a letter to all small business newbies

Thanks for the resounding response, comments, emails, and tweets about yesterday’s post. I normally don’t get too fired up when writing here – but I’ve felt the urge this week to really nail what I’m learning home here on MML and with Piper, our lovely and talented MML Dream Reporter. My perspective on business is changing pretty rapidly over the past two months and I want to share this with all of you so you can use it in your own lives.

Below is an adapted letter I wrote to Piper about advice and getting too reliant on other’s expertise at the expense of our own innate guidance. I have adapted it to suit many of you who shared that you felt similarly caught in the comparison and advice trap. I hope it’s helpful for you as well.

A Letter to All Small Business Newbies

Let me start off by saying I don’t think that advice is always a bad thing, but I think too much of it lends itself to the phenomenon I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Produce Your Own Success Story. I don’t know what it is, but I’m feeling bolder, and more insistent upon you, myself, and everyone for that matter, to start writing our own stories and figuring things out by trial and error. It’s totally underrated in the online world which promises “experts” of every kind telling you how to use twitter, grow a business, grow a blog, grow a garden, even grow penises (ugh, I hate those spam emails!).

Sure, there can be information that help us save some time, but in the end I only know what I “know” about business and blogging because I have done what I’ve “done” for the past 11 years with Jess LC and 1.5 years with MML. I only know more than you because I simply have out “done” you- I have simply “done” more things. And as you go along your “done” to “haven’t tried yet” ratio will shift and you will start to gain more confidence. Just rest assured that you are doing the right thing. Keep blogging, keep commenting, keep going forward with the next step in your business, just keep going! In a way, (and I don’t want to get too strong, but I feel really passionately about this) it is like you are running a marathon and you keep asking each mile how to run. But really, all you have to do is just keep running. Period. Sure, there are different aspects of the business that you are dealing with, but the main ultimate act is “starting a business” that is constant. And so each mile along the way may have a slightly different tone or task, but the general direction is still the same – keep running, just keep going.

Side Note: Asking for advice and looking for reassurance is different than seeking out cut and dry information. If you need to get your DBA (Doing Business As) you can ask someone, “How do you get a DBA in Ohio?” That is something that is simply a gap in process. You can find this information by asking someone who has a DBA or by looking it up online. It is a black and white answer. That is totally fine to keep doing as often as you need. If you need to know how to register your URL, that is completely understandable and black and white. BUT anything that is not a black and white, concrete answer counts as “advice” – how to grow a blog or business is different for everyone and is open to interpretation — and where you are getting stuck thinking too much. That is where I suggest you stop reaching out and start reaching within.

And in a way, I totally resonate with how you are feeling, though I’ve for some reason never struggled with this in business, I remember when I was in fourth grade I was afraid of making mistakes and would go up to the teacher’s desk every time I was unsure, unclear, or worried that I might do something incorrectly. Eventually, the teacher became so frazzled with my constant questioning and fear of mistakes that he stopped allowing me to walk up to the desk and ask any questions. At first, I squirmed, I felt uncomfortable. What if I didn’t do the assignment right? But really, let’s think about this rationally: despite my intense insecurity and fear of failure, if I did even completely fail an assignment (which never actually happened, despite my fears), I would still be fine, I would still breathe, I would learn from the mistakes and move on with my life. I would still graduate from college and I would still start a successful business.

You, my lovely ladies, are the in the exact same boat, you are so afraid of failing and/or comparing yourself to a mystical standard you think you should be at (ie: with your blog or business traffic – big and small, right and wrong, slowly and quickly – it’s all relative) that even if you did fail (which is impossible, by the way, you only fail when you give up on the business – then you fail in business. Any other mistakes, wasted money, time, etc. is not failure! You just learn, become wiser and can later tell someone else what to avoid in the future.) By the way– my failures and successes are all I have to go on each day myself. I am in your shoes just a few levels ahead. That is all. You will be fine, you will still breathe, you will learn from your mistakes and move on with your life.

I hope you make a “mistake” this August. I hope that you have the chance to see the other side of what you are so afraid of. Because, when you are there, it will sting for a day and you will find a sunny way to look at it and keep rolling forward. That’s your personality, that’s the positive part of all of this. You are so capable of overcoming obstacles – which will allow you to be ultimately successful.

So… for this month, I suggest you give updates on what you are doing without asking anyone for advice. You are welcome to tell people all the awesome developments, decisions, choices, and visions you have for your Dream, whatever that is. We will cheer you on! But you are not allowed to ask me for any advice for the month of August. You are my peer now with your business, I want to talk as equals, you aren’t a “student” – you just have less experience at this point. And that is not a big deal.

Here’s another way to look at this: If you were a baseball player, I know that you would have wanted to interview Babe Ruth and find out how he had the most home runs in the league for so long. He was the most “successful” home run player for decades. You would want to know how he did it, so you could replicate his success, right?

Well, his answer seems pretty clear: He has the most home runs because he went to bat the most times. Which means he also had the most strike outs in the league too. Yep, he had the most successes and failures because he simply tried the most times. I’m guessing he wasn’t so much worried about how other people were batting, what their techniques were, he just kept doing what he knew he needed to do and trying. Just kept doing things. I am successful at business because I keep trying, I keep going to bat. I keep failing and I keep hitting home runs. That is the secret. That is what you need to do. No advice required. Your spirit has everything you need in the advice realm.

