7 Lessons to Help You Grow Your Business in 2021

 

 

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This week on the podcast, I want to share seven lessons I learned in my business in 2020 that I’ll be carrying into the coming year. I did a lot of outsourcing, team building, and (let’s be honest) soul searching in 2020, and I’ve finally created a business that I feel totally comfortable in.

Listen to this week’s episode here or read below for the seven lessons for business growth I’ll be taking into 2021.

How I Got Here

Before we dive in, it’s important to understand where I was at the start of 2020.

I started working for myself in 2013, one year out of college and one year into a corporate marketing job across the country from my hometown. After that first year, I was unfulfilled, and my future in the company didn’t seem all that alluring. I realized I didn’t want to be like my boss. I didn’t want his job. I didn’t want his boss’s job. I wasn’t interested in the corporate ladder at all.

(Looking back, none of this should have come as a surprise. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and I spend my childhood making crafts to sell to the neighbors and pitching in at yard sales to earn a buck. I was a self-starter from the very beginning.)

So I moved back home and started working for myself. I freelanced. I started a blog. I had big dreams of developing and selling online courses. I made my first digital product… and it flopped.

Feeling discouraged, I spent a few years focusing on my web design and photography business instead. I got to know my ideal clients and I noticed that so many of them struggled to get consistent traffic from Google. I helped them develop SEO strategies that they could continue on their own after our work together.

Once I gained confidence in my skill set I decided to try this online course business again, this time focusing on SEO for photographers.

And it sold! I launched and relaunched the course, improving it each time, and eventually rebranded to reach creatives outside the photography niche. That’s how Local Creative Co. was born.

While I’m proud of the journey and thrilled with where I am today, I’m always learning. 2020 taught me a lot about myself and my business, and while these lessons were all difficult, I’m so glad I learned them.

 

7 Lessons From 2020 That I’m Implementing in 2021

LESSON 1: What you focus on grows.

Before last year, I’d heard this saying a hundred times. It wasn’t until I actually implemented it into my business practices that I truly saw the value behind it.

When I think about this lesson, I think about money. I’m a numbers person. I like data and spreadsheets. I like knowing that my efforts are paying off in a real, quantifiable way. But when it came to managing money in my business, I turned a blind eye.

Money made me uncomfortable and I didn’t even realize it.

When I got on top of my bookkeeping in 2020, I was finally able to see where my money was going and which revenue streams were actually paying off. I managed my bookkeeping at the end of each month, and I tracked my metrics to see my growth.

The result? I doubled the profitability of my business in 2020.

When I got serious about managing my business expenses and income, the money seriously started to roll in. If there’s an area of your business where you want to see growth, focus your energy there and check-in daily or weekly to see how things are going.

LESSON 2: Pay attention to what drains you.

There’s nothing like feeling overworked and drained to force you to reevaluate your life.

That’s exactly where I was by the second half of 2020. I found myself spending so much time on administrative tasks that I was slacking in terms of content creation. If I tried to squeeze creative time in between meetings, I’d end up skipping it.

In the second half of 2020, I started blocking out time in my day for the most mentally taxing projects on my to-do list. Instead of sneaking them in, I’d focus my time and energy on these tasks. After I completed those, I could use whatever energy I had left to check off a few smaller tasks.

I also started to pay attention to my energy levels throughout the day and the week. If I noticed patterns (say a huge spike in energy first thing in the morning and a slump in late afternoon), I’d plan my day around that. That way, I could work with my energy instead of forcing myself to work when I was exhausted.

LESSON 3: Don’t try to do it all alone.

Growing up, I was always the tough tomboy who could do anything on her own. That mentality carried into my business, and it limited me. I didn’t network. I didn’t make friends in the online space. I tried to do everything myself, even to the point of exhaustion.

In 2020, I finally opened up to creating connections in the online space. The business friends I’ve made in the process have become the foundation of my personal growth.

Now, instead of taking this digital journey alone, I can chat with fellow business owners and share experiences. We can ask each other technical questions, send words of encouragement, and commiserate about problem clients. Though I no longer work in a typical corporate environment, I’m so glad I’ve found these ‘work buddies’ to connect with.

LESSON 4: Create (and keep) boundaries.

