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 …
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Team up for more success. Strategic alliances, collaborations, employees, virtual assistants … together everyone achieves more!
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. ;-)
- 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.
- (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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I love lesson NUMBER ONE, as it reminds me of an insight that is beginning to take hold for me.
Those who are called to entrepreneurship do themselves—and those they love—a disservice if they don’t answer that call. When we seek to do what God has called us to do by pursuing the dreams that are deeply lodged in our hearts, we step into true fulfillment, and become much more able to do our best in our other key roles—as parents, friends, advisors, caregivers. Why? Because fulfillment brings us joy and enables us to extend love and grace, which is what the important people in our lives need from us most.
On the other hand, when we neglect to care for ourselves by ignoring our dreams and pouring all that we have into others, we will generally reach bottom quickly, find ourselves empty and frustrated, and fail those we desire to help the most.
It is as you said: “You have to put on your own oxygen mask on before taking care of anyone else.”
I guess the first thing is to congratulate you on the anniversary of your business – it’s no small thing to have achieved, well done.
What you have done, the valuable contribution you make is an inspiration. A year ago I would never have believed how much transformational and skills development ‘work’ needs to go into creating your own successful ‘independent professional’ business.
It’s reassuring to know you are there, and that it can be done, because when I’m feeling like I’m plain just beating my head against a brick wall, I come to your site, read your stuff and say to myself. ‘Self, you see Samantha did it, and she must of dealt with much of what you’re dealing with right now, and she found a way through, which means you can too.’
If I could add anything as valuable to the points you made, I would add this
Everyone Starts at the Beginning.
This one was tough, is tough for me to accept. I felt that because I had mastered something ‘special’, that would mean that I didn’t need to work as ‘hard’ to build as business, almost as if ‘life owed it to me’.
Whoa boy, was/am I misguided!
Sure an Enlightened Mindset can greatly help, BUT it can also make the path more difficult, especially with that unhelpful sense of entitlement.
So thanks for lighting a lamp and leading the way, and just so you know, it’s bright enough to shine all the way back to year 1 – that’s saying something.
Great big hugs
Hi Andrea, you’ve highlighted the discernment that is required between answering the call and self-sacrifice. It’s not easy, but it’s the line we walk as entrepreneurs. Thanks so much for commenting; I look forward to hearing more from you. :)
Hi Paul, I’m so moved by what you’ve shared. Thanks for your congrats, and for letting me know that my work helps you during tough times. I totally dealt with what you’re dealing with, my own version of it of course, but you can move through anything with enough will and grace. The nice thing about 10 years is that a lot of the nonsense, excuses, obstacles and issues just couldn’t persevere as long as I could. And I don’t choose a j-o-b, so there was no Plan B.
Your addition to my list is a fabulous one. I have a massive entitlement complex, based on being smart and fluent in life and someone who mostly gets what I want, and boy, will the Universe disabuse you of that when you need it least! Anyway, big hugs back to you and keep on the path! You’re the lamp to many someones as well.
Hi Paul and Andrea,
I think it is really profound how the same message resonated with you – and with me – about the importance of taking care of ourselves. I think that part of taking care of ourselves is the persistence to pursue our goals and really fight for them.
There is a big difference between being stubborn, and persistent, too! I can see areas where I confused intensely wishing something to happen with actually working on it… and those projects flopped. On the other hand, I am witnessing how the projects I actually stayed focused on – those goals that I never stopped actively pursuing – are blossoming.
I like to think back to the Vision Statement that we write at the beginning of the branding process. When I feel frustrated and wonder if I’m supposing to be cutting losses or biting down for the long haul, I take two steps back and consider my Vision. Is the Vision really connected to the thing that is causing me frustration? Or the the frustration blinding me to the fact that the Vision is indeed flowering, just in my blind spot.
Thanks for sharing these insightful learnings, Samantha! Numbers 1, 8 and 12 really resonate with me. On the investment front, I also think it’s important to make traditional style investments so you can stay in the forefront. Before I went out on my own, I worked for a couple of large consulting firms that made minimal investments in their people, technology and everything else. The complacency was suffocating. I couldn’t wait to leave.