From Hobby To Side Hustle To Full Time, Plus The 3 Most Important Lessons I've Learned Along The Way
I’m a reflective person by nature, which I’d say has served me pretty well so far! Since I’m a big fan of carving your own path, I don’t really like to tell people how they should do things.
Instead I want to share the 3 biggest lessons I’ve learned over this past year of working for myself full time, and hope that it can help you in some way in your own business.
01 // Figuring out your "why" really is important.
Mine started out more on a surface level: I wanted more time to do fun things and just felt🖕🏻🖕🏼🖕🏽 about working for somebody else.
Honestly, not a bad start. But it’s been fun to see this job shift into something else that's so rewarding and fulfilling.
This is gonna sound woo woo af, but these days my why is wrapped around helping people step into more confident, composed versions of themselves, and that really energizes me to keep creating and being there for more people in return.
02 // Showing up every day and putting in the work is important even if you don't see an immediate return on your time and energy.
I started working towards going full time in December 2015. I wasn’t able to do it until October 2016, and it drained everything I had until July 2017. That’s 20 MONTHS of not knowing if I was going to have anything to show for it at the end of the day.
Thankfully I'm a really stubborn person, so I kept at it and that 20 months of blind faith was literally life altering.
03 // "I already have everything I need."
This might be the most monumental shift I've had with mindset and it's something I tell myself almost daily. I've learned that I'm smart, resourceful + scrappy af. And more importantly, it reminds me that I can get around any obstacle that pops up 💪🏽
The things you tell yourself are what shape your reality, so be sure to build yourself up.
This business has seen many different versions of itself since I started back in 2012.
But it wasn’t until October of 2016 that I went full time, so before I share my top 3 lessons I want to give you an overview of what’s happened between now and then. Especially because while things are SO GOOD now...they kinda sucked for a long time first.
2012 // MBD’s humble beginnings.
- I used to blog on Blogger (oh how I miss those simpler times!) and was always creating little graphics or playing with the code to customize the look of my blog. After 4-6 months of doing this and meeting other bloggers, I started getting commissions from people who wanted me to design their blogs, too.
- I did this for about 6ish more months then….
2013 // I try out design products, move my blog over to Squarespace, move myself and all my belongings to Minneapolis, try my hand at Wordpress development + support myself solely with graphic design income for the first time ever (but only for 2 months)
- Early 2013 I started building out pre-made Blogger templates that I would customize and install for my customers. I actually got a couple of sales from it! Cool!
- Later in the year I moved my blog over to Squarespace (I even built out a little e-commerce section where I tried to sell some of the clothes I didn’t want anymore).
- My best friend had been in the graphic design industry for a few years but switched gears with her career, so she passed on a couple of her clients to me. These clients were actually just friends of ours with businesses, so it was a low stress situation. This is when I started dipping my toes into print work but essentially had NO CLUE what I was doing 🙄
- At the very end of this year I moved from Mississippi to Minneapolis with no savings and no job with my then-boyfriend. He moved us there with his savings then I supported us solely off of design work for the first two months while we looked for other jobs.
- One of my projects this year was moving a fashion blogger from Blogger over to Wordpress. I had been feeling pressure to learn how to develop websites on top of designing them, so this was my test project. I HATED IT. I felt so overwhelmed and out of my league the whole project, but I eventually scrapped something together for her that I think (???) she was happy with.
2014 // I take a big step back from design work.
- The pressure from those 2 months without a stable job and always feeling in over my head during the Wordpress project (on top of being in a new city and ending my relationship with the dude I frickin’ moved to Minneapolis with) left me feeling COMPLETELY burnt out on design, so I focused on managing the coffee shop I had been hired at and didn’t take on any new projects this entire year (though I did continue to work for 3 of my favorite clients).
2015 // My huge step back into design.
- As a coffee shop manager I was responsible for the store from 5:30am to midnight each day, 7 days a week. If something went wrong I got called. If someone didn’t show up, I had to cover the shift. I hated never getting to fully relax because my mind was always on the shop, so I started looking for a job that kept normal office hours.
- I landed an office job as a Marketing Manager for a local realtor. When they realized I had design experience my role shifted to more of an in-house designer situation.
- This is where I really learned about print design. I also learned a lot of other useful things like explaining my design decisions when they were being challenged, how much more confident someone becomes when they feel proud of their visual branding, and, from a business standpoint, gained lots of experience by seeing someone else run their business and how they curated their client experience.
- After being there a year though, I also realized I HATED being an in-house designer and was hyper aware of the type of relationship and dynamic I needed if I was going to continue with graphic design.
