5 years in business: highlights and lessons

This week, it’s officially five years since I launched my first website and become self-employed.

Five years!

It’s been quick and slow and easy and hard and expected and unexpected.

Plus, I’m on maternity leave, so celebrating being in business is a little bit weird, to be honest.

But I thought I’d share some highlights and some things I’m pondering at the five year mark.

Highlight 1: Clients

I have worked with the most amazing clients over the last five years! It has been such an honour to be a trusted ear and voice for so many wonderful creative people. I’ve learnt so much from them and been inspired by them.

There is no better feeling than getting to know someone, how they work, what’s holding them back, and to see how they could move forward.

We’ve laughed a lot, my clients and I. We’ve been through disappointments and confusion and surprises and successes. There have been tears and hard moments. There have been big celebrations, and quiet moments of clarity.

Highlight 2: Creative Business Retreats

Starting just nine months after I launched my business, my Creative Business Retreats have been annual (and, one year, twice) delights of deeper business planning work.

They’ve shown me, over and over again, how I want to show up, how I want to support people, and how I can best do that.

I’ve known since I started that I don’t just want to look at the business numbers or the marketing plan. It’s about a holistic business practice, where the business owner is central to the success of the whole. And that has only developed and deepened over time.

The best bit? These retreats have resonated with attendees. They’ve been described as “life-changing”. They’ve forged friendships and business relationships. And they have expanded my heart.

(My next retreat is March 2020, and there are two spots left.)

Highlight 3: Expanding my business vision

With a very big caveat that not everything in the last five years has played out (more on that below), I am incredibly proud of the courage I discovered in myself to expand my business vision.

In 2016, I created Copper Boom Studio as a solution for small creative businesses to get professional content for their products. While it’s changed massively since then, it has taught me so much about the challenges of small business, and how I (well, we) can support them (well, you).

I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with my sister, my friends and the incredibly talented Cat, who now photographs and partners with me on the running of the studio. It’s still a thrill to see the latest shots for our clients!

(Cat is running the show over at Copper Boom Studio right now, and you can book our product photography services here.)

 

Things I’ve learned (and perhaps I’m still learning…)

There are business trends and fads

I don’t just mean trends like flamingos and cacti and hand-lettering – features of product and brand design.

What I’ve noticed is there’s a kind of collective consciousness when it comes to business tools and strategy. Some of it is natural and helpful. Some of it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Examples I’ve seen include a sudden move to Facebook advertising, or affiliate schemes, or using specific tools or apps to schedule content.

Of course, the wise business owner looks out for helpful ways to market and run their business. But none of the things I’ve seen in the last five years have been right for everyone. There have been no golden ticket strategies or tools that I’d blanket recommend.

Patience

This is probably one of the big lessons of my life! But patience is something it turns out I really needed in business as well as life.

I’m really good at patience in some areas. I’m good at staying in certain types of vulnerability, not knowing what’s going to happen. I can talk myself through options and scary patches like a pro (because I kind of am one?).

But when it came to Copper Boom, I rushed in. I tried to get too much done too quickly, and ultimately that meant scaling back pretty quickly too.

So we keep learning the lessons we need to learn. Patience is something I now expect to need.

Trusted people are the best

Even when we work alone, we don’t work in a vacuum. It makes such a huge difference to work with people you trust, who trust you, and who share your vision.

This is a lesson learned the hard way – there have been let downs and things that didn’t work out.

But I’m grateful because it has helped me to honour the relationships that support me and nurture my business.

A few people I’d like to thank:

Kelly Harcus – the greatest friend and business support

Evan Quinn – my most amazing brand and web designer

Cat Ashenden – an incredibly talented photographer (and much more!)

Helen Bottrill – the kindred spirit I needed, currently taking care of my Progress not Perfection group

 

There’s more to learn, and more to envisage

When I started my business, I had a whole load of enthusiasm and confidence! There have definitely been times in the last five years when I’ve felt more bruised and naive than I did then.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to learn as I go, and after the bruising I’ve been able to commit to learning.

While I’ve learnt a lot, what I love the most is that I know that it’ll keep on going. I’ll learn more about supporting business owners, about running my own business, about recovering from challenges. Business will change, and I’ll expand my knowledge.

