The 10 Most Important Lessons I've Learned as an Online Business Owner

I left my career as an elementary school teacher in June of 2018 to go full-time in my product-based business. A lot has changed since then (more on this later), and I’ve had quite a bit of time to reflect on the last couple of years of running my first business — I faced a lot of challenges, especially in the beginning, and I see so many women who are currently where I once was not that long ago.

I didn’t have a professional coach or mentor, nor did I have any loans funding my little hobby turned online business; I started my brand in my parents’ kitchen on a random night after work and truly, from that moment, the rest was history. Looking back there are plenty of things I would have done differently, but there were so many important lessons and experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. This post is for all the women who are currently working their asses off to turn their online business dreams into reality — and need a little push to keep them going on that journey.



Lesson #1: Marketing is everything

Full disclosure — I was really, really, really awful at marketing. It took a lot of tears, frustrating conversations with my significant other, late nights combing through every resource I could find, and lots of patience to finally get a grip on marketing. The truth is, you can have the most incredible product but if you’re not working on marketing your business and giving people a reason to buy from you, it will be reflected in your sales (or lack thereof). Remember that.

We are often tempted to have this mindset of “build it and they will come” (I know I did at first), but you have to work on bringing people to you. In rare cases, people may randomly stumble across your social media or your website, but 99.9% of the time you have be taking actionable steps to get your future customers to your online store. There are so many facets to marketing an online business — SEO, social media, Pinterest, emails, cold-calling, in person networking — the list seems endless and extremely overwhelming at times.

My best advice: if you go the DIY route with your marketing, find out where your target market is hanging out the most and focus on one or two areas to begin with so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Get really good at marketing your brand in those two areas before you add another method to the mix. If you can afford to outsource your marketing, I highly recommend hiring someone to do a lot of the leg work for you. There are plenty of Virtual Assistants, SEO Experts, and general marketing strategists out there that are more than willing to help you at a variety of different prices. Alexa from Healthy Dash of Social is a digital marketing genius, and I totally suggest you check out her services if you need someone to help you out. Outsourcing takes a lot of the pressure and work off your shoulders, so you can focus on the other important tasks of running your online business. Whichever route you choose to take, know that marketing is absolutely essential to growing your brand.

Lesson #2: Start building your email list ASAP

In the same thread of marketing, you need to establish an email list as early on in your business as possible. I started my email marketing system so late in the game, and that is one of the things I wish I would’ve had in place right from the get go. A lot of people roll their eyes at this piece of advice, but you’ve got to start getting people on your list — even if you haven’t officially launched yet.

Why? Simple: you do not own your social media. If your account is hacked or a glitch happens, you can lose everything, easily. In addition to that, with the way the algorithms work at times, your content is not always being seen by your followers. You want to have a quick, convenient way to get directly in front of your target market — current and future customers alike — at any given moment, and e-mail marketing is the best way to do that.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you sign up or purchase through my link at no additional cost to you. Thank you so much for your support!

In the beginning I used MailChimp for my email marketing, but switched over to ConvertKit as I found it was much more organized and user-friendly; now, 9 times out of 10 I always recommend starting with ConvertKit. You can sign up for a free trail to start, and then choose a plan according to your preferences (and budget), when it’s time to upgrade. If you want to find out if ConvertKit is right for you, this article is super helpful and can help you decide if it will meet your needs.

  • To provide you with a little email marketing 101: When you are first establishing your email list, you will want to provide your future subscribers with a reason to give you access to their inbox. This happens by offering some sort of incentive in exchange for their email address that you will collect via an opt-in form. The opt-in form for the freebie (an ebook), that goes with this blog post might look something like this:

 

Important Lessons for Entrepreneurs

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    • For example: The incentive I’m offering you in order to collect your email address is the freebie (an e-book). The opt-in form is where you enter your email address to get access to the freebie. A stand-alone opt in page might look something like this, and can be created even if you don’t have a full website just yet, but want to start collecting subscribers. A stand-alone opt-in page can be created within your email marketing provider, who will then supply you with a unique link to share with your customers.

    Your incentive may vary depending on what type of business you have (or aspire to have). It may come in the form of discount codes, free shipping, e-books, informative articles, exclusive access to a subscribers-only membership portal, etc. If you do some digging around Pinterest or Google, you can find a long list of suggestions for possible incentives that make sense for your industry. Just keep in mind that most of the time, your customers aren’t just going to give you their address without knowing they’ll get something in return. Take some time and really think about what you will offer them.

