Many of us find a traditional career path to be stifling, especially after we have kids, and the number of hours we can toil away at the office becomes more limited. The happiest women I know are the ones who either work part-time or are self-employed.
My friend Laura Scholes is no exception. Laura is a wife, mom of a six-year-old, and founder of the copywriting and branding firm, Story House Creative. I’ve known Laura long enough to know she works hard, and because her work is deadline-driven, it can sometimes be stressful. But because she’s her own boss, she can work in those random weekday errands or pick up her daughter early one or two days a week, and there have been many times that the two of us started our work day with a hike up the fire trail in Tilden Park.
I asked Laura what advice she would give women who want to start their own businesses, and she whipped up the following guest post:
Guest Post by Laura Scholes
I was raised by a worker. A get-up-at-4am-to-get-a-jump-on-the-day dad who believed that having a job was a prerequisite to, well, anything. In my house, all the clichés held: work before play, work like a dog, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, etc.
My first job was selling greeting cards door-to-door. Age? 6. Then starting at 14, I worked all the jobs I could legally do: Cashier at a grocery store. Stocking the salad bar at a local roast beef sandwich place. And one particularly grueling summer spent in a basement walking around a conference table collating sales catalogs.
After college and the requisite couple of years working in publishing in New York after, I moved to New Orleans where a New York résumé didn’t mean jack; jobs were scarce and journalism jobs practically non-existent. But after a month of scrounging, I realized there were journalism “gigs.” And if I worked hard enough (thanks Dad!), I could piece together enough of those gigs to create a reasonable facsimile of a career.
And so I stepped off the grid and became what I have been ever since: Self Employed.
I can’t say it’s always been easy. There have been some pretty lean years along the way. And even when things are going well, it’s really, really hard, (even after all these years!), to not get a bit freaked out when there’s a lull in project-land.
But the bottom line is there is nothing better than sucking up the courage and figuring out a way to go solo, especially if you’re a working mom balancing the gazillion things that needed to be done yesterday.
I was so glad to reminded of this when I read Katrina’s oh-so-amazing book. Though I could identify with so many of her struggles, I haven’t punched a clock for anyone else well over a decade, and I had forgotten how much control you give away when you sign that W-4.
So for anyone contemplating hanging out their own shingle, I thought I’d give a few tips that might help you take that first step.
1. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur. Or even an extrovert.
If you’ve been working in a corporate environment, it may feel like going out on your own means you have to have that crazy entrepreneur gene to make it work. You don’t. Yes, you do have to change your mindset about pursuing work versus having people just dump it on you, especially at first. But the more you can own whatever it is that you’re talented in and stand proud in that, the more work will come your way. You don’t have to go to every networking breakfast and pass out business cards like a politician. You don’t have to chase down a dozen different tangential business ideas to get something to stick. You just have to do your thing—well.
2. Speaking of which, you do have a “thing.” I promise.
In the course of my self-employed life, I’ve toyed with pursuing dozens of careers that are wildly different from what I do. House appraiser. Life coach. Real estate agent. Location scout. Dog walker. But every time I started digging into something new, it immediately became clear: writing is my thing. And it has been since I was in 5th grade and was asked to read my “prose poem” in front of the entire school at an assembly. Sitting in a cubicle, it may not seem obvious, but you have a thing, too, and it will really, really help if you find it and own it. Try thinking back to when you were a kid. What were the things you loved to do (or that people commented on)? Just this one thing can help you hone in on the particular talent you have that the world needs more of.
3. Be prepared to trade one boss for a whole lot of bosses (and why this isn’t a bad thing).
If only it were as easy as saying, “I’m my own boss!” like they do in those late-night, get-rich-quick infomercials. But the reality for most self-employed people is that your clients are your bosses, not you. If they call you at 4pm on Friday with an emergency project due Monday at 9am, you make it happen. You may charge them more for the “emergency” part, but you do it. Without bitching and moaning (except maybe to your husband). If this sounds like something you’re trying to get away from, I promise you that helping a good client get out of a jam is WAYYY more fulfilling—and financially rewarding—than those extra hours you’ve worked at your job to clean up somebody else’s mess.
4. You may not be boss, but you are in control (usually).
So it’s been established that I’ve got the work-like-a-dog gene. But because I have my own company, I can usually figure out how to get that work done on a schedule that works for me. Of course there are those emergency projects. And yes, I’ve got a calendar full of conference calls that can’t be blown off. But if I want to work in my daughter’s classroom for an hour on Fridays, I do it. If I want to see my acupuncturist, I can make a 10:30 am appointment if my calendar agrees. This doesn’t mean I work less—I’ll make up the “lost” time after my daughter goes to bed or on the weekends—but it does mean I can say to a client/boss, “Sorry, I’m booked that day at 9:00; could we do it at 11:00?” And nine times out of ten, that’s just fine.
5. Start small, but please start.
As with most transitions in life—having a kid, getting married, getting a divorce—there’s not going to be a perfect alignment of the planets that will make it easier to get started. And it may feel incredibly overwhelming to think about recalibrating your life in this way. But if you do like Anne Lamott suggests and take it “bird by bird” (step by step), you can make this happen. You don’t have to wait until you have a fancy website or a 40-page business plan vetted by a Harvard MBA. You’re smart. You’re talented. You’re connected. Take those invaluable assets and just get started with something small. With a little patience, some trial and error, and a lot of tenacity, you’ll be wondering why it took you so long to say goodbye to grid-life and hello to sanity—and a much happier family life.
Have you been contemplating going solo? Tell us in the comments about your solo career dreams. Already jumped off the grid? Share your own tips!