What I've Learned This Year
One year ago today I began this adventure of being a solo entrepreneur. Honestly, it flew by. Many aspects of this year went as planned, and some were totally different than what I thought they would be. I can honestly say that taking the plunge to leave my full-time job and work for myself was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Below are just some of my thoughts and a few lessons I've learned about being self-employed.
Solo entrepreneurs can, and should, have a good work-life balance. There's this saying I've heard other self-employed people say that goes something like "work like no one else does today, so that you can live like no one else can tomorrow." Well, that's not the kind of life I want. I am not chasing wealth or trying to climb a career ladder. I just want to serve companies and organizations who are helping the world with stellar designs. That doesn't mean I don't work hard. I just think that I am my best version when I work normal hours, have less stress and get adequate sleep. I might not expand my business as quickly or make as much money by taking the slow route, but I truly value having a stress-free life more than career success. I know this may not be available to everyone because of finances or different circumstances. But cutting back on work and giving in to more family time and healthy choices when you can is vital to a balanced life.
Never stop learning. I love learning new things. I easily get inspired and decide I want to pursue some new activity or learn a new skill. It can be easy to not leave time in our schedules for learning new things, but I've made this a priority. I really do believe that I can do anything I put my mind to, it just takes time and practice. For example, I decided that I wanted to understand website design. For the past three months, I leave a few hours every week to watch courses on Treehouse and practice coding a website. Last week I finally gave in to something I've wanted to do for years: I bought an iPad and am learning to illustrate with Procreate. On days when my eyes feel strained from staring at the computer all day, I relax and read a book about design or branding. Technology and trends are constantly changing, and I want to stay current with my skills and knowledge.
Customer service is sooo important. Throughout my life, I've worked at a number of food service jobs. One of them was at a bakery in the Bay Area. The clientele were generally very rich and the employees were expected to provide outstanding customer service, including face-to-face polite conversation, fixing problems quickly, and follow-up phone calls to see how their treats tasted. While that job was never meant to be a long-term career for me, it did teach me the importance of customer service. I think this is an area where I can still improve, but I do try to exceed my clients expectations - and they notice. One motto that I say to myself often is "under-promise, over-deliver." What this looks like in action is responding to e-mails quickly, providing more information or assistance than what the contract states, and delivering high-quality work before deadlines. Sometimes I won't be able to do all of these things, but I have found that showing clients that you are willing to go the extra mile for them when you can leads to more work and better working relationships.
I'm very organized. When I would read blogs or listen to podcasts about creatives leaving their jobs to start their own businesses, one of the common concerns I heard was "I love the creative part of my job but hate keeping track of my money or administrative tasks." I already knew that I was very good at managing my time, finances and files, but it did concern me since so many other people found it to be so daunting. But, thankfully, I thrive on being organized. I immediately figured out how to pay quarterly tax estimates, which is not that difficult after you figure out how much to pay and where. I started using FreshBooks to invoice clients, track payments and expenses, and manage all my client information. The calendar on my iMac is always full and scheduled, including lunch and daily tasks. What I learned was that I am very good at being my own manager and there are a plethora of tools out there that can help me stay organized.
Having a flexible job schedule is as good as you think it is. My schedule is crazy flexible. Sometimes I take full days off, just because I need a break. I run errands, go to the gym, call my mom, and cook full meals during the work day. I am not a morning person, and so many times I don't sit down to bust out a ton of work until noon. Over time I have discovered that this flexibility has led to an extremely efficient life. If I'm not feeling inspired or creative, I can go do the dishes or prep dinner. And when I go back to my work after doing these chores, I often feel refreshed and inspired again. It also frees up my weekends to do fun activities, since we don't have to clean or run errands.
I cannot take all the credit for my success. You may not believe in the same thing as me, but I believe that I have been so successful this past year because God has blessed me. I thought that finding clients and making enough money to pay my rent would be a struggle. But every time I get worried about not having work, I get an e-mail from a client asking if I can start on a new project. This year has been a constant reminder that God is in control and I am just on an adventure with Jesus. I can make plans for my future, but they can change, and that is totally ok. All I can do is my best, learn from my mistakes, and trust that God will use me to help others. I also have to give credit to my husband who has been ridiculously supportive of my career choices. When I question myself or start doubting if I'm any good, he is always there to remind me of my strengths. Having a support system during scary, big life decisions is priceless.
I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to follow my dreams and make this career a reality. I try to never take it for granted. And I am so excited to see where the next year takes me!