In April 2017 I decided to leave behind my day job to focus full-time on my Greetings Card business Bettie Confetti. Since then, I’ve partnered up with the folks over at informi.co.uk to write about what it’s like to go solo. The ups, the downs and everything in between. No motivational speakers here. Just real, honest advice about having a creative small business.
So, you’ve gone and done it. Thrown in the day job and readied yourself for the big bad world of teeny tiny business. After all the excitement of leaving parties and the bucket full of well wishes from the people you’re leaving behind in the drudgery of corporate life, you’re ready. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it? Or does it?
You might find, as I did, that the reality of those first few weeks is a little different to what you’d expected. It’s a little quieter, a little emptier and a little less structured than what you’re used to. You wave goodbye to your significant other in the morning on their way to face the daily commute, trying desperately to hide your smug face. Then, come 11 am you find yourself looking forward to greeting the postman for some actual human interaction. And to make matters worse, it’s only just dawned on you that tea rounds are no longer a thing at this particular one woman workplace.
Have you made the right decision here? Are you going to regret leaving your stable, predictable, nicely paid job? Let me answer that for you: hell no.
The reality of starting a small business
Starting a small business, for so many people, seems like the easy way to sketch out your own path in life. Being your own boss is a seriously appealing option for when you’ve had one too many of those meetings. You know the ones. Where you could have covered the content of the meeting in a two-paragraph email exchange and you walk out knowing you’ll never get that hour of your life back.
In truth, the reality of small business can be very different to the daydream you have in another tedious divisional meeting. And, it’s important to recognise that if you’re going to do this, how much work you’re going to have to do. Not on your business, but on yourself.
For me, working a full-time job and getting a small business off the ground at the same time was serious graft. I’ve never worked harder. I found myself in a constant juggling act, attempting to give everything the time and attention it needed, while trying not to run myself into the ground. I worked out pretty quickly that I’d have to sacrifice my social life if I was serious about making it work. Evenings were no longer for Game of Thrones or having a nosey on Facebook. They were now more about keeping up with orders and planning how I was going to deal with the upcoming months.
Then after all the sleepless nights considering if and when I was going to really commit to this little greeting cards company by leaving my job, I did it. It was the scariest, riskiest decision I’d ever made and up to my last day at work, I questioned whether I was doing the right thing.
It’s all down to me
Now, that all sounds a bit bleak. But working that hard, that consistently for two years taught me how to be a small business owner. It taught me that it’s OK to think about my business the moment I wake up and mentally catalogue my stock levels just before I drift into the land of nod each evening. That it’s OK to not know everything when you first start out and it’s OK to ask people for help. But mostly it taught me that it’s my business. My responsibility and its success or, god forbid, failure is all down to me. And that, my friends, is the reality of being a small business owner.
So, when it came time to actually throw all my energy into the business day-to-day, I was ready. And when you’re ready, you don’t feel the loneliness quite so much. The house doesn’t feel so empty and you adapt to the new structure that you put in place for yourself.
Going Solo: Bettie’s Top Five Tips To Get You Off On The Right Foot
With that in mind, here are some of my top tips for getting a good start to your first few weeks of being your own boss.
1. Get your backside out of bed
This isn’t a holiday. You haven’t left your steady income so that you can get emotionally invested in the latest happenings of Homes Under The Hammer. Get those hours back that you spent getting ready to go to work and do just that: go to work. I’ve gotten back two valuable hours each day through not having to commute and find those first few hours in the morning the most productive.
Get showered and dressed as if you’re going to go out for the day. Spending the day in your onesie isn’t going to inspire any motivation, and could prove fateful for that unexpected Skype call from a potential new client.
2. A four-legged friend could be your salvation
Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch for you, but let’s face it you’ve already made a fairly sizeable commitment to spending a large amount of time at home. Having another soul wandering around the house can be great for your sanity and really helps you structure your day.
Two days after I left work, we had a new puppy fumbling around the house. It’s been a lot of work, but is 100% worth the effort. If it’s structure that you’re craving, then a pet will give you just that.
3. OK Computer?
Remember all those times you’d look longingly out your office window when the sun was shining at lunch time? You’d day dream about topping up your tan and vitamin D levels over those precious 60 minutes, but your ever-growing inbox dictated yet another Tesco Meal Deal at your desk. Now there’s nothing stopping you doing just that. Or better yet, do it a couple of times a day. Give yourself the opportunity to recharge and get the best out of your working day
So when you’re 17 links deep into yet another website promising to be the answer to all your small business woes, stop and remind yourself why you were looking at the site in the first place. Walk away from your screen every few hours so you that you can evaluate how much work you’ve done and how you want to focus the rest of your day.
4. Thirty days has September…
Plan out your months so that you have some really achievable goals that sit outside your day to day activities. I use Trello to make sure no idea gets lost in yet another notebook and I can still see them alongside my more imminent tasks. If you’re the type to have a million ideas that are going to take a few components to come together, a system like this really works well.
5. Rome wasn’t built in a day…
… and neither was a successful small business. I’m the type that wants to get everything done all at once. I put pressure on myself to get it all completed, and more often than not, I can’t get it all done and feel disappointed. When I was about 12 months into the business, I started what are affectionately known in my household as Bettie Briefings at the advice of my Husband. We sit down every Monday evening and go through what I’ve achieved in the last week, what’s coming up next week and what’s in the medium term. It really helps me focus on getting the most important pieces of work completed before running off with my next idea.
If you can manage it, a regular schedule of meetings like this with your other half, mentor or willing friend, will do wonders. It’s always good to have someone else who is less involved day to day to challenge you and make you rethink how you’re doing things.