In case you missed it, this month I’m celebrating my 10th business birthday. Hurrah!
In my last blog post, I outlined my journey from starting out not knowing much, or earning much, to becoming one of Australia’s leading health and medical writers.
It’s been a monumental effort to get here, with many failures and lessons learned along the way.
So, I thought I’d share with you my top 10 lessons for business success.
Lesson 1: You are your business
If you run your own business, then YOU are your business.
And your business will only ever be as good as you are.
A lot of business owners get caught up in spending money on courses, training, software or subscriptions. Of course, sometimes these things are valid and necessary. But be careful you’re not using these things as a distraction from other issues. If there are problems in your business, chances are they are your personal issues that are showing up which won’t be solved by buying a new laptop.
For example, if you’re a people pleaser who says ‘yes’ all the time because you don’t want to offend anyone, then you’ll have trouble setting boundaries with clients. If you feel like an imposter because you’re always comparing yourself to others, you’ll never be able to effectively market yourself and your services. And if you feel unworthy, then you’ll always struggle to charge properly for the work you do.
I used to be all those things (and more) and my business reflected that. So, I had to do a lot of work on my mindset. Once I started to address these things, I started seeing myself and my business differently. I was able to set boundaries, appreciate the value of the work I did and charge accordingly. If I hadn’t addressed my personal issues, my business would not be where it is today.
The ’better’ we are, the better our business becomes. So focus on investing in yourself, and becoming a better person, because that’s where you’ll find the keys to business success.The ’better’ we are, the better our business becomes. So focus on investing in yourself, and becoming a better person, because that’s where you’ll find the keys to success. Click To Tweet
Lesson 2: Keep turning up
Success isn’t given. It’s earned.
There will be times when you won’t have much work.
There will be days when motivation is low.
There will be days when you’d rather be watching Netflix while you eat ice cream or skiving off to have a mid-afternoon nap.
There will be weeks or months when your bank account is low.
And you’ll be able to find all the reasons excuses to stop.
If you want to succeed, you have to keep showing up, even when you don’t feel like it.
When I had no work, I worked in my business. I’d work on my website or write a blog. I’d go and learn new skills, or write social media posts, or develop my processes. Every day, no matter what was going on, I’d make my coffee, sit down at my desk, turn on my laptop and get to work.
Looking back now, I’m glad I chose to forgo Netflix and ice cream or a day out shopping, over working on my business.If you want to succeed, you have to keep showing up, even when you don’t feel like it. Click To Tweet
Lesson 3: Niche is not a dirty word
I used to fear niching. That’s because, in the early days, my ideal customers were those who had a pulse and a wallet — which meant anyone and everyone. But the truth is it’s impossible for any business to service everyone. Trying to be all things to everyone means you’ll engage in spray and pray marketing — that is, share generic messages to large groups of people, hoping that a small percentage of them will convert into customers. But when you’re not known for what you do or don’t stand out from the crowd, you’ll be lucky to convert anyone.
I got to a point in my business where I realised I loved writing health and medical information above all else. And because I wanted to do more of it, I decided to niche and rebrand my business as The Melbourne Health Writer. Niching is one of the secrets of my success. It enabled me to do more of the work I loved, but more importantly, it helped me become better at what I do, and become better known for what I did.
The strange thing is that once I niched I started attracting the larger clients on my bucket list, and I was able to charge more for what I did. Since niching 5 years ago, I have never been short on work and I’ve never had to do much marketing.
When you’re good at what you do, and people know your point of difference, you’ll be more successful.Niche is not a dirty word. Niching leads to better customers, increased skill level and more money. Click To Tweet
Lesson 4: Follow your own path…or create your own
It can be tempting to see someone else who is successful and try to replicate their success by copying what they do. While it’s okay to be inspired, don’t be a copycat. I’ve had people lift copy from my website and use it on their own website. I’ve had another health writer copy my USP (unique sales proposition) which took me years to refine, and change two words. I’ve had other health writers take my Credible Compliant Copy Checklist, re-design it, tweak a couple of words and call it their own.
