30 things I wish I knew when I started my online business

It’s my birthday today!  Pop the champagne and slice the chocolate cake!

I’m 30. The big 3-0.

It’s an age that I’ve looked forward to since childhood.

I know you are likely thinking, “what type of child looks forward to 30?”  But to me, it was such a fabulous age. Like any child, I had some glamorous ideas of what 30 would look like.

So it looks a bit different to what I expected – less champagne and whatnot, but it’s still goalz. Here I am on the cusp of something new with my business that helps people. Truly, it’s what I’ve always wanted.

It’s a big deal – this 30 business.

I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on running a business online.  How many things?  You guessed it – 30! Because what’s the point of a big birthday if you don’t make it cliche?!

I wish I’d known all of these before I started.  But as Maya Angelou shared, “When you know better, you do better.”  So I know them now, and I am in a much better place, and happy to share them with you now.

This is a LONG list! But definitely worth the read!

1. Get started + get things done.

Ideas, goals, vision boards, affirmations, plans – they are all important.  But what’s probably more important?  The action.  You will never get where you want to go without the action.  So just get started.

2. Make the plan manageable

I will say yes to setting the big goals and visions but take the time to break those plans into smaller action tasks.  It’s really challenging to maintain a daily workflow and move forward when the focus is so large it becomes overwhelming.  

Put your big goals somewhere where you can check in, but limit it to once a month or once a quarter just to ensure your smaller tasks and actions are aligned, and that the big goal is something you still want.  

3. Do something every day

No matter what it is, do something for your business every day. Make sure that you’re taking the tiny steps towards your goal, even if your time is limited.  Not sure what your tiny steps should be?  Revisit your bigger vision and find those smaller action tasks needed to reach the larger goals.

4. Make it a habit  

Many entrepreneurs step into the online business world with the idea of loving the time freedom, but it becomes so easy to slip into having days of nothing. I get it – life would get in the way, that episode of Scandal would call me, and then the next thing I knew I was binging on Netflix.  

Making your work a part of your day encourages you to take it seriously and discipline yourself to do the necessary work.  Set designated times for business even if it means turning down coffee dates or hiring childcare for your little people.  

5. Some people won’t get it

Online business is a relatively new phenomenon. People have been doing it for over a decade, but it’s still unusual, especially if you’re selling a service where there is no physical product.

Parents, partners, and friends may be well-meaning when they question what you do all day and if you are succeeding in your business.  It’s a foreign concept for many people still to understand online entrepreneurship.  Don’t let it bother you. Not everyone will understand fully and that’s ok.

6. Don’t be put off by questions

This ties into the last point. When I first started I spent a lot of time really upset when others told me I was incapable or that I was unrealistic. I remember a family member inferring that my business wasn’t a ‘real job’. Use the questions and statements to explore where people may have knowledge gaps.

Use all the questions and weird statements as an educational moment for others, or for yourself.  

Are you triggered because you feel a lack of confidence in your business still? As you reflect, you’ll find that you’ll cement your thoughts on your business too – meaning if these things come up again you’ll have a good answer and can stand your ground.

7. Find your tribe

I know this sounds totally cliché. But, find people you click with and who know you. I have two or three excellent entrepreneurial friends who completely get it. While they may produce products or provide different services, I still feel I can lean on them for support.

8. Not everything is a competition

Find the value in keeping your eyes on your own paper and promoting community over the competition (there’s even a hashtag for this: #communityovercompetition).  If you constantly look at what others are doing, invariably you will find you don’t measure up.

This comes down to not being confident in your own place in your journey.

Reach out and make genuine connections with people because you want to know them. While services may overlap, skills, approach and niche may differ. Be prepared to handle referrals from your connections and be prepared to give them. You (and they) can’t do everything. Share. Community matters.  

9. Get off social media

This is tricky because we are told to be present on social media and to network in Facebook groups.  While this is true there comes a point between being necessary and beneficial and entering a rabbit hole of clicks and scrolling.  

Social media can be an easy distractor and a huge time waster.  I was able to implement an app which limits my ability to see my newsfeed as I am working and it’s been a godsend!  (News Feed Eradicator for Facebook)

10. Find your USP

A USP is your Unique Selling Proposition.  

What is it that you do that no one else does in quite the same way?  

