The end of 2015 marks my second full year of running my own business. A lot has changed since I made the leap in 2013 from the corporate world to the solopreneur world. I’ve relaunched my business twice to reflect the expansion of my services. I’ve invested in some decent software & systems to run my business more efficiently. I now have a steady stream of client engagements. And I’m focused much more on growth now versus just staying afloat.

This year, I also crossed the biggest milestone to-date in my business, which I’ll share with you in a moment.

A few things haven’t changed

My professional mission remains firmly grounded in helping professionals relaunch their careers by marketing their personal brands more powerfully. The nature of my work is still centered around career coaching, hosting career workshops, and speaking. I continue to find all three extremely gratifying.

I still have a ton to learn about running my own business. I have so much more to figure out about future content development, including the podcast I’m launching in the upcoming year. I also have an ongoing paranoia (hopefully “productive paranoia”) about whether I’m going about things the right way, whether I’m moving at the right speed, whether I am where I should be, whether the business will ultimately shape up in line with my vision.

Working on vs. in my business

In addition to working IN my business, I also dedicate a significant portion of my time working ON my business. If you’re not familiar with a difference, I wasn’t either until I listened to Pat Flynn’s podcast on “How to Scale up your Service-Based Business.”

In a nutshell, working in your business is about engaging in the actual day-to-day operations. In my case, speaking, career consulting, and hosting workshops. Working on your business is about improving and growing your business. In my case, devising strategies to expand my audience, investing in systems to support that growth, and hiring the right talent to execute this vision.

Working on my business is just as important to me as the actual work I do for my clients, not only so I can have a viable business to continue serving these clients, but also so I’m continually learning things I can share with my clients, especially other business owners.

I was recently gave a talk at Escape the City, and someone in the audience asked me if I liked the career consulting or the business building side of self-employment more. I actually love both. If I was only an employee at a coaching organization, or if I was only building a generic business, I would find this less gratifying. But the combination of business development and career consulting has been a sweet spot for me.


2015 has been an exciting year for my business. In 2014, my business goal was basically to make ends meet. To ensure the business broke even and also covered our living expenses. In 2015, my business goal was to generate a net income that matched my most recent corporate salary back in the days when I worked as a brand marketer on the global Häagen-Dazs team. I’m happy to report that as of Nov. 2015, my annual income now exceeds my former corporate salary.

Reaching this business milestone is nice, but that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here. I mention this milestone for 2 reasons:

  1. First, it’s important to celebrate the milestones in your business or career. No matter how big or small. I often get so caught up in achieving a bigger goal or working toward the next major milestone that I forget to stop and reflect on what I’ve actually already accomplished. That can lead to burn out, frustration, and exhaustion. Celebrating your small wins keeps you motivated by allowing you to register your existing progress.
  2. Second, I wanted to let you in on the drivers that helped me achieve this goal. Regardless of whether you’re striving to achieve a goal in your business or in your career, I hope knowing the 5 of the steps I took this year that made the biggest, most positive impact to my trajectory can be a helpful point of reference for you in your own career endeavors:

1) I Did My 20 Mile March Every Single Day

sand-dunes-691431 UnsplashOne thing that I can say with 100% certainty is that I have absolutely, unequivocally worked harder during the past two years on this business then I have during any other part of my professional career. I’ve fit work into virtually every idle moment. It’s not unusual to for me to quickly open my laptop on the London Tube and work away only to close it 2 minutes later after I arrive at my stop. Yeah, I can be pretty intense 🙂

You’ve probably heard that growing a business is a marathon, not a sprint. So true. You have to give yourself breaks, but this also means you’ve got to put work into it every single day to make progress. I’ve found that the separator between success and failure isn’t luck or even a good idea, but instead, hustle and hard work. I try to take manageable steps toward my career goals every single day, and give it 100% every single day. Not 110%, not 90%, but 100%. Jim Collins eloquently explains this concept called the “20 Mile March” in his book Great By Choice.

This year, my “20 Mile March” was taking a single step forward every day on each of the following: 1) client relations, 2) content creation, 3) business development. I set weekly and daily tasks, using tools like Trello and Wunderlist to help keep me track my progress. I just saw my end-of-year report from Wunderlist, and it turns out Mondays and August were my most productive times. Interestingly, I was traveling most of August, so I guess I work best when I’m on the road! Based on my Wunderlist productivity report, if you assume 250 working days/year, and account for a few holidays, I averaged around 2 major completed tasks per working day. Nothing earth shattering, but enough to make the progress I wanted.

What will be your 20 Mile March in the upcoming year?

2) I Found Regular Sources Of Inspiration

picjumbo.com_HNCK3273One thing that really kept me on track this year was having a steady stream of inspiration to keep me energized, educated, and focused with my work. When you run your own business, the journey can sometimes feel incredibly lonely. You don’t have a colleague you can turn to right away. The same actually holds true if you’re pursuing any sort of non-traditional career path. There aren’t always precedents to guide you. And there aren’t handy manuals that maps out exactly what you should do next.

