12 Biggest Lessons I’ve Learned from 12 Years in Business

Twelve years ago I stepped out into creating my own business.  Here are 12 of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way.

12. Determination counts.

If you’re determined enough you’ll make it work. I started my business with a laptop computer, internet connection, and prayer. I had no start up money. Didn’t know a thing about marketing. But I knew I was going to make it work somehow.

“He who has a big enough why to live for can bear almost any how.”  Frederick Nietzsche

I couldn’t count how many sleepless nights there have been along the way. I’d never tell anyone this is “easy” to do. But it’s possible. And possible was all I needed to give me hope to hang on.

11. You can learn whatever you need to learn.

We are blessed to live in a time where so much knowledge is at our fingertips.  One thing I’m thankful I learned as a kid is that the library was an amazing place I could go to learn anything I wanted to know.  Then along came the internet and I carried that mindset into business with me.  Anything we need to know we can find.  Search.  Teach yourself.  Be resourceful.

Whatever you need to know that you can’t figure out on your own, reach out and ask for help.  When I couldn’t afford to join a coaching program or mastermind group, or hire a coach, I picked a couple of entrepreneurs to follow.  I read everything they published on their blogs.  I followed every webinar or teleseminar they presented or recommended.  I bought the books they published.  And it helped me get pointed in the right direction because I took notes and took action on what I learned.

10. Get support.

Eventually I figured out I needed to shift from the employee/freelancer frame of mind into business owner frame of mind and take control of where my business was going.  You know, that whole “create a grown up business” thing.

Part of that for me has been committing to working with a coach and mastermind group.  Commitment means not just investing money, but time and energy, too–showing up, asking for help, and doing the work.

Getting support was a huge key in my growth over the past year.  There have been many days where I’ve wanted to give up.  Surrounding myself with people who remind me that I AM good at what I do, that I CAN make a difference and help others, and that what I do matters has helped me keep going.  Sometimes we all need that encouragement.

You need someone who will push you to succeed and help you back up when you fall down along the way.

9. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something different.

This one took me longer to learn than I’d like to admit.  I’ve had a tendency to stick with what I know and what feels safe.  If you want to grow your business you’ve got to detach from things.  If your website isn’t working, be willing to change it (sometimes dramatically).  If your products or services aren’t selling, be willing to let go and create something totally different.

The answer isn’t sticking with a failing strategy.  Test everything.  Question everything.  But trust the advice of people who’ve been where you want to go.

Someone told me to listen to my mentors until I make more money than they do.  I’ve chosen good coaches and mentors who I can follow for a long time to come.  ;)

8. You’ll get better as you go.

I’ve seen some bad websites over the years.  And a decade ago… I designed some of them!  But I did what I could with what I knew then.

We learn and get better as we go.  Everyone has to start somewhere.

Don’t compare yourself to others — just do the best you can, put your heart into it, and keep working to get better.  Push yourself.  Never settle.

7. Every step is scary. Keep moving forward anyway.

The first time I filled in a business license application,  I was terrified.  Who was I to start a business?  Who was I to think I could make it work?  What if I made a mistake?  There were a million people better at what I was doing than I was.  I did it anyway.

It doesn’t matter how many people do what you do — you’re unique and there’s room for you, too.

Every big step forward I’ve taken has been scary.  It’s been uncomfortable.  But none of it has killed me.  ;)

6. Learn from other people’s mistakes.

Sure, you can make them all yourself. But you’ll move forward faster — and more happily — if you learn from other people’s mistakes.  This is another one I wish I’d figured out sooner.

One of the most valuable aspects of working with a coach and mastermind group is that I can learn from where they’ve been and what they’ve tested and tried.  I don’t have to figure it all out on my own.  They can see a bigger picture view from where they are at than I can from where I’m at.

5. It’s more fun when you work together with others.

One of my early clients was Shel Horowitz (thanks for giving me a chance, Shel!) and one of the biggest things I learned from him was that businesses don’t have to be cut-throat competitive.  A cooperative approach can succeed.

My “competition” has been one of my best sources of client referrals, continued learning, business growth and friendships.

4. Mistakes and disasters happen. Keep going.

Don’t ask how many “disasters” I’ve had.  Along with sleepless nights I’ve also lost count of disasters.  Technology doesn’t always cooperate.  Humans sometimes screw up.  We fail.  We make mistakes.  The best we can do is give it our best effort to make things right, figure out how to prevent it next time, and keep going.

