Yesterday (30th June, 2017) marked one full financial year of being in business for myself as a freelance photographer, content creator & social media consultant. It’s been wild. It’s been awesome. It’s been really fucking hard. It’s been totally confusing. And it’s been completely freeing. Most of all, it’s been one hell of a learning experience.
As someone who has long dreamed of business ownership but never taken the entrepreneurial leap before (I’ve never even had a side hustle), the last 12 months has been some kind of ride. I’m feeling tired, inspired & reflective (yep – all three!) and wanted to share some of the hard-won, surprising & heart-warming lessons I have learned from my first year as a solopreneur! Here goes:
1. It’s lonely as fuck.
You leave your shitty office job thinking, ‘thank absolute fuck I don’t have to deal with people and office politics anymore!’ And it is a perk, granted. But there is a huge caveat. You don’t actually realize how much you will miss being around people. You will end up talking to yourself (or your dog or your cat or your fruit bowl), you will find yourself spending more on take away coffee than you used to (simply so you have a reason to go out & talk to someone), and you will spend a lot of time getting inside your own head – so you’ll need to be mentally strong & work at not letting that negativity weasel its way into your brain thoughts.
2. Yes, it’s ok – and sometimes necessary – to say no to work.
There is no doubt you will get offered all kinds of work – some will be well paid & interesting & get you one step closer to your dream - but more often than not it will either be a) underpaid; b) something you’re not passionate about; or c) for someone you don’t particularly trust. It is OK to say no. As woo-woo as it sounds, the more you say no to shit you don’t want to do, the more the universe starts understanding what you do want to do. Do yourself a favour and say NO.
3. The person you will need most in your business is your accountant.
Before you do anything else, get yourself a good accountant. Get someone you trust, who understands small business and what you can and cannot deduct. Invest well in this person. They are worth their weight in gold. My accountant has kept me on track with my quarterly tax instalments, advised me on what receipts I should be keeping, and prepares all my tax returns without me having to worry. He’s a godsend. He’s also my cousin, so that helps!
4. If you don’t keep track of your P&L – and save money for tax and slow weeks – you are setting yourself up for stress.
Set up a spreadsheet, and keep a record of what you earn vs. what you spend. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but your accountant will need it to prepare your tax bits & pieces. Also record the dates your invoices get paid, because you only pay tax on what’s been PAID, not what’s been INVOICED (lil tip!). And religiously put aside 40% of what you get paid every time, so you have money for tax, GST & a little bit of a safety net should work dry up for a week or two!
5. Your lifeline will be the network you create, probably not the one you’ve got.
As much as I love my friends and family and couldn’t do without them, it’s the networks I have forced myself to create with other people building their own businesses that have become my entrepreneurial savior. They are the ones who know what you’re going through, who can give you valuable advice, and the constructive feedback you will 100% need. Your loved ones are the ones that will tell you they love you and you’re amazing – your network will tell you when you need to tweak that marketing campaign to get a better result.
6. You will quickly discover the people in your life who truly have your back.
Speaking of friends and family, it will become very clear, very quickly, who are your champions and who are your detractors (and trust me, this might surprise and hurt you). Don’t be bitter about it. Your detractors have their place too. They will make you think critically, they will help build your resilience, and they will teach you empathy.
7. No matter how passionate & driven you are, you will struggle with procrastination.
At some point in your entrepreneurial journey (usually the early days!) you will get excited about being able to set your own working hours, and probably start sleeping late, kicking back with Netflix on a Tuesday afternoon, and catching up with your mates for afternoon coffees. Then you’ll realize that actually doesn’t get the work done, or the new clients on the books. Set a routine early, and stick to it. I personally like to be awake by 7.30, social media & emails done by 8.30, exercise, shower & breakfast by 11.30, and working by midday. Then I work through to 5.30, cook dinner & eat by 6, then 2 more hours of work before I clock off. It works for me.
8. You’ll need some self-imposed boundaries.
About 4 months into the year, I really had to set some no-no’s in order to keep myself on track – maybe you will too. For me, the TV does not go on before 5.30pm (lest I go down a Blacklist hole), I try hard to stay off my personal social media channels during ‘work hours,’ and I keep social appointments to outside of the traditional 9-5. No doubt there’ll be more rules to come!
