8 Small Business Lessons I Learned the Hard Way in 2016

I will always remember 2016 as a pivotal year for me professionally. Although I’ve been in business...

I will always remember 2016 as a pivotal year for me professionally. Although I’ve been in business since 2011, owning and designing my kids clothing line cuteheads, this was the year it really took off. In late 2014, I was struggling. I was still trying to balance motherhood with running my business. I was feeling uninspired creatively, and I was mentally exhausted from years small business fatigue. What I was doing wasn’t working and I knew it.

8 Small Business Lessons I Learned the Hard Way in 2016
Instead of giving up, I decided to really focus on what I wanted my business to look like, what was important to change, and what was important to let go. I knew I needed to ask myself hard questions and make hard choices. I started reading more. I hired a business coach. I asked questions and didn’t assume I had all the answers. As a small business owner — whether you own a business like mine, a blog, both, or something totally different — you have to make hard decisions every day as to what to devote time to, and I believe that the changes I made had a big impact on the growth of my business. I started to hone in on the small business lessons I had learned, so that I could really grow.

There will always be room for improvement. As my dad says, “continuous improvement applies to yourself as well as your work,” and he’s right about that. But it’s nice to look back on how things have changed in the past year to see where you started and where you’ve ended up. Here are 8 of the major lessons I take away from 2016.

8 Small Business Lessons I Learned the Hard Way in 2015

There’s no substitute for real relationships. If you’re relying solely on social media to grow your blog or business, stop right now and pick up the phone, send a text, or email a friend. Maintaining real relationships — even and especially if they were originally formed online — is critical not only for success, but for sanity. Seeking validation from how many likes you get on a picture is going to lead nowhere. Find validation in love and real friendship.

Social media isn’t the only way to grow. I truly value social media and it really helped me grow this year, but there were other important factors to growth as well. There are going to be endless business coaches and social media gurus telling you that social media is the end-all, be-all of small business and blogging. If you want to know two important things that catapulted my business this year, I’ll tell you: email and SEO. Yes, email, the old-fashioned thing that “experts” say is dying. And SEO, getting people to organically find my home bases, my site and my blog, which are the only things I actually own on the internet. I do not own my Instagram profile, Instagram does. I do not own my Facebook profile, Facebook does. So it started to feel a little risky to me to focus solely on growing those properties that could be taken away in an instant. 

Not everyone’s going to like what you do or want you to succeed, and that’s ok. Whatever people’s reasons are for not wanting you to succeed, remember: they have nothing to do with you. Don’t we all have enough self-doubt as it is to let other people doubting us affect our confidence?

Value your alone time and make it count. Alone time is a precious commodity, and none of us get enough of it, or if we do, we don’t appreciate what we have. Is there anything sweeter than a quiet house or coffee shop, where you’re just alone with your computer and Spotify? I treasure those times, because I get to really concentrate and focus, versus trying to multi-task, which I am terrible at.

Collaboration is one of the best ways to grow. I spent a lot of time this year working on collaborations big and small. There are so many reasons why creating collaborative partnerships with other small business owners and bloggers is a good idea, I could write an entire post on it. Maybe I will one day.

No one can do it all. Not even Beyonce. I know people think the “You have as many hours in the day as Beyonce” quote is awesome, and I guess it’s kiiiind of funny, but you know what Beyonce also has? The full-time staff of a small country. You know who does not have that? You and me. So we have to prioritize. I had a lot of success with my Day Designer planner this year. Giving thought to the top 3 items that have to get done each day, then creating a separate list of items that would be nice to accomplish, gave me perspective and helped me manage my stress level. It was a really easy change.

One of the biggest keys to success? Do the work you don’t like to do. What people don’t know about owning and designing a kids clothing company is that 90% of what I do is boring and hard. There are never any easy answers, and I’m constantly scrambling to find solutions to problems that I can’t read 10-step Wikihow articles to solve. At least once a week, I email or talk with someone who wants to start a clothing line of some kind, and although I am always encouraging, I try to impart the reality of what they’re getting themselves into. 
A business is like a child, and it needs that much attention. 

I had NO CLUE how hard and time consuming blogging really is. Back in April of this year, I decided to really focus on my blog as a complement to my small business. I’ve always had a blog, but it was embedded in my Shopify store, and had little to no functionality. I kept reading that it was a great way to humanize a brand and get to know customers. What I didn’t realize was how much I would like it, how much it would grow independently of my business in such a quick amount of time, and how it really is a second business. 

Now that I have started working with brands, it has doubled my work load, and I’m still trying to sort out how I’m going to do all of this once the new baby comes. I really admire and respect bloggers who have turned their blogs into real businesses, and I hope to learn from them in 2017.
I learned these 8 small business lessons the hard way and I wouldn’t change it for a second. Sometimes we have to experience things to believe them and learn from them. What life lessons will you take away from 2016? I’d love to know.

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