. This confidence came from doing, not over-analyzing, wishing, or comparing.

Set up systems. Document your processes. Constantly improve.

When you are a solopreneur, it's overwhelming to try and remember everything

Time is money and energy. Real deal.

Searching for files, rewriting the same email over and over, having unnecessary steps in your client experience slows you down and burns you out.

Start documenting everything you do so you can see what's working and what's not. Keep refining how you do things and fixing the leaks.

I know this might seem hard if you've never done it, but it's easier than you think.

Check out Asana. It's a free application that will help you document and organize the moving arms of your business. You can: keep idea lists, create a project calendar, set up workflow templates, collect blog post topics, and more! PLUS you'll be able to easily collaborate with contractors and virtual assistants when you are ready.

Changed. My. Life.

 
 

Give yourself permission to exercise.

If you hate to exercise, tell yourself it's medicine, Dr's orders. 

When my bod has been thoroughly shaken with a rebound or a run (a turtle jog actually), my creative energy just FLOWS!

In the early days I thought I didn't have time for movement. Looking back it's not that I didn't have time, it's that I didn't give myself permission to use my time in that way because I told myself I had too much to do.

If you feel like you have too much to do... 

Brain dump everything stressing you out onto a piece of paper and then start crossing stuff off that falls into this category "if I don't do this, the world will keep on spinning."

Be a faucet, not a fire hose.

A fire hose will spray your face off if you try to drink from it. Typically, we put things on our lists that are more about our inner perfectionist and over-achiever (fire hose) and less about what people and situations actually need from us (faucet).

Create structure. Chunk your work.

I used to take calls, book sessions, check my emails, and write blog posts here and there and everywhere! My work felt flustery and chaotic. Instead of guiding my business like a Queen Bee, I buzzed around like a spastic fly.

Now, I talk on the phone with clients and prospects on Mondays. I design and produce projects on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I write and do marketing on Wednesdays. And so on. Creative people rebel against structure, but the truth is... we thrive with it. 

I set up my first daily structure on paper, then I moved everything onto my Google calendar.

I love getting little pop-up reminders to switch gears during my day! This means (unlike the old days) I avoid being in my pajamas, inhaling processed food (because it's handy and I forgot to eat), and wondering how it's 3:30pm already when my kids get home from school. It also means I'm not checking Facebook or my email inbox all day:)

time management chart for solopreneurs

Reduce your living expenses.

In the beginning, when I was making less money I was a frugalista because I didn't want to compound the inherent stress of starting a business with money stress.

We didn't eat out. We bought second-hand. No vacays. We drove crappy cars (still do as a matter of fact. It is still year one after-all:)

Money stress isn't totally avoidable, but it's significantly less than had we carried on like I was still working a full time job. 

But NEVER say "I'm broke." or "I can't afford it."

When I walk into Target I own the damn place. I look at every single aisle near me and tell myself I can have anything in the whole store if I really want it. This makes me feel so abundant and bold.

Then I come in with, "Thing is, I simply don't need everything in this store right now."

You can have it all...you just don't need it all right this minute.

I always find ways to afford what I really want. Otherwise I'll say, "I don't want to spend my money on this right now." 

I'm broke = I'm limited.
I don't want to spend my money on this = I'm in control.

Small language tweak. BIG difference in your energy (which is the basis for what you attract into your life and business).

That being said, don't struggle outside your genius zone.

I used to spend hours and hours learning code and advanced design in photoshop. Hated every minute of it. PLUS it wasted my time, energy, and money! 

Now I hire that out. I gladly pay my programmer, Jim, to work alongside me for three hours each week. I have a list cued up for him (in Asana of course) and we get stuff done lickity split.

Whatever you are struggling with, you'll be money ahead hiring it out to a pro who can cross it off your list with ease.

Network in your community. Get support.

Everyone seems to complain about going to networking events (including me), but if you screw your head on straight before you go, they can be supremely valuable.

In the beginning I went networking with one goal in mind: to drum up biz.

As an introvert this made networking feel super awwwwkkkwarrrd.

Now I go to events to meet people.
People and their stories fascinate me.
People love talking about themselves.
People know other people.

I believe businesses thrive because of intentional, whole hearted connection with people.

P.S. I also met my business buddy at a local networking meet up. She's growing her biz as a nutrition spokesperson and food photographer. We get together twice a month to support each other. She taught me about Asana (which changed my business) and I taught her about email marketing (which changed hers).

Know that suffering and discomfort are different things.
Discomfort is do-able.

When I couldn't get my life coaching practice off the ground, I suffered because whatever I tried didn't work and I couldn't see a way forward.

My brain wanted it and was willing to force things, but my heart felt constricted about the action I was taking. 

When things get dicey in this version of my business, I can always see a way forward. Most of which requires stepping outside my comfort zone and diving head first into challenge, which can feel really uncomfortable.

The difference between the discomforts associated with this business and my prior suffering with my old business is:

Who I need to be - to grow this business - feels deeply aligned with who I WANT to be and how I want to feel.

Who I needed to be to grow my old business did not feel aligned. It didn't feel like me. It felt like something I should do because of all the time, money, and energy I had spent on courses and training.

Birth and growth is - by default - uncomfortable. Nothing gets born into this universe or blooms into its most magnificent expression without some form of stress and pressure to shape it.

Discomfort is okay. The action you take to move through it makes you stronger.
Suffering is self-indulgent because it means you are refusing to look at what you're contributing to the situation. You always have a choice, even if you don't want to make it. Get temporarily uncomfortable and make some decisions already! 

And speaking of decisions: there is no right or wrong.
There is only right or left.

OH! How paralyzed we become when we think we'll make THE WRONG DECISION!

This self-inflicted torment keeps us spinning in circles.

If you turn right, and discover the road is filled with terrible pot-holes, when you want to travel that way again, you'll need to:

  • recall the pot-holes
  • think of new ways to avoid them this time
  • proceed with a tweaked strategy

Or simply turn left.

Another way of putting this is...

BUILDING A BUSINESS IS NOT A RECIPE; IT'S AN EVER-EVOLVING EXPERIMENT:

  • you have an idea you think might work
  • which sparks some inspiration to test your theory
  • so you take action
  • then review your results
  • afterward, you form another hypothesis based on your new feedback
  • which sparks more inspiration
  • and helps you tweak the variables of your experiment
  • so you can see what happens this time!

So there you have it.

The most amazing lessons I've learned over the last nine months of going from no income to completely replacing my full-time salary.

Was it easy? I wish.
Was it stressful? Sometimes.
Did I have to stretch and grow? Oh Lordy, beyond what I thought possible.
Am I gonna do it all over again in year two? Hell yeah! But not exactly in the same ways, because I'm smarter, stronger, and keep refining as I go.
Do I have it all figured out? Does anyone?
Does my adventure feel authentic and aligned with my soulful-self? Absolutely:)

How about you? What are you learning by taking brave steps with your business? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

 
squarespace website designer deana ward
 

Deana Ward

Simple & Soulful Creative, Lincoln, Nebraska

Simple & Soulful Creative is a Squarespace design studio that helps solopreneurs + small businesses clean up their messaging + launch gorgeous (easy-to-manage) websites.

About The Author

Deana Ward is a Squarespace website designer, copywriter, and consultant who helps soulful entrepreneurs align their brands and set up efficient business systems—while guiding them to take simple, tangible steps toward their professional goals. Her warm, personal approach goes beyond website design. It includes one-on-one training, accountability, and idea decluttering—which empowers her clients to get up and running so much faster than going it alone.

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