May 1st marked my first full year in business as a Squarespace designer.
In case you’re a little confused about the timeline, I created my company over two years ago and have been working with Squarespace for almost two years now. And before that, I was a content creator for nearly a decade. But I didn’t officially launch my brand as a Squarespace designer until one year ago this month. So this isn’t my first entrepreneurial rodeo but it has been a year full of other firsts.
In this post, I want to share with you some of the things I’ve learned this year. If you’re just embarking on your own entrepreneurial adventure, I hope you’ll find them useful!
1. You don’t have to follow a proven path or formula.
When I was doing market research before relaunching my business, it seemed like most successful Squarespace designers followed the same path.
Build a successful business doing client work (i.e. custom website design).
Scale business with digital products and/or courses.
That was it. Now, I’m sure there were some designers going their own way but I didn’t know any. So I started trying to get high-ticket clients right out of the gate. And you know what? It didn’t work too well.
Custom projects take time and an extended period of focus. Honestly, that kind of work stresses me out. I realized that I didn’t want the success of my business to be based on how many big projects I can book. So here I was on discovery calls thinking, “Do I really want to take this on right now?” I think I self-sabotaged a lot during the first few months because my business wasn’t in alignment with where I really wanted to be.
I also didn’t have any offers on the table for people without the budget for a custom website. Scrappy DIYers are my people and I didn’t know how to serve them. It wasn’t until January of this year that I decided to hell with the formula I thought I had to follow. It was then that I started offering One-Hour Strategy Sessions and planning the launch of my new Squarespace template. These are now two of my biggest sources of income!
Now, I happily fill my days doing strategy sessions, working on small client projects, designing new Squarespace templates, and dreaming up other passive income streams that will better serve my core base. I’m making more money more easily and enjoying my work more than ever!
2. It’s empowering to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
I’m an introvert with social anxiety, so you can imagine how I felt about doing sales calls when I was first starting out. 😳
I never thought I would be comfortable doing sales and client calls. But you know what? After doing so many calls this year, they really don’t stress me out that much anymore.
I even appeared in my first video Instagram story recently during the launch of my template. I never could have envisioned myself doing that 12 months ago!
It’s empowering to look back and see how much I’ve grown as a business owner and person over the course of the last year.
3. You don’t have to become someone else to succeed.
Pushing myself outside my comfort zone on a regular basis was a big part of my growth this year but I’ve also learned not to waste time trying to overcompensate for my weaknesses and instead play to my strengths.
Yes, I’m a lot more comfortable doing sales calls. But I still have trouble emotionally connecting with many potential clients over Zoom…and that seems to be a big factor as to whether or not I’m the designer of choice for a big custom project.
So instead of trying harder to transform myself into someone who is good at instant emotional connection, I’m focusing on building the strategic marketing side of my business to sell more of my low-cost offers that don’t require sales calls. I find that when people book strategy sessions, they care a lot less about forming an emotional bond than they do about getting the most value in the least amount of time. And that is something I can definitely deliver on.
4. Community is essential.
I’ve always been a bit of a loner but I’ve come to realize that taking an active part in a community of your peers is essential to growing as a business owner, designer, and human.
This past year, the Squarespace community (in the form of Facebook groups, forums, and one-on-one Zoom meetups) has provided me with support, encouragement, accountability, a wealth of knowledge, and a few clients to boot.
All humans (introverts included) are fundamentally social creatures. In the wild, our chances of survival skyrocket in a group. And the same is true in business. That doesn’t mean you have to overextend yourself to participate in every industry group you can find but selecting a few authentic, supportive groups or an accountability partner can make a huge difference.
5. Hard work needs to be balanced with deep rest.
I worked my butt off this year. I launched my new website, blogged like a maniac, implemented countless growth strategies, and didn’t take more time off than a weekend.
Stretches of intense work are okay but maintaining that level of effort all the time only leads to burnout. I’m really trying to focus this year on setting firm boundaries about work hours and create more passive streams of income so I don’t have to work quite as much.
Luckily, a lot of the time I spent implementing my marketing plan is now starting to pay off. And that’s true of any business. It gets easier the longer you’re in the game.
6. It’s okay to just say no.
My modus operandi last year was to say yes to almost everything. I was just starting out and I felt like I needed every lead I could get my hands on. I scheduled discovery calls and sent proposals to potential clients I knew I didn’t want to work with.
Honestly, even in the first stage of my business, that didn’t work out too well. Nowadays, I say no a lot more often and it feels really good. It allows me to focus my energy on the clients I’m crazy about and provides me more time on my schedule to work on marketing.
7. Accept that there will be some waste in your business.
Going over my 2019 expenses was painful.
$19.98 for that Udemy course I never even started.
$88.50 for that font license I never used.
$32.24 for the business cards I never handed out.
These are real expenses that turned out to be a total waste of money.
I’ve made peace with the fact that some waste is inevitable, especially in the first year of a new business. When you’re just starting out, you have to try new things, and sometimes those things just don’t pan out.
Now that I have things figured out a little more, I expect to run on a much tighter budget this year.
8. It’s helpful to create clear boundaries between work and the rest of your life.
Your productivity and sense of balance will be greatly enhanced if you set clear physical, digital, and emotional boundaries between you and your work.
Here are some tips on how to do that:
Set up a separate account on your computer just for work.
Don’t bring your work into the bedroom and set up a designated office space if you can.
Remember that you are not your work and your value as a person is not dependent on the success or failure of your business.
9. Most businesses are not an overnight success—and that’s okay.
If it feels like your business is growing at a snail’s pace, you’re not alone. I felt that way for most of the last year. The truth is that most businesses fail and most of the businesses that do succeed don’t take off overnight.
If you educate yourself, keep showing up, and do the hard work consistently, you will succeed.
It’s only in the last couple of months that I really saw the payoff of the countless hours I’ve spend working on SEO over the past year. I’m glad I kept doing the work even when I was discouraged!
10. SEO is (still) the best marketing strategy.
In my first year of business, I focused my marketing efforts on SEO, Pinterest, and Instagram. SEO was by far the most effective. The majority of my clients and customers now find me via Google.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to harness the power of Google, check out my 2020 Squarespace SEO guide.
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