Five and a half years ago, I wrote about leaving London for a new kind of life. More time, more space, no commuting… apologies if the link won’t work, my redirects are misbehaving and it’s much too sunny a day to sit and fix code!
And now here I am on the precipice of another new life – the one I have sought since I was old enough to know what adult life looked like, the one I have worked towards every day of the last eight or nine years.
I handed my notice in last week and from 1st August this year, I will be fully self employed.
I should probably be terrified. Instead I know with a deep certainty that this was the right time for this decision, that it is a million percent the right decision, and I am a strange mix of utterly calm and completely overexcited.
At work I have been described as “gleeful” as I’ve been imparting the news – of course there’s a sadness at leaving people behind, it’s always the people that make the job. Though hopefully I won’t lose too many of them with the change. And I am very good at what I do, and am proud of what I have achieved during my years at Essex.
But this… this freedom to pursue my own dreams, to live my own rhythm, to be answerable to nobody but myself… to fit my work around my enchantment & joy, so I am living my fullest & best life… it’s what I’ve craved since I knew how adulthood worked.
I have never understood the 9-5 life, and the way that the human race has created a rat race for themselves, wanting ever more money & power for no discernible reason. I’ve seen so many people sell their souls to their employers, and altogether too many people stretch to buy the home of their dreams, and then spend hardly any time in it, because they are stuck at work earning the money to pay for the home… which they never see. It is a conundrum I have tried and failed to get my head around.
And ultimately, this is what I have always wanted. A chance to give my all to my businesses and my life, instead of using the best of myself on a job and then only having the dregs of my energy for the things that are most important to me.
My time in “proper” jobs has taught me huge amounts about myself, who I am, how I work, what makes me happy, what makes me sad, what I will & won’t tolerate, and a million more small ways to know myself. In the last five years I’ve also discovered my love for the solo life, how to tackle my anxiety, what my natural waking & sleeping rhythm is (it’s nothing like what the general world expects which would explain a lot!), how to control most of my allergies, and I am learning how to live without Dad, though this is by far the hardest lesson.
I know it will involve some sacrifice, and I know it will involve harder work than it looks on the surface.
But as I stand on this precipice, I cannot wait for the end of July. and the leap into something I have loved from afar for so long. My quartet of businesses & my blog bring me joy on a deep level – I am already settling into giving them more of a boost, as they will no longer be side hustles, but the main part of my livelihood.
I am most looking forward to the freedom to design my days as I please, to wake & sleep as my body tells me, and not feeling so goddamn exhausted all the time. To be able to lose myself in creation and not have to put it aside before I am ready, because of a relentless five-day-a-week schedule created by someone else. And to changing other people’s lives & businesses, in small but significant ways, through my photography and my mermaid tails, and the connection of handwritten letters.
And on that note, I am off to sit in the garden with my beloved kitteny cats and enjoy the May sunshine!
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?