5 lessons I’ve learned from 5 years in business

When I left my corporate career 5 years ago to ‘do something different’ and try to craft my own work/life balance, I had no real idea what I’d be doing. I had skills from 20 years in sales-related roles which I knew small businesses needed and I decided to give working for myself my best shot. My back up plan was to work in Tesco if it all went wrong! My business Loxley, which provides social media strategy and Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter ads to marketing agencies and other B2B companies, is 5 years old today!

I would say it’s been a wild ride, but to be honest it’s been a gentle incline. Looking back, I have learned a lot and built a network of great people, working with a portfolio of clients. Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned during my 5 years in business.

1.  Mindset is everything

When I say it’s been a gentle incline, it’s been more of a squiggly line. I started out being afraid of not having consistent work, but now I relish the opportunity of a project. It’s great to go all out and get results for a client and then find the next challenge. There are always more opportunities around the corner.

I’ve won some great contracts, lost work, and in one case had to take legal proceedings on a non-payer, but I have consistently made a profit. With each new client and new project comes a new set of challenges and opportunities to learn – so many businesses are now pivoting towards the digital space that there is more variety than ever.

Learning about growth mindset, focusing on continuous improvement, and taking joy in the journey, have been key to my attitude towards my business. Rather than thinking ‘I can’t do that’ I always remind myself ‘I can’t do that yet’ and take a critical look at what I need to get to where I want to be.

When I was employed I was pretty reactive and took training and development given to me. Self-employment means that that’s no longer an option. I am in charge of my personal development and am the only who can make things happen in my business. I love Carol Dweck’s quote from ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’.

“No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

2.  Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself

I’ve spent about £10k over the last few years on training, coaching and professional membership communities – both in skill-based training but also mindset and business coaching with Andrea Callanan, who I chose to work with because of her ability to balance business acumen with mindset and a ‘bit of woo’. This amount of investment would have scared me stupid when I was employed, but it’s been key in understanding my strengths and areas where I deliver the best value. It has also taught me what to outsource (book-keeping for one!)

I’ve gained skills and experience from this investment, but my big lesson has been that by paying for access to these communities of like-minded people, you find your tribes. I trained in Facebook Ads with Emma Van Heusen, and our graduate community is now over 140 people who share knowledge, brainstorm campaign issues and occasionally, pre-COVID, met up for gin! I hope we will be able to do this again soon.

3.  Great ideas don’t happen in a vacuum

Over the past 5 years, my business has developed so that I only work with, and for, associates. Even if it’s a small piece of one-off strategy work which I could deliver alone, the best value for the client comes when you can brainstorm and pool ideas, so it’s never just me.

When I lived in the corporate world I didn’t realise how many clever, motivated freelancers there were with particular specialities. When we work on projects, there’s often a strategist, people who are experts on the specific social media platforms, paid social specialists, copywriters, and designers pulling together. Because we only work on the parts of the projects we’re experts in we can be stitched together into a super functional team for the equivalent cost of a single head.

4.  Only work for people you can respect and who respect you

I don’t have to like a client to work well with them (although I’m incredibly lucky that I genuinely do like everyone I work with at the moment!) but we have to be able to have adult to adult conversations. Things do go wrong, and when you’re running ads and spending large budgets it’s a big responsibility for all involved. You can have a strong and considered plan, but it’s only when you combine all of your work on the offer, the creative and copy of the ads and present it to the audience you’ve planned that you know whether it resonates with them. Often it does straightaway, especially when clients have been working with ads and understand their audience well, but sometimes it needs tweaking. If this happens, it’s part of the process and an opportunity to learn and do better in the future. It’s vital to work with people who respect your expertise and who you can have a direct conversation with to ensure the project runs effectively.

5.  Working from home doesn’t need to be lonely

I’ve felt lucky this year that the decisions I made were ones that allowed me to work from home and flexibly around my family, even before it became a necessity. Pre-COVID my working week would involve super focused work around school hours, balanced with face-to-face meetings, and co-working. Since March, I’ve been incredibly grateful for the fact that the work I do doesn’t need to be done at a particular time of day, which has given me a lot more flexibility – although I’m very much looking forward to no longer just see my clients and associates over Zoom.

I’ve also got an amazing community of brilliant freelancers around me and have formed some strong partnerships and friendships. That’s the biggest lesson for me – there are so many people around doing really great work ‘under the radar’ as freelancers and small businesses, who are generous with their time and happy to refer work to good people.

Looking back at my last five years, I’m really pleased that I decided to take that jump. I don’t know where the next five years will take me – who knows what social platforms we’ll be spending on our time on! I only know that I’ll be continuing to invest, develop, and help great people make more money.