Starting / Business startup

5 business lessons I had to learn the hard way

Ever heard the phrase: “Sometimes you’ve just got to learn the hard way”? Yeah, I had too. But, like many before me I’m sure, I thought learning things the hard way was, well, for other schmucks. Not moi.

13 January 2016 by

Yep, that’s right. I was going to hit my business highs by cruising through easy street with my (convertible) top down and my gangster shades up.

Okay, okay, I can feel you smiling and shaking your head. Because, as you can glean from the title of this article, sadly my cruise through easy street did not go exactly as planned. And by ‘exactly’, I mean, at all.

In the end, I discovered that it truly doesn’t matter how many business books you’ve read or how many fancy eCourses you’ve enrolled in or even how many times you’ve vehemently been warned of the perils of solopreneurship … there are some lessons in the business world that almost always require a rude awakening (or even a minor meltdown!) before you can fully grasp them completely.

That said, the ability to learn from other people’s mistakes can help you be better prepared for when those hard lessons rear their heads demanding to be learned.

"There are some lessons in the business world that almost always require a rude awakening (or even a minor meltdown!) before you can fully grasp them completely."

So here are the five business lessons I had to learn the hard way:

1. It’s business, baby

So don’t get friendship and business confused. At the end of the day, you can’t rely on your clients, co-workers or service providers to always treat you as a friend – no matter how much banter and rapport you share. Even your favourite clients still want their business transactions to run smoothly, as well as the best possible prices within the shortest possible timeframe. So by all means be friendly … but don’t forget to be professional too.

2. Money talks

A few years ago, I was inundated with requests for discounts and ‘special’ (i.e. super low rate)deals. And I’m going to be real with you: I was tempted. After all, some cash is better than no cash, right? But as I learned the hard way, you’re only undercutting yourself and undervaluing your services if you cave into requests for discounts. Besides, 99% of the time, clients who quibble over price are more trouble than they’re worth. Instead of haggling with them, stand in your power and get crystal clear about the incredible value you offer.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business startup section.

(And on a related note: Never, ever offer your services for free. Even to friends and family. Your time and energy are precious. In fact, they’re the most important resources you’ve got – treat them accordingly!)

3. You’re not going to be universally loved

The first time I experienced a hater/internet troll, I was devastated. Why don’t they like me? What did I do wrong? Ugh, I’m a total failure! These thoughts and more raced through my mind. But – and I’m channelling my inner Taylor Swift here – I learned that haters are gonna hate. You cannot please everyone all of the time. Whether it’s clients, readers, or random web trolls, from time to time, people are going to criticise your work and make you doubt everything you do. And in such situations, know that being nice gets you much further than being nasty. Kill them with kindness – or in the case of trolls, ignore them completely – and just walk away. Taking the high road will work wonders on your soul.

4. Your peers are your friends, not your foes

It was early 2010 and I was curled up with a tub of ice-cream while I flicked through the never-ending online highlight reel that was my peer’s business and life successes. A huge triumph here.  A massive deal there. Oh and a ridiculously cool product hanging out in the corner over there too. Ugh. I couldn’t remember a time when I felt so worthless. Maybe you’ve felt the same? But over time – and through numerous Baskin & Robbins sessions – I learned that, actually, there’s enough pie for everyone. Seriously. So use their achievements as a source of inspiration for your own work. It’s also an indicator of what’s possible. Oh, and if you want karmic brownie points, leave a generous comment on their post. If all else fails, remember that what people share online is rarely a complete reflection of reality – you’re likely seeing a carefully primped-up version of events. Take everything with a grain of salt.

5. You can’t do everything yourself

I get it, I really do – your biz is your baby! It’s got your blood, sweat and (no small amount of) tears embedded in it. But if, like I did in the early days, you stay up until 2am every day to get stuff done and feel stabs of anxiety whenever you’re away from your computer for too long, please know this one, giant truth: if you want your biz to grow, you cannot do it all yourself. You need help, and you need a team around you. Organisation + delegation = a better existence. Repeat after me: it’s okay to let some things go!

And this goes for those hard-won nuggets of wisdom too: it’s okay to let them go once they’ve served their purpose. Shake them off and move on to bigger – and brighter – things. After all, hard lessons are simply the precursor for astronomical success, don’t you know? Go get ‘em.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn in your solo business?

Anna Dower

is a designer, mentor and Chief Boss-Lady at Design With Style. She's also the co-founder and art director of digital magazine, ROOOAR.


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