A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

My Personal Transformation: 6 Life Lessons From 6 Years of Blogging

6 Life Lessons I launched erica.biz on December 4, 2007. This week, I’m celebrating 6 years of blogging here. Wow!

It’s been just over 6 years since I sold my last company, as well, and I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown. This week, I figured I’d do something special, and share some of the deep, heartfelt lessons I’ve learned in the past 6 years. Some of these were tough for me to grok. All of them have changed me as a person. This may be a tough read for some of you…but I hope these lessons will have as much of an impact on your life as they did mine!

Lesson 1: You Come First.

Oh, this one is so painful to write. For pretty much my entire life I put other people first. I never paid myself well in my businesses–the money always went out to hosting costs, offices, and–mostly–employees. And while I’ve had many fantastic employees who deserved to be paid well, what I couldn’t come to grips with for years was that I deserved to be paid well, as well.

This one was a big life lesson for me in 2013. As I am wont to do, I stretched myself too far financially and found myself in debt for the first time since I sold my last business in 2007. I didn’t do anything “stupid” with my money–didn’t blow a million dollars on gambling, or anything like that. No, in fact, I built two businesses off of it (Whoosh Traffic, which is morphing into MarketVibe, and Opportunity Space, my coworking space here in Austin.)

I realized that I’d continue to be in debt if I continued to pour money into my businesses without paying myself, so I stopped doing that. I drew a line in the sand: My businesses need to be profitable, and I need to take a salary. No more scraping by. I deserve better.

My co-founder, Parnell, and I split earlier this year while I was going through this personal transformation. So far, that’s been the right decision for both of us. I feel surprisingly calm about the entire thing, and also feel better than ever about where MarketVibe is headed. Paul Bonser, our senior developer, stepped up after Parnell left to become our CTO, and we’re happily shipping code and signing up some new beta customers.

None of this would have shifted if I hadn’t decided that I deserved success and that I deserved to be paid. That’s been my biggest transformation in 2013, and it’s setting up to make 2014 an epic year.

Lesson 2: Your Health is More Important Than Your Business.

Strongly tied into #1–with my last business, I nearly killed myself (and my employees.) It’s not worth it. Nothing is worth sleep deprivation, eating poorly, and not exercising. Not even a million dollars. Yes, I can say that from personal experience!

I’m still dealing with health ramifications from the poor decisions I made in my 20’s: muscle and joint aches; intolerance to several foods; sleep issues. I’ve started by forgiving myself for making those decisions, and now I’m working with doctors to track down and help fix the physical side of my issues.

I believe that if you don’t fix the emotional breakage first, the physical issues keep popping up for you to deal with. By forgiving myself and believing that I deserve great health, I’ve started to repair myself emotionally. Now it’s time to repair the physical side. I believe 2014 will be a turnaround year in my health as well.

Lesson 3: You’re Never Going to Be Perfect. Ship Anyway.

I’ve published over 300 blog posts here on erica.biz, but that’s not actually that many, for having blogged for 6 years. I probably have close to 100 fully finished posts sitting in my Drafts folder, unpublished for whatever reason…mostly because they weren’t “perfect”, or I feared backlash.

I’ve certainly published my share of controversial posts–some that I knew would be controversial, like my post about leaving California, and some that blew me away with the controversy, like my post about hiring a housekeeper that still sparks spiteful comments.

Many people read about bloggers or writers getting hate mail and think “So? Get over it.” It’s oddly difficult to not take hate mail personally, though. I have a pretty thick skin, but I admit it’s gotten to me several times over the years.

I realized this year that I have to push through that own crap in my head (since that’s where it starts–in my head, before I even publish a post!) and say what I believe anyway. I’m still not totally there yet. In fact, I’ve been focusing more on “shipping” in my business than here on my blog. This is something I want to continue to improve on in 2014.

Lesson 4: Revenue Trumps Frugality.

I’ve always considered myself frugal. Sometimes it’s been a negative–I’ve had to unlearn doing stuff myself to save money, for instance. Many times it’s been a positive in my life–I rarely buy items I don’t use, and I’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by negotiating with vendors over the 12 years I’ve run my own businesses.

There’s a fine line between “frugal” and “cheap”, however. I wasn’t typically one to buy “cheap” items–I do extensive research before I buy anything, which is why I usually end up with stuff I like and use. I felt I’d optimized my frugality well–so what’s the next step?

