Whilst I am still providing small amounts of web work to various long term clients these days, I am currently in a full-time 9-5 position as a web application developer. It’s been a refreshing change and has allowed me some time to gather my thoughts about my experiences in going self-employed in the web design industry.
I consider my venture into self-employment over a period of five years an amazing part of my life; but from a business perspective I failed spectacularly in many ways and learnt many lessons. Web design has moved on these days – competition has become fierce and prices have dropped unless you have emerged as a large web services company catering for medium to large corporations. One man bands will become increasingly side lined in my opinion (but that’s a topic for another time!). Anyway, these are the lessons that I have learnt along the way…
You have to be fundamentally happy before you can successfully run a business
One of the major reasons for the failure in my first web design business was simply that fundamentally I wasn’t happy. I had assumed that if I worked hard and made a success of my business then this would make me happy and so all the hard work would eventually pay off. However, what I’ve learnt since this time was that whilst business can bring you some adrenaline fueled excitement and definately a buzz or two along the road, you have to be at your very essence, a happy person – even before you start ‘succeeding’.
One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve ever been constrained by, is simply the thought that ‘I will be happy when X happens.’ In reality, if you are waiting for a certain point in the future to be happy, then this means you’re going to be unhappy in the present moment. Maybe being unhappy doesn’t mean that you are deeply. deeply unsettled – it can just mean that you are being negative and a bit despondent.
Let’s look at the reality of the situation – if you start a business and you are, at a certain level, unhappy (often trying to plaster positive thinking on top) then this will show through eventually in your work, in how you interact with other people, and in your business leadership. Whilst succeeding in your business may bring you temporary happiness (and by happiness I’m talking about serenity, peacefulness and a genuine joy of being) what happens when things go bad and times get tough?
I often take a look at the people I’ve known who have done well and I ask myself whether they were intrinsically ‘happy’ in themselves. In all cases, they were – not because of their success but because they were already fairly happy and positive people. One or two of them were quite aggressive and strict leaders, but they still had that ‘happiness’ in them, albeit in their own style.
So before you embark on any business venture, first work on the foundations since time spent doing this is well invested. The biggest foundation is your personal happiness which comes internally from yourself and not from anything external at all. You’ll then realise that you are happy now, and you’ll still be happy when you succeed in your business future – but you’re likely to get there at least 20% faster if everyday you are happy.
There are a number of ways to increase your happiness and all of them involve change to your behaviour, perceptions and thought patterns. Anything else is often superficial. Of course, you can still achieve running a successful business if you are a consistently unhappy person (read ‘negative’ also for ‘unhappy’) but you will be constantly trying to push yourself up a steep hill because every so often you will have to fight to overcome your unhappiness in order to make the business processes happen.
So, remember, working on your happiness *before* you start a business can be time really well spent, and also it makes the whole ‘business journey’ a lot more fun.
Just because you are good at web design/IT/programming doesn’t mean you can run a business successfully
This took me a while to really come to terms with, and the book e-myth really goes into this in a lot more depth. I’d recommend that book to anyone looking to form a start up. Maybe I’ll make a post on it in the future before I embark on my next adventure. Basically, there are many, many aspects of business that you need to ensure you’re dealing with on a regular basis. Here are some basic ones off the top of my head :
- Regularly updating your accounts spreadsheet so it’s ready to be sent off to the accountant when needed.
- Regularly updating your accounts paperwork so you don’t have a mad rush to find all your invoices and receipts at the end of a tax year
- Knowing about accountancy!
- Keeping an eye on your bottom line (which you can do by doing the above)
- Keeping all your other business paperwork in order
- Get a good, organised and affordable accountant, but keep on top of what’s going on
- Properly read your end of year business accounts so you understand your business more
- Keep a database of all your customers and network so you can contact them all at any time
- Have a time every week for sending out invoices
- Have a time every week for chasing up payments
- Get appropriate insurance (just in case)
There are some real basic aspects of being self-employed that would take care of the foundational business side of things. You can eventually delegate this sort of stuff to other people but it helps to have done it yourself beforehand before you start creating systems to take care of this (a lot of this can be automated with IT).
Very important! Your business should work for you, not you working for your business.
This principle can easily be taken the wrong way if you don’t understand the ethos behind it. Essentially, if I were to look back at my self-employed web designer years I would say very simply that because I worked around the clock and didn’t allow room for a social life, that I eventually burnt out and failed in business. Working as a web designer means you can get out and about and work from anywhere. If you have to work every day, you can choose to work in different locations away from your home or office. If you are effectively a remote worker, then take advantage of it!
I think that ensuring that your business is improving your quality of life *now* rather than at a point in the future is a good way of keeping your spirits up and being enthusiastic for what you do. The amount of people I see, including my past self, slaving away for a ‘better future’ is incredible. Enjoy life now. It still means you work hard, but you work according to your own rules.
So the first step in getting your business to work for you, I would personally say is simply decide what core hours you are going to work. Work only those hours and in your spare time go and do all those awesome things that you’ve always wanted to do. Start working on your personal goals at the same time as running your business. Take time out in the day to get to the gym and enjoy a swim. Enjoy the aspects of your self-employed life, which are essentially, you get to define when you work.
Stay on top of your money situation