Top 10 learning experiences of 2014

I feel like anyone who starts their own business approaches most situations as -learn as you go. When I graduated college and interviewed for my first job, the guy (my future Art Director) interviewing me looked at my portfolio and kindly nodded at all of my, kind of horrible, design work. He hired me (I was shocked!) and said, "I see your potential, and you will learn more in the first few weeks than you did all of your years of college." Regardless of how much you already know, there is always so much more you will learn when you are right smack dab in the middle of it and that is what built a confidence inside of me. I may not know anything right now in this moment, but I am willing to learn and that's half the battle. 

This year has been all about learning experiences and feeling like I don't know what I am doing, but I am happy to have the experience under my belt and share them with you. Here we go! 

Your questions aren't dumb, so ask as many as you can.

Seriously though. I thought every question I had (sometimes still do) was stupid and "elementary", but the reality is everyone has to start somewhere and if you aren't asking questions or for help then your being too proud. In the words of some who is wise-- Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Networking and community are very valuable.

If for no other reason than the obvious, having people you can call when you have a question, or for advice, or even people to potentially work with someday, it is totally and completely worth it. When I quit my job, I felt so alone. I worked at home, by myself, and didn't have human interaction much. That is still the case most days, but I have built personal and professional friendships that make the loneliness of owning a small business, not so lonely. As far as networking goes, my husband always tells me "You are better at it than you think you are". And not to toot my own horn, but I think he is right. I also think that applies to YOU too. We are our own worst critic. Also, There is no secret into getting involved in networking groups in your city. Facebook, google, local paper, community websites-- there are many places to look. For me, I sought out the Small Business Development Center in my city, and they helped me find a few I could participate in. 

Seek disciplined, sustained growth over reckless growth.

My Dad, a small business owner himself and my mentor, mentioned this months ago about his own business. I quietly absorbed his words and thought really hard on them. What he didn't know at that time was that I was in the middle of making a decision on how to handle a large (to me) financial commitment/investment in a new product. When ever you come to a point where you have to risk more to gain more, things get tricky. You don't want to screw yourself over, BUT if you play coy will you reach the full potential? I think those risky moments are when this phrase comes into play. Appropriately discipline yourself when passion and drive are pushing you off a ledge to test if you fall or fly. Do not be reckless and be clear headed in knowing the difference between the two. My Dad's guidance helped me settle on the best option, and from there God made a way to make it happen and successful.

Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle. 

Completely guilty of this. When I started my shop, I was following Lara Casey and Emily Ley thinking, "I want to do that! I want to be that successful!" Who doesn't?! They have worked their butts off to get to where they are now. They have stories of hardships, let downs, and down right NO'S in their repertoire that you can only get by experiences along the way. But you actually have to experience them. And a phrase I am learning to embrace - The Joy is in the Journey. Your story is important, so don't try to skip the good stuff. Be right where you are and enjoy it. God will take you to your destination in his perfect timing.

Make honorable decisions that your grandparents would be proud of. 

When I was in high school and college, anytime I left the house my mom would say "Remember who you are and where you came from." We always kind of joked about it, but it really did make me think. If you are doing something bad and you think "What would my nanny say if she saw me right now?" - It makes you think twice right!? In a world of business it's hard because it can get really ugly really quick. Being manipulative or conniving could also be categorized as "business savvy". In my position, I have always wanted to keep my faith at the forefront of my business and that means playing fair and being kind- even if that isn't always naturally what I want to do, or very pretty. At times, the best decision is the hardest, but at the end of the day, it is true to who I am and a reflection of the one I strive to be like. 

Never give up. 

This applies to everything in life. If it makes you smile- don't give up on it. When first spoke about owning my own business to family and friends, even my business owner Dad was like "You sure about that?" But since I was in school, deep down I knew that working for a company was my first goal, and going off on my own was the next thing in line.  I never gave up on the dream to be my own boss. I never gave up on creating faith based products that were meaningful and important, even though begin so outward with my faith hasn't always been the easiest route. The lesson to learn here is simple. Just be you and do what you feel called to do, even if someone you love doesn't understand it. Which perfectly brings me to the next lesson learned...