    I promise I will have a full post dedicated to email marketing soon, because it’s a topic that a lot of entrepreneurs (and bloggers) wonder about. For now, just know that you should (1) choose an email marketing platform (2) create your opt-in form or page (3) offer/create an incentive and (4) deliver valuable, consistent content to nurture your list and keep your subscribers happy.

    Lesson #3: Get really, really clear on your ideal customer

    “When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.” – Meredith Hill

    While the context from this quote originally came from an article about attracting clients, it also holds true for product-based business owners: If you think you’re selling to everyone, you are selling to no one. Your products will. not. be. for. everyone. That’s just the reality — and that’s totally okay. You just need to figure out exactly who you are selling to.

    You need to get incredibly clear and incredibly specific when defining your ideal customer avatar. Who are you selling to? Why do they NEED your products? What problem are you solving for them? How old are they? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? (You’ll find a full worksheet in this free e-book to help you discover your ideal customer).

    You have to step outside of yourself, the business owner, and step into the mind of your ideal customer. Your products are for them and they are handing over their money to you. Take care of them, get to know them, and market to them. 

    Lesson #4: Don’t lower your prices as an attempt to generate sales

    One of the most difficult things in the beginning stages of my first business was determining prices. I worried that if my products were too expensive, no one would buy them, and if they were too cheap no one would see the value in them and I wouldn’t make any money. Initially my first instinct when I wasn’t making any sales was to decrease my prices, so I went ahead and cut my prices nearly in half as a desperate attempt to get more customers.

    The result? I barely broke even during that time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I lost money when I slashed my prices. People weren’t flocking to my store like I hoped they would.

    When I finally started charging what the products were actually worth, that’s when I realized I didn’t have to drop prices to bring in customers — people would actually pay the higher price if my marketing was in check. You need to dig really deep into the numbers here — know how much your products cost (whether you make them yourself or purchase wholesale), how much you put into making/packing/shipping your items, factor in any of your overhead costs, and decide how much you want to earn (your profit per item). There are plenty of resources out there to help guide you through determining your cost of production and your prices no matter what industry you’re in; I was lucky enough to have a financial analyst for a significant other to help me work through this process.

    Lesson #5: Create a lifestyle around your products

    A great price of advice I got early on in my first entrepreneurial endeavor was to create a lifestyle around my brand. This is where defining and understanding your ideal customer avatar really comes into play, and how it connects with your marketing strategies. Show your products in action. Curate a social media feed that is appealing to your target market and showcases your brand. Provide your audience with valuable, engaging content and give them a reason to need your products (or services). Sometimes it’s crystal clear on how you can develop your brand’s lifestyle, sometimes it isn’t so easy. Take some time to really sort this out.

    Lesson #6: Don’t be afraid to reach out to influencers

    I recently wrote a blog post about how entrepreneurs can work with influencers based on my experiences with my product-based business and as a micro-influencer myself. Using influencer marketing is a great way to get your brand out there and build a loyal customer base, but there are a few things to consider before you publish a post in a Facebook group asking for volunteers to review your products. When you go into influencer marketing blindly, you end up sending out a ton of free stuff with very little return, so you absolutely need to do your homework first. I highly suggest reading that post before you start collaborating with influencers, or even if you’ve already done some collaborations in the past. Regardless, don’t hesitate to reach out after you do some research on who would be a good fit for your brand!

    Lesson #7: When sales are stagnant (or non-existent) don’t churn out new products

    Keep. it. simple. This was a hard lesson learned for me. Early on I thought if I offered more it would bring in more sales, but all it did was stress me out, put me in the red, and spread me way too thin. I’ll go as far to say that it made me hate my business at times. You need to get really, really good at making and selling what you currently have first; then later on down the road once you’ve built up a loyal customer base and have your feet under you more, you can gradually introduce new products if the time, price, and demand is right.

    Lesson #8: Network, network, network

    My dad has ingrained the importance of networking into my brain for as long as I can remember, and I guarantee you he attributes much of his success to this very principle. Grab yourself some business cards, hit up local events in your area, talk to the stranger at the coffee shop, tell people what you do — it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, there are always opportunities to build new, meaningful connections and solidify existing ones. You truly never know what could come from a simple conversation with the person next to you.

    My favorite place to network online is inside Facebook groups. I’ve met so many incredible people within these various groups who have purchased from me, signed on as clients, and even purchased inventory at wholesale rates. I started a community for creative, entrepreneurial women that you can find here, but if you want to search for additional groups to join, I highly recommend browsing Facebook.

