I wasn’t expecting it to be easy to start a business, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so challenging either.
Kind of like parenthood, you can’t truly know what entrepreneurship will be like until you actually live it.
Before starting Shine Insurance Agency, I just knew that I HAD to jump ship from my cushy job and do my own thing, so I did. That was almost 3 years ago and I haven’t looked back. Not once. Not a single time have I thought “I should’ve stayed at my old job.” A few things caught me off guard. Some of them shocked my soul, or hurt my heart. The reset button has been pushed MANY times and I’m finally learning to embrace each new cycle, each clean slates.
I counsel business owners every day, especially during start-up and growth phases. I help them clarify intentions, map out next steps, and of course I help them with their insurance. My clients always ask, from my perspective as a business owner, what I wish I’d known sooner. Sharing my entrepreneurial roller coaster has been one of my great joys, it feels like some of the most helpful work I do.
Here’s the list of 8 legit surprises during my first (almost) 3 years as an entrepreneur:
1. Personal health became a challenge
Okay, full disclosure here, I’ve gained some weight. This one really creeped up on me. At first, I brought the dog to work and walked at least 30 minutes each day, ate very healthfully, and lost weight! A couple clients noticed and commented on my glow. What a great feeling! I assumed this was my new way of life, and that I had new habits that would just stick. Ha ha! Oh was I wrong. I did not set the intention to move my body every day, so when work became increasingly busy exercise was one of the first things to go.
We quickly earned plenty of clients, and growth snowballed as our clients referred members of their inner circles. My workload increased exponentially, and my focus shifted to: work first – everything else later. It led to near burn-out on several occasions. The combo of not moving my body + feeling stress almost all of the time = about 30 pounds distributed over my frame with an emphasis in the midsection like I’ve never had before. I’ve learned to dress this new body, but this spare tire won’t be here long.
I had to do something. The combination of weight ticking up and not sleeping well, plus family history, sounded the alarm. I knew I could influence my health outcome, I just needed help figuring out what to focus on. Working with Jen Owen, NP enabled me to get a complete understanding of my physical and genetic health. Following her advice I’ve made consistent small shifts: prioritize sleep and nutrition, take supplements, eat better, and move every day. The result has been feeling healthier and smarter. Every expert I know preaches a healthy lifestyle. For business owners, it has to be priority #1 or it won’t get done.
2. I STRUGGLED to create systems and processes
I’m an organized person. I’ve been doing this kind of work for over a decade. I relied on my old “systems” for the first year and a half which really was no good.
My husband had zero experience as an insurance agent when we started Shine, he was a teacher and a hard worker, and he’s blown me away with his ability to learn, create, implement, and revise workflows for his department (personal insurance).
I assumed that his system wasn’t necessary for me. My limiting belief really held me back, but it took a long time for me to realize it.
Doing my thing, my way, made it more difficult to train and delegate. The painful process of hiring an assistant, training, and then losing that person before she was able to really help me…well that sucked. And it happened twice in the past year.
I became forcefully, acutely aware that I was letting the tyranny of workload + my limiting beliefs about workflows stand in the way of growth. So I used the setbacks as fuel, and I (grouchily) tackled creating, then evolving, workflows. I created a manual for my department (business insurance) and handed it off to my new (third) assistant.
We hired smarter this time, our new colleague has tons of insurance experience and we were able to skip all the insurance 101 training that had taken so much time with the first two. She started her first day with detailed manual in hand. The experience has been remarkable. I can finally breathe again. I’m sleeping better, knowing our clients continue to receive the exceptional care they deserve, and that nothing is slipping through the cracks. Better yet, my imagination is back, and I’m able to work on long term strategies again.
3. Starting a business forces relationships to EVOLVE
Relationships transformed in ways I didn’t expect. Shockingly (to me), the first relationship to suffer damage was my closest friend of 15 years. We’d been through SO MUCH together, always supporting and encouraging each other. I shared the ups and downs of starting my business, and assumed she understood my priorities. I was wrong.
She felt left out and left behind, and our friendship didn’t survive. I was unwilling to sacrifice my priorities to meet her needs. This happened within 6 months of opening Shine. I was stunned. It took a while to heal.
Other friends have come and gone. My number one challenge, emotionally, has been navigating the ebb and flow of personal relationships. Getting clear on who gets my time and energy has created a tangible shift for me. I’ve learned to cultivate and nurture a small inner circle of friends. This is what works for me, but it has not been easy to figure out and then implement.
When I was an employee and my husband was a teacher, I was accustomed to leaving work at the office, keeping home life sacred for family time. I’d listen and engage in his work talk, to a certain degree, but my mind was off the clock and insurance wasn’t a typical topic of convo around the house.
When we started Shine together, insurance became the number one topic on my husband’s mind at any given time. We tried creating rules and boundaries around work talk, but for us, that tended to create more angst on both sides.
