Now I realise what so many entrepreneurs that came before me were saying when they told me that entrepreneurship would be one of the toughest, yet personally rewarding, professional endeavours that I could ever pursue.
While I have been working towards full entrepreneurship for over a year now, it’s been 3 full months since I left the traditional employment world. That is, it’s been 3 months since I have left the promise of a regular paycheque, the safety of working for an institution, and the structure and support that corporations can provide. It’s been a bumpy, not always straightforward, and never a smooth road. At this point, I feel that these past three months have been a combination of wanting to shout my successes as an entrepreneur from the roof tops while simultaneously wanting to bang my head against the wall and curl up into the fetal position to cry. Yet, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Here are a few things that I have learned since leaving traditional employment that I would love to share for anyone who is considering going full entrepreneur. I’ll preface this to say that I am actually the owner of two businesses: one a professional writing service, and another a tattoo shop where I am the owner/administrator while my partner Levi provides the art.
My Entrepreneurship is Feast or Famine. Last month, my partner and I could literally make it rain with all the cash we were pulling in. This month, we’re lucky if we can make enough money to pay for three square meals a day, although we see things moving up again. This is to say that when you are an entrepreneur, you leave yourself 100% vulnerable to the decisions of other people to purchase your product or service. You find yourself trying to get into the psyche of your customer, to see what factors will make them make a deal with you. You put faith in other people that they will be able to pay you enough so that you can pay your bills. One moment, you think you’ll never financial worry again, while the next moment you find yourself wondering if you’ll even survive. I’ll tell you, the famines hurt, but the feasts more than make up for it, despite the fact that there is no guarantee of profit, payment, or a regular pay cycle. One of the biggest things that helps squash this is the promise that you can be lucrative – you can make above and beyond what you would through a salaried position, but that lucrativeness is wholly dependent on your own abilities and the desire for people to pay you for what you offer. It’s hard work to get money in your pocket!
My Entrepreneurship Has Been a Constant Bartering Game. When is the last time you went up to a Walmart cashier and tried to barter for a service? Probably never. This is probably one of my biggest gripes that I have with being an entrepreneur: our customers seem to think that THEY are the ones who can decide the value of a product or service we provide. In tattooing, we have a constant stream of people wanting to get their tattoos for a “better price”, disregarding the value of the artist’s time for designs, stenciling and the actual application. Similarly, with writing, I have a set fee that I charge depending on word count and amount of research. I have knowingly set this amount after some market research and taking into consideration my education level and the skills that I offer above and beyond the writing aspect. I am so very lucky that most of my clients are OK with my fees, but if I had a dollar for every time someone tried to access my services for as much as 75% less than what I charge, I’d have a whole new business model though which I could make money.
Our Entrepreneurship Has Limited Resources & Financial Perks. I enjoyed a long period of time in my life working for a multi-million dollar institution, which came with several wonderful perks: professional development (I got a free Master’s Degree for god’s sake!), professional expense accounts, health plans, pensions, bonuses (although rare in the public sector), lunches, travel (all over the world!), and the general enjoyment of being able to operate in a resource-rich environment. In the early stages, when we really were going it alone, we realized how much we actually are totally alone when it comes to resources. There are no expense accounts. No one is paying for our health or helping us build our retirement savings. There are only small budgets at the ready supporting we need for our work. There are no professional development allowances. We know that we have a certain amount of capital, and quickly find that there are about a million different ways we need to spend that capital: marketing, supplies, insurance, rent… and a lot of times the expenses outweigh the capital available. I’ll tell ya, I really miss all that was set up for me working for “the man”. This is when I am reminded that working for the man wasn’t all that bad.
You’d think by what I’ve listed so far that entrepreneurship isn’t for me. I seem to have a lot of gripes about what I don’t seem to have as an entrepreneur. Some days I want to be able to pack it all in and just “get a job”, but truly, I wouldn’t change being an entrepreneur for the world. Here’s why:
Entrepreneurship is Freedom. Not until I got out of it did I realize how oppressive work hours are. While I do have work hours at our tattoo shop, my schedule is not fully governed by time. As a writer, I get the privilege of writing when I am feeling my most productive, and creative, which is very important for the work I do. I also realize how important sleep is, and how much a restful, alarm-free sleep is for my health. While I am still an early riser, in fact, I wake up a lot earlier than when I was working the 9-5, I no longer feel that painful sting of the alarm clock. The small things. In addition, no one is telling me when I can have my days off (I take them all the time!), my vacations, nor am I working to have to “bank time” so that I can literally buy my time off. Of course, there is a certain threshold of time I need to put in to fund my life, and fund my time off, but I am in control of this myself. It’s great!
Entrepreneurship Lets You Choose Your Clients. I have found that in entrepreneurship, I have full prerogative to decide who I work for, whereas, you are often placed in situations when working for other organizations when you are only aiming to please their customer. While in both my businesses we only aim to please, we can be somewhat choosy about who we work hard to create those positive experiences. Last week, I had an unfortunate interaction with a client who I had been giving a discount of my services for a long time, at about 70% of my full rate. To me, it was getting to the point that I was not being compensated according to my value, and wanted to ensure that I was. It didn’t go that well, being accused of being a “cheap piece of shit” and being brought on a guilt trip about how horrible of a person I am for increasing my rate. He said that karma would get to me, and with the treatment, I kindly let him know we would not be working together. I was bummed, but also happy that I had the power to not work with this person. The next day, I was glad to find 2 more contracts that paid my market rate, and I am now so glad with my decision to leave that client. It’s refreshing to be able to place my energy only where I want it to go, with the people I want to collaborate with!
Entrepreneurship is an Amazing Sense of Accomplishment. I speak of the famine days like the painful thing they are, but the feast days are what make up for those days when you think you may not make it. There are some awesome days when you see that people realize they want to pay you to do things for them, and they are very happy with the product they are receiving. I have been so lucky to see both my businesses take off to become something of value to others, and I do feel appreciated and as though I have made the right choice in going it on my own. I never thought I’d see the day where I could make my own schedule, work as much (or as little) as I’d like, and not have to answer to anyone except myself. Now I’m here.
I know that these business ventures are likely two of many that I’ll have in my life. Heck maybe one day I’ll go back to traditional employment, or maybe I’ll totally change direction again. All I know is, I am extremely proud of myself and my partner for deciding for ourselves the type of life we did not want, and the type of life we DO want, and putting all our energy into making the life we want happen. I once thought that I had nothing that I could offer that people would actually pay for, but with some creativity, some self-confidence, and a whole lot of work, I found what I like doing for now, and it pays the bills enough that I can live comfortably in our little piece of paradise with the love of my life.