5 years in business: what I’ve learned
Five years ago, I made the decision to leave the ‘safety and security’ of a full-time job to work for myself.
It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision — I’d already been freelancing as a copywriter for two years alongside working full time.
I loved my job, but I had reached a point where I had to choose.
I chose to follow my dream.
I left my employer on good terms and I felt confident I could go back if everything went tits up. And even if they didn’t have a job for me, I’d find something else if I needed to.
So on March 23rd 2016, I completed my last day of employment.
Five years on, I wouldn’t say I’ve got this business malarky completely nailed, but I’ve definitely learnt some stuff along the way…
Self-employment life is a rollercoaster
There’s one particular day that stands out to me as the perfect example of the rollercoaster life of a freelancer.
I was about 6 months in, and I was having a shitty day. I don’t even remember what had happened, but I was crying on my husband about something.
Then I got an email from a lady in New York enquiring about website copy.
I had a look at her site, emailed her some suggestions and gave her a price. She loved what I said and made payment in full that day.
I was ecstatic. I had a client in New York. I was going international baby!
Within the space of an hour, I went from major low to massive high.
And that pretty much sums up the life of a freelancer.
You can go from feeling like a total failure to feeling unstoppable in a matter of minutes. And vice versa.
These days, the lows are far less frequent than the highs, but it certainly took some getting used to.
Overnight success doesn’t exist
There are so many get rich quick scammers, contrepreneurs and general bullshitters out there, making it sound like building a business is easy.
And anyone that says otherwise is full of shit.
You don’t just wake up one day with a great product or service and a hundred ideal clients queuing outside. You have to work for it.
Yes, some people can build a great business faster than others but not without time, money or effort.
It’s so easy to look at someone and think they’re only doing well because they’ve got a huge social media following or a fantastic team of people or great clients or a good reputation. But they didn’t start out with those things. They had to build them up. They had to work for it.
So when you see people ‘smashing it,’ remember that there was probably a time when they wondered whether they would ever make it or not.
Imposter syndrome is an absolute dick
Ah yes — good old imposter syndrome. It creeps up on you when you need it least, telling you what a big old fraud you are. Who on earth do you think you are, pretending like you know how to do things and stuff?
It doesn’t matter that you are more than capable of doing it; it’s the fact that you have the audacity to believe in yourself.
I’ll be honest, I still haven’t got this one figured out. My solution is just ignoring any self-doubt and doing things and stuff anyway. It does mean living in an almost constant state of anxiety, but I’m hoping that one day the self-doubt will just piss off and annoy someone else.
There is no secret formula
Get up at 4am. Don’t get up at 4am. Work 80 hours a week. Work 8 hours a week. Meditate after lunch. Take a walk after lunch. Take a nap after lunch.
Do whatever the bloody hell suits you. It’s your business and your life.
Just because somebody else got successful by having a strict routine of spinach smoothies for breakfast, no checking emails before 3pm and running a marathon before every meeting doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Routine works for some people and not for others. Find your own formula.
If you’re interested in what works for me — some days, it’s getting up at 6 and working solid for 10 hours (those days are rare, I’ll admit). Some days it’s drinking four mugs of tea, watching six cat videos and then deciding it’s too close to lunch to start anything new (those days are also rare now too).
Most days, it’s picking three tasks I absolutely must complete and feeling pleased with myself if I tick them all off.
You’ve got to be visible
Positive mindsets are all well and good, but they don’t pay the bills — clients do. And if you want some, you have to go out and get them.
There are two main ways to do that — approach them directly or attract them to you.
Personally, cold-calling, cold emailing and sending sales messages to people I’ve stalked on LinkedIn just doesn’t interest me. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, just that it isn’t my preferred option.
But attracting them to you isn’t easy either. It certainly doesn’t involve sitting on your arse waiting for them to stumble across your website or Facebook page.
It involves being visible. Posting on social media, creating content, networking, interacting, advertising. Basically, you’ve got to do some kind of marketing.
And even if you do go for the direct approach, having visibility is only going to increase your chances of success. After all, if someone is already familiar with your brand or can check out your website or profile when you approach them, it just adds to your credibility.
I’m not saying you need to post entertaining videos of yourself every day, but at least remind people you are there every now and then. Don’t be a lurker — get involved.
It’s ok to ask for help
This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. I’m fiercely independent and never want to show any sign of weakness.
But trying to do everything yourself and pretending everything is going swimmingly all the time is exhausting.
And guess what? It’s actually ok to admit you’re struggling or that some of your clients are dicks or that you don’t love every minute of running your business. It’s fine to hold your hands up and admit that you’re having a crappy day or week, or month.
Talk to people. Share your problems and ask for help or advice. Get support from other business owners, people who have been-there-done-that or paid experts and consultants, not just well-meaning family and friends.
And for god’s sake, if you’re rubbish at something, outsource it!
Perfect is impossible
I realised pretty early on that it’s impossible to be perfect all the time. It’s great to strive for perfection, but you’ve got to face the fact that sometimes you get it wrong.
Sure, it feels shitty when you mess up, but you can’t ignore it or dwell on it. You’ve just got to accept it, deal with it, learn from it and move on.
You won’t always get it right, and sometimes your ideas are crap. Be open to criticism, challenges and failure. It’s part of the process.
Nobody ever has it completely nailed
Ok, maybe Mr Bezos is the exception, but I’m sure even he makes mistakes or bad decisions every now and then.
Most of us, however, are just working it out as we go along. And if the global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that no business is invincible.
Even if you do everything right — hire brilliant people, control your cashflow, invest in the best systems and processes — something can come along at any time and bugger everything up for you.
So my advice is to take a step closer to your dreams every day. And if you get knocked back a few steps, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and find a new path.
I don’t know if this is the right approach, but it’s working for me so far.
Here’s to the next five years of learning.