Welcome to our new series called Letters to my Former Self: What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Entrepreneur. For our inaugural post, Evelyn Summerville, a John Maxwell Certified Coach, Speaker, and Trainer, shares with us 5 important lessons she has learned as an entrepreneur.

A few years ago I shared with a friend and fellow entrepreneur that I was starting a business. “Welcome to the club,” she said joyfully. “Let me tell you a few resources that helped me out…”

Words of wisdom from a trusted source are priceless. I was excited and nervous. Determined and confused. I’m starting a business … now what?

It wasn’t my first business attempt. I had some experience with multi-level marketing initially selling candles and later scrapbooks. Both were rewarding, character-building endeavors.

The start-up for each was also pretty simple. Purchase a kit. Make a list of friends to call. Tell them about my business. Book some showings. Walk the hostess through the proven steps for a successful and lucrative party. Voila!

I had an up-line leader and peer consultants cheering me along. Within the first 90 days, I was achieving my goals, earning rewards and enjoying a sense of accomplishment. But it was different this time. Now I was selling myself, my knowledge, my experience. And I was clueless.

I entered the personal growth and self-help industry in November, 2015. Following in the footsteps of industry giants whom I personally admired for their extensive and impactful bodies of work. I had become a leadership and lifestyle coach. I was eager to be a game-changer in this industry.

Yet, I felt out there on my own – no up-line, no peers, no instructions on how to start my new business. My friend’s words of wisdom were a welcomed relief. I grabbed my pen and paper to take notes and leaned in to her advice.

What in the World Am I Doing?


The first few months of business were a whirl wind. I was clear on one thing – I was going to be a leadership trainer. The rest was anybody’s guess. So many questions ran through my head … What will I talk about? Who will I train? Where do I begin? Who can help me?

I didn’t know. But I sure needed to know. Everything, and I mean, everything was on the line. Moving pass this momentary confusion was my greatest necessity. This was not the moment for a brain freeze or paralysis. I had to figure out what I was doing and with haste.

If you find yourself in that same space mentally … wondering, what in the world am I doing, know that you can move beyond this momentary frenzy. You can clarify your business concept and identify your support network. You’ll look back and wonder … what was that all about anyway? Why was I so worried? I’m living proof.

To speed things up for you, I’m sharing my top five business lessons that I wish I had known before becoming a leadership and lifestyle coach.


  1. You Need to Know Yourself Before You Can Brand Yourself

It took a while for me to grasp the concept that YOU are YOUR brand. I transitioned from employee to entrepreneur. For more than 20 years, the concept of branding applied to my employer and not myself. I needed to shift gears and come to grips with the fact that I am selling myself.

I was moving into the limelight. People would now observe and decide to engage with me, or not, based upon what I say and do. There is no escaping my personal brand. It is reflected in every action. That’s why it is important to be self-aware of my values, my message and my tonality. Let this be a lesson for you.

Self-awareness is the first step to differentiation. Answer the following questions as a starting point: What do I believe? What is important to me? Who do I enjoy working with? What do I enjoy doing the most?


  1. Build One Solid Revenue Stream and Then Expand Into Other Offerings

There were a multitude of options for me to enter the marketplace. I spent weeks reviewing many of them and was curious about which one would be the most successful. I wanted to do a lot. That comes from my achiever-mentality. Trying to do it all, however, could be a recipe for disaster. I remembered this phrase from my childhood, “jack of all trades and master of none.”

I joined the John Maxwell Team and decided to focus on offering a mastermind group based upon one of his books, Intentional Living. Focusing on one concept and one curriculum allowed me to evaluate my strategy and adjust for greater results. From mastermind groups, I became a workshop facilitator, then a coach. Most recently I launched a webinar business.


  1. Get Client Testimonials and Reviews as Soon as Possible

I heard this over and over again. “You need the testimonies. You have to get those reviews and ratings on Google or Facebook.” I hesitated to ask people to write reviews in my initial years of business. It seemed vain at first. My perspective was skewed.

Customers are looking for validation that you are real and you are the real deal. A collection of highly satisfied client testimonials on your website and social media pages adds credibility to your brand. Customers learn that you are reliable and deliver exceptional service through the experiences of other people.

What you say, may be dismissed as marketing fluff. What your clients say provides character references and often makes the difference between a yes-or-no decision.  And you must ask for the reviews. Your clients are willing to help promote you, but they need to know that you want their help.


  1. Plan to Service Your Clients, Network and Create Content all in the Same Week

As an entrepreneur, you will have many balls to juggle on any given day. Learning to balance the priorities to gain momentum and maintain forward progression is essential to success. That’s why it is important to know what comes first. As Stephen Covey said, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Simply put you are in business to service your clients and generate revenue. You need to network to meet people who could become clients or referral sources. You also need to devote time to preparing content, presentations and proposals to have sales. Both are important. Slacking in either area will impact your bottom line.

My weeks are planned in time blocks. I have designated days and times for content creation, client appointments and networking activities. My most rewarding and fulfilling weeks are the ones where I honor this plan as designed. Of course, there are moments where you may need to deviate or adjust the plan. That’s okay. Just be sure you have a focused approach to accomplishing your work.


  1. Be Up to Speed on Digital and Social Media Marketing

Remember, I shared that I transitioned from employee to entrepreneur – into an entirely new field. I was hardly active on social media and honestly, could care less about having a social media presence. Today, I can barely live without it. I love pouring into the lives of my followers.

A common business building practice is to share your knowledge and build a following on multiple social sites. To be effective, you should first identify your target audience and understand which platforms they are most likely to use. You will then need a well-defined content strategy.

I begin sharing inspirational posts with famous quotes and a personalized message. Once I became more comfortable, I started to create videos about succeeding in life and work. My next step was using selfies to show different glimpses into my life. I learned all of these strategies by observing key industry players and subscribing to podcasts. My go to sources are Chalene Johnson and Amy Porterfield.


So if you are going all in … you’ll want to have a social media presence and you’ll want to be up to speed on the most effective strategies.

Building a business is a lot of work. It may start off confusing and overwhelming. I’m here to reassure you that it can be very rewarding. Enjoy your journey.


To sum it all up, here are those five business lessons again:

  1. You need to know yourself before you can brand yourself
  2. Build one revenue solid stream and then expand into other offerings
  3. Get client testimonials and reviews as soon as possible
  4. Plan to service your clients, network and create content all in the same week
  5. Be up to speed on digital and social media marketing

I’d love to hear your take on my list of five critical lessons I wish I knew before I got started as a business owner. What advise was most insightful for you? What would you add to the list?


Evelyn Summerville was a Director of Marketing Research & Analysis at a Fortune 500 firm for several years. She admits she’s made a ton of mistakes in her corporate career, but she also got many more things right. Now she harnesses those experiences and lessons to support leaders in reaching their potential while fast tracking their success. In doing so, she empowers people to live and lead with purpose, passion and excellence. Check out her blog for additional articles on leading and living with excellence. Follow her @coachevesum on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. Subscribe to her Youtube channel.