Respectfully don't listen to the people who disagree with you..

...when you know in your heart you are doing the right thing. This could be your family, your friends, competitors, jealous people, or who ever. The book You were made for a God-Sized dream by Holley Gerth (I quote her in the Humbled Hearts Daybook) touches on this in such an encouraging way. It's not that our loved ones don't want what's best for us, they do! Infact I think they want the best for us so much that it makes them nervous because they know our heart is fully in it and they just don't want us to get hurt. My parents were not sold on the idea of me quitting my job to do my own thing. To them it sounded reckless, naive, and maybe a little crazy. But they could not see what was in my heart and the calling that God put before me. They weren't in on that convo... but even so, I knew it was the right thing to do. And indeed, I have been so fortunate with a steadily growing business, as well as working with my Dad that It had only reassured me that I did it right. God takes care of his children when they live their lives for, with and through him. So if you are confident in your faith and know you are being lead (or pushed in a direction) I suggest you read that book above. It filled the scariest transition with faith and promise. 

Saying NO is good for you.

Thats right! Ever since I was in college and started to fall in love with design, I wanted to do errrythang! It resulted in a lot of crappy work, but I needed the money and wanted the experience. We get caught up in that so easily when we are freelancers, but the reality is that when you say 'no' to things that you know you don't have time for, or that you don't think is in your realm of expertise (or maybe you just don't want to do it!) it refines us as a brand. It tells people "Yes, I know who I am as a designer, and instead of doing whatever to make a quick buck, I take my time and skills seriously." Did you ever think the word NO meant so much!? So when you are faced with this situation, address it respectfully and decline their offer in a kind way. Maybe say, "I greatly appreciate you thinking of me for this, but at this time I am unable to devote my time to your project. Here are some other designers that may be better suited for your needs..." You really can't go wrong. You were nice and didn't break any bridges, and you sent the referral to another designer-- which always makes people happy. 

The longer you 'what if' yourself, the less money you are making.

"What if I had done that differently?" Like a broken record, this has played in my head so often over the past year. And when I actually give those thoughts my attention, I stare blankly into my computer screen paralyzed by my insecurity, which wastes gobs of time. And we all know the phrase - say it with me - TIME IS MONEY. Sure us business owners, are working around the clock anyway, so what is this concept of time that I speak of? Ha! Wasted time is the WORST reason for not getting things accomplished. So in an effort to demolish the 'what if's' hanging over your head, take these action steps instead (allow your self 5 minutes to process and get over it).

• Own your decision

• Make a mental note of the outcome and do it better next time if necessary. 

• Move on. 

You can make a difference.

When I was in design school, my professor used to say "You aren't going to change the world with your design, so you need to get over your self and keep moving forward." That statement was said in the context on this thought "My work is important and if no one likes it then, I don't need their business anyway!"- thoughts of a moody designer. Some times, some designers get a big head and think that just because they can't do something their way, then game over. We've all been there once or twice! So, in that mindset, my professor's advice was right on, but when I heard it I took it to heart (like I do most things) and it discouraged me. As someone who puts their heart into their work, we want to believe we can make a difference with the work we put out there. And a lot of people will downplay our skills and discount our worth as creative entrepreneurs. Well I am here to tell you that it doesn't matter what you do or who you are, you can make a difference in any way, at any point in your journey. My art prints aren't going to ensure world peace, but the kindness I show people, the grace I give others, and the way I carry myself in tough situations shows the amazing works and Love of the Lord. THAT my friends is how we leave the world better than we found it. You can make a difference.

Just be you. (no. 11 - bonus!)

God gives us all we need in order to be the best version of our selves from the moment we enter the world. We just have to find it and use it. Being yourself is the greatest thing you can offer the world, and the only thing that sets you apart from everyone else.

What is something you have learned in your professional/personal life recently? I hope sharing my top 10 will help encourage you to make 2015 a productive year!