The Good, The Bad and the Reality of Being Your Own Boss
When I first started my design business I honestly had no clue what I was doing. Don’t get me wrong — I had gone to school for the skills I needed to qualify as a graphic designer. I just had no idea what it actually meant to work for myself and run a business. When I thought about being my own boss, all I could image were the perks. Yet when I started running my business, I began to see the costs of being the boss. Ultimately, experience has taught me there are three sides to being self-employed: the good perks, the bad costs and ultimately real life.
The Bad: Trial and Error
Just like anything in life, you have to learn how to run a business and you can’t just read a book or two and know everything you need to be your own boss. Entrepreneurship is a trial and error process, even with the help of someone else who’s been in your shoes before, because everybody and every business is different. There are just some things that can only be learned through experience and sometimes those experiences can be really frustrating and even make you question your abilities and goals for your design business.
The Reality: One time I was paid almost a month late for a web design project and as frustrating as it was, I didn’t have a signed agreement so there wasn’t much I could do but wait. I quickly learned my lesson and drafted a contract for future clients (which included a late fee). The reality of it was, getting paid late sucked but it taught me the importance of business agreements which made the lesson that much worth it in the long run.
The Good: Time Control
What time the workday ends and what time it begins is only up to one person: me! I enjoy having complete control not only over my work schedule but my life schedule as well. I decide when I want to work late or when I don’t want to work at all. I no longer think twice about scheduling a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day or having an extended lunch with a client. I can knock out some laundry and wash dishes during a work break and I get to eat a hot breakfast at home on the weekdays!
The Reality: Having complete control over your schedule comes with a level of self-discipline and motivation. I love sleeping in but when I get a late start, my entire day has to shift back. Pushing my work schedule back means pushing everything back and it can turn into a messy cycle of late nights and groggy mornings. If I can’t get my work finished during the day, I’ll have to work later in the night, leaving me tired again the next morning, and starting the cycle all over again. Having set work hours and sticking to a schedule throughout the week helps me stay motivated and keeps me productive. If I’m not productive, my business doesn’t thrive and if my business doesn’t thrive, I’m out of a job. See the reality of setting your own hours?
The Bad: Self Control
Working for yourself takes serious self discipline, especially when working from home. It’s so easy to get distracted by anything – a ringing phone, an entertaining tv show, even a pile of laundry can distract you from what you should be doing. And on top of these everyday distractions, there are naturally going to be some days when you just don’t feel like working. Finding the motivation to get things done is a challenging skill that can take time to master. I’ve found that working alone so much actually makes it harder for me to focus sometimes; I can really be my own distraction!
The Reality: The reality to mastering self control is it’s challenging, but not impossible. Whenever I find it hard to focus, I know it’s time to change my environment. Coffee shops and libraries are my favorite “go-to” workplaces outside of my home office. Leaving my comfort zone helps me eliminate my usual distractions and cut down on procrastinating. I’m less likely to bust into my own music video when I’m working in a public setting and I make sure to chose a place where there’s no TV close by to watch. Also, making a to-do list and holding yourself accountable to deadlines is another great way to keep yourself motivated.
The Good: The World is the Office
The best thing about owning your own business, is be able to chose where you work. I love working from home in my personal office and sitting within walking distance from the kitchen. I like having the option of working in a coworking space and being around other working creatives. Other times I just want to be around people in general (because working alone can have its lonely moments) and get some things done at Starbucks or the library. As long as I have a computer and internet connection, the workplace possibilities are endless. This is especially beneficial for traveling or going on vacation – who says you can’t be productive while laying on the beach?
The Reality: When your office can be anywhere, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can work from anywhere – your bed, a friend’s house, a crowded event. There are actually a lot of places you really shouldn’t use as a workplace, simply because the environment is too distracting to accomplish any real work. The reality of choosing your workplace is having the discipline to know when a workplace isn’t productive, no matter how great the place might be. I know I can work in a Starbucks or even the library, as long as I have headphones to listen to music. If I don’t have music playing while I work, I’m likely to get distracted by the noises around me and spend more time figuring out what’s making the noises than actually working. Knowing my work habits helps me choose which workplace will work best for my productivity and happiness.
The Bad: Too Many Hats
This “bad” is pretty obvious when you work alone: you are the business. You’re in charge of everything and you are everyone. Having so many responsibilities can be overwhelming at times, especially when you have to take on a role you know nothing about. My graphic design major prepared me for everything I needed to create and design, but when it came to business finances, I quickly realized I needed to learn some accounting.
The Reality: If you are ambitious enough to start your own business, you can learn a new skill. And any new skill you learn for the sake of your business will be of value, so why not? The reality of learning something new is it takes time to learn it; and sometimes it’s really just not something you want to learn. When faced with this reality, just remind yourself that you’re investing into your business and becoming more well-rounded with all the new things you’re learning. Plus, being your own boss means you always have the option to hire other people to take on some of those hats.
