Celebrating One Year
It’s the one year anniversary of deciding to start my own design business. I remember being surrounded by many google docs, spreadsheets, and pro-con lists around this time last year. Fitting in some freelance work part time in addition to my software development job had been the norm and kept my Saturdays busy but didn’t feel like a sustainable option for me until I got an offer I couldn’t refuse, a current client had several projects coming up that would be enough for steady future freelance work. Slowly my future vision got a little bit closer to a reality. So after an immense amount of planning (a solid 2 months of working every free hour I had) I said “F*%k it!” and took the leap. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past year:
Some of The Good Things
The most important part of owning my own business is I get to make my own vision come true. I could design what I wanted and strategize for myself. That can be a double-edged sword, though. I have learned that I need to continually approach my own business as one of my clients and look at what is working and what isn’t.
Another great thing is I’m much less stressed now than I was working a desk job in a career that wasn’t fulfilling to me. At the end of last summer I was having almost daily panic attacks and was probably the most unhealthy I’ve ever been. In the early stages I was worried that starting my own business would affect my mental health negatively when in fact, it’s done the opposite! I am more active and healthier, generally, because I get to manage my own time and have more control of who I have to interact with.
I’ve also learned that having a flexible schedule is great for errands and appointments, and just taking time off when I really need to. I’ve found that being super communicative helps clients understand if I am away on vacation or have an appointment and might be hard to reach.
Some of the Bad Things
Business accounting is gnarly. I hired an accountant right off the bat to help me with all that and I am really happy with that choice. I learned it’s good to know when to spend the money on something that’s going to be painful or time consuming for you to do yourself.
Another not so great thing I’ve found over time is that working alone all day can feel pretty isolating. I used to cherish my work from home days but a year later I can’t wait to run errands or go out for dinner or drinks. I try to go to coffee shops when I can to do business admin work. I also try to stay in touch with people and schedule a lunch or happy hour once a week so I don’t get cabin fever crazy. Having a part-time job where I work once or twice a week has helped, too.
Another tough thing is getting the right clients and making sure I have enough work. As time goes on it’s gotten easier but it can be very hard at first to adjust to the ebb and flow of projects. I’ve found that after 10 years of working in different companies and agencies using my gut instinct about clients rarely steers me wrong.
What I’ve Learned, in a Nutshell
Take breaks - working all the time is not humanly possible
Plan vacations/holidays/days off way in advance
You can try to plan but most of it is going with the flow
Word of mouth marketing is the best marketing, be the person your clients or friends will recommend
Focus on core services and do them well (I’m still struggling with this)
Save up twice as much money as you think you’ll need - insurance for independent business owners is NOT good and very expensive
Overall, this lifestyle is not for everyone. It takes an enormous amount of risk as well as planning and responsibility. Sometimes it has been tough, or tougher than I’d like to admit. I realized quitting a successful web development career to pivot and focus on running your own design business requires a lot of sacrifice. There’s been many things that haven’t turned out as I expected, but more surprising than negative. I’ve met a lot of really awesome people and clients this year. I’ve worked on some really awesome projects. In whole I think it was a great choice for me and I’m so happy that I took the leap. I can’t wait to check in again next year!