Approximately one and a half years ago I was learning (by doing) to set up this blog that you are reading right now, and I was working for four days a week as marketing and administration coordinator.
One year later I had helped over ten different companies with their growth marketing activities. This personal blog had become the blog of my very own business. How did this happen?
I wrote this article to reflect the year. Through my writing you can get an inside view to the monthly highlights of my first year as an entrepreneur at Balanced Growth Boutique.
January – launching this blog
I took some time off from my job at a consultancy company I was working at. We started off 2020 with Mikko and some friends in Ylläs, Lapland. It was my first time in Lapland and I remember thinking to myself, why hadn’t I gone there before. Skate skiing for the first time in my life felt frustrating but once I got into it, it was the best thing ever.
The nudge towards starting this blog came up the previous fall when the 2019 Work-life balance index listed Helsinki as the best city for work-life balance. I was not only interested in starting a blog but also in creating the blog myself from scratch as I desperately wanted to learn something new. From idea to execution, one Friday I sat down in front of my laptop googling how to purchase a domain, where to host my site, and which WordPress theme to go with. It was my first time to come across these topics. It was the start of a new chapter, a new kind of a learning curve.
In January 2020 we also made a life-changing decision to sign up for an ice swimming membership at SMARK, Töölö rowing club. Ice swimming wasn’t yet in my comfort zone but it soon became one of the best decisions I had made in my life.
February – signing up for a coding course
At the same time, I stumbled upon an event meant for women interested in programming. The event was provided by Mimmit Koodaa. I entered the event and was in an immediate awe, such great stories by strong women who truly believed in themselves. A nurse re-educating herself to start working as a front-end developer for a health tech company or an introvert woman to finally realize that programming was her thing. I decided to follow their lead in whatever I decided to do in the future. Participating in the event really was inspiring.
March – the month of lay-offs
Corona entered Finland and lay-offs became reality for many. I was laid-off part-time, to able to work a day a week for the consultancy company I had worked for the past year or so. My lay-off time was said to last 90 days. I secretly felt like I won the lottery. I knew where to put my focus for the following 90 days – to improve my knowledge in programming. And as I was part of the general unemployment fund YTK, I knew I would be getting some money for the lay-off time. Even though I had already had the freedom to choose whether to work from home, the office, or even a local library, working from home full-time felt great – at least for a while.
On March 27, a couple of days before my official lay-off time started I received a message in my LinkedIn inbox. It was Mari Luukkainen from Icebreaker asking me to join her growth hacking internship program.
April – starting the internship at Icebreaker VC and camping on Easter during lockdown
On April 1st, I was officially laid off part-time from my day job. During the same day I started as an intern at Icebreaker Venture Capital. I just could not believe my luck! Not only could I get income from three separate places I, again, got to learn new things.
Easter holiday was around the corner and we had no plans, partly due to the prevailing situation and partly due to being too occupied with everything else at the time. The Uusimaa borders were closed so we rented a car, packed our bags and put up a tent in Porvoo for a night. Nights were still cold but man was it rewarding to wake up in pure sunlight in the morning.
Mikko putting up our tent in Varlaxudden in Porvoo.
It was almost summer. Can you feel the warm ocean breeze?
At the end of 2019, I had the chance to join the Helsinki Junior Chamber International community. I had enrolled in a mentor program as a mentee and in April I was told who my mentor was going to be. My main priority was to learn more about marketing data and analytics. I was introduced to Reino Meriläinen, the CCO of a Finnish software company Isolta Oy. Reino is an experienced marketing professional with 15+ years in marketing. Again, I could not believe my luck!
May – hard work and sailing
April was hard work but in May I worked even harder. My internship was not built the way I could trust someone else to tell me what to do. Not only did I need to figure everything out by myself (by googling), I also needed to spread my knowledge forward and teach a new group what I had just learned. Teaching others really does strengthen your own knowledge.
On May 25th, together with Mikko and Juuso (a friend of ours who is a co-owner of a beautiful Vindö sailing boat), we decided to try something new and go to work remotely from a sailing boat for 10 days. A little island on the Baltic Sea called Örö became our selected remote work destination, from where we, in fact, got an empty house to work at.
It was the time of our lives. We slept our nights and cooked our meals at the sailing boat. The mornings were cold, afternoons were surprisingly warm. Some mornings started with a cold dip in the water, some evenings ended with a run around the beautiful island. Although I have to admit that without the house to work in, we most likely wouldn’t have felt so comfortable working out there.
On the last day of May, I sat outside in the sun in Örö, thanking everyone in Zoom for the great internship together. I felt enormous gratitude towards – well, everything. Even though the internship had been very intensive, I felt I had learned a thousand new things along the way and exceeded my limits.
