5 Lessons Learned in 2017 And How They'll Influence My Business in 2018
Guys. Can I just tell you how much 2017 meant to me and my business?
It was insane. Sometimes depressing. A little defeating. Often times stretching. A million rewarding.
January to June were rough for me. Even though those months hold some serious highlights, mostly during that time I just made stupid decisions, felt anxious, cried a lot and often felt disappointed in myself..
I won’t really get into details now, but you can go here if you wanna see all the big milestones I’ve had as I’ve built my business up (all the highs and lows). For now let’s just say the last half of 2017 was MUCH better than the first half.
And I think it’s because of some really important things I started figuring out along the way.
Even though the first half was a shit show, last year as a whole is the first time I REALLY started to feel like my business was becoming a living, breathing thing.
It stopped feeling like something I was doing and started feeling like something that was happening to me.
Like instead of me playing such an active part in shaping it, I’ve realized this lil studio was carving out new spaces in me that have ultimately helped me feel like a more whole and complete version of myself. It started shaping me more than I was shaping it and that's like whoa to me.
And now here we are! Another year in the books!
I’m gonna take these 5 lessons with me into the new year and I’m hoping they’ll offer a few nuggets you can carry into your year, too. Here we go.
You have to think what you’re doing is interesting before anyone else will.
Ahhh this was a fun (but hard) lesson to learn!!!
Fun, cuz duh.
But also hard, because the reason it took me so long to figure it out is that I didn’t have much purpose behind my business for a really long time.
Once I had more purpose I felt freer and more confident, and those feelings really started to show in my work.
There was also a lot of mental work involved, too.
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this way, but I was totally designing in a way that was what I thought my clients wanted to see. It was causing so much anxiety and pressure and it was starting to make design not fun!!
So I started making time in my day to design just for fun.
I decided I’d work on all the fun things that client projects weren’t letting me do (yet), like fun custom patterns, package design (no judgements, it was my first stab at it!) and playful type configurations.
This eventually brought about a lot more confidence and it really started to influence everything in my business, from the work I was producing for my clients, to the content I was creating, to the type of people I was attracting to my business.
This lesson definitely had the biggest impact on my confidence.
Take emotion off the table as much as you can.
This is kind of tricky because I feel like it’s SUPER important for creatives to tap into their intuition and to do it often. That can require a lot of sensitivity and emotional awareness, so how can you balance the need to be sensitive with the need to be not sensitive (lol)?
I’ve found that emotional awareness is key because it helps me realize what I'm thinking and feeling first, then I can categorize those feelings into “appropriate” or “inappropriate”.
Examples of appropriate sensitivity:
When you realize something (anything) feels off. Whether that’s with a new lead, a client interaction, creative direction for a project, business finances, work/life balance, etc.
Anytime I notice that something feels off I try to immediately pause and figure out what’s up. Sometimes it isn't super clear what’s making me feel off, but I know something needs to shift.
As humans, emotional distress can often times make itself known through physical cues, and mine normally show up via my stomach (it kinda feels like a heavy weight in my gut) or not being able to concentrate or focus.
Yours might be headaches, muscle tightness, speeding heart rate, sweating, being extra tired, wanting to "shut off”, being unable to fall asleep (or consequently, sleeping too much) or even abnormal bathroom runs for #2.
When you realize something (anything) is awesome. This is the other side of the coin and it’s just as important.
If I never took the time to recognize my wins then I wouldn’t be able to catalog my progress. This has been SO IMPORTANT in helping me feel more peaceful and confident.
I encourage you to take note and celebrate these kinds of things too, like:
When a client or customer lets you know they had a really good experience with you.
When you take control of a messy situation, even if it isn’t fun to do.
When you complete any milestone you set for yourself.
When you say no to something that doesn’t serve you (even if it’s super uncomfortable and ESPECIALLY if it causes a little panic or worry). I promise the first few times will be the hardest then it gets much, much easier!
When you produce any kind of work that you’re really, really proud of (even if no one else validates your feelings, including your clients or customers)..
When one of your industry peers says something nice about your work.
When someone tells you that you helped them, even if it’s in a small way.
It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, if something awesome happens: take note, soak it up and allow yourself to feel proud! It might even be helpful to start a little note or document somewhere to track these wins!
Side note: if you’re in a funk I highly suggest starting a gratitude journal where you list 3 things you’re thankful for each day. You can do it at the beginning of the day, end of the work day, right before you go to bed or any time when you think of something you’re grateful for. It's simple but IT WORKS.
What are some examples of inappropriate sensitivity?
When you obsessively worry about something.
When your work imbalances/stress continuously bleed into your personal life.
