There are 4 types of people who will read this post:
- The "wantrepreneurs" who haven't yet quit their 9-to-5's, but dream of being their own boss.
- The new creative entrepreneurs who've started their own business and are realizing, "Holy shit, this is hard."
- The veteran business owners who thought they'd have it all figured out by now, but are still just trying to stay afloat.
- My dad.
Which one are you? Because if you've started your own business, you know: the first few months-- hell, the first year-- is really, really hard. And if you haven't started your own business yet? Brace yourself.
It's been 6 months since I quit my job to start my own creative business. 6 months of being my own boss, making my own hours, choosing my clients and building something I care about. It’s also been 6 months without a steady paycheck, of figuring things out as I go and making mistakes every single day. 6 months of alternating between euphoric bliss and paralyzing fear.
But I’ve survived. No, I haven’t just survived-- I’ve thrived. But you’re not here to listen to me wax poetic about how much I love what I do. The only thing more annoying than people who say “I love my life!” are people who use #blessed on their Instagram posts. So instead of telling you all about how I'm #blessed, I'm going to pull back the curtain on how I’ve survived the first 6 months of owning my own business-- and how you can too.
1. Save money up before you start
Ok, I know most people hate talking about money, but I love it and this is my house, so you’re gonna have to deal.
Because unless you have a trust fund or a rich partner who supports you, you’re going to need to think about money. And the reality is: it takes time for a brand new business to make money.
First, just from a cash-flow point of view, you most likely won’t have any income for the first month or so. By the time you find the clients, do the work, send the invoice and wait 30 days to receive the payment, it might be a good 2 or 3 months before you see a dime.
And then on top of that, well, it takes time to build up that client list. You might not have any clients for that first month. And that’s ok. That’s normal. But you do need to plan for it financially.
When I started, I saved up enough money that if my business made zero for the first 6 months, I’d still be able to pay my bills. Luckily, I haven’t had to dig into those savings, but I can tell you that just knowing it’s there has taken a huge weight off my shoulders. Doing the prep work before you start will help you survive those first few months of figuring things out.
2. Start before you start
What I mean here is, if possible, take on clients before you even launch your business.
This was a game-changer for me. About 6 months before I left my job and launched ftBold, I started working with clients. At first, I was doing pro bono (read: free) consulting work, which helped me build up my confidence, get clear on my process and get clients testimonials. Once I got my bearings with the pro bono work, I started working with paying clients.
And yes, it's hard to juggle a full-time job with client work on nights and weekends, but it's so worth it.
I hustled during those 6 months, and as a result, I was able to launch my business with a client list. I was able to tell prospects that I had already worked with a range of clients all over the world. And I was able to hit the ground running knowing that I could immediately add value for my clients.
I absolutely recommend this to anyone starting their own business. You have SO much to learn and figure out your first few months, don’t make working with clients yet another thing to be freaked out about.
And speaking of freaking out…
3. Brace yourself
Because working for yourself is a fucking roller coaster.
I thought I knew this before starting. I knew it’d be hard. But oh my god, I had no idea just how hard it would be.
So my advice here is to prepare yourself emotionally, because owning your own business means:
Constantly having to figure things out.
Your website, your positioning, your email server, your graphics, your contracts, your terms & conditions, your video call service, your social media accounts, your client on-boarding process, your CRM, your opt-ins, your contact forms, your scheduling system, and on and on and on. There is SO MUCH to learn. So if you plan to run a business without going crazy, you’d better brace yourself.
Always wondering where your next paycheck is coming from.
Unlike your 9-5, being your own boss means not having a steady paycheck. I’m not saying you’ll be poor and freaking out about money all the time, but you need to be mentally prepared for significant uncertainty around money.
Your biz isn’t going to build itself. Making your own schedule means finding the motivation every day to move your business forward. You constantly need to balance between building your client pipeline, delivering on client work, marketing your biz and dealing with the never-ending admin that comes with doing everything yourself. No day is the same, which makes it fun, but the work never, ever ends. And you need to be ok with that.
Every day is an emotional roller coaster.
“I got great client feedback! Yay!” “My proposal for a new contract wasn’t accepted. No one wants to work with me, all my other clients were just a fluke.” “My article got published in the Huffington Post! I’m amazing!” “I lost money on a contractor. I suck at business, why did I ever think I could do this?”<---[Me, every single day.] When I say “Brace Yourself,” I mean it. Running your own business can turn you into a crazy person.
4. Get help
The other day, my husband asked me, “Aren't you lonely working at home alone all day?” I thought about it and realized: no, not at all.
And here’s why: I’m not working alone.
Yes, I work from home by myself, but I’m constantly in contact with other people in the same situation. Whether I’m on client calls with other business owners, or on Facebook groups with other creative entrepreneurs, or talking to a business coach, or meeting with my accountability partner-- I’m not alone.
And you shouldn’t be either.
Get help. Get support. Hire out tasks if you need to. Even if you’re in an entrepreneurship desert, there are SO many resources online that you really have no excuse for sitting at home alone trying to figure everything out yourself. Join networking groups, get on Facebook groups, have a weekly call with another business owner-- anything to get the help and support you need.
Because owning your own business is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it even harder by trying to do everything yourself.
5. Get organized
Full disclosure: this took my about 4 months to figure out, and I only started taking it seriously thanks to accountability from one of my networking groups (hence, point #4.) So don’t make the same mistake I did: get organized now.
Of course, organization looks different for everyone, but here are some areas I’m working on to feel a little more on top of my admin, systems and processes:
- Email: Put in place a system that helps organize emails instead of keeping everything in your inbox.
- Finances: Use a software to track your income and work expenses so you know what you’re making.
- Time tracking: Use a time-tracking app to see where you’re spending your time (and bill clients accordingly.)
- Client management: Put in place a CRM system to track leads and clients.
- Note-taking/ idea capture: Create a system for keeping all your notes and ideas in one place, instead of spreading them over 6 different notebooks, 3 different iPhone apps and random scraps of paper (like somebody I know…).
- Calendar: Know what’s on your calendar and synch your paper and electronic calendars regularly.
- Social media, Blogging: Have an editorial calendar or schedule to keep yourself consistent.
- Productivity & to-do lists: Find a system that helps you stay on track and get your shit done.
6. Give yourself a break
I’ve saved this for last because I’m still learning this one. The fact is: doing anything new is a learning process. It’s always “2 steps forward, 1 step back.”
And that’s ok.
When it comes to owning your own business, I’m not sure if that ever changes. No matter how far into it you are, there will always be new things to figure out and new mistakes to make. There will be highs and lows. There will be days where you just rock it and feel like you’ve finally figured it out, right before a day where nothing goes right and you just want to give up.
I have no advice for avoiding those days. I still have at least one of those days a month. But what I can tell you is the only way to survive them is to give yourself a break. Understand that it’s a process. You don’t have to get it right the first time. Chances are, you won’t get it right the first time. And you have to learn to be ok with that.
Believe me, I know how hard it is. This post is called, “How to survive your first 6 months as a creative entrepreneur” for a reason. Because that’s what it feels like sometimes: survival mode.
But you’ll figure it out. You’ll get through survival mode. You’ll hit your stride and things will start to feel easier. Granted, they’ll never be easy. You’ll never breeze through this, feeling like you could do it with your eyes closed.
But let’s face it, that’s not what you want anyway. You're not one to take the easy road. You knew starting your own business was going to be a challenge, and you did it anyway. For you, the fulfillment you get from creating a job you find purpose in is worth the struggle that goes with it.
Because owning a business is a challenge. But, let’s be honest, that’s also why we love it.