6 Things I've Learned Working for Myself for 6 Months
Many of you reading know I went to Ibiza in 2015 for about 7 months. Yes, I was working then, but I consider Ibiza my ‘gap year’ adventure. Real life started when I arrived back on British soil – although I wouldn’t be where I am today without Ibiza.These past 6 months have been difficult beyond belief, life affirming, fun, tiring and incredibly worthwhile. June marks the first month of working for myself where I have made enough money to cover all my costs, personal and business.So to celebrate this, here are the top 6 things I learned in the past half year
- Things Grow as They Are Meant To
There are lots of ads out there with titles like “Hack your way to 2m followers and a six figure online business”. There are also lots of entrepreneur stories of how quickly they grew “out of nowhere”.Read them with caution. Most are bullshit.It takes time and effort and quite a lot of luck to grow your own business. There are very few “hacks”. And as a friend at Storycure.com pointed out, many of those entrepreneur stories about quick growth leave out important parts of the narrative: family connections, previous fame or infamy, private money. Some people like trainer Kayla Istines were a small town PT until a much larger fitness group re-posted her pictures on Instagram, and her boyfriend encouraged her to take advantage of it.Much of this is not likely to happen to us, it hasn’t happened to me. My former boss at Walking Ibiza, Toby Clarke, likes to say that life is just putting one foot in front of the other. And growing your own business is just the same. One new client, one new class, one new opportunity. Some are given to you, some you carve out yourself. My first gym based yoga class I got by walking into the sales office of the new gym in Tunbridge Wells and introducing myself. They hadn’t considered yoga, but decided to add it. My classes are now the most oversubscribed in the gym. My local class I run myself started with ZERO people the first week, then two, then five – growing to over 15 people with a hard core of 8 regulars. I built relationships with local studios, one where I am studying applied anatomy and another where I’ve just been given another new class. Students from my classes have become coaching clients and asked me to teach yoga in their offices. One by one, step by step.Connections, networking and saying yes to opportunities (wisely) matter. I got a desk in a co working space and now work one day a week for a media company based there, doing their finances. It’s not exciting, but its regular money. I’ve also been offered an editorial role by them starting in the autumn. I like this portfolio aspect to my life. Teaching yoga and coaching can be exhausting. Being able to make money doing something less demanding is a godsend.2. Having No Money Means You Better Understand Value I had several glorious years in banking where I earned ridiculous sums of money, had a carefree life, and managed to save a lot. Those days are over. Not much of the savings are left, and HMRC are circling. I cannot emphasise savings enough. If you want to work for yourself, or are planning to start a business, don’t leave regular paid employment unless you have enough money to support yourself for about 18-24 months. I lasted about 12 months when I decided to take a part time job to ‘save’ the remainder of my savings.Your lifestyle changes. You can no longer afford to buy whatever you like. You can’t afford to eat out or go out whenever you choose. Socialising takes planning, in terms of both money and time. You have to decide how important certain things are to you, because you can’t do everything. I decided that not living with my mum was best for both of us, even though I took a financial hit. However, living more centrally in my town, being able to walk to work and classes, and having my own space (and my mum having hers) is much better and worth the money.One weekend, after being ill and making very little money that week, I realised I could afford to either buy food or travel to a friend’s BBQ. I chose the groceries and I don’t think the friends were best pleased. Finding some people who understand where you are, that when you say you have ‘no money’ you really do mean £9 in your current account because invoices have not been paid, is critical to your wellbeing.I’ve realised that so many things I thought were important really aren’t. I don’t buy clothes because I have enough of them, nowhere to wear them to, and have actually given some away because I didn’t need them. I’ve had about 5 alcoholic drinks since new year’s eve and been in a pub twice. I socialise online much more with friends who are also working for themselves, or who live overseas. Or I hangout locally with my family and old school mates.Financially it’s hard, but it’s also weirdly liberating. If you only have food for groceries it takes all other choices away from you, giving you quite a lot of freedom. If you don’t have money for food then this is frightening, I know. But not having my head turned by shops and buying stuff have been very releasing for me.It’s also made me so much more financially sensible. I track all my spending to identify waste. I track all my income and plan each month in advance in terms of spending and possible large bills. I weigh up Sainsburys v Tesco v Asda. I make most of my food. A coffee from a coffee shop is a weekly treat, not daily essential – and I don’t miss it. It tastes all the more delicious for being less frequent.3. Forget the Laptop on the Beach; You’ll Work Harder