A year ago today, I started my business. And I had no idea what I was in for! In the past year I have been stretched, pushed, and tested more than any other year I can remember. I had 5 colds or flus, a mystery virus, and inexplicably lost my voice for 3 days. I attended a whole bunch of networking events, a blogging conference, and about 8 business conferences and workshops.

I met dozens of amazing, generous, supportive fellow business owners. I found some biz friends and unofficial mentors. I worked odd hours so I could go on mid-week adventures and have long brunches without worrying about what the boss will say. I learned a ton. My confidence has grown. I can say “I’m a virtual assistant” without faltering or turning it into a question (I’m a virtual assistaaant…?)

There have been a lot of ups and a lot of downs, and while November and December were particularly challenging overall it’s been a fantastic experience that I wouldn’t change at all. Here are some of the major lessons I’ve learned this year.

It’s surprisingly easy to start a business

The hardest bit was reactivating my ABN (that I didn’t know I had). I couldn’t do it online so I had to wait until after New Years to ring and speak to someone about it. Then I jumped online to register the business name and I was off! I started to tell people that’s what I was doing now, I got myself in front of a bunch of people, and they started to give me money in exchange for helping them with their businesses. That was it.**

But it’s also incredibly hard

I very quickly learned there’s much more to it than getting paid for a service. There’s a whole lot to know and a whole lot to learn; there’s client work, obviously, plus you have to find those/more clients, and do broader marketing, and set up your systems (and monitor and refine them and scrap them and start all over again), and stay on top of your invoicing so you get paid, and keep your website up to date, and plan, and build a sales funnel, and post on social media, and network, and stay on top of developments in your industry/niche, and blog if you want to, and… (nup, I’m not hitting all of those either).

The best way to learn is by doing

You can do a whole lot of research and planning but honestly, it’s all a thought exercise until you’re actually in it. The best way to try out new tools is by having a real world test case. Things will come up that you hadn’t even considered during all of your planning. So don’t wait for everything to be just so, or until you know everything you need (which you never will anyway) — just jump on in there and see what happens.

Mindset makes all the difference (and sleep helps, too)

While I love to learn, I’m also a person who likes to feel competent in everything I do all the time when it’s visible to others (#practical). I also believe in admitting what I don’t know, and this year I’ve had to say ‘I don’t know’ a LOT. I’ve had heaps of little fuck ups (and a couple of big ones), which I always take much harder than my clients. Those things really undermined my confidence in myself and my abilities. When things are going well and you feel positive, it’s so much easier to bounce back and brush it off. But when you’re feeling unsure, and out of your depth, and you’re worn out, and you’re taking knocks it is incredibly difficult to find the motivation to stick with it. It’s super easy for the doubts to creep in and the catastrophising to reach fever pitch. While it can be hard to dig yourself out of that hole, here’s a few things that helped me this year:

  • Celebrate the small wins (a principle I live by anyway). It gives you a little zing, a little burst of energy and builds some momentum.
  • Reflect on the good stuff. When I’m feeling really overwhelmed and shit at my job, I stop to reflect on just how far I’ve come this year, what I have managed to do right and what I’ve learned. Because that’s a whole lot more than the mistakes and reminds me that I’m not so incompetent after all.
  • Sleep! When I push too hard, aside from getting sick, it’s a whole lot harder to summon up the energy to be my own cheerleader and find the silver lining in a tough moment. Make sure you prioritise sleep as much as you possibly can.

Scheduling is golden

Something I had to learn very quickly was how to manage my workload. I’m fortunate to have lots of clients with varied tasks, plus all the stuff that goes into running a business. And the best way I’ve found to keep on top of everything is a to do list (and/or an app) and a schedule. I made a list of all of my client commitments and scheduled in weekly ‘appointments’ to work on their stuff. Plus I’ve added appointments with myself to work on my business admin, marketing, planning, and so on.

And the most important part of scheduling? Sticking to it. I’ve read and listened to a whole bunch of productivity advice that promotes the schedule as a top time management tool and yet most don’t point out this crucial step! The best schedule in the world doesn’t mean shit if you don’t stick to it. I’m not great at that yet, but I’m working on it.

Networking actually works

I went to 28 networking events this year. I approached each one with a touch of trepidation and walked away from every single one with something valuable. I learned very quickly (and with some relief!) that networking isn’t all about selling yourself to potential clients. In fact, that’s kind of the last thing you want to be doing. Instead, use it as an opportunity to get to know other people in business and learn from them. Offer advice where you can with no expectation of it leading to a sale. Ask questions. Practice your pitch. Get comfortable talking about yourself and your business. Over time these new relationships might lead to business, but even if they don’t they will offer more value to you and your business growth than a new project anyway.

It’s important to say no

I’m not so great at this yet but November and December have forced me to make it a priority. I am in the very fortunate position of having a full client roster and my desire to help others meant I kept taking on more projects (because they sound fun and I want to sink my teeth in!) But when I’m overcommitted, nobody benefits. I get stressed and over-tired, which means I am no longer a delight to be around and I don’t deliver anything to the standard I want to hold myself. This means in 2016 I’m working on recognising my limits, respecting my own boundaries, and saying no. Wish me luck!

But there’s goodness that comes from saying yes

That said, a whole lot of great stuff happened this year because I said yes. I attended events and conferences that provided the opportunity to form some great and lasting friendships. I met people who would become my clients. I encountered new ideas which became fodder for blog posts. I tried (and enjoyed) new things. I stretched my comfort zone. I met some of my blogging idols. I had great fun. So don’t say no to everything. Just be discerning and decide from your gut and your heart.

I still feel like a baby when it comes to being in business, and I know I have a long way to go. There have been ups and a whole lotta downs, but man it’s been a fun ride! And looking back on it now, how far I’ve come and what I’ve managed to achieve, I can’t help but be excited about 2016. So let’s go 🙂

What were your biggest lessons of 2015, in life or business? Let me know in the comments!

**Make sure you check what the legal and financial requirements are where you live before setting up a business…if I haven’t put you off entirely 😉