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As 2015 comes to an end, and 2016 is just a few days away, I find myself reflecting on my opportunities and experiences over the past year. As I talk with clients and colleagues, most agree that 2015 was a bit of a mixed year- marked by a lot of change.

I saw this funny video on Facebook which seemed to sum up the year fairly well, at least for the people I talked with:

I’d say, for me, too, there were definitely some big gains, and then some places where things felt really bumpy.

Here are my 5 Biggest Business Lessons of 2015:

Lesson #1: Be prepared for opportunity.

For me, 2015 was a year of a lot of opportunity. I had the best months ever in the entire history of my business, and the pace was fast and a lot was happening all at once. What helped me manage the sudden growth better this time than I have before was that I have spent time creating systems and devoted more time to being prepared for growth. Of course, you can’t know how you’ll grow, exactly, but there are some basic systems you can create, now, to help you manage the influx of new business when it comes.

The systems I developed this year included a more thorough client onboarding process- with checklists and information sheets and procedures, so clients could be brought on and started with more easily and with less confusion. I really tried to systematize the way that I invited clients into my business, and to standardize the ways in which I communicated with them in between.

One thing I found is that several clients hired my company to provide local SEO services, but they had no real understanding of how SEO works or how to read the reports they were receiving each month. This was clearly a big problem, especially when they felt like they weren’t getting results. They actually were, but just didn’t understand the reports well enough to see that for themselves. So I learned that more education is needed in this arena, and I began working on systems for that.

It was really helpful to have these systems in place to better manage the sudden growth spurts that happened a couple times this past year.

Lesson #2: Step out of relationships that aren’t working anymore.

This is one that I keep coming back to in my own business. I ended a couple of working relationships this year, which will ultimately be for the best- even though it always feels strange, and weird, and a difficult to do. But the downside of staying in these relationships that aren’t working is that they create stress and friction. I was spending a lot of time working on the relationship and communication, at the expense of efficiently completing the work we’d agreed to collaborate one.

It’s never easy to end an agreement you have with another person- but neither is it easy to stay where you feel you no longer fit.

Lesson #3: Manage your money as well as you can.

This is really about spending your earned money in ways you value and that have meaning to you. This year, I invested a notable amount of money into building my metalsmithing workshop. I began metalsmithing in February, and have been captivated by it since then. It was not feasible for me to continually travel to the silver-studio where I took lessons; so I decided to bring the studio in-house. This took a lot of resources- time and money. Thankfully, because I had made it a priority to manage my money as well as I could, I’ve been able to afford the investment in building this studio which makes me so happy. Money is meant to be used to give you a happier and more fulfilled life.

If you are under financial stress a lot of the time, something in your money earning or management may need cleaning up. Tackle this directly; it will unleash a lot of stuck energy.

Lesson #4: Invest in your life outside of work.

This ties to #3, but really speaks to the idea of being curious and engaged with life. I’ve always been a hard worker, and, until maybe a few years ago, most of what I did was work. I probably would have met criteria for workaholism. Yet, in the past few years, since I discovered my love of digital photography, social dancing, metalsmithing, and glass arts – I now make creativity and creative expression a priority. The really interesting thing is that this has made me a better consultant to my clients, as well. I have more life experience, metaphors, and experiences of combinatory play to draw from. Combinatory play is a term that Einstein developed to describe how opening a mental channel in one way (such as through the arts or creative expression), often opens up other mental channels at the same time. I have definitely seen this happen. Plus, it feels good to feel like my “non-work” time is actually making me more successful and productive in my “work” time!

As you look ahead to your goals for this next year, do keep an eye on your balance of work and play. You’ll be a much more interesting person and have a lot more fun, too!

Lesson #5: The 80/20 rule- all about simplification.

You’ve probably heard about the Pareto Principle- the 80/20 rule- that says 80% of your success comes from 20% of your efforts. The problem, typically, is that we, as entrepreneurs, don’t know *which* 20% of our efforts are needed. Yet if we make a concerted effort to track our actions and their outcomes, we can probably figure out which actions we take are most significant in moving our businesses forward. Once we find those things, we would do well to focus there, more of the time. Trim back or drop entirely all the “other” stuff- the actions or behaviors which aren’t bringing you results.

Stated another way, when you find the winning horse, keep riding it!

As an intelligent and passionate entrepreneur, do you ever feel you make simple things too complex? I know I do.

Yet, I’ve learned this year that really, 80% of my success comes from 20% of my efforts. If I want to work less and make more, it makes sense to figure out which 20% is working the best- and to focus more time and energy there.

20% of your clients are responsible for 80% of your revenue. Doesn’t it make sense to focus on those 20% clients who are contributing the most to your business? I think so.

So, all in all, 2015 was year marked by opportunity and lots of places to grow and improve. I’m excited to take forward what I learned this year and grow my income and reduce my working hours in 2016.

How about you? Do you have lessons that were particularly meaningful for you this year? I’d love to hear about them. Please feel free to comment or get in touch!