5 Lessons From My First Year In Business


Today officially marks the one year anniversary of Vanilla & Oak Design Studio! I am truly overwhelmed with all the feels that come with this.

And now with one year done and dusted, I wanted to share with you a quick recap of 5 of the biggest takeaways (both good and bad) I learned from my first year that might resonate with you! 


01. Things Happen Quickly – Be Prepared 

I honestly never thought that when I posted my brand’s logo one year ago today that much would come of it. 

It had always been the plan to eventually turn Vanilla & Oak into a business, but at the time it was a “one day” sort of dream. 

My idea was that I would start posting my work to build a portfolio, and then freelance for extra cash on Fiverr or 99Designs. 

Well I never ended up going the freelance route, as I got my first client within the first three weeks of making my first post! 

But what came with that, was totally being unprepared. 

Although I had taken courses on how to run a design studio as a business, I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. 

I had not figured out how to price my work, my time, didn’t know how to collect a payment, had no contract, and wasn’t even sure if this was “legal” to accept payment. I was literally clueless. 

But the good news is all of this is avoidable. Get yourself sorted sooner rather than later, so when that first client slides into your DM’s you’re ready to go from the very start. 


02. There Will Slow Seasons and Times of Uncertainty

Ah yes, business ownership. One minute you’re in over your head trying to space out project timelines because you took on too many clients at once and the next…. crickets. 

Honestly, the best way I look at this is there is always going to be ebbs and flows to both life and business. 

The best thing you can learn from my experience is to be prepared for these slow times. 

Instead of letting imposter syndrome kick in when you don’t get an inquiry for months on end, use that time and energy to keep the dream going with a passion project or by working on your business itself. 

And if the imposter syndrome does kick itself into high gear, just remember that you’re not alone in feeling this way. Reach out to me (or someone else in your industry) just for a chat. You might be surprised how open and understanding your community is. 


03. The Client Experience is Just as Important as Your Work 

Outside of my design business, I’ve worked the last 8 years in the luxury hospitality industry. And the biggest takeaway I can share with you is we don’t sell accommodations, we sell memories and experiences. 

And your clients should feel the same when working with you. 

If you can provide an above and beyond client experience, your clients will not only want to work with you again and again, but they will also be more than happy to refer you to other great clients. 

Keep your client experience elevated and tailored. Don’t overcomplicate things and make it as easy for them as possible. 

Your work will speak for itself if your client experience is a good one. 


04. Do What Feels Right for You and Your Business

Basically what I’m trying to get across here is don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. 

In my first year of business, I took a LOT of different courses on how to run a design studio, and with each teacher came a different process. 

And that led to a lot of jumping around in my business processes, offerings, and tactics. 

My best advice to you here is yes, you should continue your education and keep learning from those in business that you admire, but take their lessons with a grain of salt. 

YOU need to do what is best for YOU in YOUR business. 

I can’t tell you how icky I felt when I followed doing things a certain way that I knew I wasn’t comfortable with for my studio.  

But the lesson here is that I gave it a try, learned from it that it didn’t work for me, and pivoted. 

It’s okay to say no or not do things a certain way if you don’t want to. This is your business, you gotta do you! 


05. My First Year of Business Was Only $500 Profitable

Yep, you read that right. After everything, Vanilla & Oak was only $500 CAD profitable for its first year in business. 

So how did that happen? 

Investments. Almost every dollar I made in my first year went straight back into my business. 

So what kind of things did I invest in for my business? Here’s just a quick list in order of highest to lowest investment:

  • Courses and Summits
  • New Macbook Pro
  • Business Items + Other Tech (Mouse, Cords, Storage, Contracts, Templates) 
  • All of the subscriptions to keep my business running behind the scenes such as Dubsado, website hosting, Adobe Creative Cloud, Flodesk, etc. 
  • Brand Photoshoots
  • Taxes 
  • Client Gifts 


When I took a hard look at the numbers, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit shocked. But it made sense. All of my old tech was on it’s very last legs (my previous Macbook was from 2012!) and having zero background in design or branding, I took it upon myself to be fully educated before offering my services. 

I do work a full time job outside of Vanilla & Oak so I was lucky that I had the luxury that I could invest so much back into my business within its first year. I honestly can say I owe it to all these investments that got me to where I am now today. 

So there you have it! Of course these are not all the lessons from the last year, but there are the ones that stand out to me the most that I think any new business owner can get the most takeaway from. 

Cheers to one year and on to the next one! 


*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.





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