5 Small Business Lessons Learned in 2016

A new year is upon us. I know it's so cliché to say this...but how can that be? Where did 2016 go?

As I sit here snuggled up with my laptop and cup of coffee looking back at my journal entries, beautiful brand launches and print collateral projects, and all the wonderful small businesses I've collaborated with, I realize I know exactly where the year went.

It was spent continuing to develop my design skills and attending local workshops for small business owners. It was spent rebranding my business, launching a new website and finding my groove with marketing myself online. It was spent focusing my creative process and putting client processes in place to ensure I'm giving them the best experience possible. It was spent celebrating my first full year of running my business full time in July. It was spent collaborating with some fabulous local creatives.

In 2016, I grew my business leaps and bounds, worked with a number of inspiring and wonderful people, and became more truly and authentically ME. I couldn't ask for more!

Before taking a much-needed break over the holidays, I'll be doing some business planning for 2017. Goal setting, thinking big picture for my biz, choosing my "word" for the new year, and always ensuring I'm focused on my "why."

But sometimes, the best way to move forward is to reflect back on where you've come from... what you learned and how you can be a better you. So, today I want to share with you some wisdom and lessons from 2016, each of which has played an important role in my life as a graphic designer and business owner. And each of which will help me in 2017. Perhaps they will help you, too!

Oh -- and don't forget to pick up your holiday gift below after you're done reading!

5 Small Business Lessons Learned this year, plus 5 inspirational prints!

1. Embrace and Trust Yourself.

There are endless articles and blog posts out there claiming they hold the recipe for success and it's easy to get lost. Lost in all the "shoulds" and the worries over whether you're doing things right. Sometimes you start going down a road and investing time in an offering or strategy you "should" be using in your small business, even if it doesn't feel right in your gut.

Earlier this year, after a few weeks of feeling completely over-saturated with information and paralyzed, I went through a social media and blog reading "cleanse." I had to! I started questioning what I was focusing on in my business and suddenly felt like I was lacking direction. Which wasn't even remotely true. But it felt that way.

Although I still struggle with this from time-to-time, I now keep things in check and strive to be healthier about my intake of info. Taking advantage of the amazing resources and advice available to you isn't a bad thing... but at the end of the day, I've learned that staying true to myself is the best thing I can do to help me run my business authentically and attract my ideal clients.

I get to decide how I run your business. I get to define what success looks like to me. And I get to build my business the way I want to. There is no business exactly like mine, just like there is no business exactly like yours. Let's learn to embrace that. Own it. And trust our instincts when something doesn't feel right. Our instincts are most likely spot on.


2. Staying in your lane is key.

This aligns with the above lesson, but I felt the need to let it stand on its own. Comparison is a sneaky thing that tip toes up on you and distracts you from your work. From your business' mission. From your "why." From your reason for doing what you're doing.

There were countless times I let this happen during the year and I found myself off track from my business goals. It's easy to do, especially when being surrounded by so many successful fellow entrepreneurs who are rocking it and have seemingly have perfect lives on their perfectly curated on Instagram (key word: curated). The best thing I did in these situations was share my admiration for others -- through an email or a comment on Facebook/Instagram -- and then redirect myself back to my business.

When you feel yourself comparing or judging yourself harshly and steering off the road you've carefully and intentionally paved for yourself... what would it feel like to stop for a minute and turn off the engine? Acknowledge the feeling and pass along a kind message or note to the person you're crushing on, but then remind yourself, "I'm being my unique self for my unique audience and I'm making my vision come to life. And that's the most important thing."

Put the key back in the ignition, turn on the car, and move forward down YOUR road. Stay in your lane.


3. Great things take time.

In March, I launched the new brand and website for AllieMarie Design. In August, I launched my new Branding Packages + Pricing Guide. These were huge milestones from my year. Both were signs of growth and maturity for my business and I received great feedback from my community after both launches.

But the return on investment wasn't immediate. Don't get me wrong... I so appreciated all the love and "likes" and comments and in-person "I absolutely love your new look!" conversations. However, my ultimate goal was to book more branding clients and be scheduled out more in advance. Aside from a couple inquiries and projects here and there, I wasn't seeing these results from my hard work.

What was I doing wrong? I was consistently posting on social media and doing all I had the capacity for with blogging, newsletter marketing and attending local events throughout the month while still keeping my clients happy and myself sane. Was that still not enough? What changes did I need to make?

Then, in November, there was a shift. Inquiries started coming in, seemingly out of nowhere. Genuine, "I love your work and want YOU to design my new visual brand" and "I've followed you for awhile and I am finally ready to take this next step for my brand" inquiries. In one week, I had six business owners contact me who were serious about a rebrand, which had never happened before. Did every single one of those business owners book with me right off the bat? No (not yet, anyway!). But I now have three branding projects lined up for the new year, which brings me pretty darn close to my goal of being booked out three months in advance. It just took a little longer than expected.

The lesson in all this? To be patient and know that great things take time. Trust the timing of everything. And even when you feel like nobody is listening to you, reading your blog posts, or seeing your posts... keep. on. going. Sometimes you just gotta put things out in the universe and let them stew for awhile before you see your work pay off.


4. Connecting + being genuine goes a long way.

Traditional networking isn't my thing. I've always felt awkward and not myself in official networking groups. Although creating mutual referral systems with other small business owners is important and I've always loved meeting new people and supporting each other, I wasn't sure how to connect with other businesses and start a relationship in a way that felt genuine.

That is, until this year.

Enter Instagram and online communities. I never knew the value of meeting people via these social media platforms... but friends, it's a real thing and it has completely changed my business. I've made lots of genuine connections online with many small business owners around the world by participating in Facebook group conversations, being authentic in my comments, helping people with branding and design questions, reaching out when I needed advice, attending different local events and workshops connected to online communities, and having coffee one-on-one with a number of wonderful like-minded entrepreneurs in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area. 

These are real friendships. We talk business. We run ideas by each other. We do business planning together. We collaborate on projects. And yes, we refer each other. No affiliate links or conditions, just truly believing in each other and wanting to support each other.


5. You don't need to do it all.

Playing by my rules, honoring my priorities and feeling confident in how I want to run my business. These were recurring themes for me throughout 2016. And I have no doubt they'll continue to be prominent in the coming years as my business continues to grow.

Free yourself of the idea that you need to be everywhere online to be seen! You don't need to be on all social media platforms, or offer any certain service because everyone else in your field is doing it, or blog every day if you don't want to. Spreading yourself too thin and focusing on things that don't bring you joy does nothing but burn you out and get you off track. I'd ask you to "trust me on this," but I'm guessing you've already felt this to be true yourself at some point in your life too!

Instead of trying to do it all, try making a list of unique and focused goals, ensuring they align with your mission and your big picture "why." Then build a marketing plan based on that... something that challenges you, yet also excites you and is achievable. Choose to use only the social media platforms you love and that help you reach your dreamiest of clients. Put your energy into the marketing strategies that feel right to you and are in line with your mission and goals.

Go where you feel most alive. Then conquer with grace. 


What was your biggest take-away from 2016? What were your big wins and lessons you learned in business and life?

Comment and share below! I'd love to hear about your journey.