What I Learnt From My First Year of Full-Time Business
Around a year ago, I walked into my then boss’s office (Hi Cam!) and told him — “Cam, I think I’m gonna go.”
Was I ready to take the leap then? Probably not. Was I scared about what was about to come? Absolutely. But it was time.
I had the push I needed. And there was no better time than now.
As I sit on a flight to New York (amazing how the brain juices just flow when you’re off the grid at 30,000 ft in the air), a year later, on my first ever proper holiday (thank you to the ladies in my team for making this happen!) since Wordfetti to recharge the creative juices, I can’t help but reflect on the year that’s been. I have learnt so much in not only the business world, but also about myself, and about humans in general.
So what better way than to jot it down the best way I know how? Maybe this could be an annual reflection thing?
Who knows. Either way. Here it is.
My 5 biggest lessons from my first year of FT Wordfetti-ing:
Being good at what you do is not enough to succeed in business.
In the 9–5 world, if you do your job well, you get recognised by the boss. If you exceed expectations just a little bit, heck, you might even get a promotion.
In business however, doing well is the standard and the expectation.
And merely being good at what you do does not equal a guaranteed road to business success. On the one hand, you’ve got to get clear on your brand message, from there it’s about finding the clients, building trust from your audience so they engage you, and to, of course, look after your existing clients to ensure the journey from A to Z and beyond is thoughtfully considered. So that they come back. And tell their friends about you.
Then there are the Finances. Growing a thick skin (still learning here). Being able to make fast, calculated decisions when things go wrong. Knowing how to network, well. Knowing how to sell, without sounding sale-sy. Adapting. Continuously. Speaking. And having to actually push through (at least for the first year or two) when you are so sick that you can barely get out of bed.
So if you want to start your own business, please do ensure it is something you 150% love and are passionate about. Because you will be rejected. You will be pushed back. But the only thing to keep you moving is the love and belief in what you do. And the grit and perseverance.
It’s hard. Really hard.
People think owning your business means working at a cafe and coming home and chilling home with Netflix for the rest of the day. Sure. Not going to deny that yes, sometimes work at a cafe. But owning a business is so much more than that.
It becomes a part of your life. (Those who say otherwise are lying, I tell you, lying!) especially in the first few years at least anyway. A lot of your time will be consumed by it. Which means forfeiting fun weekends and too many wine nights. This also means I have about 5 close friends in my circle. Oh. And even when you get a spare moment, or sometimes when you’re trying to sleep — tidal waves of ideas come to your head — and a notebook or the trusty Google Docs Notes of ideas, become your side-kick.
It’s hard. But would I give it up? Heck no. It is the best and most rewarding feeling I have ever felt in my life.
I won’t lie. There have been days where I cried (read: ugly cried) in the fetal position and just wanted to throw the towel and get a job. There have been days where I felt like I have been on highs and lows and highs and lows — all at once, on the same day. And there have been days where I doubted my ability (hello imposter syndrome) to actually make this work.
But then there are moments that make it all worthwhile. Those moments? Are when you receive those impromptu emails of gratitude and testimonials from your clients.
Be protective of your time.
This is not just about time spent on your business, it’s about your personal time as well. There will always be coffee date requests, people who want to “catch up” and people who will always “want to pick your brain”.
Now. I’m not saying for you to be an anti-social butterfly. But one thing I’ve learned this year is to learn how to say “no.” Because newsflash, my friend, time is your most valuable currency.
It’s about qualifying leads before you jump on the phone for a few hours. It’s about evaluating what questions are being continuously asked by your clients and creating an FAQ that answers them for you. And it’s about sometimes knowing that it is okay to say “no” when someone is asking you to provide them with free advice.
It’s important to remember your why.
Us business owners are a dang special breed. We like the unknown, the thrill that comes with instability and we have the hunger to always make things better. But we all have a reason as to why we chose this path.
For some, it may be because we don’t like settling for the mediocre. For others it may be because they have always wanted something of their own, and saw more to life than to work 9–5 in a toxic environment, going home unhappy, pay the bills, look forward to the weekend, and do it all over again. Or alternatively, it may be all of that plus more.
We knew our “why” when we all hit that breaking point and decided to say “Sayonara” to our corporate jobs. But somehow in the midst of all the admin, emails, ideas, cashflow forecasting, social media and personal development — our minds get a little clouded and we begin to forget our “why”.
This lesson was an important one from my mentor, Pru Chapman.
I think as a business is in its growth phase we do get so caught up on the: what to do, how it will be done, and when to do it by that we forget to simply… enjoy the journey.
My “why” revolved around freedom, no limitations and a great culture. I didn’t want someone else to have the power to dictate my life. Nor did I want limitations as to what I could achieve. And in terms of culture? I’ve experienced working for some great and not-so-great environments, and I was crystal clear on which one I’d want most of my life (fact time: did you know we spend almost ¾ of our lives at WORK?!) to be spent in.
If I was to pause more often and reflect, I should really be so proud. I have built a business that can take place where-ever there is Wi-Fi. I can really take Wordfetti in any direction that I want. And culture-wise, the small team I have built is out of this world. The girls have become my friends, and the community we have? Is truly something special.
So here’s a gentle reminder for you to pause and check in with your “why”. Because too often we focus so much on what to do and when to do it by that we forget to enjoy the journey and check in to see whether what we are doing is in fact gearing us towards the “why”.
Be kinder to yourself. You’re allowed to have a break.
For the bulk of the last 1–2 years of growing this brand, I worked myself to the bone. I had Wordfetti for breakfast lunch and dinner when I was still in my 9–5, and this continued even when I left my corporate job. I mean — I was so used to working on weekends that I continued to work weekends for the next 7–8 months after I jumped into Wordfetti full time.
I’m sure this is something a lot of business owners reading this will relate to. And I feel you. Having a business is literally like having a baby (for the Mummy business owners reading this who have an actual baby as well, my hat is off to you). It requires constant attention. It never stops.
While I am slowly getting better at “switching-off”, I still have a long way to go with this one and I think a big part of it is the guilt that comes to visit and says: “oh, you’re having fun/relaxing/going on vacation? But why? You should be working!”
So if anyone has any tips on switching off, and having a break, please throw them my way.
Because I know at the end of the day, recharging is key. As a business owner (slash, humans in general in your business), you are your business’s biggest asset to your brand.
So this last pointer is really for me to reflect on in the next few weeks. (It’s day 8 of my holidays and I have so far only lasted 2 days of switching off. — The weekend — I promised the girls in my team I will try harder this week. Ha!)
So yep. Viola. There you go.
I just smashed out a 1,500 word Blog in a record time of 32 minutes.
I should really go “off the grid” more.
Before I go, I shall leave you with this quote I came across the other day. In Zoe Foster Blake’s words:
“Remember, you’re allowed to work hard, have good things and do good too.”