Maybe you could start writing out your questions, concerns, and fears in a journal and start answering the questions as you go. What you wrote last week might be solvable this week… You will start to be your own adviser.

Phew! I got a little carried away – feeling feisty, but I think you get the point. I care about you and I want you to be successful. If I just wanted to feel important and hear myself talk I would answer all your questions every single time but that is doing you a disservice. It’s the difference between teaching someone to fish or giving them the fish.

I think it could be really transformative for you if you take these days to blaze your own trail and glory in the consequences, both good and not so good.


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  1. Manda


    This is such an inspirational post–lovin’ the feisty-ness! It’s so easy to get caught up in jealousy or feel daunted by other people’s success, thinking they must be doing everything “right.”

    I hate running, but the marathon is a great metaphor.


  2. That’s the difference between being employed and having a boss yelling at you for the mistakes you make or being the boss yourself and instead learn from it and move on.
    I guess that fear of being “yelled” at is still present when going from employment to owner…a “bad habit” hard to break…

  3. I love this! You’re so much fun when you’re feisty!

    I have been on both sides of this – for the first 1.5 years of my blog I took all the ecourses on how to be successful, read ProBlogger, ate up every word of more experienced bloggers. And I won’t totally discount the lessons that I heard (and some obstacles I was able to avoid) because of hearing that advice. But I also didn’t make a whole lot of forward motion of my own because I was trying to replicate the motions of others and getting frustrated that it wasn’t working. The last few months I’ve finally been seeing some action, growth, and attention – and as I was reading your post, I realized that it’s because I’ve *just decided to do it*. I took a few steps in a slightly different direction because that’s what sounded fun to me – and it opened a few doors. And since then it’s been a whole new offshoot of activity as following my own instincts and ideas has sparked new ones. Not without some feedback or encouragement from a few of my key supporters, but I’m not looking at a roadmap anymore. I’ve found that it’s more exciting to look at what others are doing in my field and to think “how can I do that differently and better?” rather than bemoan their successes and try to replicate it. And yes, I’ve screwed up a few things and had to figure out how to fix them, but so far nothing’s derailed me.

    Three cheers for taking some chances! I hope others read this and are fired up as well!

  4. Janelle

    This is awesome. I’m not even a newbie yet, but hope to be soon, and I’ve already fallen victim to the asking for advice trap. I’m always reading blogs and searching for advice and asking questions about how to start a business, what to do, how to do it – I sit there and look at how awesome it is that so many great people have great businesses, and how much I want that for myself. But instead of just “going to bat,” I try to do research. It’s holding me back tremendously – so THANK YOU for this wake up call!! So inspirational, as always!

  5. Jill

    Amen sister! I couldn’t agree more! You have to trust yourself as a blogger/business owner/whatever FIRST… if you want the trust of your clients in life. I’ve learned this with the blog over and over… if things work – you will know it! If things don’t work – you will know that too! And then steer yourself accordingly! I love this post SO much!

  6. Stephanie

    So, So, So true!!!! Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I really enjoy the straight-forward way you approach your posts. I’m a new reader to your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed myself so far! I’ll take your August challenge not to ask questions. I fall into that mode very, very easily. Why not trust my instincts? That’s what they are there for, right?

  8. CB

    Love this post! Love the feisty-ness! Ironically, your advice to not rely on advice is great advice! 😉

  9. Loved yesterday’s post and today’s even more. Looking for the perfect answer out there is just leaving me frustrated. I’m working on something tonight that might not work. Thanks for helping me to remember that making a mistake isn’t failure. It will help me find my direction.

  10. Hi Jess – I haven’t been commenting much lately, because I am swamped. But I wanted to say…you are KILLING it lately. Your advice is the swift kick in the pants so many of us need.

  11. ugh, this is SO GOOD, and so, so true!! i’ll be printing this out and adding it to my inspiration board tomorrow. thanks for sharing!

  12. Thanks Jess for the encouraging words!
    I will share this post with my European friends.

  13. Rita

    Jess, thank you so very much for this encouraging post!
    It is extremely frustrating to try out every suggestion you get and to see they not working for you! But it is extremely hard to be more self confident, if you where punished for mistakes for decades …

  14. I love this Jess. So spot-on. Thanks for this little piece of expert “advice”, hehe. It is a breath of fresh air when you hear some honesty about how small businesses form and work.

  15. Gina

    Hi Jess-

    I just stumbled upon your blog and love it. You are an inspiration. This post was fab. I love the trial and error technique. Everyone in the world wants to give me advice and I listen, they know more than me in some respect, but in general I listen to myself. It does get hard to listen to yourself and to say “just try it!” but I have found that it works best for me. I don’t want to do anything in order to fill some sort of status quo. I want my blog and my business to be all me.

    Thanks for this post and I am looking forward to exploring the rest of your blog!

  16. Alexa

    I have to say – reading this post has got me fired up. I’ve been spending the last week going through Makeunder My Life’s archive and I’m loving everything I’m reading. I wish I had discovered the blog sooner. But now that I have, I just want to say thank you for being such a wonderful inspiration. I’m now excited to pursue living a life of intention and to try and make things clearer for myself. Thanks Jess!

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