I’m now into nine months of self-employment.
Nine months might not seem particularly significant for most people, but to me it is. For some reason the nine month mark is always when I reach the most stressful point of a job. I’ve only been able to push through it once or twice when the environment was particularly great; the other times I’ve been (often subconsciously) annoyed/annoying. It’s taken me a decade to consciously realise and accept it, but I’m just not the employee type. And that’s okay.
It’s that point when all the little aggravations reach their peak and you get frustrated at how easy it would be to push something from good to great, but someone is stopping you. It feels kind of like a Mario Kart race; everyone is trying to reach the same destination, but throwing things in your way. By the end of the final lap, you’re definitely sick of going round in circles. Rinse, repeat. Nine months in to self-employment feels more like Skyrim or Breath of the Wild; an open world with an enchanting number of possibilities.
I think it helps that Joe was already very settled in the freelance/business owner type things, and that I was 100% clear on what I wanted to do. I had a lot of experience doing it for other people, both in terms of creating marketing strategies and generating ideas, and in being a part of two very small startups that fast tracked some of the stuff I needed to know around products, networking, how to compromise, and when not to back down.
Many other skills I’ve been learning, accidentally and on purpose, since I was 14. Creating graphics, knowing where my people are, basic HTML and CSS, quickly identifying whether prospects are a good fit or not, analysing stats, creating websites, email marketing, copywriting, SEO, social media, interviewing and so. many. other. things. Having enough experience it made everything a lot easier. In some ways we’re running a young business in an old business’s body, because we’re so clear on a lot of things that it sometimes feels like overkill.
Of course, there are tons of things I have little or no experience in either. Legal documentation, international tax laws, business legislation…they’re all things Joe handles or does with our accountant. There are also things I’ve picked up pretty quickly or have started broadening my knowledge on, like time zones. Did you know there are parts of Brazil that are only 2 hours behind the UK?
So I thought, given my nine month check-in is so positive this time around, I’d list some of the more surprising and challenging experiences I’ve had running a business so far.
The hardest thing is…feeling so responsible. Being responsible for people’s websites and domain names causes me a lot of (totally illogical) anxiety because I care so much and want everything to be perfect. This is one of the many ways Joe and I balance each other perfectly, because he reassures me, using logic and reason, that everything is fine. This is something that literally never crossed my mind as a potential issue, so it’s a bit of a weird one.
The most surprising things
- That I suddenly have a business and my own customers (of course they’re Joe’s customers too, but Joe is used to having customers and I’m not).
- That actually my free marketing strategy all worked out and I’m not sitting here sending emails to myself (we are slowly, gradually, moving into the next phase where people are naturally recommending us and I don’t have to actively sell, which is amazing).
- That our customers are so damn nice.
- That people naturally recommend us enthusiastically and without any asking or compensation (yesterday I came across a blog post where one of our customers had gone to the effort of making not one but two videos and a step-by-step guide on how to sign up with us, and I was speechless at the amount of work that went into it).
- That choosing the people around me every day makes every day amazing.
I expected to feel lonely going from an office environment to working on my own. And I expected to be heading out to our co-working space and coffee shops and other city-based co-working spaces much more. To be honest, it’s been absolutely blissful to not be surrounded by people all the time, and I have so many friends and contacts who work shifts, or are freelancers or contractors, or run their own businesses, that being lonely isn’t a thing.
Oh, and all those pledges to get up early, get some exercise in, go for a walk, sit at a desk etc.? All those things have gone out of the window, because really I’ve spent *calculates* probably 21,000 hours of my life sitting at a desk and I don’t need to do that anymore, and I’m naturally healthier just by not having to do that.
Another surprising thing is how much I’m learning all the time. At the beginning, some things felt a bit Groundhog Day because I’d done them all so many times before, even though some things were different because I was doing them myself for a different audience. But now I’m into learning new stuff, which is really satisfying. I’m also devouring books this year; I read fewer blogs and articles than I used to, but doing a lot more in the way of business books. Even the not so good ones have some takeaways.
The skill I’ve improved most is …decision making. Previously, decision making was my weakest thing. I was fine at making small decisions quickly, like what photo to use or how to structure a blog post, but I was terrible at anything that had a lot of moving parts or anything where I had to make a decision out of thin air.
Maybe because I’ve made so many decisions in such a short space of time, or maybe because I don’t have a ton of people to discuss them with, I’ve got a lot better at arriving at decisions subconsciously and then consciously sense-checking them. It also massively helps that Joe is a great person to talk things through with as he’s interested in a lot of things outside his core strengths of business and technical stuff (although he draws the line at too much marketing chat unless it involves money, and he doesn’t care about branding). We do a lot of problem-solving and decision-making together and it just works.
I’m not even going to try and list all the ‘best things’, because I could write a book about all the best things. Randomly seeing posts and tweets where people have recommended us and randomly coming across posts with the resources we’ve created rank very highly though. The process of coming up with the idea of something I like and powering through to make it happen and seeing how happy it also makes other people is something I can’t even describe.
Eventually I want to get to the point where we’re working fewer hours. I’m not bothered about being rich, I just want enough money so that I and the people and animals I care about most get by and don’t have to worry. As the days get longer I’m looking forward to summer picnics by the lake, lovely evenings in pub gardens, and relaxing by the windmill. Fingers crossed for sunshine!