We Made It.
One Year Down
So, we did it! In early May, Hartley Social celebrated its first birthday. What a year it was…it was everything I had expected without knowing how to prepare for it.
When I left my full-time job the February before, I had no intention of starting my own business (at least not so soon). I had taken on some freelance work that was becoming more demanding than I had anticipated. As I explained to those who attended #SitWithUsLex, I was sick, working from my couch, borderline high on Mucinex and Airborne tablets when it dawned on me: I could turn my freelance work into a business.
After the thought occurred to me, I never looked back. I purchased a domain and registered for an LLC that very day.
That was the easiest part.
I had no illusions- I knew starting a business would be hard work. For a very long time. Probably forever. However, hard work never scared me. A myriad of other things did.
As a kid, I was fearless. I was unstoppable, outgoing, persistent, confident, and, most of all, passionate. Then, as many others experience, life beat me down, slow and steady. By the time I was 18, I felt like a shell of my former self. I lacked direction, drive, energy, and passion. What I feared most is that I would never get back the qualities that defined me.
I think a lot of people find themselves at this point, and that’s the end of their story. Their guard goes up. While I was definitely guarded, I wanted more for myself. I still had a tiny seed of hope, even if I wouldn’t vocalize it to others.
I was working in retail when an opportunity to intern for a marketing firm fell into my lap. My first reaction was to resist, but upon further introspection, I realized that this opportunity excited me (which is why I initially resisted). So, still lacking confidence, clarity, and general sense of self, I reached out.
Within one month, my unpaid internship turned into a full-time job. Working in marketing was the first time I was able to channel multiple interests and passions (many forgotten) into my work. I was slowly starting to feel more like myself.
This was just the beginning. Because I gained some confidence, I was able to recognize other wants and needs within myself. For example, I loathe sitting in an office. Being required to sit somewhere from X:00 to Y:00 is absolutely painful for me and stifles my creativity.
Finally, at the end of a laundry list of other things I dislike about office culture, I cycled back to the same conclusion I had a million times before: I need to be the boss.
A year into running Hartley Social, I feel more awake and alive than ever before. Sure, it’s hard. Sure, I have bad days. Sure, I encounter a lot of shit. But none of it matters, because this is what I’m passionate about. This is what I am meant to do.
So, the rest of this post will chronicle some things I have learned in my first year- the good, the bad, the ugly.
Money isn’t appreciation
In HS’s first year, I have been fortunate enough to have employees. I realize that this in itself is a luxury, and I am grateful to have the work and the resources necessary to provide compensation for others. But even more so, I am grateful that there are people who reach out to me, almost every day, who want to be a part of HS. I wish I could hire ALL of them, truly.
HS wouldn’t be where it is today without the people who work for me. No question. All of my employees and interns have unique skills, fresh and interesting perspectives, and opinions that I value. I try to voice my appreciation as often as I can…even though they receive a paycheck.
A paycheck is NOT a substitute for feedback or a thank-you. I know that hardworking, talented, loyal employees are hard to find. Why would I want to stain those relationships?
I take my role as a boss very seriously. That’s not to say I don’t have my own shortcomings, because I do, but I vow to always keep them in the conversation, to tell them what I don’t like as well as what I DO like, and to treat them with respect and kindness.
Respect and kindness is NOT only giving your employees negative feedback. Respect and kindness is NOT giving your employees the cold shoulder. Respect and kindness is NOT having unclear expectations.
Respect may not be something you can teach; however, if you are conscious about the way you treat your employees (or the way you treat your firm, the way you treat your freelancers, the way you treat anyone you are paying for a service), you’ll be a step ahead.
There is room for everyone
This is possibly the biggest difference between the way that I think and the way that some others think. I believe, firmly, that there is room for everyone.
This thought doesn’t just apply to business, but applies to all aspects of life. From having a President who relishes nothing more than calling people “losers” to social media campaigns promoting community over competition, there is a huge divide in the way these two schools of thought perceive the world around them.
When I started HS, I willingly developed tunnel vision. To be honest, I don’t really care what other firms are doing, because I’m not them. Instead, I have focused on what I want for HS. We are all different, and we all have different strengths and interests. I am confident enough in my own abilities to not constantly be watching other firms. I want clients to hire HS because what I am doing resonates with them. I genuinely want other firms to succeed, because their work should resonate with a totally different audience. I don’t see it as competition.
I think the same applies to any business. I have had previous clients forbid me to ‘like’ any posts that even mention a “competitor”. Do you think that way of thinking earned them any new customers? Hardly.
This behavior all stems from insecurity. Insecurity is a natural feeling, especially in the digital age. I have felt that sting just as much as anyone else. The difference is that rather than nurturing my insecurity, I recognize it for what it is, wish them the best, and continue building MY business.
So, if you find yourself obsessing over another person or business, stalking their social media, or talking about them incessantly, do yourself a favor and put your phone down, take a deep breath, and think about what you want for yourself and your business. If you find yourself a victim of excessive stalking and scrutiny, do both of you a favor and ‘block’ them.
You Don’t Owe Anyone
You don’t owe anyone. This was a tough sentiment for me to embrace early on because it seemed so selfish and entitled. In my life and in HS, I am grateful to many people who have had an impact or helped me in some way.
I feel like I DO owe a lot of people. I owe it to my clients to fulfill my responsibilities to the best of my abilities. I owe my employees a paycheck. I owe it to others to honor my commitments and keep my promises. I take all of this very seriously.
However, once a working relationship has ended, once you have exhausted every option to help someone, or once you have done your best to show your appreciation…it’s time to move on.
