Since as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted a job. Maybe it was the idea of making money that got me excited about working, but whatever it was, it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do.
I worked in my dad’s clothing store as a kid folding clothes and organizing shelves, scooped ice cream one summer (Marble Slab, duh), worked at a gift shop throughout my senior year of high school, and even sold my own hand-knitted scarves one holiday season. The funny thing about all these jobs? My parents didn’t make me get any of them. I actively sought out employment on my own.
Things didn’t change too much in college either. I worked as a nanny for a family with four kids (also learned I probably can’t handle four kids, ever) and then for the school newspaper doing design work. Why? Because I felt like it. I didn’t make the decisions simply to improve my resume or because I really needed the extra cash, I just like having a job. What I’ve realized over the years, is that I like being in control of my own financial destiny and having a job left me feeling empowered.
When I graduated and eventually moved to Chicago, becoming an entrepreneur seemed really natural for me. I was already doing graphic design work on the side and decided that I didn’t really want to work for someone else when I could have the freedom to do my own thing. Let’s not forget that my parents were incredibly supportive and made that decision even easier. I’ll be eternally grateful for that and hope that I can be as supportive to my own kids one day.
Owning my own business has been one of the most rewarding things in my 20s and also one of the most challenging, terrifying and thrilling. Knowing that the fate of my business is 100% up to me and 100% not guaranteed is scary. But it’s also the one thing that always keeps me motivated.
Even if it’s kinda scary, the possibilities are endless! There’s no boss telling you what to do and your business can literally become whatever you make of it. Deciding to start a business is a big choice and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined since then. I figured why not share a little bit!? So here are a few tips and lessons I’ve picked up over the years…
Those first few clients and projects are some of the most important. It let’s you know that you’ve got something that people want and it proved to me that I had a marketable, profitable skill that people needed. The reality of this is that people may not want what you have to offer. Before investing your life-savings into a business, make sure you have a skill or product that will help people, if not, it’s back to the drawing board.
Set Goals & Be Okay with Changing Them
Every year, I set goals for myself for the following year. Some are broader and some are very direct. At the end of the year I go back and review those goals and see what I accomplished and I’m always surprised. There’s usually a few goals that I was dead-set on the year before and somewhere along the way, they lost their importance and fell out of sight. I think goals are great, but if your goals change, that’s okay to! Mine change all the time and I think being flexible and changing your goals to suit the climate of your business is smart and strategic.
Invest In Your Business
For online businesses, it’s easy to think that you don’t need to invest much — there are so many free tools out there. You can build a website for free and use social media to market your products, but those things will only get you so far. Investing in a professional website and spending money on targeted marketing will help you reach your goals even faster.
Failure = Growth
Failure is associated with negative feelings, and I get it. FAILURE means you failed. But what makes you successful is understanding why something failed, learning from your mistakes, and moving forward. Failure shows you the holes in your business and allows you to shape your business plan differently.
Know Your Niche
When I first started, I offered web design, blog design, graphic design, email marketing and social media marketing. I figured why not offer as much as possible, right?! WRONG. This was probably the biggest mistake I made early on. But I did learn from that! I realized that I hated doing email and social media marketing and really didn’t like doing business websites. Designing blogs was my favorite and focusing on that made me a leader in my industry. Eventually I realized that I didn’t enjoy designing all types of blogs and focused my niche even more and now I design WordPress blogs for fashion and lifestyle publishers exclusively. After focusing my niche and rebranding my site to better serve those clients, I’ve seen my business grew tremendously! Thanks to all of my amazing clients!!
Forget About Regular Hours
One of the biggest perks of having my own business is setting my own hours. I can pick up and travel whenever I want and for however long I want! But a regular week has no set hours. I occasionally work late into the night, wake up early in the morning and work weekends to get projects launched on time. The truth? I don’t mind it one bit. People always tell me that I work too much, but when you love what you do, it rarely feels like work. Plus, I already told you guys that I love having a job, so…..
Set Realistic Financial Expectations
I’ll be the first to say, that I need help remembering this one. Whenever I first start a project, I always have grand fantasies about it making millions over night (we can all dream, right?). The reality is that you might be a little broke for a bit. You hear about those success stories, but when you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that success didn’t come overnight. Usually they’ve been working on their project or business for a long time, making very little money and finally they get things just right and it takes off. So my advice? Have patience! Good things really do take time.
It’s Okay to Walk Away
This last one is really more of a personal story that reminds me of this good lesson. I had a business several years ago called Cookin’ Skinny. It’s technically still live as a food blog that hasn’t been updated in years, but originally it was an online magazine subscription for healthy recipes. I had just finished my first semester of cooking school and was high on the idea that I could take those skills and make an online business from them. I just knew that this would be a huge website and that everyone would come rushing to subscribe!
We had a pretty good chunk of people that signed up when we first started, but over time I got so burnt out. I was creating all of the content and felt like I was getting very little back in return. Eventually it became a project I absolutely dreaded and after a year, I decided I was done.
I felt like I had failed and technically the project did fail. But my heart wasn’t into it anymore and the relief I felt when it was over was proof enough that this wasn’t going to be ‘my thing’.
It sucks to fail and I don’t really like when people bring up the website because I don’t like explaining that it didn’t work how I wanted it to, but it’s the truth and now you know. The best part about walking away from this project was that it allowed me more time to focus on my newly launched freelance business, Leap, and for that I’ll be forever thankful!
Another life lesson I’ve learned from being an entrepreneur is that there’s really a much bigger plan out there for us than we can ever plan ourselves. I think being able to recognize that is huge and I know it’s been a big part of my own business’ success over the years. So my last little tidbit is to follow those intuitions because they typically lead somewhere really great! My latest project is Blog Better and it seems like a natural off shoot of Leap, but it took me years to finally realize that and make it a reality. Funny how life works like that!
Are you an entrepreneur? What lessons have you learned over the years that you wish you knew earlier?
thanks to my friend Megan for posing for my pics, she’s a teacher and aspiring children’s book writer (aka, soon to be entrepreneur)