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Our Top 5 Beginner Business Building Tips

January 13, 2021

Building a business is hard and we’re not trying to pretend it isn’t. We’re figuring it out as we go over here but we’ve definitely learned a few things in the process;) Here are our Top 5 Beginner Business Building Tips from 2020!

We don’t have it all figured out…

…and we’re not pretending that we do.

Even though Sam Macy Designs started at the end of 2018 (read: our parents got the first official Shadow Boxes as Christmas gifts), 2020 felt like the first “official” year.

Sam registered for an LLC, we created organizational systems, divvied out responsibilities and I have sent emails that say things like “stay on the lookout for an invoice coming your way soon” then I actually MADE an invoice.

Like… Who am I?

But in all seriousness, things have changed quite a bit in a year as we’ve learned what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change.

As fellow “figure-it-out-as-we-goers” we sat down and brainstormed beginner business building tips we wish we knew sooner so we could share them with you.

So, without further ado…

Life Outside the Shop Beginner Business Building Tips #1: Don't scale the unscalable until you need to.

1. Don’t scale the unscalable…

…until you need to.

As a small business, we have the ability to do some cool things that aren’t necessarily as “easy” as they would be if we were bigger.

We sent personalized (read: hand-cut and glue-sticked – is that the past tense of “used a glue stick?”) holiday cards to everyone who bought a Shadow Box over the holiday.

We also sent personalized emails to everyone asking how their Shadow Box reveals went and asked them to share more about their experience working with us.

I had previously set up a whole email thread that would happen automatically, but it didn’t feel quite right yet. Too impersonal for our current state, what we need and what our customers need.

That isn’t to say that big businesses can’t give personal experiences – I truly believe it is possible to some degree and have seen this happen. In fact, these are the companies we strive to one day be like at Sam Macy Designs and Life Outside the Shop.

But, while we can still offer an EXTREMELY personalized experience, it needs to stay our top priority. And, as we do this, we’re constantly thinking of ways we can stay true to this as we grow!

Life Outside the Shop Beginner Business Building Tips #2: CLEARLY outline and distribute tasks

2. CLEARLY Outline and Distribute Tasks

Oh hey, type-A personality. This was a HUGE one for us this year as Sam spent more time scroll-sawing and needed a little help on the backend of things.

(Please see “stay on the lookout for an invoice coming your way soon” email example.)

But, because he was in the shop, I was working from the office, the store, the couch or – fine I’ll admit it – the bed, we had to be able to keep tabs on every piece of the moving puzzle that is the Shadow-Box-making-process.

Enter: Asana. This is a program that I use at work to keep projects and due dates clear. So, Sam and I decided to give it a shot for Sam Macy Designs and Life Outside the Shop.

WELL LET ME TELL YOU – it was a game-changer for us. It has helped us track where every order is in the production and payment process along with what emails need to be sent and when.

We can tag each other, assign projects and tasks to each other and keep distribution of tasks extremely clear.

(P.S. The free version is more than enough for us right now! So, if you give it a shot, we’d recommend starting there and upgrading when and if you find it necessary.)

It has also helped with planning ahead for LOTS posts, vlogs, and other fun ideas we have planned;)

So, even with a team of two (or even one!) as you get going, having clear task distribution and a way to manage it is a must.

Life Outside the Shop Beginner Business Building Tips #3: Review, Reflect, Revise

3. Review, Reflect, Revise

Some things work and some things really, really don’t.

The key to capitalizing on what you’re doing well and adjusting what you’re not is setting aside time to review and reflect on the past and revise your plan for the future.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What am I most proud of last year? What were my biggest wins and milestones?
  • What specific projects, plans, or initiatives got me most excited about the future/trajectory of my business?
  • On the flip side, what felt most draining? Why?
  • How can I do more of the things that filled me up and less of the things that drained me?

