What is one thing you thought you knew about your business but later found out you were wrong about?

One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is Make Me Smart. It’s from the folks who produce public radio’s Marketplace. Their goal is to demystify the news, trends, and idiosyncrasies around business, the economy, and the financial markets. As they do this, they get to interview fascinating entrepreneurs, thinkers, politicians, analysts, and economists. Each week they ask one of these folks their “make me smart” question:

What is one thing you thought you knew but later found out you were wrong about?

The answers vary from quite personal to philosophical to professional. Some are quite focused, others wide reaching. Each answer has its own nugget of wisdom and an opportunity to apply it personally.

As we start to look toward the end of 2017, I thought it would be fun to ask former Profit. Power. Pursuit. guests to reflect on our own version of the question:

What’s one thing you thought you knew about your business but later found out you were wrong about?

We got back seven great answers. My guess? Each of these smart entrepreneurs will give you something to chew on as they reveal some of the surprising things they’ve learned about their business over the year. Keep listening and you’ll hear from Arianne Foulks, founder of Aeolidia, Anna Guest-Jelley, founder of Curvy Yoga, Andrea Owen, author of How to Stop Feeling Like Shit, Parker Stevenson, co-founder of Evolved Finance, Joanna Penn, author of How to Make a Living With Your Writing, Rebecca Tracey, founder of The Uncaged Life, Sue B. Zimmerman, creator of Ready Set Gram, and Shawn Fink, founder of the Abundant Mama Project.

You’ll hear their surprising lessons on management, scaling a business, marketing and sales, product development, and more.

Once you’ve listened (or read the transcript below), I’d love to hear from you. What’s one thing you thought you knew about your business but later found out you were wrong about? Tag me on Twitter or Instagram. I’m @taragentile on both places and let me know. I’ll share my favorite answers on social media.

And now, the surprising things top entrepreneurs have learned about their businesses:

Andrea Owen

I am a life coach, mentor, and author. I help smart women who struggle in the areas of perfectionism and isolation and numbing out, and I help them create a life of courage and confidence instead.

The one thing that I thought I knew about my business but later realized wasn’t true…

The word that first came to me was childish. When I started my business, I was fresh out of life coaching school. I went to college for exercise physiology and I also at the time was a certified personal trainer, and I wanted to meld together the worlds of fitness and wellness and life coaching.

A couple of things that I thought that I knew. First, I thought it was going to be easy. You know when you’re fresh out of training and it was this thing that you’re passionate about, you can’t fathom why the rest of the world doesn’t think so. I didn’t think I would need to sell. I didn’t think I would need to convince and persuade people that what I had to offer was valuable. I was under the assumption of, “Build it and they will come.”

That came as a bit of a slap in the face. I really just did not understand why everybody was not on board with this. This was a business, and that was the part that I was kind of embarrassed of that I didn’t realize from the beginning. I can’t believe that I didn’t know I was going to have to learn to sell. I also can’t believe that I didn’t realize I was going to have to learn to run a business. I thought it was going to be easy. That’s what I thought. I thought it was going to be simple and uncomplicated, that people would just line up to be my clients and take my courses, and that was that.

I was sorely mistaken. It’s not that it’s been just terrible and so hard and challenging. It has had its bad days, but it’s also had its great days. But it has had its trials and tribulations, and it’s been a labor of love. That’s the thing that I thought I knew about my business but later realized wasn’t true, that it was going to just happen.

Anna Guest-Jelley

I am the founder of Curvy Yoga, which is body-affirming yoga for people of all shapes and sizes.

One thing that I thought I knew about my business but later realized wasn’t true was that I thought my business needed to be as big as it possibly could be.

So if an invitation or an opportunity came my way, I thought, “I have to jump on this.” I thought I should build as big of a team as I could. I thought I should earn as much money as I could. So I started doing those things. I built a team, I developed a bunch of products, I opened a brick and mortar studio, and on and on.

Of course, doing all of that took a ton of time and money, and I was constantly overwhelmed, very rarely present, which is kind of hilarious for a yoga teacher, too busy to see my friends, the list goes on. I actually had this one year where I did so much that people were constantly telling me how amazed they were and how they didn’t know how I did it all. And I didn’t really know either. And then one day I looked up and realized, oh. I know how. By building a life I don’t want. I got everything I thought I wanted in my business and I was miserable.

