When I made the leap and quit my corporate job to become a full-time freelancer four years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. There was only one thing I was 100% certain of: come hell or high water, I was going to do work that I loved on my own terms.
The first year and a half seemed to float by with few hurdles and hardly any effort. I had a decent roster of clients, managed to match my former full-time monthly income, and every week, new opportunities and referrals would show up in my inbox -- all before having a website and without a marketing strategy to speak of.
It didn’t occur to me that I’d have to work to keep this momentum going.
I was brimming with pride at this “hustle” that seemed to happen so naturally for me. Things weren't perfect just yet; but for the first time in my life I was free of any doubts that I could actually have the business and life of my dreams.
Needless to say, the pride quickly faded into emptiness, as I grew less and less motivated by the work I was doing. The money, though good, wasn't good enough anymore; and I could feel myself growing resentful of the clients that I had once loved (although I knew the problem was really me). I let the fear of not knowing what would happen next stop me dead in my tracks from doing anything about it.
Then all at once, everything changed.
Both of my major contracts -- my two main sources of income -- were cut abruptly and I had nothing to soften the blow.
One month I was pretty much on the top of my game. The next month, I was shit out of luck.
The following year seemed to drudge on as fewer opportunities became available. I took on temp jobs and small projects to help make ends meet, and felt like a failure for not knowing how to get better clients on my own.
When the chance of a lifetime came around to be in a year-long mastermind program with a high-profile coach, I thought for sure this would be the big break I needed to turn things around. So I scrambled to make the investment, but still couldn’t quite afford the payments, and ended up dropping out of the program after only a couple of months.
By this point I was completely burnt out. Ashamed. Embarrassed. All I could think was how screwed up everything was and how it was all my fault.
I was right.
It took a while for me to realize what I was doing wrong. And as it turns out, my mistakes weren’t much different than the ones many solopreneurs make when they’re first starting out. Here’s what was happening:
- I jumped in feet first with my business without really knowing what my business was. Instead I just assumed that, because I wanted it badly enough, all the details would somehow work themselves out.
- I counted on the initial success I experienced to continue forever, rather than doing the work to create the things that would move my business forward (and couldn't understand why the opposite was happening!).
- I accepted whatever opportunities came along that would pay me well enough, rather than focusing on a niche that I wanted to serve.
- I had created a business model with an inconsistent income stream and had no other system of earning that could sustain me (and also, I had no clue what a “business model” was).
- I was unrealistic about my money and made unwise investments in services and programs that, while valuable, were not feasible for where my business was financially at the time.
Worst of all, I hid from the truth and suffered silently in shame, rather than doing what was necessary to support myself and get the help I needed to get my business on track.
When you're as head strong, wide-eyed and hopelessly romantic about life as I still am, being practical just isn't your strong suit.
But let my story be the official alert to help you avoid the same disaster. Here’s what I wish I knew:
Learn how your business and money will work
Don't invest in any other programs or services until you have a handle on this part first. Get help to understand not just how much money you need to make in order to survive, but also how you're going to make your money, based on the kind of business you have.
Understand that "nothing will work unless you do" (Maya Angelou)
This is especially true when it comes to building a business. Opportunities won't always just show up out of thin air, and eventually you will have to work at bringing in money. So rather than put it off, create a plan to attract the clients -- and the freedom -- you want right now and do the work to make it happen.
On that same note, be very clear about what you want in your business
Define how you want to show up and who you want to serve. Otherwise you'll just be running yourself into the ground doing work that doesn't motivate you for clients you aren’t excited about.
Connect with communities that you can go to for answers, advice and support
Don't shame yourself out of asking for help or sharing what you're struggling with. Some of the biggest, most important breakthroughs of your career can come from your setbacks and challenges. But keeping them to yourself -- suffering through them alone -- will only delay your success.
Fellow One Woman Shops: even if you've started on a similar path, I'm here to tell you there is still hope. Turning things around will take some time and require some unusual adjustments. But know that in every setback is a lesson that's meant to push you towards the bigger purpose you are meant to serve. Your job is to pay attention. Learn the lesson. And keep moving forward.