I know it’s a bit late to be sharing a 2020 wrap-up post, but that’s honestly evidence of how this year has gone for me–just behind, on all the things.
I thought about not writing it, since it’s already mid-January, but then I decided that late truly is better than never. 2020 really was a huge year of learning for me, and one of the things I have enjoyed most over my 8 years of business is passing on what I learn to other entrepreneurs like me. Each year I am in business, I feel more passionate about what I call the “small economy,” and about women (and men too!) being able to use their creative giftings and talents to bless their families.
So even though you may be done already with end-of-the-year lessons, I hope you will indulge me and read just one more post!
This was my 8th year in business, 6th year running an e-commerce site, and my first full year of having my own brick and mortar store. Even without the backdrop of all the chaos 2020 created, it would have been a challenging year anyway. Starting all over, in a new state with a new customer base is not easy. Adding a new paint line is not easy. Learning to manage employees is not easy. I could go on . . . but you get the drift 🙂
But as I looked back on the year, I really do feel proud of myself for what I was able to accomplish. And even more proud of myself for all the new things I learned how to do. New skills, added to hard work and just general “keeping on,” made for a pretty darn good year.
I would love to pass along some of the things I learned, in hopes that it may help you in your own small business. Learning from each other and growing together is one of the best things we can do when faced with a year like the one we just finished.
So let’s get started 🙂
Lesson 1– Your Relationship with Your Customer Matters
I was fortunate in that our state never mandated my store close this past year. But I did voluntarily shut down for about 6 weeks, starting in mid-March until the start of May. I found myself suddenly homeschooling my 3 boys, hunting for toilet paper, and generally wondering what in the world was happening.
During those six weeks of being closed, I still had to pay my shop rent, utilities, insurance, and all the other bills associated with keeping that place going. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to get that done without actually being open to customers, but I soon learned I didn’t need to worry.
April wound up being my highest sales month ever. Like, weird, crazy high. I literally could not keep paint in stock, and anything I posted on my Facebook page sold. Items that had been sitting for 4 or 5 months suddenly were the hottest finds. One person purchased $400 in gift cards. I’m telling you, it was crazy.
I know that when the lockdown started, lots of people in my industry (DIY and home decor) had a sales boost, so I was fortunate enough to find myself in a trending industry.
But above that, my customers showed up. I cannot tell you how many times someone told me they were buying from me because they wanted to make sure my business survived, that they wanted to show their support for our family in a tangible way. Many, many times I was brought to tears by the messages I received.
What became truly clear to me is that all those years of purposefully trying to build a relationship with my customers was paying off. Times were tough, and they were there for me because it felt like we were old friends.
If you want to know one simple thing you can do to grow your business this year, try getting to know your customers and let them get to know you. I promise it will benefit your business.
Lesson 2– Get Help
I’ve been saying for years now that I need to hire someone to help me pack online orders, or manage my emails, or a whole long list of things. But hiring someone always felt so hard, and I convinced myself it was just easier if I kept on doing it myself.
Boy, was I wrong!
So this year I hired two employees–one person to help work at my Studio two days a week, another to help pack online orders 3 days a week. They both have been such a huge help that I can’t imagine now how I went along without them!
And yes–there was some work that went into training them. I did have to spend a bit of extra time on the front end showing them how to do what needed to be done, but before too long, I was able to leave them to work completely on their own. And now probably 30-40% of my weekly work chores have been handed off, which means there is more time for me to paint, create, hunt for junk, write, and plan.
I bet many of you reading are one-woman (or one-man) shows. You probably do all the things for your business and are saying as you read this that there is no way you could afford to hire someone.
I thought the exact same thing! But here’s the crazy thing–when you hire someone to do the things others can do, that means you get to go spend time doing the things only you can do, which is how your business grows.
Your business needs your unique, creative gifts. Someone else can prep your furniture, or handle your books, or pack your orders. But only you can create and market and connect (remember lesson one?). So don’t write off hiring help without giving it serious thought. You can thank me later 🙂
Lesson 3– Don’t Assume You Can’t Until You Try
So this is kinda related to the above lesson. When I hired my employees, I had to learn how to run payroll. It has literally been 20 years since I have been on someone’s payroll, and I honestly had no clue what even went into paying someone through payroll.
