13 Lessons From My 13 Months of Self-Employment

Last week, I celebrated my first self-employment anniversary. It’s been pretty magical to be my own boss and to do the work I love everyday. This journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.

If anyone tells me they’re thinking of quitting their job to pursue their own business/passion, I’ll be the first one to say “DO IT!”. I believe anyone can create their perfect job and lifestyle if they want to, but I realize it may not be for everyone.

Below are 13 things I’ve learned from my 13 months of self-employment. If you’re thinking about taking the leap, I hope these lessons help you on your journey.

1.     It’s not as easy as it looks.

When I tell most people that I work for myself, I often get the response: “luckyyy”. It’s true, I am fortunate to be able to do the work that I love and be able to support myself. But, it doesn’t come easy.

If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. And in order to get work, I need to put proposals together, write articles, go to networking events, etc. There’s a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work that goes into business development. The hustle never ends!

2.     It can be lonely.

 The one thing I miss about working in an office is the people. I miss having desk buddies to chat with and bounce ideas off of. When you’re working from home, or even coffee shops filled with people, you’re on your own, focusing on your work.

 I’m lucky to have some freelance friends with similar schedules to meet up with for lunch or a work-out. Without them and my roommates (my boyfriend and cat) I think I'd go crazy!

3.     Get used to earning an irregular income.

 Even though I have some brands on retainer and work with them on a consistent basis, there is seasonality in my work, and I’m a lot busier during certain times of the year than others. Sometimes I don’t earn much one month, and the next month I’ll earn double. It all seems to even out (which I try to remind myself during the slower months), but if you can’t live without that bi-weekly paycheck, self-employment may not be for you.

4.     “Be patient.”

This is what my dad told me when I was frustrated with business development. As the owner of a successful consulting company, he told me that it took 7 years to have new clients reaching out to him on a regular basis, whereas in previous years he’s hired business development people and flew all over the country to secure new business.

Success doesn’t happen overnight, or in one year. It takes time to build your portfolio and grow your client base. Be patient and stay confident- there’s more than enough work to go around!  

5. Health over everything else. 

When I first started my company, I was HUNGRY. I was hustling to get my website up and running, and to secure some new clients. I was equally excited as I was stressed out, which happens to be the recipe for insomnia.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I don’t get enough sleep, I develop colds pretty easily. I got sick from lack of sleep, and instead of resting up to get better, I kept working. I ended up having that cold for 3 weeks, which really set me back. It’s difficult to do good work when you’re sick, so take the time to rest up and take care of yourself before diving back into work. 

6.     Hire help when you need it.

 When your business is your baby, it’s hard to let other people in at first. I’d think, “if I want it done right, I need to do it myself”. But if your business is growing, there comes a time where you need to bring people in to help you get work done.

I’ve really enjoyed working with my interns and hiring other freelancers to work on projects with me. Even though I could do this work myself, I’ve learned that my time is better spent focusing on strategy and new business, rather than the day-to-day needs.

 7.     Take your schedule seriously.

One of the things I love most about working for myself is having the ability to have a flexible schedule. And no, this doesn’t mean that I’m sleeping in and having champagne brunches everyday. I love the flexibility so I can take breaks when I need them. Instead of forcing myself to get creative, I can step out to soak up inspiration.

Despite the flexibility to change your schedule, it’s important to take it seriously.  If you have a deadline, make sure you carve out the right amount of time in your schedule to meet that deadline. If your client wants to extend your call for another half hour and you have another assignment to work on that day, tell them that you need to schedule some time another day. If you’re on vacation, try your hardest to stay offline the majority of the time (your mind & body need breaks!).

8.    Invest in technology that drives efficiency.

 When I started my business, I had an old MacBook that was painfully slow and had a battery that only lasted an hour. It took forever to get anything done. Even though I was pre-revenue, I splurged on a new MacBook, which was the best decision ever. Everything opens, uploads, and sends faster- the time saved really adds up!

9.     Save your money.

Taxes, man. I had an idea of how much money I had to save just to enjoy the benefits of our wonderful country, but, you always need a cushion. I read several articles about how much you need to pay in taxes before incorporating my business, but it ended up being more than what I read. Now I set aside 50% of everything I earn just for taxes.

 10.  Know your value.

I started out working on big brands with big budgets, so when I sent them proposals they wouldn’t flinch. When I started meeting with smaller brands, I knew they wouldn't have similar budgets, so I’d lower my rates so I could get the job.

I found that when I do lower my rates, I’m not as motivated to do good work because I don’t believe I’m getting paid enough, and when I am charged what I’m worth, I’m super excited, and I feel good about myself! If a client can’t pay you what you’re worth, it’s better to politely decline and move on.  

11.   Help others when you can. 

The reciprocity principle, one of the basic laws of social psychology, states that people tend to give back the kind of treatment they received from another. In other words, if someone does a favor for you, you feel obligated to return the favor.

After I helped a friend get a job, she introduced me to someone, which led me to new business. We both benefitted from helping each other out, so if you have the flexibility to help someone when they ask, it’s worth it!

12.  Treat yo’self.

When I have a new project, get hired by a new client, or write for a new publication, I’ve always taken the time to celebrate my accomplishments. Whether it’s “me-time” at the spa, or a glass of wine with friends, I found that celebrating accomplishments (big & small) fills my mind and body with positivity and overall good vibes. After all, being happy is what this journey is all about!

13.  Be thankful.

On days that aren’t going so well, I always think about what I’m thankful for—it automatically changes my mindset from negative to positive. Gratitude makes me more optimistic and confident, which makes me preform better.

 To my friends, family, and of course, my clients: thank you for your support. You’ve helped me create my perfect job.