As I take a break to birth a babe, I’m also excited to see the potential in the future, to envisage more and better for myself and for my clients.

There are futures out there that we haven’t even dreamed of yet. And I’m thrilled to be able to imagine them.

Your summer reading list for your business

I’m a big reader, and I often turn to books to clear my head as well as to learn, especially when it comes to business. I’ve put together a summer reading list for your business, made up of the books I’ve recommended to clients this year.

Whether you’re in need of some money miracles, self-belief, or a change of pace, these books have all helped me and my clients to make progress in our businesses.

Note: some of the links below are affiliates, so I may get a small payment if you buy through these links. I only recommend books I genuinely love.

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz

This is a fascinating re-think on how to structure the finances of your business. If you’ve taken Pricing for Profit and got your product prices in order, this book is a great way to take your business to the next level.

It’s a book about putting sustainability first, rather than hoping you’ll make money at the end of the year.

You can get the first couple of chapters for free here, as well as ordering the whole book below.

Dare To Lead by Brene Brown

I have been recommending Brene Brown on this blog for five years. Her work and her writing have changed my life and business in so many ways.

Her latest book, Dare To Lead, is great for business owners, influencers, people managers, and parents. It’s an inspiring and practical book that will have you thinking differently about how you step up in the roles you have in your life.

Do Less by Kate Northrup

Need a realistic view on how to sort out your time management? This is the book for you. Especially if you are a business owner and a parent.

Overcoming Underearning by Barbara Stanny

If you have consistently under-earned in your life – and you’re ready to change that fact – this is a fabulous book. It’s more about your money beliefs and experiences than a set formula to earn more, but you’ll find there are plenty of practical, actionable steps to change your relationship with money.

Enjoy your summer reads! Do you have a favourite book of 2019? Let me know!

Behind the scenes: my Creative Business Day Retreat

Earlier in May, I hosted a wonderfully nourishing Creative Business Day Retreat at Paus, just outside Cambridge.

Having created and hosted six retreat weekends over the last five years, it felt like high time to offer a day retreat that would inspire, remove challenges, and rejuvenate!

The day started with tea and coffee, and a few introductions. I had a very prompt group (or should that be lots of luck with the traffic!) so we had plenty of time to chat and get to know one another.

My job at any retreat is to listen deeply to the needs of the women who gather and make sure they leave with some insight, clarity and practical suggestions for actions to take. So as I guide everyone through introducing themselves and their businesses, I’m listening out for themes and clues for what they really need.

I use meditation to help us all get really present, and to bypass the monkey minds that keep us stuck in fear and old habits. At my weekend retreats, I lead groups through regular meditations and longer visualisations, but as this day retreat was shorter, I kept things pretty focused!

Another tradition of the retreat is the gift of a star with a word on it. It’s a little bit of magic, but also an important symbol: a token to remind guests of their insight and clarity when they leave. Each word is carefully chosen, but ultimately goes to the person who needs in most.

Once we’re all settled in, I lead the group through some writing prompts. For this retreat, it was all about where you are now and where you want to get to. After we spend about an hour digging into some pretty big questions, each person has the opportunity to share with the group, and get some coaching from me.

This is where we really uncover the things that have held us back, that we haven’t been able to see before. Yes, there were tears. Yes, my hormones meant that I was also tearing up! But it’s good. These shifts are important.

Writing prompts sound very simple and straightforward, but the truth is there’s a lot of power behind them. I go deep – asking things in different ways and looking for fresh perspectives. It’s rare that guests don’t find something useful during these workshops.

After a delicious and nourishing lunch, guests had access to the incredible outdoor hot tubs at Paus, as well as time to reflect on the insights of the morning.

We had a little closing ceremony, including a meditation and some declarations of things we’re leaving behind as we go onwards. And of course some happy-sad goodbyes!

The day retreat was such a lovely way to celebrate my last in-person work before my maternity leave, and I loved spending the day at Paus.

If you’re interested in my next Creative Business Retreat Weekend in March 2020, I currently have two places left.

And for more information about future events, you can sign up to my newsletter.

Fancy a private retreat or workshop for a small number of friends or colleagues, get in touch!

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