My lay-off was still ongoing for a good 30 days.
Mirka preparing a meal in Örö at the sailing boat kitchen side.
June – the resignation and the first deal
As I had learned so many new things during the past couple of months, I just could not let it all go to waste. And so I resigned from my day job.
Mikko had been painting me pictures of what my life could be like if I were an entrepreneur. He recognized my upgraded skills in marketing and also thought I could use them better elsewhere. Entrepreneurship would be a ton of responsibility, of course, but it would be a logical step forward, not backward.
So in June, I decided to embark on an unknown journey called entrepreneurship and see how it goes. Together with Mikko, I held my first sales meeting on the sailing boat and nailed it. To this day, I am still working for Coventures, the customer that ended up being my very first one.
Mirka having a meeting on the sailing boat.
July – restraining from business talk
New closed-won deals kept coming. Naturally, some of the sales meetings I had, ended up being closed-lost.
July wasn’t much of a working month. It was the time for our three-week vacation. As hiking and outdoor activities had been our priority for a while now, we decided to pack our bags again and experience Urho Kekkonen national park. Six days and five nights out in the wilderness with nothing but us two and our belongings.
A separate mention: we actually restrained from talking about business the entire time we were on the road and in the national park. Cheers to that!
We stopped at Siliäselkä to take a picture of the stunning scenery we were surrounded by.
August – a remote week in Vierumäki
After a super relaxing vacation, it was time to close some deals again. I had already won four customers.
Summer seemed to be endless. Our friends Antti and Julia invited us to work remotely in Vierumäki for a week. Even though most of the sporting facilities were closed, we found our way to the outdoor gym and running tracks in the forest after work.
September – sales solves everything?
By September my sales figures were on a level that allowed me to look for a coworking spot, my first official office. I tried out one coworking spot downtown Helsinki for a month but let it go after the month was over.
This got us thinking, what is a business without a proper website? We needed one so we called Bakery Creative and set a date to start off with planning and production.
A break in between all this sounded heavenly so I took a couple of days to rewind just by myself. During the days I visited three national parks in southern Finland: Liesjärvi, Torronsuo and Teijo.
October – landing at Sofia Coworking + building a website
After some research, I finally found my office where I belonged once I stepped into Sofia coworking. The atmosphere was exactly what I was looking for, quiet when I needed it and lively when I was ready for it.
In October we began our website design process with Bakery Creative. Besides the blog I had created at the beginning of this year, this was my first proper website project.
It was funny to think that in reality, this blog was the spark for everything that Balanced Growth Boutique today is. To me, this blog represented the beginning of entrepreneurship. Balanced Growth Boutique was given its name to resemble balance, the same initial thought this blog about work-life balance arose from.
November – photoshoot, Corona positivity and isolation
Soon after kicking off the website project, we realized we were not able to create a website resembling us if there were no pictures of us. And so we organized a photoshoot at Bakery’s office in Salo. As the name of our company was Balanced Growth Boutique, we took our pictures in a balanced environment. We had a fair background with office-like equipment and a couple of bonsai trees to resemble balanced growth.
Mikko enjoys being in front of a camera. Can you tell?
Almost as soon as we got back home, we found out that we were Corona positive and had to restrain from all social contacts for two weeks.
The pandemic just kept going a lot worse and, due to that, the Finnish government was about to close all libraries, swimming halls, and public places. At the time, we realized we spent a lot of our time in the swimming hall in Kallio as well as the public library Oodi and soon there was nowhere to go.
Luckily quick moves weren’t a problem for us. With just four days notice period we packed our stuff and booked a place to stay in Ylläs for three whole weeks. And in a blink of an eye, we switched the gray and dark weather of Helsinki to, well, snowy and dark December weather of Lapland.
December – Optimizing daily working rhythm around the 3 light hours of the day
It really was dark during Lapland polar nights. So dark, we only could see daylight for three consecutive hours, from 11 am until 2 pm. But that wasn’t a problem for us. Being the knowledge workers we were, we adjusted our daily working schedule to match with the light hours of the day. It was great but looking back, we both agreed it was a bit too dark for the whole three weeks.
Three weeks passed by skiing, working, cooking, and hosting some guests along the way. We absolutely loved the snowy conditions we were surrounded by. So much so that during the whole time we spent up north, we managed to ski 150 km per person. We were grateful for the possibility we had.
This is where we worked from during our time in Ylläs.
Grinding snow under our feet during a work break after having lunch at Aurinkotupa.
Our business was going forward nicely and we even managed to finish our website during December. What a great and fruitful year it had been.