Before this year, I struggled to create boundaries… and I didn’t even know it.

I’m an introvert. Zoom calls, daily emails, and constant social interaction are incredibly draining to me. I used to schedule calls every single day, answer emails ASAP, and make myself available for my team at all hours.

As you can imagine, I ended up overworked and unrested.

Towards the end of 2020, I set some serious boundaries in my business. I only accepted calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I completely blocked off Mondays to focus on admin work. Now, I can dive deep into content creation on Wednesdays and Fridays without stressing about the next Zoom call.

I’m so glad I implemented these boundaries last year, and I’m going to be guarding them fiercely in 2021. Who knows? I might even set a few more!

LESSON 5: It’s all about the process, not the tool.

I’m a huge nerd. I love new programs and softwares, and I spend way too much on subscriptions for my business.

But something I learned in 2020 is that a shiny new software can’t make up for a disorganized business. Instead of leaning so heavily on tons of apps, I simplified my business processes drastically. I dedicated some time to creating templates for all my client communication (like proposals, emails, etc.), and I set up a detailed workflow for myself and my assistant in Notion. I’ve been using Notion to organize my life and business for a bit now, and I doubt I’ll ever switch platforms. It has every feature I need to keep things running smoothly and keep myself organized. (I recently made a video about how I use Notion here.)

I’m a big believer that the tool doesn’t matter so long as it works for you. If it helps you create better systems, keep using it. If not, it’s just going to overcomplicate things.

LESSON 6: Show up imperfectly.

In 2018 and 2019, I was very inconsistent about showing up on social media. I knew it was important for growtfh, but it was hard to find time between running my own business and completing client work. Plus, putting your face on social media is kind of scary. Safe to say, Instagram stories were not at the top of my to-do list.

But in 2020, I made a real commitment to show up nearly every day on social media. I took a few days off (and a whole week off during the holidays), but for the most part I kept a consistent schedule. I showed up whether or not I was feeling confident (with or without messy hair and pajamas…).

When I started showing up consistently – even as my imperfect, real self – I made new connections, saw growth in my page, and found myself hating the process just a little bit less. Dare I say it was even fun at times!

LESSON 7: Delegate – and actually let go.

When I first started outsourcing parts of my business, I struggled to let go. I was happy to have someone else take on the legwork, but I just couldn’t release ownership.

Last year, I finally reached a point where I had to release some control. I started delegating more tasks to my team, outsourcing to experts, and letting those people take ownership of both the process and the end result. It’s helped me shed a lot of stress I didn’t know I was holding on to.

My team is one of the best things that came out of 2020 for me and my business. I love the feeling of working together, and their support keeps me accountable.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

Hey everyone. Welcome back to episode two of the Intentional Creative podcast. I’m your host Galen Mooney here to talk with you about all things, business productivity and web design.

I’ve got a lot of amazing guests coming up on this podcast. And I can’t wait to share these conversations with you. Where we dive deep into the intentional shifts business owners make to build momentum and create sustainable profit. But today, today’s a solo show where I’m going to share with you 7 Lessons I Learned in 2020 that have made the biggest impact on how I want to run this business in the future.

Before we dive in, if you are brand new to this podcast, which pretty much everyone listening is because this is our second episode. Make sure to head over to iTunes and leave us a review. This is the number one way that you can help new people find the show, get the word out. And it gives me momentum to keep creating new episodes. The other thing is, if you’re listening in whatever app you can screenshot your phone right now and tag me on Instagram @local creative dot co so we can connect in the DMs and I can repost your story.

I also think it would be helpful to tell you a little bit of a background about what our business does before I tell you about the lessons I learned so that you can kind of put two and two together. Local Creative Co I guess I started it back in. Let me go back a little bit further. So I started working for myself in 2013, which was the year after I graduated college. So I got a real job right out of college for a marketing firm on the opposite side of the country, from where I lived.

I was there for just over a year and while I absolutely loved it, I realized that I did not want to be my boss. I did not want his job. I did not want my bosses bosses job. I wanted to do my own thing. And it really wasn’t that much of a surprise to me when I look back at my childhood and I was always trying to make jewelry that I could sell to my neighbors or, um, helping out with the yard sale or trying to figure out anything I could make and sell with my friends.