    Lesson #9: Your mindset is a crucial factor in the success of your business

    “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford

    I’ve always had a pretty crappy mindset, but towards the end of my teaching career, I slowly started to realize that I could re-wire my self-sabotaging brain to think differently. Running a business will test you emotionally, physically, and mentally, so loading up on personal development is incredibly important. If you don’t think you will succeed in your business, you won’t. Plain and simple. If things get really difficult and you can’t see yourself pushing through those challenging moments, you won’t. If you think you can succeed, however, you will. If you believe in every fiber of your being that you are destined for success and financial abundance, you are. That’s not to say we don’t have moments of self-doubt from time to time, but your resiliency, how you react to challenges, and how you bounce-back says a lot about your state of mind.

    Your mindset is a powerful tool: feed it, nurture it, and treat it gently. You can find my favorite personal development books for entrepreneurs here.

    Lesson #10: Patience is hard, but absolutely necessary

    Ah, my least favorite lesson of them all. I am not a patient person; and in a world where instant-gratification runs rampant and so many things are literally at our finger tips, patience is a difficult virtue to possess. Building a business takes a lot of time, and success just isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s so hard to be patient sometimes but you have to put your head down and keep at it. Keep providing value, building connections, and working on your marketing.

    Final Thoughts

    Starting and running your own business is not for the faint of heart — it will test you, break you, make you cry, and you will absolutely have moments when you ask yourself 'wtf am I doing!?’ but it will also show you how resilient you are. It will teach you important lessons, provide you with new, exciting opportunities, and maybe even uncover new skills and strengths you never would’ve noticed otherwise. If you’ve made the brave, bold decision to start a new business, if you’ve finally committed to transforming your candle-making hobby into a full-blow brand, or if you have taken the leap and left your career to be a full-time entrepreneur — I commend you. In a lot of ways, you’ve already done one of the hardest parts, and I’m proud of you for that.

    My inbox is always open if you want to chat, or just need some positive vibes sent your way. What are some important lessons you’ve learned running your business?

    xxElizabeth

    5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an Online Business

    When I started my first business I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I took a hobby and transformed it into my full-time job in about two years -- something I never imagined would happen in my life until I started my business. There have been many challenges, successes, and lessons learned from my entrepreneurial journey; when I sat down the other day to reflect on my first year as a full-time business owner, I found there were many things I wish I had known back when I first started.

    Read More

    Female Feature 01: Rachel From Zoe Jewelry Designs

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    I’ve been wanting to talk more about my experience running my own business because it’s a huge reason why I decided to start blogging again. Having a space to connect with other creatives and small business owners, share our experiences and most importantly support each other, is a major reason why I put so much energy into social media and my blog.

    Today I want to share a fellow female business owner with you. Rachel from Zoe Jewelry Designs and I connected on Instagram the other week. She shared her beautiful handmade jewelry business with me and we spent some time chatting about being small business owners and what it can be like in the early stages of a new business.

    I recently received the necklace I ordered from Rachel and fell in love with it. I love dainty pieces like hers and the feather pendant was right up my alley. She has several other cute pieces on her Etsy Shop and many of them are currently 10% off — plus you can get an additional 10% off by entering the code WELOVEYOU at checkout!

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    I love that Rachel’s pieces are handmade, dainty and elegant and are suitable for any occasion. Her price point is very reasonable, and any of her items would make gorgeous gifts, especially with the holidays coming up. On her Etsy shop, Rachel shares a beautiful message about her jewelry designs:

    “I make all of my jewelry with love and compassion, and hoping to share that same sentiment with you as they make their way to your home. I use the highest quality of metals, and natural gemstones, making them very powerful pieces to wear.”

    My next purchase from Rachel will definitely be one of her gemstone bracelets! If you’d love to support another female small business owner, you can check out Rachel’s Instagram over at @zoejewelrydesigns and her Etsy Shop Zoe Jewelry Designs to give her some love!

    As both a business owner and a blogger myself, I know how difficult it can be in the beginning. Exposure is key and it’s not easy to do it alone. I want to help other women get the recognition they deserve and show support for their hard work. Having an online presence in the form of a blog or business is a wonderful tool for growth and sales, but it can certainly be challenging at times. I truly believe so many great things can come from us spreading the word and supporting each other here!

