Last year at this time I was in the terrifying and exhilarating position of setting up my own business. Not talking about it. Not dreaming about it. Not conceptualising it or taking courses on how to do it. Actually doing it.
It was a steep learning curve. I’ll warn you now – this is not going to be a post about how I made seven figures, worked 20 minutes a day and lost 15 kilos in the process. There are plenty of those stories on the internet if you want them – but this isn’t one. Truth is there were weeks I barely covered the cost of the daycare that allowed me to work. Cue the mother guilt right there. There were plenty of days when I realised that working for myself was never going to deliver the work/life balance I craved. Sure, it delivers flexibility and independence but working for yourself is a hungry beast that could eat 24/7 if you let it.
These are some things I learned:
- I am not my ideal client. I have a wide skill set and I am pretty tight. I wouldn’t pay people to do the things I do for them. It took me quite a while to value my own skills and feel that I was contributing something important my clients. And yet I never felt that way when I was working in the corporate sphere. I needed to be more objective about my skills. There are things I find easy and enjoyable that others would prefer to outsource. There are things I don’t like doing or cannot do that I am happy to outsource. It’s how the service economy works.
- I have a weird relationship with money when it’s offered in exchange for creativity. Within my business I do a range of things. The things that I am proficient at, but don’t love, I happily do in exchange for money. But when it’s something I am truly passionate about, money suddenly seems stifling. It becomes a scary. A brick wall goes up. I have had to work hard to dissemble that brick wall and recognise that it’s okay to be paid for something you love doing.
- It’s okay NOT to want to conquer the world. Since working for myself, entrepreneurial types and their stories have been increasingly on my radar. It can be overwhelming. It can feel like there is a very narrow version of success and an even narrower dream. I currently have no desire to make millions of dollars and lead a huge team of people under my own business banner. Maybe one day I’ll have that dream, but not when my kids are so young. Time with them is too precious to sacrifice. I am happy to expand my skills, avoid a resume gap and keep my hand in. It feels small compared to what others are doing and that’s okay.
- I really miss the office and the social element. There I said it. So many people find their salvation in working for themselves. I haven’t. Previous jobs involved me leading teams and being part of something big. I loved that and I miss it. And as per the above, I am not in a position to build that for myself right now. Instead, I am growing those areas of my business that allow me to work closely with others.
- The school day is deceptively short. The hours between 9 and 2:30 pass in some kind of time-sucking vortex, similar to that employed by shopping centres. Those hours are like gold and need to be spent very carefully. This year I am focussing on keep my work within those hours, and not letting it bleed into family time.
- I am awesome at strategy. For other people. Not for myself. Sometimes it’s hard to take your own advice. There are plenty of times I feel like the proverbial plumber with leaky taps. This year I really need to take a step backward and be ruthlessly objective about what I need to do and how I need to project myself.
- I CAN actually do it. I can run a successful little business with a staff of one.There were plenty of times I doubted I could. It’s pleasing to look at my forecasts for the coming year and realise that I am making a living. A proper, honest to goodness living. And that I made that.
- You don’t need to hit rock bottom before you get to success. I had this idea from every romantic story I had ever read about successful businesses that there was a breaking point. A rock bottom place where up was the only option. An absolute imperative to succeed because failure just wasn’t a viable option. I don’t have that. If I don’t succeed, we still eat, the kids still go to school, the mortgage will still be paid. Then someone pointed out to me that rock bottom is not the origin of every successful business or business person – it just makes for the best stories. It was a bit of a wake up call and I let go of another excuse.
This year I am looking forward with less trepidation and more confidence. I am much more relaxed about it all. Last year was about dabbling in a lot of different things and changes in direction. This year I have more focus.
Hopefully that will mean less getting in my own way (which I am spectacularly good at). And if it doesn’t work out – I have my family, I have my friends, a roof will remain over my head and I will still have enough to eat. Success is important to me, but so is perspective.