I was an entrepreneur. My mom’s an entrepreneur. My dad’s an entrepreneur and yeah, it just, it just felt like the logical next step for me. And I actually wanted to quit my job before I got a raise because I knew I was about to get a raise and I knew it would be harder to leave the more that I got paid.

So I left that company and, uh, started working for myself. I moved back across the country, again, back to where I was originally from. And I didn’t jump right into the business that I have today. I started freelancing. I started blogging and my plan was to do this whole big blog and have these online courses. And I made my first digital product. And I remember it went nowhere. Like literally no one bought it. I put it out into the world and it was pretty sad. Um not a single person bought it, but I realize now looking back, I did not do market research. I did not have an expertise or a background. And the thing that I was trying to sell, I was basically just trying to create something that I thought people wanted without actually researching it. And without actually making sure I knew what I was talking about.

Small problem. So anyway, I released this small product out into the world. No one ended up buying it. I had a pretty small email list and I got really frustrated. And so I focused on client work and that was going pretty well for me. I was getting a lot of web design clients. I was doing photography at the time as well. So I was getting web design and photography clients consistently. That started to grow.

That started to pick up over time. And then I would say a few years into that. I kind of wanted to try again with the digital product thing. At this point, I had gained a lot of experience in SEO or search engine optimization. Not only from my previous marketing job, but also just from doing it for clients over the years. All my web design clients needed SEO. And I had a lot of experience helping local business owners rank their websites. I’d also worked with a lot of photographers and because my first go round of selling digital products failed miserably. And it was because I went too broad. I decided to go super specific. So I created a course SEO for Photographers. It was an SEO course specifically for photographers who used Squarespace.

I launched a new website practically, overnight. I put up this landing page. I started collecting emails through Facebook groups and before I knew it, I had a couple hundred people on my email list and I launched the course before I even created it.

I think I ended up getting five or so people in the very first launch, which I was so happy with, because I think I did a webinar that maybe only had 10 or 15 people on it. So my conversion rate was great. And I was so happy to create the content for these students and really nurture them through the process.

Because launching this course was such a success. I launched it again and again, every time I improved the course and welcomed in new students.

Eventually I wanted to expand my target audience a little bit, even though I was working with photographers through this course, I was working with a lot of other types of businesses through my web design work. And I wanted the SEO course to be beneficial for them too. So I ended up rebranding and relaunching the course under my now brand name, Local Creative Co, and the course eventually became my signature course, Creative SEO.

Since then I’ve created a lot of other products and courses specifically for creative business owners. We’ve grown so much since those early days. And we have all different types of business owners in our community. We have a Facebook group. We have a brand new membership community that I’m so excited about and really passionate about growing in 2021.

Up until the end of 2019, I would say my income was predominantly client work. I was spending a lot of time getting clients, nurturing clients, working on client projects, and it was really draining me.
I knew that I wanted to diversify my income with online courses and products, but I just wasn’t putting the energy into that. So that side of my business wasn’t growing. I would launch my SEO course support my students, but I would drop off the face of the earth in terms of marketing that side of my business. Because again, I was so busy tending to my clients’ needs.

In 2020, my big focus was hiring a team to help me outsource some of that client work and to have an assistant to help me just stay on top of all the other marketing tasks that I have in my business.
I’m a really big fan of choosing a word of the year. I’ve done this in 2019, 2020. And now in 2021, I actually can’t remember off the top of my head, what my word of the year was in 2019. But in 2020, my word of the year was visibility. And I really took this to heart. I’m actually really proud of how much I lived this word and really put it into practice. So in 2020, I was not just going to be hiding behind my desk, doing all of the client work. I actually wanted to put myself out there and be seen by more people, expose my brand to more people. 2020 to me was a really great opportunity to grow.

Obviously 2020 did not turn out like any of us expected it to; it was a crazy year. And I think that actually put more pressure on me to feel like I needed to show up because a people were going online to find education, to learn more, to search for different things. And I wanted to have content there that was ready to consume. So I put a lot of energy in 2020 to showing up, and that was through being a guest on podcasts showing up on guest posts for other blogs, um, doing joint Facebook Live’s, anything I can think of, any opportunity to show up more, to get in front of different audiences. I said yes, to in 2020. Not only that, but we actually ended up hosting our own online summit in 2020, which is pretty crazy.

