I’ve been in marketing communications as a career for a little over 10 years, but starting my own freelance marketing business was not always on my mind. I’ve had to work on overcoming my freelancing fears. But now that I’ve registered for a business number and the business cards have been printed, there is no turning back.
There are many reasons why it takes us so long to step out on our own. Some are born hustlers but some of us – like me – have to develop this skill. Perhaps you are in the same boat as I was only a few months ago – you’re thinking about…considering…to set some time up…to really give it some thought. There are a few reasons why it took me so long to finally start my freelance marketing business.
When I was looking for a job a couple years back, I was told on several occasions by the hiring manager that I was over-qualified for the position I was going for. Why was I going for a mid-level marketing role when I had Director-level skills and experience. When I started blogging, I wrote on it for about three years before telling anyone about it. Another two years before I started marketing it on social media. Why not? My lack of confidence is absolutely paralyzing. I’m also the worst at advocating for myself. I can defend, mentor and manage other people no problem. I can give insight, advice and recommendations on strategy, how to streamline, how to be more efficient, and how to advance, promote and grow. But when asked to speak on my own behalf, I begin to stutter. Over the last two years, I’ve been working really hard to get over this hump. I’ve become a little more professionally confident as I get older, but it prevented me from initially starting my own business. The turning point was when someone with less marketing knowledge and experience than me, someone who was seemingly just starting out in her career – handed me her business card. “I develop marketing strategies, social media plans and create websites,” she boasted. Then she asked me to explain to her how Google Plus worked.
When I read books like Lean In, it rattles me a little. I respect women like Sheryl Sandberg a great deal and I love being a part of this whole conversation and movement focused on female leadership, but let’s be honest – Sheryl Sandberg had a huge amount of support, guidance and mentorship. She couldn’t have leaned out if she tried. I can’t say I’ve ever had anyone show me the ropes, blaze a path for me, speak with so-and-so on my behalf. No one has ever said, “There’s a position I think you’d be great at and I’m going to speak to my buddy, the top dog and get you in.” I’ve had to really work double-time for just middle management positions, playing the “invisible work horse” role that I’ve become pretty good at. More and more mentorship is becoming an invaluable commodity – especially among women. Currently I do not have a mentor – but I’ve been pursuing more opportunities to meet and interact with various people particularly, entrepreneurs and other side hustlers. Online communities like Ten Thousand Coffees have been great. I’ve already connected with some pretty cool women who are doing it for themselves via this great new meet-up platform. I’m not about the self-help, but the book BYOB: The Unapologetic Guide to Being Your Own Boss has also been empowering. Despite not having a sole mentor to advise and guide me, finding insight and guidance through conversation and chats over coffee has been of great value to me.
In starting my business, not having clarity was another hindrance. I would sit and mull over cocktails with friends, “What am I offering? What am I selling? What are people paying me to do?” I really had to do a lot of research on this – research that I am actually still in the process of conducting. I love looking at other people’s websites, signing up for online newsletters and just plain coming out and asking, “So, what exactly is your business?” In doing so, I’ve come to realize again, there are a lot of people seemingly making money with nothing more to offer than I do. But I’m such a process driven, type A person that I must have focus in my life before I can give other people focus. I mentioned earlier that I’ve just ordered cards for myself. The reason it took me so long is because I didn’t know what to put on it. Am I a marketing strategist? Do I want to help people with their websites or their social media? Do I just want to be creative and work alongside graphic designers to create branding? Each time I decided something new, my logo on this very blog would change – from brand strategies to integrated marketing to content marketing. At the end of the day, I realized that I want to do it all. I want to take the best aspects of every marketing job I’ve had in my career and offer them to others. I enjoy the marketing process – coming up with new creative ideas, developing strategic plans and timelines, executing projects by working with designers, writers and developers. I love bringing new concepts to life – creating a new way of sounding, a new tone, messaging, and new style guides. Throwing social media into the mix makes it an even better party. I really do love the whole process – marketing, branding and content.
When we’re in school, life is easy. We don’t think so at the time, but comparatively, it’s the good life. No rent or other financial obligations. Our only job is to go to school. After grade school, we know high school is next. After high school we know university is next. The road map is pretty much set in stone for the first 20 years of our lives. But in starting my own freelance business, I wasn’t exactly sure how to get started. What’s the first step? Should I take a class, go to business school, start finding clients, or maybe I should build a website? There’s so much to consider and frankly there were a few times I became so overwhelmed that I just stopped thinking about it. It was much easier to go to work and do my daily tasks as per my job description that someone else already created. The trouble was – someone else created my job. I want to create one of my own that suits me better. I’ve been learning that each person’s journey starts at a different beginning. Some people may start with clients; some people may start with no clients. I decided to take a different approach. Instead of thinking about how to get started, I started thinking about how I want to end up. I thought about creating a life where I could take a yoga class at 2pm on a Wednesday, have a beautiful home, a life where I’m not stuck behind a desk for eight hours, a life with more than two weeks of vacation time, a life where I could be home with my kids. Once I saw that life – it became easier to figure out a plan to get to that end point. Working backwards has been less overwhelming, but it’s only been helpful because I know what my overall life goals are.
Then there was fear. If you’re not at least a little bit scared of starting your own business, don’t do it! But since I’m scared shitless almost every day of this new road I’ve put myself on, I know I’m in the right place. When I talk to entrepreneurs, they all have this one thing in common. They have different talents, objectives, plans, bottom lines – but everyone that I’ve spoken to talks about that sudden panic that occasionally comes on. It could be 2am in the morning; it could be in the middle of a presentation; it could be the morning after quitting a stable job. But it’s that moment when you’re like, “oh shit, what am I doing?” I get scared so much and I question myself constantly. What if I’m not good enough? I don’t know how to do this. What if I don’t have much to offer? In fact, I’m scared right now writing this article that no one is going to read or find helpful or even worse – someone will actually read it and completely disagree. But, as part of my professional development, business building and personal branding, I’m building my confidence and putting my thoughts out for the world to receive. Because I know it’s not just me. And I’d like the two, or maybe five people who read this to know that everyone is as scared as they are. There is strength in numbers and courage comes from support.
It took a lot of meet ups, discussions and internal review with friends, co-workers, and to be honest, discussions with complete strangers to finally stop talking myself out of starting my business and to start talking myself into it. But just because I’ve narrowed down what’s been stopping me all these years, it doesn’t take them all away. I still feel all these things even more. But in meeting some great people and getting some encouraging insight and advice, I’ve learned that everybody goes through these very same feelings of fear and uncertainty. If starting a business was easy, more people would be doing it. I know there will be a lot of grinding, hustling and more panic attacks down the road. But I’m ready to dive in. I can proudly say, I am open for business.
Image via Komu