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5 Unexpected Business Lessons I Learnt From Twenty Years Working Online

Twenty years ago I created the first version of my website and my online business was live! My focus then was not that far away from what I do today but back then I was coming from a different angle. I was the service provider, and today I am the mentor / coach for entrepreneurial start-ups and small business owners.

Along the way I have pivoted, changed direction, rebranded multiple times, each time dialling into where my clients needed the support aligned with the business climate of the day. But all the time, there was a red thread that connected all of these, and has led to the tagline of my business today - Where Ideas Find Form.

Fads come and go, tech changes constantly but the basic premise remains the same for building a successful business online. There will always be the next big thing, the next big threat. Today there is a lot of talk about AI. 

Twenty years ago saw the advent of design software which posed a similar threat to designers. These are just tools. And they help the experts as much as the beginners, but the experts will still be ahead as they started ahead - they will dive deeper into the possibilities the tools provide, and add their unique signature, allowing their content to stand out.

In business, there are some side lessons that we pick up along the way that are outside the obvious.

Here are 5 unexpected business lessons I learnt from twenty years working online which will help you get ahead in your business:

  • Be You, Always
  • Foster Relationships
  • Be Visible, Consistently
  • Create Legacy Content
  • Simplify To Amplify

Lesson 1. Be You, Always

Always be you, it’s too hard to try and be someone else, pretend to be something you are not. You will be loved for the person you are. Whether that be a studious soul, a sunny socialiser or something else. There is space for everyone. 

There is a huge temptation to copy others who you admire, to try and replicate their steps. Comparisonitis is a real issue in the online business world. But you will never know or see the whole truth online about how that person achieved what they have. Your support circle will be different, your capital availability will be different and your life experiences will be different too.

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The internet has opened up our ability to connect to people across the world. With this comes easy access to what previously were seen as micro-niches; you might not know someone else in your town with the same interest, but I can guarantee that however obscure your interests are, there will be others wanting to connect and learn more.

Lesson 2. Foster Relationships

If you stay in your own bubble, you are making your business life much harder for yourself by doing so. It might feel comfortable at first, but growing a business on your own is tough. There are many reasons we start a business, and many of us, myself included, at the start don’t recognise the huge personal growth journey that comes along with it. And to get through that, relationships really are your best business friend.

What I have recognised along the way is that the human mind loves to spark off other people, no matter our personality, we all benefit from having someone else to bounce ideas around with, someone who gets the challenges we face. 

This might be in a professional capacity, such as hiring a coach or mentor, or it could be through structured networking groups or in a more relaxed social setting. Networking groups are successful and a great starting point as they bring together like minds. You will meet people who get you and can recommend professional support plus refer yourself to others. 

Back in “the old days” networking was always in person, and I hated it. Today I network online, and much prefer this method for initial connection. Those I resonate with, we then move into a “real world” relationship. 

Relationships are the starting point for many business owners for the next point - to be visible.

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Lesson 3. Be Visible, Consistently

Every business owner knows that without sales, there is no business, and research by BusinessInsider.com (2021) found that 82% of small businesses fail due to cash flow problems. Which means that they're not bringing in enough clients who are paying. And if we are invisible, prospects can’t find us - let alone pay for our products or services!

Today there are many ways we can get visible, both in person and online. This means there will be a way that suits you. The key is to test, experiment, try different outlets and see which one sticks. As you can't just be visible one day, then disappear - consistently is critical for long term growth. I recommend to my clients to focus on one marketing technique for at least 90 days, as it takes this length of time with consistent focus to see traction. 

It’s not about randomly showing up, but being consistent. Whether that be through social media, podcasts or video content hosted in various places - though for publicly showing up, YouTube is still the king of video. 

The cost of visibility is often your time, and this can be reduced by using schedulers and repurposing content across multiple locations and over time. More on this in the next section!

Lesson 4. Create Legacy Content

When you build a business, you are also building a legacy. You are adding value to the world and sharing your expertise. Creating original content that is based on your view of your industry is part of this. Many business owners I meet may not label themselves as an expert, but they are constantly curious and forever learning, which in turn creates their expertise. I encourage you to embrace your expert status!

You don’t need to stay doing the same thing all the time, it’s natural to change and adapt your focus along the way or not. By attaching your name to all content you create helps you build your legacy. Today more than ever people like to know about and connect to the person behind the business. Especially if you are in the service and knowledge industries. 

Successful business owners have have all created original content as part of their repertoire. This may be in articles, blogs, videos or more recently podcasts. It’s about showing up as who you are, sharing your thoughts on the matter in hand  and leading the way for your people. 

The Introvert Way Roadmap book

In 2021 I published my first book, The Introvert Way Roadmap. This book was 3 years in the making in my head, and then I sat down and took it from first work to published in 45 days. (Read more about this here)

Original content creation will be a big focus for me this year, with a second book forming in my head as I type this. As before, I plan to carve out a set period to download the book from my head onto paper.

Lesson 5. Simplify To Amplify

This final lesson is one I heard early on in my journey: Simplify to Amplify. But the truth is until we have tested out multiple ways of serving, created multiple products, we do not know which area to then focus down on. And when you are in the helping business, offering a service, facilitating a transformation, you need to have supported a critical mass of people to see the patterns that are emerging and which connect with you the most.

The clues will be there for you to see with hindsight, but they are very hard to see when we are deep in the thick of business creation. 

And for myself, it was only at the back end of 2022, twenty years on from when I started working online that I had the breakthrough for simplification in my business. Throughout I have been helping business owners translate their ideas into offers, courses, memberships. I have been helping their ideas find form, a form that is marketable and attracts their ideal audience. 

Over the last few years I’ve collated a series of 30 frameworks, then tweaked them to suit today's online business world. Deceptively simple tools that bring “game-changing” results (my clients’ words). Min are called Sparkle Frameworks® - as they not only give your ideas form but they help your business sparkle and attract the right people. 

It’s been a journey, but right now my business feels truly aligned to who I am, how I wish to serve and who I can help. And the above five lessons were definitely unexpected to me along the way. If these resonate with you, I suggest you lean into them and implement in your business to help you get ahead.

If you’ve many ideas for your business and are looking to shape them into a marketable form, a great starting point is to purchase the Sparkle Framework Starter Kit, which provides easy to follow guidance, ready to use templates and workbooks to create three high-impact frameworks for your business today.

Sparkle Framework Starter Kit
Written by Susanna Reay
January 19, 2023

About SUSANNA

Susanna Reay is a coach, writer, and speaker who’s been making business make sense for small business owners for over 15 years. Susanna brings a unique perspective to business thinking informed by her background in business strategy and design, interest in psychology and strengths as an introvert business builder. 

Her courses, work and books have helped show business owners the impact-effect of using visual frameworks to connect with and engage clients. She helps the unseen be seen, heard and respected.

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