10 years ago this week I flew the coop.
I left my job as a software developer and started my own business.
Not gonna lie, there’s been a LOT of ups and downs.
And some things haven’t changed.
I still work at home.
I still work barefoot.
And I still do my best work really late at night.
10 years. 10 decisions that got me there.
(and embarrassing photos below!)
1. Be smart about where you spend your time and money.
When I started my business I had almost nothing. To help me get started, my soon-to-be husband surprised me with a new computer and the latest version of Photoshop (and at $2500 for both that was more than I had in the bank!)
I formed an LLC. I got an accountant and setup business bank accounts. That’s all I needed. No business loan, no fancy office and I didn’t even get a decent computer chair until year 8 (though my back thinks I should’ve gotten the chair a lot sooner!) I kept my overhead as low as possible until I had regular income to support my business.
quick tip: 2 smart money moves I made early on:
1. I got a line of credit to help with cash flow. I’ve only tapped it once to fund a passion project, but knowing it’s there eases any worry of paying contractors (and myself) on time.
2. I set-up a SEP IRA – a lot of people talk about how much money they make in a year or on a launch – but no one talks about saving!
2. Embrace the hustle. And don’t be so hard on yourself.
Those first few years were tough. I renovated a house and got married – add a newbie business on top of that and there were a LOT of late nights. It was definitely a lot more than a 4 hour work week. It takes time to build a sustainable business. And time to determine what success really means for you.
3. The gut knows.
If something feels off, it probably is.
Taking projects just for money or for potential cachet NEVER works out.
If you’re feeling hesitant about anything – a partnership, a client, a prospect – it’s a good sign that there’s something there you need to evaluate.
4. Not everyone is going to like you. And that’s ok.
I remember being so worried about being judged. I always prided myself on being a “people” pleaser and being well-liked.
And then it happened – someone I knew ripped my work apart when selling their “method.”
It tore me up for YEARS.
I retreated, stopped putting myself out there and silently fumed – but I refused to address the situation publicly.
And then one day, my husband had to say “it’s time to let it go.”
And I did. It was so freeing to just STOP caring what others think.
With age comes wisdom – and the stronger you are in your convictions, the more people you’re going to turn off. But you’ll also find that people are connecting with you because of what you have to say (and how you say it.)
5 . The best clients are the ones that trust you to do your thing.
Oh this one is tough.
So many times I let people push me into design decisions that I didn’t agree with.
Or asked their mastermind buddies, their extended family members and their dog walkers what font they should use.
Or asked to “sit over my shoulder while I design.” (Cue my silent screams.)
But the projects that everyone loves (and I always get asked to copy?)
Those projects never got butchered.
Those clients trust me – and collaborate with me.
That’s who I work with these days – and they are all amazing.
6. Integrity is everything.
I can’t tell you how many people tried to get me to copy either my own work or someone else’s. And I always refused. Everyone is unique. Copying someone else won’t get you the results you want. And you have the right to say no.
7. Everyone has the potential to be a client – or to be an amazing referral.
You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from.
The source of my amazing long-term clients? All referrals – from coaches, from workshops, from speaking engagements, from other designers and even my husband (he’s good. and he always talks me up – never discount how your family might connect you with potential clients.)
8. You’re allowed to pivot.
I got known as the yoga studio website designer. But that’s not what I do anymore.
And I no longer call myself a pixel pusher. I’ve grown – and my strategic offerings have expanded way beyond web design. You’re allowed to change what you do!
New positioning and pricing might mean that some of the people you worked with at the beginning won’t mature into long-term clients. But you’ll be surprised how many will take the ride with you.
9. Surround yourself with people who get you.
This is a game changer. Running an online business means a lot of alone time sitting behind a glowing screen. Find people that inspire you – and who want to see you succeed. These are the people that will listen to your endless business ideas (and give your spouse/partner/dog a well-deserved break).
It can take time to find the right group of people that truly want to see you thrive. And I advise they don’t do exactly what you do. Find folks in related industries who complement what you have to offer.
10. Invest in your business education.
I’ve easily spent over $75k on coaches, programs and events over the years. But once chance meeting at an event led to $250,000 worth of work. And the relationships I’ve made with both mentors and participants has led to even more fulfilling projects and a calendar full of work.