This week it will officially be a year since I launched Campfire. Yay! Pass the cake (and champagne).
I was going to write a blog post telling you how awesome it's been. But I thought it might be more useful to share some of the lessons I have learnt on this small business journey. Because it has been awesome, but it's also been hard. And I like to keep things honest and real. Here goes:
Be the master of your websiteI decided to invest in a professional website from the outset. I paid a good amount of money to a web design company that promised to make me something that would look great but that I could take over and manage afterwards. They lied. They hard coded a Wordpress site making it impossible for me to make the slightest change without it crashing.
I eventually decided to write off the money I'd invested in that site and I started over, designing my own. What you see is what I have created. Being able to change it when I want to has been invaluable. So unless you can write HTML code or are very familiar with Wordpress or have a bottomless pit of money, I'd strongly advise that you look at one of the template-based website offerings out there (Weebly, Squarespace, Wix, Moonfruit etc) to get you started. You can always upgrade later should you need to.
Your business will constantly changeJust to reinforce point number one, your business will constantly evolve (hence the need for an adaptable website). You can do market research before you start, but I guarantee that once you start working with clients or customers, you will realise that you need to adjust your offering based on what they're asking for. That is fine. Adapt, tweak, enhance, change as you go. Every now and then, do a complete audit of what you're offering and scrap the things that aren't selling and create new offerings based on demand. That is exactly what I have just done and I will continue to do it. So just because you have written your web copy or created your core product don't think that you can now just sit back and wait. Businesses are like plants. They need constant watering and pruning.
Keep the core of your brand the sameOver the course of this year, plenty has changed in my business. My products, packages, my elevator pitch, how I describe myself, my ideal clients, my copy, my approach. But one thing has stayed the same - the concept of a Campfire. The idea of sitting around a campfire, sharing stories and the sense of freedom and adventure that comes with that, that has stayed the same. It's what I imagine in my head whenever I do anything. I hope that my commitment to that has helped to create a brand that is strong. It believe it is part of the reason I have managed to be shortlisted for two business awards this year - because I have a clear brand proposition. Think about what is at the core of what you do and keep that constant.
Expect failureNobody gets things right every time. The difference between people who are successful and those who aren't is that they don't give up. They face the fear of failure and learn from it. Then try again.
Now it's easy to write these things, far more difficult to live through them. I have launched a few products and events that have got zero interest. There were probably many reasons for that, but it still felt like a very personal rejection. There were times when I just thought, 'What is the point?' But I tried to put it behind me. And tried again. Tweaking. Changing. Adjusting. (Do you see a common theme here?)
Factor in way more time than you anticipateWhatever it is you do, whether it's making soap or doing people's accounts, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a huge amount of time hidden under the surface that will eat into your hours every day that has nothing to do with the stuff you sell. Marketing is a huge time taker - but hopefully if done well, will pay dividends. But so are less fun things like accounts, IT and admin. All of that stuff is unbillable, so bear it in mind when you work out your pricing.
Remember your why & don't compareI just mentioned time. I regularly work 12 hour days. I wake up at 3am and I think about work. I go on holiday and I think about work. It is seldom off my mind. It is the worst paid over-time job I have ever had.
But my plan is to turn it into a well-paying business that gives me financial independence. I am slowly getting there. And it gives me the freedom and flexibility to spend time with my kids during their 19 weeks of school holidays and time to enjoy the other things I love, like walking.
It gets very easy to compare your business with others, but remember, you don't know what their WHY is. If what you are doing is still supporting the reason you started in the first place, screw the rest of them and keep going after your goal. (I have to remind myself of this almost daily).
PS - I have a vision board stuck on my wall as a reminder. Make one.
Be social on social mediaI belong to two paid networking groups on Facebook. I am also a member of several other groups that are free. I regularly contribute advice in those groups as well as on my Campfire page. I respond to people who leave comments on my page. I take part in Twitter hours and share opportunities that I think will be helpful to others. Yes it takes time. But most of my new business leads have come off the back of social media chats and discussions. If you are on social media because you want to sell, sell, sell, you are missing the point of 'social'. Be sociable, friendly, helpful, real and people will remember you.
It's easy to fall into the trap of overselling on social media - I have done it - but the lack of response to your posts will tell you to shut up and start being social again. This is a simple lesson but one that is very easy to forget.
Listen to your gut & don't be afraid to say noI have had soooooooo many people ask me to do their PR for them this year. If I had wanted to run a PR agency, I could probably have trebled my income. But it's not what I want to do. I have had to say no often. A few times I said yes. I regretted it every time. When talking to a client about the services they are after, I listen to my gut. Do I feel excited about this or do I feel a bit sick at the thought of it? It is very hard when you are first starting out to walk away from business. You want to earn money and you want to get some client testimonials. BUT wherever possible, try and stay true to what you really want to do. Otherwise it will quickly stop being a thing you love doing.
Then again, say yesThere's a difference between fear of the unknown and a gut feeling that something is wrong. You need to learn to decipher between the two. As I said above, it's important to say no to things that don't set your heart racing. BUT it's also really important to say yes to opportunities that come along and make you feel scared. Go to a networking event, accept a speaker opportunity, run a webinar, host an event, enter an award, take up a press opportunity - because all of these things may push you out of your comfort zone, but you may just find that you love it it there. What I have learned? It's seldom as scary out of your comfort zone as you imagine it to be. So just do it.
Here's to year 2!I have learnt a huge amount this year and I continue to learn all the time. What lessons have you learned in your small business journey? Please share them with me below.