Well, I did it. I made it a full year in business on my own. Looking back, I'm both amazed it's been a year already and I feel like its been the longest year on record. I'm often asked how I'm doing, and how the business is going. Here's the short answer: I'm great, and it rocks. Of course the full story is a little more complex than that, so here are the lessons I've learned over the past year of being my own boss:
Sometimes the Universe smiles on you.
I have been fortunate. Some would say blessed. Others, lucky. When I decided that I would launch Connected Consulting, about a week later I got a call from a friend letting me know that and organization she cared deeply about needed someone with my skill sets, and would I be interested. A week after I sent out my launch email, another friend found me while I was on a train platform in Dallas and shared a problem she was facing and asked if I was available to help. In fact, since launching my business the opportunities to help make a difference and support people I respect and admire have come to me at just the right time. Maybe karma is real after all.
Time is literally money.
Valuing your time is not just important, it's everything when you're a consultant. And, getting the balance right on how much to charge for your time, how long things will take versus how much you can realistically charge a client to do something, and whether it's better to have flat fees or hourly rates is a trial and error process. As I have said in a previous blog post, knowing your worth is essential to being able to negotiate effectively for yourself. You get over the awkward feeling of telling people you're happy to help but you need to charge them for your expertise and advice pretty quickly.
When you love it, it's not work.
As a small business owner I am fortunate to have a vast amount of purview over the work that I take on, the clients I choose to work for, and the types of projects I will accept. Launching my own practice has allowed me greater flexibility than I have ever had over all these aspects of my professional life and it has made the past year among the most fulfilling I have ever had. I wake up excited every day to go to work. As Martha would say, "It's a very good thing."
You have to draw the line somewhere. No, really. You do.
The American culture celebrates overwork like nobody's business. And while I have worked hard over the past year I have also had the opportunity to take time off whenever I've wanted to. This is because I have an electronic leash with a long reach. My clients can reach me 24/7, and often do. Recently, after four straight weeks without a day off, my six year-old daughter called me out for working too much and aptly pointed out, "Mama, you're the boss. You decide when to take a day off." So we played hooky on a summer weekday from grown-up responsibilities. While some people may fear that working from home would bring too many distractions, my biggest problem is that I work far more than I would if I had an offsite office.
Freedom is highly underrated.
So far, it has been tremendously liberating to be able to work according to my own schedule, for clients that I genuinely like and respect, doing work that interests me intellectually. Being able to balance my role as entrepreneur and mother while still finding time for myself for professional and personal development has been liberating to say the least. As I have felt more empowered as a female business owner I have begun to attract other women business owners to me as clients, and it has been amazing to help them build their brands and grow their business.
But it comes at a cost.
The trade-off for the freedom to work when and how you want: if you're not working, you're not getting paid. Period. And of course, as an entrepreneur there are no "benefits" unless you create them and fund them yourself. Making sure your family has the insurance coverage you need, socking something away in a long-term savings vehicle, time out of the office... it's all on you.
Lifelong learning happens here.
I spend my days being an "expert" for my clients. But the truth is, I spend my days being a student. I learn something new. Every. Single. Day. When I started my business I had never built a website. I've done ten now, including my own. I had never been through an entire regional planning process from end to end when I took on the job of leading OCCOG. I can now hold my own with transportation planners on some pretty complex regional transportation and land use issues. I set time aside daily to read articles, blog posts, watch videos, and scour social media for tips, tricks, inspiration, and ideas to share with my clients. I am actively engaged daily in becoming the best version of myself, and I love it.
If you don't like something, look in the mirror.
Like the saying goes, the buck stops here. As an entrepreneur there's not really an excuse to not love what you're doing. After all, you're crafting your career like a fine wine daily. Not happy with your rate? Negotiate better. Not happy with your hours? Set better boundaries for yourself. Not happy with your work? Pick more engaging projects. Bored? Learn new skills. Overwhelmed? Learn how to say no. It's simultaneously exciting and terrifying to realize that you have full control over your own success. As I tell my kids: some days you're the bug, and some days you're the windshield. It's obviously better to be the latter, so pay attention to what's in front of you.
Be strategically opportunistic.
As a small business owner I do not have the bandwidth to respond to every RFP, or take on every assignment or be at every networking event. I am very picky about how I spend my time, my money, and my knowledge. I look for ways to partner with people who have 3 things: drive, vision, and a purpose that aligns with my own. I surround myself with others who share my values in terms of client service, ethics, and integrity. So, when something comes my way that's a good fit, I've already done the "pre-game planning" needed to know it will work for me and I can jump on it right away.
What's really important.
It was my goal when I started my business to be able to be home with my kids in the afternoons. I started planning for it when school let out last June. Since I gave birth to my oldest child nearly a decade ago, my kids have been cared for by their grandmothers. I am so grateful for that support, but as H & H reach the age when they want to be playing with friends and need help with homework, I wanted to be there to help them. I wanted mine to be the house where my kids and their friends gather. I am proud to say that when they started back to school in the fall, I accomplished that goal. Most days, I drop them off and pick them up, and I try to take a few hours break to play and be mom. Life is good.
No (wo)man is an Island.
If I have learned one thing over the past year, it would be this: it really IS all connected. As the saying goes, it takes a village. I am fortunate to have an entire team of support behind me in the form of a super supportive husband, two relatively cooperative kids, and an amazing mom and mother-in-law who help me keep things on an even keel. And I have some pretty damn awesome clients that I work for, that pay me to do what I love. I have built a tribe of supportive friends and fellow female entrepreneurs upon whose talent I can rely, and with whom I can share my struggles and celebrate life's little wins. If you're reading this, there's a good chance that YOU are one of the "villagers" who have contributed to my success this year, and for that I am forever grateful.
Whoa. Easy on the confetti.
There is always more do do. So don't get ahead of yourself. There will always be competitors. So stay vigilant in your efforts to hone your skills, do great work, and market the heck out of yourself. Technology is always changing. So always be ready to try new things and "skate to where the puck will be." No resting on laurels. No rest for the weary. No rest. Period. Honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.