In this post I share eight business lessons from my eight years in online business where I’ve founded and managed an ecommerce store, online education programs and membership sites and coached other impact-driven entrepreneurs to take their idea to impact in the online environment.

Last week I enjoyed a huge milestone in business. It was eight years since I created my first online eco business.

At the time I was still working full time with BHP, the big Australian and I was 7 months pregnant with my first child. I had this awesome business idea and I just thought, look, I’m just going to do it, and I jumped. I knew that opportunities only have a certain shelf life. I registered the name, I picked up the trademark, and then I developed the business while I was on maternity leave.

The rest is history…..

That first business grew to over six figures in revenue within about 15 months or so. Since then I’ve created two businesses that were turning over more than six figures and multiple brands within those businesses as well, which has been a really great exhilarating experience for me.

There’s been plenty of highs, plenty of deep, deep lows but throughout that time I’ve learned so many lessons. I really want to share some of my main lessons with you in this post, so here’s eight lessons from eight years in business, and in particular in online business.

Business Lesson 1: Business Building Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The very first lesson I have to share is that business building is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.

This means we really want to pace ourselves.

You’re in for the long haul, so if you were running a marathon, you’d stop at the drink stops, grab a drink. I guess you’d prepare for it, you’d make sure that you had adequate sleep, and you ate well. Same as business, you want to be looking after your body, nourishing yourself with good food and sleep.

In the early years of building my business that’s where I compromised. I stayed up late. I mean, I was building my business around babies. The only time the house was quiet was really between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m. at night. They were my three magic hours where I basically built my business, 8:00 to 11:00 p.m., maybe even 8:00 to 12:00, sometimes 8:00 till 1:00 a.m., which was not sustainable. I was compromising my health. I simply wasn’t pacing myself for the marathon.

Indeed, that took a toll on me. It took a toll on my marriage. It took a toll on my health. Possibly even took a toll on my relationship with my kids, some days I was just too tired to engage with them. I’m not going to beat myself up about that, that’s how it was at that time, and when you do have a business you’ve got to put in those hard yards to get ahead at times. But, I just want you to be aware that it’s a marathon and it’s not a sprint. Make sure that you’re looking after yourself for the long run.

Another aspect of this is having a long-term vision for your business.

I’m driven by opportunities. I get excited about my ideas and I want to implement them as fast as possible. Again, getting back to the marathon, not a sprint, there’s been times when I’ve rushed and I’ve been sprinting, not doing a nice jog that’s going to take me a while, and I’ve rushed decisions and have made mistakes and lost money in the process.

One example was my Home Detox Boot Camp when I initially set it up. Now when I built my first ecommerce website Sustainababy in 2009, everything had to be custom coded and built with a computer developer. Around five years later when I launched my Home Detox Boot Camp, WordPress was amazing, and the capability was there to create a simple sales page using WordPress. But I didn’t take the time to really look at that. I got the sales page custom coded into my main Sustainababy site, which cost me thousands of dollars in web development fees.

I rushed into that. I didn’t look at all my options on the table. I was sprinting. I was rushing. I wasn’t having a marathon, looking around me, looking after myself, thinking about my decisions. The first two rounds of Home Detox Boot Camp just paid off my web development fees, which were like $8,000 or something. It was ridiculous. A very expense lesson.

On the other hand, opportunities do have a shelf life so if you know that there’s one awesome opportunity that you really should be implementing, focus on that, and clear out the clutter. Narrow in on that one.

Business Lesson 2: Build Your Dream Team

You can’t do it all.

I know I at times think that I can do it all or I want to do it all but it’s just not conducive to business growth. Often if you delegate or subcontract out, things aren’t always done perfectly, but they can still be done good enough, and sometimes even better than you can do yourself.

What you really want to be ultimately doing as you grow your business and step into this space where you can become the CEO of your business, and that can be CEO with two staff, it doesn’t have to be 200 staff, you want to be building your dream team. Now you can start by outsourcing to subcontractors. My subcontractors helped me build my business to be what they are today, especially my branding expert and web developer who have just been gold and so invaluable to my team.

Also, you can recruit. You could take on your own PA or even someone to help you with social media, or something like that, and actually have an employee. They can be casual employee. They don’t have to be some VA off in the Philippines or anything like that, you can have someone in your own town. I have a local VA and they’ve been an immense help in my business.

Building your dream team of awesome support around you enables you to work in your zone of genius… the area where you’re really good at. Which for me is creating my content, writing the content for my podcast, recording my podcasts and my blogs, and supporting the members in my online programmes, or coaching one-on-one with my coaching clients. This is the stuff that I can’t really outsource. So essentially, I want to be getting helping in all the other aspects of my business to enable me to work in these areas, my zones of genius.

