Sometimes the first year in business is what really trips people up from maybe taking that leap because you never know what the first year is going to look like. Will it be successful? Will you find your footing? Will you lose your mind?
In reminiscing about the first year being in business full-time, there were a couple things that come to mind in terms of lessons I learned along the way. It was a chaotic first year, I’ll be honest, but coming out of that year I felt like I was finally at a place where I was really stepping into my role as a leader in branding, stepping into my expertise, and finally able to wear my “CEO pants” a little bit more. That meant cutting out what wasn’t working for me and for my business, which was a hard lesson to learn because I always want to do #allthethings, but boundaries ARE everything.
Let’s get into it!
The first big lesson I learned was all about scheduling. I was working through my wedding that first year, and it was a really hard time for me in the sense that I was trying to juggle a lot and I felt like I was completely out of control. I had this crazy idea that I was going to be able to take the entire month of January off, but some client projects bled into that time and I actually ended up working until literally three days before my wedding! I realized that if I was ever going to take off any significant amount of time I would have to plan for it months in advance and really schedule out my client load.
The problem with that was that I have this tendency to not be the best with my schedule as far as knowing how long things are going to take, especially in the creative space where there are so many things that can extend that deadline. One thing I really took from that first year was that I needed to plan out my client work better, and know exactly what I was taking on and how much time it was going to take (as best as I realistically could!)
If I could go back through that first year I would have planned out exactly what I needed to do each week so that I was a little less chaotic about things – and really could have taken the entire month of January off for my wedding!
Another thing that I needed to get better with in that first year was with my finances. I ended up saving a bunch of money when I was working full-time so that I could live that first year with as little financial anxiety as possible. Looking back on that first year though, I went through a lot of my savings and was not the best about my finances. It ended up causing me a lot of anxiety because I wasn’t being intentional with my money and I ended up in a burnout stage trying to run Pinegate Road and do my full-time job for five looooong years. When I went out on my own I thought I was going to get all the help that I could afford – and I did – but it wasn’t well planned, and I didn’t always know what I needed help with so I actually wish that I had waited to hire out.
I know this is probably different to what a lot of entrepreneurs advise (hire all the people, right?), but honestly without a plan or a clear idea of what I needed it was money that I could have saved – and anxiety saved, in the long run.
In general, I wish I would have been more intentional with my money, had a clear plan, not hired out for so many things right away, and been a little tighter with my money. My advice here? If you have money saved before launching your business, don’t go crazy spending it all. Be intentional. Be cognizant of where you’re spending money, and ask yourself – is it really worth it right now?
Another thing I did that first year was get clear on my offerings. Instead of being that designer who can do everything, I started treating Pinegate Road like a business. Obviously it was a business, but it was easy to, again, do #allthethings – like invitations for family friends even though invitations was not something I offered under Pinegate.
I really had to think of the right words to deflect from those around me thinking that because I’m a designer I can just….well, design everything. Or that I even wanted to. Bottom line: I had to get clear on my offerings and stick with them because anything else was taking away from my expertise.
Basically, I had to transition from the freelance mindset of “I’m Kelsey, the designer” to “this is Pinegate Road, and we offer…”
You wouldn’t go to a random business and ask for something that they don’t offer, so why would I treat my business any different by agreeing to do things outside of my offerings?
Stepping into the leadership role was critical for me that first year. Instead of just being passive and taking on anything that came my way as a freelancer, I stepped into the leader role and became a leader in my industry AND my business.
It was important for me to build a sustainable business that didn’t rely solely on me to function, and the first year that took a lot of setting the foundation for that to happen – and getting comfortable being the leader. That means seeing the big picture and guiding the business towards that – that was a huge mindset shift for me!
A big part of this shift was also taking the time to take care of myself, to get the help that I needed, and hiring a business coach was one of the best investments I made that year. She really helped me recognize that I needed to be the leader, and then guided me to take specific actions and work towards that goal of not having Pinegate Road rely solely on me to function.
This part was huge, and it might seem like an outlier because what does your health have to with your business? Well, it has EVERYTHING to do with your business.
The first year in business I made my health a priority. I often gave lip service to my health being important and somehow it always ended up on the back burner when it actually came to my priorities. A lot of the time I was letting my work determine my worth, which in turn caused my health to suffer.
So, I went to the experts. I saw a functional medicine doctor, I focused on self-care, I changed my diet, and I learned the best way to support MY body. I also made it a habit to meditate every morning and journal every night. Even if these things are not your cup of tea (that’s ok!), it’s important to prioritize what DOES bring you joy. It’s about seeing the big picture, seeing what you need as an individual, and then making it a priority and fitting it into your schedule.
I hope some of these lessons from my first year have helped you as you navigate your first year – or as you think about making the leap!
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