139 Days of Entrepreneurship

…or as I like to call it: earning money wearing my jim-jams. 

entrepreneurship funny, day in the life of an entrepreneur

When Jon and I agreed on this decision of mine to quit the corporate world and go at it on my own, we were terrified. But then before I’d finished my notice period I’d signed 3 retainer clients so we weren’t terrified for very long. And then for various reasons all 3 of the retainer clients fell through and we were terrified again. One whole month went by where I earned a grand total of R2700 and I was eyeing the job market reluctantly. Suddenly those emails from recent weeks that I’d stored away looked comforting, especially the ones from really rad agencies asking me over for coffee “to chat about future opportunities”.

But that’s not why I did this. I didn’t do it for (just) the money. It was the work/life balance that I was after. And what better way to balance your home life than by incorporating it into you office life too! Cue facepalms for days, right? But – miraculously – I’ve made it work. I have set working hours, with an option to ditch them all and climb into bed to watch a movie on the really cold days (where deadlines are not looming, obvs), and the flexibility to drop what I’m doing and fetch my son from school because his eyes are too watery / temp is rising / has another nappy rash / whatever other reason the school might come up with to avoid contamination in the baby center. At 4pm, the MacBook gets closed and the baby comes home with my life sidekick, and family mode kicks in until after I’ve dropped Aiden back at school the next morning. I am very proud that I don’t work after hours – I don’t take business calls unless absolutely urgent, I try not check emails on my phone and I certainly don’t do admin for the office during family time. This is all very new to me, and I’m loving it.

Amazingly, the last two months have been fantastic income wise, and I’ve learnt to start storing nuts for the quieter wintery months when the squirrel isn’t as in demand because let’s never have a repeat of May 2016 again thankyouverybloodymuch. I’ve stumbled onto a sort of business model that seems to be working very well for me, which helps. It structures my working life so that it no longer feels like I’m ace out on my own flailing in this giant office without direction.

So far, I’m living on the following philosophies that seem to be working so far:

  1. Quote like you don’t need the business – that way you don’t feel guilted into cutting yourself short just to get an acceptance.
  2. Use a professional accounting system – not only does it look like you have it together, it actually allows you to have it together. I have lost track of how many times I’ve had to go back into archives to see what was quoted / accepted / declined / outstanding / completed over the last few weeks. When business is booming, you can’t be expected to be your own traffic manager and finance director. I use Sage One, but I believe FreshBooks is also pretty good.
  3. Use an actual Accountant. For your accounting, obvs, but also to do your bill collections. Nothing strains a client relationship like having to follow up on asking for your own money. It’s my worst!
  4. Don’t take lengthy meetings until the client is a done thing (this is not for everyone, granted). One of the biggest challenges I’ve had so far is how many people ask me to a meeting and then pillage my brain for an hour, for free! My IP and knowledge and experience are my business “products”, and to withhold those products at meetings is very difficult unless you want to really look like a schloep. So I’ve learnt to ask for an agenda for meetings that cannot be avoided before fees are negotiated. That way I am clear on what their expectations are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received emails from unknown randoms requesting meetings to “come up with ideas and brainstorm with the team” (yes, really). To these emails I politely reply with my hourly rate and estimation of how many hours to expect to pay. I generally don’t hear back from those guys and that’s ok.
  5. Ask for a 50% deposit on first-time client invoices. It might sound odd, but it reinforces that you are a valuable partner and are worth “securing”. It also covers you for any work that you do and might not get paid for on time – I find new clients are a bother when it comes to billing, takes a month or so before they really get you on the books for on time payment.
  6. Strive for the ‘B’ client. ‘A’ clients are the flashy, demanding and high profile clients who are time consuming. ‘C’ clients are penny pinchers and question everything you recommend with their own ideas of how they think it should be done (against best practice, usually). ‘B’ clients challenge you where it counts, but trust in your value and experience. ‘B’ clients also always pay on time.
  7. Don’t be a jack of all trades. It’s ok to refer work onwards to someone you trust to do a better job than you can. Clients respect the honesty and it frees you up to concentrate on what you’re good at.
  8. Following #7, Try new things even if they scare you. In my 8 years of social media professional employment, I’d never been challenged to put together a B2B social media strategy and my first ever big client hired me to do one for them. The things I learned about myself, my industry! To date it is one of my favourite ever projects and it has completely changed my perception of the B2B marketing world. As a bonus I seem to have attracted quite a few more B2B strategies since, which is fantastic.
  9. Empower your clients to empower themselves. It’s no good hiding your know-how and function from your client – ignorance is not always bliss. So many people do this to come across as indispensable when all it ends up doing is getting themselves fired for another supplier who will share know-how. I love showing clients how to do things themselves – it builds up trust and respect and the next time they need consultation on an internal campaign or project I’ll be the one they call because I helped them to begin with.
  10. Try not take it personally. It’s hard when your business is your baby, it’s hard not to take any bit of criticism personally. I was told not so long ago that my rates were far too expensive, yet when compared to other industry specialists I found myself very much on par, often with a lot more experience to bring to the party. The fact that clients are happily paying the rates should have been enough for me but in that moment, I second guessed it all and lost at least a day’s work worrying over something that shouldn’t have mattered.

It’s a bumpy ride, this entrepreneurship thing, but I’m so comfortable in this space and I’m gaining more and more experience with every project I do. It’s a hell of a thing knowing your speciality, but having to relearn it as a business owner rather than an employee. Liberating, actually.

2 comments

  1. Azima says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I am starting my own company for exactly the same reasons as spending more time with my child and having more flexibility, and its really helped me put things in perspective. This world of entrepreneurship is shit scary after a corporate job!

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