I didn’t have that plan at the beginning of the year, but I would say about halfway through the year, it was something I wanted to do and I just made it happen.
We launched Square Summit in October of 2020. And it was an online conference specifically for Squarespace users. So it was really niche. And it was such a wonderful opportunity to connect with all these different entrepreneurs and web designers who could share their expertise.

We had 15 speakers and close to 1500 registered attendees for the summit.That is still definitely one of my proudest moments of being in business. I had no experience with hosting any events like this, and honestly the whole thing went off without a hitch.

2020 had scary moments too, though. We ended up canceling our launch in March, just because of everything that was going on with COVID. So there was a drop of income there, and then we were able to make up a lot of that when we launched in May, once we kind of figured out what was going on, or at least felt like we had a better idea of what the year was going to look like.

Not only that, but I got engaged last year. And that was a whole thing too, because planning a wedding during a pandemic is not ideal.
2020 was a pivotal year for me. I felt like the couple years leading up to 2020. I was just sort of flailing. I felt stuck. I felt like I didn’t have a clear direction. And even though I had to struggle and I had to change how I was doing business last year. The things I learned were invaluable.

I’m going to dive into the seven lessons that I learned in 2020. And I’d love to know if you relate to any of them. Or maybe some of them are things you hadn’t thought of that are going to help you make 2021 your best year yet.

The first lesson I learned in 2020 is that, what you focus on grows! I had heard this so many times, but it was something I wasn’t really taking to heart. It was something that I wasn’t putting into practice. And for me, when I think of this lesson, I think about my money. So I’m a numbers person. I like spreadsheets. I like data, but for some reason I didn’t feel the need to look at the money coming in and the money going out on a regular basis. And I think a lot of that had to do with frustration that I wasn’t making more, frustration that I wasn’t where I thought I should be in my business by this point.

Frustration that I wasn’t as profitable as I should’ve been. So what I ended up doing in 2020 was a. I got on top of my bookkeeping. I made a promise to myself at the very end of 2019 that I was going to stay on top of my bookkeeping each and every month for the entirety of 2020. In previous years, I had been really bad about it. I had kind of ignored it for months and I really didn’t have a good idea of where my money was at any point in time. So I wanted 2020 to be different.

And what I learned was that by looking at my money on a regular basis, I could see how profitable my business was. I could see what income streams were working and which ones weren’t.

Previously, I would see a large amount of money come into my account. I would assume I had X amount left over and then I would buy something for the business or buy something for myself. And then at the end of the month, if I didn’t have any money left, I would always wonder where it went. But in 2020, I could literally see everything laid out in front of me and it helped me make smarter financial decisions.

Another thing I’m really proud of when I think of 2020 is that I was actually able to double the profitability of my business. So I think in 2019, maybe we had about 40% profitability or profit margin was 40%. And then in 2020 that got closer to 80%.
Which for a business that’s running ads or hiring contractors. That’s a number I’m really happy with.

I also put into practice weekly reporting of metrics that I was tracking.

So every week I looked at how much my email list had grown by how much I’d spent on ads. How many new clients I got and how many people purchased something from my online shop.

I reviewed this every single Monday with my assistant and I had to face the numbers good or bad. This really changed the way I made decisions on a week by week basis.

If you don’t do some sort of weekly reporting where at least monthly bookkeeping, I highly recommend it. The more frequently you can look at numbers and not all your numbers, just numbers specific to a goal that you were trying to achieve. The more likely you are to make decisions on a regular basis that align with the end result.

The next lesson I learned in 2020 was to pay attention to what drains me. I really wasn’t taking ownership over my calendar and over my schedule. I was just sort of doing whatever was on my to-do list that day in no particular order. And I wasn’t thinking about my level of mental energy throughout the day.

Towards the second half of 2020, I felt overworked. I felt drained. I felt exhausted from everything going on in the world and everything I was working on in my business. And I knew I needed to change something to make sure that I was staying on top of my mental health.
I started to prioritize tasks that required the most mental energy and schedule them out during times of the day, when I had the most energy to dedicate to those projects.

