biz ladies: 12 lessons for 2012

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Andrea Mansfield, a Portland-based business coach. As part of her coaching, Andrea curates a selection of business-related posts on her blog, and today she offers an itemized list of 12 things we can learn in the new year to help grow our businesses. Thanks, Andrea, for such an inspiring post! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Business owners, writers and bloggers are buzzing about the year ahead. There are predictions that this will be the year of goal setting and accountability. That those who are exhausted of not making it are ready to put their foot down and claim a piece of the successful business world. I for one see a lot of truth in these ideas. But what does accountability feel like, and how is finally making your business a success going to happen?

I find that most business makers are not short on passion, just clarity. I want to spark your New Year in the best way, so I am offering my 12 lessons to take into 2012. These are lessons I learned the not so pretty way, the stubborn way and the I have to make a change to be my own success story way. The best thing about failing is you always have the choice to make it better. Take one or all 12 with you into 2012. Either way, why re-learn what someone else learned the ugly way?

Lesson #1: Dream first and plan second.

Let yourself wonder and dream about your business. Dreaming is the first step to actualizing. Before you write a business plan, think about your prices, your product scope or even your marketing plans, dream up the vision for your business. What will it do, what can customers expect every time they come to you and how high can your bar go? Challenge yourself to dream up the kind of business you would love to see in action. If you squeeze out details like the colors on the wall, how the packaging is unexpected and how grateful each customer is, then you can start bringing it to life.

Lesson #2: Stand for everything you do.

Stand for every piece that you bring to your business. Stand behind your design process, how you innovate your ideas, how you engage with your customers and how you say thank you to friends, family and customers for their support. If there is even one piece of your business you would rather stash away than deal with, you may want to deal with it immediately. Maybe it’s not good enough yet, or maybe it’s just got to go. It’s okay to clean out what’s not working.

Lesson #3: Read, read and read some more.

I am not a big fiction reader, so I translated this as, “I am bad at reading.” And the mere thought of a business book provoked images of algebra textbooks. No thank you. Until I read a little book called Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson and my business-book world got turned upside down. It turns out some of the very best in customer service, profit, writing, balance, marketing and media have written creative and quirky books. The more you read, the more value you bring to your business. I recommend reading 1 hour a day, but that can be scary to a non-reader. Start with 1 hour a week and work into it. The more you read, the more you will want to read.

Lesson #4: Be accountable and take responsibility.

That little prediction of 2012 as the year of accountability should be an every-year theme, along with taking full responsibility. This won’t always look pretty. In fact, the times you are most aware of needing to hold yourself accountable or responsible are in the moments you are failing at it. Turning a blind eye right then and there is not being accountable, not just for your sake but for the sake of consistency and reliability.

If a potential customer shops around and doesn’t buy from you, something you did or did not do didn’t convert. If a potential customer is irate, then you lost them long before they got irate. The best way to stay on top of these issues is to ask before you need to ask.

Lesson #5: Ask . . . anything.

How many questions do you have every day about business? How many of those do you direct at someone who may actually have a great answer? Asking is scary because you may not want to hear the answer. But if you don’t ask, that is just as scary! List all the areas of your business, such as marketing and media, product ideas, finances and customer service. Under each, list every question you have, whether it’s an idea you are unsure how to make happen or a tax-deduction question. Next to each question, list whom you could ask — whether you know them or not. You have access to every question you’ve ever had.

Lesson #6: Focus your focus.

How many times have you heard something about “niche?” And how many times has it resonated how to find your niche? Replace “niche” with “focus.” It’s not about narrowing your product or your industry type; it doesn’t even have to do with my ideal customer. Focus is about your message. And when you find the root of your business, you’ve discovered your message. This message is magical! You can funnel everything through it, such as what product to build, what customer to go after and even the type of marketing you want to do.

Lesson #7: Value is in your experience, not your time.

I recently worked with a new business owner who had a deep desire to be the best at transformation and weight loss for women. But until this point, her experience was as an athlete and a client, not a coach. She quickly discovered who was who in her industry, how to get in front of them and what gaps she had in her learning. Then she traveled to see the best, read a book a week, listened to over 20 seminars on DVD and enrolled in a mentor program. She rapidly has become the third best transformation coach in Oregon. This wasn’t because she was in her industry for 25 years; it was because she valued herself enough to focus for just one year.

Lesson #8: Set goals you can align with.

Goal setting is such a hot topic, but of the goals that mean the most to you, how many have you accomplished? I see goal setting as a tier of actions. First set the goal, the one that will stand out to you as a proud moment in your business. Second, align yourself with that goal. Set yourself up to succeed and accomplish your goals by making them stepping stones.

If your goal is to be featured on your favorite blog, there are steps you can take to getting there. Set a goal to research their readers and target market. Set a goal to see what kinds of articles have the most comments. Set a goal to ask the editor what he or she is looking for. Each of these goals will lead to you being featured.

Lesson #9: Work backwards.

Working backwards is how you move forward. There are small goals, and there are 10-year big-picture goals. But these won’t accomplish themselves. Set the big long-term goals and work backward to today. If you want to save up enough business profit to move your small studio into a retail shop, how much are you already actively saving? If you took 10% of every sale, how long would it take to open a store? Set yourself up so that when you move forward, you find yourself where you want to be. You have to shape the path that leads to your big goals.

