Year One

Emily Lewis

Exactly one year ago, Lea and I excitedly (and exhausted-ly) announced our new company. What better time than our first anniversary to reflect on the past year? But when I started writing this post, my mind kept straying from the past. All I can think about these days is the future.

And It’s a Bright Future!

Lea and I just returned from what I believe will prove to be a business-changing experience: WBENC Conf, a conference for and run by women business entrepreneurs.

Getting to WBENC Conf was almost accidental. Lea and I are avid conference speakers and attendees, but almost exclusively web industry events. This is great in helping hone our professional skills, connecting with our peers and energizing our creative spirits.

But sustaining a successful business goes beyond being good at our jobs. It goes beyond having great relationships with our peers. We needed to start meeting our clients where they already are, and our clients aren’t at web conferences.

So this year, we got outside our comfort zones (cliche, I know, but Lea and I said it repeatedly at WBENC) and decided to invest in honing our business skills … something that, as craftspeople, we sometimes neglect. That’s over.

The WBENC conference was eye-opening. We learned right away how important it is for Bright Umbrella to begin the certification process for WBENC. We are a 100% women-owned and operated business, and we love working with other women entrepreneurs. This is something we are already invested in; we just need to formalize it.

And we kept learning from the other women business owners at the conference. Powerful, successful women — many making millions — were incredibly generous with their time and advice that was as friendly as it was practical.

I also just have to mention how refreshing it was to be at such a diverse event. Every industry was represented. Every size business. All ages, races and genders. It was also incredibly inspiring. Someone there — I wish I could recall who — said something along the lines of “inspiration is seeing the possibility for yourself in someone else’s success.” To me, that sums it up.

We Can & Will Do More

Right on the heels of WBENC, we started working with Whitney Hess of Vicarious Partners to help fine-tune our focus. We are experts at our craft; we aren’t experts in everything. Reaching out to Whitney is another step towards taking our business to the next level.

The timing was completely coincidental and completely fortuitous. The inspiration and ideas we took from WBENC became actionable and, thanks to Whitney, focused.

Still, There Are Reflections …

Like it was for many in our industry, 2014 was a difficult year. Despite the initial slowdown, work did eventually pick up thanks to a focus on our best clients — our current ones. But it wasn’t easy. And yet, even the worst times are lessons (not to sound cliched, yet again).

Our struggles the past year increased our empathy for our clients. We are now more keenly aware of the business challenges our clients face … because we are our clients. We are business owners. We have goals, shifting priorities, budgets, limited resources, personal lives, deadlines. Walking in the same shoes makes us better advisors for our clients.

… and Practical Tips!

And if only for our own future reminder, I have to note the key lessons that helped turn 2014 for the better and made our 2015 much more successful:

  • We learned to ask. Asking for help, asking for clients, asking for referrals, asking for sponsors. We learned that it’s okay to ask, and that it’s not an intrusion: it’s a reminder!
  • Speaking of reminders: communicate, communicate, communicate. This year we upped our social media engagement for the business and the podcast by focusing more on helping our community and sharing more resources that we’re already using.
  • Remind each other of the bigger picture. While tenacity is definitely in an entrepreneur’s DNA, it’s not always easy when the going gets tough. I am lucky to have the support of Lea and our intern Erin when business matters are uncertain. We are all invested in the business, so we we remind each other of our goals and dreams, while planning for the practicality of achieving them.
  • Deliberate reflection and action toward the business. While Lea and I have the pleasure and privilege of business success in large part due to the strength of our work and our reputation, we know it can only take us so far. We must be proactive in running and growing the business. Always.

The future is never a guarantee, and the path to success is never a straight line. Happy anniversary, Bright Umbrella! The forecast is bright!

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