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5 Things I Learned From Starting My First Business

Apr 8, 2022

5 Things I Learned From Starting My First Business

Over the last 15 years, I have started all kinds of businesses. From being an Etsy shop owner, a photographer, running a photography nonprofit, coaching photographers in business, to now being a business coach and brand strategist. I have a lot of experience running a business and I want to share that with you! So I am going to look back on the things that have really helped my business grow and talk to you about the 5 things I learned from starting my first business. 

To give you a little bit of background, 15 years ago, I was eight months pregnant. My husband and I were moving to Arizona so that he could go to medical school and I was waiting for the arrival of my first baby. I had no job and I didn’t have much to do, but I knew I wanted to create something. And that’s how I came up with the idea to start an Etsy shop selling little girl hats.

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Starting My First Business

Yep. That’s right. You know the hats with the big bows on them? That was me selling them! 48 hours after my first listing I sold five hats. It was amazing! And that’s when I realized how magical having an online business could be.

My hat business slowly transformed into making custom little girl dresses. And then from there, I started making dress kits and patterns. It was pretty successful for me, especially as I was having babies and growing a business. So what five things have I learned from that Etsy experience? I didn’t have money to create courses, I didn’t have anyone teaching me what to do, I just started!

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1. Learn to Lean Into What Makes You Different

The first lesson I learned when starting my first business was to lean into what makes you different. This applies to everyone! On Instagram, you probably have some favorite people that you follow. Right? Why do you follow them? Is it because they’re like everyone else? No! It’s the stuff that makes them different that makes us follow them. When I was selling dress kits it was the kits that made me different. Everyone else was selling just the patterns or pre-made dresses. This allowed me to stand out in a niche of women who wanted to make their own homemade dresses.

So find what makes you different. And don’t look to other people to figure out what you should be doing. There is something that you are doing that is different than other people. How can you do it more? You are special and you need to put your voice out there!

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2. Business Comparison Kills Creativity

The second thing I learned from starting my first business is that comparison will rob your creativity. When I would look at all of the other people making dresses, it was easy to want to copy what I saw instead of letting myself be inspired and creative with my dresses. Nowadays, it can be tempting to time scrolling on Instagram and look at how everyone else is doing it. But this will almost always end in comparing your content and killing your creativity. Comparison leads to never feeling good enough. And you don’t want to duplicate what someone else has already done anyways. Be original! Create content you love that will serve your unique audience and your business will grow.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Pivot Business Ideas

In my Esty shop journey, there were a lot of pivots along the way. Don’t be afraid to pivot! If you’re just starting your first business, you won’t magically have all the information that you need to make every decision. Do you think that I should have continued making little girl dresses for 15 years? No, because I outgrew it! It was my first business and I was just testing the waters. So as you are starting out, don’t be afraid to test a product and have it fail. It’s okay. You’re learning things. Let yourself change as you see the need to change.

My business changed as my life and my audience changed. I ran my Esty shop for 5 years. During that time I was pregnant and had a couple of little babies. But by the time I had 3 kids that were growing up fast I didn’t have as much time to spend making custom dresses. This is why I moved on to making dress kits. It was faster and I made more money. It’s a good thing to start in one place and end up in another. You want to keep evolving. Trust that you are going to know when it’s time to change. And when it’s time to pivot, pivot.

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4. Start Your First Business Today!

I’m sure we have all found ourselves waiting for the perfect time to start our business. Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There is no perfect day to start. So start now! If you’ve thought of a business you want to start then it’s time to go for it. Because I can guarantee that the idea that you start with today, probably isn’t going to be the same in 10 years anyway. And you’ll never know how successful your business could be if you don’t start somewhere. Your idea is going to evolve and you’re going to have to put yourself out there. This way you can start getting feedback from people and serve your audience. This is how to start creating the business you feel called to create. 

5 . I Learned How to Start Setting Up Systems

The 5 th thing I learned from starting my first business is that systems are your friend. When I first started out I thought I had to create everything from scratch. I wanted everything to be a new customized product. But the truth is, not everything has to be reinvented. Whether that’s an email sequence or a little girl’s hat, you can have systems in place that make it a lot easier for you to grow your business. For example, you can have a repeated system in place every time a customer buys something from you. Maybe they automatically get sent a follow-up email and a customer survey. That would be much quicker than writing a new email to every one of your customers. 

I lacked systems when I first started doing photography and it caused me a lot of problems. When someone would ask about my pricing I would give them an answer based on how confident I felt, how well I knew them, and/or how much I thought they could afford. I wasted my mental and emotional energy trying to set the perfect price for each client.

When I eventually figured out I needed to have a set system for pricing and scheduling, my business changed. And I changed. I showed up as a more professional and organized photographer. That’s why you need to have systems in place. They will save you time and money and allow you to be more confident in your business. Honeybook and Monday.com are two of the apps I use to do this. You can get 50% off of Honeybook if you use my code here. If you’re looking for automated business tools to help you keep your business organized you can find 5 in my blog post here.

5 Things I Learned From Starting My First Business

So now here I am, a brand and marketing strategist. It has taken me 15 years to get here and I’ve learned amazing things all along the way. I’ve learned how to sell digital and physical products, take better pictures, show up on YouTube, and blog! This is all happened because I took that first step and you should too because who knows where you’ll be in 15 years if you do. 

Thank you for supporting me all of these years! You can follow me on my Instagram @iammichellegifford for more business tips and tricks. And if you want to learn more about how to accomplish your business goals you can read my blog about that, here.

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