The Best (and Worst) Decisions I’ve Made Running My Business

By Camille Styles
Camille Styles at Pool Burger in Austin

It’s hard to believe I’ve been running a business for 10 years. Some days I still feel like a total rookie (what’s a form 1099 again?), and then I have a coffee chat with a recent college grad or speak on a panel at Create & Cultivate, and realize that I’ve learned quite a bit since I started. It was that recent panel that inspired the new series that we’re launching here on Camille Styles today – there were so many smart questions from creative gals, entrepreneurs, and side hustlers in the audience, I realized that it might be a good idea to share some of the same advice they were looking for with you guys.

We’re kicking things off with a look back at some of the big decisions I made in the early days of my business: some of them set me up for success, while others ended up needing major course correction. I’ve got to admit though, it’s hard for me to frame them as “wrong decisions,” since most of the time, they led to an epiphany that opened up new possibilities. It’s a good reminder to approach missteps with resiliency — just get back at it, take whatever you can learn from the situation, and leave the rest behind you. Read on for the best and worst decisions I’ve made, and I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

photo: @jackjunk

Good idea #1: Start a business that you love so much, you’d do it even if you didn’t get paid (at first.)

While the idea of “finding your passion” feels a bit cliché, I do think that it’s uber important to LOVE the career that you’re launching — at least, if you want to experience longevity in that field. I’ve seen countless bloggers throw in the towel when life gets busy, growth stalls, or writer’s block sets in, but you know how many times I’ve really considered quitting? Zero. Because the truth is, I love running this site and all that comes with it so much, I’d probably be doing it as a hobby even if I was working another job. Getting paid to do what I love is a joy that motivates me to hang in there and work even harder whenever the going gets tough.

photo: a beach cottage

Good idea #2: Keep overhead costs as low as possible, for as long as possible.

I’m not sure where I got my frugality gene, but it’s definitely served me well as a business owner. A few years ago, many of the bloggers I knew were moving into cool new studios and downtown offices, and from my vantage point of our office in a spare bedroom of my house, it looked like they’d really “made it.” Fast forward a few years, and we’d grown the business enough to start looking at making a real estate investment – then had the patience to wait until we found a total fixer upper that was in our price range and had all the qualities we were looking for.

I’ve applied the same patience and thriftiness to adding team members slowly and making investments cautiously, and what’s resulted is the solid foundation of a secure and profitable business.

photo: Manolo Yllera via Yatzer

Good idea #3: Build your core brand on channels that you have some control over.

From the beginning, my focus has been to build our core audience and create the richest content here on CamilleStyles.com, and leverage other forms of communication (like social media and email) as a way to support that. Other businesses might be built on totally different platforms (including a physical location), but I do think it’s important to have channels that you have some control over. You can for sure build a career on Instagram or another social platform, but just know that one tweak of the algorithm can drastically affect your revenue stream, and that’s kinda scary. Over the last year, email has also become a much larger focus for us as we continue finding ways to engage our audience and make sure our content is seen — and it becomes increasingly challenging as audiences are exposed to messaging from so many sides.

Heidi Sopinka in the Horses Atelier studio, via Boots and Pine

Bad idea #1: Trying to reach too many audiences with your message.

This has always been a struggle for me, I think because I’m interested in so many subjects and am always faced with the temptation to add one more vertical to the topics we cover. I learned the hard way though: this can really water down your brand, and it makes it hard to communicate to your audience what makes you different than others out there. Identify what makes your brand fresh and unique, then tell that story in a simple way that people can remember. In other words, find your niche!

photo: neiman marcus

Bad idea #2: Investing time and energy in fun opportunities that aren’t in line with your goals.

When you’re building a business, these are also knows as distractions! I am super guilty of having an idea that sounds fun and exciting, and getting totally swept up in it to the detriment of the goals I’ve actually set for myself. Case in point: last year I spent loads of time creating a book proposal for an idea that I had, flying to New York to meet with editors, then being disappointed when it didn’t work out. Now I’m literally thanking my lucky stars that I’m not working on said book, because in hindsite, I can see how it would have been a massive distraction to the real goals our team is working to build right now.

photo: alison wu

Bad idea #3: Forgetting to spend large chunks of time offline.

When I’m deep in the day-to-day of blogging and analytics, likes and engagement, and the crazy schedule of production and editorial calendars, it’s easy to lose sight of what I’m really supposed to be doing: creating great content and inspiring our audience. Getting offline, immersing myself in nature, and having face-to-face connections helps me reset and reminds me why I’m doing this job in the first place. It’s a breath of fresh air that totally reinvigorates me and gets me so excited about what’s ahead.

PS – If you’re recovering from what you feel is a “bad” decision, you might like this piece I wrote on disappointment and resiliency to reframe the situation and move forward in a more positive state of mind.

I’d love to hear what good decisions and missteps you’ve made in your own careers – share your experience in the comments!