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25 Things I Learned From Doing Business in 2012 (& My 3 Commitments for 2013)

December 31, 2012

In January of 2012, I published this post about my plan to stay out of busy-ness (and in creation) through implementing more structure in my workweek.

We’re turning the calendar page on another January, and it feels like the right time for another such post.

While this blog is not so much about my personal journey as an entrepreneur, I can’t ignore the fact that my readership — deep-diving, thoughtful people that you are — tend to really enjoy and appreciate posts where I share my own decision-making process around my business. That’s why I’m introducing a new Creative Lifestyle category here on the blog, to round up posts (like today’s) that explore the issues and ideas related to being in business as a creative person. While I’m not going to blog much in this category, a handful of good posts a year feel just right to me.

Below, my reflections on the year past and what I learned from doing business in it, in the hopes that my exploration of what works and why will have value for you in your own venture.

Here are 25 things I learned from doing business in 2012 (plus my 3 commitments for 2013):

  1. As it is in the beginning, so shall it be in the end. This is true for everything: difficult clients, lovely clients, routines, what works, what doesn’t work. Pay attention to the beginning.
  2. Listen — really listen — to the clients who are an absolute joy (and a healthy challenge) to work with. They will always have something valuable to teach you about your work and how you can deliver it even better.
  3. If you don’t prioritize growing your own business, no one else will. Protect time in every week for supporting your most important client: you.
  4. Do not listen to your Not Quite Right People or your Wrong People who give you advice about your visual brand identity: your color palette, your fonts, what you should do with your sidebar.
  5. Don’t listen to the well-meaning business peer who tells you that every choice you make about your visual brand identity “looks great.” She doesn’t really have a clue and is just going on her own opinion.
  6. In fact, don’t listen to anyone who gives you advice about your visual brand identity except for your web designer or a well-vetted branding specialist. No matter how beautiful a design choice is, if it doesn’t serve your business goals and brand objectives, it’s not a great choice. (Good) design and branding professionals know what choices will serve your goals and objectives.
  7. Don’t hire friends just because they’re friends. Just. don’t. See point number four in this article.
  8. Vet all the creative service professionals you hire, including coaches (business, life, wellness, creativity, and any other kind of coach) and consultants. Vet, vet, and vet some more.
  9. On that note, if you have a funny feeling about someone’s underlying motivations or integrity — be he a business coach, a new acquaintance, or just that guy on Twitter who everyone keeps retweeting — trust your intuition. One or two dark inklings are all you need.
  10. Just look away from resources, articles, blogs, etc. that don’t serve you right where you’re at today, this week, in this season of business. There is too much incoming. You can only hold — much less apply — a tiny sliver of the shinies available to you, so be your own filter.
  11. Say ‘no’ more than you say ‘yes’ to commitments, invitations, joint ventures, and other business liaisons.
  12. Understand the schedule you need to keep to do your best work. Keep it. Guard against unexpected appointments, impromptu Skype chats (yes, even with the sweetest people), and too much filler.
  13. If you’re known for A-tier customer service, the minute you dip down to B-tier (yes, even in an incredibly heavy project season), clients will notice and wonder what’s wrong and why they’re not getting treated the same. The old axiom rings true: underpromise and overdeliver.
  14. Thoughtfully declare (to yourself) your non-negotiables in any relationship, contract, or situation, and be true to them.
  15. If something about the way you’re working isn’t fun or pleasurable for you (including the ‘sweat on your brow’ kind of fun), change the way you’re working until it does feel fun.
  16. Don’t be afraid to iterate, but know why you’re iterating, and be able to succinctly and clearly explain the change to other invested people.
  17. Quality over quantity. In everything.
  18. More money and bigger revenues become possible in your business when you decide they do.
  19. Remember that your best business friends are not your business steering committee. You are responsible for making the best choices for your business and brand.
  20. When it comes to your competitors, there’s always somebody doing it bigger, more often, louder, flashier, or with the full public support of some big name internet sensation — but nobody is doing it the way you do.
  21. If it looks like fluff, if it sounds like fluff, if it feels like fluff — it’s fluff. This goes for your content and the other guy’s.
  22. Practice trusting your first impulse. It’s usually your best one.
  23. Everybody starts somewhere. You can’t claim what you haven’t done yet, and you can’t know what you don’t know. It’s okay to build a business and a brand from what you are and what you do and what you know today. And then grow and get better.
  24. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. At least not one more time.
  25. My lessons won’t be your lessons. The lessons you need are all around you, and coming to you. Let yourself notice them.

