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11 Things I Learned In My First Year In Business

first year in business

This week marks the end of my first year running my own business. I describe it most lovingly as a roller coaster ride, full of ups and downs, lessons and challenges, and so many wonderful moments.

It is simultaneously the most rewarding and most difficult thing that I have ever done and I would not change a thing about the crazy ride that I’ve been on in the past year.

This year already feels different and I can already see the exciting changes that my second year is going to bring.

While that magical story continues to unfold, I wanted to share with you some of the most valuable things I learned in my first year in business.


I learned:

1. More about myself in one year than all the years before put together.

I’m not just talking about business-wise. My first year in business pushed more of my buttons than possibly anything else, ever. It shone a light on my love life, my lifestyle, my choices, my relationship with money, my personality and mentality. E V E R Y thing. It cracked me wide open to better understand myself and life in a new way.

Because when you start your own business, you put yourself fully into it. It’s not like going to work and getting your pay at the end of the week, regardless of how you show up.

You are totally accountable for the success and failure, you’re offering yourself up on a platter for the world to accept or reject. Oh boy, is it terrifying. It’s uncomfortable and it requires you to learn a lot, and learn quickly. But it is worth it because you will grow in wonderful ways (I promise).

My advice? Do the work that needs to be done, lean into the incredible discomfort and vulnerability, and get all the help you can to work through it and move on with your life (and your new business).


2. The importance of like minded and wholehearted connection

I’ve never underestimated the value of family and friends in my life, but having a network of people who were there for me to talk things out with, was life saving. And I recommend having an assortment of people:

:: Family and close friends who will send love and hugs your way when you need it;

:: Like minded peeps going through the same stuff you are so you can help each other out;

:: Teachers or mentors who can guide and help you and whoop your butt when you need it;

:: People who are just starting out and could use YOUR help (learning by teaching is so damn valuable) and;

:: As many connections with new people as you can make – because you never know where those will take you.

My advice? If you’re not sure where to find all these people, start small. Look at who is already in your circle, brainstorm ways to meet new people, hire a coach to help you strategise and get accountable, find online communities and look for local events to attend. The possibilities are endless and oh-so rewarding!


3. That I’m in charge of my own business

I got to a point last year where I realised I wasn’t having any fun. My days were spent in front of the computer, forcing myself to work all day just like I always had in my previous jobs. It was exhausting, all-consuming, and a creativity killer of epic proportions until, one day, I realised that I was the boss and in order to create the business I wanted, I was going to need to start doing some things differently. I got into this for fun and freedom and awesome connections and learning and helping others – none of which I was doing well from behind my computer, so I quickly changed that. I’m undeniably grateful that this occurred to me before I took it out on my business and threw it all out the window.

My advice? Have a couple of things you want to achieve in your business each day (or each week, depending on how big they are) and schedule in some fun stuff too. You’ll be amazed how taking some time out actually fuels your creativity and gives you a renewed energy to get back to your business (instead of becoming a slave to it!)


4. That money means very little and a lot at the same time

Although my income last year was very, very different to my previous career, I decided to change my mentality towards it. From being a freelancer previously, I already had an attitude that money would always come (and it always does) but I also stopped worrying or thinking about it all the time. I automatically needed less, I didn’t need to bribe myself with material rewards to get through the working week, and my whole approach to money changed.

The transition from employee to business owner can be tough and I think it’s worth noting that overnight success is a fallacy. I had the benefit of being able to take casual work when I needed to, and I was smart about it.

My advice? Read Get Rich, Lucky Bitch by Denise Duffield-Thomas. Get smart and do your budget so your bills get paid and you cover your basics, get a part time job or transition out of your job by cutting down some days if you can while your business is in the early stages. But also believe that there are creative opportunities to make money everywhere. They will come to you and the money will too.


5. To live as though I’m already where I want to be

Someone recently asked me how I got to the point where my business was where I wanted it to be. Oh I was so touched that she thought I was at that point, I almost wept. Partly because, maybe on the outside, it looks like that and partly because some days I feel like I’m travelling at a snail’s pace.

This is one of the best lessons I learned this past year – to live as though I’m already where I want to be. Not in a financial sense of living outside of my means (although little splurges can really affect your abundance mentality), but doing things I love as often as possible. Going to the gym during the day when most people are tied to their desks, sitting in the park reading a book, meeting a friend for coffee – very simple things that I love and that make me realise how wonderful my life already is.

