business strategy money mindset

Your first year in business can make or break you – but hardly anyone shows their REAL numbers. How much can you earn in your first year? What are the REAL challenges?

I LOVE hearing behind the scenes of successful businesses and especially how they got started, so I wanted to share the lessons and challenges of my business over the years.

Each year has been completely different – full of different learnings, personal challenges, boundaries and lessons. This is a looooong post – over 4200 words but I’m trying to be as honest and helpful as possible (with REAL numbers).

Let’s start at the beginning!

Background: I “officially” started my current business in December 2010. I had a lot of random failures under my belt so this was approximately my 4876th attempt at being in business. I did my life coaching qualification in 2010, and felt confident enough to start coaching and blogging in December of that year.

So remember – there is no such thing as an “overnight success”!

Biggest challenges in my first year of business

Everyone faces big challenges in business. I always say that it’s the best personal development you’ll ever do – much better than going to a seminar or reading a self-help book. It will bring up all your shit, guaranteed!

Here were my biggest challenges that first year….

Starting a business makes you feel like a fraud

I remember telling our landlord that I was a life coach and his response was “aren’t you a little young for that?” (I was 31 at the time). Networking was painful because I hated telling people what I did. To be honest, I secretly felt like being a life coach was a bit wanky, even though it was perfectly suited to my personality.

My first coaching sessions were awesome (not because I was an amazing coach), because I finally thought, “Wow, this is what I’m supposed to do with my life“. I knew immediately that I loved it, but it didn’t mean that I felt 100% confident.

Fact – it might feel hard to call yourself a “Blah” (coach, author, web designer, etc), but it will get easier over time. I changed my email signature to read – Denise Duffield-Thomas, Life Coach – and although I cringed when I wrote it, after a few months of seeing it, I started to believe it.

To make my fraud feelings stronger, I was living in a small flat and driving the crappiest car ever. Like seriously, the ceiling was coming down around my head. Every day, I had to get on the phone with my clients and give them advice about improving their lives, while mine was still a work in progress.

But seriously, that’s ok. You don’t need to be perfect to be in business.

The fraud feeling comes from deep within, but you’ll find that most people are fascinated by your new career and will believe you quicker than you believe it yourself!

Oh, and the other thing you’ll realise is that everyone feels like a fraud! It’s normal, not a sign that you shouldn’t be in business. Just try and ignore the feeling as much as possible.

How much to charge in your first year of business

Omg – what to charge?! 

This was SO hard, because I had so many underlying money beliefs and I was waiting for someone to just TELL me what to charge. That can be the biggest hurdle for some women. In a job, you usually have no control over your rate or the prices of your products/services. Suddenly you have to publicly declare your own worth?! SCARY SHIT!

Here’s the thing – no matter what you charge, there will always be people who say “That’s too expensive!” and people who say “That’s all? Wow, you’re so cheap!“. Literally – every single price point from ten bucks to thousands. (There’s someone writing a million dollar cheque for Tony Robbins right now going “Wow, I thought it would be more expensive!“).

In your first year, you just gotta set a price and be okay with it. I looked around at what other people were charging (between $80-150) and chose $75/session. It felt good to me at the time and I could say it without (too much) choking.

There’s no right or wrong answer, just pick a price. You’ll change it many times but you gotta start somewhere.

Getting support from friends and family for your new business isn’t easy

Working for yourself isn’t the norm, and most people who aren’t entrepreneurs don’t get the burning desire to do something different. In their minds, they are thinking – why would you give up a steady paycheck for a life of uncertainty?

This can make life a bit lonely.

In my first year, I didn’t yet know a lot of other entrepreneurs (now, most of my friends are), and although friends and family were supportive, they didn’t always get it. It’s not easy to explain what you do, and it can sound a bit superficial to friends or family who “work hard for a living”. Some were also skeptical because they had seen so many of my random business ideas fail in the past.

You might hear things like…

“Are you SURE you made the right decision to quit your job?”

“Are you really qualified to do that?”

“Are you making any money yet?”

“Isn’t that a scam?”

“We’re just really concerned for you, that’s all”

It can also be hard for them to see you in that first struggling year and people might say well-meaning things like “Maybe you should go back to your job for a while, it might be less stressful for you”. ARGH – NO!

