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The end of November marked my 10th year in business. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what I’ve learned, both the personal and the professional, things unique to me and others universal.

While it would’ve been nice to know all this when I started, I feel like most of it had to be experienced precisely as it happened.

See if you recognize yourself anywhere in here.

Here are some key lessons I’ve learned …

    1. The flight attendants are right. You have to put your own oxygen mask on before taking care of anyone else. If you pass out, you’re useless to everyone relying on you, and they’re doomed too. So, put yourself first: You are your most important client, so do your marketing first. Pay yourself first. Prioritize self-care.
    2. I can’t help everyone. Some colleagues don’t get this, but I was taught by a master.

      I had a client who desperately wanted my help. Her business concept was revolutionary in her mind but seemed like a commodity to everyone else. She was hemorrhaging money and driving people away because she wouldn’t listen to reason. I spent months trying to help her, even though she felt my practical advice polluted her pristine idea. My husband finally said to me, “Maybe she can succeed doing it her way. Or, maybe her plane will crash into the mountain. Either way, you can’t help.”

      It was painful for me to believe I could prevent the crash, but I’ve since learned that he’s right. I can only help those who want it; and I can’t force help on those who don’t, even when they appear to be asking for it.

    3. Not everyone wants to grow their business. Sometimes they’re ready to retire; other times, they’re doing it all themselves and growth means more pressure. I found this so hard to believe in the beginning, but even though I don’t identify with them, I do understand now.
    4. Only work with perfect clients. It’s not a value judgment. Instead, it’s knowing that exactly who you work with needs exactly what you do AND (no, that’s not enough) resonates with you on a mind and spirit level.

      Like many of the biggest lessons, I got this one the hard way. There was a little trio of dysfunction that taught me, over the span of a few years, just what I’m susceptible to: the woman above, whom I’d call “Help Help Don’t Help Me!” There was there was “Mr. Personal Problems” and his close cousin, “The Boundary Violator.” The gift they all gave me was an indelible experience so that, when someone shows up and even smells a little bit like one of them, I can say, “I don’t think I’m the one to help you.” So for that I’m grateful!

    5. Team up for more success. Strategic alliances, collaborations, employees, virtual assistants … together everyone achieves more!
    6. Just about everything you do can be done better, faster or cheaper by someone else. Therefore, you must strive to only do what only you can do.

In my business I’m the Vision Holder, designing the future of our business and reminding us all why we’re here; the Rainmaker, offering what we do to those who need it; and the Thought Leader, designing and delivering products and services that effectively help our clients attract more clients and become more joyful business owners. Everything else, I can delegate.

  1. It is not the destiny of every business to succeed. I once thought that if you felt called to do something and put your heart and soul into marketing it, you were meant to succeed. But now, I’ve seen too many good businesses go down to believe this anymore. I don’t know what the Big Plan is. Sometimes you crash into the side of the mountain. Sometimes Walmart moves to town and eats your lunch. I do still believe the words of Gandhi: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
  2. The biggest ideas come to me when I’m away from my business. I was at a conference on the West coast when I received and started to create the bigger vision we’re building today. Although I’d had bad experiences with employees at the start of my career, I realized it was time to update my views. I’m older and wiser, and my impact was limited by trying to go it alone. Once that light bulb lit, I saw that my perfect “lieutenant” was right under my nose, and we were sitting on a path to a million-dollar business. While flying home I got a higher perspective and several powerful synchronicities that affirmed my new direction.
    That kind of thing rarely happens when you’re sitting at your desk with your thinking cap on.
  3. Effective small businesses attract clients with compelling content. When I first started, there was more focus on networking with personal connections. But now, everyone’s a publisher. You don’t have to write, but you do have to generate ideas that can be put into articles, videos, reports, etc. Content is the honey that draws clients to you.
  4. There’s really no such thing as a competitor. If we all do exactly what we’re supposed to for exactly those who want it most, there will be plenty for everyone. I used to worry about competition, but then I got too busy. ;-)
  5. Self employment is more about finding clients than doing what you’re in business to do. If you don’t learn to love the process of attracting clients, you’ll spend most of your life suffering. It terrified me in the beginning, looking for clients and feeling like I was unemployed, but I did learn to love it, especially generating and sharing compelling content.
  6. (a) The best investment you can make in your business is learning what are, and how to do, the things that keep you from success. (b) You already know everything you need to know to be wealthy and successful. Yes, these statements contradict each other, and yet they are both true.
  7. Get used to being an enigma to people with “real” jobs. Why do you work so much? How do you get any work done from home? Why are you answering emails after hours? One of the best things you can do is get in a community – virtual or in-person – with people like you.
  8. Everyone has an inner Saboteur whose job it is to protect us from change which, whether good or bad, it perceives to be dangerous. This archetype shows up frequently but always is present when you’re ready for the next big leap. Get to know what yours feels and sounds like. Whenever I feel myself overwhelmed with too many decisions, I know my Saboteur is trying to make a simple path look complicated so I stay safe where I am. That confusion is my sign that I’m at the edge of my comfort zone.
  9. If you pay attention, your business will teach you a lot about yourself. Mine is communicating with me all the time, reflecting which beliefs are holding me back as well as where my growth opportunities are. Like interpreting a dream, I can read the symbols and themes to see how I’m doing.

What has your business taught you? Wish you’d learned some lessons long ago? Let’s hear your story in the comments below. I’m paying attention.