Lessons learned from working solo
December 1 is the second anniversary of working for myself. That’s when I gave up other work to focus full-time on Simply Leap, LLC.
I have coached clients for six years now, and worked from home as a consultant for eight. Still, the day when you have no other income but your own to count on is worth remembering.
Thinking about this anniversary, a few lessons came to mind. If you work for yourself, or want to, some of these may ring true.
Many remind me of what I’ve heard about the early days of parenthood. It must be why the clients I work with tend to be entrepreneurial in some way, but not always business owners. I also work with moms, writers, and teachers… All of us know what it’s like to strike out on your own, and to have gut-check moments when you need to trust your decisions, sometimes before anyone else does.
Lessons I learned from striking out on my own:
1. It’s less scary than I thought it would be.
In the years before I went solo, as I was building my coaching business “safely” on the side, I marveled at people who worked for themselves. How do they do it? Isn’t it scary being on your own?
The answer surprisingly was not really. There are several reasons. One is that you’re never completely alone. There are your customers (who, if you listen to them, will tell you how things are going and what it takes to make them happy), fellow entrepreneurs, and your friends & family (moral support goes a long way). There are also websites, magazines, and organizations built for the express purpose of helping, whenever you want or need it.
I found out that it’s only truly scary if you let it be.
2. There is never a right time.
Another question I asked before working for myself was: How will I know it’s the right time to make this my full-time business?
This lesson could only be learned in hindsight. Looking ahead I wanted a crystal ball. I wanted to unequivocally know when the moment had arrived.
Truth is, at some point I just had to pull the trigger. I chose the moment I did because I had put as much energy into the business as I had to spare while focusing all the rest of my energy on work that was sustaining me but was not fulfilling. It dawned on me that if an amazing opportunity landed in my lap right then, I wouldn’t be able to say yes.
If I wanted the amazing opportunities, I was going to need to make room for them and let my other work go.
I had no idea this was the right moment. I hoped that it was, I shored up the financial and moral support I felt I needed, and I went for it.
Only now can I can say that I chose well.
3. Patience and persistence.
When people ask me what it is like owning a business, I say, “It takes patience and persistence.”
That’s an easy way of saying that you have to keep believing, and keep going, even when you’re not sure it’s working.
Sure, you need to know when to stop, but most entrepreneurs never get to that point. Most give up long before they have succeeded, or even truly failed. Fear worries about failure long before it ever happens.
4. There will be roadblocks.
Chances are very good that when you strike out on your own, into the unknown (and therefore uncomfortable), two things will happen.
First, you will have a small win near the beginning. You’ll feel elated, like you made the right decision. This is going to be great, you’ll tell yourself.
Next, the bottom will appear to drop out. It won’t really be dropping out if you stick with it a little longer. See Lesson 3.
At one point, three of my clients ended our work together within two weeks. Completely normal, actually, since most people won’t work with you forever, but at the time I was afraid it was a sign.
It was a sign, but it wasn’t about what I thought.
A couple days later, I received an opportunity to return to my old work. It would pay well, and sustain me once more. As I teetered on that thought for a weekend, I realized that it was a test. How much did I really want this business?
Within two weeks of letting the other opportunity pass, four new coaching clients and a speaking opportunity arrived. Not only then was I sustained by doing what I love to do, my business was at capacity for the first time.
On the other side of roadblocks is open road.
5. Trust others, and trust myself more.
You know what works best for you. I remind myself that often.
On more than one occasion I’ve called my coach in a panic that I need to be working harder on my business like I see “everyone else” doing. Then he reminds me that working harder works for some people, and taking naps works for me.
Every time I take a nap, or a long walk away from my desk, something really cool happens. Sometimes I’m paid by an existing client, at others invitations to speak at an event or new clients have shown up.
Why does this work? Because I have put in the consistent effort, and my nap is a way of letting things work.
The alternative is me staring at my computer worrying or trying to figure out what to do next, and neither is how my best ideas are generated. My best ideas come when I step away too.
What have you learned, or are you learning, from going out on your own?
Please share your lessons from working solo, parenthood, writing and more!