Last week I shared my own journey into self-employment. It was solely a personal account of my experiences, but last week's blog post skipped out on a lot of parts. Partially for the sake of self-preservation, and partially to limit word length. I know how dwindling a person's attention span can be, particularly when it comes to web-based media. According to research, most of you left within 8 seconds.
But in this case, it was also a sake of saving the best till last. When I originally sat down to craft the outline for the post, I envisioned a shorter post that incorporated the advice from my own personal role models: women I look up to, and others in my field.
That post did not go as planned. It ended up as a more personal account, stretching far past the word limit I intended. Sometimes that happens, and the story develops on its own as I write. I was never a fan of rigid structures anyway.
In the weeks prior to writing that post, I'd reached out to a few women online that I admire for their writing prowess, for their tenacity, for their unwavering support of others in our field. All possess an entrepreneurial spirit, all run their own shop, and all have a unique point-of-view about the freelance life. Some of their answers didn't surprise me, but some of them did make me second guess myself.
Which wasn't the point of the whole process. Sometimes when we're privy to another's way of being or their way of doing things, it makes us question our own processes. I don't think the point of crowd-sourcing advice need be an exercise in self-scrutinisation. Self enquiry, however, should be encouraged, particularly from a place of detachment. Use your intuition. (Don't know how? I know someone who can help with that.)
I hope that their advice challenges your perception of what you're capable of, but also helps you develop a style of productivity that suits your personality type.
Sarah Von Bargen - Yes and Yes
Because yes...is more fun than no! Sarah is the Keith Richards of rockstar bloggers and online writers. Her blog Yes and Yes inspires equal parts of wanderlust and hard fucking work. Starting back in 2008, Yes and Yes now has a daily audience of 11,000+. She's created e-books, an e-course, and been featured in cool places like Elle and Forbes.com.
When did you realise you wanted to run your own show?
I’m deeply, deeply type A and a down-to-the-bone try hard. When you’re like that, you’re pretty frequently the first employee in and the last employee out. After years of bringing in tonnnnnnes of money for my employers and launching lots of great projects, I still wasn’t getting paid any more than the people who came in late and phoned it in. It was incredibly frustrating.
My decision to go it alone coincided with selling all my stuff and leaving America for a 10 month trip through India, SE Asia, and the antipodes. I thought I’d give self-employment a try and if it worked out, I’d stick with it!
Do you think that age plays an important role in your ability to work for yourself?
I think emotional maturity plays a big role in working for yourself. I know 40 year olds who lack emotional maturity, and 19-year-olds who have piles of it.
“You need to be motivated, organised, creative, hardworking, and have one metric tonne of perseverance. If you’ve got those - regardless of your age - you can probably work for yourself. ”
— Sarah Von Bargen
How prepared were you when you decided to work for yourself?
I was fairly prepared. I’d been freelancing for a while and blogging for 2+ years so I (mostly) knew what I was doing. Of course, I’ve learned so much in the past four years: the ability to delegate, the importance of work/life balance, and everything you’d ever want to know about tax deductions.
What's the best thing about your life now?
The fact that I can set my own schedule and work from anywhere with an internet connection. When I’ve completed my tasks for the day, I can walk away from my computer and enjoy the other parts of my life!
Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Do what you say you’re going to do. Deliver on time and on budget. If you said you’d send them a link, send them the link. If you said the piece would be 1,000 words, make sure it’s 1,000 words.
Also: write thank you notes.
Jessica Larsen of Hello Wordsmith
A writer and creative consultant with an ascorbic wit, Jessica Larsen writes prose that sounds like skipping on rainbows. It's fun, it flows, and it's incredibly colourful. Naturally, she scribes for the likes of Rachel McDonald and Tara Bliss, two of the country's top spiritual gurus. She is also one of the SWEETEST people EVER. As a lawyer in a former life, Jessica Larsen is not only hilarious but incredibly sensible. Here be her business smarts.