Don’t worry – in a year or two, they’ll be asking you for advice on how to quit their jobs (and they’ll think you were just an overnight success)!

How to stay focused in your new business

It can be really easy to get distracted at the start of your business. You’re still finding a business mentor or business philosophy that works for you. I spent a lot of time reading and watching videos, and not as much time implementing. My style was often influenced by the latest guru (my tone would start to sound like them) and I often “modelled” (read: copied) my sales pages from other people, just changing the words or the structure.

Please don’t do this.

It can be really confusing and paralysing knowing what to do – do I need a website first or get my first client?  I didn’t trust my own instinct and thought there must have been a secret formula or “right way” to do things.

Guess what? There is no secret formula. It’s really just the basics over again.

I got distracted and blocked on the smallest things, like – “I can’t launch this program because I need to master SEO (whatever that was) FIRST!”

Everyone is going to have a different opinion on what you should do with your business – honestly, the best thing to do is to START – and refine as you go. Don’t get stuck in pointless perfectionism.

By the way – I’m yet to find a perfect business formula. Take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt (including mine!).

Cash flow problems (ie. there isn’t any!)

Yeah this sucks.

I felt guilty spending ANY money on myself because I wasn’t earning it.

I had to set very clear expectations to my husband that when I earned money, I still needed to invest back into my business, or save money for taxes. I also needed to spend money on myself so I felt like a normal functioning human being (getting my hair done occasionally, having coffee with friends).

Yes, there will be ups and downs in your first year of business but nothing beats the thrill of earning money for yourself, doing something you LOVE.

Curious what I earned in the first few months? I dug out my records and found this spreadsheet!

I started making money almost straight away, but obviously it wasn’t enough to replace a full time income. But keep going, it will grow over time.

I think I earned about $60k in that first year – with most of the income coming in the last quarter (for some reason, I can’t find that tracking sheet)

The other thing is that although I thought I was working long hours, there is a high learning curve when you’re starting out and it takes more effort to get results.

Roller coaster of emotions (terror & elation)

One day I’d wake up and think, “I love my life” and then I’d be absolutely terrified about sending out my newsletter. It really was a roller coaster and hugely emotional.

I’d get random bouts of procrastination and would sometimes spend a whole morning stressing about something silly like responding to a problem client or processing a refund request. I remember fretting all night about chasing a client for a late payment. Some days I really didn’t sleep well!

Again, I didn’t have a great support network to help. I spoke to my coach occasionally but I didn’t have anyone to pull me out of those holes (I have a huge network of entrepreneurs now who I can Skype anytime if I’m feeling crap). I couldn’t tell my friends or family how I was feeling because they were too emotionally invested in me to be impartial about my business.

Masterminding is such a great way to find a support network – here are some tips on finding one for yourself. 

Technology learning curve

I did everything myself, including my first website! (see below)

I took that photo in my lounge room (don’t ask me what’s going on with my hair). I stole that exact shade of purple from Oprah’s website at the time and I was IN BUSINESS, BABY.

My branding was really janky at the start but you know what – it didn’t matter all that much. I did pretty much all my own graphics and websites – and yup, they looked crap, but I didn’t have the money to hire it out.

BIG LESSON – it doesn’t need to be perfect. Just start. Get your message out there.

Money Blocks KILL your business

Wow – my money blocks really hit me in this first year. Mostly that it had to be hard to make money.

So every time I tried to create something, I felt like I had a huge blockage in actually receiving money for it. That’s why it took so long for me to release my first book even though it was written.

I find this is a really common one. Feeling almost guilty about earning money.

I was also in this weird place of having no money, so I was bartering with other entrepreneurs. Which meant of course that no money didn’t change hands. This energetically set up this self-fulfilling thing about being in a hobby business – and not actually receiving MONEY for my talents.

I obviously have a lot to say on this topic now. In fact, listen to my free audio on this topic where I talk about 7 common money blocks. I had ALL SEVEN in this first year, and I’m curious how many you have too.

Things I did GREAT in my first year of business

Asked for support.. and time to get things off the ground

I asked my husband to support my business for 6 months, which means we lived on his salary for that time.

