• Lynn Swords

One Isn't the Loneliest Number, Actually: Five Things I Learned in My First Year as an Entrepren



Here's what one year looks like.

Yes, this is me, October 1967.

Dad was wearing his skinny tie and Mom was gorgeous as usual.

Juggling her teaching job, taking care of a 3-year old and a 1-year old - she still managed to bake a homemade cake and set a lovely table.

My mom was at the top of her game.


What does one year look like for Ink & Key?

I wouldn't say I'm at the top of my game like Mom, but life at IK has definitely surpassed my expectations.

We celebrated our first birthday at the end of June, and seriously, one year in looks much different than I thought it would.

Here are five things I've learned in my first year at Ink & Key.

1. Don't wait until everything is perfect before you launch.

Why? You'll be waiting an incredibly long time, because things will never be perfect.

While building my website and doing a million other things, I set a goal of launching at the end of June. I decided to launch whether I was ready or not.

This was a good plan, since my list of things to do was definitely not complete. It would have been easy to wait another month, or three months, or even six months so I could be totally ready.

Thankfully, I think I knew that I would never be totally ready, and we all know that The List of Things to Do is going to keep growing anyway.


I realized that for me, launching didn't mean that hundreds of new clients would all of a sudden be bombarding me with contact forms and scheduled calls.

I was still going to have plenty of time to finish up that list, not to mention time to add to it and keep going.

2. Don't give up.

July came and went, then August.

Crickets.

I worked on my social media. I redesigned and rearranged my site.

I brainstormed processes with my team. I consumed as much relevant content per day as my brain would allow. I interacted with people in online groups and asked questions, but mostly listened in and absorbed as much wisdom, advice and expertise as I could.

I continued to work on all my old strategies and kept trying new ones. I definitely wasn't about to give up.

3. Think outside the box.

If one strategy doesn't work, try another. Since I started out with basically no budget for advertising, I had to try and find other ways to promote my services. I read countless articles about ways to do this. Some strategies worked better than others.

How did I learn which strategies worked? I tried almost all of them.

I learned as much as I could about my target audience and their pain points. I created a persona. I spent a lot of time trying to understand what kind of questions they had, and what they were searching for on Google. Based on that information, I went back to the strategies that were beginning to work, made a few changes, and tried some more.

4. Don't go it alone.

My saving grace = my team. One incredibly smart thing I did was to gather some incredibly smart people around me.

My branding team is a fantastic group that believed in me and my ideas to improve the experience of crowdsourced naming for everyone involved.

You can read about the pros and cons of crowdsourcing your new business name here: What's the Best Crowdsourced Naming Site?

Even though we went through a long waiting period before we got our first client, my awesome team cheered me on continuously, and we used that time to brainstorm ideas and improve our process.

Learning to lead such a wonderful group of folks is humbling.

Building relationships is also vital to your success. I learned that by building relationships with the right people, new streams of incoming clients can be created.

I think it goes without saying that you shouldn't just go out trying to get a handout from people in hopes they will post about you or send you referrals.

The best thing to do is to find ways to help them out, and expect nothing in return. Even if they end up never sending any referrals your way, you have done good for someone else, and that is time well spent, plus you are slowly and surely establishing a reputation for yourself.

5. Progress, not perfection.

Have I made mistakes over the past year? Umm, yeah. I have learned a lot about owning my mistakes. I have also learned about owning someone else's mistakes. The buck stops with me.

I made videos of myself, with my son's help, and actually put them on my website. You know, for people to see. (!) Has anyone else struggled with this? I've thought about giving a discount for people who can count how many times I say "um" in the welcome video.


I am okay with displaying me with all my imperfections because I believe that humanizing a brand is important. If you meet me in person, I'll probably say "um" once in a while, too.

When a client comes to Ink & Key, they're not dealing with a black hole of unknown minions who will take their money without bothering to say hello first.

I figure since clients are humans, they will appreciate working with other humans.

Don't try to do everything that everyone is telling you to do, either. I learned to give myself grace in this area. Pretty much being a one-woman show meant that I was doing everything. Was it possible to keep up with all of it? Not for me.

Like most entrepreneurs and startup owners, I've had to choose what I will focus my time on. If I have a large writing project to work on for a client, that will always be at the top of my priority list. Other highly valuable activities like blogging and social media posts have to be put on the back burner at times.

I also realized that the building stage of a business - when you are really working on the foundation of your company, creating policies and streamlining processes - this takes time. Building a firm foundation ranks right up there with taking care of clients. This is one of the reasons why my blog has been neglected. Other things have had to come first, and I'm okay with that.

Having said that, my building stage won't last forever, and neither should yours.

So -

Don't wait until everything is perfect.

Don't give up.

Think outside the box.

Don't go it alone.

Progress, not perfection.

What would you add to this list?

What's the most valuable lesson you've learned as an entrepreneur?

#entrepreneurs #thefirstyear #lessonslearned

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