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.

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!

My maternity leave soft launch (or how to work with limitations)

I recently shared a slightly unexpected development over on Instagram: I declared a Maternity Leave Soft Launch for my business.

I received some questions and thoughts, so I thought I’d share a bit more about it, and how it can help you in your business, even if you’re not pregnant! Ultimately, we go through different phases of life and business that require a different approach, so while my current experience is very much pregnancy-related, you may have something else going on that requires a little tweak to your business strategy.

So. It turns out not everyone knows I’m pregnant. To be honest, I haven’t been sharing loads because I’m kind of in it right now, and also because I like writing about business and creativity most of all. But yes, I am expecting a baby girl this summer.

A couple of weeks ago, I hit 31 weeks, and something shifted. I worked hard in the run up to my Creative Business Day Retreat, but I knew that after the retreat, I really needed to slow down.

I had hoped to work as normal up to about 35 weeks, but there are a few things really shifted. One, I’m not sleeping as well as I normally do, so my energy is slower. Two, I really have a lot I want to do to prepare for a new human, and that takes time and energy. Not compatible with full working days.

I also needed to let go of some of the things I’d thought I could achieve before taking maternity leave.

This was a hard step! But looking at my project list, I started to see how doing less would actually mean I’d get more done. It’s so counter-intuitive! But I basically got to the point where I realised if I actually wanted to complete certain things, some projects just needed to shuffle off the list.

So I prioritised things that I actually wanted and needed to do before I sign off, and looked at how much time I realistically needed to complete them.

I decided to dedicate pretty much half days to the following work:

  • Three half days a week of client work (coaching calls, coaching notes and follow up, and one big copywriting project I’m doing before I finish)
  • One half day a week of course and group content (Progress not Perfection, retreat groups and course updates)
  • One half day a week of email admin and getting some lovely stuff scheduled while I’m having baby snuggles

There are a few bits that don’t fit into those categories, but that’s the overview of how I’m spending my time.

The rest of my time is now available for baby prep. And that’s not just napping, resting and reading all the books! It includes things like:

  • Driving my husband to physio and hospital appointments for his knee injury recovery (it’s going well, and I can’t wait for him to be able to drive again!)
  • Doing all the pick ups and drop offs for my stepson (see above)
  • Midwife appointments
  • Pregnancy yoga and exercise
  • Getting someone to fix our oven
  • Decluttering the house (for what feels like the billionth time!)
  • Taking care of my mental health

These things feel really important, not only for the smooth running of our home right now, but also so that I’m not burnt out and exhausted for months and months. Yes, a newborn is going to be exhausting and all-consuming. But I don’t want additional factors to set me back when I’m thinking of coming back to work.

The struggle and the clarity

I faffed around with wanting to do more and getting frustrated for a good few weeks before I realised I needed to change my mind about maternity leave.

Getting the clarity and declaring a soft launch was an incredibly freeing moment. Announcing to myself – and then publicly – what I was planning to do has made me feel more confident and have more energy. It’s helped me to manage my own expectations on what I’m going to do, and to see that the activities I’m committing to aren’t actually reducing my income.

So how can you apply this to your own business?

The truth is that focus can make everything more efficient, and ultimately that’s great for your business.

We often fall into the trap that more work = more money or more success. That more = more. Except it doesn’t. Sometimes more expectations = more disappointment and frustration, which then leads to burnout and giving up.

You can totally commit to a defined period of time of focus, whether it’s a 100 day project, a month of [insert focus here] or even the summer school holidays.

I definitely believe in choosing a defined period of time for a re-focus. Then you can review it at the end and see what works!

Here are some situations you might be up against, when a “soft launch” of a new way of doing things could help:

  • School holidays – if I’ve learnt anything from coaching clients and my Progress not Perfection group, it’s that school holidays have a MASSIVE impact on time and energy. Make a plan! Manage your own expectations!
  • A project or website launch – if you’re working on a big launch, you need to set parameters for what you’re working on as a priority. Once the thing is launched, you can go back to “normal”.
  • Illness, depression, anxiety and recovery from all three – if you’re going through a rough patch health-wise (including mental health) OR have a family member who is, give yourself a break. Declare a “new normal” and stop beating yourself up for having a lower capacity.

Ultimately, what I love about my maternity leave soft launch is that it has a defined period of time, clear goals, and feels really aligned to how I want to feel and what’s important to me.

You don’t need to wait for a giant life event to feel that way! Declare your own short-term project and commit to yourself. I’d love to hear what you decide!

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