7 things I’ve learnt in 7 days of being a full-time wantrepreneur
From corporate escapee to aspiring entrepreneur: week zero.
I recently left my job in the corporate world, to pursue a less conventional path, but one which more and more people are starting to take. I’ve decided, after years of dreaming, to take the plunge and start my own business. Because I don’t fit the stereotypical mould of ‘entrepreneur’, I decided to document my journey from corporate employee to entrepreneur. This is my latest blog post…
Last week, I moved from the UK to Germany. This week, I started working for myself. Today’s Friday, so I have officially been working for myself for one whole week.
I’ve taken some time today to reflect on the differences I’ve noticed this week between employment and freelance life. I’ve tried to distill this down into some advice/nuggets of wisdom for anyone who’s thinking of embarking on this path themselves. If you’re reading this and thinking of making changes to your career or work-life balance, I hope you find this useful. These are the insights I wish I had known about this time last week.
1) Not having structure can be hard to handle
When I was an employee, I knew I had to arrive at the office at a certain time, and I was expected to leave around a certain time. Whilst this is massively restrictive in some cases (and man, I can tell you I found the rigidity frustrating at times!), it does provide structure and discipline. By ensuring I was in the office at a certain time, it ensured that I just sat down and cracked on with whatever needed to be done. It forced me to make progress when sometimes it was the last thing I felt like doing.
I now realise what good practice that was for freelance life, and how much I actually valued that approach of just getting on with it, even if I didn’t feel ready or it didn’t fit with what I wanted to be doing at that particular moment. I have to be incredibly disciplined. This is far more important now than when I was in paid employment. In a company, I couldn’t always control what needed to happen next; it simply had to be done, and I usually had other people relying on me to do something by a certain time, so I got on and did it. Now that I’m only answerable to myself, I’ve found it can be very easy to let things slide, or only focus on the things I want to work on. I still have to do the crappy jobs that nobody wants to do, because there is nobody else.
2) Find your people
I’m going to spend a bit of time on this one, because it’s been the biggest challenge for me this week and has had the biggest impact on my levels of happiness and productivity. I don’t think I can emphasize its importance enough.
You need to actively go out and find people you want to spend time with. For me, this has to be a far more deliberate process than when I was employed. I’ve just spent the past three months getting to know my ‘Startup Tribe’ in London with Escape the City. It’s been inspiring, energising and motivational to be around people who have a similar mindset about work, and who have helped me to expand my understanding of what ‘work’ really is. This community has been a key part of me feeling comfortable with making my transition from employment to freelance life, and their support has given me — and continues to give me — the confidence to carry on when I’ve had doubts.
The gorgeous Tribe who got me through the last 3 months unscathed (photo credit: Jonny Miller).
Life can be really lonely, especially when you’re just starting out as a solopreneur. It doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that entrepreneurs are among the group most likely to suffer from mental health issues (See this amazing study by Michael Freeman and colleagues of the University of California.) On Monday this week, I have to be perfectly honest and tell you I had a bit of a freak out. I was in a foreign country, the only person I knew was my partner (who was at work all day), it was my first day embarking full-time on a venture which I don’t know whether will work, and I felt incredibly isolated and lonely.
I know myself well enough that I had predicted that this is where my mind would go during the first week of being in Germany and being a solo entrepreneur. I knew I would need to find some like-minded people and friendly faces as soon as possible! I expected this would happen, and had therefore arranged to meet some people and go to some places where I suspected I might meet some friendly and supportive faces. I cultivated links on Facebook, arranged to meet people through networking sites and hung out in co-working spaces.
All this planning didn’t stop me from having a minor freak-out at the beginning of the week, but it did stop it becoming a major freak-out and made the perceived isolation easier to deal with. I’m working hard at holding my nerve on this, but I’m happy to say I’ve met some truly awesome people this week who have contributed in no small way to keeping me sane.
3) Adjust your worklife balance
Going freelance, and your worklife balance can shift, and that’s OK — in fact, it’s a reason many people choose to go freelance in the first place. Home life can bleed more into work life, and vice versa, and that’s OK. Gone are the days of weekends full of life admin, because now I can deal with it any time that’s convenient to me! And sport doesn’t have to be relegated to lunchtimes, after work or weekends: it can happen whenever suits my schedule.
