It has now been a year since I left the safety net of a full time salary and entered the exciting/terrifying world of being entirely self employed. I will be honest it hasn't all been plain sailing, in fact my boyfriend will confirm that for the first three months of self employment we considered a week where I only cried three or four times as a resounding success (the first month it was everyday!) and this is coming from someone often described as not particularly emotional! I've learnt a thing or two since then and these are my ten biggest lessons.
1. You have to ride that feast/famine rollercoaster
One of my biggest lessons, and something I am still learning to deal with if I am being honest, is the ebb and flow of orders and money. Your business will have times when the orders are pinging through regularly and you’re looking at your bank balance feeling pretty happy, yet logic tells you that you will also have quiet times when it appears everyone has stopped buying and you fear the dreaded 'card declined' when buying some milk. The fact is that you don’t have 100% control over your income and believe me its scary. I used to get incredibly overwhelmed when I was busy but now I enjoy it more, I know I can get the orders out and I take a moment to appreciate each order (happy dance anyone?!). In the quiet times I do the niggly jobs I haven't had time to do, get stock levels back up and get proactive about advertising my business be it an extra fair or planning some social media posts. It's that pit of the stomach feeling when you think “can I pay my rent/mortgage this month?” which I doubt I will get used to and then ping in comes a few orders and off we go on the ride all over again.
2. Hold your nerve
This is something my boyfriend tells me a lot! When I started out being self-employed I would have a slow week or so and immediately start applying for jobs or take on a few days nannying, and then the orders would build up and I was back working all night which is exactly why I gave up my job in the first place. I did it at Christmas as I was concerned orders weren't picking up as early as I expected, I took on some work and then boom orders flooded in, I worked until 3am most mornings, ran between jobs, had to cancel jobs as I had to prioritise my business, by 23rd December was pretty much a puddle on the floor. If I had held my nerve I would of been ready for that and not felt awful for letting people down. On the plus side I did get given a Nespresso coffee machine by my old boss who thought I looked like I was in dire need of daily caffeine on demand.
3. I miss people and being out
I do, I love a chat and I miss seeing people in my day to day life. I used to be a nanny so being alone in that job just wasn't an option. The kids, the other parents and nannies would provide me with lots of social interaction and it was a serious shock to my system to go from that to working alone inside all day! My postman now pretty much runs away from me as I open the door keen for a natter, the poor guy just wants me to sign for the parcel. My boyfriend is greeted at the door after work like an eager overexcited puppy, just what you want after a long day I'm sure! For me forcing myself out, a longer route to the post office, a lunch time walk around the park and even going to a coffee shop to write once a week makes me feel less isolated.
Me at my first fair- really feeling the fear here!
4. Find 'work friends'
Somewhat linked to the above point, but find some people doing something similar. In most jobs you'll have a team of people around you that understand the stress of that big project or that client who is causing you a few sleepless nights. When you work alone you don't have that support system. Family and friends are great (I am very lucky with mineas they all take the time to listen to me bang on about stuff a lot) but they don't understand exactly what you're going through. I've found people through freelance support groups and Instagram; they can be around the corner or in another country, but having people who get it will be amazing. They will cheer you on when you need it, commiserate when you need someone to vent to about lost orders/demanding customers/business being quiet. They can also provide you with perspective because they've been there and done that and that my friends is so reassuring.
5. Just try
I seriously wish my job was all sewing, pretty pictures and tea drinking but the fact is being a one girl/person band means you have to do all the boring stuff too. Accounts and anything technology based are my personal hell, in an ideal world I would outsource this and maybe one day I can but I have learnt I can do it all. I built my website using a shopify template and am thrilled with it, it took probably double the time that it would a professional but that’s totally not the point. I now love feeling in control of my accounts, making sure I know each month’s income and outcome is so much better than ignoring it and fearing the worst. Now I just try and see how it goes. My next challenge is wholesale!
6. Get organised
When I started The Crafty Traveller it was just in the evenings or on train rides, I would make up orders as they came in and essentially just do the things I needed to at the time. It took a while to realise I don't have to do that, I have the time to make sure I set aside a day to make up my pins, build boxes for orders and build up stock of my best sellers so I am in a better position. I try and batch my mornings and afternoons now so I am not flitting from thing to thing in a mad panic. It can be hard to self motivate but I got tough about it, wrote all the lists and it makes my days a lot more manageable.
7. It's not all about you
When sales are slow or a product you were super excited about seems to have had a tepid reaction it’s easy to think“well no-one likes my stuff” and take it incredibly personally,DON'T! People are busy or worried about cash or both, keep going, keep creating new ideas and trying them out. I look at ways I can better market my items and what seems to be working and what isn't. It’s the product, not you, which when you make everything from scratch is hard to separate, but essential for sanity.
8. ACCEPT HELP
A short and basic one, accept offers of help. Be it a partner offering to pitch in some more towards the house, your sister coming over to make up boxes or a friend keeping you company at a fair. You can pay them back at some point and by god its amazing when you do finally accept it.
9. You'll work double the hours you did
I worked an average of 70 hours a week as a nanny and by the time I left my last job which was 'part time', it was for three days with a 42 hour week. It's not as much as some people but it’s a lot. I now work all the time, in the evenings and some weekends and it can feel at times like a mad choice. But I love it, I work because the success of the business is all down to me. Yes I am trying to be better and not work evenings unless I have to. I am also nicer to myself if I decide to have a midweek lunch with a friend (HAHAHA AS IF!) or more realistically spend two hours doing some DIY in the day as I know I more than make up for it.
10. ENJOY IT
It’s something I've always dreamed of and now it’s happening so this year my aim is to be a tiny bit kinder to myself and enjoy it because it’s a mental ride but one I don't want to get off!