We’re now into our second year of running Lyrical Host.
It has been a ton of hard work, very little sleep, and an incredible sense of freedom and happiness. I could probably write a book covering the whole of the first year, but instead I’m going to try and sum it up with some of the highlights, hard points, and things that surprised us.
The money thing
Reaching the year mark was such a big deal for us. Not only did I feel super proud and happy to make it through the critical first year, it also marked the start of wrap-over months. As a low-priced subscription business relying on monthly, six monthly, and yearly payments, it makes a huge difference when you get to the point of people renewing six monthly and yearly plans on top of new monthly sales for the month. It sounds really obvious, but I don’t think we realised how much difference it would make to our bottom line when those months started rolling in (and to be honest, we’re always cautious about how many new customers we’ll get in a month anyway; we never assume anything, even though most months so far we’ve had more orders than the previous month, and we’ve only had a handful of cancellations so far – from people quitting their blogs or not liking WordPress).
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Lyrical Host is a year old! And we had a lovely booklet from the bank to tell us we made a little bit of profit 💜 #hustle #grind #startup #success #business #smallbusiness #ambition #money #startuplife #smallbiz #grindout #smallbusinessowner #pushpullgrind #dedication #grow #focus
For the first eight months or so I wasn’t drawing any salary at all, and for the past few months I’ve been taking the bare minimum to pay the bills. I think I was expecting to be able to match our previous income a lot sooner, and I think that’s partly because I read too many success stories and “fake it till you make it” type posts on the internet. There’s a lot of 4 Hour Work Week mentality going on, and to charge ridiculous prices just because you can, and to be honest none of that stuff is very us. I enjoy what I’m doing and I don’t want to outsource it all. We couldn’t charge people crazy prices for obvious advice; that’s just not something we’d ever be comfortable with.
Customers are full of surprises
It’s been our customers that have surprised me the most, hands down. Coming from a web hosting background, I was used to getting abuse day in and day out from customers. People would tweet things like, “I hope you and everyone else who works there gets cancer and dies,” over something like not getting unsubscribed from monthly emails. I remember one particularly bad day where there was a tirade of abuse for nine hours straight and I went home in tears.
I wasn’t really prepared for how nice our customers would be. They are the loveliest, smartest people, and honestly it makes us do everything we can for them every day. It makes eighteen hour days so much easier when you’re not yelled at or eating an entire pack of biscuits because you feel like crap. I enjoy hearing from them, chatting with them, and I’ve made some really good friends, which wasn’t something I expected to happen at all.
How much I don’t know
One of the key things I learned over the last year is how much I don’t know. About international tax, various privacy and promotional laws, time zones…all kinds of things. We’ve had to do a ton of research, ask people a lot of things, and sometimes the only thing you find out is that even the professionals have no clue how things work. Even the ones in government departments
I’ve always been a fan of taking a role and making it fun – my marketing exec career history includes baking, card game making, and Lego to name a few things – but now I can do exactly what I want when I want to (Joe typically doesn’t get involved in marketing stuff and also I’m very convincing), my skills have increased dramatically. There are always more things I want to learn, but over the past year I taught myself basic Adobe Illustrator to make colouring pages, and spent a ton of time teaching myself how to take better styled stock photos.
I’ve also read a lot of business books, learned a lot about pricing, watched a ton of business TV shows ranging from Shark Tank to Give It A Year, and I’m proud when I suggest something to the screen that Marcus then implements in The Profit. I feel like my design skills have improved a lot, too. I’m not a professional but “good enough” works for us right now.
What I would have done differently
Not very much, is the (surprising?) answer to that! I think after over a decade in the tech industry and being lucky enough to shadow and talk one-to-one with some really successful CEOs, I was able to pick up a lot of tips about what to do, and to make some of my own decisions about what I did or didn’t want to do. I’ve also had some truly awful managers in my time (sorry but it’s true) and that’s helped me shape ideas based around what was missing, boring, too risk-averse, etc. For someone who typically found making decisions very hard, I actually find it a lot easier now.
It’s 100% better to make a quick decision and just go with it. We launched our website in six weeks with a pre-made theme and some stock photos, and to be honest if we’d had more time I would have spent forever perfecting and re-doing every element of it – unnecessarily. That was one thing I learned without having to make the mistake of spending a fortune and all my time on design, which meant that I was able to work on getting our name out there and providing more value and freebies for our customers.
I would love to have had enough startup capital to hire someone in a dual social media/support role from the beginning – that would have been amazing. We have people on hand to pick up odd hours here and there, and we’ve started working more consistently with a VA, but we don’t yet have enough tickets coming in to hire someone for support full-time, and hiring someone we trust with enough experience is expensive.
The other major thing I would have done differently is targeted potential customers more carefully; we would have grown more slowly but reducing the number of time zones we were supporting at day one would have made things a bit easier in terms of sleep! (Although lots of our customers are super lovely and tell us not to reply until it’s a good time).
The hardest things
The hardest things (which we definitely didn’t even think about but should have seen coming), have been the things related to giving up our entire lives. We’ve dramatically cut down on the events we go to, our friends often come round and do things around us and then leave again, things that normal people do tend not to be the things that we do. None of these were conscious decisions, and we manage to work in some normal-life things around everything else, such as swimming, and more recently going to the theatre again, but there have been many times where we’ve had to cancel plans last minute, or go to something only to have to leave again. There have been times where we’ve gone to the cinema and only seen about 20 minutes of the movie, and times we’ve planned to cook a special dinner only to end up with a takeaway at 10pm. Sleep happens as and when; it’s been a lot easier recently, but occasionally we do have patches of only getting three or four hours.
But it’s all 100% worth it. I’d do it all again without thinking twice. Because even though some days are hard, I’m not tied to an office desk all day. If I want to go to the park, or nature reserve, or a matinee, or have lunch out, or avoid queues at the supermarket, or spend all morning blogging or all afternoon taking photos, I can do that when it’s not crazy busy, which is most of the time. I can spend all day with the cats, which is especially important with Ginge being ill. A lot of it has come down to adjusting how and when we do things, and when we get to the stage of being able to employ more people full time, which isn’t too far away, things are going to be even better.
If I were giving any advice to people thinking of starting their own business/in their first year of business I’d sum it up like this:
- Don’t just think about business startup costs – factor in six months to a year of living expenses and potential emergency costs too. Don’t assume you’ll be making your living costs from your business in less than a year.
- Make a list of saleable skills and potential income streams outside your business – for example, Joe has web developer skills and I have copywriting skills for freelance/contract work. Passive digital products can work really well, too.
- Think about what you could do to earn/make money quickly if you end up needing to, for example borrowing from a family member, cutting down on expenses, or selling stuff.
- Don’t pay attention to the opinions of people who haven’t been in your position, or from people who are talking about a totally different stage in their journey. Chances are, if they’re saying they made a lot of money in a short amount of time in the first year of business, even if it’s their net profit, it’s very unlikely to be consistent income and/or doesn’t take into account their initial business investment.
- Expect a rollercoaster. I’ve found so many more positives and my quality of life is so much better, but there have also been tough times and times where I’ve felt really impatient. Don’t expect your happiness or business graph to be a continuous upwards curve. I found the more time went on, the more positive days and fewer negative days I had.
So that’s a wrap for year one! Year two is already shaping up to be great, so fingers crossed it stays that way!
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