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Happy anniversary to me! This April, I’m celebrating 16 years of having my own business.. Today, I’d like to share with you the top 10 lessons I’ve learned—some silly, some serious:
1) Don’t neglect your marketing
Even though I’m in PR/marketing, many times, I tend to put my own marketing last. So, the last couple of years, I’ve made a concentrated effort to do a better job. Last year, my anniversary gift to myself was a new logo. This year, it’s a newly designed web site.
2) You truly can work in your PJs when you work for yourself
Just be careful when that Skype call comes in that you’ve at least brushed your hair.
3) You can never be too connected
Make sure to build that network before you need it, so it will be there for you at all times. Because, as a self-employed person, you never know what you might need to call on your network for--help, referrals, troubleshooting, brainstorming--you learn to have your go-to resources for each of these.
4) If you claim to wear all the hats, be sure you’re ready to wear them
If you’re not a self-starter, freelancing may not be for you. Of course, you can always hire pros to tackle the tasks you’re not so fond of. I wouldn’t trade my accountant, for example.
Creative problem-solving is a must. Because you’re not surrounded by an office full of co-workers, you’ll need to be able to find solutions to a lot of your own problems—or have folks you can call on. You’ll learn quickly how to resolve printer issues, the best way to send a package and how to cater a meeting. Believe me, it’s worth it.
5) You supply your own coffee: So buy a Keurig!
...And join Costco/Sam’s Club to save on K-cups.
6) Be ready for the peaks—and the valleys
You can prepare for the peaks by having a list of subcontractors at-the-ready when you need some help to handle all your client projects. You can prepare for the valleys by making sure to save some cash and not getting too sure of yourself.
7) You make your own schedule—which can be a blessing and a curse
Sure, you can take the afternoon off and have lunch with your sister or go to the school play—just make sure you plan to catch up on whatever you’ve missed by working later in the evening, or on Saturday morning. Don’t let your freedom lead you to the point where you’re scrambling to meet your deadlines.
8) Clients may assume you work all hours of the day and night
Yes, this can be a hazard of working for yourself, but honestly, I’ve never found it to be a problem. And really, it’s a small price to pay for the perks of being your own boss.
More often than not, clients are respectful of your schedule. And, I truly don’t mind answering email on the weekends…I’m sort of addicted to email anyway!
Just make sure to communicate when you’ll be out of the office for more than a day….most of us check messages frequently but there may be days when you really don’t want to be “on call.” If so, just let them know that. Give them a way to reach you if there’s truly an emergency, and enjoy your time off.
9) Experience matters
This is probably even more the case when you’re working on your own. When you work for yourself, you need to call on that experience often, so make sure you’ve built a solid base of work experience before flying solo.
For example, I’m steeped in a background including full-time experience at corporations, nonprofits and agencies. I’ve worked on both sides of the fence, as a reporter and as a PR practitioner. I also gained experience working at a public TV and radio station before setting sail on my own.
All of this has come in handy, as I work with clients from different backgrounds and industries. It doesn’t hurt your network-building, either—you can call on your former colleagues when you need to.
10) And the most important thing I’ve learned from having my own business...
(drumroll, please!)....I’m so glad I made the leap because I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s nothing better than loving what you do and having the opportunity to do it on your own terms.
Do I have to answer to clients? Yes. Am I slave to the media? Sure, sometimes. But, at the end of the day, I decide who to work with and have the ability to approach my work according to my philosophy. And that’s pretty priceless.
Michelle Messenger Garrett is a public relations consultant, speaker and award-winning writer with more than 20 years of agency, corporate, startup and Silicon Valley experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Ragan's PR Daily and Muck Rack.