That big business model totally works for some people, but it’s not for me. Just as importantly, I built it using a bunch of innovation marketing techniques that weren’t me either. I never did anything, of course, that I thought was wrong or manipulative because I am so not about that, but I did do it by having a pretty constant presence on every social media platform, sending tons of emails, and that’s just not how I really wanna be communicating. Again, not a bad thing, but it’s not my thing.

Amy Puller has a great way of saying this. She says, “Good for them! Not for me.” And that has really been my biggest lesson in business, and it’s something that I think is an iterative process that evolves over time. What is good for me? What is good for my business? What is good for my community, students, customers? How do I take advice from others and weigh it against my own experience and knowing?

Other people do not know me or my business better than I do, and that was true even when I was starting out. The first several years of my business I spent a ton of money and time on courses, coaches, and loads more, and of course, some of that was extremely helpful. I didn’t have any experience running a business before starting my own, so I definitely had a lot to learn. But I later realized there was a pretty substantial difference between learning new information that you need and secretly, or not-so-secretly in my case, hoping someone else can sweep in and tell you the exact formula for success. When I look back on those really hectic years now, when more money was going out the door than in, I don’t regret any of them.

One of the things that I love about yoga is that it teaches us what it means to practice. Each day on the yoga mat is a new experience because the me that steps onto the mat this morning isn’t the same as yesterday, much less last year or the last decade. I believe that the same thing is true about business. It’s really a practice. The me back then couldn’t have known what the me now does, and I hope the same is true of the me of the future.

Joanna Penn

I’m a USA Today bestselling thriller author, and I also help authors sell more books and make a living from their writing.

What’s one thing you thought you knew about your business but later realized wasn’t true? It’s a classic mistake, but I thought I could scale my income by doing everything myself. You can pretty much brute force your way to low multi six figures by working really hard, but if you want to up your game creatively, financially, and reach more people, you need to think differently. If you feel like you’re working too hard for your money, then you’re also at this stage of the game.

It was actually Tara’s advice on Profit Power Pursuit that helped me realize that the design of a six-figure business was not the same as a multi six-figure or seven-figure business, so I needed to change my mindset and think more about leverage. My core business principle is to be location independent and have no employees, but I shifted my thinking around processes and outsourcing. Now I have a team of freelancers, virtual assistants, and co-writers who help me with various tasks so I can focus on what I do best, writing thrillers and dark fantasy as well as helping authors sell more books and make a living writing. I’ve now broken through that previous income barrier and continue to redesign parts of the business to make them more scalable and sustainable.

Parker Stevenson

I am a co-owner and partner at a business called Evolved Finance. Evolved Finance is a bookkeeping service and also business education company. So my business partners, Cory and Anna Whitaker, help me to run the service side of the business. We all have clients that we manage. We have a phenomenal bookkeeping team that does a lot of the bookkeeping work, and then Cory, myself, and Anna are on calls every month with each one of our clients to review their books, go over what’s going on with their businesses financially, and just offer any guidance or advice that we can provide based on our experience looking at the numbers. The other side of our business, we also do business education, we sell some courses and online products to help smaller online businesses take control of their money.

The one thing that I thought I knew about our business but later realized wasn’t true was that I thought I could do everything myself.

As I mentioned, Cory and I are both on calls every month, but we also have other duties that we manage. Cory manages really the CFO, COO side of the business, where he’s managing the operations. He is also managing all the financial aspects of our business while I’m managing more of our marketing and business development as well as most of our sales. So I felt like, you know what? I’m lucky to have a business partner. I’m lucky that Cory gets to manage part of the business that although I’m involved in, I’m not heavily involved in, just like he’s still involved in the marketing and business development, just not in a very deep level. But I thought, hey, I have a business partner, which is better than most. I should be able to do all this stuff.

The beginning of the month is pretty easy, but as we get into the second, third, and fourth weeks of every month, my schedule is really busy. So we developed these three really great products that we’re currently selling, these digital courses. They come with financial tools.