Contrary to what I initially believed, it is those who believe you owe something to them who are entitled and selfish. Making you feel indebted to them is a manipulation tactic and is meant to hold you down. Respectfully remove yourself from the situation, and then move forward.
I Won’t Call Them “Haters”, But…
“Pay attention to who claps when you succeed.”
The word “haters” absolutely makes me cringe. I think if you regularly use the term, it points to narcissism and fragility. But, unfortunately, I have come to terms with the fact that there are people who want you to fail.
Whether it be a former employer, a “friend”, or even an existing client who doesn’t want to see you grow, you will encounter them. Sometimes it is very blatant and sometimes it takes months to discern.
When it’s distant, it’s easy to ignore. However, sometimes it happens much closer to home, and that’s when it can be tough. I can’t remember where I first saw the phrase “Pay attention to who claps when you succeed,” but it immediately struck a chord with me. From time to time, it's good to take stock of those around you and pay attention to who claps when you succeed. If you realize someone isn’t supporting and cheering you on, it’s time to reevaluate. Sometimes, it’s worth a conversation. Sometimes, it’s too far gone, and better to just walk away.
I have focused on trying to surround myself with supporters and encouragers. I have found that the best way to do that is by supporting and encouraging others. I stopped waiting for opportunities to connect with like-minded people, and I created them myself. My goal with meet-ups and Sit With Us events is to give you an environment to make those supportive connections.
Young, Female, Unapologetic
Starting any business is hard. There are lots of obstacles to overcome and lots of people to convince. Starting a business as a female in your early twenties is ever harder.
In my first year, running an entire marketing department has been downplayed as “helping out”. I have had business owners refuse to give me their card, telling me it was because I am a woman. I have told someone about a client to have them respond, “Oh, does your Uncle work there or something?” I have had my judgement and decision making constantly second-guessed. I have been painted as incompetent and incapable by a jealous colleague to the CEO of a company. I have been interrupted, ignored… the list goes on. All by men.
Like I said, it is hard. But it is not impossible.
Before I started my business, I didn’t really believe that sexism existed (at least not to this extent). To be totally honest, I thought it was a card some women pulled as an excuse for their own inability. I patted myself on the back for the way I presented myself because ~ I ~ had never been a victim of sexism, so other women must just be doing something wrong.
What a rude awakening!
Not only do sexism and ageism exist, but they are unapologetically prevalent. Lucky for me, I enjoy a challenge, so I decided I would respond by being unapologetically young and female. I do not try to be something I'm not. I do not try to speak their language. I do not try to play their game. Instead, HS is exactly what I want it to be. I speak my own language and play my own game.
This behavior has led a lot of people to resent HS, only because they aren’t being unapologetically themselves.
How to Overcome It
This post was absolutely not meant to be discouraging. I have started to talk about these experiences many times and then walked away from it. But I want to be real and honest with you. As I said in the beginning, my first year was everything I expected without knowing how to prepare. If you choose to start your own business, or just want to be a general force to be reckoned with, you will experience your own set of obstacles. Through some of my negative experiences, I hope you will take comfort in knowing that you are not alone and that it is possible to keep going.
My main pieces of advice for overcoming are as follows:
Know Your Worth, Then Add Tax
Be an emotional and mental greenhouse. Let in the warmth and good vibes, but not the harsh winds and negativity. It’s tough to strike a balance between not taking on lies about yourself and being open to others, but pay attention and you’ll figure it out. Don't waste your time and energy on those who don't want the best for you, and trust yourself enough to know what that is.
Always Speak Good Things
Any chance you have to speak about someone else or their business, lift them up. It will not always be reciprocated, but it will pay off. The way you speak about others ultimately reflects the way you feel about yourself, and others will eventually recognize that.
Focus On You
Worry about growing your business, making yourself better, and smashing your own goals. Watching someone else will never make you better and will strip you of what makes you different and special.
Don’t Get Cynical
A lot of negativity will be thrown at you as a young female business owner, but don’t let that deter you. Positive energy goes both ways- it you focus on being a light to others, the light will shine on you, too.
Don’t Fucking Give Up
Just don’t do it. The best thing you can do for yourself and your business is to keep moving forward in spite of adversity- both external and internal. Every day is not going to be 100%, but if you keep going, you’ll always be farther along than if you had given up.
We are so grateful, humbled, and excited by our first year, and we’re beyond ready for round two! Here’s what you can expect from us in the next few months:
#SitWithUsLou- It’s official! #SitWithUsLex was AMAZING, and we can’t wait to do it again. We’ll bringing alllll the good vibes to Louisville, and we’re looking for more female business owners, bloggers, entrepreneurs, and all around boss babes to be a part. If you’re interested, reach out to email@example.com!
Product Collab- We’re SO excited to sell our first ever HS product. We teamed up with the incredibly talented Ciara Leroy, the artist behind Pretty Strange Design, to create something we can't wait to show you. We’ll be rolling out the first item in just a few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled! #SlayAllDay
Allllll the Girl Bosses- We’ll be featuring MORE badass babes starting this month, with interviews on the blog and on Instagram Live! We can’t wait to get to know more amazing women and introduce them to you. Get ready to soak in allllll the inspiration!
Our First E-course- We’ll be rolling out our first ever e-course soon, giving you the ins and outs of our favorite platform, Instagram! The course will be available for purchase on the website, so follow along on social to be the first to know when it drops!
From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU for following along for our first year. We can’t wait to grow and change and build an empire with you. I love to hear from all of you, so don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to throw some questions at me or meet up for coffee. We hope you’ll stick around!