The Good: Lots of Industry Exposure
It’s rare, if not impossible, to find a successful business that doesn’t have a consistent brand with a well designed logo and website. Graphic design is a necessity for any business looking to stand out from their competition and because of this, I get to work with all types of different business industries. Having clients from all sorts of careers gives me exposure to so much more than just the creative industry. I have the opportunity to learn about other businesses and the services and products they provide. I’ve learned things about industries I would have never even known about had it not been for my design business. Meeting such a variety of clients and building these business connections not only exposes me to new ideas, but it also works as great exposure for my business and design skills.
The Reality: Different types of clients come with different types of personalities and as a freelance designer, I’ve had to learn how to work with the various types of thinkers in each industry. For example, when I’m working with a client in the creative industry, such as a boutique owner, I know my experience working with them will probably be drastically different from a client who works in the engineering industry. Right-brained individuals tend to be more expressive and can have strong opinions on the elements used in the design, which could potentially present a challenge for me as the designer. On the other hand, left-brained individuals tend to be more focused on the facts and logic of a design and can forget about the importance of the aesthetics, potentially presenting me with a different challenge. Understanding that each client is different and accepting the reality that I have to work with people who think differently from me (or just like me) helps me better understand how to work with them and build a good client-designer relationship.
The Bad: No Benefits
Self-employment doesn’t come with the same packaged benefits that can come with working for an employer. Health and dental insurance are additional expenses to consider when starting your own business, and sometimes they can get expensive. There is no paid sick leave or vacation days and you don’t have an employer contributing to your retirement plan. Then there’s the other perks that come with working for someone else, such as free food and fun company outings, that you miss out on when you work for yourself.
The Reality: When you love what you do, owning your own business is the benefit. The advantages of being your own boss outweigh the costs that come along with being self-employed and a vacation is something you have to force yourself to take. From the outside looking in, the perks of working for an employer may seem tempting, but not at the cost of doing a job you don’t enjoy. The reality of not having benefits is it’s an inconvenience, but it’s not the end of the world. Stay focused on the joys of being able to work a job you enjoy and accept the costs that come with that happiness.
The Good: Each Day Is Different
Even with a set work schedule, no day is ever the same for a freelance designer. I usually designate a set amount of hours to work on freelance projects during the day, but whether I work these hours straight through or break them up depends on my schedule for that week. Because each work day can be different I have more flexibility to do more of the things I enjoy doing, like traveling. If I want to take a week trip to the beach, I can plan out my work schedule the same way I normally would, just with a change of scenery. Every project brings something new to each day because there is always something to create. Starting a project with a new client can be just as exciting as starting the next step of a project with an on-going client.
The Reality: The freedom to do what you want, when you want can backfire quickly without some serious self-discipline. Nobody wants to turn down something fun in exchange for doing work, but sometimes saying no is necessary. I would love to take a trip to NYC to go shopping and sightseeing! But I also know that if I have a heavy workload, taking such an “event-filled” trip may not be the best idea in regards to my business. Even as the boss, the reality to being able to vary up your work routine is that the decisions you make now will have an effect on the outcome of your business later, whether good or bad. Sticking to a similar daily routine, even when you don’t have to, may seem mundane and redundant, but in the end everything that’s accomplished now will pay off later.
The Bad: Slow Months
Starting your own business can come with some rocky moments. Your workload may not always be consistent and it can be difficult to predict what sort of income you’ll have for upcoming months. Being a planner myself, dealing with these inconsistencies was especially frustrating for me and often times left me feeling a little discouraged about what I was doing. Even during months when my income was easier to predict, sometimes it just wouldn’t be enough. Not having enough projects or getting any new clients is just another factor that contributes to these slow months.
The Reality: The reality is slow months are only temporary. If you continue to do what you are supposed to and work on developing your business, the projects will come. Utilizing passive income is a good way to offset these months – develop an app, create a typeface, offer in-house design services – anything to generate ongoing income. There are several ways for designers to generate passive income to make up for slow months and you can find more ideas like these in the Freelance Designer’s Business Plan.
The Good: Feeling Accomplished
When my design business started to take off and I began to get work more consistently, I felt so accomplished because I knew I was the one responsible for it all. I had put all my sweat and tears into growing my business and was finally starting to see my hard work pay off. I get this same feeling of accomplishment when a client is extremely pleased with the outcome of a project or when I see one of my designs come alive after I’ve spent weeks working on it. These feelings of accomplishment make the job of a designer that much more rewarding and doubles as a source of motivation to keep going strong.
The Reality: The reality of feeling accomplished is that the high can sometimes be short lived. When you are just as accountable for all your business accomplishments, as you are for its downfalls, it can be so easy to get discouraged. As a freelance designer, you have to find new ways to stay motivated, even when business may be slow or not progressing as fast as you would like. Since working for myself, I’ve learned that mistakes are inevitable, and as much as they can suck, they always turn out to be really great lessons. So if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed about your business, just take a step back and take in everything you’ve accomplished thus far. Then remind yourself to get your head in the game and keep pushing!