At what point did you realise that starting Hello Wordsmith was the right decision? How did you feel?
Before I started my business, I was working in the corporate world as a lawyer and legislative policy adviser. And I was So. Freaking. Unhappy. I also had a pretty terrible boss. And I mean, ‘investigations have since been launched into her bullying’ kind of terrible.
I started to realise that I was becoming resentful – of her, of the work, of everything. This resentment was leading to me being bitter and – most distressingly – kind of lazy. Which was NOT how I wanted to spend my life – just whiling away the hours while I built up my leave and collected a comfy pay packet.
So I knew that something massive had to change, or I would suddenly find myself 50 years old, still waiting for my life to get better, and still hating what I was doing. Swiftly (for me), I decided to leave my job, travel for a few months, and then start writing full-time.
With the benefit of hindsight, I now believe that many of the ‘unfortunate circumstances’ surrounding my job were actually blessings in disguise. If things hadn’t been so unbearable with my boss, I might have continued on at that workplace for many years to come – never taking the leap because I never had to. And if the job market at the time hadn’t been so terrible, I might have tried to find another corporate position instead – the ‘safe and cushy’ route. The dots really do connect when I look back at them.
As to how I felt once I’d made my decision… alternating elation and terror. My journals from that time are filled with endless pages of excited planning, and just as many filled with endless doubts, second-guessing and lists of potential back-up plans. But whenever I thought about writing for a living, I felt this spark inside me that could not be ignored. For all my fear, I knew that I had never felt that kind of heart-fuelled excitement for my work before. EVER. So some tiny part of me knew that I had to follow through on my idea no matter what – that kind of electric energy cannot be ignored. In one respect, I had no choice but to follow it.
Do you think that age plays an important role in your ability to work for yourself? Do you think experience comes with age?
Yes and no.
Time and experience have meant an increase in my writing skills, my ‘people’ skills, my perspective, my knowledge of myself, and my understanding of the way the world works… All of which have been invaluable in starting my own business. (And I fervently hope that they continue to grow and improve – in no way am I ‘there yet’, wherever ‘there’ may be!)
I don’t think one can ever be too young to start their own business or follow their dreams. (And for that matter, I don’t think that one can ever be too old either.)
But I am a firm believer in ‘earning one’s stripes’ – going through the ‘apprenticeship’ necessary to be good at what you do and to master your particular craft. I don’t think that age inherently plays a role in this process… it’s just that we all need to ‘do the time’ to actually get good at our work. This doesn’t necessarily mean formal study or going to university. Although, of course, those can be awesome options. But it does mean a commitment to conscious, focused continual learning.
“Whether through books, people, podcasts, courses, classes, workshops, whatever… If the idea of lifelong learning does not excite you, entrepreneurship is probably not for you!”
— Jessica Larsen
Far more important than age or experience, in my opinion, is discipline. It’s been the single most important factor in successfully building my business and getting things done. It doesn’t sound sexy or fun – and indeed, it’s usually not – but damn is it effective.
How prepared were you when you decided to work for yourself? How important were things like finances, emotional support, etc?
In some ways, I was very prepared.
In some ways, I was completely flying by the seat of my (yoga) pants.
Emotional support was critical to my decision to leave my well-paying job for the unknown. My boyfriend was monumentally instrumental in helping me realise that I could do it – that it was worth backing myself and taking a chance on my dreams. Of course, he says that his role was minor – that I would have figured this out for myself soon enough. I like to think that that’s true, and that he just helped speed the realisation along. But needless to say, I am incredibly grateful to have someone so unquestioningly supportive in my life.
It also helped that my parents were on board too. As a recovering people-pleaser, this made my life a lot easier – they both thought it was a great idea and were happy to see me so passionate about something. But before I’d told them my plans, I’d resolved to follow through on them anyway, regardless of what they thought. Let’s face it; it’s always nice when your Mumsy supports what you’re doing!
