I often see and hear new online business owners and bloggers asking (and am asked myself) how to grow their business: what exact steps to take and in what order.
And while there are lots of tangible things you should do (hint: Build your list! Know who your customer is! Be consistent.) there are lots of not-so-tangible, not so immediately obvious things that subtly happen over the course of growing a business that are just as - if not more - important than the obvious tangible stuff.
Some people might call it mindset stuff. Others might call it leaning into your business and naturally making the shift from freelancer to business owner.
I call it the not-so-obvious stuff (yep, super scientific name:)
I didn’t even realize I’d done many of these things until I sat back this weekend and really reviewed my 2015 (I know, a month late, but whose counting, really?) And since they’re not-so-obvious, yet clearly what grew my business the most, I wanted to share them here.
So without further ado, the 8 not-so-obvious things that grew my business last year:
1. I Got Focused
If you know me at all you know I’m all about focus. Focus for projects, focus for growth, focus for everything. I love it.
Except I realized I wasn’t *really* focused fully on my business. When I was working on my business I was focused on one project at a time, but I was allowing my focus *outside* of my core business wander.
I took a bunch of projects that I called “scholarship” projects because they were with previous clients and previous industries that I knew well and were easy for me to take on. I called them scholarship projects because I thought they’d allow me to grow this business slow and steady without income pressure.
Instead they proved massively distracting and my business wasn’t moving forward. At all. So about halfway through the year I quit taking on any scholarship projects and my business started to really fly. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
2. I Got Intentional
I left my last company about 18 months ago now in deep, deep burnout (that burnout - and what I learned recovering from it - is a whole other blog post I’ll share soon). That means when last year started I was only about 6 months out of running that company and still deep into recovery.
And what that meant was committing to a schedule seemed totally out of the question. There were days I barely wanted to get out of bed, and other days I just wanted to spend in the mountains around my Colorado home without any hint of responsibility.
While I knew I still needed that time, I also knew I wouldn’t get anywhere if I continued to keep things completely loose. So I decided to start easing back into a regular schedule. Instead of jumping in and making some kind of unrealistic declaration I knew I’d never keep (New Year’s resolutions anyone?!?!) I made baby (and we’re talking baby) step commitments.
The first week I said I’d spend at least an hour each day on my biz. That wasn’t more than I’d been spending before, I’d just been chunking it all into days I felt like working, but making that daily commitment, even a really small one that didn’t get in the way of anything else I wanted to do each day, helped ease me back into paying attention each day.
After a few weeks of that I committed to 90 minutes. Then 2 hours, 4 hours... you get the idea. I made micro-commitments and consistently upped them. And it worked. By the end of the year I was happily and easily putting in 8+ hours a day and felt totally in flow. And I doubt that would’ve ever happened (or happened as easily as it did) if I hadn’t started small. Really small.
3. I Set Real Goals (& Tracked Them)
At the beginning of last year setting goal felt *almost* as scary as setting time commitments. When thinking about goals all my mind really heard was the time + effort commitment (hello again burnout! You’re a b$tch.) so it was way too overwhelming to go there.
So again I started small. First I started tracking my income - all of it - including random free cups of coffee, anything that represented value. I didn’t set a goal against it, and I didn’t track my expenses. My only goal was to remember how much fun it was to earn money and earn value.
Once the income tracking felt good + easy + not at all stressful I started adding income goals against it. Modest at first, because I wanted to know I’d make my goal and get some positive reinforcement for the goal setting. Then I started to set higher goals, and finally I started to track my expenses and take proper note of my P&L (profit and loss) each month.
Again, just like micro steps to a schedule, micro steps to income tracking and goals made it doable and make it successful.
4. I Surrounded Myself With Biz Buddies
This one wasn’t a conscious effort on my part (although it should’ve been, so if you’re reading this make it one of yours!) but I came out of last year with some cherished business buddies and wow did they make a difference.
Building an online business from home can be a lonely endeavor. Your real life friends and family may not understand exactly what it is you’re building, and they definitely won’t be able to relate to the norms and challenges in the industry.
That means the people who are working towards something similar will become your best day in and day out support team. They’ll cheer you on, offer much-needed perspective and advice that’s on point.