Inspiration is my mental fuel. It helps keep me going when I’m feeling stuck about what to do next. A few weekly podcasts have created this fuel for me. Scott Britton’s Competitive Edge, Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income, and others have been so useful in regrounding and guiding me during those frequent times of uncertainty.

Where could you get your regular dose of inspiration?

3) I Said “No” To Opportunities

Life-of-Pix-free-stock-photos-men-train-station-white-leeroySaying no to an engagement is not always intuitive. It means saying no to clients. It means saying no to additional income. And it sometimes means discontinuing work with existing clients. But saying no is necessary to make room for growth. Especially if you’re running a service-based business. You only have so many hours a day, and eventually, you run out of those hours. I ran into a capacity issue much earlier than I ever expected—the point at which I was getting more business than I could feasibly support with the hours I had available during the day.

So this year, I started saying no more often. I turned away new clients. I turned down speaking gigs. And I turned down offers from potential partners that would have generated more business and exposure for me, at least in the short term. I did this so I could make room for the highest value engagements possible, not only those that allowed me to do the most energizing work, but also those that generated the greatest value for me, my clients, and the world.

Which low value, time consuming activity could you let go of in the weeks ahead?

4) I Forced Myself To Start Somewhere

escalator-828621_1920I erred on the side of action, even if I didn’t have everything 100% planned out, or if I didn’t know exactly how things would turn out. I just decided to go for it. Sometimes, things completely flopped. For example, my first Periscope broadcast was a complete dud. Crickets chirping. I think 2 people showed up. But I still went for it. It eventually made it easier for me to do some video recordings, which I’ll be soon featuring on my YouTube channel. I created a Medium Publication called Career Relaunch, which still has a tiny audience, but has been slowly growing.

Other times, I just did my best to move in a direction that felt broadly right. For example, I knew I needed a new website, but I had no idea where to start. I didn’t know which platform to use, where to find a web developer, whether I even needed a new site. But I just took it one step at a time. I laid out my questions. I mapped out the content I thought I wanted to showcase. I pinned down the purpose I thought I wanted the website to serve. I outlined the functionality I thought I would need. And eventually, things came together. I did find a developer to help me. And I did relaunch my new website last month.

I often hear from people that they don’t know where to start when it comes to their next career move. Just remember, starting is the hardest part. So sometimes, you just have to give it your best guess and start somewhere, knowing that you may adjust course along the way.

What small step could you take now to move one of your ideas forward?

5) I Hired People To Help Me

Startup Stock PhotosI was very reluctant to formally bring people on board to help me with this business. I had heard a compelling podcast by Scott Britton on Virtual Assistants, and I regularly call out the importance of outsourcing to my own clients, but I hesitated to make that step myself. Here’s where the excuses started to flow. I was reluctant to “entrust” someone with an aspect of my business. I didn’t know where to find help. I didn’t have make time to find help. I also hesitated to spend money on things I could do myself (at least in theory).

Then, earlier this year, a friend of mine from business school, Ana Archbold, volunteered to help me with some aspects of my business. I feel hugely indebted to her because this marked the start of a new chapter in my business. I no longer found comfort in doing everything myself, but instead in finding and hiring the right people who could handle these tasks more efficiently and effectively than I.

In the past 6 months alone, I’ve hired a freelance designer, web developer, animator, photographer, content writer, virtual assistant, Photoshop editor, coder, document designer, musician, sound engineer, presentation guru, and illustrator. You can see a few people who form part of my virtual team.

You can’t do everything on your own. If you’re trying to tackle a major career challenge, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. In fact, getting help from even one other person can really make all the difference.

Which time-consuming activity beyond your core expertise could you outsource?

My big takeaways from the year

So that’s my brief year in review: the milestones, insights, and lessons along the way. Running my own business has been the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had in my life. These actions I outlined here have kept my dream of running and growing this business alive.

I’ve learned so much along the way about how much is actually within your control, how the decisions you make have a direct impact on outcomes, and the actions you take make all the difference. I’ve always been a believer in free will over fate, hard work over luck, and planning over hope. My journey as a small business owner has only strengthened these beliefs.

If you’ve been working toward a major goal on your business or in your career, I hope you’ll take the time to celebrate your wins along the way and also remind yourself of what steps you took to get there. Those steps are the clues into what has served you well and what could serve you well in the future.

We’re all faced with moments of uncertainty, moment of doubt, moments where we wish we could be achieve more than we currently are. But if you’ve reached a significant milestone, no matter how big or small, you’re definitely on the right track.

What was one major milestone you crossed in your career this year? What were the keys to your success in reaching that goal? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Define Your Own Goals

If you want to reflect on your own goals and actions required to achieve them, I’ve created a free worksheet with a simple exercise to help you do this.

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About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.

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