I've run businesses as a solopreneur since I was 15. It's always been my thing, although it took me until university to really figure out what direction I wanted to go in. From those early days to today, I've seen it all and dealt with a ton of common realities of working for yourself. Luckily, I grew up with a mum who was also an entrepreneur, so I somewhat knew what I was getting into. But for other people, you might not be aware or ever thought about these things. Solopreneurship is often romanticized as having incredible freedom and short work hours, and while in a way you're given a lot more control over your daily life, in others it's far more challenging than you can imagine.
Here are some of the things NOBODY will tell you about running your own business, and what you can do about them:
1. You're not obligated to take on work or clients that you don't want.
True first-time hustlers want to squeeze in as many clients as possible. They're desperate to transition from amateur to professional and make a real living. This regularly leads to people ignoring their red flag sensors and working with clients that really aren't a great fit for them. And this leads to a ton of issues down the line.
Here's the truth: working with a bad-fit, high-maintenance client is hardly ever worth the money. But, if you have to take on the client (god forbid), you can also follow this next tip...
2. You're not obligated to share all of your work.
Nor is it advisable! When you first start out you feel this chip on your shoulder: you want to prove to the world that you are legit. But sharing work from a client that wasn't a great fit will only lead to you booking more of those types of clients. Show only what you want to keep booking. Quality > quantity, darling.
3. Highs and lows are a real thing.
When you book your highest package or you're working on a project you're 100% passionate about, you totally feel like Beyoncé. But then shit hits the fan and you wonder why you didn't just go the 9-5 route like everyone else. And repeat.
I like to call this the Hype-Static complex, and you can read more about this here.
4. The four hour work week doesn't exist, especially not at the beginning.
I'm quite positive that during my busy season, I'm working crazy hours. Like, 80-100 a week. But the difference between now and when I first started, is I'm not working those hours because I'm desperate to make ends meet. Instead, I'm working those hours because I really love what I do an am a hustler to my core. In my mind, there is no ceiling and I have a set time on this earth to make my dreams happen. I'm sure down the line I'll want a better balance year round, but while I'm physically able to work like this, I'm happy to.
That being said, there are definitely ways that I've structured my business to have off time, be it for travel (here's how) or decompressing.
5. What worked for someone else might not work for you. There is no "one way" to succeed.
Expose yourself to as many unique strategies as possible. Exclusively following one methodology leaves you with your hands tied.
Just because someone you follow "made it" by doing something specific, doesn't mean that this strategy will even fit your business or personality. Ultimately, there is only one of that person, you have to be savvy enough to figure out what the right steps are for you.
6. It's totally okay to change directions.
The first business I ever had was a fashion and lifestyle magazine. I was 15. When I was in university, it was time to throw in the towel. Not because it wasn't succeeding; the mag was actually crazy popular for a side hustle. I realized that while I loved design & fashion photography, I didn't want to be stuck dealing with a more superficial industry (editorials & beauty articles don't do it for me). Having the insight to move on allowed me to "open a window" to new opportunities, like my wedding photography and, eventually, Odds + Ends Creative!
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7. Self-employment can be lonely.
If you work a 9-5, you probably see people all day and can't wait to not have to be social (pyjamas and Netflix FO LYFE). But when you work for yourself, your daily social interactions all have to be scheduled, which
1) makes personal social time seem like a lot more effort and
2) can make you a bit stir crazy.
You'll find yourself talking to inanimate objects or talking to your dog just to make sure you still have a voice. You'll also go from a corporate getup to wearing sweats or yoga pants 90% of the time (let's be REAL, people).
8. Success does not happen overnight.
I don't care what young famous blogger you're following that has given you some misled expectations. Unless you stumble upon gold or have amazing connections, you will be hustling HARD for your first few years at least. There are of course ways to hustle smarter, not harder, but hustle you must. Expect hard work and long hours to make those dreams happen.
9. Responsibility is heavy. Back-breaking heavy.
You ARE your business when you're a solopreneur. A month without a booking can mean that you are behind on bills if you're not careful. A week long vacation without automated posts or activity can make you lose your momentum. Any wrong move with a client can cause issues for months.
You have to be confident and able to brush things off your shoulders if you're a solopreneur. You also need to plan well and have a thorough system for organizing your business.
10. No employer = no benefits/entitlements.
When you're the sole earner of every penny in your business, spending that money seems a lot more substantial (especially when you're just getting started and don't have as much security). You'll actually have to think about health and dental plans, and you don't get time off unless you book it yourself!
11. "And you make a living doing that?" is a common question.
People always feel qualified to give unsolicited advice. You'll have to deal with this, but you have to make sure you take nothing personally. You don't have to prove yourself to anyone, and it really doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. They can go enjoy their 9-5's, hour-long commutes, and crazy bosses!
12. You'll miss the steady paychecks.
If you're in a year-round industry, you'll feel a little less stressed out about this. But if you work in an on-season/off-season industry, like the wedding industry, then you'll have to deal with the pain in the tush of stretching out paychecks. Plus, a significant percentage of that income goes back into your business, be it for taxes or other investments! What your business makes is definitely not what you make.
13. The undesirable realities won't matter if you love what you do and stick with it.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how ratty your top knot is, how much further behind you are than another entrepreneur, or that you had to stay up until the wee hours to make a client deadline. If you truly love what you do it doesn't feel like work.
If you're truly meant to be a creative entrepreneur, you'll be much happier working 80 hours for yourself than 40 for someone else.