Finding Balance in a One Person Business
Ever since deciding to be a small business owner, I have struggled with balance. I would read books and articles on micro-scheduling and how to best use my time. And when I was just starting out, things were easy. But as I started to grow, I spent a lot of time figuring out the best balance for my business.
What I learned? That balance we seek, changes constantly.
Work vs. Life
This one took me a little while to grasp. Honestly when I started the business I was single and in my late 20s. I didn’t mind pulling all-nighters and working on weekends. Now I’m married with a preschooler and I put a higher importance on my “life” time.
Because I didn’t mind working random hours, my clients got used to me responding to emails on weekends and late at night. I had created a scenario where people thought I was available to them 24/7. It was my own fault. About 5 years in I implemented Rush Fees and charged a separate fee for working work at night or on weekends. It wasn’t so much a “punishment” fee, it was more to keep people aware that I couldn’t be on call any time of day or night anymore. And if they do need me to do something during non-business hours, I have a cushion that offsets the cost of childcare and cancelled social plans.
Making Art vs. Business
83% Design / 15% Communication / 2% Business
In the beginning, the most “business-y” thing I did was send out invoices. I had one excel spreadsheet with one “income” column, one “expense” column, and a running total. I was able to put the majority of my time into design and client communication.
8 years later and a few things have changed:
55% Design / 30% Communication / 15% Business
I’ve grown and taken on more clients, which has led to more paperwork, making the business percentage creep up. Managing my accounting, tax forms, professional development, website updates, and marketing/social networking takes up a bit more time than it used to.
Communication has also risen, again because of additional clients. But also because the way we communicate has changed since 2008. I’ll be talking more about that in another article soon.
Projects vs. Development
This one likely means different things to different people. For me it was about struggling through my self-taught software woes, because I was “too busy” to take a class on it. This only worked for so long. I now budget in one conference or a few smaller professional development activities a year. I was initially worried about the costs, but I found that what I learned far outweighed the fees. Learning new things has also allowed me to keep up with trends and expand what my business can offer.
Marketing vs. Not Marketing
When I started out, I did what I was told I was “supposed” to do and got myself a website, blog, Facebook Page, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. But I didn’t have time to keep them all up. So up until recently, everything except my website fell to the wayside. Everyone said I had to have all these social media streams, but the truth is, I didn’t. I had a hefty work load and couldn’t take on any more clients. I couldn’t put any time or money into marketing.
When I was taking wedding clients, my social media was very different. It was easy to get a few hundred page likes and followers, because I was constantly working with different people. Now that I have a smaller number of clients, but greater number of products, my “followers” have dwindled. I focus on quality over quantity there. It doesn’t matter if you have 200 new followers, if they never hire you. Better to have 1 new one who does.
Accountant vs. Doing Your Own Math
I’m not a CPA and didn’t go to business school (I know, you’re shocked by this). But when I was starting out I didn’t feel like I could afford an accountant. I did some basic research and leaned on my dad for help (he owns a business as well) and with the help of Quickbooks, realized I could do this on my own. A few years in I went to an account to do my end of year taxes, because I wasn’t confident I was doing them correctly. He ultimately told me that I was doing most of his job already and I just needed to learn how to file 2 forms to be 100% self sufficient with my taxes. (It also helps that I live in Virginia which has a lot of online resources for small business).
Now that I’m in the swing of things, my finances don’t take that long to do and I’m happy to just do them myself. Invoicing and depositing check payments is the biggest day-to-day activity, but the advancement of things like mobile app check depositing means I don’t even have to go to the bank anymore. But don’t let me talk you out of getting an accountant. It’s always a good idea, especially if you don’t have an awesome dad who can answer all your questions.
Expanding vs. Perfecting What You Have Now
This is a scary one. I’m not a gambler and I don’t love change. So when I had 3 solid years of growth, to the point where I was turning away work and new clients, I had to stop and think about expanding. Honestly, it still freaks me out. What if I invest in expanding and it doesn’t pan out? What if I screw it up? What if I hire someone who turns out to be awful? What if I fire them and they sue me??
I found a lot of what-ifs in expanding. So for years I decided to work on perfecting what I had. Client relationships, better product, better communication and scheduling. That was the right choice for me. But after almost 8 years, I decided it was time to take a risk and see what expanding (very, very slowly) would look like. So far it’s working out well.
Taking Every Job vs. Valuing Your Worth
This plays into the to-expand-or-not-to-expand area as well. When starting out, I did take every job, whether it paid well or not, whether it was a good fit or not. I felt like I needed to learn and built my portfolio, so I did it. I don’t regret that.
But now I lean much more to valuing my worth, especially when it comes to pro bono or low paying jobs. There was a point about 4–5 years in where I realized that the amount of time I put into wedding invitations vs. the profit, just wasn’t panning out. I had to cut those services to make way for more corporate and non-profit projects, so that I can have enough profit to live off.
Essentially, business is all about balance. And it’s important to remember that the scales may tip in different directions at different times as your business grows. Keep accessing your situation every now and thing and see where you need to adjust.