I was so excited to get these out to an audience, but what I realized that between having to develop content, having to send out weekly emails, having to actually develop the products ourselves, which luckily are done now, but that took a long time, trying to create our sales funnels and our marketing automation in order to support our new products, I quickly realized that I would not have enough time to learn everything I need to learn to do all this stuff quickly and effectively, and that’s a big piece of it. I think for me, we work with so many amazing online businesses. A lot of the clients that we have are people who are doing amazing things selling their digital products. Not all of them, but we do work with quite a few businesses that sell digital products.

So I think for me, I thought, hey, look at them. They’re doing it. I know what they’re doing. I understand the systems and the models from a general standpoint so I can put this into action in our own business. And what I realized is that unless I was willing to just drop all my clients, which just wasn’t an option, I was gonna have to get help.

We were gonna have to find somebody or some people to help us get the course part of our business, the digital product part of our business, up and running. I thought I was gonna do it and after all our products were finished and I started jumping in, I quickly realized there’s not enough hours in the day for me to do this and get it up and running quickly, cause that’s the other thing. I could technically do all the work if I wanted to, but it might take me two years before we really start making good money from all the work that I’ve put into creating these products.

That’s where I realized in order for Evolved Finance to be as successful as I think we know we can be, that we needed to invest in advertising and we needed to invest in people. And luckily because our service based business has done so well and we had some profit left over to invest back into the business, that’s been something we’ve been able to actually make happen and something I’ve been very excited about.

Rebecca Tracey

 I work with coaches and new servers based businesses who want to be able to work online, and I help them understand how to talk about their business and market it in a way that helps them have clients come to them instead of them having to go out and hunt for clients all the time.

What is the one thing that I thought I knew about my business but later realized wasn’t true? When I started my business in the early days, I really thought that I knew my audience. I thought I knew what they needed, I thought I knew what they wanted, and I created a whole wagon load of stuff for them. I wrote blog posts, I wrote free opt-ins, I wrote paid online courses, and it didn’t really work.

What I later realized and what I now know is that there’s a big gap between what I thought my people needed and what I was actually selling them. It doesn’t mean that the things I created weren’t right for them, but the way I was talking to them, the way that I was marketing them was filled with all kinds of my industry jargon, and there was a gap between what I was selling and what they were wanting to actually buy and pay for.

When I realized that and I was able to close that gap by going up and talking to customers, talking to clients, asking people questions and really listening to what they needed, I was able to really shift the language of what I was offering so it was more in line with what they thought they needed. So I ended up with more sales, more clients, more money in my pocket, which obviously is a good thing for business. Now that’s something that I do all the time that I know is working in my business and that I’m always listening to my clients after I work with them and before I work with them and really paying attention to what they need so I can be sure that the programs and the free opt-ins and the blog posts that I’m creating are exactly what they need and not just my interpretation or assumption of what I think that they need. And that’s the biggest change that I’ve made in my business that’s really helped me grow.

Sue B. Zimmerman

I teach business owners all over the world how to get more visibility online from telling their visual story, specifically using the power of Instagram.

The number one thing I thought I knew about my business, specifically this online business, but realized it just wasn’t true, was that I thought there was a formula to doing an online business, so that’s what I was taught when I first entered into this online education space. And I paid for those formulas. I paid to attend conferences, to listen to those formulas. I paid for someone to write an email sequence, follow-up sequence to a course I created, and I even invested in learning about speaking on stage as if there was a specific formula to go through once I was on stage.

And what I realized was that if I just showed up as my authentic self and embraced all the experiences that I had in my entrepreneurial life, which spans over 25 years, and I focused on my stories and my wisdom that I’ve had through the years of having so many business, and just rocked my personality and my character, that my business would grow and attract those people that I’m meant to be serving.

Because I really believe that it is your character, your experiences, and your stories that sell. When I say sell, I don’t mean that necessarily in an exchange from money, but they sell who you are and how you show up as long as you do it authentically. That’s the biggest lesson that I’ve learned since entering into this online space five years ago, and it’s pretty wild that you can literally be talking to anybody all over the world in seconds from using tools like Instagram stories and Facebook and Twitter and all the social platforms that are out there to help you really amplify your message and broadcast your gift, but ultimately your goal is to attract those people into an offer that helps them solve a problem so that you can nurture those relationships.

