8 Lessons I’ve Learned In 8 Years of Running My Own Online Business

I can’t believe I’ve been running my business for over 8 years! Things change quickly online, and I’ve learned so much along the way. I hope these lessons help you to avoid my mistakes!

1) You Are Running A Real Business

It took me years to start treating my online business like a “real” business. It was real in the sense that I was registered and paying taxes, but I never thought of it as a business that had massive potential. I barely had my own defined workspace, I didn’t really invest in growing the business, and I didn’t put proper systems in place for success – things like planning my content, tracking income trends, trying new marketing techniques, etc.

The truth is I never set out to build a business, it just kind of happened after I started blogging and saw the potential for making money online. Eventually, I started seeing things differently and saw massive growth when I did!

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2) Your Mindset Matters – (A LOT!)

Following on from the last point, your mindset plays a huge role in your success. Throughout eight years in business I can pinpoint a few clear turning points in my growth:

  • In 2011, after I made the decision to save for a year of travel in 2012 – I almost doubled my income right away
  • In 2013 when I changed bookkeeping software and started tracking my income almost daily (instead of putting bookkeeping off for weeks and never being clear on my current position)
  • In 2014 when I got engaged and had a wedding to pay for
  • In 2015 when my husband and I bought our first house

None of these things increased my income by “magic”. Instead, they gave me massive concrete goals to work towards that made me step up my game. Suddenly I’d see how an extra bit of work could lead to a night in a guesthouse in Thailand or could pay for my wedding flowers etc. It made a huge difference.

It’s also important to set big goals. They might not seem doable, but the amazing thing about online business is that it has the potential to grow so quickly once you have everything in motion (far quicker than pay rises in a traditional job)! When I first started I never even dared to imagine I’d be earning what I am now, with as much freedom as I have. But I still have a way to go to create a business that truly supports the kind of life and freedom I want to have, so I continue to dream big even though it’s not the “norm” in our society.

3) Everything You’re Doing Now WILL Mean Something In Future

If you’re in the earlier stages and questioning whether everything you’re doing is worth it, trust me when I say that one day you’ll look back on everything you’ve done and you’ll see how it has all come together to get you to that point. It doesn’t necessarily follow on in a direct line, but everything you’re doing will impact your future.

For example, in my business, there were some months when I struggled to come up with the money to pay the bills, earning just a few hundred dollars. It was hard at the time, but when I look back, I can see how it all came together. Back then, I was working crazy-hard for little reward. But I was learning and building my audience, and that set me up to work a lot less now for far greater reward. It’s a real snowball effect – it gathers its own momentum and keeps building on itself.

This doesn’t mean that everything you do will eventually work out, by the way (sorry!) What it does mean is that even the things that don’t work will teach you something, whether that’s a lesson or a new skill, that’ll somehow shape your future business. And the things that do work will only continue to grow as your audience grows.

4) Your Email List Is Your Biggest Asset

My biggest piece of advice to anyone starting a new blog or business is to work on growing your email list from day one. Believe it or not, my six-figure business was not dependent on a blog, and I barely used social media. I made 90% of my income thanks to my email list! And it wasn’t a big list, either (around 4,000 people, but I started earning way before it reached that level). If you need more convincing about the importance of building a list, then check out this post.

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5) Working All the Time Isn’t Healthy

It’s so easy to work all of the time when you run your own business. It’s addictive learning about new techniques, making connections with other people around the world and creating money yourself! But it’s also unhealthy if you don’t make time for other hobbies in your life.

Somewhere down the line, I found myself losing interest in other hobbies – building my business was my hobby. Something just clicked in me when I was on holiday in May last year. I was away for a week, but I felt anxious that I couldn’t constantly check in on my business. That’s not healthy! From then on I made a massive effort to start working less – I’d take afternoons and mornings off here and there, and plan more outings with my husband. I even took two full weeks off for Christmas and barely checked an email! I’m finding more joy in other hobbies – reading (non-business related), gardening, exercising and more. I still have a way to go, but it feels a lot healthier!

Feel guilty about taking time off? Don’t! I assume one of the big reasons you work for yourself is because you want a certain level of freedom in your life. This isn’t something you should put on hold while you constantly work for years. Meaning and freedom are things you can create in your life right now. Make your business work around your life, not the other way around.

6) You Can’t Be Anyone Else

I have a confession to make – throughout my eight years in business I’ve spent a long time trying to emulate other people. I’d go through phases of trying to be more like one person, before moving onto someone else. I wasn’t copying what they were doing, but I wanted to achieve their kind of business, audience, and lifestyle. It took me a long time to realise that this was totally the wrong way of going about things!

For a start, you can never be someone else. You have your own blend of characteristics that make you different, and that’s a good thing! I spent years trying to fight against my introverted nature, for example, but I now realise that’s a big reason why I started working for myself in the first place, and I can also use that part of me to attract the right kind of audience.

I also realised that many of the people I was following weren’t doing things for the same reasons as me, and had vastly different audiences. For years I served an audience that was very different to myself, and I always felt a weird disconnect. Now I know why – I was serving that audience because I was trying to be like other entrepreneurs in that space. I made great connections and had some lovely customers, but I never connected in the way I wanted to deep down.

7) Running Your Own Business Forces You to Face Your Issues

Running your own business isn’t easy, and it will continually force you out of your comfort zone. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but I now see it as a positive thing. I am very introverted, private and a little shy in real life, yet I run a business based on connecting with people from all over the world. I have had to push myself so many times to be visible: to write that first blog post, to send that first email, to include personal anecdotes even when it goes against my nature. I am also absolutely terrible at making decisions and constantly doubt myself, but my business is forcing me to face those challenges.

You might not have the same struggles as I do, but I am almost certain your business will bring up things you weren’t aware of. It’s hard, but when you come out the other side, you come out wiser and stronger. Things that are hard are often worth it, and can even – eventually – become natural and normal. I find that I learn so much about myself along this online business journey, and I can’t see that as a bad thing (even if I sometimes think so at the time!)

8) You Are Free to Run Your Business on YOUR Terms

The last lesson is the biggie – you are the one who gets to decide how to do this. None of the lessons above resonate with you? That’s fine, we all have our own path! The internet is full of advice on how to do things, but you do not have to take it all!

In my business, I’m constantly aware of all the ways in which I’m “leaving money on the table” – by not being on this social network, or not doing this particular marketing strategy. But I’ve made peace with it. My aim is to work less and less, and it means I don’t have time for everything. And some things make me more stressed than others, so for me taking care of myself means being choosy with what I do, taking time off and being OK with leaving money on the table.

Maybe your idea of a successful business means never having to hire a team of people, or never using certain social networks, or only working 5 hours a week. So what if any of this makes your business grow a little more slowly than someone else’s? You have the freedom to choose.

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2 thoughts on “8 Lessons I’ve Learned In 8 Years of Running My Own Online Business

  1. Kendall Norman says:

    This was an incredibly encouraging read, Ruth! It’s so comforting, freeing, and motivating to hear it reinforced that we can choose to run our business the way that works best for us. There is so much noise online (accompanied with guilt) from people saying business HAS to be done this or that way. There is so much peace in your business philosophy. Thanks SO much for sharing this with us!

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