I figured out that if I wanted to create content or that was a video or a blog post or something like that, I needed to set aside a large chunk of time to get that done.
If I try to cram it in between meetings or at the end of the day, I would end up just skipping it all together. And before I knew it weeks had gone by and I had ignored my blog completely.

The more, I started to look for patterns in my productivity and look for patterns in my energy levels. The more I was able to schedule my tasks around that, and that made such a big difference in the amount that I was able to get done each day.

Lesson number three from 2020 was don’t try to go it alone.
I was a tomboy growing up. I wanted to be the tough girl that could do everything I wanted to, and I didn’t need any help. And that definitely carried over into my business life. I felt like I didn’t need connections in the space. I didn’t need to be networking because I could get there on my own without the support of others.
Little did I know how wrong I was and how much the business friends that I’ve made this year have really changed my life.

Whether it’s Voxer conversations or voice memos in the DMs on Instagram or even Zoom calls. It was so nice just to be able to chat with somebody about how my recent launch went or how I’m dealing with a problem client. You really need somebody to talk to who can share the experiences that you’re having and understands where you’re coming from.

I had told myself this story that I was bad at making connections, that I was bad at networking and that wasn’t something I liked to do as an introvert. And by telling myself this, I was really robbing myself from having all these experiences because I wasn’t even trying.

With all the social isolation that happened in 2020, I needed those connections more than ever. And while I love my friends that I have in my personal life, having somebody who could relate specifically to the problems I was having in my business or share in a win, because they knew how big of a deal it was that made all the difference.

Lesson number four is all about creating boundaries. This was something I was struggling with and I didn’t even realize that it was a problem for me. And it goes back to what I was talking about in lesson two, where I said pay attention to what’s draining you on a regular basis. I’m an introvert. So I was getting extremely drained by answering client emails and getting on Zoom calls.

I started 2020 with calls every single day of the week, scattered at all different times. And I never really got into a good groove with my work because I was always thinking about that next call. What do I need to prepare for that call? Um, is it going to be on camera? How long am I going to have to talk for? And by thinking ahead to those calls, it was distracting me from the work I should have been getting done in the meantime.

What I implemented in the end of 2020. And something I’m fiercely guarding in 2021 is only scheduling meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So Wednesdays and Fridays are going to be my content and my catch-up days, those are days to actually work on my business instead of in my business days to really focus on things that are gonna move the needle in the long run, or even just doing client work, but not necessarily communicating about it.

Mondays are kind of like my admin days. I have a team meeting in the morning and then I just dive into planning out my tasks for the week, answering emails and catching up on projects.

So far, we’re only a few weeks into 2021, but I’ve been sticking with it and I’ve never been more productive than I have been on those days. Or I have completely cleared my schedule to get things done.
My message to you is don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your clients, with your family, with your friends. There’s nothing wrong with leaving an email unresponded to for more than 24 hours. There’s nothing wrong with not getting that proposal out right away.
The best thing you can do is just set expectations ahead of time so that you’re not letting anyone down.

In all of my contracts with clients, I let them know that I typically respond to emails within two to four business days. Unless of course it’s urgent.

Every business is going to be different and you need to figure out what’s going to work for you, but don’t let someone else’s schedule determine your own.
Lesson number five is all about tools. If you know me, I’m a total nerd. I love apps and tools and I pay for way too many subscription services in my business. But the thing I learned in 2020 is that the tool is not the process, just because you have a fancy project management tool or a social media scheduling tool.

If you don’t have a process or a system in place where you and your team can effectively use that tool to grow your business, it’s not worth it.
I’ve been working with my assistant now for about a year and a half. And it took me a really long time to figure out what was the best way to document our workflows and how do we avoid doing the same thing multiple times in slightly different ways.

In 2020, I created a lot of different email templates and my client management system. So that way I could pull from those templates every time I wanted to send a client email, instead of typing it out from scratch each time.

I simplified my service offerings so that my contracts and proposals wouldn’t have to be as custom. That way, most of my new clients could fit into one of my existing proposals and contracts and it saved a ton of time.

I started using Notion as my project management tool in 2020. I love how customizable it is. And it’s so wonderful for collaboration. I just created a video about my Notion content calendar. It’s on YouTube. This is just one example of how I set up a repeatable process for something we’re doing over and over again. I’ll add a link in the show notes.