My advice? Think of what your successful business in the not-too-distant-future. What does your LIFE look like as a result of that? What can you incorporate into your current situation to make you feel as though you’re already well on your way? Do it and start to feel as though you’ve already made it (because you kind of have, kid).


6. That what you focus on expands

Have you noticed that some people always have it tough? And others always seem happy? Very rarely is it to do with the former having been dealt a bad hand and the latter a good hand. It usually comes down to attitude.

If you go about your day, thinking how many clients you have, how many great ideas you’ve got, how well your business is doing, it will keep heading this way because that is what you’re honing in on. You’ll start seeing more opportunities, your energy will be appealing to others, you’ll shine in a way that people want to be a part of that.

And the same goes if you view it the opposite – not enough clients, no good ideas, your business is not good enough. You feel down about it, you don’t speak with enthusiasm, and no one (including you) is excited about what you’re doing. Even writing those two scenarios feels different to me and when I find myself getting into the ‘not enoughs’, I do everything I can now to focus on the wonderful things I want to expand instead.

My advice? Become aware of your internal and external chatter and stop yourself when you’re focusing on the negatives. See if you can switch it around and then observe what a difference that makes to your mental state, but also to your business.


7. That routine can sometimes make you feel more free

I can honestly tell you that I tried just about everything in the past year when it comes to time management. I tried strict scheduling every hour of the day (that was horrible and a complete failure). I tried throwing the schedule out and going with what works (almost as horrible). I tried apps like Pomodoro and Self Control App and a millions kinds of to-do lists, and e-calendars, and paper diaries and all the different things you can imagine and found only one thing that really worked for me.

The beauty of a routine that lights me up.

I start my day the same way. It’s not a strict or structured routine, it’s just a few simple things I love doing in the morning. Each day still looks pretty different – I go for a bit of choose-your-own-adventure, mixed with one main intention for the day – but starting with my base line sets my day up in a way I never imagined possible. A nourishing breakfast. Meditation. Journalling. Making my bed. Getting ready for the day. They seem so basic, but they work so well for me. And it doesn’t mean it will always be this way, but it works so much better than all the other ‘tricks’ I’ve tried in the past 12 months.

My advice? Find a few little things that ease you into your day and set the tone for what you want to achieve. Try out some things and know that your own little routine will evolve and you’ll know when you’ve found it because it won’t be a chore, it will be energising.


8. To be true to me

It’s always been important to me to be genuine, honest, and fair in my life, my relationships and pretty much everything I do. But one thing I really had to learn in the past 12 months was to completely honour and own who I am, regardless of what anyone else is doing.

To be honest, I lost a lot of good time last year comparing myself to others – wondering what they had that I didn’t, or if I should be doing this, that or the other, or if I would ever be as ‘good’ as such-and-such. Holy exhausting, Batman!

The minute I stopped focusing on others and just got down with ME, so much changed – I set myself free. This is one thing that I KNOW trips a lot of people up (because I chat to my clients about it all the time) and I have to say that until you can see that you have something unique and extraordinary of your own to contribute to the lives of others, it will continue to hold you back.

You have something to say in a way that will resonate with ‘your people’ that is beyond compare, so make sure you don’t deny them of your voice while you’re too busy wishing you were someone else!

My advice: Fall in love with all your quirks and talents and awesome stuff and less-than-awesome stuff. Know yourself inside and out and freaking own it, my friend. Know that there will be people who always make you a little crazy because they SEEM so damn perfect, but it’s okay, you’ve got this. Trust in that and you’re halfway there.


9. What happens when you stop taking care of yourself

I can recall a number of times I did this last year because I was ‘too busy’ working on my business. It was as if stepping away from the computer might prevent a new client from coming my way.

I didn’t have ‘time’ to go to the gym (I had so much time, it was ridiculous). Some weeks I didn’t leave the house for days on end and the longer I went, the less I wanted to leave. I created stress for myself where there really wasn’t any. I found myself in crazy thought spirals that usually ended in wanting to pack everything in. And it all came back to one thing, not taking care of myself properly.

When this year started, I completely changed my mind and made a commitment to taking care of myself first so that I had the energy to show up 100% in my business.

My advice? If you think you don’t have time to take care of yourself, you do. Your business can survive half an hour while you go and run around the block for your sanity and for your health. Make some non-negotiable self-care promises to yourself and keep them. If you get to bed time and you haven’t done something for you today, pick something off the list and do it or risk throwing burning out altogether.