For the record, the very first thing I outsourced was my bookkeeping. I can tell you when I outsourced that, I had 30 more hours to work per month. Because that was back in the days of running a retail business and dealing with MYOB. These days, I’m in Xero. It’s so much easier, everything’s so much more systematised and it’s so much better. But all the improvements and the move from MYOB to Xero, my bookkeeper took care of that. Thanks Linda!

Business Lesson 3: Invest In YOU!

You are the biggest asset in your business, apart from your email list of subscribers, of course, and your customers. But you are so, so important. Invest in you and your well-being and your sleep and nutrition, like we’ve already talked about, but also invest in your learning.

The best value and the best growth I’ve had in my business is looking for people in online business or business, they might be a few steps ahead of me, or even years ahead of me, and working with them, like getting some mentoring from them or maybe doing one of their online courses. I’ve actually found the best value from having a business coach and being part of a mastermind with people at a similar level to me.

A really decent business coach can shave years, I mean, literally, years off your business journey and also save you from making some really costly mistakes in terms of money and time.

Invest in you, whether it’s just a small course so you can learn how to run your own Facebook ads or help getting someone to help you with the strategy in your business model, piecing it all together.

Business Lesson 4: Protect Your IP

What you’re putting out into the world is your genius, it’s your creativeness, your gift. Your livelihood.

You want to protect that IP.

It could be your business name, it could be the name for your eCourse, it could be a name of a product. Wither way you want to protect that IP with a trademark. Without a trademark someone can just whip it out from under your feet.

You don’t want to have gone all these months or even years building a business just for someone to launch a business with the same name but they just happen to trademark it and then you have to change everything.

I’ve seen this happen and I’ve also been on the other end where people have tried to steal my business name and my product names, but lucky I had my trademarks could stand on my own two feet and get them to change what they were doing. They didn’t like it. Sure enough, I was abused. Not everyone in business is nice, not everything in business is nice, and there’s some nasty people out there. But to protect your livelihood you need to protect your IP. I’ll leave that right there.

Business Lesson 5: Learn Some Tech

This is a little bit similar to investing in you in terms of getting a coach to really shortcut the journey, but it’s a bit more specific.

It’s expensive to be dumb. I’m much cheaper to be smart.

I’m not telling you to go out there and increase your IQ. I don’t think that’s really that possible anyway. But I’m really talking about the tech aspect of your business here. Take some time to learn at least the basic tech stuff.

I see this a lot with my coaching clients. They’re awesome on the creative stuff, and they can service their clients and blog and talk on videos till the cows come home. But, I constantly hear things like “Oh my God, Facebook ads is doing my head in! Setting up an email delivery sequence, sales funnels, my goodness, what’s a funnel? I can’t do all that!”

It’s tricky. I get it. If you’re really driven by your right brain, switching to your left brain can be really tricky, or vice versa, the left brain can find it really hard to be creative.

I’m just telling you that if you’re not even prepared to even look at that other side, you can be paying and you can be paying A LOT for simple tech support. In short, you can get ripped off.

I have seen this with some of my friends in business. It might be a Facebook ad agency or it could be your website. I have one friend who was running an online business, a retail business, and her web developer, well, she said was deliberately keeping her dumb. They didn’t want her to learn how to change anything on her website and this developer was costing her a fortune. These days websites are so easy to build and make your own changes to. I’m not saying all web developers are like that but some will like to keep you dumb.

For example, I used to do my Facebook Ads and then I outsourced them for 2-3 years, and then I bought them back in-house. It came a time when I was just looking at my cash flow and seeing how much money I was paying for everything. Again, things can make really good sense to outsource, they keep you working in your zone of genius, but situations change over time too. It might be that you’re taking a pivot in your business, like I was, and my cash flow took a hit in the meantime so I needed to bring some things that were outsourced back in my business, and Facebook ads was one of those.

Then I just invested in myself and got up-to-date training in Facebook Ads and away I went again managing my own ads in bursts of 10 minutes here and there. It was much more effective and much cheaper than staying dumb!

Business Lesson 6: Review Your Numbers..Regularly

I’m talking about those that boring profit and loss statements, or just your cash flow, even if you’re just tracking everything in an Excel spreadsheet. Just look at it. How are your sales tracking? How are your expenses tracking?

Finances, yes, sure, they can go up and down, but the best way to get a handle on them is to really look at them closely. I am the worst at this. If my husband was reading this he’d say, “Oh, God, practise what you preach, Laura,” and that is so true. I will definitely say over the last year or two of my business I’ve got a lot, lot better at looking at my own profit and loss statements.

Really getting a handle on your cash flow so you can see what’s coming up, if you need to put money aside and anything like that so you’re not caught out. There’s nothing worse than having to pull money off the mortgage to support the business if you’ve had a couple bad months. Yeah, I’ve done that. I’ve done that many times. It just makes me feel terrible, it makes my husband get a bit cranky. “What’s going on? How are you gonna fix this, Laura?” Then of course, I go back look at the numbers and fix it. So, look at your numbers before you get into that situation.

