It’s easy to forget that success is all relative. Sometimes I feel like my business is so tiny it barely counts as a business. I compare myself to the business owners whose blogs I read or podcasts I listen to, with their 6 figure income and 7 figure goals. It sounds impossibly distant and unreachable.
But then a friend or acquaintance will offhandedly say something about how impressive my business is. They congratulate me for taking the leap and quitting my part time job. They’re impressed when I host a class or speak on a panel. Somehow, in my head, each of those achievements is a one-off. It’s a stroke of luck, or a fluke, or not really THAT big of a deal. But I think we all think that about ourselves and it helps me stay grounded to hear from business owners who are still in the side-gig phase. I’ve come a long way.
My business has gone from 2 or 3 side projects per year, to several projects a week. From a tiny trickle of revenue that the IRS didn’t care about to headaches at tax time. From 3 total clients to 3 monthly clients, a handful of annual or sporadic clients, and too many one-offs to count. In the past couple years, it’s grown a TON and I can tell you why. But it’s more fun to talk about failures, so instead I’ll tell you the biggest mistakes I made and how overcoming them led to where I am now.
Mistake #1: Inactivity
Starting out, I was thrilled whenever I did get a new client. But I didn’t know how to get more. I tried networking – once. I had a website. Magnets on my car. And then…
I read a lot of books. I made a list of marketing things to try maybe one day. I waited. People would find me, right?
After 3 months of inactivity, I finally realized this was a losing strategy. I started poking around to see what opportunities there might be. I applied for a mentorship. Learned how to code responsive websites. Researched marketing and decided to give networking another go.
I didn’t always pick the right action. But doing something is always better than doing nothing. You can’t learn from your mistakes if you aren’t making any, and by doing nothing, you sure as heck aren’t doing anything right either. Inactivity is the surest way to stagnate.
Lesson: Do something. Even if you don’t know what to do. Research, ask peers for suggestions, try new things.
Mistake #2: Inexperience
What? But everyone’s inexperienced until they get some practice in. True. My mistake wasn’t just that I was inexperienced, it was that I didn’t take steps to rectify that.
When I said I read a lot of books up above, I’m talking fantasy. Fluff books. I didn’t read anything related to business, or research, or follow experts in my field. I tried to just work with what I had and learn the rest on the fly.
This is a huuuuge mistake! Think about the number of small businesses that fail. 80%. Each of those businesses failed for a reason and that’s a lesson you could learn and avoid. The much smaller number of small businesses that succeeded have even more important lessons to share. By learning things secondhand, we can save ourselves massive amounts of time and effort.
Lesson: Be a sponge! Read business books, listen to podcasts, follow blogs. There’s so much free information available.
Mistake #3: Introversion
You can be an introvert and run a business! But you’ll have to do a lot of things that push your comfort zone.
The book Networking for People Who Hate Networking (see? reading) taught me that fear of “being pushy” or “annoying people” is an introvert trait. We try to respect other people’s space because we don’t like having our own space invaded.
But introverts can take this too far. If you’re going to run a successful business, you will have to do some form of sales. It can be cold calls, or content marketing, but you’ll need to be comfortable telling people who you are and what you can do for them. You’ll need to be comfortable leaving humility behind to elaborate on your strengths. And you’ll need to talk to people. Probably a lot more often than you want to.
You don’t have to network. It works for me, after a lot of practice and forcing myself to get comfortable small talking strangers. But you have to do something. I hated networking the first several times I did it. It made me feel stressed and anxious and I felt like we all just traded business cards and accomplished nothing. It is now my 2nd biggest generator of new clients, after referrals.
Lesson: Sell, sell, sell! Pick the sales tactic that makes you feel least uncomfortable, and then become an expert at it. True introverts will probably be more comfortable with soft selling.
What mistakes have you made in your business and how did you overcome them?