- So in December I brought my Squarespace website back from the dead and really started thinking about how I could make freelance graphic design work….without getting burnt out again.
2016 // The year of many "lessons" (aka the worst client experience I’ve ever had).
- In January I started doing design work for another friend of mine and his law practice, so I had built up to 4 clients I was regularly working with.
- I spent the next couple months researching and finalizing my design packages then officially launched my new site in March.
- I set up a referral system for my 4 clients and asked them to help me book new work. I basically got one project booked and immediately quit my real estate job 😁
- Two months later I ran out of money and had to pick up two part time jobs to bring in extra income.
- I was still booking new design work, and unfortunately/fortunately one of those projects ended up being a total headache….and honestly made me doubt if this whole working-for-yourself thing was even worth it.
- Instead of throwing in the towel I decided to take a hard look at everything that went wrong then figured out what changes I needed to make so that I could avoid ever working with this type of client again.
- In August I started feeling more stable with my income, so at the end of the month I gave a month’s notice at both of my jobs then promptly booked a trip back home for the beginning of October.
- October 1 marked the beginning of full time entrepreneurship for me and also meant I was starting my full time status while on vacation. HELL YES ENTREPRENEURSHIP CAN BE FUN SOMETIMES!!! (“Sometimes” is the key word in that sentence.)
- I spent the last part of 2016 totally re-strategizing my approach to design. I tightened my process, I changed how I talked to my clients, I changed how I talked about my work and design, I spent way more time explaining my thought process behind my design decisions, and I relaunched my website with all new design, copy and a new portfolio set up.
- In total I was able to book 11 new projects in 2016, added 5 new business owners to my client roster and have worked with 4 of those 5 clients on a consistent basis since then 🙌🏾
2017 // Growing pains: being stressed all the time, feeling like I was at the end of my rope (again) then experiencing a 180º turn that came out of nowhere.
- By January all of the projects I booked in 2016 had ended, and I only had a few leads for new projects (but nothing booked). I was really freaking stressed about money and was exhausted from having to scramble for clients all over again.
- In the middle of all of my financial stress, I impulsively decided I needed to invest BIG MONEY into a coach who was going to help me achieve all these crazy dreams I had for my business. I was willing to take out a huge loan if I needed to, so I found and booked a coach whose program cost $12,000 😳 It ended up being such a disappointment. I wasn’t ready and it didn’t feel like she had the best process in place to qualify her clients.
- About halfway through her program we decided to part ways (super amicably) and I didn’t end up having to pay the entire $12K fee (phew). This experience taught me a LOT about being on the client end of things, which totally upped my game with my own clients, which in turn has led to some of the best relationships I’ve had thus far in my business.
- Anyway, I was stressed about not having projects booked in January and had spent a lot of time leveling up everything I could in my design process. I decided to double my rates to justify all that my new approach would bring to the table, then sent an email to my clients and leads letting them know I’d be rolling out my new prices in 2 weeks (meaning they should book before then to get the lower rates). I was able to book 3 projects from that, which gave me enough work for the first quarter of 2017.
- In April I realized I was in a feast or famine cycle with work, and that I needed to give myself more bandwidth to focus on marketing and bringing in new work before the current work was done.
- Things were financially tight for about 3 more months and the stress was affecting me mentally, plus it was totally putting a strain on my relationship with my new boyfriend. I started prepping my resume to apply to a few branding agencies around Minneapolis, in hopes that landing a job would relieve a lot of the pressure I had been feeling all year.
- Immediately after I decided to switch gears I had a lot of old clients who needed new things designed for them. Those projects took up less mental space (it’s easier to design for a familiar brand than it is to build one from the ground up), which gave me more bandwidth to market and work new leads. I realized I really loved working this way.
- I had about 2 months of this type of work and a bunch of leads for new branding/website clients, and found myself not being able to accommodate last minute requests. I was able to start booking projects out a little further as the summer came to an end, and by mid September I realized I was completely booked for the rest of the year, and even had prospects for jobs in early 2018.
- If that’s not an amazing end to my first year of being full time, I don’t know what is. But to cap it off, I even got to take time off during my 1 year anniversary to hang with my parents who flew up to see me.
- So far in 2017 I’ve worked on 14 new projects, added 8 new businesses to my client roster and have continued to work with 3 of those clients on a consistent since then 🙌🏾
Now I’d love to hear from you.
Where are you at in your business? What have been some of the biggest obstacles? What about the things you’re most proud of? Be sure to leave them in the comments below or hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org if that feels better for you 💗