My kids are in their first few years of school. Every day, I watch with fascination as they learn how to read, write, calculate, question and experiment. As adults we take so much of what we automatically know for granted, yet when you watch and experience the learning capacity of a young child, you understand  what a privilege education really is.

The thing is, what I have realized as I have got wiser older, is that the learning never stops. Whilst I may have cemented the basics of reading and arithmetics (I hope so!), so much of my life learning has only begun.

My business recently turned three years old and it has become a bit of a tradition that on each birthday, I take the time to reflect on my professional, business and personal life skills that I have learned over the past year. Some are extended lessons that started around the time when my business turned one, whereas others are quite different from less than one year ago when FoodBytes turned two. The point though, is that the learning is continuous and should never ever stop.

So after another year attending the school of life every single day, here is what I continue to learn:

1. The only thing that never changes is change itself

When I was an employee in a big company, there was a certain amount of security that came with a regular salary each month. Whilst nothing in life is guaranteed, working as a sole trader means change is inevitable. I have been fortunate that I have had clients that have been with me since my business started, but I know that ongoing business development and the right type and amount of hustle is essential for my business survival. As I provide contract services to my clients, if budgets are cut or situations change, my services are going to be the first to be let go. Every day I am thinking about new opportunities and ways to continue to ensure my business survival and success. With so much competition and clutter in the nutrition industry, it is essential to go out and discover new opportunities, it is very rare for them to come find you!

2. Expand networks beyond your industry

‘Networking’ is such an over used marketing buzz word, yet when done properly, it can be worth more than its weight in gold. Whilst networking within one’s own industry is vital, I have learned that going beyond your immediate professional circles is where the real value lies. Within the nutrition industry, my colleagues and I may be competing for the same slice of the pie. Yet when I network with individuals who are from completely different backgrounds, there is a greater likelihood that they themselves (or someone they know) may find value in the services I offer. Just recently, an insurance broker introduced me to a business owner who plays in the nutrition space and within a few days, we had started to collaborate together. You never know where opportunities lie so look beyond the obvious horizons.

3. Informal catch ups are more meaningful than meetings with formal agendas

I invest a lot of time in face to face catch ups with my colleagues, clients and contractors. Without a doubt, the best return on my business has been from the relationships that I have developed over many coffees (or wine!) with no formal agenda and not charging by the hour. With technology at the tip of our fingertips, I think too many people have forgotten the art and value in face to face conversations. It’s amazing the difference in working relationships I have with clients or colleagues who get this and feel the same way, verse those that expect a fully scoped agenda for every meeting. I know that a meaningful personal relationship between client and service provider can be the difference between simply getting the work done, as opposed to collaborating together to achieve great things.

4. Get personal

On a similar note to the above, whenever I meet someone for the first time, I try not to spend too much time on the “what is your role / let’s discuss KPI” type of questions, but rather I focus on questions to break the ice and really get to know someone. People are people and we all like to know that someone has taken a deeper interest in our lives beyond the business objectives.

5. Always perfecting the fine art of saying the little word “no”

One of my major lessons from my first year of my business, and something I am continuously practicing and refining, is developing the insight and confidence to know when and how to say no. I have always been skillful in getting a lot done, but sometimes I don’t know my own limits, so saying yes to too many things can hinder my business and personal life. I believe in the importance of investing some of my time in areas that don’t generate an income (e.g. my volunteer role on the board of Nutrition Australia as well as mentoring young graduate dietitians), so I really need to be very selective as to which opportunities I take up, as time is my most expensive resource. Of course there is always going to be that element of FOMO, but as I become more practiced in this lesson, I gain greater confidence in knowing where my priorities lie. I am always honing the art of politely saying no, providing a reason and at the same time giving whatever support and encouragement I can. Trim Ferris talks about this in his excellent podcast episode that I recently listened to.

6. You won’t know until you try

Recently I decided to expand my business services by offering online digital marketing training for dietitians. It has taken a lot of planning and resources to get this set up and it is still too early to determine whether or not this will be a worthwhile business initiative. No matter how much market research and planning one does, I don’t think you will ever know whether something is worthwhile until you actually give it a go. I don’t ever want to be too afraid to try something because it might fail. In fact, if it fails I will probably learn more from that lesson than if it is a success.

7. Too much of anything good can become bad

My biggest lesson from starting my business was the insanely satisfying joy I got from running my own show and choosing when and how I use my time for my career and my family. Of course it is a constant juggle and I don’t think you can have the best of both worlds at any given point in time. But this lifelong lesson has evolved into something even more meaningful as I go into the fourth year of my business. Whilst I am a mother, a wife, a friend, a nutrition consultant and many other things to many people…I am also me to myself.  I know I could take more on and stretch myself and earn more money. But I have the privilege of choosing not to do that and feel grateful that I want to make that choice. I would rather go without some extra material stuff and live a simpler less costly life, because I choose to do so. I have recently taken up meditation and changed little things in my day to day life (like stopping work for a proper lunch break and sitting outside) and this has given me a new found sense of peace and satisfaction. This does not mean that I don’t have bad days (I have many!) where things are a bit out of wack, but it does mean that I am constantly honing my  skills to be the best person I can be, and this is the most valuable life lesson I could ever wish for.