Top 5 Things I Learned in Three Years of Entrepreneurship

If you are a female entrepreneur or would like to be, you’re not alone. The number of women-owned businesses is growing 2.5 times faster than the national average, according to the latest Women-Owned Businesses Report.

For the past three years, I’ve been blessed to steadily grow my business as a nonprofit organization consultant and mentor to leaders in that space. It’s been exciting. It’s been exhausting. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As ConnectThree turns three years old, I’ve thought a lot about what it takes to be successful in business. Here for your reading pleasure, I present five things I learned in my first few years as an entrepreneur.

#1 Get Crystal Clear on Your Vision

 You would never drive to a new city without some idea of how to get there. Why? Because you know that it would take longer to reach your destination. You would use more resources along the way. You would also be stressed once you finally arrived.

Operating a business without a vision is like taking a trip without a roadmap. If I hadn’t had my vision written down, it would have been impossible to stay on track.

One of my favorite passages on vision comes from The Message Bible: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run.”Habakkuk 2:2-3 

 You can jumpstart your business vision with four questions: What do I really want to accomplish? What does it take to accomplish my vision? Where am I right now in relation to my goal? What must I do in the next six months to bridge the gap?

Write your vision down. On real paper. Keep it handy.  Review it daily.

#2 Be a Wise Learner

 Knowledge is about gathering information. Wisdom is knowing how to apply the information to produce the desired result. As entrepreneurs, it’s important that we continue to learn. There are only so many hours in the day. Which means we have to focus on learning the things that will move our careers forward.

The wise learner stays informed on the best practices in their industry.

The wise learner reflects on their successes as well as their failures. Business failures can be a real kick to the ego. They can also offer invaluable insights that you can’t get any other way.

In my first few years in business, I learned to turn my setbacks into a set up for my next win. If things did not go well, I would analyze the issues and gather feedback from my clients. I would understand what went wrong, which helped me to avoid the problem going forward.

With each success in my business, I reflected on what made THAT client, THAT goal, THAT engagem­­ent go so well. This enables me to repeat and optimize my business practices.

The wise learner regularly reads books that support their businesses. I’ve been guilty of slacking in this area. But I found a solution: Audible. Yes, audiobooks work just as well as written books.

#3 Give Yourself Time Off

 Being an entrepreneur, especially in the first years, is exhausting. There is so much work to do. Time off seems like a luxury that we can’t afford. But if it’s productivity that we want, time away from work is what we need.

If you don’t take time off, you may grow to resent your work. You are more likely to make mistakes due to mental fatigue. You may also find that your physical and mental health suffer.

You could in the words of Disney’s Dory the fish, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”

Or you could be your own best boss. Give yourself time to step away. Do all those things you know you should do: unplug, take a deep breath and pamper yourself.

#4 Separate Friendship and Business

Often our biggest lessons come with a steep price tag. This year, I learned that while you can and should have a good relationship with clients, some clients may take advantage of your kindness. In my case, a client took our friendly relationship to mean they didn’t have to pay for services rendered.

My mistake was that I did not implement best business practices at the start of the engagement. Ultimately, I delivered great work for the client.  I also provided my intellectual and social capital. All without earning a dollar. Lesson learned.

Even in familiar situations with clients that hold a special place in your heart, business is business.  The cocktails can wait until the office is closed.

#5 Find Your People and Projects

 “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” -Simon Sinek

When I first launched my consulting practice, I took on every client. It didn’t matter if they were my ideal client. It also didn’t matter if the assignment made the best use of my skills. In time, I realized that the right clients and the right projects would come if I stayed true to my expertise.

I have two types of clients. On the one hand, I coach women leaders to grow their influence and impact in the nonprofit sector. On the other hand, I help agencies and their leaders with strategic planning, funding initiatives and special projects that make them more efficient and effective.

As an entrepreneur, you will be tempted to take work that is not a good fit. The key is to spend as much of your time and talent on projects that feed your soul and your bank account. Your work is more than a paycheck. It is your gift to the world.

Hold Fast to Something

“In order to ‘hold fast’ to something, one must allow oneself to be held to something. That commitment may be one of the hardest things to practice in a world of so much choice.”
– Sheena Iyengar

I love that quote from Sheena Iyengar. It reminds that I must hold on to something greater than me. Something promised and planned. Something that fulfills my passion.

I am an entrepreneur. It is scary but worthwhile. If you’re in the same boat, remember to stay true to you. Learn more. Give yourself a break. Make it your business to be a business. Stick with what makes you happy.

Are you an entrepreneur? What contributes to your success? What are your tips for other female entrepreneurs?

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