Last year I can thank my biz buddies for suggesting the baby step schedule commitments I talked about above, for helping me flesh out my brand when I had no idea which way was up and for telling me on a daily basis that I had what it took to make this thing happen. I can’t thank them enough for it.
5. I Found My Sweet Spot Between Hustle & Self-Care
One of my biggest struggles last year was finding (and accepting) where I naturally land on the spectrum between hustle and self-care. If I haven’t mentioned it enough already I was REALLY burned out at the beginning of last year. Which means I was ALL ABOUT the extreme self-care.
But here’s the thing: when feeling good I’m kind of intense. Actually a lot intense. I like the hustle: I like to feel like I’m on the edge of performing my best. I’d gone way over that edge at my last company, and that didn’t work. But when I went way over the hustle edge I sling shot all the way to the other extreme of massive self care, all day everyday. And you know what? That felt just as bad. At least to me.
So when I finally accepted that I like to work hard, that I like a little hustle and adrenaline in my life, things started falling into place for me. I learned enough from going over the edge that I still incorporate *way more* self-care into my daily life than I ever have before, which is a really good thing, but I also don’t overdo the self-care, because when I do that I find I start annoying myself with what feels like a bunch of excuses.
Finding the balance was important to me. What’s your balance?
6. I Invested in Tech
This one surprised me when I sat down and looked at my year because I’m a huge tech advocate and would never consider myself as someone who *wasn’t* always investing in tech. Until I realized I wasn’t.
Here’s what was happening: because I wasn’t being overly intentional about my business at the beginning of the year it was easy to look at tech I knew I needed and say “I’ll grab that next week.” Well we all know how that story ends: the next week I’d put it off another week, then another and another until a few months had passed and I still hadn’t invested in anything. No bueno.
In the second half of the year I made a list of the tech I wanted with all associated costs and started picking things off one by one. Not surprisinly the more I invested in tech, the more efficient and easy things became, which means the more interested I became in working (because it was easier to work) and the more clients appeared.
Stop putting off your tech investments. Get ‘em done and they’ll pay for themselves. Quickly.
7. I Stopped Trying To Apply Everything I Saw Going On In The Online Space
This was another interesting one for me. My business has 2 branches: I help established online entrepreneurs (think 200-500k annual revenue) scale up to 7 figures and beyond, and I help new online business owners build their business on a solid enough foundation so they can reach that scaling threshold.
The first branch of that business - the scaling part - requires me to be very up-to-date on all the latest and greatest in the online business world. Which means I consume a ton of content and listen to a ton of industry people. Which is fine - it’s for a purpose, and me paying attention to those things improves the outcomes my clients achieve by a lot. Which means I’ll keep doing it.
What I stopped doing, however, was trying to apply everything I was learning in my own business. This is a typical problem for new entrepreneurs - you buy all the courses, listen to everyone, try to apply everything. Except I thought I didn’t count because I was listening and consuming for my clients. Wrong. Because when I took a step back I realized I was letting it affect what I was doing in my business, and when I did that things got really confusing and disjointed.
I couldn’t go cold turkey on info like some people do (since I did need to know the info for my higher-level clients) but I DID make the conscious decision to compartmentalize all the info I took in as client-only information, and stopped letting it seep into my own business plans.
8. I Tried New Things (& Stayed Disconnected From The Outcome)
The last thing I did to move my business forward last year was to get back to my entrepreneurial, experimental roots and start trying new things without being connected to the outcome.
What do I mean? Before I had this business I was in tech start-ups, and in tech there’s constant experimenting going on, and no one bats an eye if an experiment works or doesn’t work. It’s just information to build on.
But when I had my own company all of a sudden those experiements started feeling really personal in nature - they were judgments against ME, not pieces of information about how to build my business.
To move past that I brought my mindset back to my tech roots and made a conscious effort to disconnect me from what was (or wasn’t) working to build my business. When I did that I was able to start experiementing again with a child’s mind and find the list building, marketing, outreach strategies that worked while letting go of the ones that didn’t without turning them into some kind of judgment of my abilities. Needless to say that helped. A lot.
That’s what I did in 2015 to building my business. How about you? Did you do any of these same things? Maybe something differently? Can you experiment with any of these in 2016? Let me know in the comments!