Once you find this and become secure in it, it’s a game-changer.  

Many entrepreneurs find this tough because you are your business and separating the two can be tricky.   

Once you tap into what you do uniquely you release yourself from unnecessary competition, it’s easier to find your tribe, and become less defensive in your work.  Your USP serves as a basis that reassures you, highlights why you’re different and tells your clients exactly what it is you do for them.  

Do your market research, speak to clients, look at your testimonials to develop your USP.

11. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback  

This was something I tried to hide from, but I love sharing my experiences, so it makes sense others might like to tell me what they loved.  

I took a leap and started implementing a testimonial as part of my workflow process (you can read more about my recommendations for asking for feedback here). I found  I was able to define myself in my business, find my USP, get new clients because they see others have had good reviews and they want a piece of that.  

12. Perfectionism: Toss it out of the window  

As artists and an entrepreneur you are your business, and that means you are putting a little of yourself out there.  

It’s easy to try to  make everything perfect so there is no room for criticism or doubt of your place in the business world.  

Waiting for perfection means that you’ll never put things out there early. You’re also setting expectations of how it’ll be received, which means you’ll never be open to the wide array of opportunity that comes from the unpredictable reception.

Don’t wait for perfect – it’s not going to happen.

13. Learn every day  

Set some time aside each day to learn something new in your business whether it’s a new way to do a Facebook ad, a new painting technique, a new way to connect, a new way to package, or whatever is relevant for your in upleveling your business. There are plenty of reasonably priced places to learn too.

14. Don’t think you have to learn everything

This is the other side of #13.  You don’t need to learn everything before launching your business.  You just need to be one step ahead of your clients. Sell the features you know and then continue to grow and learn and expand your services.  

Waiting to know everything well will only prevent you from serving those who need you now.

Want to sell graphics but not 100% set on design theory? Then just sell what you know. If all you do is logos for right now then your clients are simply the ones who need logos and a. can’t do it themselves or b. don’t want to.

As you learn you can expand but you don’t have to know everything. Learning as you go has its benefits and you may discover a new direction for yourself in the process.

15. Don’t buy every course

The key here is prioritizing.  If you try to learn everything, your business won’t have a direction.

Set a point to learn a little each day, maybe even tackle part of a course daily.  

Keep a running wish list of courses that look interesting.  Evaluate this as you go, and make the best choices of spending your time and money wisely.

16. Don’t be scared

I completely understand it’s challenging to put yourself and your ideas out there. Imposter syndrome and even the smallest critical comments can wreak havoc on you as a new business owner.  Everyone goes through this in terms of wondering what others may think of you, or worrying if you’ll look like a fraud.  

Passionately stand behind your ideas.  

Remember you are *awesome*  and you are doing amazing things by sharing your gifts with the world.   

No one can do this like you. Figure out your USP and have a firm foundation  – then go shout it from the rooftops!

17. Have a process  

I’ve spent hours creating a huge welcome package, proposals, and examples – and you know what? It all took up so much time.  And I didn’t even use it!

Cut it back to simplify.  

My intake process, which is now 4-5, steps includes meeting, questionnaire, and contract. I take time to review it over time, but it’s important to know you have one.  

Don’t reinvent the wheel each time. And don’t get caught up trying to guess every small question your customer might have. Let things be organic and don’t waste your time.

18. Work hard but take a break   

It goes without saying that you need to work hard in your small business, but you also need to take time out for yourself.  

Doing what you love can be exhilarating and fun, and you may find yourself working nights and weekends to build your business.  

But it can be a sure-fire road to burn-out too.  Make yourself take a break and find the balance between your online work and your personal life

19. Look at what you can do with your time

You can probably do most things, but there are a lot of working pieces within your business from production, to copy writing, to marketing, to client care. Recognize where you best spend your time and think about where you may need to outsource.  Hiring out certain tasks and getting support can free you up to make more income doing what you love.

20. Buy those systems early

I’m completely guilty of using all the free systems and trying every DIY hack I could find for a long time in my business.  

It actually turned out to be so much better in my business to invest in systems such as Acuity Scheduling. It’s saved me considerable time and, ultimately, money. Work smarter, not harder.

21. Automate  

It can be so easy not to plan, but automating makes yourself so much easier.  