This was a negotiation between us, and it meant we had to sacrifice as a couple – no holidays, not much going out, no big investments, no new furniture and no extras (like cable TV).

It wasn’t always easy, and I had to keep reminding him that the six months wasn’t up yet because he was pretty impatient, but overall, he was happy to see ME so happy. I often reminded him how angry and depressed I used to be when I hated my job and constantly reminded him WHY I wanted to do this – to create a better standard of living for us and our future kids.

He asked for a few things in return – namely, that we wouldn’t go into debt for my business, that I’d work my butt off for that six months and that if it didn’t work out, I’d get a job. Ummm, okay! (not going to happen buddy)

The thing is that I had to ASK and pitch the idea to him. He’s always been supportive but he would have preferred if I had a part time job, because he didn’t think we could live on one salary.

I had to constantly “sell” him on the vision of the future – to remind him exactly why I was doing the long hours, and why I had to invest in myself with courses and mentors.

It really was an investment that we made together. Of course, now it’s been a great investment that’s paid off handsomely!

I HUSTLED my butt off to get my first clients.

We had just moved to a new town a month after starting my business and I knew nobody.

I needed clients, so I started running free goal-setting workshops around town.

I called businesses like gyms, book stores, crystal shops and health food stores and simply asked them if they did events, and then offered my services. I would run a free two hour workshop, no strings attached. They just had to invite their customers.

At the end of the workshop, I simply said, “If anyone is interested in coaching with me, I have a special on at the moment. Here’s a flyer“.

I always got clients from these workshops, and best of all – they gave me confidence and helped me refine my message.

After a while, I started paying for cheap workshop space to run my own. I advertised with posters on community notice boards around town (they really worked which surprised me), and on community event websites. I usually had between 4-15 people at each event. I charged them nothing but always got a few clients to make it worthwhile.

The thing is – clients are not going to come to you in your first year. You really have to hustle and get in front of THEM.

Tracking (important) numbers

I tracked my income every day, my newsletter list size at least weekly and tracked my social media stats at least monthly.

The most important metric was my newsletter list – these are your future customers. By the end of the first year, I had 1621 on my newsletter list.

Every time I sent out a newsletter, I had people booking in for a coaching session, and I no longer had to do events around town.

Numbers are important, but don’t track everything or get distracted with fancy spreadsheets. Don’t worry too much about open rates yet. Until your list is at least 1000, the numbers won’t average out, (22% is the average open rate).

Just create a simple spreadsheet like this…

Don’t worry about unsubscribes – it will happen but in the first year, it feels like a personal rejection each and every time. Don’t get the notifications because trust me, they WILL ruin your day. That was a happy day when I decided not to worry about it anymore!

Consistent blogging

Blogging is the best free marketing you can do.

Blogging grew my newsletter list, increased my traffic (slowly) and most importantly, helped me refine my message.

See those spikes? That’s everytime I did a blog post.

At the beginning, I blogged about lots of random topics – how to find your soul mate, how to make green smoothies as well as the Law of Attraction stuff I talk about now. It was heavy on my personal experiences, which people loved and I wasn’t trying to be an expert – I was just sharing my successes and challenges. Write about what you know.

I started the year getting maybe 10 visits a day, and ended the year on about 80 a day. I averaged about 5 new sign ups a day, and 1100 unique visitors a month (increasing exponentially).

The discipline of weekly blogging was my greatest success in that first year. It really created that weekly momentum that carried me forward.

Don’t stress about haters, bad comments, negativity etc – seriously, in your first few months the only people reading are your mum and your best friend. To be honest, I didn’t get any haters in my first year. I simply wasn’t on enough people’s radars. If you blog about something remotely controversial; like parenting, cancer or just have polarising opinion, you might get your first hater much quicker!

You have to blog like thousands of people are waiting for the next one, even if you have literally ten people reading. You can’t wait til you have a big audience, consistency in the early days is what creates the audience.

I resisted getting a day job

This was HARD some times, especially when money was tight and Mark ever so politely suggested I could get a part time job. No way!

I took on a few random contracts here and there (I did 12 weeks of casual location scouting for a local TV show) but I was determined that I was going to make a living just from my business.

