Going Solo: Reflections on 31 days of running my business full-time
I'd spent 31 days (a whole month) running my own business full-time.
While this might seem insignificant to some people, it's a really big deal for me. As I've said many times on this blog, I never thought I'd be the kind of person who could run their own business. I was raised with the the mantra of "get a job, stay there, keep your head down and work there until you retire," and the idea of working for myself and being the only person in charge of my own future was really, really scary.
So when I sat down at my desk on my first day of work I felt this huge rush of exhilaration: okay, I'm here. I'm actually doing this... holy shit I'm actually doing this.
(I haven't really lost that feeling, yet.)
The last month has been a whirlwind of activity. Meetings, emails, and more work than I'd imagined. Whoever said that running your own business was easy is lying to you. I don't really know what I expected when I started this adventure, but I wanted to share a few things that have stood out to me over the past several weeks because while some of them were totally expected, others really caught me by surprise.
Here's how things have gone:
My productivity has skyrocketed
Even though this is my first month running my business full-time, I've actually been running it since June of 2014, taking on contracts in addition to my 9-5. This meant that for over a year I was going and working at my desk job (which wasn't terribly rewarding, and sapped a lot of my creative energy) and then working on client stuff in the evenings.
Spoiler alert: this can be exhausting. There were days where I would literally be working from 9am to 1am the following morning, then getting up to go to work and do it again the next night. It sucked.
Sure, there are days when I'm less productive, those happen to everyone, but overall I can churn out significantly more content for myself and my clients now that my time is 100% committed to doing so. I'm not as tired, I'm not as worn-out, and I actually do what I love to do, which is the largest motivating factor.
Additionally, I think that we pick up a lot of bad habits when we work for someone else. There's a lot of "looking busy" or "killing time" that happens at a traditional office job that simply isn't an option when you work for yourself. I'm the only person in charge of my own time, and I have to be accountable to myself.
On that note...
Taking ownership of my own time has been weird
A few weeks ago I had lunch with Dave Shorr and he said "I do all my grocery shopping on Tuesday mornings. Everyone is at work, and I do in 20 minutes what would take me two hours after work. Then I go home and work all day."
I remember being surprised by how casually he brought this up, but now that I've been in the groove of things for a few weeks I totally see his point: understanding how you can "hack" your schedule to make the most of your time can make a huge difference in your productivity levels.
When we work in a traditional office-type setting our time is never really our own. There's always a boss to report to, someone breathing down your neck who is judging how you spend your time "on the clock," and the possibility that you might be reprimanded for not using it in a way that they feel is acceptable.
Owning my time has been the biggest challenge for me this month. When you grow up learning that someone else is in charge of your time, it can be really weird to take ownership of it and use it in the best way possible.
This isn't to say that I'm less accountable than I used to be - in fact, I have more "bosses" today than I did a month ago -but what's different is that (by and large) clients don't care when you do your work, they just care that it gets done. When you do it is up to you.
My to-do list is my best friend
This was John's big piece of advice for me: every day, or once a week, sit down and write out the things that you need to get done. Check them off when you're finished, and cross the whole page off when it's complete!
Every Monday morning I sit down at my desk and write out my to-do list for the week. I include meetings, emails that need to be dealt with, content that needs to be scheduled, etc. I do this for my client work, but I also include a section of my own personal business development goals as well. Am I meeting someone for lunch? In the checklist. Am I planning to reach out to someone? In the checklist it goes!
Having a concrete reminder of what I need to do helps me stay focused and organized, which is a huge boon because working for (and by) yourself can often feel scattered, and it's very easy to get distracted. Having a physical list to go back to and revisit helps me give a sense of order to my days.
Additionally, my to-do list is ever-evolving. I'm not (and will never be) one of those "inbox zero" kinds of people - I'm constantly adding to it, revising, re-thinking, and trying to figure out ways that I can be more productive in less time.
There's no shame in asking for help
I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing without the advice and insight that I've been able to glean from a ton of people: John (obviously), Les, Kyla, Andrea, Jodi, Louie - these are all people who have taken the time to talk to me and give me advice on how to run my business, be efficient, reach out to people, you name it.
I grew up being afraid to ask for help. I felt shame in not-knowing, and actually botched a job opportunity in the past because I was too afraid to speak up and say "hey, I need some guidance over here." I let my own pride and guilt get in the way of being successful, and that's something that I've had to quickly learn to get over. No more being afraid of not-knowing. Period!
I can do whatever the hell I want to do
I didn't want the tone of this post to get too self help-y or preachy, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that every. single. day. this month has been like a slap in the face, reminding me "you can do it if you try."
I mentioned my upbringing at the beginning of this post, and I don't think that I'm the only one who grew up learning this mentality. Our society teaches us that we need to "play it safe" (whatever that means) and that depending on someone else for our paycheque (and in many cases our sense of self-worth) is safer than depending on ourselves to find the value in our work.
We're taught that it's "too hard" and "too challenging" and that people who try are "so brave" (or, if the person you're talking to is a jerk, "so stupid") for putting themselves out there and giving it a shot; as though being in business for yourself is this unattainable pedestal that only the super-driven or super-lucky can attain.
This past month has taught me that those statements are utter bullshit.
There are always going to be creeps in your life who don't want you to challenge yourself; maybe it's your conservative family, maybe it's a naysaying friend, maybe it's a boss who made you feel like dirt every day (I've dealt with all of those). It doesn't matter. If you want to do it, then go for it.
And if you don't know where to start, shoot me a message. I'm always down to chat.