My Journey to Self Employment: What I’ve Learned So Far From a Year in Business
They say “time flies when you’re having fun.” That’s been especially true for me this past year since I made the decision to pursue full-time freelance work, so I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) before too much more time flies by.
First, I should probably start with the reasons why I decided to “make the leap” right? All the cool entrepreneurs and famous book authors have a “leap story.” Well, I’ve admittedly never been very cool — my story wasn’t any rash decision to quit my job and start my own company, but a series of very fortunate events.
Scenario 1: My husband had received a job offer to teach and coach back in our hometown — and, get this — that offer was six months before we would need to move. That odd opportunity — plus the fact that we now had a one-year-old in our lives — is really what got me thinking about all the different avenues I might consider.
My decision-making process from there involved a lot of Rory-Gilmore-style pro/con lists, basic number crunching, and internal thoughts like: Will I like working on my own at home every day or will I go crazy? Will I be able to find enough customers? And the big one: What the heck will I do and how will I charge for it?
What I landed on was a decision to give it a year. Truly, that was my business plan: to figure out if I could pay the bills and make good use of that four-year-university Advertising and Public Relations degree — and if not, I’d go get a ‘real job.’
So we loaded up our U-Haul and drove it from Columbus, Nebraska to Kearney, Nebraska on May 27, 2017. On May 30th I posted this photo to Instagram:
Pretty fancy set-up right? Yep, there I was, just me, my laptop and a hand-full of business cards that said “Amanda Polacek Communications Strategy,” because I had no idea what to name my business because I had no idea what I was doing.
Twelve months later I have gotten a proper desk, a new business name and an official services page on my website, but I still don’t know everything. Here are five things I’ve learned about myself and about business:
01 | Find People to Keep You Sane and On-Track
I enjoy people and loved having co-workers for many years, so my biggest fear of going self-employed was being all by myself. However, I quickly found many groups of other freelance folk in my area.
I joined our local chamber of commerce and young professionals’ group right away, and even took the plunge into signing up for Leadership Kearney, which has brought me a new appreciation for my community (and 24 new friends).
I found a formal business coach through the local college, but also informal ones through other businesses in town who took the time to help answer my many questions when starting out.
I’ve also been fortunate to find a few other self-employed friends or friends with flexible work schedules who enjoy co-working together at our favorite coffee shops. And I’m excited to be hearing rumors of two potential co-working spaces in our community. Extroverted-introverts unite!
02 | Fake it ‘Til You Make It
Google and YouTube were essentially my co-workers when I first started my business. It seemed all I did for those first few months was search things like: how to get a business license, how to format an invoice and how to write a contract. Some days I’d get nothing done except one of these non-revenue-generating tasks, which was very frustrating.
And while having an official contract was nice to get checked off the list, it didn’t provide a huge sense of accomplishment or add any energy for me. However, things like investing ($50) in a mini session of professional headshots or spending time reorganizing my website did. As vain as it sounds, those things drew attention and comments from my friends and family following me online, and they’d say “Wow you are really killing it in your business.”
Adding those small bits of confidence can keep you going through the boring parts of starting a business, and slowly but surely, you start to believe in the person you’re projecting in those headshots and on your website.
03 | Know Your Values and Trust Your Gut
When I first started, my business plan was essentially to do anything (marketing-related) for anybody, with any budget. And to be honest, I don’t regret that chapter of my life, because doing many, many odd jobs helped me to see what I was really good at, what I enjoyed and what people really needed. Hitting that trifecta is is the challenge I’ve most enjoyed mastering.
When I decided to rebrand my business to “Ma’am Marketing,” it came out of a strong values-based decision to provide marketing with respect customers. Too often, each person I’d work with would tell me they’d fallen for a too-good-to-be-true gimmick online, or someone they used to know provided them with something like a website then vanished and couldn’t help them keep it up.
I wanted to teach women (and men) how to be empowered to take control of their own marketing, with a little help from me — not the other way around. I saw the small business owners I was working with as ‘real’ businesses who too often got taken for granted or skipped over. So, I named my business around that principle and haven’t looked back. My service packages will change, and my target audience may too, but I feel good basing my business around something I deeply believe in.
04 | A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships
As I mentioned before, I enjoy networking, which is probably why I’ve found myself visiting pretty much all of the local entrepreneur groups in our area. And while I like different aspects of all of them, the newest one, called “Rising Tide Society,” has really grabbed my attention. It’s a national group that’s based on an old familiar saying: “A rising tide lifts all ships.”
This phrase has been essential to my first year in business, and something I genuinely believe to be true. The more I’ve tried to do for others, the more it’s truly come back to me. Whether volunteering time on a pro-bono project, or referring a client to a more specialized marketing professional, I’ve seen time and time again many “ships be lifted,” including my own.
Just as the networking groups that were “industry exclusive” were not for me, neither is running my business in isolation.
05 | Set Mid-Year Goals and Say “Yes”
My goal for the first year of business was essentially just to survive (and do my taxes right and stay out of jail.) But when I look back at some of the other goals that came up mid-year, I can see how setting them helped guide my way.
For example, I took on my local Chamber of Commerce’s “30 Days of Social Media” contest as a personal goal — and won it! Being challenged to post about my business for 30 days — when I’d only been around for about four-five months — was a huge challenge. It forced me to put into words (and published on the internet for all to see) some of the values and ideas I’d been pondering.
The prize of the contest was a free Facebook Live at an upcoming event. Well I didn’t really have events...so I created one! I held a “Pop Up Event” in February and set another in-process goal to make that a success. That event brought me a new batch of customers and another level of confidence in myself.
This year I plan to have a more thought-out business plan (hopefully one that involves bringing Allea into the business more too — but more on that later), however I’m proud of what I was able to say “yes” to last year, and how it’s help guide where I am today.
Oh, and here’s how my desk turned out. Really living that official Boss Babe high life now! :)
A year ago I wanted to see if I could make it to this point, and now that I’m here, I can safely say I want to do everything I can to stay here. I love this life I’ve created, the customers I get to work with and help every single day, and the work I get to do.
If you’re thinking of starting your own business, I’m cheering for you too!
“Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”
Are you looking to start “take the leap” into starting a business--or a side hustle? I’d love to know what’s on your pro-con list. Leave a comment below!