5 Things I’ve Learned in Business…
In 2005, I decided to make a significant change in my career. I went from working as a graphic design employee to becoming a freelancer working from home.
In 2010, I made another significant transition – from freelance graphic design to typeface design. In the beginning, it was all me, and only me, but as my workflow increased, I began to work with contractors and consultants.
Before I knew it, working for myself turned in to running a business.
I’ve learned a lot over the years, and here are some of the highlights I’d like to share for anyone who is starting a business or who has already started one.
1. How uneasy I would feel
I’d wake up in the morning, with nowhere I had to be, no set schedule, no one telling me what was priority for the day and no one checking in on how I was doing with my projects or deadlines. Suddenly, it was all on me. I had to create my own structure and answer only to myself.
Yes, it was liberating to wake up without an alarm, and inspiring to work whenever I wanted on whatever I wanted to work on. I loved it, and still do, however… that sudden amount of freedom also left me feeling as though I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I’d attempt to calm that uneasy feeling by making copious to-do lists, setting goals, planning projects and checking my bank account (at least twice a day!) All of this helped, but I’ve learned that, for me, that uneasy feeling never goes away entirely. And perhaps it shouldn’t – uneasiness and worry can be harnessed and turned into productivity and planning as long as you don’t succumb to it.
2. How important it is for me to stay personally involved in my business’ finances
Many people advised me to hire a bookkeeper and/or an accountant, and while this is excellent advice, I also found that learning about finance and taxes; tracking income and expenses, creating projections and staying involved with it all was crucial. Tracking my finances has helped me spot trends that I could use to improve my business or identify upcoming issues I may need to address and plan for. When I read between the numbers, I’m always surprised with what I find. For accounting, I use QuickBooks – which I love – it allows me to keep an eye on everything and have any level of involvement I want.
As a business owner, I’ve found that no one will have a more intimate connection and understanding of my finances than I do. Partnering with my accountant, and not just handing everything over and turning a blind eye to it has been paramount. There have been numerous times where I’ve been able to spot discrepancies and I’ve even managed to lower my tax burden. I have saved a lot of money and avoided costly mistakes by not entirely delegating this aspect of my business.
3. How important it is for me to track my time
There’s a big difference between perception and reality. When I started to track my time, I was surprised to discover where I could have been more efficient, and how much time I spent on tasks I could have delegated.
It sent me down a path of learning more about being productive; what’s realistic and reasonable; managing my expectations; how important taking regular breaks are; how to better schedule my day and particular tasks. I’ve been able to make considerable changes to my workflow, productivity and time management based on time tracking. It’s been a life changing practice of mine, both professionally and personally.
4. They work with you, not for you
When I started hiring contractors (graphic design, marketing, copywriting, etc.) it was a big step for me. I had a lot of concerns. What if my income dried up and I had a hard time paying them? What if things didn’t go well and the relationship soured? How do I provide direction without stifling their creative efforts? So many “what ifs” and so much to consider!
I made a plan to handle the biggest concerns – paying contractors and how to maintain a good relationship throughout. I thought back to all of the times when I was an employee, contractor, vendor… how did I want to be treated? What was important to me? Finding those questions and the answers laid the groundwork in moving forward.
I have all of my contractors sign contracts to define expectations and I keep three months worth of business expenses at my ready so that if things ever go downhill in my business, I can exit a working relationship with grace and not leave anyone in a bind. I pay invoices within a day or two of receiving them and that leaves me, and them, feeling at ease.
When it came to hiring, I would carefully vet a potential hire. Early on, my contractors were people I already knew – friends, colleagues, former students… I would watch them with the idea in mind that I may want to work with them in the future. Later on, with people I hadn’t known beforehand, I would hire based more on my instincts – that gut response I had upon meeting them. So far, so good! I have had the honor of working with several amazing and talented contractors, all of whom I adore and consider to be friends.
I believe what’s worked well in my business relationships is that I aspire to treat those who work with me to be partners and collaborators. People are not commodities; they’re a vital part of my business. I hired them for their brains, talent, creativity and skills and I try to treat them with the utmost respect, care and kindness.
I aim to provide an open environment where they’re free to speak their minds. I’ve had to work at keeping my ego in check and not micro-managing. I want to append their abilities to mine, not shove it through my own funnel. By doing this, I’ve opened up the gates to collaboration, new ideas and improvement. But it starts with me, and my willingness to be open and to realize that if things aren’t working quite the way I wanted, to check myself first and ask what I can to do improve. The buck stops with me, truly.
5. How alone I would feel, how unique my experience would be and how it would also be amazing, fulfilling and totally worth it
Though there are plenty of people who work for themselves or have their own business, it’s only about 10% of the US population. I’m the only person in my family who runs a business. I know several freelancers, and a couple of business owners, however, none of them can fully relate to what I’m doing, and vice versa. Every situation is unique. Running a business has challenged me in ways I could’ve never imagined.
I’ve found that making decisions has been the most challenging part of this journey. Even if I have someone who can offer counsel and advice, it will always come down to me and what I believe is the right decision to make. This leaves me feeling like I’m on an island at times, but it also helps build resilience. There are times when I’ve made the wrong decision, and I’ve learned how to deal with that; to admit to it, take responsibility of it to myself and others, forgive myself, be objective about it, learn from it and make a plan to do better the next time.
Going into this, I had heard dozens of horror stories about starting a business and being self employed. There are many businesses that fail and running a business or working for oneself isn’t right for everyone. However, I’m glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers – I knew with every ounce of my being that I was making the right decision for me. I’ve been able to find so much more meaning and purpose in what I’m doing now than what I was doing before. And yes, I am living the dream, and loving it!