7 Lessons in 13 Years
Lucky me: I've been fortunate enough to be self-employed for 13 years. My endeavor for eLearning voiceover, Voicewise, is the start of a new leg in my journey, but I first went solo back in 2006. Whoohooo!
No one can fully predict the twists and turns of their career (or life in general) but here are 7 things I've learned that may help guide a new small business owner or solopreneur.
1. FOLLOW THE LOVE. Most people become self employed because they are ready to free themselves from the constraints of a traditional job or they want to fulfill a dream. Either way: there's passion involved. The longer you are successful at doing your own thing, the more your "shiny new" situation may take on a conventional feel. Any entrepreneur has to do a certain amount of practical, common sense things to run their business. For me, those auditions in my in-box aren't going to record themselves! But be careful not to trend too far away from the passion that motivated you to strike out on your own in the first place. Do things you love and send them into the world-- this should always be your north star.
2. LEARN NEW THINGS. A year ago, I wasn't posting articles on LinkedIn. In fact, I wasn't on LinkedIn at all! I had decided years back that I didn't want to "deal" with the site and deleted my profile. But I hadn't really taken any time to talk to friends and colleagues about how to network on the site and stay plugged into my industry. Even though I still have a lot of learn about LinkedIn, I realized that I should always be open to new skills and insight. When you're running your own show, it's up to YOU to keep up and stay on the ball.
3. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF. Even though I did a 180 on LinkedIn and haven't been a great "schmoozer" over the years, for a long time I was lucky enough that consistent networking was something "other" people had to do. When I was rebooting my profile on this site and learning about new avenues to market myself, I resolved that I was okay with being out of my comfort zone... but not to the point that I felt sleazy. Early in my journey, I occasionally forced myself to "push" my services on other people. I felt like that's what freelancers "had to do." Every time, it was icky and awkward. Bottom line: if it feels weird and off-putting: ditch it. If it feels aligned with your heart: keep it up.
4. EVERYTHING ENDS. Fans of the classic HBO show "Six Feet Under" may remember this as the tagline for the final season. Well, I won't get too mired down in mortality, but the same concept applies to your current list of clients. Sooner or later, each one of them will go away. Be of great service to them as long as you can, and keep beating the bushes as you're able to drum up new work.
5. "IT WILL COME BACK" This is a mantra I learned from a long time friend and fellow voiceover talent. She would say it to me whenever I was feeling skittish about a slow week or month. And, she was always right. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you'll hit a soft patch. It's ok... it's part of the ride. As long as you keep up with marketing basics and do good work, the tide will turn. Trust me.
6. PLAY HOOKY. Another friend and more seasoned freelancer told me this when I was starting out. When the jobs aren't coming in and things seem "quiet... too quiet!" Take the day and go for a hike. Or a bike ride. Or see a matinee. Or check out a museum. Never forget to occasionally touch into the magical truth that You Are Your Own Boss. Life's short: be Ferris Bueller once in a while.
7. SAVE FOR A RAINY DAY. If you want to take the advice directly above, you'd be wise to follow this one, too. Few things will ease your anxiety more when work is slow than money in the bank. If you sock away cash when you're riding high, your account balance will help you sleep at night when things are not as stable. Don't worry, you're gonna be alright (see #5) ... but in the meantime, having a back up fund is a sturdy shield against stress.
Over the 13 years I've been a solo voiceover talent, I've never pined for my old job or its conventional trappings. The trade-off for this freedom and the joy that it brings is the occasional specter of uncertainty. But uncertain times are when I took stock of my situation, learned new skills, and found a way forward. It's the yin yang of running your own business, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Maybe you've been self employed for a while and want to add some lessons of your own.... feel free to add to my list in the comments. :)