5 Lessons Being A Young Business Owner Taught me

Just under two years ago, I made a discovery. I found the answer to a question some people don’t even find the answer to until they’re on their death bed, so for a 27-year-old to uncover such a massive truth… Well let’s just say, it turned my world upside down.

What truly makes me unhappy?

Aside from the persistent voices in my head that more often than not don’t have many nice things to say about me, and a conflicting personality that leaves me unable to make decisions or ever be truly satisfied with any of the choices I make, I’d been cruising through life now for a few years thinking “I’m okay.” But why was I just okay and not HAPPY?

…And it hit me. Being an employee. That’s what makes me unhappy. Not being in control of my own time and, as cheesy as it sounds, my own destiny. Being forced into this box of societal normalcy and living with the unbearable expectations of how things “should” be done, not how I want to do them.

A lack of individuality, if you will. Or even worse. A lack of control.

So I took a leap (or, actually, New Zealand immigration gave me a hard shove) to go out on my own. Start my own business. Say goodbye to the 9-to-5 life that was making me so intensely miserable, no matter what job I did. 

And in the last two years, I’ve never been happier. The persistent voices are still present, yes, probably more so than ever before. My conflicting personality is still keeping me from instantly regretting virtually any choice I make, but I’m also free.

Free to make wrong choices. Free to make mistakes. Free to fix them in any unnecessary and longwinded way I choose without anyone telling me “that’s not how I would have done it.” Well, there’s still plenty of that but I’ll touch on that later.

But (mostly through trial and terrible, terrible error – which happens to be the best way I learn) I learned a few valuable lessons in the last 2 years.

1. Don’t take advice on how to run your business from non-business owners

Unsolicited advice. There are two times in a woman’s life when unsolicited advice seems to be the only way people communicate to her: when she starts a business and when she’s pregnant. I am currently experiencing both. It’s fun. It often alludes to you going bankrupt in the next five years or being a terrible mother.

Feels good.

But the point is: would you take advice on how to bake a cake from a plumber? Actually, it’s more like – would you take advice on how to start a million-dollar cake-decorating business that only specialises in Japanese-style cheesecakes from anyone who has never baked a Japanese-style cheesecake – or knows what a Japanese cheesecake is? (It’s the jiggly kind.)

Digital marketing is spe-ci-fic. Automations, integrations, Clickfunnels, online advertising, SEO, web development, copywriting… Those are SKILLS.

I have to remind myself daily that I mastered these. I learned how to do these things. I invested time and money and sweat and blood and tears and broken links and phone calls to GoDaddy to develop them to a point where I could start charging money for them.

And people who charge more for them and can teach you new ones, who run the type of business that you want to be running. That’s who you should be taking advice from.

2. Diversifying isn’t the be all and end all of business

If you’ve got a big contract doing what you LOVE, don’t compromise it for something you’re only doing half-heartedly because it doubles your revenue and you were told not to put all your eggs in one basket.

Who cares? If it’s your favourite basket, why not? And if you lose the basket, you’ll manage to get another one. There are always more baskets.

3. It’s lonely at the top. But not in the way you think

Being a business owner is lonely. Sure, you get to work with awesome people, you get to do the thing you LOVE every day, but at the end of each day, it’s you. By yourself. Behind your computer, missing out on dinner and drinks because you’re working. Because there is no 9-to-5. There’s projects, and clients, and commitments. 

It’s a life you HAVE to love. It’s not for everyone. And that’s fine too. But if it’s not for you, don’t do it. If you don’t get more enjoyment out of setting up a beautiful automation with tags and conditional logic than you do out of going out for beers, it’s not for you. And you’ll wind up infinitely unhappier than before.

Let’s just say, I didn’t start a business for the social aspect of it.

4. You sound ridiculous to people

ESPECIALLY if you’re young. I am 29 years old and I recently bought a 4-story house smack bang in the city. My business turns over enough yearly to pay off my mortgage in a year if I wanted to. I bought a car because I needed to make costs in my business. My profit margins were so high that if I didn’t make a large purchase I’d be paying way too much in taxes. 

…and people still don’t take me seriously.

Digital marketing, when explained briefly – which is what you’re usually stuck doing since no one wants to hear you going on about a tracking pixel for 45 minutes straight – sounds like a fairy tale. 

Some months, we make fat stacks and we travel in business class and meet top players in the industry for casual drinks in rooftop bars – head honchos in YOUR industry though, so don’t expect anyone outside of that bubble to get excited about that. But there are months when you barely break even and three clients up and leave you for reasons entirely outside of your control.

Which brings me to my next point.

5. …Losing clients is TOTALLY outside of your control

If you know what you’re doing and you work from a place of integrity, a client dropping you is RARELY your own fault. Just think of yourself as an iPhone X being traded in for an iPhone XS. You’re just as good, but the shiny new one came with free EarPods.

I used to internalise. I say “used to” because I literally stopped doing it this week. I used to think “They didn’t like my copy” or worse, “They didn’t like me”, even though measurable results were always there, and I’d always gone above and beyond.

And then, last week, I lost a client who was on a 16K retainer. Just like that. Dropped us. I went over all measurable results. Emails with 30% open rates. 20% clickthrough rates. Overall engagement rates in their ActiveCampaign account of 36%. If you know industry standards you’ll know these numbers are well above that. 

They came onboard for copywriting, and what I gave them was copywriting, integrations, automations, utm tracking, solving their deliverability issues, setting up DKIM, the whole nine-yards. The whole marketing team. The everything bagel. Extra bacon, extra avocado.

And they just dropped us. And I realised, there is literally NOTHING I could have done better. And if you want to be Champagne Papi one day, you have to be prepared to be Deputy Dewey the next.

So, to recap. Don’t be taking advice on how to make jiggly cheesecakes from plumbers, don’t be spreading all your eggs around all of the baskets because you’re afraid to get burnt, don’t blame people for not sharing in your enthusiasm – after all, it’s your life, not theirs – the client isn’t always right, sometimes the client is a bit of a tool and definitely 100% dead wrong, and most importantly…

Ask yourself. Am I living the life I WANT? If the answer is yes, you’re doing alright, kid.

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