The #1 Lesson I Learned After 10 Years in Business

This month, I am proud to celebrate 10 years in business for myself.

Entrepreneurship is a dream I had since my early 20’s, shortly after starting work in the real world. A dream that was precipitously—yet fortuitously—made when I was let go in the recession of 2008 while on maternity leave with my first baby.

While the ride has naturally been full of bumps and twists and turns along the way, it’s a journey  I have never once taken for granted. I know how lucky I am and honestly, 10 years later, I still love my business and what I do on Day 3,650 as much as I did on Day 1.

“What I Learned Over 10 Years In Business”

I always envisioned writing a really masterful “What I learned over 10 years in business” article sharing all of my secrets to success when this day came.

But I found that type of article too daunting to write. I do not have it all figured out. In fact, the more I learn, the more I feel like I have that much more to learn. In this crazy world of SEO and digital marketing, you have to pivot so much, climbing to the top and taking up residence there just isn’t feasible.

But I still felt compelled to celebrate my 10-year anniversary with the world, because it really is a big deal and an honor to be standing where I am today.

I thought hard about what I could genuinely speak about:

  • Do I want to write about my triumphs and tribulations around hiring a team? How I realized I’m a sucky manager and the many different roles I’ve hired for over the years?
  • What about designing a business that gives me plenty of balance? And how I end my day at 2:30pm? But then also am at my desk every morning, including weekends, by 5:30am? How for years, I got back on the computer from 8-10pm until I finally drew the line in the sand and established boundaries?
  • What about the impact a business coach had on me? And how I never would’ve gotten to where I am without coaching?
  • What about how working from home has made me uber-productive? But has also deepened my introversion and caused me to lose the ability to multi-task effectively and get annoyed at interruptions?
  • What about those years when my husband stopped asking “how was your day” because he knew I was prone to crying (literally) and having meltdowns about my endless to-do lists and lack of time as a mom of 3 kids and trying to do it all.
  • What about the importance of friendship and camaraderie with colleagues, and being part of a community? Even though I don’t reach out and nurture relationships as much as I want to. And I deeply regret that I don’t go out in person as much as I should because I find it difficult to pick my head up from client work (see above about ending the work day at 2:30pm; also see note about being an introvert).
  • What about what I want to tell working parents who aspire to have their own business? I have worked so hard to grow a business with 3 babies over 10 years. But I didn’t do it alone. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even come close to doing it on my own. I have family in town, top childcare, and a husband who makes the school lunches and does the kids’ laundry. What do I tell other parents who don’t have that kind of support?
  • What about how sweat equity, experience, and niching down has led me to the privilege of working with clients who are energetic, collaborative and who have great businesses and messages to get out there in the world? And how the years have taught me to spot the type of client that will not be the best fit for what I have to offer?
  • What about the financial highs and lows and lessons I learned? Like the one year I made $28k and I considered that a win. Or when I crossed six figures for the first time? Or the years where I barely made $40k? And how I now control expenses and overhead?
  • What about how I keep taking opportunities and projects that scare me? Projects I feel I have no business taking, but I take them anyway. And those have ended up being my favorite clients.

After many drafts on the above topics that ended up in the scraps pile (and frankly just seemed lame and pompous), it finally hit me. I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to share. That if there was anything I could point to as a guiding principle that drove my business through 10 years, it was this. A concept I can proudly get on my soapbox and preach about:


What Is a Trade-off?

I originally read about the concept of trade-offs in the life-changing book, Essentialism. (Long-time readers of mine are probably rolling their eyes, because I try to work this book into conversations and articles whenever possible.)

The word “trade-off” evokes so many emotions: Freedom. Relief. Choice. Empowerment. Peace. Gratitude.

But what is a trade-off?

According to the book: “by definition, a trade-off involves two things we want.”

It’s understanding that instead of staying stuck, avoiding discomfort or conflict, or straddling two ideas in the hopes that somehow you can have it all, you are consciously evaluating what you may be giving up.

Because when making a decision, you are deliberately saying “no” to the other option. You understand any sacrifices being made and consequences that may result. But you forge ahead anyway.

It often means foregoing the good to get to the great.

Business Success and Trade-Offs

The thing is, when you are in business for yourself, you are consciously and unconsciously making a million decisions every single damn day.

Some decisions are small and inconsequential. Should I check my email now or later? Should I start on this client first or that client first? Should I open up Google Analytics first or dive right into an audit? Will I stay in my pajamas today or get dressed because I know it makes me feel better? Should I read this article or pick up the phone and follow up with that lead that went MIA? Should I make it to that networking event I registered for even though I won’t know anyone and I’m nervous? Should I pull myself away from the computer to work out today?

Other decisions weigh on your mind heavily. The consequence of making the wrong decision or upsetting someone or choosing poorly causes you to stay in indecision. You wait until the timing is right before acting. Enough of these small decisions, and procrastination on large decisions, weigh on your shoulders and substantially slow down momentum and progress.

In the bullet points above where I went through the trials and tribulations over the 10 years – setting boundaries, ending my day at 2:30 pm, niching down, raising rates, saying no to prospects, not committing to networking events, not hiring team, keeping overhead low – those all have involved very real trade-offs.

But when you embrace the concept of tradeoffs, decisions become less hard. You handle it and move forward faster.

Because you know that you can’t make perfect decisions.

For every yin there is a yang. If you say yes to something it means you’re saying no to something else. When you’re clear about what you want, and what fulfills you, you can keep making decisions that take your life and business in a meaningful direction and understand sacrifices you may be making.

Because the problem is, the more success you have, the more opportunities come your way.

The more choices you deliberately have to make, lest you be caught straddling both, trying to please everyone, and staying in indecision. Or worse, someone else deciding for you.

The peace of mind that comes with this knowledge is priceless.

In my 10 years (well, more accurately, the latter half of the 10 years), I have embraced trade-offs, such as:

  • Raising my rates knowing it means some clients may express disappointment and leaving some behind; but the trade-off is hitting my goals
  • Saying no to most networking events in favor of getting my client work done; but the trade-off is getting my kids off the bus versus nurturing professional relationships
  • Not buying another coaching or mastermind program this past year; but the trade-off is maintaining focus, honoring existing commitments and controlling expenses
  • Refusing to continue sacrificing health and cutting another 45 minutes out of my already too-short day for exercise
  • Speaking up proactively and extricate myself from uncomfortable situations with referral partners, colleagues, and bad-fit clients; by confronting I am sacrificing comfort
  • Choosing to narrow my services and niche so I can be really good at one thing; the trade-off is saying no to offering additional services and serving clients in a broader capacity
  • Deciding not to hire team and instead remain the technician in my business doing what I love; the trade-off is the extreme limitation of clients and projects I can work with at one time

In no way am I perfect. Nor have I fooled myself into thinking I’ve made the right choice every time. Of course I still wrestle with decisions and resist changes and solicit feedback from others (often).

But every day I strive to make decisions that move my business and life towards making a contribution that matters. In the end:

“There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” — Thomas Sowell

Here’s to the next 10 years!

PS – thinking of reading Essentialism? You should. Do yourself a favor and get the audio version. Listening to the author, Greg, read the book is magical

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.
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