“Become the leader of your life. Lead yourself to where you want to be. Breathe life back into your ambitions, your desires, your goals, your relationships.” — Steve Maraboli
I celebrated my first year in business last week – 25 October to be precise! When someone asked me how that year had been and I said, “well, I must be doing something right, I’m still here!” and that made me reflect a on how that year had been, and I thought I would be worth sharing some of my story. Indulge me!
I’ve always loved designing websites – from the very first one way back in 1998. Even though I didn’t know anything about anything to do with websites – it was very new – I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I have to confess that I had to ask some very embarrassing questions and I am thankful that my wonderful team waited until I was out of the room before they fell about laughing. That some people ask me some of those same kinds of questions today just demonstrates that there is still so much knowledge that I can share and educate my clients in the process.
Before I talked my way into that first website redevelopment project in 1998, I’d done design, desktop publishing, new business presentations, customer service, account management, event management, print management, making the coffee, answering the phones, and a host of other jobs, primarily in advertising and marketing agencies. That was the decade of the long lunch (the 80’s) and it was a blast! All of that experience was incredibly useful when the decision to start freelancing (and ultimately setting up Leumesin Design) was thrust upon me in 2011. I think the intention had always been there to do this, but the motivation had waned – I had a (paid) job that I loved and thought I’d always have it. When you’re comfortable, and secure, the motivation to throw yourself out there is, well, not nearly so immediate!
I had had passing thoughts about taking some long service leave – you know the kind of thing “wouldn’t it be nice to take a year off” … well all I can say is be careful what you wish for! The universe sometimes answers in the most unexpected way and in early December 2010, in a short 10 minute meeting I found myself jobless. Well, not immediately jobless, there was the inevitable process to be endured, but nonetheless, that job I loved had been made redundant. All I did was sit there, stunned, thinking “don’t cry, don’t cry” and “how can I get out of here”. It was a blow which I likened to a death in the family. Seems ridiculous now that I should’ve been so affected, but I was, and the grieving process continued for some time. I don’t actually think I’m still over it completely and news of more redundancies at that same organisation can take me right back there. My ‘radar’ was on silent – I managed their web environment – I thought I was safe. How wrong I was! Long story short, the mechanics of the redundancy took a very long time to grind, and I finally got “the letter” on Valentine’s Day 2011. I was gone two days later and every bit of ‘evidence’ that I ever worked there – 20 years of my life – was scrubbed out completely.
“Made me learn a little bit faster, Made my skin a little bit thicker, makes me that much smarter, So thanks for making me a fighter.” — Christina Aguilera – Fighter Lyrics
So, I got my year off in a completely unexpected way, and ever the optimist, I did find many positives in the situation. I did some serious renovation and gardening jobs at home, was an at-home mother for the first time and my beautiful girls were quite unused to the whole idea of that!
I fell in love with New York, started an interior design course, and then at the end of 2011, when a former colleague asked me to quote on a website redevelopment project, I thought OK, the time is right to get back to work! I registered my business name, thought about doing my own website, ordered some business cards, and then I broke my wrist. Bummer! I was in a cast for 6 weeks and it took probably 4-6 months after that before I could spend a great deal of time doing anything productive. I should say here that my idea of productive was close to workaholic! A friend said to me that perhaps the universe was telling me the timing wasn’t right after all, and I should just go with the flow. Considering that I barely able to pick up a pen, let alone use a mouse, I had no choice.
Six months later, most people would never have known how I was feeling – miserable, depressed, and wondering what I was going to do and I really had not much of an idea about how to start! Working from home can be very isolating and another thing that most people don’t know was that by then, I was on NewStart – a redundancy package lasts only so long – and those visits to Centrelink were totally demoralising. I’d never not had a job before, so it was around then that I started looking at how I could get some help to get the business going.
What I found was the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) – an outstanding program for people in all kinds of situations who want to start their own business and put in my business proposal. That was successful, and I was enrolled into a Certificate in Micro Business Operations. The course was brilliant, small class of 10 or so people, some of whom have become great friends, and our tutor, Sydney, was fabulous. We were all different people by the end of those 12 weeks, much more confident, business plans in hand. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I can’t believe I thought I could start a business without a plan, and it’s scary how many business do just that. I know that flying by the seat of your pants can be good, but having a plan is so much better!
A wonderful part of the NEIS program is our business mentor and Sue Hughes from ETC Ltd was mine. Without her support and help, I’m not sure how I would’ve managed. She listened to me on good days and bad, referred business to me, gave me some great advice, and has become a friend. On one particularly low day after I’d whinged on her shoulder for what must have seemed like far too long – not much new business was coming in, and I really was starting to think I couldn’t do it – I went home and dusted myself off, and within a week, I had several new clients, and a waiting list!!
And here I am, one year later, and despite the low days (or weeks) that do still happen, I’ve achieved a lot, and I am looking forward to Year 2!
In my first 12 months, I’ve
- Created around 25 websites, business cards, flyers, social media pages and more, for some awesome clients.
- Received Highly Commended for Best Home Based Business of the Year at the Northern Star-Lismore Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards.
- Placed third in the Elegant Themes Customer Showcase Contest for Cranky Cow Milk.
- Written a guest post for the Elegant Themes Customer Showcase.
- Started the Leumesin Design Weekly.
- Tried to get a handle on Facebook, Linked In and Pinterest. Google+ is still a mystery to me!
- Been active with the Stella Network, and the Lismore Chamber of Commerce.
- Started writing a series of Website Kits about planning, creating and publishing a website. Definitely a work in progress, but available soon!
- Started plan-create-publish-websites.com (morphed to The Website School in 2016) – a resource and info site covering anything to do with how businesses get their websites up and running. It’s new – only got it out there on the weekend so it’s still very very new with not a lot there (yet)!!
- Been invited to pitch for, and have subsequently won projects, which involved a competitive process.
- Had some fabulous feedback from my clients and learned the power of word of mouth marketing.
And, here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way (in no particular order)…
- Work with clients you like – if there isn’t a connection, the work you do for them will be good, but it could be great!
- Accept help! (On that low day when I was feeling sorry for myself, a total stranger put a $100 gift card in my letterbox. I still don’t know who was responsible for that incredibly kind gesture, but it was such a boost and a turning point and within a week the phone was ringing again!!)
- Give back, and pay it forward… and that leads to …
- Trusting that the universe will look after you. I know that sounds a bit flaky, but it works for me (even if it gets a bit scary sometimes)!
- Don’t spend all of your time working in your business, you have to spend time working on your business. If forget that sometimes!
- Always have business cards with you!
- Be open to learning new skills. I love designing and building websites, but have actually discovered quite by chance, that I like mentoring and coaching businesses about how their online activities can really boost their business. Do as I say, not as I do!!
- Don’t work 24/7 – it’s OK to take a day off sometimes. Hmmm
- Get out of your own way and get out of your comfort zone.
- The power and pitfalls of the dreaded cash-flow – I think that would have to be the biggest challenge for micro and small businesses.
- Don’t take things personally – it’s for your client not you!
- Breath. It’s going to be OK! I even had that tattoo’d on my wrist so I see it all the time!