15 Rules You Don’t Have to Follow in Your First Year of Business

15 Rules You Don’t Have to Follow

It’s been reported that at the ripe old age of four, I told my mom, “I just loooove being sneaky. It makes me feel good.”

Guess my rebellious streak ended shortly thereafter, because once the school years hit, I was a total rule-follower. Teacher’s pet. Pollyanna. Goodie goodie. Miss Perfect. Mary Poppins. 

Anybody who grew up with me could tell you – the “good girl” theme has always been part of my personal brand pants.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve had so much fun breaking some commonly accepted rules of online business in my first year as an entrepreneur.

As you guessed by the title, in this post I’ll tell you 15 rules you don’t have to follow in your first year of business. If there’s a little rebel inside you just waiting for a reason to bust out, she’ll want to pay close attention.

Before we start, a couple of notes:

  1. Playing Captain Obvious here, but I’m not a business coach. I’m just sharing my (rather unique) experiences with these bad boys – not arguing that YOU should break them. I just want to propose that the only RIGHT way to succeed in online business is YOUR way. (Tweet that!)
  2. I’m also not advising that you start from scratch without ANY input or wisdom from those who have gone before. Some rules are rules because they’re smart. And helpful. (Hello, opt-in boxes and self-hosted sites.) No need to reinvent the wheel at every turn! Just know that if something doesn’t feel right for your business, there’s bound to be a good reason why.

In a coconut shell: If you tune in to your God,  your gut, and your dream clients, you’ll find you can break rules with seriously attractive confidence. (Tweet that!)

Without further ado, I present….

15 Rules You Don’t Have to Follow in Your First Year of Business

1. Have an official logo (in vector format….and Photoshop.). When I sent my first email to 41 people in April 2013, I mentioned that I didn’t feel “ready” because I didn’t have an official logo. TRUTH: I still don’t. I’ve been resizing it and screenshotting it (and pretty much every lil graphic you see here) in PowerPoint this whole time. That will all change VERY soon when my new brand pants debut this spring, however. (Thanks, Sarah!)

2. Have a business card. Smart, but not necessary to be successful…especially online. HELLO! Most of my networking is done in my PJ pants. Even though I survived my first year without a card, I’ll be VERY happy to have some to tuck into my new brand pants for year two.

3. Have your offer 100% figured out before you share it. Value? Absolutely. Offer? Not necessarily. When I first mentioned the offer that changed EVERYTHING (also back in April 2013), I didn’t even know what it would be. (And I openly admitted that.) Just knew I needed to put SOMETHING out there because folks would be (realizing they needed) my help that week. I still remember calling my sister the next day saying, “So what should I offer?!” Figured it out, shared it with my new subscribers via email, and the rest is history. (See #4.)

Start with the basics and know that you’ll refine a process as you get more experience (and more feedback!). Soon after my first free sessions (see #9), I had a process down. Every week that passed, I could get more and more detailed to let potential dream clients know exactly what to expect from a session. Experience doesn’t come from sitting around and thinking about what to offer. It comes from actually offering it. (Tweet that!)

4. Have a real website before you “open” for business. As a newbie to this world, I totally assumed I needed a real, good-looking website before I got my first client. Nope. Thanks to my knack for conversational copy, a huge group of potential dream clients on Facebook, and a simple splash page with an opt-in box, I had over 750 subscribers and 95+ clients before I launched the first draft of my site on June 7, 2013. There went that excuse.

5. Write a new blog post EVERY single week. Creating new content every week can be exhausting. (I’ve openly admitted – on several occasions – that regular blogging is one of the “hardest” parts of my business. Are you noticing the “openly admitted” trend here?) Writing takes me FOREVER. Toward the end of 2013, I decided to switch it up and just send my VIP list simple, “private” emails every now and then. While my Alexa ranking has temporarily dropped off the radar (which costs me nothing but cool points), my sanity has had a huge boost thanks to the extra freedom, and my daily subscriber rate has actually increased because my VIP list is that much more…important. That’s a win.

Fun fact: I may even start hosting guest posts in 2014! Trying to pick a theme first. Let me know what (or who) you’d love to see!

6. Have thousands of Twitter followers. As of right now, I have 461 Twitter followers (largely thanks to the “Click to Tweets” here in my blog posts). In the Twitterverse, that’s kind of embarrassing. In the real world, with the numbers that count toward my bizzy bottom line, I’m doing just fine. So for now, I’m okay plugging a tweet or two per day into Hootsuite and dealing with low follower count shame. We’ll get there one day, quadruple digits.

