On My Own,
With Everyone

I’ve been running my own business for a little over a year now. There are a lot of things I've learned. This is an attempt to share a few of them.

The ideas here are based off of my experience over the past year. These thoughts are not advice to be applied to your own situation directly. These are just a few things I’ve realized over the past year.

For context, in October, 2012, I started a tiny studio called Cottleston Pie. I do some client work, but I really enjoy working on my small adventures.

  • Working for yourself is hard. But it's not that hard. It takes time and effort. But not THAT much time and effort.
  • People look out. I immediately let people know that I was looking for work. I’ve had lots of people refer me for projects. Some of them worked out, some of them didn't. And now I get to do the same for other people.
  • It's not for everyone. I completely understand why someone wouldn't want to run a business. I get why people would want to go to work for 8(ish) hours and then leave, go out, go home, whatever it is they want to do. I just don’t want that. I find it boring.
  • I get excited about the unknown. I could see how someone would be nervous about not knowing where their next project or paycheck is going to come from. But I choose to see that as an adventure. Who knows what the future will hold?! Imagine all of the cool shit I might get to make!
  • Yes, my “work life” bleeds into my personal life. Yes, I work a few late nights and a few early mornings. But that also means I can go surfing in the middle of the day, or bike around from coffee shop to coffee shop, or not have to worm my way through HR to save on vacation days.
  • Some “work days” I work for 4 hours. Some “work” days, I work for 15 hours. Sometimes I just go to the beach.
  • I generally try to keep to “standard business hours.” Meaning that I start working in the morning, and aim to finish up when it starts getting dark. This allows me to maximize the time I get to spent with my family and friends (who have jobs).
  • I work on whatever I’m feeling motivated about that day. Granted there are deadlines, but generally, if I’m feeling excited about a project, I try to just go with it. Then I switch to another project.
  • If I didn't like the work that I do, this would be a lot harder. I enjoy solving client problems. I enjoy designing websites. I enjoy creating my own projects and solutions for problems I see in the world.
  • I'm the type of person who gets bored easily. If I'm not excited about a project or a task, it will take me forever to do it, if I ever get around to it. If I wasn't excited about this kind of work, I'd be broke.
  • My favorite part of this past year has been making my own schedule. Being in an office all day never felt natural to me. The three years I had a full-time office job was the only time since high school that I was required to be in one place all day. I've always had a few different things going at once, allowing for an extra flexible schedule. Now I’m back in my element!
  • The most difficult thing I’ve dealt with this year has been scoping projects. Part of that is not calling out scope creep immediately. Part of it is not fully defining the scope in the original contract, leaving room for interpretation. Part of it is just poor guess work. It's something that I get better at every time I do it, but I'm still not that comfortable with, and am constantly second guessing myself.
  • I assign myself projects.. I've gotten to work on some really awesome projects. All of those decisions were made by me. I chose to say yes to each project and each team. Because of that, I've gotten to work with some pretty amazing folks.
  • If I screw this up, I can only blame myself. And there's something so exciting about that.
  • I can only control my actions, how I spend my time, and my reactions to others. Everything else is out of my hands, so there's no reason to stress about it.
  • I'm no longer afraid to talk about money. That took me about 6 months to get comfortable with. It should be one of the first things that's talked about with a client. I just try to get it out there.
  • I no longer know how to label myself. My last title at BSD was Principal Designer, which was accurate. My site says Graphic Designer; but that's not totally accurate. Yes, I design things. I also write code. I organize a community of people excited about bikes over an email list. I manage projects. I ship things to people in the mail, as a surprise. I just consider all of those things design. When I'm considering someone else who might be interacting with whatever I'm working on, that feels like design. I “design” the emails that I write. I “design” the code I write, for other developers, but also for interactions with what the code generates on the front-end. What do we make that isn't designed?
  • I'll figure it out. When I have something I want to make, I try not to get caught up on what technology I’ll use or what API I need. I focus on the solution first. Once I figure out what I want to achieve, there’s almost always a way to figure it out. There are tutorials, there’s Stackoverflow, there are people to ask. It’s usually an opportunity to learn something new, or at least work with someone smart.
  • I surround myself with people who are smarter than me. Working out of Studiomates is incredibly helpful. I also keep in touch with old co-workers, collaborate with amazing designers & developers, and hire people who are experts in their field. Getting an accountant was huge.
  • I still feel like I don’t know anything, in the best way possible. The more I learn, the more there is to learn! But I also realized that nobody knows what they’re doing. There’s comfort in knowing that we’re all just making it up as we go along.
  • I go outside when it’s nice out.
  • I call my clients. I go visit my clients. Speaking to someone, smiling at, or even just being in the same room with someone is incredibly more effective than emailing someone.
  • I appreciate everyone that has helped me in the past year. One of the things I’m most excited about in the next few years is having the opportunity to do the same for other people.

If you're interested in going off on your own and need someone to bounce ideas off, I'm happy to chat! Just send me an email.

Now I'm going to go rake the leaves with my dog, because I'm feeling motivated to do that.