Face it, life will happen and you might have an appointment when your posts are supposed to go out, or you may find yourself stuck in a cycle of responding to every email once it hits your inbox.  

Look for ways to implement automation in your social media, your trello, your mail client and other systems you use in your business.

23. Know your elevator pitch 

I resisted an elevator pitch for so long because I thought it was such an outdated, salesy practice.  But really, this ties back to your USP.  I now keep a fluid and flexible elevator pitch in my mind that covers consistent key points because I found a slogan or tag-line wasn’t right for my audience in all settings.

 I know this can be easy to put off because of the awkwardness of writing it out, but once you focusing on the unique benefits of your service, you will find you are so much more ahead of the game. And once you can roll them off your tongue in 30 seconds then you’re golden!

24. Networking on social media

Know how to use social media wisely and consistently to network.  

Use it to market your business through automated posting and set a scheduled time to respond to comments. And have designated days or times you will g to your favorite groups and network.  Being present on social media is incredibly important for nearly all businesses but don’t let it consume your life.  

For me, it was scary. It felt like another way I was putting myself out there: raw and open. But it’s turned out to be such a brilliant thing. 

25. Benefits Vs Features

Focusing on the benefits of what you do over features is really important.  Starting out it can be hard to understand the difference, and the benefits may not seem to correspond with the work you do.  A feature is the service itself; a benefit is what it does for someone.  

So for my business: I help my clients with social media marketing (feature) but the benefit of this feature is that it makes her life easier, frees up her time to allow her to be creative, reaches a wider audience, and allows her to spend time with her family. While I don’t offer family time as a feature of what I do, I can clearly say that I help women reconnect with what’s important to them while knowing their business is well handled.

26. Branding  

Everyone seems to want to start here!  What should my business name be, what are my colors, or my logo?  And it can be really fun because everyone talks about branding and we creatives love to play with shapes and colors!  

But if you’re just starting out then you don’t need to hire a branding manager, but you do need to develop a consistent presence online. Simply put, invest time in using consistent images, key colors, wording, and messaging across platforms allowing your potential clients to recognize your work.  

Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop and even Canva are all accessible to DIY your own branding as a new business owner.

27. Grow it out before changing it up  

Give things time to grow roots and work in your business before abandoning a practice and starting something else.  I know it can be really hard to put your self out there and hear crickets in return.  

Self-doubt will set in and you will struggle to allow your message to find its way to your ideal clients.  

Recently I gained some new clients through Instagram and a Facebook group, but it’s been after eleven months of consistent posting.  If I had given up straight away and decided it wasn’t working, they would have never reached out.  People need to be connected with you approximately seven times before they understand what you are sharing with them.   

Be consistent in your practices – at least six to twelve months. Stick to it! Which brings us to…

27. Being consistent  

I think this might be my word of the day!  I know being consistent is so very hard in the beginning but just keep with it.  Your clients need to know, like, and trust you and that comes from them seeing your message repeatedly over time.

28. Plan  

Planning is so key.  As creatives we like to do whatever strikes us, don’t we?   Life will creep up on you and derail you and cause you to be reactionary. Which we don’t like! We like proactive!

There are so many tools in place to help you plan your messaging through editorial calendars and social media automation.  This way you can be absent from your business when the need arises, but your clients will still see your presence.

29. Have policies  

This falls in line with your values and your being clear on what you will and will not do in your business.  

In the beginning, we are sometimes so eager to make it work and gain traction we may take any job that comes alone or we may work excessive hours.  But it really is very important to set limits and boundaries and know what you are comfortable creating in your business. Being an entrepreneur should be a source of joy, not dread.  

30. Have fun   

Take some time to reflect and have fun with what you created, shared with the world, and the response you have earned!  You will occasionally experience those times when you have had a client ask for a refund and had a bad day, but see it in perspective. Have celebrations to recognize how far you have come.

Ah – I am beginning to sound like a wise, old woman, eh?  Maybe my 30’s will suit me just fine!  I hope some of these points resonated with you and will encourage you to just take the leap of faith in your business.   You don’t have to have it all figured out to get started.  Just trust yourself and go share your art with the world!  I would love for you to comment below with any points you found especially helpful or anything you have learned in your own entrepreneurial journey that perhaps I missed.  

I think I hear a second slice of birthday cake calling my name. . .