September 1st 2020 was the day when I became my own boss for the first time in my life. I was just about to turn 39.
In this post I am explaining how this first year went, what problems I had as a self-employed, what I learned and most importantly: did I make it to start earning enough money through my passions?
The beginning of the journey
As many of you know, before becoming my own boss I used to work as a manager with over 50 people reporting to me. It was hard to take the decision to leave behind a successful career and start a new endeavour almost from scratch. It was hard to give away a secure salary and lots of benefits which I was taking for granted during many years.
I started my new journey with savings for 12 months and the promise to myself that in one year I would be earning as much as in my previous job (spoiler: that didn’t happen). That’s how I convinced myself to take the risk.
Sources of income
But how do bloggers earn money, you may ask.
Apart from being a blogger I am also a food photographer and I teach baking and photography classes. That made it possible for me to have different sources of income.
Diversifying the income is important for most businesses but starting with more than one work stream is a double-edged sword. The more you can focus on one thing only, the less time you would need to master it. I knew that but still decided to choose the harder path.
The plan was to grow my blog, my photography expertise, my Instagram account and my teaching business at the same time.
Being a good boss to myself was one of the biggest challenges during this period. That sounds odd for a person with years of leadership experience. But the truth is that so many of us are more critical and ruthless towards ourselves than to others. Lots of efforts and discipline are required in order to follow priorities we’ve personally set. It’s hard to resist the temptation to change them every other day.
At the beginning of my self-employment journey I was setting goals that were not realistic and later I was beating myself up for not managing to accomplish them. It took me months to realise that I was not supposed to treat myself as if I were a whole team.
Another challenge I faced was to accept that no business is built in a day or two. Being in business is a process, same as being good in what you do. The world changes, the conditions change and we have to change with them, so as the way we work. Success is not an invariable concept and that logically means that any failure is a just temporary defeat.
During this year I added to my portfolio several projects with dream clients. I became more confident in my photography skills and created lots of images that I am proud of.
Another success was my contract with Mediavine: one of the most prestigious ad management companies. I consider my work with them as a great accomplishment because they have very high criteria for the websites they work with.
In addition I lowered my stress levels, I started working out more and taking better care of myself. I am now living the dream of working what I really love. It is great to expect Mondays with enthusiasm and not with stress!
Probably my biggest accomplishment was that I overcame lots of my fears related to working in my own company and marketing my work.
What I learned during this year
Focus is key
The more you focus on one thing, the easier and faster it will be to master it. I know that now but I still can’t allow myself to do only one thing for a long period.
But with time I improved my focus strategy and now I have days and almost full weeks when I work only on one thing.
Prioritise your financial goals
For a business to survive and thrive it has to earn enough money to support itself and to support the people working in it. That is the minimum requirement, profit is highly desirable.
Every business owner has to prioritise money, there is no other way to survive. That means to make a clear plan of how the money is going to come in and to follow it. To create a REALISTIC earnings goal for every month and to make it happen by working on it.
Sounds logical in theory but for someone like me who worked all their life expecting a secure salary every month, it might be counterintuitive. I started the other way around: trying to see how much money I can earn from each of my income sources. That was not correct because without clear goals we tend to lose focus and miss opportunities.
Selling yourself cheap is not a good idea
Initially I was selling my services for very low prices. Then suddenly I realised that this was not bringing me in a good direction. If I wanted to follow my plans, which included growing my business, hiring help and a studio, I could not afford to sell my work cheap. But most importantly, by charging low prices I was diminishing the quality of my work and attracting clients which were not exactly the best for me.
It is so important for a creator to appreciate their own work! Another important lesson I learned this year was that pricing should be done by calculations, not by estimations.
Find your community
Working alone every day can feel lonely. It is important to find like-minded people with whom to support each other.
I became part of the Food Photography membership of Healthy Goodies by Lucia. In the club I learned things I didn’t know I was supposed to know. I met photographers from all around the world. This is a great community where we often have live calls, we work on projects together, celebrate our wins and give ourselves support.
On the other hand the contacts with other food bloggers helped me a lot as well. Some of them I can call good friends, even if we don’t live in the same cities.
Hiring a coach is not a weakness
In July 2021 I hired a coach to help me grow my photography business. This step was probably the biggest investment I had made during the year but I knew it would be an invaluable help for my self-confidence and my sense of direction.
I know that most successful businesses have hired a coach or mentor at some point. It is very important to find the right person for you who can understand your challenges and lead you in the right direction.
Ups and Downs
During this year not everything was perfect. I had days when I felt very demotivated. I received rejections from potential clients and nasty comments from readers. I had administrative challenges. Clients who once told me how much they loved my work, did not want to talk to me anymore after I raised my prices. All this made me feel not good enough and unsuccessful.
I still have such days. But thanks to my eternal optimism I kept my head up after all the challenges. I know I am working in a very competitive area so making comparisons will never lead to something good. But I also know that every photographer is unique and so am I. Uniqueness always makes you stand out because nobody can create exactly the same work that you create.
Did I succeed
In July I gave myself my first salary as a self-employed! It was less than half of what I was earning in my corporate job but I felt that I have accomplished the first very important milestone towards my financial success doing what I love.
Things are not as black and white as I thought initially, still I am happy with my progress. I haven’t accomplished my financial goals yet but compared to where I’ve started, I consider this year to be a learning and orientation success. At the beginning I wasn’t sure where I was heading. Now I know my next steps and I know my path forward.
As a side note: working the corporate world gave me a lot and I wouldn’t be where I am now without that experience. I feel proud of myself for finding the strength to leave when I felt that my work was not giving me a sense of personal fulfilment anymore. The reason I am pointing this out is that I know there are lots of people, mostly women in their 30s and 40s, who are not happy with their current job status but don’t do anything to change it. It is especially hard to change jobs when everyone around considers your career as a success. It makes you feel ungrateful to leave something that others dream about.
But life changes, times change and we change as well. It is not a failure to leave your once loved career and start a new one. But you may feel like a failure if you never try it.
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