I’m a big believer that it doesn’t matter what tool you use as long as it’s something that works for you and your business. Just make sure that you set up a process and a system and have templates that you’re not wasting your time doing the same thing over and over.
Lesson number six is to show up. Imperfectly.

I had been extremely inconsistent about showing up on social media in 2018 and 2019. And a lot of that was because I was really busy with client work, but that’s honestly just an excuse. The real reason is that I wasn’t prioritizing showing up in any capacity.
Also, showing up and putting your face on social media is kind of scary. So it wasn’t exactly number one on my to-do list.

I made a commitment at the start of 2020 to show up really consistently on social media. It wasn’t perfect. And I definitely still took a few days off here and there, and even a week over the holidays, just the other month, but all in all, I did a really good job of just putting my face out there, showing up on stories, even if I had nothing to say, or even if I hadn’t washed my hair in a couple of days. And it really paid off, not just in terms of the connections I made with people, but I actually started to see the algorithm favoring my account.

Moving into 2021 I want to continue to show up on social media, but also show up on more evergreen content platforms. Like my blog and YouTube.

That way I can focus more heavily on getting my content to show up in search and creating more sustainable traffic streams.
I have to say practice makes perfect when it comes to showing up consistently. And it’s gotten a lot easier the more that I’ve done it.
If you’re nervous about showing up on social media, just remember, people want to see you. People want to see the behind the scenes of your business, and you’re going to make a much deeper, personal connection with your potential clients. When you put yourself out there.

Lesson number seven, my final lesson that I want to share with you from 2020, is how to delegate and not just delegating tasks actually delegating the ownership over those tasks. I feel like when I first started outsourcing things in my business, I was having a really hard time letting go. I’m a perfectionist and it was a major struggle for me to just hand projects over to other people on my team.

I learned that the best way to empower a team member is to really give them ownership over the outcome of a particular task or project.
Rather than just being responsible for getting it done. It’s important to actually give somebody responsibility for the end result.

I still struggle with outsourcing and figure out what tasks I want to give to my team. But I’ve definitely learned that I’m going to grow faster with support than I ever would on my own.
If you haven’t outsourced anything in your business, yet even just a few hours here or there for somebody to take things off your plate can make a huge difference.

I also personally love the feeling of having a team. It helps to hold me accountable because I feel like when I’m running my business and I want my business to be successful, it’s not just for me anymore. I need to support the people that I work with as well.
Heading into 2021. I have a lot of big goals. I want to continue focusing on systems and maintaining the boundaries that I’ve set for myself.

My word for the year is simplicity because I want to focus every single week on living in a way that allows me to have work-life balance while also growing my business more than I ever have before.
My year is a lot more structured in terms of the projects that I’m working on, but I’m also open to pivoting or changing things as new opportunities arise.

I’m really excited about this podcast and everything we’re releasing in 2021. I’m happy you’re on this journey with me. And if you enjoyed listening to this episode, make sure to come say hi on Instagram. Send me a dm @localcreative.co or tag me in your stories.
Also, I know I mentioned this earlier, but as a new podcast, every review on iTunes means the world to me.

I’ll even be reading some of the reviews on this show. So you could be featured next.

Thanks for tuning in and I’ll be back on the next episode of the Intentional Creative podcast.

What Lessons Did You Learn in 2020?

Don’t forget to listen to the podcast to get the full scoop on what last year taught me as a business owner. I can’t wait to see what 2021 holds – and what lessons it will teach me.

Tell me, what lessons did 2020 teach you about yourself and your business?

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  1. Bella says:

    Love this! Can relate to so many of those points, particularly the boundaries one. Funnily enough I also found myself blocking off days in a similar structure to yours – Mondays are admin and social media, tues and thurs are client comms + client project days, wednesdays are content creation/writing and fridays are finances, email clean up, project planning + any urgent admin before the weekend…Makes such a difference having contact blockout periods!

    • Galen Mooney says:

      Agree 100%. Blocking out my week has helped me not feel like I’m always running out of time to get important tasks done. Client work is important too, but it easily becomes all consuming if you don’t set boundaries. 🙂