When you’re constantly reactive instead of proactive
This will happen naturally throughout your business, especially as you experience growth and new challenges. But if you stay in the reactive state without ever moving to a proactive one (where you're refining or creating new systems and processes that make more sense for your business), it means your work is managing you instead of the other way around.
When you slip into victim mentality (this is a default reaction of mine).
Once you have a general idea of when you’re being unnecessarily sensitive, it’s time to do something about it.
When I realize I’m being sensitive in a way that isn’t serving my business, here’s what I do:
First, I take note of when something feels off.
Then I try to explore that feeling. Sometimes this looks like getting away from my computer and journaling (or keeping it on and writing out my feelings in Evernote). Sometimes it looks like cancelling anything that isn’t fun in my schedule (if at all possible), leaving room only for relaxation and things that will nurture me or fill me up. Sometimes it means shifting my schedule so I’m only doing the bare minimum of work as I wrestle with it for a few days.
Once I realize what’s causing the funk, I either:
Put on my “get shit done” face and work through it. This might require a pep talk from someone who has a lot of faith in me, or it might require me to just dig into myself and realize how strong and capable I am (if you don’t know how strong and capable you are, I’m here to tell you: you are).
Or I might let myself sit with my feelings a little bit more so I can make sure I’m not “stuffing” (aka just letting them manifest in an uglier way later).
I call this “dealing with feelings” time. The important thing here is to set a time limit so that it doesn't turn into wallowing or self pity. So wherever you’re at, allow yourself to be there for any amount of time that feels appropriate, then when time's up….get back into #werk mode 💪🏽
No one can tell you what your time limit should be. Sometimes all I need is a quick walk around my block. Sometimes I need half a day to soothe myself. Sometimes I need a whole day or two, and for really big things I might need a week or more. Figure out what time limit feels appropriate for where you’re at, let yourself feel the feelings fully during that time..…then allow yourself to get back to work with more focus and determination once time is up.
This lesson was super important for me because I default to having a victim mentality (“Why is this happening to me?”) versus a creator mentality (“What can I do to make this situation better?”).
Victim mentality is a very passive state and puts something or someone else in the driver’s seat. When I feel this way I try to pin point what’s happening that I don’t want, clearly define what I do want, then figure out what steps I need to take to get there.
It’s very empowering because it’s proactive, not passive. Emotions are a beautiful tool we humans have, but if I’m going to be a creative and a business owner (and a functioning adult human being!!) I have to have boundaries with my emotions.
It’s changed everything in my business.
Patience (or perhaps being stubborn) can take you a long, long way.
Yikes, y’all. I fell short with a LOT of expectations I had for myself + the studio in 2017.
In short, I thought I’d be running a full fledged agency structure by July of last year. Like charging $10K per website with a team of designers, copywriters and developers, and a waiting list full of clients who couldn’t wait to work with us.
I also thought I’d be cranking content out left and right, and completely out of debt (2018 is definitely the year!!!).
And now, almost 6 months after my original goal date of July 2017….I’m obviously not quite there yet.
Initially I thought maybe I should've managed my expectations better (or at least adjust them a little bit), but I KNOW myself and I don’t really dream small. I always want to expect big, grand things from myself.
Here's why I think it's okay to dream big: because those things will happen. Actually they are happening, it just looks a lot different than I imagined and it’s DEFINITELY taking a lot longer.
There was definitely a point where I thought I was a failure and completely irresponsible for thinking I could run a thriving business. I felt defeated and dumb.
But I'm nothing if not stubborn and it's really paying off! I’ve got such a great foundation as I head into 2018, and also there were some really cool things that happened in my business last year that I wasn’t expecting or planning for. I was able to use those as fuel to keep all the “bad" things in check.
I think the hardest part of 2017 was that I KNEW I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing. Ya know, all the things that would bring about growth. But I had to keep doing them even when I didn't have anything to show for it.
So honestly, being stubborn (I mean patient 😇) about my goals and putting in the work is one of the biggest reasons I feel so peaceful and confident in my business today.
Quality relationships are everything in business.
I’ve really seen the power of people this past year. It’s happened in a lot of ways, but 3 of the biggest I can think of are:
My local biz BFFs, Kayla + Allison. I have a (really) hard time being vulnerable with people in the moment, so having a couple of buds who let me share my feelings and ugly cry for 45 minutes in the coffee shop we’re meeting at (and aren’t even embarrassed) has been a game changer for support.
Not only that, but they're TRULY excited for me when I get a win - both in business and in my personal life. They know when I’m struggling with something. They’re like, mom proud, when something good happens to me. They keep up with my goals all on their own and thoughtfully ask questions and keep me accountable.
Community in itself is important, but the intimacy and bond the three of us have developed over time has changed how I go about life, and has become a standard for all of the relationships in my life.
