The Unexpected Truth About... Slow Business Growth

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From Instagram to blog posts to podcasts, the online world is filled with stories of people who set up businesses and achieve success almost overnight.

Not to take away from the success of others (truly, they worked hard and earned it!), but I think that we need to expand the conversation a little, because the stories we see are rarely the full version. So, expect to see more insight into the world of online business from me over the coming weeks - having built two businesses in the last four years, I hope that I can provide a little insight.

The most important thing to know is that often, we are only exposed to a snippet of a story. That might be because we are only looking at how things are in the present, or it might be because people are ‘managing’ their story to an extent, even unconsciously. After all, social media is a curated environment, as are our websites and ‘About' pages. As honest and authentic as we may all aim to be, we do not and cannot reveal every element of our successes and failures. Not least because no one has time for that!

In reality starting a business is likely to be a slow, laborious and sometimes disheartening process. But it is also exciting, exhilarating and filled with hope. I do believe that it is worth it, or I wouldn’t have done it (twice!) and I wouldn’t be recommending it! But it does take patience, perseverance and hard work - often over a period of years, rather than months. Knowing this, and managing expectations, can help us to keep going even when we feel a little hopeless.


THE CHALLENGES AND BENEFITS OF SLOW GROWTH

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I have previously written about the contrast between starting a business quickly vs slowly, based on my experiences. This still holds true, but I would now add that the growth of Be Stubborn has been slower than anticipated. This is both because my early expectations were wildly wrong, and because I deliberately slowed things down. And ultimately, I am so glad that I did. In fact, I recommend it. 

To give a bit of background -  I started to shape this business about ten months ago in between travelling and freelancing. I didn't have a very clear vision or niche at first, and spent a few months experimenting and learning what worked for me and for my very small audience via a bit of trial and error. 

I wasn't earning any money from the business due to this experimentation / slow start / small audience, and that was HARD. Because wherever money sits in our list of priorities we still a) need it to live, and b) often draw parallels between money and success. 

Truthfully, I still don't earn money from this business, but I have become unexpectedly comfortable with that - in part because I take on freelance work to pay the bills. But the slow pace of business growth has meant that I now feel really clear in what I want to achieve, and I know I will succeed with a little perseverance. I fear sounding arrogant, but I do feel confident that I have something to offer, that I can help some people, and that I am building a business that I will love for years to come. 


LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY FIRST BUSINESS

Another reason for feeling okay about this slow growth is that Be Stubborn is my second business. My first was developed in partnership with a friend, and was / is successful. But it grew very quickly, was not rooted in a strong vision, and I had not considered that my values differed from my business partners - a recipe for personal disaster as it turned out. 

Long story short, within three years I was miserable so I sold my shares and walked away from the business I had grown, nurtured and loved. It was so hard, but I knew I needed to make a change to be happy.

But in that time I had learned a huge amount about business, and myself. And I knew that running my own business was something that I could definitely do; I just wanted to do it in a way that made me feel happier and more fulfilled. 


EMBRACE SLOW GROWTH

So if you’re growing a business, and fear that it’s not happening as quickly as you’d expect or other people imply, remember this:

  • We only see a part of other stories, and often we’re only hearing about the middle of the story onwards. 

  • Life is long, and you’ll be working for many years, so take your time and play the long game. 

  • Have confidence that you will succeed, however long it takes. And remember that if it takes a while, that time will help you to feel as sure, confident and courageous as can be. 


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“I've been writing in some form or another for most of my adult life, producing content for blogs, mailings, businesses, and within my marketing career. Once I have the idea and a few notes, I can often bash something out, then refine it over the next few days until it is something I am happy with. But the hardest thing? Starting.”

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“Totally anecdotally, I have witnessed engagement rates drop across social media when those in charge, those defining the strategy, simply do not use or understand what constitutes 'ideal content' for the audiences on those platforms. They themselves don't browse, follow successful accounts, SEE what is working. They focus on their brand, rather than their audience's expectations of a platform, and their content strategy reflects that.”

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“Rather than setting up a business in under two weeks (I can't believe we achieved that!!), I spent several months slowly developing the ideas behind Be Stubborn, and a couple of months working through the offerings, feasibility, opportunities, risks, gaps etc, before even starting to build the website. I kept refining and simplifying and improving. Maybe a little too much, maybe I should have launched sooner. But I loved the process.”

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