What I've learned in my first month of running an online business

byLucinda Virtual Assistant has now been open for business for one calendar month, and boy have I learned a lot! From handling finances, finding life/work balance, marketing, self care, these are the things I learned in my first month of running an online business. More at www.bylucinda.co.uk/blog!

So you may have seen me popping up on your Twitter feeds promoting my services as a Creative Virtual Assistant lately... well, byLucinda Virtual Assistance has formally been open for business for exactly one calendar month today and I've learned a truck load. Granted, I worked as a VA for most of 2014 at Creators of Desire, but this time I was going it alone. Some of it makes me want to cry, and other parts make me wish I did this years ago. But for now, there's no use getting hung up on the shoulda, woulda, coulda's. I can only impart my experiences to you..

Make the most of free trials

When it comes to business management software and tools, it's like being a kid in a candy store. At least it's like that for someone like me who finds organisation the sexiest thing in life. I'm kidding (I'm not kidding), but one of the key things I've learned is to hunt around for software that fits you best. There are so many amazing creative tools out there for creative entrepreneurs like us and it all felt a little overwhelming at first. Different interfaces work best for different people, and so I took to seeing what my business-boss-lady idols used. One I found most useful was Jen Carrington's Make It Happen Podcast featuring Megan Minns which you can listen to here. They discussed their favourite tools of the trade and I found almost all of them were either free or at least came with complimentary free trials. This way, I was able to test them to their limits before investing.

The tools I ended up settling on were:

Asana

For project management, list making, note taking and all the little 'bits and bobs' type things. You can check out Asana by clicking here.

17 Hats

For client management, attaching important files to each client (such as contracts and invoices), calendar tracking and booking in consultations. You can try out 17 Hats for free here.

FreshBooks

For invoicing and managing payments. It took two seconds to connect my Stripe and PayPal accounts for super fast payments and Freshbooks also offer a free trial which you can test run here.

Simpletax

I don't know about you, but I think learning about tax returns and expenses would've been far more useful in school that learning about Pythagorus Theory. Enter Simple Tax, stage right. It's built like an app and makes working out taxes and self-assessment SO easy. It's recognised by HMRC as well so you can file your return directly through your account with them. Check out Simple Tax here.

Say goodbye to days off + hello to planning

As well as running a new online business, I also work more or less full-time at a day job and am in the final two months of a full time Bachelors degree. Days off are no longer days off. They are client work days. They are marketing days and planning days. Refer to point one, where I indicated that organisation is the sexiest thing. Having a proper planner and schedule makes for the most productive 'days off' whereby you can still steal a few hours to yourself.

bylucinda-planner

I tend to work best with a good grasp on what I need to achieve each day, but without setting time limits for each task. I feel like I find more creative freedom this way and it keeps me inspired to keep going. If you're someone who gets bored quickly (like I can sometimes) try the Pomodoro method. You set a 25 minute timer on each task and if after 25 minutes you're feeling disinterested, take a 25 minute break or tackle something else of 25 minutes. The ability to make the choice whether to carry on or not also promotes productivity and enables you to tackle big tasks in smaller chunks.

The importance of self care

It took me working myself to tears and my coach actively telling me to schedule in 'off-time' to actually do so. When you're so passionate about something it's difficult to distinguish time spent doing what needs to be done versus what you want to be doing. I want to be working on my business, of course. But other days I just wanted to spend it on the sofa with the boyf watching Fargo and reality TV. So I did. The next day I felt even more motivated to hit up the boss-lady life again and within the next week, I landed my first 3 clients.

It's all about your mindset - The Chalkboard Method

I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Being Boss, a couple of weeks ago and they were discussing The Chalkboard Method. Jay Pryor, a highly regarded life and business coach, coined this method years ago and the results they were discussing truly astonished me. Up until this point I'd had exposure to my business and gained followers but had no real clients just yet. The Chalkboard Method dictates that you set out physical, visible space for clients and a personal mantra for you to abide by each day.

I set up a whiteboard {copper framed of course} and drew out six spaces labeled #1 through #6. Within days, I had two booked clients and one potential booked in for a consultation. I was blown away. I'm not sure whether it was seeing the spaces I had open visible each day or just being more aware that I'd held myself accountable for a goal, but I found myself seeing opportunities where before they'd faded in to the peripherals. Whether someone had tweeted about wishing they were able to do something, or I saw someone post in a Facebook group needing help, I unashamedly pitched myself. The thing is, working in this creative industry, the clients I want are entrepreneurs themselves. They understand the value of a dollar and a service. And so my pitches weren't met with 'ugh not another sales person' but instead, 'that sounds awesome! When do we start?'

Changing my mindset has transformed my productivity in a matter of weeks. I highly advise you read up on the Chalkboard Method here, and you can listen to the Being Boss podcast episode here.

Find your tribe + hang on to them

Facebook groups with people in your niche are going to be your lifeline through this. It was the women in these groups that inspired me to launch as a business and their help and guidance has been priceless from the start. It's such a friendly community, less about competing with each other and more embracing the fact there's room for everyone. Mastermind groups hold you accountable to the goals you set and it's so great to share your wins with people who understand the feeling.

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When all is said and done

It's an ongoing road. I'll probably learn double, triple, this every month until I die. But honestly? That's what I'm enjoying. When I take a seat at my desk in the morning it's so motivating to think about what else I'll know by the end of the day. Doing something you're so passionate about, helping people and sharing your knowledge is always fun to do. But it's even better when you're getting paid for it.