Our current solution for how-much-work-talk-is-okay has taken nearly 3 years to resolve. Basically, we have zero rules around work talk. My guy pays attention to the signs that I’m not interested or losing patience with the conversation, and he wraps it up/saves the topic for a later time. I know when he really needs to talk about something work-related, and I hang tough even when I don’t want to. The push-pull has evolved into give and take. RELIEF!!
4. I stopped cooking (refer to #1, no doubt there’s a strong correlation)
I enjoy cooking.
I used to cook a nice meal about 5 nights/week. At least a few weeks the past year, our homemade meals seriously deteriorated to non-existent. It felt like crap. I felt like a loser. I just couldn’t get it together to get to the store, keep us in stock of staples, and deal with the time and effort to cook. I thought I may be losing it forever. I entertained grocery delivery services, meal services, and tried cooking in bulk one Sunday per month. None of these solutions panned out.
Now that I have help with work, I’m back to cooking again. Yesterday I spent 6 hours making my Mamaw Jerry’s time-consuming but insanely delicious yeast rolls for the family get-togethers happening this week. I had to make space in my life to let cooking back in, and hiring my assistant has allowed me to do that. I’m so excited to cook healthy meals again, and to get my picky child to learn to like different foods.
5. I got clear on my values and boundaries
A MAJOR gift of start-up phase, for us, is that the past couple of years have really allowed us to hit the reset button. When we decided to start Shine, we sold all our extra stuff, reduced our debt every possible way, refinanced our house and used the equity to replace our old roof before it became a problem. We cancelled cable, reduced our eating-out budget, and cut back on all other extras. We created a budget and we stuck to it. We paid ourselves less than either of us had made since college. We were cutting our own hair till a couple months ago.
As we exit the start-up phase, we’ve been making small moves to reincorporate a little luxury. Starting over has allowed us to carefully consider what we want most, and budget accordingly. All the little things feel like such HUGE improvements.
We’ve also hit the reset button on how much of ourselves we give, for the moment. We’re both in love with our community and passionate about servant leadership and helping everyone we possibly can. Starting our business has given us the opportunity to step back from volunteering so much, and really consider how we spend our limited time. We’ve revamped how we give, and to whom we give, and our Giving Back program has enabled us to make a lasting positive impact in our community. As we’ve completed commitments to organizations like WonderLab Museum of Science and Technology and The Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington, we’ve allowed those time slots to remain unfilled, able to be used for business or personal endeavors. We will volunteer again, but right now it’s nice to have the extra space in our schedules.
6. I revisited that old familiar feeling of never enough
I remember the feeling so vividly: 4 years of college = 4 years of always having work hanging over my head. If I wasn’t working at my jobs (janitor for my family’s business + laundry folder at the laundromat + home health aid/companion for elders), then I was working on projects for my art classes, studying, and doing homework. I had plenty of hang time with my buds, but always had the nagging feeling that I should be doing something else or I should be doing MORE. There was always an endless To Do list.
Truthfully, never enough has haunted my entire life, and the feeling has been a central theme the past 3 years. I’m committed to being done with that now. My friend and my teachers have consistently told me that it’s time to stop doing and start being, to listen to my heart, my inner guidance system, and my purpose. To trust that I’ll achieve my hopes and dreams without the struggle. I’m choosing to to trust, have faith, relax into it. Being fully me, all the time.
My efforts to give up the never enough baloney include meditation, yoga, nutrition, rest & relaxation, time with friends, and plenty of physical movement.
7. It’s essential to believe in YOURSELF
Every day presents a million important decisions. It’s easy to want control, control, control. But I’ve learned that life and business don’t work that way.
When challenges come up and I wonder WHAT DO I DO??… I get quiet, breathe deeply, and ask the question in my mind. Then I trust the answer. Trusting the answer, and following through, are the keys. It takes away the need to dissect and decide on every single thing that comes up. So much comes up in a day, this is a simple way that I just trust and believe rather than try to control.
8. Planning is KEY
I totally love to plan, AND – I like to keep my plan more like a frame of reference than a specific set of tasks and timelines. My To Do list is updated every day or two, and each day is approached with the intention to do my best, highest good. I trust that it will happen, and most days I happily check stuff off my To Do list and feel plenty productive. On days when too little is crossed off the list, I make a plan for the next day and have faith that it will happen. It usually does. I use this daily planning sheet right now. I used to use this one.
Note: my To Do list is a daily rolling list. Each time I create a new list, I move about 1/3 of the stuff from old list to new list. I gave up the idea of being “caught up” years ago.
The move from employee to entrepreneur felt really natural, and as soon as Jeremy and I shared our intentions, support bubbled up from every direction. It was super exciting, and it’s still just as exciting to earn a new client, provide exceptional care during a claim, or solve a confusing insurance issue. Helping people is what we’re all about, and we get to do that every day.
Each day includes many opportunities to move beyond my boundaries. We’ve raised Shine from infancy through toddlerhood, and we’re officially working with a business that can hug us back, which is an incredible feeling. I’ve been surprised by a million things, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.