Here are some of my bigger lessons from 13 years in business

This month, my other business, Seedling Baby, turns 13.

Thirteen feels like such a big milestone and it’s been a challenging year as industry-wide growth has meant that we’ve struggled to balance current with future demands, but as with all changes, it’s just part of a bigger process. Each challenge is a new lesson and a new opportunity for personal and professional growth.

There have been so many, many, many lessons learned (and re-learned) over the years but I want to share a few with you today that really stand out – some that are practical and others that are less tangible.

In no particular order, here are some of my bigger lessons from 13 years in business – by no means an exhaustive list – just the ones that are sitting on my mind this month.

You don’t have to hustle.

There’s this funny idea going around that in order to succeed in business, we need to hustle. By hustle, I mean work until crazy o’clock, network like a maniac, use every spare minute to do something “productive” (like schedule a social media post or clear your inbox or jot down your next blog concept) and smash a major income goal within the first 12 months. Hustle implies lots and lots and lots of work. Work that never ends. Never knows down-time. Never takes a breath.

And it used to be me.

During the first 5 years of my business, my husband worked away a lot and so I spent most evenings once the kids were in bed working on my business, but 10 pm would tick over and I just kept going. Midnight, 1 am, 2 am… and then I’d pay for it the next day. Gosh that hurt. And honestly: for no real tangible gain. I was just filling the hours with stuff I felt had to be done, rather than setting a specific goal (or set of goals) and then strategically working away on that.

Once we moved to a different town, my husband’s work kept him home more (thank God!) and it was a steep learning curve for me to create better boundaries around my business. I had to shift my mindset from thinking that this is what running a business looked like to “it’s actually not healthy to work until 2 am and then expect to be a happy mother from 6 am to 7 pm!”

So take it from someone who’s made that mistake: hustling isn’t healthy and you NEED boundaries.

Part of the privilege of running your own business is that you get to set the pace and choose what you do and don’t do. Yes, it’s important to earn an income from your business (otherwise it’s a hobby, right?), but you don’t have to build it in the same way that everyone else is building theirs.

  • You can choose to pay yourself rather than pay for (more) advertising.
  • You can choose to optimise your current website rather than overextend on a fancy new one.
  • You can choose to cut lines that don’t sell well in order to introduce something new, or to simply sit in the calm that comes with running a smaller range.
  • You can choose to ignore the infamous algorithm and just do what works for you and your biz.
  • You can choose to say no to that new social platform if you’re already happy with the others (remember Periscope?!).
  • You don’t have to grow if you’re happy where you’re at. It’s ok to be earning an income that you’re happy with and simply not desire more. It’s also ok to want more and to be willing to put the work in to achieve that… but you should never have to hustle so hard that the boundaries blur.

Part of owning a business is that you can choose. Don’t let what everyone else is doing make you feel “less than” or that you’re somehow not doing enough. Your only competition should be a previous target that you want to improve on.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s important to be driven. It’s important to set solid goals that push us outside our comfort zone. But if we have to work our lives away to achieve them then we really don’t have a life at all.

And don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Blogging is not dead.

One thing I’m immensely proud of is that for almost a decade, we’ve managed to keep up our blog, both in our previous business (Oz Baby Trends) and at Seedling Baby.

Even through the changing landscape of social media which brought with it more video and short-form blogging concepts, we’ve maintained our blog, and the benefits are tangible.

These are many reasons to blog for your business:

  • Blogging helps to develop your presence on the web and to establish you as a leader in your industry
  • Blogging can be used to educate, entertain and support the end user of your products/services
  • Blogging can provide customers with valuable and accurate information about your brand and products
  • Blogging is a great way to develop your brand’s unique “voice”

Plus, for all the beauties and benefits of videos and images, not everyone is a visual learner and there are so many customers who love and appreciate the written word, particularly when it comes to learning more about a product they’re looking to invest in.

In addition, it helps our team. After a decade of regular blogging, we now enjoy a vast library of resources from which we can draw on to help new parents get into cloth.

Just last week, we had two enquiries via our social media channels requesting information that would have taken at least 20 minutes to convey accurately. Instead of doing that, we were able to connect the customer with a blog post that was relevant to their enquiry. Sharing a blog post meant that it saved our staff member substantial time and also that the information being given is consistent and accurate across the board, no matter who is answering emails.