7. Go to in-person conferences. Also not happening anytime soon. I gotta say: I LOVE meeting my online friends and clients face-to-face when I can. We normally don’t travel this much, but I’ve been able to meet up with clients in London, Boston, Connecticut, and soon Virginia and Maryland recently. That said – once we’re back on the other side of the rainbow, I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars to leave my fam for a conference. (Don’t worry, I’m dreaming up a legit business reason for you to come visit Hawaii. VIP list gets first dibs on the pineapple fro-yo.) Nothing beats face-to-face interaction, but in the meantime, genuine connection and Skype calls can certainly do in a pinch.

8. Don’t spend too much time on Facebook. Ummm…see #4. Roughly 99% of my clients and customers first got to know, like, and trust me through my posts on Facebook. It’s a legit way to spend SOME, but definitely not all, of my work time. (And, since my word of 2014 is presence, I’m about to delete the app from my phone. It’s time for some boundaries!

9. Don’t EVER work for free. While I’d been teaching communication at the college level for over seven years when I started, I wanted to be SURE I had something valuable to offer entrepreneurs before I started charging for my time. (Turns out, I did. Two months after my free sessions, #4 happened.) NOTE: Remind me to do a workshop or call on how to make free sessions work for you. I had 36 people interested, offered 24 sessions, and exactly 0 no-shows…even though I had no street cred (or even a splash page) yet. It’s all about setting clear expectations!

10. Don’t change your rates too soon (or too often). I’m no pricing expert, but after five months in business, I (more than) doubled my single session rate, and my dream clients were totally comfortable with it. (More comfortable than I was at first! EVERY time I’ve upped my rates, I’ve held my breath a bit until I knew someone would happily pay it.) My first Power Hour Style Session offer was for $199 (with a bonus 30-minute follow-up). TIP: Don’t offer a bonus you can’t fulfill in case of a crazy (fantastic) influx of clients or customers. I never imagined 70+ people would take me up on that limited time offer. I kept my word and offered the live follow-up for anyone interested, but thankfully most took me up on a second option, a self-study “TLC” session – where on my own time, I helped them style up the copy they’d written after our original call.

Throughout the summer I increased again from $250 to $299, then finally up to $499 for the fall. I’d gotten better and faster with every session, the demand definitely outweighed what I could supply in the one-on-one model, and I saw firsthand the tremendous value my dream clients could get from that hour we spent together. (One client made over $24,000 within days of our session, thanks to the sales page we wrote for her six-month coaching package!) If I decide to bring back the Style Sessions in 2014, the rate will adjust again. In the meantime, my dream students have my full attention :)

11. Join a mastermind. I hadn’t even heard the word “mastermind” til this year, but these peer accountability groups are ALL the rage around here. Entrepreneurship (especially the online kind) can be REALLY lonely. I totally support the idea of surrounding yourself with like-minded folks who can cheer you on and share your successes, failures, frustrations, etc. But you don’t HAVE to be part of a formal mastermind to succeed. Having a few entrepreneurial friends to call, text, and Skype in a pinch has been a huge blessing for me so far. If I decide to join a real-deal mastermind one of these days and see the light, I’ll let you know when I’m ready to eat my words. (It happens. Rarely ;) But it happens.)

12. Hire a coach. Also very popular advice, for good reason. I’ve worked “a la carte” with a sprinkling of amazingly talented women in my first year of business, and their support has been HUGELY valuable. But I don’t have a business coach. Or a life coach. Yet. I think I’m comfy breaking this rule because I’m an intrinsically motivated person. I’m naturally motivated – especially since this whole business is a purpose-driven project for me. If I announce I’m going to do something publicly (which I tend to do), I won’t stop til I’ve done my best to get it out there. (Current case in point: My first course.)

13. Hire an assistant. This one’s coming…just as soon as I can figure out what to delegate. (Maybe customer support once I launch the evergreen version of my course and have a whole lot of students?) I’d talk about the value in learning the ropes on your own so you can appreciate HOW to delegate one day, but I totally realize that’s just a lame justification for not hiring help yet.

14. Say YES to everything in your first year. I’m super-thankful to all of the amazing folks who have “invited me over” for interviews, profiles, and features in my first year. (That’s one fun way to “meet” people you’ll otherwise never meet in person!) Still, after a while I realized I had to say no. Boundaries. Couldn’t say yes to everything or I’d be saying NO to something I needed to do for my own business. Juicy scoop: I recently said no thanks to a couple of seriously flattering “big-name” opportunities because my main focus for 2014 is on getting this course out into the world. (And thanks to smart, authentic communication, no bridges were burned in the process.) So there’s that. It’s totally okay to say no thanks when you know it’s not a right fit. (And after some practice, it starts to feel really, really good!)