10. How to keep your relationship alive while you try to grow your business

When I said that your business brings up all your ‘stuff’, I wasn’t kidding. Trying to undergo the transformation that comes with your first year in business is tough enough, but to nurture and maintain a healthy relationship in the midst of that can be just as challenging.

This first year in business is akin to a caterpillar, in its cocoon – you have to completely break down to goop before emerging a butterfly. So, while you’re goop, can you imagine the struggles that might come with one of the most important relationships in your life? They happen. You’re being all goopy in your cocoon, learning about yourself and putting everything you have into your business, and another person who is used to you being around, suddenly has to adapt to the way you and your life is changing. It can be tough!

But there is also an incredible opportunity to strengthen the bond by talking it out, learning from each other, growing together, and being open to change.

My advice? Get used to apologising, a lot. Share the journey with your partner, and remember that your business can’t give you everything that you need so it’s important to keep investing in this relationship if you still want it to be there once your business is successful.


11. That people see you differently to how you see yourself

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people comment that they are struggling and everyone else is killing it. SO. MANY. TIMES. In fact, I’ve sat at my computer and thought the same thing a lot in the past 12 months. But, you know what? It’s so common that I’d hazard a guess that everyone feels that way sometimes. Seeing glimpses of what other people are up to via their website or social media is just the highlights reel of all the hard work they’ve been doing behind the scenes.

What I had to learn is that other people don’t see us the way we see ourselves. They are also catching glimpses and interpreting that in ways we will never truly understand. You might feel like a failure some days, or that you’ll never get ‘there’, while people you don’t even know are looking up to you, hoping to do what you have done. It’s funny how that goes.

My advice? Just keep doing your thing, beauty. Keep your head down, do the work, don’t worry about anyone else and graciously accept when someone tells you that you inspire them. None of that self-deprecating bullshit, please. 


So that’s what I’ve learned. I think, if I tried to share everything, this post would turn into a book but I hope this sheds some light on what I learned in my first year in business. If you’re just starting your own business, or considering it, there’s a lot ahead of you, but it will be worth it.

Tell me in the comments below, what have you learned in the last year in your business or your life? I’d love to know what you’ve come up against and worked through!


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  1. Janelle

    YES – non negotiable self-care. We can only do this for ourselves and something I am playing close attention to. So important and many good tips and insights here Katherine. Great post. Xx

  2. Katherine

    Love this post Katherine and congrats to you on surviving and thriving in your first year of business – no easy feat that is for sure.

    Have shared with a couple friends who have just started out for themselves also, thank you xx

  3. Christie Fischer

    LOVE THIS GIRL!! Perfect timing (when are they few blog posts we’re able to read not tho hey?) Perfectly summed up, great reminders for all and great tips for newbies!!

    • Katherine Mackenzie-Smith

      It’s so true! Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I always find I read posts exactly when I need to read something in them!

  4. Naomi Arnold

    Ohhhh such a wonderful post, thanks so much for sharing these lessons Katherine. I too have felt every single one of them in my first 6 months of business. Wowsers, such a learning curve huh. Thanks so much for continuing to inspire us and share your wisdom. xo

  5. Danielle

    What a fantastic and timely article for me! I am trying hard to fall in love with my quirks! Lol

  6. Diana Braybrooke -The Butterfly House

    Definitely 3 and 9 resonate with me. For me I’d also add “Stop putting other coaches on pedestals and don’t be afraid to approach them for interviews or to email them when something has resonated.” I didn’t want to ‘bother’ people and thought that my email would get lost in the masses but every time I have been surprised at a lovely response and a ‘thank you, your encouragement meant a lot to me today.’ I still need to work on not being afraid to ask in fear of rejection but I’m getting there 🙂

    • Katherine Mackenzie-Smith

      Oh that’s such a good one, Diana! And so easy to do! The best analogy about that I’ve heard is that we’re all facing looking forward at those we deem ‘ahead’ of us, but we forget that our backs are turned to all of those we can help. If we would all just turn around, we would be able to serve those people so much better!

  7. Kylie Anderson

    Great post lovely!! So true and I can definitely resonate with all your tips.xx

  8. Victoria Bauman

    Loved this post – so many hard-earned insights. Thanks for sharing!



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