Celebrating 1 year of being a new entrepreneur

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lessons learned in my first year of business

Sparkr Marketing is 1! Cue the confetti!

One year ago I became a new entrepreneur and launched Sparkr Marketing with no idea what this first year of business would look like. But leaving a steady job to pursue my side hustle full-time as an entrepreneur meant taking risks, and I was ALL IN.

Needless to say I didn’t anticipate a global pandemic and my whole family running around my home office full time for half the year. No doubt, that was an adjustment for everyone, but my kids are old enough to be pretty independent, and I kept at it (albeit with some periodic yelling at fighting boys!).

Now that I’ve made it to the one-year mark as an entrepreneur, I’m sharing some lessons learned and a preview of my BIG goals for year two. Whether you’re starting a new business, thinking of becoming an entrepreneur or this pandemic is a reset for the way you run your business, this blog has tips you can use.

My first year in business journey as a new entrepreneur

I’d like to say that I had a whole one-year business plan as an entrepreneur, with a year-long content calendar all planned out when I started. After all, I create marketing roadmaps and done-for-you posts that follow content calendars for clients.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I dove into the client work I had and moved along every day working on building my own business at the same time. I figured things out as I went. I learned lessons and tweaked what I was building.

Taking stock of year 1 in business

It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t plan my year one content marketing goals because had I planned, I wouldn’t have put so much on my plate. I recommend that my coaching clients pick one form of consistent weekly content, but I ended up doing all three.

Part of that is because I put pressure on myself to practice all that I was teaching. I didn’t want a client to go to my website and see that I wasn’t creating content. And if I was coaching clients to use LinkedIn better, for example, I needed to be using LinkedIn well too.

And part of the reason I produced so much content is that content marketing is easier for me since it’s what I do. But the biggest reason I ended up producing a weekly blog, video and a podcast is that I think it’s fun. 🤓

lessons learned in my first year of business

Here’s the state of my content marketing after one year

  1. Weekly live Facebook sessions: I started going live on Facebook back in October each week to teach digital content marketing for small business owners, and I’ve consistently shown up ever since. This has been key to building my reputation and getting new clients. Join my group to learn and ask questions!
  2. Bi-monthly blog posts: I created a content marketing blog post at least two times each month. This has been key to my LinkedIn presence because I don’t have access to the live video feature there yet, and the videos that I pre-record haven’t performed as well there. Blogs are also good for SEO.
  3. Podcast: I’m a podcast junkie, so it was only a matter of time before I started my own. I figured as long as I was doing weekly videos, I might as well make them a podcast, right? Check it out here
  4. Weekly emails: I am working on building an email list and write to them with tips and fun things about me pretty much every week. I also have an automatic welcome series that I continue to adjust and tweak.

Join my email list here and get a guide to using Canva and creating more social media content

Lessons learned in year 1 as a new entrepreneur

Getting to a consistent level of content marketing was a journey, with a lot of lessons learned along the way. I’m sharing a few of them here in hopes that it helps you.

Set up a routine

It’s no joke that we entrepreneurs are the hardest bosses some of us ever have. Everyone says setting up a routine is essential, and this has been true for me as well. I attribute sticking to my routine to the reason I’m still sane after six months of running a business with my kids home during the quarantine.

My routine starts with getting up early, around 5:30. The earlier I get up, the more productive the day. It also means I go to bed early.

From there, I focus on my journal. The only reason I know the exact date I started this business is because I started a journal the same day. That journal’s been key to setting up the vision for my life as well as for each day. I talk more about my daily journaling here, but the basic idea is that I focus on gratitude, mindfulness and where I’m headed.

I then set the schedule for the rest of my day, including a solid hour before my kids get up where I work on the hardest task on my list. Key to staying focused has been turning off notifications and silencing my phone most of my day. I check in, of course, but when I’m “on the clock” for a client, I don’t want pings.

There’s a nagging temptation to never stop when it comes to my business–a sentiment I’ve heard from a lot of entrepreneurs. And while hard work is necessary to get something off the ground, setting boundaries is as well. I’m still working on switching gears when my family is home. I’m also committed to pursuing other interests, like running and guitar, no matter how packed my day.

Set aside time to focus on building your own business 

So often I hear small business owners say they don’t have time to focus on marketing or building the structure of their businesses. I get it. It’s tempting to work all day on what pays today’s bills, but if you don’t schedule time to focus on building your own business, you won’t continue to have a business.

The work I do today to build Sparkr is what will ensure my business grows in the future. I schedule at least five hours into my week when I focus only on Sparkr.

You never lose by giving away free information

A lot of what I teach in my marketing coaching, I give away for free on this blog, my podcast and in my weekly Facebook Live sessions. I’ve yet to question giving away free advice. I feel grateful for what I’ve learned, and I’m so happy to help others. I have a tendency to give away so much advice during a prospect call, that the recipient ends up implementing some of it even before we work together. And if they don’t end up working with me? That’s okay too.

