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Secrets of Success From 17 Years in Business

Back in May 2005 I started my business. 17 years later, I’m still here, and let me tell you I’ve learned a lot along the way. In this episode, I’m sharing my secrets of success, and it may not be at all what you expect.

Some of you may have heard my “I quit my job” story before, but for those of you that haven’t here’s a quick recap of how my business came to be.

After a year-long maternity leave with my son (who turns 18 soon), I decided I was going to strike out on my own. I knew when I left on my leave I likely wasn’t coming back. I loved my job, but the commuting and frequent travel just weren’t going to work for our family, especially as my husband worked shift work.

In May 2005, I started my business with a used laptop and some print-at-home business cards. And a plan that I had to make a certain amount per month by September of that same year.

Honestly, it was terrifying on a lot of levels, but I knew if things didn’t go well, I could easily go back to my agency job.

Within six weeks I’d more than surpassed my first income goal. And I’ll be the first to admit that’s purely a combination of luck and having a really strong reputation and professional network.

My business today looks very different than it did 17 years ago, and there’s been a lot of changes and evolution. I mean, back then I was doing PR, and now I do everything to avoid PR at all costs.

But let’s dive into my secrets from many years as a business own.

There’s No Secret

The first thing I want to share is that if you’re looking for actual secrets of success, you’re probably going to be disappointed. I don’t believe there’s any single one thing that’s the secret.

Getting to the point I am at today is the result of hundreds of factors, including a boatload of privileges that I can’t just pretend I don’t benefit from.

A constant passenger on my business journey has been the feeling that I’m missing something. That there’s some secret I’ve overlooked. Guess what? It’s bullshit. It’s not real. It’s just my brain trying to convince me that I don’t know what’s up.

I’m sure it’s the same for you. There is no one secret. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

Now that we have this out of the way, here are a few things that have definitely helped along the way.

Stop Pricing Yourself Too Low

When I started my business, I set my rate at $100 an hour. Which honestly, is a great hourly rate. But I also didn’t raise my prices for the first eight years.

I would have never stayed in a job where I didn’t get a raise for eight years, but I was willing to be a terrible boss to myself. Good news is that I did raise my rates, and I’ve learned to be a way better boss to myself.

I share this because most service business owners tend to underpay themselves and not charge enough for their services. You should be regularly taking stock of your pricing and assessing if it’s the right price for your experience, clientele, and offers.

Pricing can be a game-changer for your business and your life. And if you need to do some planning, check out our Salary Goal Calculator to figure out how much money you’re making.

Think Like a Client

One of the biggest reasons I’ve been able to stick it out for so long is that I focus on client experience. This doesn’t mean I’m a doormat or don’t have boundaries, far from it.

Everything I do, I try to think of it from the client’s perspective. So many times we get focused on what works for us, that we don’t look at how our communication or process works for the client.

Yes, you should have a way of doing things, but it’s so easy to make it complex and convoluted. When you think like a client, you’re forced to critically assess everything so you can communicate clearly and more importantly with empathy.

The best business relationships are built on respect, service, and ultimately care for each other.

Brave Boundaries

It’s next to impossible to run a service business and not run yourself into the ground without strong boundaries.

I’m the first to admit that boundaries are challenging for a lot of us, myself included. This has been a constant work in progress for me, especially as someone who needs a certain amount of white space and autonomy.

This is why I love how Brene Brown talks about boundaries as being brave and afraid at the same time. That for me has been helpful, as so many times I’ve failed to articulate, let alone assert my boundaries as I was fearful.

Learning to approach boundaries with bravery has helped me build better client relationships, ensure my needs are met, and avoid burnout.

What boundaries do you need to be brave about? Trust me, this may feel scary, but it will be so worth it.

Asking For Help

Here’s a fun fact about me. I suck at asking for help. It’s the product of a lot of things, and I’m sure it’s relatable for a lot of you.

I’m fiercely independent, and that has got me into many a sticky situation in the last 17 years. It’s really hard to ask for help when things have totally gone off the rails, so I’ve slowly learned how to anticipate where I’ll need help.

This has been probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my business. And it’s still a work in progress, as I’m continually discovering new stories that try to trick me into going it alone.

What I’m not talking about here is that you have to have a team. If you have a team great, ensure you have people that you continually ask for help and that offer you the type of support you need.

Support comes in many forms. Maybe it’s a mentor, a therapist, or a group of friends who also run businesses. Or it could be people outside of your business that are your support squad. The key is that you have people around you that you CAN ask for help when you need it. 

Going to Therapy

One of the best investments I’ve ever made in my business and myself has been going to therapy. I see it as a critical part of my support team for my business, and honestly, in a lot of ways, therapy has been more helpful (and affordable) than any business coach I’ve ever worked with.

Especially as working with a therapist, I have a trained, credentialed person supporting me with what’s going on in my head and not some random self-styled mindset coach who really is out of their scope of practice.

That support has helped me talk through decisions, build boundaries, ensure I was acting in accordance with my values and deal with how trauma may impact my business. As always, I’m a work in progress, but I want to normalize this type of support for business owners, as it’s made me a better business owner in so many ways.

Being Patient

I’m not a patient person by nature, but I’ve learned to be extremely patient over the last 17 years. Not going to lie, I still have to remind myself that things don’t happen overnight, and find ways not to succumb to complete and utter frustration.

I recently shared with a couple of clients that sometimes we need to wait for people to catch up with us. Sometimes we need to simply put our heads down, do the work, and wait.

Two quick examples of this are things I’m living right now. First, I’ve been talking about the bullshit of online business since 2015. For SEVEN years I’ve been talking about all the shady tactics and tricks, and it’s only been in the last two years that I’ve seen a real acceptance and a shift in the market.

I was simply too early and people need to be ready to hear what I have to say. But I kept talking about it, even when I felt like I was screaming into the void, and now people have caught up with me.

Another example is with Small Business Boss. The first mastermind I launched in 2016 had a total of four people. Now we run three groups, and they fill easily when we open them up for enrollment. But it literally took us five years to get to that point with a lot of patience and experimentation along the way.

So if you’re feeling hurried and impatient, buckle up for the ride. Learning how to pace myself and slow the hell down has been critical to being able to continue to show up after 17 years.

Keeping It Simple

It’s no secret that my brain tends to be a busy place, and it’s like one of those stock market tickers with information flying by before you can read it. I know a lot of you are the same way and there’s a lot going on. You have all the ideas and you want to do all the things, and it’s a lot.

As business owners, we need to resist the urge to make our businesses more complicated than they need to be. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that complexity is a one-way ticket to stress and needless drama.

The simpler you can make everything in your business the better. A good place to focus on doing this is with your offers. Sell fewer things, make them simple to understand, and make them easy to buy. It’s really hard to get known for something when you do all the things, and it’s hard to sell something when the sales page or proposal has way too much information.

I could give you so many examples of where service business owners (myself included) overcomplicate things, but your offers are a critical one to watch for.

Do not mistake simple for not being strategic. The most strategic and more importantly, sustainable things you’ll do in your business should be simple. 

What Secret of Success Can You Implement?

As we wrap up this episode, my challenge to you is to find one of the things I’ve shared from my business journey and apply it to your business. Maybe you need more support, or to simplify, or find a way to be more patient.

Finally, there’s no one magical, secret thing you’ll do that makes all the difference in your business. Progress and reaching your goals comes from your daily decision and actions, so you have so many opportunities every single way to be successful on your terms.