than You Ever Did in Corporate LifeNothing annoys me more now than an article about working for yourself with a picture of someone sitting with a laptop on a beach. This is NOT reality for most self-employed people or small business owners. I fully own up to doing this when it was me in Ibiza – but I was NOT actually working that much when I was there. It was more of a holiday. And I’m glad I had a rest. I’m not sure I could have survived this if I hadn’t had a good chunk of down time first.I work about 6 days a week including 4 evenings. My days are often 12 hours long. True, sometimes I can chill out in the afternoons, or go to the gym or practice yoga. But there is always work to do. The work I choose to do, teaching yoga and mindfulness and coaching, is exhausting in a way they don’t really explain on teacher training. It is very fulfilling: just one student saying how much you’ve helped them, or the client who said I helped her overcome her fear of presenting in meetings, makes it worthwhile. But jobs where you give a bit of yourself away every time you work are physically and emotionally draining.You need to create time to look after yourself. Sundays are sacrosanct for me (although I do occasionally do a workshop on a Sunday, in which case I have the next day off). I meditate, ensure I eat well (food is my major expenditure), enjoy long baths, and build in time off. I had a very bad month in May when I was incredibly depressed because I was emotionally and physically exhausted and feeling completely overwhelmed. I gave myself permission to have time out, and now feel much better.4. I Get By with a Little Help from my Friends Tribes are a really big deal at the moment. Escape the City have them, I’m running one on Mindfulness, and belong to one with Leah Cox. I have a kind of tribe in my co working space – fellow freelancers and small business owners. Plus old friends and colleagues who have supported me in my, and I quote my oldest friend from school on this, “determination to create a life that makes you happy”.Having places, both in real life and online, where I can talk about what I’m experiencing with people who understand, is life saving for me. Likewise, I got this whole thing off the ground with help from my coach in Ibiza, Belinda Clarke: a great mix of entrepreneurial savvy and advice and grounded energy work. I also have a trusted accountant.My family have been amazing. Lots of support, both emotional, practical and sometimes even financial. Being 40 years old and being grateful when your mum puts £50 in your bank account to tide you over is humbling. Not everyone has this support, but I would argue that it is all essential even if it is not in the same form. I’m single, but if I were dating, I would be looking for someone who gets what it’s like to have little money, and be focused on growing your business. And it’s interesting how many guys on match.com disappear when I explain what my life is like and that their vision of ‘yoga teacher’ is very different from reality!5. Part Time Rebel / Part Time Retail WorkerIn April I looked at the money in my savings account, looked at what I was making and the likelihood of making more, and decided that I needed a guaranteed income each month to pay the rent. So I went and got a job in a clothes shop. I walked around Tunbridge Wells with my CV and only went into shops that I liked, had good natural light, and where there was a nice energy. Despite interviewing at a well-known sportswear brand which should in theory have been perfect for me (its zero hour contracts, overly controlling branding and a manager who didn’t return calls killed it), I ended up in a British clothes shop with a style that isn’t really me, but with a managerial position.It actually works out really well. Guaranteed hours and money each month, plus over time. Even a pension, holiday and sick pay! It gives my brain space to recover. I get to spend time with colleagues and other people. It also forces me out of my comfort zone in talking to strangers. But most importantly, for me, it helps me live my yoga. Anyone who works in retail will know of the infamous drama caused by employees and the sometimes jaw dropping rudeness by customers (even in nice Tunbridge Wells. And yes, the richer the customer, the ruder they are). Dealing with this, and working with people half my age, or who are very different to me, forces me to look at myself and my behaviour. It’s not always pretty. But I’m very thankful that I live in a wealthy town with a lot of opportunities for work, both in yoga and other supplementary employment.6. The Freedom of Determining your Own Life Makes it All WorthwhileI know I may have painted a pretty miserable picture, and my Facebook friends will have seen my Reasons for Staying Alive posts and other comments on my depression. I’m not lying: it IS hard, emotionally draining, physically exhausting, financially scary and lonely.ButThe freedom to decide if I want to do it, or if I want to quit; the freedom to take a Thursday off, or work on a Sunday; the freedom to go to Spain for 3 weeks in August; the freedom to be myself and have no one else to answer to except me; and, as Old School Friend said, the freedom to create a life that makes me happy. It’s also exciting to watch something grow from scratch and to know that what I do makes people feel better. Doing work that matters, to me, is important for my soul, and was one of the reasons why I so depressed in the corporate world for such a long time.This makes it worthwhile and is why I’m sticking it out for the foreseeable future.