15. Don’t reveal your price til the end of the sales page. I thought I had a launch plan all figured out for this first + only live run of A Course About Copy, but keeping the price a secret til “cart open” day just didn’t feel right. In online terms, I feel like I already KNOW a lot of the 300ish people who have signed up for “The Inner Circle” so far. I’ve been engaging with them for almost a year now through Facebook, here on my site, and in various groups we have in common. For the most part, they know the quality of content I share, they know if they like and trust me, and they’re just waiting to see if the content is a good fit. If they want to make it work, they will. Price isn’t going to make or break the deal.

For those reasons (and a few more), it felt weird to leave them in suspense on the price for another month. So I typed up an email to spill the beans and end the mystery. As I typed, I got the crazy idea to actually include a PayPal link to buy the course – as if someone would actually go ahead and PRE-PURCHASE before I even launched it. Threw the link in there with a special “P.S” – and boom. Four beautiful dream students registered just as soon as they read the email. Talk about a game-changer.

I’m so thankful. Humbled. Inspired. PUMPED. So totally excited to create this course KNOWING they’re ready for it. (And since they inspired me to kickstart our private Facebook group early, they’ll be able to give me real-time feedback as I finish up the lessons this month – along with anyone else who signs up in the next couple of weeks! This is gonna be fun.)

So that’s the list, version one. I took approximately five years to write it for you because I want you to know and BELIEVE with every cell of your being:

Breaking the right rules can pay off in so. many. ways. You’ve just gotta be bold and trust your instincts. (Tweet that!)

I could think of MORE (like “Join Instagram”), but it’s….

Your Turn

If you liked this mega-post, I’d sincerely appreciate it if you’d SHARE with your entrepreneurial friends and fans – especially on Facebook, where we all love to hang out work. Then, in the comments below, tell me:

What rules have YOUR instincts led you to break? What happened as a result?

Can’t believe how long this “list” turned out to be, but I pray that it helps you in some way. I love hearing what others do, and I love sharing what has worked (or NOT worked) for me. Together we can make this road of online entrepreneurship feel a LOT less isolated and a lot more fun.

To blazing our own trails – together,





P.S. Wanna find out the specific how-tos of my first year of business? Click below to check this out:


P.P.S. If you like this topic and are still feeling frisky, check out this fabulous rule-breaking post by Rebecca Tracey on LuckyB*tch.com. While you’re there, check out Denise’s Pricing Guide. Super-helpful if you need help setting (or raising) your rates!



  1. MK

    I’m at a point where I think I can charge for services but I like to wait until things feel really right. I’ll keep this in mind when I do take that step. I still need to solidify my message and my value proposition…

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Getting clear on your message + the value you want/have to offer is DEFINITELY important, MK, just as long as you don’t get frozen in the “waiting til it feels right” zone!

      I say this (to myself) all the time: It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be shared.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Tanya

    Hello Nikki,
    Bravo for the business, you have put in a lot of love, care and good ol’ sweat!! I am thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, don’t know yet how since my hubby doesn’t stop moving….. Even though the word originated from the French language, my home country is not good at it. (no pun intended!) Thanks for sharing, these tips are excellent and it has given me a sort of a “template” to work on.
    Keep it up and again, thanks for sharing.
    Warm regards form the rainy side of France (Nancy),

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Well merci, Tanja! Glad to have you here.

      My husband is in the military – so I totally get the “moving” thing. That’s one of the biggest blessings of having an online business – as long as you’ve got a laptop and wifi, you’re good to go!

      Excited to help you explore the possibilities :)

  3. Rhonda

    Thanks for sharing this tips. There is so much pressure when starting out that you must do things a certain way. Starting something from scratch is enough pressure by itself.

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Absolutely can be, Rhonda!

      If you’re feeling a lot of pressure, try to go back to WHY you decided to start a business in the first place. About a year ago, I literally felt led to share my gifts – hadn’t been planning to start a business at all!

      Once this idea popped into my brain (and heart), it didn’t feel like an option – it was inevitability. All I needed to do was take one step at a time (praying for guidance along the way).

      You can do eeeet! And YOUR right way will be one-of-a-kind :)

  4. Janet

    Thank YOU for this! I know to listen to my inner voice but this past year I think I relied too much on coaches and doing a lot of things that seemed to be “expected”. And Amen! on the Facebook rabbit hole!

