Every year, I spend time during the month of December reviewing my year. I go through old notebooks and planners, taking notes, journaling, and reflecting on the lessons in the words I wrote.

It’s always an eye-opening activity, and it helps me to focus and plan for the upcoming year.

lessons starting an online business 2017 blog graphicIn 2017, I launched Entwine Web Design, closed Where Teens Write, and quit teaching high school. The year was ripe with lessons, some juicy and sweet, some a little bitter, but all unexpected and worthy of reflection.

I’m not sure that I would do things any differently as I firmly believe that every step we take gets us right where we need to be, and maybe my lessons can help you on your own online business journey.

For me, 2017 was a year of action and movement. Interestingly, last December, I named my upcoming year, “Moving Home” and boy did that moniker ever come true as I was able to spend time with my Dad at home during his last months and days with us. I also came home to work. I turned into a bit of a hermit but was perfectly happy to do so.

2017 was also filled with movement as I launched my web design business and even fit in quite a few trips to visit friends and family.

So, what are my biggest takeaways from 2017?

#1 – Business evolves – go with it.

When I started Entwine Web Design, my intention was to design websites for clients. I still do that, and I love it.

But I’ve also added some other offerings into the mix that I had no idea I would offer. Like Website Coaching. That offering came to me during a phone call with a potential client. She said that she was comfortable with tech, knew exactly what she wanted, but just didn’t know how to make it happen.

So, rather than offering to build her site for her, I offered to guide her through the process. She ended up with a site that she loves and knows inside and out. She can update it, change it, do whatever she needs to as her business evolves since she built it.

I ended up with a new Website Coaching program! It was a win/win for both of us. I have spent the vast majority of my career in the classroom, so it was a great fit.

For 2018, I have no idea how my business will evolve. I only know that it will. And, I’m totally open to it.

#2 – Slow down and test….test again….test one more time.

This is a two part lesson.

First, I’m a speedster. I talk fast. I think fast. I move fast. It’s just who I am. My sister is a “processor.” She thinks things through before she opens her mouth and has told me at least a gazillion times, “Amy, slow down. What are you saying?”

I have to pause, take a breath, and start over.

Second, in business, especially the online space, there are quite a few technical pieces that have to work together to create a seamless online experience for a website’s visitors, whether it’s through an email automation series, the links on a site working properly, or an online scheduler linking properly to thank you pages and triggering the correct emails.

Setting some of these up takes time. I learned a painful lesson this fall when a client wanted an email automation series set up quickly for an upcoming webinar. Being a speedster and people pleaser, I said, “Sure, I can do that.”

I did it for her but didn’t give myself the time to test the entire thing properly. BIG mistake. Every element, whether it’s a basic link on a site, or an email series, MUST be tested. And testing properly takes time.

This was a tough lesson to learn, but I’m thankful for it. While I like to get things done and I tend to move fast, taking the time to make sure they’re done exactly right is incredibly important, especially when it’s for a client. I learned that I’ll no longer do “rush” jobs – even though I’m perfectly comfortable in the fast lane.

Slowing down and making sure that the work I’ve done is done well is FAR more important than getting it done quickly and sub-par.

While this was a difficult lesson because I disappointed myself and let my client down, I’m thankful for it because I’ve learned the importance of testing. I also learned about evolving my business and what types of services I want to offer (see Lesson #7).

#3 – A website (in and of itself) will NOT make a business.

In the film The Field of Dreams, the main character builds a baseball stadium in the middle of a cornfield.

Everyone thinks the guy is nuts, but he keeps saying his mantra of “build it and they will come.”

Sadly, this does NOT apply to a website. A website, in and of itself, is like an online business card.

If you want people to come to your website, you MUST MARKET your site and build your business by finding and working with clients.

I learned this lesson comparing my first online business venture to Entwine. For my first “business,” I started with a website but no clear marketing plan, no clear idea of my ideal clients, and no problems I was solving for my non-existent clients.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.

With Entwine, I started my business by finding clients first. Then, I focused on the website.

This time, it worked.