In addition, blogging is hands-down my favourite way to communicate in business, so while I’m working hard to push myself out of comfort zones and show up more with video, writing is my “thing” which means that it gets done! I rarely put off writing because I love it so much.

We prioritise what we love, so make sure you find what you love.

Outsource.

I’ve lost count of the number of time people have asked how I “do it all”. The simple fact of the matter is that I don’t. I have 6 kids, we homeschool and I run a full-time product-based business as well as manage facets of several other businesses with my husband. I absolutely DO NOT do it all.

At the moment, I’m not outsourcing as much as I used to (like when I was pregnant or nursing a newborn), but I still have a cleaner come once a week, send a bunch of tasks off to a VA for 5 hours of work each month, get all of the business’s graphic design needs taken care of and outsource most of my website challenges.

Over the years though, I’ve outsourced things like admin tasks, graphic design, photography, social media, copywriting, warehouse management, technical updates/upgrades, web design, proof reading, video editing, SEO and content scheduling.

My criteria for deciding what to do and what not to do used to be very simple: I’d outsource anything that I wasn’t good at or didn’t have time for. But now I add an extra criterion – it has to have a measurable and very specific return on investment for my business. Many of the things I used to outsource are no longer required, or are required in much smaller quantities or less often, or we’ve simply come to a time in the history of eCommerce that those tasks have now been automated. #winning

If you’re wavering over the idea of outsourcing something that you struggle with, start by creating a screencast or demo video of the task. Once you have a record of how it’s done, you’ll find that half the pain of outsourcing that task is already dealt with and you’ll then just need to find someone to do it.

Don’t overextend on new lines.

If you’ve been around for a while, you may remember that we used to distribute a number of Australian and international brands (through our former business, Oz Baby Trends) and this meant that we’ve had the opportunity to play with different product lines, care nuances, stock requirements, currencies and marketing techniques.

At one point, we brought in a new product that we thought would do amazingly well because it had been so well-marketed to us by the manufacturer. It was a high price point ($150 RRP) and we bought in hundreds… but couldn’t shift them no matter what we did!

So my one key take-away here would have to be to take a long, deep breath when it comes to introducing new lines, and just start small. It can be really easy to get excited and buy into the marketing hype of a new line/range/print only to find that your customers aren’t quite as enthusiastic as you had anticipated. #costlymistake #theregoesmycashflow

Best to get in lower quantities, sell through it quickly and have higher demand than to bring in lots of stock, struggle to sell it and be strapped for cash.

Batch and schedule.

There is no way I could keep up with the daily needs of a growing business if it weren’t for batching and scheduling. Due to our family’s choice to homeschool, I can’t just sit down each morning at 9 to start work and knock off at 5. I have to carve out specific times to work and these times are used to batch tasks and then schedule the outflow of content, but it took a long time to find my flow with this. For years, I was working to deadlines, instead of batching, which worked while I was giving myself until 2 am to get stuff done! But once the work/life boundaries were more strictly implemented, I found I just couldn’t rely on last minute management any longer and I had to start setting stuff up well in advance.

Work and life seasons change frequently, but at the moment, on most Saturdays I manage a 3-4 hour block of work while my husband takes the kids out. During that time, I write at least 4 emails, a blog post and 5-10 social posts.

Once a week, I sit down to go over the numbers and ensure everything is tidy in our accounting software and once a month, I stack VA and graphic designer tasks so that everything is ready when it needs to be.

Once a year, I create a full marketing calendar for the following 12 months, which is then fleshed out 4 months in advance.

Seriously. If you’re running a business and you’re not batching… you need to start! It’s life-changing.

Get support. Be supportive.

One thing I know for sure and certain is that running a business as a solopreneur can be extremely lonely. Even if your spouse, family and friends are supportive and helpful… even if you outsource difficult or onerous tasks… you’re still the main decision maker in your business and this can be a really hard place to sit. You need a team of people who are also business owners and who know the challenges, with whom you can bounce ideas around, get help, give honest feedback and whom you can support in turn. Certainly my most enjoyable times in business have been when I was involved in a business community… and I’m an introvert!

Whether it’s a mentor, a live meet-up once a month, a business group on Facebook or a daily text check-in: get yourself support and support others in turn.

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