While this is irritating, I don’t let it get to me because I know if they need to copy what I’m doing, they are so far behind me that they’re not even my competition.
But the biggest secret is to know why you’re in business and what you want to achieve. When you know that, you’re free to follow your own path. I know many copywriters who have built their own agencies or have a host of sub-contractors working for them. I think this is fantastic — for them. While I could also have gone down this path, that wasn’t the business model I wanted. I know why I do what I do and what my end goal is, so I don’t need to watch everyone else, compare myself to them, or copy what they do. I’m quite comfortable following my own path, and even creating paths of my own.
Never be afraid to follow your own path. And if there is no path to follow, create your own.Never be afraid to follow your own path. And if there is no path to follow, create your own. Click To Tweet
Lesson 5: It will get messy
Running a business is hard work. It can also be very messy. In the early years, my kids were quite young so a sick day or the annual sports day was quite disruptive, especially when I only had limited hours during the day to work. For a few years, my routine was to get up at 4 am and get in a couple of hours of work before the morning school routine. Then I’d do a couple more hours before school pick-up, after-school activities and dinner. Once they went to bed, I’d head back to my desk.
Even as they got older and I had more time to work during the day there always seemed to be something else to upset my weekly routine — whether that be medical appointments, my own sick days, or Covid lockdowns when everyone was in the house, making noise and being very distracting!
Business, just like life can be messy. Instead of getting upset by the mess, you need to accept it, embrace it, and find a way to keep going even if you do have mud in your eye!Running a business is like life - never smooth sailing and always a bit messy Click To Tweet
Lesson 6: We succeed by doing, and failing
You can always learn something from a course or a training session, but the biggest learning comes from doing (and failing). I often see copywriters avoid pitching for projects because they haven’t done that kind of work before. While you shouldn’t pretend you can do something you don’t have the skills for (i.e. say you can write SEO-optimised web copy when you know nothing about SEO), often the only way to learn is by putting your hand up and giving it a go.
It’s a bit like learning to drive a car. You can learn all the road rules, and the theory behind driving, but unless you get in the car and actually drive, you’ll never learn to drive a car.
Don’t let fear of making a mistake stop you from doing the do. You will make mistakes, but you will also learn important lessons. My biggest lessons came from making mistakes.
Not having clear processes meant that one job was a complete nightmare to manage. So I tightened up my processes.
Not having proper terms and conditions meant that one client got away with not paying me for my work. So I firmed them up and got a lawyer to make them watertight.
Not setting boundaries meant that a project that was supposed to take 3 weeks ended up taking 8 months. So I updated my terms and conditions around revision times.
You get the idea. While these were painful experiences, they taught me a lot. And once I learned those lessons, I never had those problems again.
Of course, I’m going to make more mistakes particularly if I’m continuing to grow and develop my business. But I’m looking at these as opportunities to improve or learn something that will make life a bit easier in the future.
Never be afraid to take action, and never be afraid of learning from your mistakes.The best way to learn is by doing, and failing. Click To Tweet
Lesson 7: Overnight business success is a myth
There is no such thing as overnight success, despite what the media says.
What appears as a sudden rise to prominence or a sudden increase in earnings is always the result of years, even decades of hard work and good foundations.
My success has been anything but overnight. It started over 45 years ago in primary school, when I diligently paid attention in class, did my homework each night and learned that all I needed to do was my best. I continued to work hard in high school, and spent every weekend in Year 12 studying, so I could get a good score and get into uni. I worked hard to get my Arts degree and graduated with three majors (Journalism, Communication Studies, and Australian Literature) instead of the usual two. When I moved into the workforce, I continued to work hard, honing my writing skills, learning other skills, and growing in confidence.
When I started my own business, I was raising two young kids while my husband travelled for work. My days were long because I had to carve out time to work around my family. Over the past 10 years, I have invested tens of thousands of dollars in my personal and professional growth. I’ve worked hard for my clients, often going above and beyond. I have earned every cent I’ve made and worked hard for the reputation I’ve managed to build.
