Chapter 5: The Four Most Important Things I've Learned in The First Year

With all the build-up to my son’s 8thbirthday on Saturday, another significant birthday almostslipped my mind.  That’s the birthday of my third baby, my business The Storied House!

This time last year I was terrified as I was about to reveal months of creative work to the world. In absolute devilish timing, my back decided to kink, which meant the final hours before the launch had to be spent putting the finishing touches on the website from my bed.

Those first months required lots of nurturing of the business as I tweaked things, designed work flows and a new collection, made mistakes, worked with a mill in Ireland, edited my launch collections and refined my offerings.

In my mind, the first year of business is all about finding your way and while you may have a business plan laid out, you need the flexibility to change tracks.  Still fresh from the last twelve months, I have four key learnings to share with any creative entrepreneur as they bootstrap their business idea in these early months. You may be surprised!

Failure is Feedback

My co-author of the Soul Planner, Vanessa Loder, first introduced me to this concept before I launched The Storied House.  I typically held the highest of standards (sometimes totally unrealistic) for myself, when things went awry, I would castigate myself for not knowing better and wallow in self-recrimination.

With this reframe-that failure is merely feedback-I was able to put aside the baggage of the negativity associated with ‘failure’ and look at it more objectively. The information from failure is invaluable.  The only way to know if something works is to try it; pushing through the paralysis caused by the fear of making a mistake meant that I continued to try new things and evolve the business.

My Irish linen collection is an example of this.  The process of bringing it to market took WAY longer than I had anticipated for a number of reasons, but I decided I could look at each missed deadline to bring it to life as a massive failure or I could view each missed deadline as an iteration of a really beautiful, luxurious product.  I chose the latter and I believe it’s true-I’m so proud of the collection and its beautiful quality, so I’m glad I didn’t let all the set-backs keep it from coming to market.

Seeing failures – a word I don’t even use anymore- as feedback neutralizes all the stigma and shame of getting the figurative, big red “F” on your efforts.  Instead  the feedback is something you file away, as my friend and executive coach Jill Farmer says, “good to know.”

It’s feedback.

That’s all.

Move on.

Find Your People

Being a ‘solopreneur’ can be a lonely game.  Even though I LOVE what I do, I found the hours and hours I spent toiling on my own left me rather lonely.  The hours I wasn’t working, I wanted to spend with my family but there was still a void of friendly work banter and thought-partnership.  I tried a co-working space, and while I may have exchanged pleasantries in the kitchen, I still felt I lacked real connection.

Here’s the good news.  In today’s virtual world, it has never been easier to build connections from your desk.  One of the best things I did was enroll in some group coaching programs for creative entrepreneurs and for women in career transitions. 

It’s important to have a supportive outlet of people who understand the specific challenges of a creative business and all that goes with it and to have a feeling that you have a tribe who has your back.  When I would get discouraged or too inside my head, it was a lifesaver to have these smart women attuned to the start-up life and all its challenges offering support and ideas.  Their fresh perspectives and genuine concern were an excellent foundation that helped me stay the course.

Collaboration has also been a great thing.  Doing a few collaborations this past year has afforded me the chance to feel in partnership with like-minded entrepreneurs and produce products that far surpass the efforts of what one person could do.  This has fueled me. I’m extremely proud of my Soul Planner collaboration and the others that are currently in the works and they’ve fed me in so many different ways.

And when you do have some free time, follow the ideas. I prioritized after-work events to only events where there were ideas discussed.  Whether it’s a book signing, speaker series, a political salon, or personal development event, any time big ideas are discussed, it will attract others who have unique ideas themselves.  These sorts of events may not directly relate to your business, and that’s ok.  I find that exercising my brain and creativity with new and mind-bending concepts is exceptional for meeting dynamic people and stimulation, which can enhance you as a business person.

Take Time Off

No, taking time off is not for wusses. It seems counterintuitive to schedule time off in the first year, when time is of the essence. This was extremely tricky for me at first.  In my previous work life, I thought nothing of working through vacations, e-mailing clients from the hospital bed as I was recovering from a c-section (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND NOT DOING THIS, especially on pain killers :))

But in the last twelve months I’ve not only put down the phone (mostly) while on vacation with my family, I’ve actually scheduled ‘white space’ time where I have nothing planned.  It gives me space to be creative, get out in nature and move-and yes, it’s usually in the middle of a work day. I come back to my desk refreshed and full of ideas. In fact, Tania Katan, author of “Creative Trespassing: How to Put the Spark and Joy Back Into Your Work and Life”, told me recently that her best tool for stirring up some creativity is to go for a walk.

Even if you’re not in a creative business, creating some 'white space' where nothing is planned other than some movement is the key, I believe, to super productivity.

Clean up

We’ve all heard about the #konmari movement, where you get rid of things that don’t spark joy.  While Marie Kondo’s book and her Netflix series have spurred a collective effort to purge clutter, I really believe this is more than a passing trend. There is something to getting rid of things to allow space for new business to come in. Being a person who has a deep interest in several different things, I’m notorious for having books, notebooks and magazines lying around at various points of being read and written in. 

And since I now have a product-based business, I found it was shockingly easy to get engulfed by fabrics in my home office. Throw in two children who pop into the office and take various supplies and then leave them around the house (pinking shears under the doll house, anyone?) and chaos ensues.

I feel so much calmer when everything is in its place. I think this is especially important when you have a home office.  If it’s chaotic in your office, it will spill out into the rest of your home and the lines between work and home become indistinguishable.

Each quarter, I make a concerted effort to go through the things on my desk and find a suitable place for them.  I comb through and delete old e-mail and spend time organizing my computer files, which can get wildly out of control in a creative business.

By reminding myself that all of the above is good for business,I find it easier to put these at the top of my to-do list. It feels less like a secondary task, which, let’s be honest, never happens in a start-up. 

So as my 'baby' enters its second year, I will try to build in even more white space, make order an even greater priority, nurture my people and gather more ‘feedback.’ 

It’s worked wonders for me so far so can’t wait to see what this next year brings!






  • Suzanne,

    Great read of your four points, here! Although I would love to quit my “day job” and move into an entrepreneurial space, it is not the right time for me. BUT,I will keep reading your thought provoking posts and soon I hope to be there! I cannot believe you have had your business for a year now—many congrats to you on this venture! It is simply…..amazing, and so fun to watch it grow, and grow!! CA

  • This is great! Love your insights!


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