• Emma Lawson

How to thrive in your first year in business: 5 lessons I’ve learnt (and am still learning)

Updated: Jan 2

I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve shaken my fists at the heavens, and I’ve done happy dances in my pyjamas. Countless cups of coffee drained and innumerable Zoom meetings later, I’m still here and I’m ready for the year ahead. It’s been helpful these past few weeks to think about where I was this time last year.

I’d had several years of copywriting, proofreading and editing experience under my belt with past employment and my voluntary work in Rwanda, and was completing training courses with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). I set up my website and social media platforms, wrote up a business plan and was raring to go. I even ordered business cards (for all the business breakfasts and networking events I wouldn’t, as it turned out, be able to attend). Like everyone else, I hadn’t factored into my plans the havoc that a certain virus would wreak – the holes it would rip in the fabric of society. Life can be unpredictable like that. More recently, it’s given me time to reflect on what I could have done better and what I did well. Here are five lessons I’ve learnt.

1) Plan

Never underestimate the importance of effective planning. The route to success starts with solid targets and practical, realistic ways to meet them. Who are your customers/clients? How are you going to find them? What products/services are they looking for and how do they want them delivered? How will you position yourself to meet their needs? Who is your competition and what are they offering? Write up a business plan to conceptualise your ideas. Getting them down on paper and regularly reviewing them will help you stay on track.

Image by Pexels

2) Do some professional development training

Budget permitting, getting some professional training under your belt will give you a confidence boost when that dreaded imposter syndrome kicks in. When you get your first paying job, it’s a great feeling, but it can also be a little daunting. That nagging voice creeps in and can hold you back if you’re not careful. Can I do this? What if I fail?

Before launching my business, I completed and passed professional training in proofreading and copyediting from the CIEP. These aren’t become-an-expert-in-one-day masterclasses; these are industry-recognised courses run by experienced tutors. I had work to do and assignments to pass.

Even learning new skills in IT and online marketing will be a boost. Is it time to up your game on Excel spreadsheets? Could you do with learning how to run macros? How about getting your head around creative tools like Canva or Adobe Spark? LinkedIn Learning offers some affordable mini-courses, but if your budget doesn’t stretch that far, you can access quality tutorials on YouTube. Paul Beverley has some brilliant tutorials on his channel on how to use macros to improve editing efficiency in Word, for example.

Recent training will give you the confidence and self-assurance to tell that nagging voice where to go. You’ve got the skills. You’ve got the knowledge. Now put it into action!

3) Find support

Find your people! You’ll know who they are. They’ll commiserate your losses and celebrate your wins. They’ll empathise with you every step of the way and, if they’re particularly special, they’ll join you for an evening tipple over Zoom for a catch up. There are many professional networks and communities out there for networking and advice and being a part of one can really help fight the loneliness that comes with running a freelance business from home.

I’m an Intermediate Member of the CIEP, which gives me access to advice forums, including the CIEP South Wales group. It’s been an invaluable source of advice, and it’s been great to get to know some friendly faces in my line of work. Find out whether there’s a professional association in your industry and search for what’s on offer in your area. One day you may even be able to meet them in person!

Image by Marcus Winkler from Pexels

4) Set realistic goals

Dream big; start small. Excel in the small things and work up to your longer-term goals when you have the confidence. Can’t commit to weekly blog posts? Be consistent in monthly ones. Are daily social media posts too much? Go for weekly ones. Whatever you do, be consistent, and be realistic.

5) Be prepared to play the long game

If you put in the hard work now, it might not pay off this week or this month or even the next, but you should see results further down the line. You can spend weeks pitching your services to a huge range of clients and get little work from it initially. Perhaps for every ten potential clients you reach out to, one or two may reply. But it might not be straight away. I’ve had some clients get back to me months later after a flurry of pitching. The occasional polite nudge to move things along and remind people that you're there doesn’t hurt, but be patient, and try not to get discouraged in the meantime. After you’ve spent time cold calling/emailing/letter writing, continue to invest time in indirect forms of marketing, blogging and building your social media presence.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Perfectionism can be the enemy of progress, so don’t allow yourself to be hamstrung by unrealistic goals. Celebrate every win, no matter how small, and allow time for self-care or you’ll experience severe burnout. Listen to your body and mind before you tailspin into an exhausted, overwhelmed heap. And when you’re experiencing self-doubt, remember that every entrepreneur has been where you are now. Now I’ll stop or I’ll break out into R Kelley’s ‘I believe I can fly’. And no one wants that.

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