Happy Friiiiiday! I have some exciting news…today is my birthday! Well, not my birthday exactly, but my business’s. See, one year ago today, I was waking up in a tiny Tokyo apartment with both the crushing and exciting realization that I was now
unemployed a self-employed entrepreneur. The day before was spent cleaning out my desk at the Japanese high school where I’d been a teacher and saying my goodbyes to the students, business casual slacks, and train-ride commute. I’d made the decision to quit my job because I knew I enjoyed blogging and graphic design more than anything else I’d ever done, and I wondered, “Can I actually make a living from this?” Luckily, the answer was “Yes.”
The past 365 days have taught me a whole freakin’ lot, and today I’m here to share what I’ve learned — the good, the bad, the everything.
1. It feels more natural. When I worked for other people, I had to wait to eat, even if I was hungry. A ten-minute pick-me-up nap would have been weird, even if it would have helped me do my job better thereafter. Now, I feel much more in touch with what my body and mind need to keep me going. Instead of waiting for a set time to do things, I do them when it feels right.
2. Small successes feel absolutely incredible. When I worked for other people, achievements in our business were still exciting, but they never really felt like my successes — they were the company’s, the school’s, or someone else’s. Now, every step forward motivates me, because I know what it took me to achieve. It just feels good to know that I earn everything I receive. It’s kind of surreal for me to think about sometimes. I feel more in control of my life than ever before.
3. For someone who sets her own schedule, taking vacations is actually harder than it was when I worked for someone else. When I was a teacher, I had a specific amount of vacation days every year. On those vacations, I didn’t have to think about work AT ALL. Now that I’m running each aspect of my business, not checking my email or social media for a week would be close to impossible. I’m still able to get away sometimes (usually with lots of pre-planning), but I can’t ever really detach myself from my business completely.
4. The only ceiling is your work ethic. Instead of working my way up the food chain at a corporate job, I’ve realized that when running your own business, the only food chain is how hard you choose to work. If you hustle the crap out of your business (and use a little know-how), I am 99% confident that you will succeed.
5. You will have 900 ideas. Pick one. Maybe two. If you start a small business with some success, I feel like your mind shifts. It’s like a little alarm telling you that you did something you once thought impossible, and now nothing really seems very impossible. It’s rad and fun and liberating, but with it, comes the fact that you will now have 5 million not-so-impossible ideas that you totally, definitely, want to do. Picking one or two to pursue can be very difficult, but if you choose carefully, can also be very, very awesome.
6. People may not understand, but that’s ok. Friends and family may not always get it, and I’ve had people assume I was poor or jobless just because my job is a little different from the norm. This can be frustrating, especially when you’re busting your butt and seeing great results. But I’ll tell you something: you don’t have to get a job that other people understand in order to be happy or successful. And if it’s important to you, find ways to share what you do in a way that people get. Usually, they want to understand what you do and they want to support you, they just don’t know how.
7. You have to (HAVE TO) reach out to people. Honestly, working from home and by myself can get a little lonely. I think I’m pretty good at dealing with it because I enjoy alone time, but even I go a little stir crazy if I don’t get out and see people enough. I also find it so soul-enriching to connect with other people who run their own businesses or have similar careers. Sometimes, I really suck at reaching out to people, but it’s something I’ve been trying a lot harder to work on.
8. It’s amazing what a shower and a little make-up can do. Sometimes I work in my PJs, but I feel so much better when I shower and put a little effort into getting ready. I think that how you look can have a direct impact on how you feel and feeling good in your business is important.
9. If you’re thinking about it, DO ITTTTT. I’m a firm believer that things always work out. Even if they don’t at first, THEY WILL. You just have to keep fighting through. If you have an idea and a skill that you’re interested in pursuing, then you can more than make it work. The biggest failure of most small businesses is that they were never started in the first place. If you have an idea, try it out! I’ll be here, rooting for you.
Got any questions about running your own small business? Have some stellar lessons you’ve learned? Share ‘em in the comments!
I love when I come across an artist that just completely speaks to my heart. When I stumbled upon Jimmy Marble’s Instagram, it was love at first double-tap. The more I explored his photography and other art, the more hooked I got. What I love about his work is the quirky way he incorporates humans, almost as if they were props. He also blends patterns and colors to create fresh, unique, and feel-good photos. I kind of feel like I’m looking at a Wes Anderson movie meets a Marc Jacobs ad — perfectly quirky and totally great. Check it out.
Wednesday already?! This week is flying! Today, I thought it would be fun to create a list of things that would be useful and informative for anyone looking to start a freelance design career. Feel free to share your own tips (and questions!) in the comments. I’d love to hear ‘em!
- Create a quick elevator speech about what you do. Now that you’re working for yourself, people will have lots of questions about your new gig. Stuck on what to say? Think about how you bring value to your clients. My friend, Maya, has an awesome tip on how to do this.
- Create PDF documents you can send to potential clients rather than typing out your pricing and process every single time. Email templates are also useful and ensure that each potential client gets the same information.
- Create a contract and stick to it. When I first started, I created PDF documents that my clients had to print, sign, and scan just to give back to me. Talk about an inconvenience! Now, I use an online software called Contractually that makes it super easy to make and send contracts to clients.
- Don’t forget that you now have to pay quarterly taxes (including an additional self-employment tax), which is usually 30% of your income. Create a separate savings account to easily funnel 30% of all earnings out of sight and unspent. Also, save your receipts! There are TONS of things that are considered tax write-offs.
- To get clients, start establishing relationships. One of the best ways to do this, in my opinion, is to start a blog. A blog is an excellent way to attract clients, because it ups the chance that someone will stumble onto your design site, since you have more content for people to discover through a search engine.
- It’s really not the end of the world if you have a difficult client. It sure can seem like it when you’re working with them, but don’t fret, their project will eventually pass. On the bright side, working with them is probably teaching you something, too. Lean on your support systems if things get tough. Oh, and above all else, be professional, even when things are hard. Being rude, passive-aggressive, or disrespectful to a client will never help anything.
- Choose your clients carefully. You may want to take on every client that comes your way at first, but your sanity is much, much more important than making an extra buck. If it seems like you and a potential client will run into problems or aren’t the right fit, it’s probably best just to say no.
- Create a routine and set your working hours. When I first started out (and even sometimes to this day), I worked sporadically and without even realizing it, would spend 15 hours behind the computer. This isn’t healthy. Establish a routine to help you get into the groove. Finding balance can be one of the most difficult, but most important aspects of freelancing.
- Don’t feel guilty for doing your job. You might run into situations where a client asks you to do something that wasn’t part of the deal. But it’s small, so you’ll do it for free. You don’t mind at first, but all of a sudden that one good deed turns into you running a charity rather than a business. Don’t feel guilty about asking for what you know you deserve. Money talks can be nerve-wracking, but clients will embrace your professionalism and respect you for it.
- Don’t do it alone! Find other freelancers to chat with throughout the day. You may not have co-workers, but it’s important to have people you can talk to about your work, even if it’s a group of Twitter friends you check in with every now and then. You may also consider renting a co-working space, where you rent a desk somewhere and work alongside other freelancers. If you’re like me, having a pet helps, too. :)