What changed in your thinking that allowed you to create a business and not stay an employee?
After sending off hundreds of resumes and getting no responses back, I realized that I didn’t need to wait for anyone to give me permission to go after what I wanted. I couldn’t wait around for someone to just give me the opportunity to make what I wanted in my life. I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my time and energy hoping to convince anyone else that I was a good fit for their position—instead, I was going to redirect that focus into doing work for myself.
Did you feel fear as you started your business?
I started my business on the side, which is a great way to mitigate a lot of fear. I was definitely afraid of failing, of looking stupid, or of just doing something wrong. But I didn’t really have the time to spare to sit around and think about those fears. I was so busy trying to juggle a full-time job with what quickly became a full-time business that there just weren’t many hours in the day to sit around with my fears and dwell on them. I think that’s a huge benefit of starting something on the side. My worst-case scenario was simply, “keep working as an employee” and not, “my business is going to fail, I’ll have no income, and I’ll be stuck.” It really cut down on the financial consequences of, what happens if this doesn’t work.
Was fear a good or a bad thing?
I think the thing I feared most was the idea of not doing anything and remaining stuck as an employee in a job I hated. Ultimately, doing something—anything—was better than doing nothing, even if my efforts failed. That fear ended up being a good thing because it drove me to act.
How long did you run your business while you were an employee, and was there tension between your role as an employee and your role as a business owner?
I ran my business for about eight months while working as an employee too. There was some tension in a sense that, towards the end, I started mentally checking out of my day job. The quality of my work dropped because something had to give.
How important is your relationship with your ex-employer now?
I don’t really have a relationship with my ex-employer. It’s neither a good nor a bad thing—it just is. I worked at a very small company that was the opposite of high-powered corporation, and I worked in a role that saw pretty periodic turnover. It was the first full-time job I had out of college and I stayed for three years before quitting.
In your opinion, does owning your own business allow you to affect more people for good than a more conventional career? Why, or why not?
I think my business will allow me to positively affect more people than I could reach and help than a conventional career, simply because I’m not productive, motivated, or driven when working a 9-to-5 desk job. I’m at my best when I’m functioning in a creative capacity and in my experience, I didn’t get that in a traditional career role. I absolutely do not think owning a business, whether it’s your full-time thing or something you do on the side, is necessary to make an impact or to facilitate positive change in the world. Everyone has their own unique path and there’s no one right way to make a difference or help others who need you. It’s about finding the role you shine best in—it’s only then that you’ll be capable of providing real value in the lives of other people.
What habits have you created that help you succeed in business?
For me, it’s all about staying organized and maintaining good time management skills. I track my time with Toggl, which helps me stay focused and productive. I organize my tasks and to-dos with Asana, and I keep track of commitments and meetings in Google Calendar. These three tools allow me to stay on top of everything I need and want to do.
I also prioritize. I make time for the things that are important to me, and you do that by scheduling things like breaks and social outings and play into your day just like you would schedule meetings or assignments.
Did you borrow money to start your business?
I didn’t borrow any money. I intentionally sought to bootstrap my business as much as possible—and I was determined to make sure my business could sustain itself via its earnings before I left my day job and steady paycheck.
My startup costs—which included a website and hosting and not much else—were about $200. I worked hard to do what I could myself and I carefully budgeted my business income just like I budget my personal income. Initially my expenses were about $100 to $300 a month. At this point, they’ve grown with my income and average about $1,000 to $1,500 per month, but I still try to bootstrap what I can.
Would you recommend others do the same? Why, or why not?
Yes, I would absolutely recommend that other people starting a business on the side do what they can to keep expenses low. Depending on the business you want to start, it may not be possible to always ensure your expenses are lower than your earnings each month—but it’s a good goal to aim for. Too many times people justify all sorts of unnecessary spending by saying, “it’s a business expense, so it’s an investment in my work.” Don’t use that excuse! Do what you can yourself when you’re starting, or barter and exchange services with someone else so you’re spending time and skills and not cash.
What is the best advice regarding money management that you can give?
Track everything! That means all money coming in, and everything going out. Also remember that no one is going to withhold important expenses from your earnings like an employer does with a paycheck. When you receive a payment, that’s just your gross. Make sure you account for taxes (I estimate 30% right off the bat), savings and investments (like contributions to a business emergency account and your SEP IRA), and expenses. After all that, what you’re left with is your net.
