When I hit my first anniversary of going full time with my business back in November I reflected back and wrote out a few lessons I learned. But then I got scared to hit post as I was afraid they were too negative. I feel so lucky to be able to build my own dreams and love what I do but that definitely doesn't make it easy. Now that I'm halfway into my second year I realize how true these lessons still ring and would love to share them now. I've worked hard in my second year to correct many of the areas I struggled with but these are the five tough truths I learned about running my own business that took me by surprise:
I got lonely working from home: I was so excited to work from home, set my own hours, and not be constantly interrupted like I was in my office job. What I didn’t expect was that it got lonely very quickly and I actually missed the interruptions and opportunities to socialize with my coworkers. It took me a few months to solve this problem but I started meeting other business owners for coffee, doing Skype dates with creative entrepreneurs in different parts of the country, going to networking groups and building my own community. My situation was also unique in that I went out on my own at the same time that we moved across the country and I didn’t know a soul in my new home. So I had to build a new network from scratch in all areas of my life. But creating a network of other designers and business owners has been huge for me. They’ve become my coworkers who I bounce ideas off of and share resources. I no longer feel alone in my business and am so thankful for the community I found but it definitely takes time to build.
Working for myself wasn't necessarily freeing: I thought with setting my own hours I would be able to work out all the time, make myself super healthy lunches, bring the dog to the park and run errands whenever I needed. Boy was I wrong. In theory yes I guess I could just decide to do those things. But running your own business is a lot of hard work and I actually work longer days than when I was working for someone else. I find my clients are on email during the day, making requests and its just hard to get away during that time. I definitely need to get better about setting boundaries with my clients so I can create more freedom to do these things, but this did not happen in my first year.
My daily routine went out the window: Moment of true honestly, I definitely gained weight in my first year of business. To be fair my daily routine really got turned up on its head since we moved to a new place and I lost my regular workout studios/instructors. But when I worked a 9 to 5 job I consistently got up at 5 am to fit in my workout before going to work and my day was structured in such a way I made it happen. Now that I work for myself from home I’m working later hours, getting up later, and its been really hard for me to get out of the house and go to a fitness class. For a while I’d get up at 7 am, check email in bed, stumble straight to my desk with a cup of coffee and get to work. Often I’d pick out a 9 am class to go to but then I’d get into a working groove and tell myself I’ll go to the noon class instead. Then a client would make an urgent request where I couldn’t leave and before you know it the day is lost and I’m promising myself I’ll go tomorrow instead. Then just repeat that whole cycle again. As someone who used to work out 6 days a week and was religiously committed to it with an insane amount of self discipline, I never in a million years thought I’d have such a struggle. But now all my self discipline goes into running my business and not much is left over. This next year I’m working on finding more balance and prioritizing fitness again but it has been so much harder to build a good routine than I ever expected.
I only was able to bill half the hours I worked: It is pretty crazy how many hats you have to wear running your own business. There is a ton of admin work you have to do that isn’t necessarily fun and in most cases isn’t billable. Emails are constantly coming in that you have to respond to in a timely manner, working on estimates for new work, sending contracts and invoices, answering client questions, keeping projects moving, reminding clients of deadlines and the list goes on. Plus there is the marketing side of your business of posting to social media, blogging, updating your website etc. This is honestly the first thing to go for me when I get really bogged down in work (which is why my blog was dead for so long).
It doesn’t stop getting scary: My goal for my first year of business was just to replace my old 9 to 5 salary which amazingly I very narrowly achieved. You’d think achieving this would make me feel secure or like I’m succeeding. And in some moments it does. But in other moments I panic that it will all fall apart or my loyal clients will just disappear. Owning your own business is a total roller coaster with amazing highs but also moments of fear and fraud. This fear never fully goes away and you just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable at times.
Despite these five tough lessons of running my own business I absolutely love what I do and I can’t imagine doing anything else. The hard work and the highs and lows are completely worth it to me. But I think it is important to put a realistic picture out there for those considering seeking a similar path. Running a business is a ton of work and it is not for the faint of heart. I think a lot of people have misconceptions that it is a life of jet setting and relaxing afternoons spent in cool coffee shops. And yes I do get to do both from time to time which is amazing. But it is also a lot of sweat and tears that people don’t talk about as much. Building a business takes time and there really aren’t any short cuts, its all about just putting in the work and showing up every day.
Now that I am halfway into my second year in business I realize just how far I've come and its exciting to look forward and continue building my dreams.