5 things I’ve learned in my first year of business

photo of Claire Barnett

I have probably learned a lot more than 5 things but the following are those that would have helped me get a handle on my business quicker if I’d been aware of them from the get go.

Expensive Purchases

Once I made the decision to become self employed I started to invest in equipment that I thought I would need in my new venture. There was an advert running recently where a woman exclaims “4 grand for a printer!” (my family laugh at this one) and though I didn’t spend 4 grand, I did buy a very expensive (very heavy!) machine that I was convinced I needed. In hindsight I should probably have waited until I knew what my printing needs would be! It is however a fantastic machine (Xerox Phaser 7800) and perfect for my illustrative work and checking proofs. I’m glad I’ve got it but I probably didn’t need it right from the beginning!

So I recommend just waiting a month or two to see what you will actually need to buy. The most important investments for my business have been subscriptions, software and courses. Also give all the free trials a go just to make sure you will really need something!

Invoicing (& Expense Tracking)

I initially decided to do my invoicing by hand – I created a fancy template and kept track of them in a spreadsheet. I also thought I could keep a running spreadsheet of my expenditures. I took a strange pleasure entering everything manually and watching my spreadsheets update. That novelty however soon wore off! It became a laborious process to write invoices, check when they were due and track all of my expenses. I began to dread doing my accounts.

I had one client that regularly never paid by the due date so I played ‘due date countdown’ until I could email a reminder. Also during a particularly busy period I forgot to chase a couple of outstanding invoices only to discover that one invoice had not actually reached the client! 

I gave up doing everything manually and ended up subscribing to Quickbooks (there are a few options out there, some paid, some free) and the difference it has made to the accounting aspect of my business is massive. It’s helped me get over that ‘asking to be paid’ guilt that new business owners can sometimes have and automate my reminders. I can see at a glance where my business is at financially which allows me to plan ahead!

Business Bank Account

I’m not sure why I didn’t do this right from the start but I really wished I had when the end of the tax year rolled around! I spent a good couple of days going through statements highlighting expenses and trying to marry invoices up. So in April I made sure my business and personal accounts were separated and now, combined with Quickbooks, the whole tracking process is so much easier.

If you are starting a business (even if you think it will be a side hustle) then separate your accounts right from the start, it makes year end, and dealing with tax, a lot less painful!

Planning Social Content

I actually didn’t post much to social during this first year, I was reluctant to post just for the sake of posting, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. However after working on a strategy for my business I found it became easier to create and plan content. Not impressed with the underwhelming appearance of an Excel spreadsheet I really wanted to use a content management planner and post scheduler to plan my social.  But which one?

I think I tried just about every free trial of content planning platform available in the pursuit of the perfect platform. A lot of the free plans didn’t offer enough options and I couldn’t justify some of the paid subscription plans for what I needed.

Social Pilot was a strong second choice with good client management options but I found the interface clunky and more expensive than my final choice. I ended up choosing Loomly and I really love it! The interface is very visual and I really like the options to add clients (and choose their level of input). It allows me to plan all my content based around a rough draft that I can label as I choose. I highly recommend giving the free trial a go!

Now I plan content a month at a time, I add ideas as rough drafts and spend a couple of days putting everything together. It actually gives me more freedom to add as I go as my monthly stratgey and target is planned out – all I do is follow it.

Defined Working Space

I did have a working space right from the beginning but it was cluttered with no defined areas for design work or creative space for my illustration/print work. All surfaces would end up covered in equipment and starting work in a morning became a huge headache! After a few months working like this I realised I had to separate the spaces or I would just end up wasting precious time clearing for each project and getting stressed out.

It took a bit of time but I now have a design office and a studio space. It’s lovely to shut the door and walk away from a messy studio space and sit down to work in my office without all the clutter and chaos. It’s easier to find what I need and clearing takes a lot less time.

Anything you can do to your working environment that helps you walk away from your work at the end of the day will improve your mental well being and your concentration during work hours.

……….So what have I learned? LOADS!  What have I still to learn LOADS MORE!

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