9. You will get fat if you’re not careful.
This was a hugely surprising one! I thought that not being stuck in an office, having the freedom to exercise as much and as often as I’d like, and having time to make healthy, home cooked meals would definitely mean I’d lose weight…but actually it’s the opposite. If you work from home on your computer, you will sit A LOT. You will find that you probably snack more, just to give yourself something to do. And despite the dream of working out all the time, you probably won’t (unless it’s your thang). Be aware of it, and set up your good habits early.
10. It’s super easy not to leave the house – but if you don’t you’ll end up a weird hermit with no social skills.
There’s always something to do in your business – if it’s not actually doing work, it will be following up on work, looking for new work, marketing your work…it’s endless. You could easily stay in and tap away at your laptop for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And the longer you go without human interaction, the less likely you are to put yourself out there again. You almost forget how to talk to people, and you certainly won’t have anything much to talk about other than your work. Don’t do it to yourself. Get out of the house (or at least pick up the phone) and talk to someone, every day.
11. While it might seem like a time waster and / or something you don’t want to do, keeping up with your business’ social media channels is one of the best things you can do.
Do yourself a favour & schedule this into your day. It’s such a great marketing tool, and you’re likely to make some fabulous connections for your network (see point 5.) along the way.
12. If you don’t keep learning, your brain stagnates.
Without having other people to bounce ideas off and nothing but your work to stimulate you, you will start freaking out that you are becoming dumb as fuck. Make learning a key part of your week, because your brain will need the exercise! I try to make Thursday afternoons my learning time. I either do an online tutorial in something in my field (photography!) or I do something completely different by listening to an interesting podcast (ABC Radio National’s ‘All In The Mind’ is awesome!), or reading a non-fiction book. Just do something to keep your curiosity alive and your brain active.
13. Celebrating your wins with others is more important than you think.
If you come from a corporate culture that does Friday drinks or monthly awards, celebrating the little wins is something you will really miss. Find a way to give yourself a pat on the back when you do a good job, whether that’s by taking out your partner or a friend or your mum for dinner, or having a few mates around for cocktails – you’ve done a good job, and you need to share that with people. It will help motivate you.
14. Entrepreneurial martyrdom is a silly and pretty destructive myth (IMHO).
A lot of people will disagree with me on this one, but I whole-heartedly disagree with the idea that you need to be working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to be a successful business owner. Sure there’s a lot you COULD be doing with your business, but you don’t HAVE to do it all. Work smarter, not harder. Pick your battles. Build slowly. Continue having a life. Spend time with your family. Remember this is about doing something you love and making a difference, not simply about making millions (if it is, I’ve got a rude shock for you friend…you probs won’t). Don’t give in to the cult of the ‘Hustle.’ You’re doing fine.
15. You won’t be rich. Sorry.
Following on from the above, yeah…money. You are likely not to make much of it in your first year. Or second. Or probably third. Keep working at your business consistently, keep learning & adjusting & pivoting, and I have no doubt you’ll get there. But the ones who strike it rich in the first year are few & far between. Don’t expect it, you’ll just be fucking disappointed.
16. You’ll be surprised at what you’re capable of.
You probably got into your business because of one particular thing you’re passionate about, but you will fucking ASTOUND yourself at what you know and what you get good at – you’ll become a designer, marketer, customer service expert, accountant, sales manager, and everything in between. Take heart that almost everything you don’t know will have a tutorial available on YouTube, and if you’re really struggling, you can outsource it (Airtasker will be your godsend).
17. You’ll want to quit. A lot.
Like, every day. You’ll cry and scream and be so frustrated that you’ll subscribe to job search ads and update your LinkedIn profile to ‘looking for work’. But you won’t quit. Because for all the shitty days there’ll be good ones, and that reason you started in the first place doesn’t ever leave you.
18. You are better, smarter, and more talented than you think you are. That’s a fact.
Self-doubt is an asshole. It will worm its way into all your thought crevices and eat away at your confidence. It happens to everyone. But I am here to tell you that you are way better at what you do than you think you are. Almost every person in the world underestimates themself. You are brave, or you wouldn’t be taking this leap. You are smart, because you are learning as you go and making adjustments along the way to do better. There are a million people who would love to have the cojones to do what you’ve done, and probably never will. You are fucking amazing.
Good luck, my fellow solopreneurs! I'm always here with a friendly ear and some not-always-awful advice if you need it.