Honestly, if money is a huge stress for you, there’s nothing wrong with getting a job. It’s hard to focus on your business when you can’t make the rent. You’d think that the pressure would be motivating, but I’ve found from personal experience that it’s not. It’s paralysing and terrifying.

I stopped working for free

I did about a month of free coaching sessions to get testimonials and then I started charging. This is KEY. You can’t do free work forever, or until you feel “ready”.

I don’t believe in doing a BETA group (a practice round where you nothing or charge very little in exchange for testimonials). I think it can attract the wrong audience and although you think it takes the pressure off you, in reality it’s the same amount of work.

I would pitch it as “Introductory Pricing”. Your first course or program isn’t likely to be a runaway success with thousands of people on it, so you have room to learn and make mistakes.

Literally, being in business is about making money from something you create, so don’t be afraid to charge for what you do.

I wrote a book!

My very first cover for Lucky Bitch (there has been several updates since)

In Sept 2011, I launched my first book, Lucky Bitch! I launched it on my birthday which I recommend that you NEVER EVER do. It’s a nice gimmick but it really ruined my birthday because I was still finishing everything up to 6pm, then I was too tired / wired to enjoy myself.

Besides that, it was really exciting and I highly recommend writing a book in your first year. It gives credibility and for some reason, people are really impressed by it!

I first created it as an ebook (just a pdf), then a few months later the Kindle version and then the paperback. I got a cheap cover designed and then upgraded it the next year. That’s all it cost me to write this first book (my friend did some proof reading for free). Just my time.

I sold it through eJunkie and Paypal. Very simple. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

If you’re consistently doing your weekly blog posts, then you have the discipline to write a book. It’s just a long blog post. Or a very very long Tweet.

Honestly, writing a book really pushed my buttons and weirdly, I didn’t want ANYONE to read it, because I was convinced that it was crap and had too many mistakes it it. Every time someone bought it, I cringed because I thought they’d think it was terrible.

I ran my first group coaching program

It was called The Inspired Life Formula, and it was a standard group coaching program. 6 weeks, 6 live calls and weekly assignments.

I had six people on the course (one person got a refund because she couldn’t afford it) and charged $497. I created it as I went – literally the assignments went out on Monday and I had spent all weekend doing them. I did all the branding myself, and yes, it looked super budget!

A few months later, I sold the recordings as a home study program for $175.

This was a REALLY exciting moment in my business – finally some leverage!

It’s actually still a really great program on manifesting, and I’ve updated and re-recorded it for the future.

Look at the crazy eyes on this picture. Wait, you have to see them up close to really appreciate it.


Investments I made in my business

I got really caught up in buying silly things like business cards (I don’t use them today but felt “unofficial” without them) and bought WAY too many courses that I didn’t really need.

I bought a new laptop because my old one was seriously clunky, a fairly cheap desk and chair so I had somewhere to work (kitchen table or couch feels too unofficial and you’ll be tempted to watch TV all day) and a printer (I really could have done without that, but it felt good!).

Yeah, a good computer is pretty important. You need to be able to work quickly, be able to connect with your clients professionally and basically not wait 10 minutes for every page to load.

Your computer might be your only friend in your first year of business!

I hired a business coach

I hired a local coach from the government business centre. She was brilliant and also gave me really practical advice about making sure to get an ABN (Australian Business Number) and see a tax advisor. She was really reasonably priced because she was subsidised by the government and I could see her face to face. I used her as a sounding board and to keep me on track with the important things (getting clients). She also helped me come up with the name Lucky Bitch for my first book.

I really believe coaching is super important, but you don’t always need a super expensive guru coach.

The courses I invested in

I did two key courses in that first year.

First – Marie Forleo’s Rich, Happy & Hot B-School (it only runs once a year). It was a great business foundation and gave me a brilliant network of awesome entrepreneurs around the world. It was $2000 and worth EVERY PENNY.

Second – at the very end of my first year in business, I signed up for a year long mastermind with Kendall Summerhawk. It was the most money I’d ever spent on a program, at about $12,000 (paid in instalments). It was a bit of a stretch and gamble for me at the time but it definitely paid off and helped me with my business direction in the second year (more on that later).