I certainly can’t leave out all the lessons my clients have taught me. These women are CONSTANTLY teaching me things about myself and the world. They’re so ambitious and passionate and smart and most of them have kids and partners and are KILLING IT as entrepreneurs. They blow my mind!
Here are the top 3 ways my clients impacted my business last year:
In 2017 I got my first “ideal client”. Like, before then I thought ideal clients were just urban legends. This woman was so in love with my work before hiring me (this sounds like a brag but there are more people who aren’t a good fit for the type of design I do), so she ended up really trusting me to make decisions for her business. We cared about the same things in life and had similar goals for our client experiences, so we really “got” each other. She was the first easy and life-giving client I’ve ever had, and after her I was able to create a concrete list of things to look for in new clients.
I had another client who helped me shape my feedback process into something better than what I was doing originally, even though initially I thought she was “more work” and just couldn’t get with the program 😬 Taking the time to “accommodate" her ultimately led to more efficiency in my workflows plus my new process made me feel closer and more bonded with all of my clients.
(With this same client) I also thought we were the worst fit ever and even tried to break up with her before our initial project was over. Fortunately we were able to get really real with each other and now she’s one of my best clients EVER (like…has booked over $6K of work since our initial project and has referred an additional $4k in). She feels like one of my best friends and has taught me so much about the dynamic I want with all of my clients (hint: it’s where we’re BFFs and you can literally just pee with me on the phone cuz you only have 30 seconds to take my call between all the things on your to do list).
And lastly, I really felt like I was connecting with a lot of my industry peers last year. I am SO NOT the type of person who gets jealous or competitive with other people. Like if we show up to the same party in the exact same outfit I’ll probably just wanna take selfies with you all night and try to give you a piggy back ride any time you need to cross the room. So to form relationships with all kinds of cool designers and have us support, encourage and cheerlead each other showed me a lot about community and partnerships.
This has happened in a lot of ways, but the most unexpected one was my collaboration with 9 other Squarespace designers for this epic post. This was the first time that I had orchestrated any kind of large collaboration. It was so rewarding because I truly needed the help of these people to a) craft the post, b) promote the post and c) help more people out with Squarespace stuff (plus, on an analytics level, my website is still getting high traffic to that post and I get referral traffic from some of those designers every week).
Be bold when you don’t see a lot of representation for your voice and values out there.
This one was a really scary lesson for me.
The online circles I hung out in when I first started out felt very one note. They were full of two kinds of people:
One group (the biggest one) was very buttoned up, prim and polished. They were very vocal about their faith, spoke with airy, whimsical language and only showed the world their highlight reel.
And the other group was super rough around the edges, delivered as much sass as they could and took the tough love approach. And if you didn't like it, who cares? You probably weren't their target market anyway.
And I dunno, I just don’t identify strongly with either of those personifications.
I didn’t see a lot of people being weird, going off the deep end on random thoughts (there were lots of calculated "business reflections" though), being as loose with their language as I tend to be and CERTAINLY not being as witty and hilarious as I try to be 😝
Just kidding. But a lot of what I saw around me felt stuffy and stale and B-O-R-I-N-G.
It probably wasn’t until late summer of 2017 that I realized I didn’t have to try to adapt myself to the “norm".
Instead of feeling either super soft and warm or super aggressive and edgy, I wanted my business to simply feel like you were hanging out with your funny best friend. The one who has a crazy eye for design and loves wearing lipstick and heels but whose favorite time of day is when she finally gets to put on sweatpants and a hair mask and FaceTime her mom.
So I thought, if she can have such a unique, bold message...so can I. If she can run a successful business and develop a cult-like following with her audience, there’s no reason why I can’t be a little more "out there" and still build a thriving business.
I started practicing this a little in 2017 by changing the language and messaging of my business. I had these very focused filters I tried to send everything through (is this funny, is this real, is this a little weird, is this a new way of approaching a tired topic, would I word this any differently if I were texting this to my best friend, am I being helpful + approachable + kind?).
I had such a positive response when I started implementing those filters. I really started to feel like I was connecting with EVERYONE in a more relatable and deeper way (on Instagram, my clients, in Facebook groups, my IRL friends, networking events, new leads…you name it).
I’m excited to go even further with this lesson in 2018. I want to open up more about my anxiety and depression and talk more about how I manage it. My big fear here is that I'll be seen as incompetent or less trustworthy to my clients because of it, but I definitely things it’s something that needs to be done (and I have a hunch it’ll actually draw me a lot closer to people in the long run).
How are you feeling about last year? Are there any wins or lessons that you’re bringing into 2018 to help you feel more peaceful around your business? Let me know in the comments, or for a more personal message hit me up on Instagram.