And so my biggest lesson in all this online space has been the power of nurturing true relationships and growing an authentic community who ultimately cares about each other more than themselves and growing and making this world just a happier, better place, and that’s pretty cool, and I feel really proud to be a part of that.

Shawn Fink

I’m a family wellness coach for busy moms around the world.

I would say is very much, very clearly for me, that I thought that my business needed to be like everybody else’s business and that I needed to do what everybody else was doing, and while I didn’t always just follow the crowd, I certainly always felt a sense of I’m not doing as well because. And what I realized was that all along I was really listening to my true self, my authentic self, which set me apart, but I didn’t know that in the beginning, so I spent a lot of time researching how to make my business like everybody else’s business, but really it was never supposed to be that way. I only later realized that I could have all along just been doing my own thing, and that would have been so refreshing and such a relief.

Arianne Foulks

I run Aeolidia, a web and graphic design studio that has been serving creative and design oriented shops since 2004. We work with a ton of awesome clients and I’ve learned a lot of amazing stuff from their projects and the work that we’ve done with them and just seeing how they’ve grown their businesses, and we are currently expanding our business into a second venture which is called the Ship Shape Collective, which is an online community and educational project for people who are working to grow their businesses up and get them to the next level. So you can learn what we’re doing there and check out our web design work as well at aeolidia.com. I hope you’ll join us.

I try to be really open-minded about my business, but there is definitely one time where I was dead wrong about what the right thing to do was. I started out Aeolidia as a freelance designer and developer, and I did every part of the business myself, of course. I managed the business, I marketed it, I designed websites, I developed websites, I did the customer service and the product management and kept up with the schedule and all that stuff.

As my business grew and I got more clients and got busier and I started hiring other designers, I could see that there was a potential that I would get too busy managing everybody else’s projects and not be able to do my own projects anymore, and that is something I really resisted. I told myself that I did not want to end up just being the boss because I had no desire to boss anybody around, for one, and second, I loved the work that I did and I loved being able to be creative and I didn’t want to lose that.

So of course, life got in the way and things changed, and not only did I have more designers and more clients and more projects and many projects to manage, but I started raising a family and I had two babies to take care of and I just did not have time to also be designing websites and working with my own clients.

So I temporarily shifted from the role of being the boss, but of course, we ended up with me just totally being the boss and me not doing web design projects anymore, and I have to say I’m really glad I don’t have to open up that blank white Photoshop screen and stare it down every day anymore.

But aside from that, I really love being the boss. Not to boss people around, but I love being able to come up with ideas but instead of them just staying on a to-do list somewhere, they actually go into production and turn into actual things, which is thrilling. And I love working with my team; they’re super talented. Every person that I hired to replace me in any of my roles is way better than I ever was at the job and it is a delight to watch them work.

And you know, it’s just fun having a group of people. When you’re just by yourself you can talk to your friends and family about what’s going on at work, but they don’t really care as much as you do. When you have a whole team that’s working together with you to achieve something that you all want to happen and you’re all interested in, it’s really fun to have a whole group to work with.

I’m 100% happy that I went ahead and ditched all my other jobs and went for the managing a business job. It’s really rewarding and it’s fun for me to do all the visionary stuff.


If you loved this episode, be sure to check out our interviews with each of today’s contributors: Arianne Foulks, Anna Guest-Jelley, Andrea Owen, Parker Stevenson, Joanna Penn, Rebecca Tracey, Sue B. Zimmerman, and Shawn Fink. You’ll find them in the archives along with over 100 other episodes of the nitty-gritty details of growing a small business in the new economy.

Next week we hear from former guests on another important subject: what’s working right now? 

Let’s face it, the market and the marketplace change on an almost daily basis. New technology, new questions, and new opportunities make themselves known every day. Our business has changed and evolved to rise to the occasion or they don’t, and they end up sputtering out. I asked former Profit Power Pursuit guests what’s working for them right now to grow their businesses. Check out their answers on next week’s episode.

In the meantime, don’t forget to tell me your answer to this week’s question. What’s one thing you thought you knew about your business but later found out you were wrong about? Tag me on Twitter or Instagram — @ taragentile — and let me know. Or, leave a response with your answer to the question on this post. I’ll share my favorite answers on social media.

What’s 1 thing you thought you knew about your business but later realized wasn’t true?


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