On 1 January, a little Facebook reminder popped up to tell me that I’d posted a full year ago about starting my own business. There are lots of usual things to say about this, like how it’s flown by, how it’s the best decision I could have made, and how much I’ve learned about myself. And that’s all absolutely true.

But there have been some more interesting matters to reflect on when I look back across those 12 months, and lesons I wasn’t expecting to learn have turned out to be true for me. I wouldn’t say I’ve achieved Enlightenment yet, but I have certainly discovered some things that will shape how I work in the year to come. Here are my top three.

  1. It’s not about what you’re selling – it’s about you.

Your first approaches from new customers are because of what you do, definitely, but whether you get the work or not is down to whether they want to buy you. I’m at the heart of my business, and that’s what is important when customers are deciding who to go with. The products are secondary – if you and the person involved can click, and understand each other, then you’re going to get the best from each other. And that has taught me to focus a lot more on networking for finding the right customers, rather than advertising.

  1. If you’ve got the luxury of choosing customers, allow yourself to do it.

As a small business just starting out, I accepted as much custom as I could manage, and I’ve learned, through a couple of painful experiences, that some people just aren’t right or good for you. On those occasions it was probably a mistake to accept the work. They cost me more in time and worry than I wanted to pay; and didn’t pay enough to compensate for the time and worry. However, each experience did teach me to tighten up on certain parts of my business, which can only be a good thing all round – and they’ve also taught me to be more cautious about who I agree to work with, however tempting the income might be. Money has to be weighed off against stress levels.

  1. It really is not what you know, but who you know – so get out there, and know people.

This was one of the things that worried me the most, being a natural introvert. But networking is incredibly important, and if you can find the right one – if you can find your tribe – it becomes something to look forward to. I’ve been so lucky in finding two wonderful networks to join, SJPoole and Busy Women Networking, because they are both peopled by other small business owners who want to work in the same way as I do: collaboratively, co-operatively, and positively. I have got the vast majority of new work, and some of the customers I work best with, from networking and referrals. If you’re at the same meeting, you already know you have common ground, and a shared appreciation for a certain way of working. That’s half the work of Point 1 done already, and hopefully avoids lots of the problems that necessitate Point 2.

I’m not sure yet what the next year holds. I hope to have a better idea soon, as I start work with a fabulous connection I’ve made this year, Ali Moore at Be Moore – she’s going to help me figure out where I want to take all this next. But seeing as my business cards from last year are out of date already, I’d better get some more of those printed up as a top priority, ready for lots more learning and networking in the months to come…

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