I’m pretty confident that the more support you offer for free, the more that will come back to you. Call it karma or kindness, but at the end of the day, you want people to realize that if you give away this much information for free, how much more value is in your paid services?!

Here’s an example of the weekly free content I give away on Facebook and post on YouTube

Start with a great virtual assistant

I heeded the advice of other entrepreneurs and hired an awesome VA early on in my business. This felt a little premature at first, but by having a VA, I was able to think of how I needed help. Now I get more done each month than I could do on my own. I recommend starting small, and then each month come up with new ways to work together.

Now before I start a task, I think first about whether I need to be the one doing it. If the answer is yes, I think about how I can make that task part of a system that someone else can eventually implement.

Also, having a VA’s support means that I don’t panic when I consider the number of proposals I have outstanding at any given time. I can serve more prospective clients because I have my own support.

Hiring help early meant I wasn’t afraid to do it later either. I’m serving clients in more ways than I could do on my own, simply because I don’t have the time (so much blogging!) or the same level expertise (SEO).

Build systems in your business early

Building systems in your business goes hand in hand with hiring help. Anything that helps you work faster is a smarter way to work. I started early with Monday.com, a task manager that helps keep me on task, assign tasks to my team and keep track of certain parts of my business that I have to do on repeat.

Later in the year, I started using Dubsado (note that’s an affiliate link), a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that lets me send out beautiful proposals, contracts and invoices all packaged together. There are also automated workflows in there that make my life easier. It took a long time to set up, but it’s worth it.

Take action and change it later

Indecision is an enemy of progress in your business. There are so many parts of my business that have already changed in just one year. Just scroll down my Instagram and you’ll see all the versions of Canva templates I went through one year ago until I found something I like better. I even changed WordPress templates in the middle of the year because the one I picked to launch the site was no longer working the way I wanted. I find it’s better to go with what I have and improve it later.

The riches are in the niches

I knew from the start that I needed to narrow down the services I offer and who I offer them to. I’ve had jobs where I had to do everything, from print to digital, by myself. And while it seems really helpful to offer a prospective client the whole kit and caboodle, instead it’s confusing. I lost one big opportunity because I put so much into the proposal that the client couldn’t wrap his head around it. He kept asking me to explain more about what I do. In hindsight I realized what he was really asking was for me to do less. He needed me to keep it simple.

I started to develop my niche by talking only about content marketing on emails, websites and social media.

Next, I narrowed down the industry I serve. The day I started focusing on healthcare marketing was the day I started getting even more prospects. Healthcare is what I’ve done the longest and like the most, so it made sense to hang my hat there.

I’m still working on narrowing this down more, and this is a big goal of mine in year two of business.

The more specific we all are about what we offer, the better we can be at doing the work, reaching more people and establishing ourselves as experts.

Keep learning to be better at your work

I spent hours every week listening to other entrepreneurs and business leaders on podcasts. I am a big reader for pleasure, so I also made sure to always be reading one business book at a time as well. I purchased courses and also did free ones from other entrepreneurs on content marketing and building a business. In one year, I learned more practical skills than I did in four of college.

There is so much free content out there, no matter what business you are trying to build. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend Donald Miller’s Business Made Simple University. It’s affordable and fantastic.

Focus on serving others

No matter what you offer, being an entrepreneur makes it hard to separate your service or product from its source. Everywhere you go, you represent your company. I’m far from mastering being the best version of me all the time, but seeing this in practice is keeping me on my toes. I’ve had acquaintances from 30 years ago ask about my services (thanks, Facebook!), and new friends I’ve made recently have helped spread the word. It pays to be nice, back then and now.

Knowing how much of my business depends on word of mouth means I’ve gained a heightened awareness of needing to focus on serving others. Most of us launch a business in order to help people with a product or service we believe in. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy to smile and be friendly when busy, frustrated or overwhelmed. Do it anyway. The more you are exceedingly kind and focused on relationships and service of others, the better you are at doing the work.

There have been other lessons, of course, and I hope to continue learning. It’s part of what keeps me so energized. I offer my total gratitude to the clients who have bet on me, to the friends and family who have cheered me on and spread the word, and to the Facebook community of Sparks of Marketing I’m building–some of you I don’t even know. You keep me focused on my goal of helping as many people as I can.

In this next year of entrepreneurship, I hope to create a group course where I can coach a lot of small businesses with content marketing. It’s a ton of work, but I’m ready to dive in.

I have a lot more to figure out in this business I’m building as a new entrepreneur, but this much I know: one year later, and I still wake up each day excited to be doing this work.

Here’s to YEAR 2!

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