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Thank YOU for this comment, Janet! It’s SO easy when we’re surrounded by smart, experienced people to want someone to just tell us what to do. (Although I’m pretty sure coaches aren’t supposed to do that!)

      Without a doubt, all my best “stuff” has happened when I finally chose to just BE STILL and go with what felt the most right.

  5. Kimberly

    I love breaking rules! The biggest one I’ve broken is the make your first group program small.

    To heck with that the more the merrier I always say!

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Absolutely, Kim!

      When I did my “last call” for 2013 dream clients, I initially planned to limit it to 20. Then I asked – WHY? It felt really arbitrary and limited and decided that whether it was 2 or 32, everyone who signed up was absolutely meant to sign up. (For the record, it ended up being 36!!)

      Looking at my course – especially this ultra-special live round – the same way :)

  6. Cathy

    This post may be longer than your others, Nikki, but it’s still cheerful, clear and to-the-point.

    Just to fine-tune a bit: I think you need to re-read/re-watch Mary Poppins. That woman follows nobody’s rules but her own, though with a smile on her face and a spring in her step. So, I would say that you may not be Pollyanna, but Mary Poppins, you bet!

    As for me, I’ve just upped my prices and starting sharing them with people, and they’re not running away in disgust. Though it’s not really rule-breaking, that and other action steps are helping me to show up for my biz in a way that I’ve been to scared to do until now.

    Oh, and this one’s a biggie for me: calling it a business, not a practice.

    1. Sally

      Hi Nikki. I love how your business started and am getting ready to start mine without a web page and without a crystal clear vision. I did hire a coach to help me get it going since I’ve been mulling it over for the last year and am really ready to just do it! I thought putting some money down, having the accountability, and the extra experience would help. I’ll let you know. :) I love your energy, enthusiasm, and the success that you’ve had in such a short time. Your are a true inspiration. Thank you!!!

      1. Nikki Elledge Brown

        Thank you so much, Sally!

        To be clear: I think good coaches are fantastic, for exactly the reasons you listed.

        I’m just an odd duck when it comes to motivation and drive to get stuff done….MOST of the time ;)

        Congrats on taking that step and please do keep me posted as you get started! Excited for you.

    2. Nikki Elledge Brown

      So funny, Cathy – you’re totally right! I was thinking how MP enforced the rules, but she absolutely didn’t live by them. (Can’t wait to see that new movie, BTW.)

      You made me LOL with “and they’re not running away in disgust.” That’s fantastic. Congrats on taking a scary albeit totally necessary step, my friend.

      Excited for you!

  7. LaChanda Casteal

    Thanks for this information! I’m getting ready to open my handbag line and with the designs I kept thinking about how many to start off with. I now realize I can start off small and grow. Not everything has to be BIG or in LARGE numbers. And me wanting to have everything just right, I now see you’re never too sure but everything eventually works out when you’re putting your all and actually working for what you want!

  8. Deanne

    The rule my instinct has led me to break is to take the stance and reach out to my near and dear friends who I could first feel comfortable with sharing every in and out of my new branding experience instead of “potential client avatars”. At first I felt afraid to get judgment or that my friends may not get it cause they are not my ideal client avatar. This 2014, I’m now focusing on my online “home” and as I opened up to these friends, man I got so much useful advice. Plus, this is the best part, they are referring me to their friends, ha…so that’s how this whole thing works, real clients and crazy enough…now I see what my Ideal client can look like! :o) Nice. This post was fun. Thank you Nikki, love dee

  9. Jen

    (see #9) Reminding you to do a workshop or call on how to make free sessions work for you. :)

  10. Thalia

    Post writing is also a excitement, if you know after that you can write if not it is difficult to write.

  11. Whitney

    I’m a little late for hide ‘n seek week, but I’m loving this post! In March, I’ll be wrapping my first year in full-time business, and I wish I’d seen some of these tips earlier. I’m a huge goodie-goodie too, so it feels natural to have blinders on and only see the way you “should” do it.

    One rule I broke this year is trying to be everything to everyone. Until recently, I said “yes” to every project that came my way and every client that wanted to work with me…thought I’d be silly not to! Over the past year, I’ve learned which projects (and personality types) mesh best with my style, so I can create the best work. They don’t come around often, but I’m getting more and more confident when I have to pass on a project because it’s not the best fit for me and my biz.

    One major perk of being your own boss: deciding exactly what you get to work on each day!

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      #preach, Whitney! The beauty + freedom of a thoughtful NO is totally underrated.

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