    Rachel’s feature and my desire to share more about running a small business inspired me to create a new series here and on Instagram, featuring female bloggers and business owners on a bi-weekly or weekly basis. There are some incredible women I’m going to be featuring here soon and I’m so excited to share them with you all over the next several weeks!

    If you or someone you know is a small business owner leave their business or blog below — I’d love to check out and support their blog or business however I can!

    xxElizabeth

    what no one tells you about leaving your 9-5

    If you’re active on social media I’m sure you’ve seen countless posts from work-from-home bloggers, business owners, and network marketers talking about how incredible their life is now that they work for themselves. I’ve certainly shared many times how much happier I am now that I am no longer stuck working a job that was truly sucking the life out of me, but the reality is it isn’t always unicorns and rainbows every day. It is hard, stressful, and often unpredictable, especially when you are first starting out.

    I speak very little of my teaching career here, other than how unhappy I was the last couple of years at my job. The truth is, I LOVED teaching when I first started. It was everything I worked for. Heck, I even went and got a Master’s degree for it. You know going into the field of education that it isn’t going to be an easy or high paying career; what no one tells you though is just how hard it can get. How it can take a toll on your body, mind and spirit. How it can break you into a million pieces and take you away from the people you love and care about. I think the same goes for many other fields, especially if you are miserable at work every day.

    But the other thing no one tells you is how much you’ll miss everyone you worked with when you leave. I miss my coworkers so much it hurts sometimes. They were my family. They were my home away from home during the day. We endured so much together. I miss my former students. I miss hearing about their weekends. I miss hearing them call my name and telling me they need me to help them tie their shoes or help them solve a conflict with their friends. I miss drying their tears that hurt my heart every time I saw them fall from their eyes. I miss celebrating small victories and watching them hit milestones that no one but a teacher could understand. I miss their voices, their funny little mannerisms, and their innocence.

    I miss them all so much, and some days I wish I could be back with everyone just one last time — but then I remember that I had to do something really big and scary and put myself first. A lot of things were changing that were out of my control while I was still there. I spent a lot of days crying in the bathroom while the kids were at their humanities classes. I’d lock the door, sink down to the floor and just cry — wishing I could be at home. When things changed the passion I once had started to deteriorate. I was no longer happy with what I was doing in my career and that wasn’t fair to my students, coworkers or MYSELF. I lost a part of me in the last couple of years, but in the last few months since I left, I gained part of myself back.

    If you’re a teacher, I applaud you. I have the utmost respect for you. In many ways you are stronger than me for holding one of the most difficult jobs in the world. You do things no one will ever understand or appreciate. But the moral of this story is this: if you don’t love it, leave it. And if you finally decide to leave it don’t ever stop when things get tough. You simply cannot put a price on your happiness or sanity. It may not be an easy road all the time, but I can promise you it’s worth it. I will always cherish the good memories I had from my teaching career, and will always appreciate the difficult moments because they made me a better, stronger person in the long run. I’m grateful for where it all led me to today, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.

    Whether you are considering leaving your career to work for yourself, or have already left, you are going to experience so many highs and lows. You’ll want to celebrate the highs and will likely consider giving up with the lows are really low. To be honest, there have been many times when I’ve said to myself: “WTF am I doing!?” and I know there will be moments where I say it again. I’ve lied awake at night worrying whether or not I’d be able to pay my bills or keep my business afloat, and I’ve shed many, many tears.

    But when you choose to work for yourself, you have to have unshakeable determination and belief in yourself. There are going to be people who question your decision, people who will doubt you and judge you. There are going to be insanely challenging moments that will test your strength — don’t let those moments break you. Remember why you started working for yourself in the first place, and let that push you onward. I am so lucky to have an amazing support system of friends, family members and my significant other who want to see me succeed and who believe in me; I realize not everyone is that lucky.

    There are a few things I wish I would have done differently before I left my job that would have made things a bit easier now that I’m on my own (more on that later), but I can’t go back and change that. All I can do is learn from it and use my experiences to help other people through this blog, which is what inspired me to start How She Does It in the first place.

    Despite these challenges that come with working for myself, it makes me so happy to do something I’m truly passionate about. I am forever grateful that I get to wake up every morning and work from the comfort of my own home, make my own schedule, and live my life on my on terms. I can’t imagine things any differently now, and made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would do whatever it takes to be my own boss.

    xx Elizabeth

    If you are an entrepreneur I’d love to hear from you. I’ve been looking for individuals to guest post here to share their experiences about life after leaving their 9-5s. If you’re interested in guest posting, please send me an email at howshedoesitco@gmail.com