What I Learned My First Year as a Business Owner

By Posted in - Owning a Business & Raleigh PR Agency & The Clairemont Team on February 1st, 2011

What started as a blog post about the lessons I’ve learned in my first year in business turned into a Triangle Business Journal guest column that ran in Friday’s issue. This should perhaps also be called, “Good question, Chuck Norman!” Thanks to all of our friends who support us on what has already been a wonderfully amazing journey! Below is the full article, with added hyperlinks for relevant info.

Confessions of a new business owner

Earlier this month, I sent a text message to a few friends on my one-year anniversary of resigning from an amazing job to risk that starting my own communications firm could be even more amazing. Sure, there were other firsts that followed – filing my company’s paperwork with the state, getting my City of Raleigh business license, signing a lease for office space – but none as significant or terrifying as resignation day. It meant there was no turning back.

Responses to my text message included “congrats” and “mazel tov” and “how does it feel?” One response, however, stopped me in my tracks. There was absolutely no way I could respond quickly to, “What have you learned?” After a bit of reflection, here is my answer:

1. Starting a business is not just one risk. It seemed like simply making the decision to start a business was the risk. I envisioned it like this: resign, open a business, exhale and let the bliss begin. Now I know that being a business owner is about taking risks every single day, and that’s actually what makes it so satisfying. Once the doors are open, you have to take risks to go after clients, hire team members and invest in professional development and networking opportunities. Moving ahead is all about risk-taking.

2. Ask for help. Like most entrepreneurs, I started a business to do what I love. Sometimes, running the business can get in the way. You need help! Find people you can trust, and admit your weaknesses. QuickBooks is mine. At first, I was determined to conquer it, and I made decent progress. Then I realized I had spent two hours in QuickBooks that I should have spent on a new business proposal. I knew I needed to reprioritize. Now I neatly organize my paperwork so that someone else can update our QuickBooks files, and I can focus on what I do best — serving clients and building a business.

3. Network smartly. Networking is about meeting people to meet more people to meet more people. Right? But what happens if that first person doesn’t really understand what you do or what you are seeking? I learned a one-question strategy for smarter networking while lunching with Sherry Essig, a business life coach and owner of Raleigh-based Flow Dynamix. As the check arrived after a lovely conversation, Sherry got a serious look in her eye and asked, “What does a good lead look like for you?” What a simple AND important question! And yet I had never asked nor been asked this question in my 18 years of professional networking. Try it. I bet you will always be asked the same question in return.

4. Having hurt feelings is okay. Dwelling on them is not. It’s confession time. I’m so personally vested in my work, that I occasionally get my feelings hurt. As I was considering becoming a business owner, I told myself that I simply couldn’t have feelings anymore. This was unrealistic and unnecessary. I care about what people think and say about me. (Goodness, isn’t that a trait of most PR people?) At the same time, I’m in a competitive industry, and sometimes things are said that simply aren’t accurate. I’ve had to learn that it is okay to feel hurt initially, but I have to move on and stay focused on my goals.

5. Stay true… to your values, yourself, your hopes and dreams, your mission and your promises to your team. As well as every reason you wanted to start a business and every thought that followed, “If I had my own business…” If you haven’t read The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, buy a copy today. I took author Mike Michalowicz’s advice and carefully crafted immutable laws for Clairemont Communications. They have guided me through launching my business, hiring (and unfortunately firing) team members and recently having the courage to politely tell a prospect “no thanks” because working with him would have meant being untrue to our value system and nearly every reason that made me want to start a communications agency in the first place.

6. Celebrate & enjoy. Another confession. Throughout most of my career, I’ve been an approval-junkie. Hey, don’t we all want a pat on the back? If you want to fully embrace the lesson of taking pride in a job done well and being completely satisfied with that and that alone, start a business! At the same time, as a business owner, I believe in stopping to take time to celebrate our big wins as well as everyday accomplishments and freely handing out pats on the back to team members. What’s the sense in taking all the risks if you aren’t going to celebrate your successes and enjoy each and every minute of it?

CLICK HERE to download a PDF version of the article.



(10) awesome comment(s)...

  • Diane Moore - Reply

    February 6, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Wow… this makes me want to cry. I started my own “business” (read passion) 2 and 1/2 years ago and I never took the time to reflect like this. I love the fact that you did. Taking the time to read your fantastic article gave me some time to reflect and appreciate the fact that I took the leap of faith and followed my own passion. Perhaps not following the same path as yours but as we have different destinations, we will have different voyages. However, they can be just as fulfilling. Hugs and Hope to you my friend!

  • Sherry Essig - Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 10:21 am

    All so true!! As I head towards the end of year 17 in my biz I’d add #7 … Trust that there is a valuable gift in everything that shows up even when it’s wrapped in really ugly wrapping paper! The things that often feel like “that was a bust” are usually just part of the path of getting where you need to be.

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 11:33 am

      I love it! Sherry, thank you for sharing more of your wisdom. You are amazing!

  • Dave Sonntag - Reply

    February 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Dana, Great article and very insightful! I have experienced many of these situations, and will be applying many of these ideas moving forward!

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 11:35 am

      Thank you, Dave! I’m hoping that our professional lives can be reunited by finding ways Decibel and Clairemont can work together this year. I appreciate your friendship!

  • Claudia D’Avanzo - Reply

    February 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Dana, woohoo! One year down and counting! My firm is heading into 13 years this April. Let’s hope it’ll be another “lucky” year. Congrats to you! -Claudia in Atlanta

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 11:39 am

      You are an inspiration! I’m so glad we’ve had the opportunity to meet, and that you shared your story with me. Both of us leaving the same big agency to start our own makes us cousins or something, right? Or at least kindred spirits! I hope we have additional opportunities to collaborate.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dana Hughens, Bostonpreneur. Bostonpreneur said: RT @blah2voila: What I learned in my first year as an #entrepreneur & #PR agency owner. http://ow.ly/3Os5q #CAPRSA #Raleigh #Triangle […]

  • Abbie S Fink - Reply

    February 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Mazel Tov indeed! You have much to be proud of my friend. And your lessons learned are ones that should apply to all of us –whether we’re just starting out or have been at it a long time. Continued success to you and we’ll raise a glass in celebration when I see you in May.

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

      We’ll raise a glass to the support you have given me since day one! Thank you for your professional guidance and friendship these past few years. I am blessed to know you, Abbie!

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