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Entrepreneurial lessons from 19 years in the online space

Last updated Mar 3, 2022

Entrepreneurial lessons abound in the online space. There is so much that we can learn from other entrepreneurs.

But also from ourselves and our own experiences.

We’re all constantly evolving, and I know that who I am now, is very different from the person who hesitatingly registered my first business on 3rd March 2003.

I had so little belief in myself to make it happen.

I didn’t know a single other entrepreneur, and it felt like a lonely space.

Entrepreneurial lessons were hard to come by back then. The forums and support structures that we have easy access to now didn’t exist back then.

And if they did, I didn’t know where to look for them.

So here are some of the things that I’ve learned along the way, and how I stumbled across these realisations.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you may find that none of these apply to you, but maybe you resonate with one or two of them.

Tomorrow’s succcess starts today

I’m not a great planner.

I’ve accepted that I’m impulsive and I need to embrace that adventurous side of myself. However, if I can’t visualise what I’m going to achieve in the next 30 days, that time disappears in a heartbeat. Before I know it, we’re half way through the year and I’ve frittered my time away being a busy fool.

Setting out my goals for the month ahead lights the fire in my belly and makes me get stuff done.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion

Gratitude comes easily to me.

I’m a glass-half-full kind of girl, and I’ve always had a lot to be grateful for.

But entrepreneurship brings unexpected highs and lows and in those times when things aren’t going well, gratitude has lifted my spirits and put me right back on track.

Done is better than perfect

I used to hover over the send button before sending an email for fear of making mistakes or being misunderstood.

Then social media arrived and that fear was compounded by the possibility of wider judgement. It was so much easier to remain invisible rather than expose myself to the opinions of the world. This paralysis kept me stuck for the longest time.

One of the BEST ways to shift my mindset is by taking action. Action makes me feel empowered rather than helpless. It gives me confidence in my ability to progress and it opens my mind to more.

Know your numbers

Early on in my journey, I finally did the smart thing and hired an accountant to help me with my tax returns. The first meeting I had with him to go through my annual figures was eye-opening in the worst kind of way. It was uncomfortable and humiliating.

I had no systems in place other than my monthly expenses spreadsheet and I had no idea how much profit I was bringing in.

(Very little as it happened.)

It was the wake-up call that I needed to start turning things around.

Now I’m mindful of numbers in all areas of my business, not just my accounts.

I pay attention to the data, and although it’s not the most fun part of my work, making changes based on real numbers, and seeing improvements, is surprisingly exciting.

It’s OK to say no

I’m a recovering people-pleaser. I would literally bend over backwards to hit my clients’ ever-shifting deadlines and to accommodate their requests when they changed their minds. And I would drop all my plans to make it happen.

I’d take calls in the middle of the night and get up at 4am some days to hit a deadline.

That all changed when my husband and I visited friends in Florida for our final holiday before our first child was born.

I was heavily pregnant, and a few days into our holiday, I made the mistake of checking my emails.

My autoresponder was on to say that I was on holiday, and my clients had all been informed that I was away for 2 weeks, but nevertheless, I had a barrage of emails from a client demanding urgent action on something that he wanted implementing whilst I was away and threatening me with legal action if I didn’t help him out (yes really).

His emails were bullying, abusive, unreasonable and upsetting.

I lost a lot of sleep during the next few days of our holiday. It was one of those stomach-churning scenarios that you can’t quite put to the back of your mind.

But I have a lot to thank him for.

I got home, fired him as a client, and vowed I would never let anyone treat me like that again.

Boundaries became my new best friend, and I was able to show up with better energy for my clients.

I became a better entrepreneur because of that dickhead.

Spend time with ambitious driven individuals

‘You are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with.’ It might be a cliché but I really believe it’s true. If you hang out with pessimists who don’t believe you can change your situation, you start believing it.

Spend time with the people who have already achieved what you’re hoping to achieve, who believe you can make it happen because they’ve done it themselves and can show you the way – that’s when the magic happens.

Time is our most precious commodity – take the fast route

I remember the days I spent at our dining room table trying to figure out how to create my first logo in Adobe Illustrator.

What I ended up with was horrible.

That time I spent on my logo – was it worth it?

No. I spent way too long trying to learn something that would have taken someone a few hours to show me how to do, or that they could have done for me in a couple of hours.

When we’re starting out, we’re bootstrapping and trying to save cash wherever we can. But that’s not always the smartest use of our time.

I would have been so much better off spending that time approaching potential clients to bring some money in, so I could have paid someone to teach me how to create my logo, or asked them to do it for me.

If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will

Self-belief is a tough nut to crack.

Seeing clients getting results has always been my greatest driver towards self-belief. And sometimes that’s all the validation we need.

If we’re not confident in what we can help people achieve, there’s no reason for our clients to be confident in us either.

It’s hard to ask someone to pay for something that isn’t yet a proven concept. That’s why when I first started building websites for clients, I did them for free, to build up my portfolio, to understand what they were struggling most with and how I could best help them, and to gain feedback and testimonials.

My comfort zone is not a place of growth

It’s all too easy for me to carry on doing things the things that I’m used to doing, but my biggest leaps have always happened when I’ve pushed myself to do things that felt uncomfortable.

Gradually, those new uncomfortable actions become my comfort zone and it’s time to stretch myself again into something new.

It doesn’t always work out, but that leads me onto my next point.

There are no failures, only lessons

If we’re scared to fail, we never try anything new, and we plateau or stay stuck. In the next few weeks, I’m launching a whole new initiative. I have no idea if it will work or not, but I’m excited to try it out. If it doesn’t work, I’ll debrief, tweak, and try again.

I am responsible for my own success

No one is coming to rescue us. And no one will ever care about our success in the way that we do. How could they?

So if we want to make stuff happen, we need to get off our backside and do it.

Being outdoors makes space in my brain

I love nature, but I don’t always make enough time to immerse myself in it.

When I do, it’s when I feel most rejuvenated, have my best ideas and find space to think outside the box.

I’m most productive with a deadline 

This comes down to Parkinson’s Law.

If you give me a month to do something, I’ll still leave it until the final few days.

Give me a day, and I’ll make it happen overnight.

I love the energy that a deadline gives me and relish the feeling of achieving what I set out to do.

I recognise that I can’t work at 100 mph all the time, so I have to be realistic with my deadlines, but at times when I need to get stuff done, they serve me well.

Abundance isn’t all about wealth

Money gives us choices. There’s no doubt about that. And no matter what our limiting beliefs around money are, or how undeserving we feel at times, earning money can boost our self-esteem, give us the ability to contribute to other people’s welfare, donate to causes that matter to us, and so much more.

Being happy for others, having the space to enjoy what I already have, being able to take time out with my friends and family when I choose. That feels like true abundance.

I can always choose how I react

Stuff happens. And we can’t always control it.

But we can control how we respond to challenges and how we deal with them.

There is always more to learn

My learning curves now admittedly aren’t as steep as they were when I first got started. Not to mention that the tools we have available for us now are so much more intuitive than they were in 2003.

But there are always new skills to learn, new techniques to learn and I’ll always be investing in my continued growth.

So that’s it. There are so many others, but I think these are probably my top 19.

Vicky Etherington

Vicky Etherington has been running her own online marketing agency since 2003, and in 2015 transitioned to working with coaches and therapists to teach them how to create their own client-attracting websites. 

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