10 things I've learned from my first year in business

12/13/2016 12:42:00 pm HELEN STILES 0 Comments

I was emailing someone I haven't spoken to for a while yesterday, telling him about my business and all that's changed for me over the past couple of years. And it got me to thinking that I really have learnt so much. It might have been years in the dreaming, but I only actually launched my business just over a year ago. So, I thought I'd share 10 things I've learnt from my first full year in business.

1. People are really supportive. 
I have been amazed by the amount of support I've had. There have been bloggers who have shared their tips and supported me early on (thank you StylemeSunday, Swoonworthy and many more); other mums sharing their business contacts; fellow-entrepreneurs giving up their time to help me with marketing, business planning and to talk me through the nuts and bolts of starting up on your own. Friends have even given up their weekends to man a stand for me at my first trade fair. It's amazing how much people want to see a start-up succeed and I can't thank you all enough!!

2. A little recognition goes a long way. 
When you work for a company, you are surrounded by people, feedback and support (OK, it's not always positive, but it is always there). Nowadays, when someone stops me to say they liked a blog post; emails me to say they love the website; gives me a beautiful book with a 'good luck you're brave' message written inside...it really does make my day. Actually my week!  You have to store it up as fuel to keep you going through all the boring/difficult/frustrating/scary bits of running your own business!

3. You need to find your tribe. 
I've probably been a bit slow on the uptake here, but it is important to find some likeminded people. I've found instagram great for connecting with other small designers and entrepreneurs – just knowing that others are doing this too and having similar ups and downs is worth so much. It's also totally inspiring seeing the work of other designers and celebrating their successes, which is really motivating!  I also joined Sarah Akwisombe's No Bull Blog School (well worth it if you are even thinking about starting a blog). It was not only amazing for all the advice and tips but also great for 'meeting' other newby bloggers. There are plenty of groups out there for entrepreneurs, from local networking meetings to groups like Mothers Meeting who organise useful talks and networking events. If you work for yourself, find others to connect with!

4. Don't be scared to evolve. 
My business has already changed a fair bit. I started out as on online boutique, offering interior design services. I'm now an interior designer with a sideline boutique (and blog, and fledgling Moroccan rug import business)! The fact that things have flipped actually works brilliantly for me. I love designing but had underestimated the demand out there for stylish, affordable interior design services and assumed that I couldn't make this my main business. I thought interior design was a 'West London' thing and I wanted to work closer to home. What I have found is that there are plenty of families who want a great home but just don't have the time (or inclination) to pull everything together themselves, and are looking for someone like me to help. I love it! In addition I offer eDesign services to clients all over the world. I run this blog (which is pretty time consuming in itself) and have started a Moroccan rug import business. These things all support each other (and my obsession with interiors) but it's certainly been an evolution!

5. Mistakes happen, move on. 
I haven't done everything perfectly when it comes to running my interiors business. There have been bad choices, duff investments and unsuccessful events. But that's just what happens when you run a business, the important thing is not to dwell on them but to learn from them. When you're doing something creative, you're always trying to push boundaries and do something different. It doesn't always work, but if you stop trying then you'll end up playing it safe and delivering bland, uninspiring results. And that's just no fun, so roll with the mistakes (and make up for them) I say!

6. Celebrate your successes. 
Sometimes you just need to stop and give yourself a pat on the back. I've had some lovely feedback from clients whose rooms and houses I've designed. I received a commission from the latest Albion restaurant (below). I've made bespoke furniture for other interior designers. I was featured on the blog of one of my favourite role models (Abigail Ahern). And I've had clients recommend me to their friends, and use me again. So I must be doing something right, right? If you work on your own, you have to celebrate your successes (and then repeat them, of course!)

7. Find your inner extrovert. 
If you aren't naturally given to shouting about yourself (and let's face it, that's often true for us women) then you have to find your inner extrovert.  I have made myself go to events, turn up at functions and generally learn to talk about what I do without feeling apologetic. For a born introvert like me this doesn't come naturally. That's not to say I'm not confident (I am) but I'm just not good at promoting myself. I cringe doing things like asking for readers to vote for my blog, but then I have friends who tell me to get over myself and just ask! Wallflowers don't win, do they? (So if you can spare 20 seconds to vote for my blog before Friday, please click here!!)

8. Know what you're good at – and outsource the rest!
I'm not the world's greatest photographer, but when there are amazing people out there (like Carole Poirot) I don't see the point in spending hours trying to compete! Likewise, it is perfectly possible to design your own website, but I know I would have spent months doing it, and then not liked the result, so I hired I Want Design to do it for me, and invested my (limited) time elsewhere. Using experts allows you to focus your energies on what you do best. Plus it makes the world go round!

9. Remember why you're doing this.
If you've set up your own business, it's probably because you wanted to make a change. For me, I wanted to do something I'm passionate about. I also wanted to work from home and see more of my young children. Sometimes, when you're working till 2 in the morning, you can forget those reasons, but I've been trying really hard over the past couple of months NOT to stay up really late and to be really 'present' when I'm with my kids (not constantly checking my phone/email). I'm not perfect, but I am much better than I was 6 months ago!

10. Enjoy yourself!
Running your own business is hard work, time consuming and frustrating. But it's also empowering, exciting and liberating. If you love what you do, you have to give it your best shot and remember to enjoy the process.

If you're an entrepreneur (or just thinking about it) what have you learnt this year? I'd love to hear what you think!