#4 Posting on social media, opening my mouth to talk about what I’m doing now, and marketing myself will NOT kill me!

When I started marketing Entwine, I had a deep and abiding fear of posting on social media – therapy would probably uncover where it came from. I didn’t get therapy. Instead, I just started posting and learned….

I will survive if someone on Facebook whom I’ve known since the 6th grade reads a post.

I will also survive if nobody reads one of my social media (or even blog) posts.

There’s this weird fear about marketing on social media – what if nobody reads my posts? What if somebody reads it? What will they think?

It doesn’t matter!!

I LOVE what I’m doing. I BELIEVE in what I’m doing. That’s what matters. And, if I market myself enough, I WILL connect with the people I am meant to serve.

#5 – Hiring a coach, for whatever I need, is a great way to make progress.

Whether it’s a business coach, a life coach, a grief coach, a weight loss coach, a health coach, a sleep coach, a website coach – whatever you need help with – find someone to provide support, steps for you to take, hold you accountable, and give you objective feedback. It’s SO helpful.

I hired a business coach last spring and stayed in her year-long mentorship program. It’s been a huge help to me in terms of brainstorming ideas, taking action, and holding myself accountable.

#6 – Build a Support Group of Business Besties

Find others who are on the same path as you and in roughly the same spot to help hold you accountable, listen to you, help you refine your ideas, and support you.

My husband is a successful business owner. I adore him. But, he build roads and does zero online marketing. The vast majority of his work is for public/government agencies.

When I start yapping about my business, he listens and nods his head like a bobble head doll, supportive but not super helpful. He can’t really give me advice on marketing strategies – which is why I adore my handful of online business besties.

It’s this group that understands the language I’m talking when I bring up optins, conversion strategies, email newsletters, learning management systems, automation sequences, or email marketing.

#7 – Play to My Strengths

This one is a lesson that I used to teach to my students, but I had to relearn it in this new business world that I’ve entered.

Here’s what kids learn in our education system. If you want to go to college, you need to get really good grades in every subject, even the ones that make you want to down a gallon of bleach.

You also need to score well on tests, even in those areas that you despise.

So, what do you do? You spend a shit-ton of time studying on your “C” areas, on the things you do average in, and ZERO time on making your A the most amazing A+ ever. And if you’re lucky, you’ll pull your C up to a B- and your amazingness never gets polished.

It’s a bass-ackwards philosophy. We neither teach nor learn to really play to our strengths.

In designing my business, I play to my strengths. And it’s SO MUCH FUN!

I’m a communicator so my design process includes a high level of collaboration. I like working closely with my clients.

I’m also teacher, so I’ve learned that rather than setting up systems for my clients, I do better to teach them how to do it themselves, and I now know that I don’t particularly like being a Virtual Assistant (see lesson #2).

I adore researching and learning new things which I get to do every day in my business. The lack of creativity and growth is exactly what drove me out of the classroom. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve taught/read Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird? I used to like those pieces but there’s only so many ways to mix it up when you have to teach them to multiple classes every single year.

#8 – Organize…don’t agonize.

This was a quote that I saw at some point over the last few months. The post-it that I jotted it down on has earned a place of honor on my desk.

When I get overwhelmed, I break the project down into bite sized pieces, and I tackle them, one at a time.

It works. Every single time.

Agonizing and stressing does nothing to help me get the job done.

Conclusion

Working for myself and building this business has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever taken on. But, I love it. I’m truly happy when I get up each day. I look forward to each of my projects and tasks.

For the first time in a really long time, when it comes to my career and how I spend each day at work, I’m looking to the new year with excitement and optimism.

My daily life has changed dramatically from this time last year when I was still heading to (and dreading) the classroom. While I adored my students and colleagues, the thought of spending another 15 years in the classroom made me cry, literally.

2018 will be here tomorrow. My name for this upcoming year is “Spacious Connections” – a name that came to me in pieces over the last few weeks. It resonates deeply with me, just as “Moving Home” resonated for 2017. I’m looking forward to seeing what Spacious Connections brings.

What were your big takeaways from 2017?

I’d love to hear them.

xo,
Amy

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