Oh, and the technology thing… just learn to roll with it.  It’s the only way to not go crazy if you’re building a business online.

3. Grow yourself and your business grows.

It’d be great if we could succeed while staying wrapped up in the warm cocoon of our comfort zone… but it doesn’t work that way.

This past year has been a huge personal growth year for me.  And a huge business growth year, too.  Coincidence?

An example: a year ago I was afraid to speak to men.  Break down in a panic attack afraid.  I was terrified to answer my phone if I didn’t know who was calling (and even sometimes when I did).  It was just something I’d programmed into my head, that it wasn’t my place, that I wasn’t equal, that I had nothing to offer.

I vividly remember an hour long call with my Coach Therese Skelly last November where I cried and cried, convinced I couldn’t get on the phone with Adam Urbanski for an appointment we had the next week to talk about my working for him.  It took two calls with Therese and she got me through it.  I never could have done it without her support and guidance.

Next month we officially start the Navigator program which I’m helping lead with Adam.  I know the program is going to rock and change businesses for the better and I’m honored to get to play a part in that.

If you think my journey in business has been easy and I just happened to appear on the scene overnight and succeed immediately… we need to grab a cup of coffee sometime and I’ll let you in on more of the story.  Therese and I joke now that I didn’t get to start at the “start line” but that I was miles behind it and had to work up to that starting line.

My point is this: We’ve all got craziness we have to break through.  Break through yours, grow yourself, and amazing things will happen in your business.

2. You don’t have to fit into anyone else’s mold.

For most of the last 12 years I really doubted whether I could build a wildly successful business. I wasn’t (fill in the blank) enough. Educated enough. Pretty enough. Charismatic enough. Man enough. Bold enough. Ruthless enough. Certified enough.

I’m me.  I like pink streaks in my hair.  I’m not stick thin.  I’m short.  I’m soft spoken (unless you happen to catch me in a rare moment where I talk about politics or the educational system).

I will never be a model with a PhD in anything.  That doesn’t mean I can’t succeed as me.  Yeah, I need to keep working on becoming a smarter, better, braver “me 2.0″… there’s always room for growth… I’ll still be me though and that’s okay.

1.  Allow for the possibilities…

When I filled in my application to participate in the Entrepreneurial Freedom Program (the mastermind group I’m currently in) early this year, I got really bold/temporarily insane and wrote down that one of my goals was to speak on the stage.  I was thinking way off in the future — maybe 2013 or 2014.  But being willing to consider the possibility that I might be able to do that, someday, was a huge breakthrough for me.  And within just a couple of months of writing that down, I was on a stage speaking.

I’m learning not to dismiss things so quickly and to just allow for the possibilities. What if I could…?

What if you don’t have limits?  What if you really CAN do anything you dare?

The biggest lesson?  It’s worth it.

There have been nights where I’ve felt torn.  It’s not easy to juggle a business and a family.  But then I remember the alternative.  I could be working a job I probably wouldn’t like for 8+ hours a day, with limited hourly income potential, and away from my children completely — probably struggling to break even by the time I figure in childcare and other expenses.  Instead I’m home.  I’m able to be here for them, work with clients I adore and admire, and create a profitable business.  It’s worth it.

And If I can do this, I know anyone can.  We all have challenges.  Yours are different than mine.  But we can get through them.

Just know that it’s possible–hold on to that and don’t give up.

Your turn!  What have you learned in business?  Do any of these lessons sound familiar?


  1. says

    Thanks for this! It came at a REALLY great time, where I’m totally stepping outside my comfort zone. I pretty much identify with every point (though I’m the before story). ha

  2. says

    WOW Michelle what a powerful post. Its amazing the vulnerability you have shared, I have tears rolling down my cheeks! You obviously have little idea of how good you are. I am going to let you into a secret – when doing some work on my own values, goals etc I had to list those people who I admire and whose qualities I would like to emulate. You were one of the people on my list. So keep up the good work, but don’t change too much!
    Dot Hurley recently posted… Bad Habits? 11 Tips to help you get rid of them.My Profile

  3. says

    Hi Michelle, some people believe successful people are: geniuses, brilliant, special or just downright lucky. What they’re observing is the end result – they don’t see the pot holes you fell into, your sweat, tears or insecurities. This over inflated misconception of successful people influences some to give up on their dreams. Hopefully, those reading your blog will allow themselves to be inspired and motivated for their success.
    Adalia John recently posted… Words of Wisdom from Michael JordanMy Profile

