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Things I Learned Owning My Own Business

Three years ago I made the incredibly rash decision to quit my high paying, pretty easy job and start my own practice for a 40% pay cut, more stress and longer hours. That was smart. In my defense, not only do I come from a long line of people unable to work well with/for others, but my old boss was stealing from me and making my life emotionally and mentally hell. It was quit or have a stroke at age 32.

The going was really rough for a long time and even now that things have settled a bit and my schedule is staying fuller, there is always, always something to worry about. I’ve learned a ton though in the process and thought I would share some insights.

  • If you want to work for yourself to work less hours, you’ll be bitterly disappointed, at least in the early years. When you are your own boss there is no such thing as paid vacation or sick days. You either work and make money or you stay home and go broke. At my old job I took two weeks vacation and one week for continuing education every year.  In the three years I’ve been open I managed to take 3 long weekends and 4 full days off in a row total and that was for a work conference. If I’m not there, I’m not making money. So I work.
  • Sick days don’t exist. To expand on the above, nobody is paying you to curl up on the couch and feel sorry for yourself. You go to work. I’ve taken one sick day in three years and that was when I was vomiting non stop.
  • There will always be more work to do. At the end of the day your pile of stuff to do will be ever present. This really got to me early on. I needed to be done with everything, everyday. It isn’t possible. You have into learn to be ok with putting things off until tomorrow then bumping it again when a new top priority item comes up.
  • You have to learn to leave work at work. As with the above, it is really easy to never stop working. With so much to always do, it can be hard to turn it off. You have to force yourself to clock out or you will burn out.
  • You have to learn to sell yourself. I know, you are amazing at what you do. But here’s the thing. Nobody else knows that. Not yet. Get prepared to sell yourself and your skills all day every day. Eventually your work will speak for itself, but in the beginning you are a nobody. One of the best pieces of advise I go twas to not hang the shingle and expect the phone to ring. I spent every Friday for months taking bagels around to referral sources and introducing myself. It was hard to do, but it got me business.
  • Stay true to yourself.  Chasing easy money is very tempting when you are broke, but trust me, you will regret it later. Stick to your own morals and beliefs. People will trust you better when they know where you stand, so don’t be afraid to take that stance. It may turn some people away in the beginning, but the long term will pay off.
  • Always be kind. But stay firm. In business, it never pays to be mean. People talk and they are far more likely to complain or bad mouth you than praise, so be careful. You are more than allowed to fire someone from your business, but do it nicely and make sure it is worth it to not only lose that person, but also their entire social circle. Likewise, the customer is not always right, sometimes they are just trying to rip you off. Stay positive, don’t get dragged into a fight, but also stay firm and don’t get taken advantage of.
  • Be prepared to go broke, make some money and go broke again. Starting your own business is a risk and hopefully it plays out well for you. In the beginning though, you will go broke. It will seem like the worst idea on the planet and you will question your sanity. Stick with it, make changes as needed and hang tight. If you put your all into it, have something decent to offer and work hard it will pay off in the long run.
  • You have to have long term goals. In the beginning, just staying around long enough to pay your bills seems a hard enough task, however, if you don’t make long term plans you will burn out quickly. Its very stressful to always worry about paying the bills and getting more clients, so take time to envision what 3 years will look like, 5 years, 10 years.
  • Don’t forget to enjoy it. Its hard work. You work nearly non stop and even when you are at home you are thinking about work. I get it. But you started this business for a reason, so enjoy the ride. Celebrate little victories along the way.

10 thoughts on “Things I Learned Owning My Own Business

  1. Well stated advice. Those I know that tried their own businesses could have used this advice. I find having moved into management the Leave it at Work is such hard advice to follow. It’s so easy to let all the crap haunt your precious off time.

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  2. Definitely sounds like sacrifices either way – totally agreed tho that we have to make choices for our own best interests and quality of life!

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  3. This post is amazing!! And all so true, at least in my experience. People frequently try to encourage me to take time off because I “make my own schedule”. They don’t seem to understand that I can’t take time off if I want to make ends meet. You definitely have to have a good work ethic to be your own boss.

    I struggle with leaving work at work, but it is so so so important to do it. One thing I found helpful was setting “business hours” and not taking calls or messages outside of those times. It’s tough since my cell phone *is* my business phone, but it has helped with my stress level immensely. I was so afraid to hurt people’s feelings, but they’ve respected the boundaries I set without question.

    And yes, being true to yourself is difficult, but also so important. There are clients who would be easy money, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, so I leave them alone.

    Yes yes yes to the broke-money-broke cycle! For me, it’s seasonal. Every summer, the money is great. And every winter, I deplete my cushion to make it through. It was really scary at first, but I’ve sort of gotten used to it.

    This may be my second favorite entry of yours (first one being your 100 mile ride story!) Great list.

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