I am generally bad with numbers and all things administration, so I assumed this would be a disaster for me. And at first, it was kind of confusing. But I asked questions, got some help, and now breeze through my payroll reports twice a month easy peasy.
That’s just one example of things this year I assumed I couldn’t do, but actually wound up being able to pull off. I bet you have a list of things yourself that you are just sure you will never be able to do. Well my friend, you just may surprise yourself!
Lesson 4– Sometimes Things Don’t Work Though, and That’s OK
Maybe this should be Lesson 3A? After that pep talk about trying stuff you don’t think you can do, it’s also important to be ok with yourself when one of your new things doesn’t work.
There were several things I tried for my business this year that just didn’t go well. The temptation, for me at least, when that happens is to get really down on myself for what feels like a failure.
But again, how would I have known unless I tried? That Women’s Expo I spent 2 weeks preparing for . . . Yep, it was a bust. But now I know that next year when they come knocking I can say no.
And that new craft I was sure would sell like hotcakes? Well, I wound up barely getting my money back on what I spent for supplies. So now I can cross that off my list of potential projects to try.
I learned this past year that I have to be ok with taking a risk and trying new things. If they work, then awesome! If not, that’s ok too.
Lesson 5– Set Clear Work Boundaries and Stick to Them
When you’re running your own business, especially scrambling in the midst of a global pandemic to keep things going, it can be easy to be “on” all the time. There is always one more item you can post, one more coat you can paint, one more call you can take. Turning it off can be tough.
But that is exactly what you have to do. At some point, you have to stop working.
I’ve talked about having work boundaries for a while now, but have never really been serious about setting them until this past year.
When the lockdown started and everybody’s routines went haywire, I was being contacted at all hours of the day and night, asking for help with painting projects or prices on what I had for sale. Remember I told you it went kinda crazy?
I definitely went through a few weeks where I was on my phone constantly, answering every message, comment, and email as fast as I could. But that was just not sustainable. I found out pretty quickly I could not always be “on.” I had to have times where I could be available, and times where I couldn’t, otherwise my brain would never shut off and be able to relax.
So I put an auto-reply in my Messenger and email, and start leaving the shop phone at the store during off hours (instead of taking it home with me). I made a point to not pick up my phone first thing in the morning, but wait until my “business hours” to start looking through my social media to see what questions were out there.
There were also shipping policies I put in place to streamline our process and certain “extras” we stopped saying yes to. I’ve said “no” much more over the last half of 2020 than I did in the first, and it has helped me have more energy to put into serving my customers during those “on” hours.
Now this may sound like the exact opposite of working to build relationships with customers, but it’s not! Let me explain.
There is no way I can be available around the clock. There is no way I can make every exception that someone asks for. There is no way I can be present for my family and friends while always keeping an eye on my phone notifications. I will eventually go crazy, broke, or both.
And when that happens, that means Lost & Found can’t serve anyone anymore!
Setting boundaries in your business is actually a way to make sure you stay around to keep loving on and serving your customers. Saying “no” to the things that you can’t do enables you to keep saying “yes” to the things you can do. Taking time to purposefully not work means that when you are working, you can be more focused, productive, and present to help your people.
If you want your business to survive long term, that means you have to work hard for your boundaries. And if you have built a relationship with your customers, they will respect and understand what you’re doing. Remember, they care about you and want you to stay around so you can continue to create and find beautiful things for them! So don’t feel bad about taking care of yourself–when you do, you can go take care of others as well.
Well, if you are still reading pat yourself on the back! I know that was a lot to share and I appreciate you taking the time to read.
I hope if you have your own small or home-based business that something I shared has been encouraging or helpful. I hope 2020 didn’t knock you down too hard, and if it did–hang in there! There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I believe in you!
Thanks so much for being with me today and here’s to 2021 🙂