9 lessons from 9 years in business


It’s been nine years of running my graphic design/branding boutique, Silver Spoon Studio and also being a photographer for the past five years – I’ve really learned so much along the way.  Mistakes were plentiful as much as the successes.  Turning a passion into a full-time while on my own, meant I was really putting myself to the test.

I mention the last sentence because I think it’s frightening for a single gal to do something on her own with no backup plan other than her college degree, experienced resume and whatever is in savings or stock accounts but I say it because I want to empower you.  If you wonder if you need to have a safety net in order to pursue dreams – probably better yes, but I wouldn’t put dreams on hold for that.  Just save enough money and build up your dream while you have a steady 9 to 5 job.  I used my shoe money to invest in lenses and equipment.

So many things I’ve learned that I wanted to pass along to you if you are boss lady.

9 lessons I’ve learned:

  1.  Learn to evolve.  The economy changes, industries become saturated, and if you don’t offer multiple services you won’t be able to move with the changes.  From graphic design, marketing to photography and writing, it’s a good thing to have several skills when you are in a pinch and need to evolve to make money.
  2. Learning to say no to opportunities that don’t make sense. It’s not being snobby, it’s being selective or rather realistic on what you want or can allow to do given time, energy and if it’s a good fit for what you actually do.  Once you realize you are the boss of you, you realize your ability to exercise no – whether it’s now or later, or just not right now. It’s also saying no to just looking busy because if it doesn’t pay the bills or have interest to you, that’s OK.  Have no guilt.
  3. Always charge.  There are things you don’t charge, like normal friend things you do, but when it comes to things you do as a profession, you must and should exercise your right to charge, after all, you could be using that time taking a paid job.  Your real friends will understand that it’s your bread and butter, we all have bills to pay.
  4. Stay positive and be around positive people.  If you’re going to make it, you have to believe it and you have to surround yourself with people who believe it too.  Have meet ups to talk shop and just encourage one another, it’s best to find those who are in the same boat as you, starting up or more advanced.  If you’re going to complain or whine, stop doing what you’re doing.
  5. Share the networking/wealth.  The best way to make friends in the business is to include them or pass along a referral.  The good vibes will always come back. It’s also nice to have a buddy so you don’t go alone to networking events.
  6. Stay on brand. This includes your marketing collateral, thank you cards, packaging, all of it – to the way you dress and respond to emails and present yourself is important.  Be a thankful business owner and send thank you cards and gifts at the appropriate time.
  7. Take advice from people who have done it – successfully.  I listen with both ears from a person I know has done it well and who I want to model myself after.  If someone has failed you can listen to their lessons in failure, and pay attention to the success of someone who has been successful.
  8. Consider a loss as a valuable lesson.  If you experience a bad client or project (we ALL have) or you felt you didn’t charge enough for your time – that is not wasteful, it’s a huge lesson you will take with you and hopefully never experience again.  Knowledge is power.  Mistake on you? Apologize when necessary – own it, and fix it – whether it’s a discount or doing another job on you.
  9. Education is worth the investment.  Education will always be worth the money – classes, workshops, conferences will sharpen your skills and one lesson can turn into a profitable one!  You will always get your money back from attending a workshop as long as you take the knowledge and put it to good use.

Realizing you are in 1 of 2 positions:

  1. Starting out you need to book anything and everything.  You take any job.  You are learning what you love, what you hate, but neither really matters yet because you’re so happy to get a job.  A job is a job.  That’s OK, you need to either build your portfolio, figure out who you are, what you like, don’t like, or build up your bank account.  This is not a bad place to be, this is probably when you will make a lot of money by taking any opportunity and make the most out of networking opportunities.
  2. Selective due to time or perspective.  You start to have less and less time, or you realize that job isn’t worth the time because 1) You don’t have much time or 2) It doesn’t make you happy.  Best of all, you have the ability to say no because you have worked hard enough to be selective about the jobs you take (every business owner’s dream), or you are financially in a place where you only want to do what makes you keeps you creative, and happy.

Knowing what position you are in and realizing sometimes you can go back between the two, will allow you can make wiser decisions with your time and talents.  It will also help you keep the right perspective so you can also avoid entrepreneurial burn out.  And always be kind to everyone, even if you are discouraged, even if you find yourself not at the level you want to be yet, the more you are around the energy the more it should propel you, learn all you can from one another and share – this world can be a lonely place without encouraging friends who know the ups and downs of being a small business owner.

{Photo: Melissa Schollaert / Makeup and hair: Lizzy Marsh}

Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive antique shopper. You can typically find her in her garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party.



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