For example, yesterday, the weather in Munich was amazing, so I promised myself that I would go to the open air swimming pool. I allowed myself this luxury on the condition that I did a certain number of lengths of the pool once I was there, which I found a reasonable compromise from taking time away from my desk in the middle of the afternoon. However, I found it hard to allow myself to enjoy it, because I couldn’t get away from the guilty feeling that I was taking time off work to have fun. For me, this is going to take some effort.
4) Location becomes less important
Every day this week, I have been able to choose when and where to work. I’ve tried out working in some co-working spaces, some cafes, and at home. My choice of location has been dictated by my mood and the type of tasks I know I need to complete that day. Rather than knowing each day where I will be working, and having little choice over the location of my meetings or desks, I was surprised to find that created a further decision-point, because it’s something that’s no longer automated (in the sense that, when you go into your employer’s office, you know where you’ll sit and the type of desk you’ll get). I’m not someone who especially likes routine, but I can see the value in having streamlined a process and using that to ensure maximum productivity. I have used up some valuable time this week on finding places with good wifi, and getting to them.
So, there’s no way I could work quite this remotely, but it’s a good picture and fits the theme. Sand near my laptop? I don’t think so. And is he even wearing sunnies? Totes unreal.
5) Work can be so much FUN that it doesn’t feel like work
Every morning this week, I’ve practically bounced out of bed to get to work, because I’m excited about what will happen that day, what progress I will make and what I will learn. I’m relieved to finally be able to move my business idea forward with all my energy, and to translate an idea into reality in the way that most makes sense to me. I get to be creative and use my intuition and judgement in a way that suits me.
Of course, when starting a business, the amount of stuff there is to do can be quite overwhelming, and I’ve had to be ruthless with my prioritization. There’s only one person working on this project at present; only one resource, and the company can only grow at the rate of my capacity. Some evenings, this had meant that I’ve had to tear myself away from the screen and go home, even though I’m having fun, because I know it’s important for me to take a break. When I don’t take breaks, I burn out, and I really want this to succeed, so as tempted as I am to work all-out, I have to treat this as a marathon rather than a sprint.
6) There are still going to be ups and downs
The highs of freelance life are massive; the lows are pretty significant too. This week I had a major low event and a couple of real breakthroughs. The low stopped me sleeping and I found it impossible to switch off. The high was sufficient to allow me to forget momentarily about the low, and it carried me through the next few days. It spurred me on to accomplish more this week than I would otherwise have done. My motto for this week: HOLD YOUR NERVE.
Setting myself up financially has been one of the major challenges this week. Needless to say, my business hasn’t made any money yet. In fact, I’ve done a very good job of spending a fair bit of my savings already, so I’m busy trying to fight my instinct that tells me to not spend money and to think of it as an investment in the business and in myself instead. Sometimes, you have to spend some money in order to build a business, and this is something I just have to get OK with.
7) You’re always answerable to somebody
Just because you don’t have a boss or a line manager any more, doesn’t mean you can do what you like. If you’re running a business in a specific area, you have to respond to the needs of those who benefit from your expertise/talent/service/product.
These people could be customers, clients, family, or yourself. You have to figure out a balance that works for you and stick to it.
Despite having freedom to choose what to work on and when, at the heart of what I’m doing is thinking about my customers and how I can best deliver something that will delight them. I feel very answerable to them; because the success of my business depends 100% on them liking the product. I have to be sure to listen to them extremely carefully, and respond to their comments and suggestions.
There’s also something here about my responsibility to be answerable to myself. I’m trying hard to care less what others think and to be OK with this. I have a list of criteria that are important to me for my work going forwards, and I need to be mindful not to compromise these.
So these are my musings from the first seven days of being a full-time wantrepreneur. I hope that by sharing these, anyone who finds themself in a similar situation can be reassured that noticing these things is normal, and to be expected, and might perhaps also prepare you for some of the less-expected emotions and experiences of the very early days of being an entrepreneur. Either way, you are not alone!
If you like this post, you can see more of what I write on my blog Wantrepreneur2entrepreneur and here on Medium. These articles document my journey from corporate escapee to wannabe entrepreneur: all the highs, all the lows, and everything in between. This is no Silicon Valley startup; it’s how a very ordinary person makes the transition from employee to entrepreneur. It’s a work in progress and I’d love to hear what you think, so drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook or Twitter.