As for financial support, I was very prepared. I made the decision to leap, and set a date six months in advance. The date was set in stone – I'd booked a non-transferable plane ticket!. This gave me plenty of time to really commit to saving my moolah to ensure I had a healthy buffer. Which was SO HELPFUL when the time came to leap – I didn’t have to stress quite so much about bringing in the clients because I had about four months worth of money to live on, plus enough for all my set-up costs. I also made a lot of sacrifices during that time – I stopped buying clothes, I moved back home with my mum, I brown-bagged my lunch, and I basically just made it work. I know that money is a big factor holding people back from launching their own biz, because let’s face it: an uncertain income is hella scary. I firmly believe that almost (freaking) always: if there’s a will, there’s a way.
One area that I wasn’t prepared for at all was the actual ‘running an online business’ side of things. I knew nothing of marketing or strategy or any of the biz stuff. One of the best things I did was enrol in an online business course and find myself a community of peeps in a similar situation. For me, that was Marie Forleo’s B-School, which comes with an inbuilt group of fabulous Aussie women all following their own biz dreams. The principles which I learned in the course were great for building my website and launching my business, but the truly invaluable part was the multitude of beautiful, supportive connections I made with other people. Not only did many become clients, many became firm, fast friends.
What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
The pure, sheer joy of creation.
I have had the Holy Smokes privilege of working with some amazing people, and on some projects that have been absolutely game-changing. That’s the work that makes me jump out of bed – when creativity and innovation and integrity are the ideals above all else. It makes my heart thrum with enthusiasm, excitement and full-blown gratitude.
I also jump out of bed when I’m working on my own creations, whether that means writing an article, blogging, or working on my book.
On the days where I don’t jump out of bed – when it’s more of a slow stumble – I try to remind myself of how incredibly blessed I am to be living my passion, honing my craft and working towards my dream every day.
“Not all days are gonna be fun – hell, every online biz owner has to spend time doing shit they don’t want to do – but it’s all in pursuit of a bigger picture that without a doubt lights my soul-fire. And for that, I am endlessly, overwhelmingly grateful.”
— Jessica Larsen
What would you say to someone who has big dreams, but is crippled with self-doubt?
As the goddess Nike counsels, ‘Just do it.’
You will always feel fear. Honestly, truthfully, it will always be there. As soon as you finally take a leap and master one thing, another will pop up and you’ll want to expand outwards again, and you’ll ram right into that wall of fear – AGAIN.
Life isn’t about not having fear – it’s about learning to live with that discomfort and acting anyway.
So set goals, some of them scary. Practice putting yourself outside your comfort zone. Start taking baby steps. Do one thing every day that moves you forward. Connect with people who are trying to walk the same path. Commit to learning your craft. Immerse yourself in the world you want to be a part of.
And more than anything else, just get started. The Universe rewards action, and you’ll figure out the details along the way.
More sage wisdom...
The following quotes have been republished from the author's blog with their permission.
"There’ll never be a harsher critic than you. And the biggest obstacles you face will inevitably be the ones YOU create. (Obstacles like, “I can’t” or “I’m not good enough” or “I shouldn’t” — which is a bunch of BS, by the way.)
They’re the same things that’ll keep you stuck in a dead-end job you hate, and the same things that’ll prevent you from doing what you want — no matter WHAT your career trajectory."
- Nikki Groom, The F Factor: Extraordinary Writing for Extraordinary Women
"While I’ve realized that having high dreams and the passion to reach them are both great things, I’ve also come to learn that the path in which you get there is also important. So instead of worrying about fifteen years from now – or even just two, enjoy the now and be present. Be aware of the steps you need to take in order to move forward, but don’t forget to look around, too. You may notice + develop a new creative path that you never thought you’d explore in your lifetime. Who knows! That’s what’s so great about being your own boss. YOU have the power to define your days."
-Breanna Rose, Designer and Blogger