Business Lesson 7: ASK, Don’t Assume You Know What Your Customers Want

Sometimes we have a really strong gut feeling about something and we’re 100% right.

When I launched my first online business Sustainababy eight years ago, I was solely driven by a really big intuitive feeling, a big drive. I just knew I had to do it, I was getting pulled towards it, like there was nothing I could probably do that would stop me from creating that business.

I didn’t ask then. I just probably knew. I’m glad I did that, it happened and that was great, and it was a success. But there’s been plenty of times along the way where I didn’t ask or maybe I asked and I didn’t listen and that cost me time and it cost me money.

I’ll share an example with you….

When I first created my Home Detox Boot Camp, actually before I created it, I surveyed my following to ask where they wanted help in creating a more sustainable lifestyle. I had different options: reduce chemicals in your home, organic gardening, reducing your household waste, all this sort of stuff, reduce your home energy use. Reducing chemicals in the home was a clear winner, so that was the first product that I created. Bingo. I asked and I listened.

I launched the course twice and was about to launch a third time, after deciding to invest in a membership site, when I self-sabotaged.

I ran off and created an entire new entire eCourse and then I had to launch it. This was my greenHOUSE Home Energy Blitz, a course on reducing home energy consumption.

Creating and launching this new course meant that I put the Home Detox rebuild and relaunch on hold.

11 people bought greenHOUSE in that first launch, whereas when I finally relaunched Home Detox Boot Camp, over 50 people signed up (launch revenue was greater than $20,000).

Why am I sharing this?

I tried to get a lot of buzz and momentum around greenHOUSE, but people didn’t really want to know about reducing their home energy usage. They wanted to learn how to reduce chemicals and toxins in their home. They told me that. I initially listened and then I went and did something else.

So ASK!

Don’t assume you know what your followers and clients want and, of course, recognise that what they want can change over time.

Business Lesson 8: Don’t Be An Island

Now, you can get to where you want to be on your own. I’m not going to say that you can’t. There’s so many successful solopreneurs out there and, sure, they might subcontract or they might have a PA or VA and stuff like that, and just be sustainably building their following. But if you really want to go from here to there on your own, that’s a little bit trickier. How do you get from here to there easier and quicker?

You partner. You collaborate. You work with others.

Believe me, partnerships are where it’s at.

This may mean you end up working with people that you initially considered as competitors.

The best people I collaborate with, technically could be competitors. We’re targeting a similar niche or maybe a similar demographic.

You can get there on your own, but you’ll get there much, much faster, and make a bigger impact, if you partner. There’s so many examples of this in business. Now I know a lot of you are into wellness and stuff like that, so you know Jo Whitton of Quirky Cooking. When she brought out her cookbook and partnered with Thermomix, that was an awesome partnership. Awesome partnership for her. She got distributed all over Australia and beyond, but it was also great for Thermomix too, because they could benefit from the credibility of a really successful Thermomix consultant and Wholefood blogger, which was Jo Whitton. That was a great win-win one.

I’ll soon be announcing a very exciting partnership with Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs, which will help many more households learn these skills to create a healthier, more sustainable home. Watch This Space!

So, they’re some of my best lessons, in particular my eight lessons from eight years in business.

Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to my business. I’m going to celebrate and just also take this opportunity to reflect and look back on my last eight years and actually be really, really proud of what I’ve created and I am intensely proud.

I’m going to put it out there too that I hope this time, in 12 months’ time, definitely by the end of 2019, that I would love for my husband to be working in my business as well. He’s seen the lifestyle that I have and how much I enjoy the business. When he was on long service leave not too long ago he helped out in the business and did some work with me SEO and some of the tech stuff, which he’s amazing at. He’s decided, well, he would love to do that in school hours and help out with the after-school activities with the kids as well. So, that’s part of his dream as well.

I’m very proud of what I’ve created and I’m very, very excited with what’s to come, especially with my big partnerships that are happening at the moment with Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs. I’ll keep you in the loop.

All the very best to you as you continue to grow your business and especially using the power and reach of the internet as the opportunities are endless. But please, please, please just remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Look after yourself and those who you love while you’re growing your business, because you want them to be all there at the end of it too when you really smashed those goals.

For more strategies and support to help you grow your impact-driven business online, join my FREE Conscious Biz Creators Facebook Community.

Over To You!
What do you currently outsource or delegate in your business? If you’re doing everything yourself, what is the first thing that you’re going to outsource or delegate to somebody else? Pop that in the comments below.

Also, what’s one thing that you can learn in your business in the next month? Something that could save you some money that you’re currently outsourcing. Or alternatively, something you can systematise or automate in your business to save TIME! Please share below!

Laura

Laura

Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Laura