How much should you spend on personal development? I reckon newbies can get caught up in learning and not taking action, but I obviously believe it’s important.

I networked like a mofo

I went to every random networking event I could find in my town, including breakfast meetings that started at 7am. I was just desperate to meet other entrepreneurs and to build a network of like-minded people.

It also got me out of the house 

I’m a total introvert, so networking isn’t alway easy for me. I prefer to stay in my yoga pants and not leave the house.

Hiring staff and outsourcing

I outsourced very little in that first year – mainly because…

1) I was afraid to let things go
2) I didn’t want to spend the money
3) I didn’t know how

I had never managed anyone at work, because I was always doing projects alone.

One thing I DID invest in was a cleaner for my house. That freed up time and energy, and meant I didn’t feel guilty about being at home all day not cleaning. It was 100% worth it. didn’t exist a few years ago, but now you can outsource things like graphics SO cheaply. You don’t need to do everything yourself, but it’s still a great lesson in that first year.

Boundaries lessons in my first year of business

Client boundaries are hard to deal with

My biggest boundaries lessons were around basic client management – like what to do or say when clients turned up late (or not at all). I would stress about it for HOURS – worrying that they would think I was a bitch for calling them out on it.

I started putting together really simple client agreements and contracts, with my cancellation policy and simple things like confirming when their coaching sessions expired.

All this comes from learning – especially when you realise that you don’t really have grounds to do anything about it, because you literally don’t have a policy in place.

In an effort to accommodate everyone, I was working really crazy hours – getting up for 5am sessions for my international clients and coaching late at night for people with full time jobs. I also struggled with keeping to time with my clients, so they would regularly get double the coaching time because …

1) I was trying to give them extra value (basically trying to solve all their problems in one session)

2) I wasn’t good at wrapping up or saying things like “Great question, let’s cover that next time“, because I felt mean!

3) I was attracting non-ideal clients that had a lot of emotional problems or who weren’t good at taking responsibility for themselves.

A big lesson over time was to say no to certain clients and to be upfront that I wasn’t a substitute for therapy.

I coached ANYONE back then, men as well as women, and plenty of people who didn’t really have a business (or big goals), and kind of just wanted to vent or complain.

Not all of my clients were like this – most were amazing! But, because I was so cheap, I was a magnet for clients with huge money problems, or people who just wanted to win the lottery to get them out of a desperate situation.

I also had a few weirdos, but seriously, don’t worry about it too much – every client is a good experience and you’ll learn over time what you want to tolerate and what you’re really good at.

Home / life boundaries

There also needed to be more boundaries at home. My husband started asking me to pick up his dry cleaning and run errands every day because I was “at home”. GRRRRRR.

It made me feel like I didn’t have a “real business” and that his time was more important than mine because he earned more money.

I was working every day, all night and most weekends. It doesn’t mean I was that productive though. I felt like I was hustling and hustling, but not making a huge amount of progress.

I found it incredibly difficult to shut off – constantly checking email at night and worrying about my business during the night. This was a time of insomnia!

As I started earning more money, it was a new negotiation with Mark about how much I would contribute to the household. It started off being a percentage of my income, but I felt better with a fixed amount. We increased it every few months and when I had a big windfall month, I paid for big things like a holiday or a new (second hand car).

To sum up that first year…

It was all about LEARNING and EXPERIMENTING.

Yes, I worked hard. Nothing happened out of the blue. I was really creating clients from scratch and making everything up as I went.

But nothing was perfect either. I just kept going, ignoring that little voice that said “this is crap, you’ll never make it” and hustled on.

My advice for first year business women

You don’t need a fancy website to get started, but you need some basics like a method for taking payment.

Get your business Paypal account sorted and set up a separate bank account (even if you have to fund your business from your personal funds for a while). It will make you feel pro.

Don’t stress too much about your ideal client – it will evolve over time and might surprise you. Just get the basics because you can’t decide on this in a theoretical vacuum  It’s not until you’re in the trenches every day that you start to know what you like and dislike.

Start charging early.

Consistency blogging is the best marketing you can do. And its free. Send out a basic newsletter every week.

You’re never really going to feel “ready” and nobody is going to give you permission.

Hustle and keep hustling.

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