Lesson #10: Make new friends.

All those glorious success stories you see are at the end of long roads. You don’t see what the beginning was like, what troubles they encountered in the middle and how they actually made it. Make friends in your industry, both colleagues and mentors. Colleagues will help you feel less crazy in your endeavor and give you much-needed support. Mentors teach through their own experiences.

Lesson #11: Take weekends off.

Two out of every ten clients I worked with this year came to me in the middle of chronic pain spells, anxiety and sickness from over-working. The cure? Time off — real, uninterrupted, back-to-other-things-they-love time off. I know you love what you do, so give yourself space to appreciate it! You never know when a coffee date with an old friend or a stroll through the park will spark a brilliant and business-changing idea.

Lesson #12: Give back.

Giving back just feels great! Make space in your business to give back. Give back with gratitude to your best customers, friends and family who have supported you. Give back to new business owners who need people like you to guide them. Give back to your industry by raising your hand with great ideas. Give back to your local economy by creating something of substance and value. Give back to your community by donating your time or money. Make it a goal and build it in.

With awesome purpose, here’s to a great 2012,



Wow. One of the best most realistic and action oriented B Ladies posts I have read in a long time. Thank you.


Great post! It’s inspiring and encouraging, but still practical and helpful. Thank you for this.

Kendal Rogers

Such a great plan. I am trying to start my own design business right now, and this is so useful for me. Thanks for all of this info!


These tips are fantastic and well thought out. Thanks so much for sharing this helpful advice for all of us with big dreams in 2012.

Susan, The Kitchen Designer

Great advice. I’ve been in business 20+ years and like anything else, constant learning, reinforcing old good ideas, exposure to new ideas and being open minded is the best I can hope for to keep my perspective fresh. These are both great new ideas and classic, solid, advice!

Allison M

Great advice, and uplifting at the same time. It is difficult as a business owner to continually readjust your focus and mission. 12 good points! Thanks for the reminders, too. Happy 2012


as always such great advice. i always want to ignore the “not working on weekends” part because i’m a mom and that’s when my husband is home to help. i know it is so important to step away and spend quality time with people you love. a great reminder!

C-Bird Likes

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love this as it is truly about honing your own vision and making it happen in a way that works for you (addressing your questions, knowledge gaps, intuition, voice). This is inspiring and helpful.

Holly (The Apiarist)

I can say from personal experience that Andrea is a delight to work with! I met with her when I first decided I wanted to start a small business, and she really helped me clarify what my vision was. Thanks, Andrea!

Merlyn Bost

Great clarity for me & my small business in 2012. Thanks a million for your knowledge & inspiration!

Terri (decordose)

Great tips especially “take the week off” – as a small business owner this is very hard for me to do….even harder when you work from home…it is so important to spend that time disconnected and with your family or friends in order to recharge….thank you for the post!


wow! I really needed this. Photography has become my passion and I hope in time to start a small business. I don’t even know where to start right now but this really helps! Thanks!

Bonnie McCarthy

This is perfect for the year ahead! I hadn’t been thinking about writing a plan, but now I am -and I know it’s the right thing to do! Thanks for the encouragement!

Amanda Genther

Thank you for sharing. I have so many ideas building up in my Google Docs, the hardest thing for me to do is FOCUS on one at a time. After reading this, I started laying out what I am able to accomplish this year, within 3 years, 5 years, etc.

lyndsey @ the stationery place

great post — thanks for these thoughts. i especially like the recommendation to take weekends off — as a freelancer who works from home, that is especially hard for me to do…but it always feel SO good when i actually do it.

Ofentse Beverley Moraka

Great sruff, many thanks. I especially agree with the ‘Focus’ bit, you can go far if you shut out all nonsense and focus on the task at hand!

Tracy Dick

Wow! Wonderful and thank you for brilliant tips and advice! January jump start.

Chelsey Morphy

Very inspiring and thank you for showing me I have to slow down and concentrate on one thing at a time. Great website by the way.


Thanks so much for this! I feel like when you start your own business, there’s frequently a lot of self doubt- -especially surrounding decisions you’ve made or the particular business path you’re on. It’s really nice and refreshing to have words of encouragement, and a reality check from someone else who’s been there. The breadth of this whole post for me was “keep doing what you’re doing, you’re doing a great job.” Also- -I loved that this gal is from Portland, OR!


Thank you! It’s always nice to find advices for new biz. And often it makes it easier to see things in a clearer light.

To an awesome 2012!


Really great practical ideas! I printed out #2 – Stand for everything you do and posted it on my inspiration board above my desk. Thank you!

Kadee Gray

I love the reading lesson. After graduation I thought I knew it all and was ready to go. Just this year -2011 and 3 years post graduation – I re-discovered reading. And they were business books. They really helped me to not only craft an opinion in my industry but it gave me the confidence I was severely lacking in my professional self. Knowledge is confidence. And yes, it’s easier to keep reading once you start. Great list!



Emiliana Patriotou

Well done! Athough we might know all these points, we need constant reminders. Thank You!