There’s only so much you can cut out of your life before you start feeling frustrated about cutting back. That line is different for everyone. When you hit that line for yourself, your emotions will let you know: You’ll get irritated at a cheap item breaking, or you’ll overwork yourself by taking on too much. What do you do at that point?

At that point, my solution was: I’ve optimized frugality to a fine point. Let’s focus on revenue generation.

And that was when I had to confront my fears and beliefs around making more money. You see, frugality is an easy pencil to sharpen for some of us. It’s satisfying to save money on a purchase, or do without an item you don’t really need. But frugality, for me, was also a crutch. It was easy for me to focus on saving money when I should have been focused on making more money. Making more money is hard. It requires stepping out of your comfort zone, learning new skills, and/or meeting new people. That’s a lot harder for me than sitting at home cozied up with my Excel spreadsheet of spending!

I’m still proud of my frugality. But I know it only goes so far. Now, I’m focused on revenue generation. It’s not (yet) as comfortable as saving money is. But I know it will get there.

Lesson 5: Your Beliefs Create Your Reality.

I know I’ll be writing about this extensively in 2014. Did you know that if you don’t believe you’re lucky, that you will actually be less lucky? Yes, it’s true! Check out the study behind this (PDF).

2013 has been a crazy trip for me. I look back on who I was even 6 months ago and I have changed dramatically. I believe in myself now. I believe in my ability to create a huge business that changes the world for thousands of happy customers. I’ve watched people I know create businesses that are now worth over $1 billion, and even though it still scares me, I finally believe I can do it, too.

Success starts from within you. You have to believe that success is achievable–not just by “someone”, but by you. You have to constantly step out of your comfort zone. You have to do painful things (like splitting up with your co-founder/best friend when you realize it’s not the right fit.) And you have to have a strong core, to handle all the people who question what you’re doing–and to not take criticism personally.

You have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and know that you will make mistakes. You will hire the wrong people. You will make people upset (and you will have to learn to apologize!) You will make the wrong decisions. But you have to know, deep down, that you can do all that and still be successful. You can mess up all you want–you’re human. But you will learn from your mistakes and not make those mistakes again. That’s what will make you successful.

Many of you have asked me, “What do you think makes some people more successful than others?” And now I finally have the answer: They believe they can be successful, and then they go out there and move mountains in order to be successful. The belief comes first, though. What is inside you creates your external reality.

Lesson 6: It’s Okay to Dream Big. Really Big!

Yep, I’ve read all the statistics. Women get funded less often than men. Women only hold 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. And, whenever I read those stats, I used to think in my head, “Who am I to change this?”

I’ve changed that belief to: “I am the one who can change this.” What better way to change the statistics than to become one–an empowering statistic? And not just a statistic, but a role model for many others as well.

There are so many brave women who stood up and made a change in this world. I’m inspired by their actions, and ready to be the next generation of that change. There are barriers in the way right now–to women getting funded, to women reaching the top of the totem pole and being CEO, and to being seen as technical and capable without coming across as “bossy” or whiny. It’s a tough balance to strike–but that doesn’t mean the problem shouldn’t be tackled head-on.

I want future generations of women–including any daughter I may have in the future–to look back at me and see that I was one of the few who parted the waves, who changed the stats and cleared the way for more women in technical and leadership roles. A woman who went out and got funding and built a hugely successful business with integrity. That’s what this world needs. That’s what I can provide in this world. More than ever, I believe that is why I am here, now, in this reality.

As I went through 2013, smashing the barriers and beliefs in my head, I saw my external world shift. Suddenly getting funding was easier (though I still wouldn’t call it “easy”!) People looked at me differently. “Have you lost weight?” one friend asked. “No,” I replied. Then I thought: But I’ve gained a purpose.

I’m here to do all this for future women and youngsters, to be an inspiration, to pave the way for others. But I’m also here to do this for myself, because I believe in myself and I believe I deserve it.

I’ve gone through so much, and now I’m able to look in the mirror and finally love who I am and who I am becoming. I couldn’t say that 6 years ago.

Here’s to 2014. May it be your best year ever. I’m stoked to see what it will bring for both of us!

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I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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