My day job is at the University of Essex, on a beautiful and quite big campus made up of parkland, woodland and buildings. The buildings are quite 60s, concrete and brutal… but the grounds are spectacular, and we even have two lakes, a country house hotel and a campus “farm” (large allotment, really).
When I first came here, following working close by the Barbican in London (equally brutal but less scenery, more people, and my actual office was the least inspiring building ever), I was captivated. That I could go for walks every day, spend time in woodland and by water, and all without bunking off work or going more than ten minutes from my house, seemed like a dream.
Somehow, in the last three and a half years, I’d forgotten to be entranced by the gorgeous surroundings I work in. Reading back through my five year diary for a podcast I’m doing soon, I realised how much I longed for green space and water when I couldn’t have it.
I have now firmly told myself off for taking it for granted, and am trying to spend more time outdoors – especially now the weather is behaving itself!
A friend made this amazing meringue… to celebrate another friend’s 30th (which we photographed on her instant camera, hence the glorious 70s tinge to the second photo)…
Through my various ventures and the community of solopreneurs who keep me sane, I’ve learned some intriguing truths about starting up. Whatever stage of business you’re at, whether it’s thinking and daydreaming, early stages or you’ve been going for years, I hope they help.
It’s allowed to be fun
I have been musing recently on how un-fun (is that even a word? It should be if it isn’t) lots of business courses and seminars are. The ones I’ve been to in the past have been helpful on the one hand, but I can also imagine them being offputting. With pages and pages of business plans, finance information, insurance and scare stories about what happens if you get your tax return wrong, it’s enough to make you want to run away and hide (and that’s before I mention the EU VAT fiasco…!)
But if you don’t love what you’re doing, and if you don’t allow yourself to have fun and enjoy your business (and build in ways to do this from the start), you will find yourself with a cage you’ve built yourself, which is far harder to escape than the 9-5 you so joyfully quit months or years ago.
(This photo is from an actual shoot we did for a Louise Rose Couture collection.)
You’re allowed to change what you do
But do make sure you check in with yourself as to why you’re changing. If you genuinely don’t like what you’re doing, or you know you work best in cycles of things, then go ahead and change it up – as long as you communicate it clearly to your customers and clients, no one important to your biz will bat an eyelid.
You have my full permission to ignore any naysayers who predict doom and gloom. We’re small and nimble, we can change with the times – and we can change on our own whims, too. Some of my most successful solopreneur colleagues have been through several editions of their businesses before they found the one(s) that work best and light them up.
There will be days when you wonder why the hell you started this
Yes, even for that thing you LOVE to do, and do in your spare time, and you would totally do even if no one ever paid you for it. Even when you are earning decent money from your biz (and definitely when you’re not yet earning decent money from your biz), and even when you have All Of The Flexibility because you finally left your day job… you will still have days when you wonder what on earth you’re doing and why in the name of all that’s cat shaped on the internet you ever thought it was a good idea to work for yourself.
It’s normal, it will ambush you when you least expect it, it will go on happening for your entire life as a solopreneur. But it will also pass, and you will emerge the other side. I promise. Find yourself a likeminded and sympathetic buddy you can call when you’re considering jacking it all in.
Day jobs are cool, too
Do not ever let anyone shame you about working a day job. It could be a delightful part of your portfolio, or it could be something you do simply for the money. Whichever way round, having a part or full time job for someone else in no way makes you less – you are still self employed, you are still creative, you are still amazing and you are still changing the world in your own way.
My day job meetings often look like this. It’s a world away from the London corporate cage!
I can tell you from experience that you can’t create from a place of desperation, and if you have quit your steady income too early, you’re highly unlikely to be creating your best work while you worry about where your next rent payment or grocery shop is coming from.
For those who have jumped and the net hasn’t appeared – you can go back! Two of my friends have recently gone back to full and part time day jobs, which, because of their self employment adventures and passion projects, are more aligned with their strengths and what lights them up than you’d believe.
Lots of us flit in and out of jobs as money requires – this is ok. Do what you have to to enable you to do your best work.
Which leads me on to…
It will take more time than you expect or plan for
A bit like any kind of building or home improvement work, no matter how clear your vision (and let’s face it, they all cloud over at times), and whatever your level of social media proficiency, building a network and community around your business, who will turn into your loyal customers and raving fans, takes time. More time than you expect.
But when they come, they are so worth waiting for! Steady, consistent, interesting content is the way forward – and if you don’t have much of an audience yet, that’s ok – it gives you time to experiment without worrying.
Your list is less of a big deal than you’ve been told
Lots of online and offline courses will tell you the most important thing is your ‘list’ – the people who have given you their email address. A selection of current advice seems to be that you can’t blog without an opt in, you can’t have a business without a blog, and you certainly can’t have a blog without a list.
While there is some truth in the fact that the bigger your list, the more likely you are to have big paydays when you launch new products, Shenee points out that most courses and online products take 3-4 runs to become remotely profitable, and that many people sell from a very small list and do extremely well.
It really is quality not quantity that counts.
That idea you have? Try it and see what happens.
So you shouldn’t be put off by the website/blog/opt in/list/etc you “should” have before starting.
Neither should you assume you need to have a seventeen page business plan and financial forecasts before writing your first post about whatever it is that’s persistently lurking in your head. We are fortunate to be living through the internet revolution – so start a site and test the market.
Start a blog and write some posts, gather email addresses with a plugin like SeedProd’s Coming Soon Pro, set yourself a challenge to talk to twenty or fifty or a hundred people about your idea and get feedback, make a prototype and film it for YouTube… there are endless ways to start without freaking out, and without spending a fortune until you know whether the product or service will work.
Go on – transfer that idea from your head or your notebook out into the world.
You don’t have to be THE expert to be an expert
You know when you show your Gran how to send a picture message and she’s fascinated? Or when you pop in to see your parents and solve in ten minutes that pesky computer issue they’ve been having for weeks but haven’t wanted to bother you with? When you can spell “supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” without reference to Google and your colleagues think you’re some kind of genius?
What comes easily to you, doesn’t come easily to everyone else. And you don’t have to be a world leading expert in order to appear expert to, and be truly helpful to, the people you serve.
So don’t be put off by knowing less than someone you admire – just make sure you know more about your subject than the people you want as your clients.
What have you learned, that goes against conventional business wisdom?
Some of you will have seen this already. I love my unicorn hat, and saw no reason why I shouldn’t wear it to the day job on the day of my appraisal. I didn’t wear it *in* the appraisal. But I make several people smile, do double takes or laugh out loud every time I do wear it, and for that reason it deserves a place in my 52 photos that represent 2015.
That hat is extremely Lotta.
The contenders are, as always, in my Flickr stream in chronological order.