I’ve been working for 34 years; since my first job at 15 I’ve been a shop assistant, factory worker, bar tender, waitress, receptionist, journalist and TV presenter. I’ve always worked, always being independent, always looked after myself. But until now, these jobs have all involved working for someone else, sometimes as staff, other times as a freelancer.
Working on your own business is whole different ball game… So what’s it really like to strike out on your own, where no matter if you’ve put in 15 hour days with all the blood, sweat and tears you can muster, there’s no pay check at the end of the month unless your business actually works? One year after launching This Girl Is On Fire, a venture that started as a passion project and has developed into a full-time job, here is what I’ve learned about striking out on your own.
1. Accept that you don’t know everything and get a partner. Unless of course you do know everything, in which case you don’t need any advice from me! There are brilliant people out there who can do all the things you can’t, whether it’s on the accounting side, design, marketing – whatever – and they are worth their weight in gold purely because their freelance experience and speed will save you money and time.
2. Acknowledge that it’s not going to be quick or easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it and everyone would be millionaires. It takes time and effort. There will be many times when you are burning the midnight oil, and unless you really, truly believe in what you are doing, you will want to give up.
3. You will not make money right away. And when I say right away, I don’t mean days, weeks or even months. I mean it can take years to make a substantial return on your time, effort and money. Unless you are spectacularly lucky or have an incredible product that grabs the world’s attention right away, most businesses fold within their first year. Most start as a side hustle, while getting paid for the day job, so unless you’re super-confident in yourself, your abilities and your business, don’t be flouncing out the door telling your boss what you really think of them just yet.
4. Get a cheerleader. It is a lonely job without someone who understands why you’re doing what you’re doing. They can be a friend, a Work Space buddy or even a forum, but you need to have someone there to offload to and to encourage you to keep going.
5. Accept that not everyone is going to be pleased for you, especially if (when!) it starts going well. This can come from the strangest of places; some friends who championed you at the beginning may not like that you aren’t always free to hook up, partners and kids may not like that wife / mum isn’t always on hand, and work colleagues may feel threatened that you are being brave and striking out on your own. This is all understandable, and all ok, it doesn’t have to be problem, just let close family and friends know that things are going to be a bit different, and you’d really appreciate their support. And keep your end of the bargain up by not banging on about it all the time – no one likes a bore, whether it’s about a new baby, a new boyfriend or a new business.
6. Before you even get started, ask yourself why you are doing this? What gap in the market are you filling? What problem are you solving? What are the people who are already out there doing, and how are you any different to them? What makes your business so special? This can be broken down into four key words - What Is Your why? If you can’t answer these questions, then you need to have a long, hard think about what you are doing.
7. Set yourself goals and targets. Start with your 5 year goal, then your one year, one month, one week, daily. Aim for them, and tick them off. They can be obnoxiously big and out of this world dreamy – the bigger the better! Even if they are embarrassingly huge, and you’re scared to say them out loud in case people laugh at your audaciousness – WRITE THEM DOWN EVERY DAY.
Write them down as if they have already happened, not that you are aiming for them. Now, when I first heard about this I thought it was cringe worthy and insane. I hated it. I have always had crazy big dreams but I kept them quiet because I didn’t want anyone to find out in case they laughed at me. But I started writing them down, every day, in my diary. I felt really stupid at first, but now I’m used to it – and the really crazy thing is, something in your brain clicks and those crazy dreams that you are writing down as if they have already happened start to seem normal. You start to feel what it feels like to have got there, rather than feeling what it feels like to be scared and starting out. And that changes your whole dynamic about how you go about every part of your business, because you approach every decision with the simple question: “Will this help me get to my one week goal, or my monthly goal, or my year goal?” and you know in your gut if it does or doesn’t because it won’t feel right.
8. Be realistic when something doesn’t work. The only definite in any business is that there will be things that go wrong. You will get things wrong.You will make mistakes. That’s OK, it’s human. Just focus on the solution rather than getting worked up by the problem. Deal with it, fix it, see it as a learning moment, remember not to do it again and move on. That’s it.
9. Look after yourself. It’s easy to get sucked into working crazy hours, surviving on coffee and crisps, but you will crash and your body won’t thank you. Eat well, cut out the junk food, drink lots of water, get up and move every hour – even if it’s just for a few minutes. It won’t break your flow, and your butt and your brain will thank you.
10. Just keep going. There are a thousand more things I could say, but really it all boils down to this – it is a marathon not a sprint. Believe in yourself and what you are doing, even when it all feels pointless. You’re amazing for even trying, that’s more than most.