The Toughest Lessons I Learned When I Became Self Employed

March 8, 2012 in Turning Your Dream Into Reality

One of my favourite missions in life (yes, I have many, I’m a scatterbrain like that) is to help every single person I meet (whether face to face or virtually) live the life they want. Broad mission I know, but I usually start with career. “What is your passion and why aren’t you using it to make money?” is my initial question. Fear, more often than not, is the answer.

Fair enough, having the pressure of making all the decisions about the business, not knowing whether you’ll make any money at all that week, feeling like a failure – it’s all terrifying. Most things that seem amazing are terrifying though, hence why most people stick to the safe option and stay as an employee.

There are many benefits to being self-employed. I choose my own hours. I can choose my own clients. I don’t have to worry about a boss not letting me take sick leave or holidays. BUT amongst all the “Yay, I’ll take the morning off to see a movie” frivolity, there have been some difficult (and often terrifying) realisations.

Image by Julian Bialowas

Great opportunities don’t simply come to you.

I actively started advertising for my teaching services about a month before I resigned, which meant that I already had a small handful of students before my regular pay check fizzled out. As much as I wanted to have faith in word of mouth spreading the news of my greatness like wildfire, I kept my advertising up for almost an entire year. Just as well – I only became fully booked late last month.

You may know how talented you are (and your mum might too) but that doesn’t mean that potential clients will find out about you through the grapevine. Don’t rely on your reputation being built for you, you need to build it yourself. Get out there and pimp/network your butt off! Take a squiz at my post on self promotion if this idea freaks you out.

Aim to send 2-3 emails (or make as many phone calls) every day to people about your services. SHOW them what you’re capable of. Yes, you may have to do a little work for next-to-nothing (or literally nothing) to get your foot in the door, but if this is a company you really want to work with – do it. Don’t get sucked into the “creatives work for free” trap though – decide if this is an important contact to have that will lead to future projects, or not worth your time.

You have to work hard to build your brand and reputation in the marketplace, so remember to schedule a serious chunk of time each day to getting your name out there, particularly in those first 12 months. You’ll thank your past self later down the track.

Marilyn print at Easy Art

Passion doesn’t pay the bills.

This one is a very sad but very true statement and one I wish was a lie. It made me sad just typing it! Just because you have a burning fire of enthusiasm inside of you, doesn’t necessarily mean that what you love to do will be successful financially. I lost thousands of dollars on my first business venture a few years ago and was just lucky that I’d decided to keep my 9 – 5  job that time around.

When I first quite my “day job” I decided to hang onto my casual weekend work initially just to have the peace of mind that at least rent would be paid every month. I was willing to risk a lot of things but the roof over my head was not one of them. Make sure you have savings or a little income trickling in to keep your stress levels from shooting through the roof.

Think carefully about how you are going to profit from your venture. We creatives tend to snort at the word profit (because we’re über cool and don’t want to be greedy), but darling – you gotta live and you deserve to be successful! The way I went about things was to have ideas for a few different revenue streams – at the moment I teach singing, I sell an eBook (on this very topic) and manage social media for brands. I love the variety and the security that three income streams provides.

Print by Wasted Rita

Rejection comes to visit (and overstays his welcome). Often.

Yes, you will have people who don’t like your style, your product, your service or the way you wear your scarf. Everyone says “try not to take it personally” but you do. Every time. This is completely normal and I would tell you it gets easier – but it doesn’t, not really. You will always feel defensive about what you do, especially if it’s creative, because it’s a part of you. It’s something unique that you came up with and it has pieces of you all the way through it.

What you do need to do is come to terms with the fact that your product/service is not for everyone. Some people (your target market) will go gaga over it and that’s amazing! You don’t need everyone and their twin sister to buy seven of them each, you just need your little group of fans to adore it and tell their like-minded friends about you.

Take rejection graciously – you never know what bridge you may want to cross later on, and you don’t want to wander over and find that you burned it six months ago. Always ask for constructive feedback whenever you receive a rejection – there may be something you’re not seeing that could be altered slightly to appeal more to your target market. Find out why they passed you up and what you could change to have a better shot later down the track. Learn from these hurdles folks!

Are you looking to venture into self employment?

Do you have any questions you like to ask or fears you’d like to voice?