  4. says

    I love 6 and 10. When I started my business 12 years ago I tried to do it all myself. But thankfully I had some amazing mentors who guided me to hiring a VA long before VA’s were “the thing”. It shifted that business to a whole new level, in moments. Each new hire brought a new level of learning & experiences. What a journey. I’m sort of starting over again, after closing that business, but hopefully I’ll breeze through some of the hard lessons, this time! Great post!
    Loralee Hutton recently posted… Teleseminar and Webinar ChecklistMy Profile

    • says

      LOL I still laugh to myself when I think about my “job title” when I got started. I was doing the work of a VA but that term didn’t exist so I was everything from “webmaster” to “webmistress” to “technical assistant” to “web programmer” etc. Virtual assistant is cooler.

      And yes, it definitely does shift a business when you start to bring in help and learn what to outsource (and when not to!), etc.

      I’ve got to think it’s easier the second and third time around. You’ve got a whole lot more experience now and you’ve learned those lessons. :)
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… What Doctor Who Can Teach You About Going BigMy Profile

  5. says

    Perfect post, and it’s not too long; it’s perfect. You said what you wanted or needed to say and the rest of us can appreciate it in our own unique way and gather what we may from it. When I first met you, I knew you had a spark that I hadn’t seen in a long time. You were on my list. You got more done in 5 minutes than most could only do in 5 days, weeks, months or years. Since that time, I’m still amazed.

    I get tripped up with technology (#4) in some approximation, but I keep on because I know more about it than my clients and they depend on me to figure it out for them. Thank you for these perfect reminders!

  6. says

    Hi Michelle,

    “If only” had been my unofficial motto for the first few months of 2012 – call it a funk, call it bummed, whatever it was, it wasn’t a good place to be.

    Fortunately, some good solid re-evaluating and digging to find what I truly wanted to do, was what I really needed.

    I now love the motto “dream big” :)

    To a great 2013!

    Christine Brady recently posted… Turning Website Visitors into Subscribers… AND Making SalesMy Profile

  7. says

    I feel so fortunate to know you personally Michelle and have watched you blossom over the last year. I’m always amazed by how much you get done. You’re an inspiration.
    One of my favorite quotes relates to #12 on your list – it’s about persistence from Calvin Coolidge. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence & determination alone are omnipotent.”
    Thanks for being you. ~Debra :)
    Debra Jason recently posted… 3 Facebook Tips for Creating Massive EngagementMy Profile

  8. says

    Hi Michelle
    I can relate to many of these on your list, it can be so scary when we first start our journey into this business so thanks for sharing.
    I am a novice compared to you (only been about 2 years now on and off) but I am determined to make it a success :)
    Pauline recently posted… JV Giveaways & List Building TipsMy Profile

  9. says

    This was perfect timing for me. Thank you for taking the time to encourage your readers. You are our hero! I have learned so much from you and look forward to all the tips and inspiration that you provide.

  10. says

    Wow, you are so long in your own business. From the tips that I read here, you must be really proud of all the experience you gained! Thank you fro sharing those tips with me and others, who wish to be where you are right now.

  11. says

    Amazing advice, Michelle! Thanks for sharing this post. I agree, motivation and commitment is one thing, but learning from mistakes is very important. Learn – never run from mistakes. Thanks for the article!

  12. says

    Very good points here. I wrote a similar type of post when I hit 10 years back in June, but I touched on slightly different themes than you did. I especially like #3 because I don’t think I did any growing until my 3rd year, and that’s when things started to happen. Then I regressed again until this year when I started to mentally grow again. Major lesson there.
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted… 10 Leadership Lessons From 5 Piano Teachers And MyselfMy Profile

  13. says

    Awesome post. You wording really inspire me. From this article, a lot things I have learned. Nothing is impossible, if we have interest to do something. We should learn from others mistakes to move forward.

  14. says

    Lovely post Michelle. Your story sounds similar to my wife’s and my story. We were destitute and had no place of our own. Just a little over 3 years ago we were living in my pensioner father’s house and my wife started writing for clients. Her first check was $56 (barely enough to buy food for a week) today we rent an apartment close to the beach, pay all our bills and eat well enough to survive. We have 11 year old twins whom we home school too. It was so bad that we almost ended up living in a shelter. Thank God we never took that option as we would never have made it out of there.
    Wade Balsdon recently posted… Can a Healthy Diet Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?My Profile

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