From there, think back to any goals you made for the PREVIOUS year and ask yoursef:

  • Which of these goals did I hit? What specific actions or routines helped me be successful? How can I build on these next year?
  • Which of these goals did I miss? Why did I miss them?
    • Because I didn’t have a system in place?
    • Because the goal was too big?
    • Because this goal doesn’t actually matter to me?

Then, use this information to set new goals for the upcoming year. Need some help? Check out THIS POST and download the accompanying goal setting guide. Then, walk through it step-by-step with a specific focus on your business.

Life Outside the Shop Beginner Business Building Tips #4: Invest in Yourself & Practice Patience

4. Invest in Yourself

And practice patience.

This is one of my favorite beginner business building tips because it is something we often forget to do.

And, let’s be honest, when you’re growing a business and money is tight, reinvesting back into the business can feel scary. What if it doesn’t pan out? What if you spend all this money upgrading (read: new picture frame jig and scroll saw, anyone?) and the orders just don’t come in.

Yes, you need to be smart. You need to know the numbers, budget it out and make sure you’re making smart business decisions. But, you also need to go all in. If you don’t believe it is going to work, no one else is either.

And, you may save yourself time and money in the long-run by spending a bit of money to improve processes and efficiency. Pick and choose where to start, prioritize what you REALLY need now and what you can buy later. Then, make the investment in yourself and your business.

Then, be patient. I’m writing this one mostly because I need the reminder on the reg. MOST businesses don’t take off overnight.

Sure, there are the lucky few products that hit the market at the EXACT right time in the EXACT right way. Or, the post that gets shared by the EXACT right person. But that is not the story for most of us.

So, we have to keep grinding. But, when you love what you do and feel passionate about your product – whether it is a Shadow Box, vlog, or blog post, it doesn’t feel like a grind.

(…Most of the time;) We all have our days.)

Life Outside the Shop Beginner Business Building Tips #5: Separate Church and State

5. Separate Church and State

Okay, I lied. This is ACTUALLY my favorite beginner business building tip.

This has the BIGGEST game changer for us and – to be honest – it is still something that we’re working on.

If you work with your partner or friend – or even “just get their help sometimes” you have to separate church and state. In other words, you have to keep your relationship (romantic or otherwise) separate from the business.

Some places Sam and I do our best to keep biz talk to a minimum (again, still not perfect and there are always exceptions to the rule) are the bedroom and on our (currently snowy) walks with Blue!

Driving in the car? Fair game! Morning coffee? Fair game!

This not only allows us to connect and focus on our relationship, but it also gives us both time away from the business. It allows us to come back to work feeling more refreshed and ready to get after it.

The Truth about Beginner Business Building

Two truths, actually.

First, we are not pros. We’re beginners too! And, my goal has always been to be upfront about that so that we can take you along for the (very-terrifying- first-time-on-a-rollercoaster-when-you-had-to-stand-on-your-tiptoes-to-be-tall-enough) ride.

Second, it is okay if you’re still figuring it out. It is TOUGH OUT HERE. It is okay if you don’t get it right every time or if you wake up in a blind panic thinking “WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO”. You are NOT alone. And, reminding yourself of that now and then is really important.

Did we miss something? Are you building a biz and figuring it out as you go too? We’d love to hear what your learns were (or, if you have any questions for us!) so we can learn from YOU, too!

<3 Ali

P.S. Never miss a post! Whether you’re building a biz, gettin’ after a DIY project or you’re here for the health stuff, we’re sharing what we know and learn as we make mistakes and figure it out! Be the first to know about our latest projects, adventures, blogs & vlogs by signing up for our newsletter!

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  1. Ashley says:

    Love these tips and watching you guys grow this biz together!


Hi, I'm Ali! Photographer, dog mom, daily walker, reader, and wife to a busy maker. I'm the voice you hear and read at Life Outside the Shop.

From new project how-to's and DIY home updates to the ins-and-outs of building a family & multiple businesses... Life Outside the Shop shares what is really looks like to figure it out as you go!

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