Overnight success is a myth.
The truth is that it takes grit, determination, tears and frustration and a lot of hard work to succeed.
Overnight success is a myth. It takes grit, determination, tears and frustration and a lot of hard work to succeed. Click To Tweet
Lesson 8: Find your people
Running a business can be tough, which is why you need the right people around you. You need people to support you, people to help you, and people who get what you do. While my family are my greatest supporters, they don’t really ‘get’ what I do. Sure, they know what I do, but they don’t know the thrill of winning a new client or the anxiety I sometimes feel when sending new clients my first draft of work. They also don’t understand the day-to-day issues of running my business, nor can they mentor or help me develop my skills.
Fortunately, I found The Clever Copywriting School — a safe place filled with other copywriters who get what I do and understand the ups and downs of copywriting life. This community has been there to provide advice, share in celebrations and commiserations, and been a safe place to vent about the clients who turned out to be a pain in the butt.
In addition, the head copybeast, Kate Toon has been my mentor and teacher ever since I arrived. She has provided advice and support and taught courses to build my skills as a copywriter and business owner. In other words, I found my people at TCCS.
It’s great to have supportive family and friends in your corner, but you also need people who ‘get it’.Surround yourself with people who support you and people who get what you do. But remember they are likely to be two different groups of people Click To Tweet
Lesson 9: Love what you do
You’ve probably heard the cliché “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I don’t agree. There will be days when it feels like hard work and you won’t love what you’re doing.
Success isn’t guaranteed because you love what you do. I love swimming at the beach and reading books, but I’m not going to make a living doing either of those.
But I do believe that to succeed, you must love what you do — not every minute of every day, but overall. If you don’t, you’ll eventually quit, or hate your life.
To quote Steve Jobs:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
And if that’s not enough to warm your heart, how about this speech by Jim Carrey.
There is no way that I could have succeeded in business if I didn’t love what I do.To be in business for the long haul you have to love what you do. Click To Tweet
Lesson 10: Take care of you
The first lesson I shared with you was that you are your business. So, it seems fitting that the final lesson comes back to that point — just from a different angle.
To succeed in business, not only do you have to invest in yourself, but you need to take care of yourself. If you’re tired and burnt out, how are you going to give the best of yourself to your customers? How are you going to keep getting up each day? How are you going to hang in there for the long haul?
Part of my success is making time for my physical and mental health. I walk every morning before breakfast, and I weight train twice a week. While I walk, I feed my mind good things by listening to professional or personal development books on Audible (Brene Brown is one of my favourites).
I also prioritise sleep, aim to eat healthy food, instead of snacking on junk at my desk, and take regular time out, especially if I’m sick. Plus, I have monthly sessions with a remedial massage therapist and a chiropractor, to stay as mobile and pain-free as I can. Having a desk job can wreak havoc on your back and neck.
You might think that sounds very sensible and balanced. But let me tell you that it hasn’t always been this way.
I used to whip myself with a stick to get more work done and always felt guilty about resting (aka not working). But a couple of years ago, I came down with shingles and had no choice but to rest. I learned that the world doesn’t fall apart if I’m not working. In fact, I’m better when I don’t work all the time. I also saw how much stronger I was when I finally got back to my early morning training, and how creative my mind was after a break.
After lengthy Covid lockdowns during 2020/2021, the sudden death of my best friend and ill health of a family member, I finished 2021 feeling completely burnt out and totally exhausted. So last year, I took regular breaks and did fun things to celebrate life. This made a huge difference to my energy levels and helped me get my groove back. By the end of 2022, I didn’t feel like I needed a holiday.
If you want to be in business for the long-term, you must prioritise yourself — body, mind and soul — over your business. Because without you, you have no business.The most important person in your business is you, so be sure to take care of yourself. Without you, you have no business. Click To Tweet
So there you have it. My 10 lessons for business success. I hope you found them helpful or at the least, food for thought.
What about you? What have you learned from being in business?