How important are strong relationships to your success? For your own personal development and encouragement? With suppliers and customers/clients?
Strong relationships are everything to success. I owe so much to the first clients who took a chance on me when I didn’t have any experience, and the clients who raved about me to their friends and colleagues and referred more business to me. I couldn’t get by without the various communities of fellow creatives and solopreneurs that I’m part of, and my mastermind group is an invaluable part of how I make progress as a business owner.
I think the relationships with other people around you, be they in your professional or personal life, are absolutely critical. Prioritize those, nurture them, and always make sure those bonds are strong.
How do you recommend others handle those critical of their dream of owning a business?
Find a community or group who supports your success first. Then listen to the people who are critical. You can learn a lot from people who point out the negatives, but it’s hard to constructively deal with that and find the value (if any) if you don’t have anyone else who supports you, encourages you, and champions your dreams with you.
And remember, those who are critical are a form of resistance to your growth. Steven Pressfield discusses this in The War of Art (a must-read for any creative who wants to make their art into a business). These negative people want to keep others down, want to keep others from succeeding because someone spreading their wings and working on a dream challenges their preconceived notions of what’s possible for themselves!
Where should aspiring entrepreneurs look to find others who will champion their dream?
When you find your niche, seek out others in it. These people aren’t your competition. They’re your ideal collaborators. For example, the people that support and help me the most are people who are also creatives running businesses—we both make our money via marketing, writing, and serving the same audience.
I am interested in how you cope with uncertainty. Share a story about a decision you had to make “in the dark.” How did you proceed? Ultimately, did it require faith to make that decision?
I feel like most decisions we make are in the dark because the future is, at the end of the day, unknowable. That’s not a bad thing, though. I cope with uncertainty by embracing it and by knowing that I’m creating my path one step at a time. The way is illuminated as I go, and the farther I progress the more capable I am of making sound decisions about the path I want to continue on. If it requires faith, it’s faith in myself.
Do you believe faith in God is relevant to running your business?
This is often an unpopular answer, but no. I’m agnostic, meaning I don’t presume to know one way or the other if there’s any higher power. I think our universe is absolutely fascinating and there are forces out there beyond my comprehension. I’m more comfortable having faith in myself and believing that no matter what, I’ll figure things out and find my way.
When did you most want to give up on your business, and how did you persist through that time?
I most wanted to give up when I found myself focused solely on how much money I could make. I took on any and every client, only thinking, “this new gig means more money coming in.” It didn’t take long before I had a book of clients who weren’t a good fit for me and what I did in my business. When I finally realized what was going on, I let go of the obsession of making X amount of dollars each month and restructured my work to prioritize the things I actually wanted to do and accomplish.
Is there ever a time it is good to quit?
Quitting, no. Changing your approach, reiterating, or trying something new? Those are actions I can get behind, and anytime your gut is telling you something is wrong with the current situation is always a good time to take them.
What is one mistake most new business owners make, and how can we avoid it?
Not taking care of your finances, or your financial future. I’ve been amazed at the number of people who are self-employed and have no idea they can contribute to a SEP IRA—they think their only option without an employer is something like a Roth IRA (if they even get that far!).
I think new business owners can avoid this by assembling a team of people who know this stuff. Investing in your financial health is critical for the wellbeing of not only your own future but the wellbeing of your business too. As a business owner, I’d suggest seeking out a fee-only financial advisor who specializes in helping entrepreneurs. My specific recommendation: Eric Roberge of Beyond Your Hammock.
What book have you read that will best help a prospective business owner, and why?
I absolutely love to read and being surrounded by books is one of my favorite states of being, so it’s hard to narrow this down to just one! For me, Natalie Sission’s The Suitcase Entrepreneur was the first book I read that made me think, “I can do this and I will.” It was the catalyst for shifting my mindset to not understanding what on earth to do to achieve my goals, to realizing I could make this work and I just needed to continue learning.
I mentioned it earlier, but if you’re a creative business owner you must read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. And I’m currently working on a classic I think everyone could benefit from reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
How can our readers connect with you?
You can find me on my site, KaliHawlk.com, or connect with me on Twitter @KaliHawlk.
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