It’s been a year today since I left comfortable sofa of corporate life to struggle my way through barely furnished world of self-employment. There have been challenges, quests and triumphs and well as disappointments and an ever-growing list of areas for improvement. So I though’t I’d share some the most useful things I’ve learnt in this first year.
In all the years I worked for companies, I never felt I was faking it. I had solid things like a desk, a computer and business cards all paid for by someone else, and less solid things like a boss, all of which would surely disappear if it turned out that I wasn’t good at my job. Yet when I started working for myself a year ago, I somehow traded most of my security for a big helping of self-doubt and a heavy investment in Apple products.
Some say you should fake it until you make it, but I’m still not convinced of that. Deep down I know I can do the consulting and the teaching work I offer bloody well and get great results for my clients, it’s just that often, (especially messing with the backend of WordPress to work on one of my underdeveloped websites) I’ve found myself thinking, “Oh God, it’s like I’m a kid playing shop: I just made all of this up”.
But of course I did, that’s the point of starting something new and getting it out there, you have literally made it up. In my notebooks from this time last year, I have the earliest scribbles of what became the names, logos, webs, etc, so I guess it’s not surprising that some things still don’t feel solid enough.
I’ve created loads of stuff before, but no one expects a play, a short story, an illustration, a pie or even a beautiful corporate brochure to be particularly solid, least of all me. Strangely though, it feels like a business should be serious and strong from the moment it is conceived. The rose-tinted glasses of business school go through case study upon case study of success: no half-finished websites and dodgy strategy: Don’t look at the woman behind the curtain!
My confidence has flown when I’ve been given feedback from clients and participants, particularly on the teaching side (a much newer challenge for me). Yet it has also nose-dived when I’ve invested hours writing long detailed proposals only to have the potential client say maybe for next year, or simply not answer my calls.
One of my biggest setbacks in confidence came from a guy (lets call him Dave) who without knowing me, randomly lectured me on not ever using the word “expert” to describe myself. Ironically I only used it once and even then by mistake because people had been introducing me as such. Also in my defense I probably am one of the 10-15 people in the world with most experience in strategic international communication for business schools (as niche as this is).
I know that in this area I have the 10,000 hours invested to be and expert but it still took me several bottles of wine with a friend to bounce back and move on and it still annoys me that I let it affect me so much. Daniel Pink talks about “Buoyancy” as one of the key skills for sales, but it’s even more vital for entrepreneurship or self-employment: Every day is sink or swim, usually not for the business but for your professional confidence.
But I do feel slightly less like I’m faking it a year later. The business has moved more slowly than I would have liked but since that’s mostly due to my working billable hours rather than on strategy or marketing, I guess it’s not too bad (although Harvard’s not calling me for a case study just yet). Spanish Inland Revenue will be pleased to see that I’ve made about the same as I did on a salary, and I’ve really enjoyed the freedom. It’s not the easy route but I still think it’s worth it, even if it feels like you’re a ham actor working on a flimsy film set to begin with!