. . . and my 3 Business Commitments for 2013:

  1. Spaciousness. For me, this means allowing lots of white space in the calendar, not overbooking, and removing the pressure of time.
  2. Wholeness. For me, this means taking care of my whole being, knowing that the quality of me (mind, body, soul, and spirit) I bring to my work is directly reflected in the quality of what I create.
  3. Readiness. For me, this means preparedness, systems, and structures to support myself, my team, and our clients.

Happy New Year!

P.S.

A change is coming to our weekly posting schedule: based on extensive reader feedback gathered through our Voice Bureau Reader Survey, I’ve decided not to continue with the Wednesday feature, The Voice Bureau Asks. And Voice Notes is changing from an every-Friday feature to an occasional spotlight whenever the timing works best. I know this is the right decision for the brand. If you’re interested in hearing why, I’d be happy to share in an upcoming post.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What was your biggest business lesson in 2012? Also, feel free to share your top commitments for 2013 when it comes to doing business the way you want to.

And — if you have an opinion to share — feel free to let me know if you’re interested in my behind-the-scenes content strategy decision-making process for cutting or reducing the features I mentioned above.

(Image Credit: tarafirma.tumblr.com via Abby on Pinterest)

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristin Unleashed January 1, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Thanks, Abby, for yet another great post. I’m happy to say that run my business from a place of doing nearly all of those 25 points you brought up. My biz (and life!) run with ease and joy as a result. Thanks for being sparkly and wonderful YOU. I’m grateful we met in 2012!

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Abby Kerr January 1, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Happy New Year, Kristin! Thanks for being a bright light in the business community. So glad to have met you, as well. Awesome to hear how elemental these practices are in you own business(es)! :)

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Abbie January 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm

*This* is what I need for this year – “Say ‘no’ more than you say ‘yes’ to commitments, invitations, joint ventures, and other business liaisons.”

Thank you for this post!

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Abby Kerr January 2, 2013 at 11:21 am

Me, too, Abbie. I need it again this year — big time!

You are so welcome. Happy New Year.

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Susana January 2, 2013 at 4:50 am

Love this round up of biz lessons! Every.Single.One. One of my biggest lessons was definitely #3. As for your biz commitments for 2013, they are delicious! X

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Abby Kerr January 2, 2013 at 11:23 am

Isn’t it amazing how just a couple focused hours a week of working on your biz rather than in your biz can pay such big dividends?

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Susana January 3, 2013 at 7:01 am

Absolutely! It’s even more amazing how ‘spaciousness’ (in my case, less commitments) can help make your business a priority!

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Cassie January 2, 2013 at 10:08 am

THIS. I feel like I’ve learned ALL of these in my business year of 2012. Especially #24. If I don’t want to do it, don’t do it. For me, this often merges with the dark inklings. If you get a sour read off someone, especially a potential client, it’s best to part before any energy is invested.

My biggest biz commitment: White. Space. mmmmm. I am practicing the art of time freedom, and living in kairos time at least half the day, each day.

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Abby Kerr January 2, 2013 at 11:25 am

Ooh, Cassie, my word for 2013 is:

s p a c i o u s n e s s

Reminds me of your White. Space.

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Susan Cadley January 2, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Fabulous list Abby. I spent so much time working in my business last year, I didn’t set aside quality time to work on it. Also, I found that # 9 & #10 tripped me up a bit (this could be an entire blog post!) as I didn’t honor my intuition in regards to who I was following or decided to work with in regards to my business. This year = aligning with the right people and embracing my Voice Values.

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abby January 2, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Hi, Susan –

I have totally been there with overworking on client work and underworking on my own business. 2012 was the year I brought that proportion into better balance and am looking forward to spending even more time working on my business in 2013.

And yes — #10 is a biggie for most of us! ;)

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Wendie Tobin January 2, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Biggest lesson: There is always a colleague, friend, or podcast that will tell me the right or wrong thing to do for my brand or business. When I’ve trusted myself, I’ve had the best results. Even when the move I made was a “Oh, you really shouldn’t!”

Related, 2013 is my year of deliberate action. I will be mindful of the business opportunities I choose to engage in, the people I connect with, the trust I share. Also, a topic I’ll be writing about this week, noise reduction. Emails, content, clutter in my mind and in my home.

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abby January 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Ooh, I’m going to look forward to your noise reduction post, Wendie.

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Susan Miranda January 3, 2013 at 7:47 pm

This is a great list. I like the parts, particularly, about trusting ourselves and respecting ourselves in regards to when we say “yes”, “no” and respecting our boundaries and time. Trusting my intuition is a very high priority for me. I say quality over quantity often and try to remember that no one can do my work like I do it. It’s important to me to stay centered in this world and in my work. Thank you for this post.

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abby January 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm

You’re so welcome, Susan. Glad this resonates.

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