To develop a business intentionally, ensuring that it aligns with our values and will fulfil us for years to come, we need to take our time. This also increases the chances that you’ll attract the right clients and customers, and be of service.
The downside of growing slowly can be earning less to begin with, and this can feel scary. Money worries are one of the hardest parts of being a business owner. It is worth it once things get going: bringing in regular income yourself, from something you love, feels incredible.
In those early, low-income days, it is important to consider how to support yourself and your growing business, so that you avoid becoming overwhelmed by money worries. Ultimately you don't want to do anything because you feel financially pressured, as this could damage your business, and how you feel about your work. There are different ways to go about this:
Building your business on the side
Using time when you’re not working to start your business
Contracting or freelancing flexibly as you grow.
Build your business on the side
While growing my first business in 2015, and without any savings to fall back on, I stayed in my full time job for the first 10 months. In truth, it often felt like my full time job that was the thing 'on the side', as I carved out as much time as possible for the new business, such was my excitement and passion. Weekends and evenings, lunch breaks, and even breakfast-time became chunks of time I happily devoted to developing something new.
Even when it looked like this business had grown enough for me to quit my job, I actually opted to take a six month unpaid sabbatical first. I was building this business in partnership with a friend, so I wanted to further test that the business could support both of us full-time before biting the bullet and quitting. And when I say 'support' I mean 'pay us the bare minimum while we continued to build it up'!
This approach was a great balance between having security and taking that leap of faith. Although building it up on the side was exhausting and left me with no free time whatsoever, it enabled me to stay secure until the business was financially viable. And the reality, as we'd hoped, was that the business grew even more quickly once both of us were working on it full time, especially as we already had a solid foundation from those first 10 months of 'side hustling'.
Develop your business while you’re not working
This time around I had a bit of money saved from my first business, and I felt like I wanted some time to think, so I took a few months completely 'off' while I figured out what I wanted to do with Be Stubborn. That, plus my experiences the first time around, provided me with clarity around the kind of business I wanted to create, and how I could achieve this. I spent a fair amount of time working on my business model, applying everything I'd learned, so that when I launched everything felt so right.
That said, I chose a business path that requires time. I have no regrets about this: it is increasingly important to me to build a life that is intentional, that supports me and my values, and makes me happy. I want to do brilliant work and keep supporting crazy-amazing people for the rest of my life. And creating something that intentional and sustainable takes time. I want to slowly design and publish content and resources that are of value to others. I want to build relationships and develop a supportive community. I want to stay committed to the principle that it is OK to say "no" to things that don't feel right, that will stress me out, or take me in an unintended direction (note: the spontaneity of 'unintended directions' can feel fun for a while, making it tempting, but long-term it can be negative. We'll talk more about this another time!!).
But... and it is a big but, while this approach can feel great and heartfelt and true, it isn't a way to make money quickly - from taking the time off to think, to the commitment to growing slowly and intentionally.
And this approach brings risks, and I don't just mean the risk of running out of money. Even if you're sat on a pile of savings, or have someone else to support you, not earning much money can: a) feel demotivating, and b) lead you to 'sell out' and do things / create things out of fear. (Or maybe the pressure will motivate you to do some of your best work! That is down to the individual, and is something we should all be aware of and give thought to.)
Freelance or contract flexibly
All of this leads me to my chosen approach this time around. To support my intention to make Be Stubborn into something I am so proud of and love, I am doing some marketing consultancy work. Weirdly I couldn't be more excited about this! Not only am I working on a cool sustainability project with some great people, but I am returning to my 'career roots', and keeping my marketing skills sharp.
Taking on contracts like this allows me to be flexible, to manage my own time, to decide how much energy I can / want to commit to financially supporting the growth of a new business. Everything is still on my own terms.
And yet one of the things I debated was whether to share this. I was worried that admitting to taking on other work while trying to build up a reputation as someone who can help others with their businesses, would damage my credibility. Thankfully a conversation with another business coach helped me to talk myself around, and reminded me that:
This is the reality of what it is like to grow a business, and I want to share that openly with others. We all need to hear the truth, or we risk falling into despair at the idea that everyone else is doing so much better than we are!
Taking on marketing contracts enables me to show up for my business and for my clients in the best way possible. I can be genuine and authentic and all of the things I want to be, as I won't be driven by the need to earn money.
I've already created and grown a successful business, one that still thrives today. So I don't have anything to prove right now! And even if I hadn't done that in the past, I still wouldn't have to prove anything. That's not what this is about. It is not a game, or a competition.
So, after three and a half years of owning businesses, let me remind myself and you that we don't have to go 'all in' and quit our jobs to start a business. Some people advise that you do, some people advise that you don't. Contracting feels perfect for me, at this stage of my journey. But I advise that you do you, because ultimately, that's what being the boss is all about!
Ultimately, being a business owner / self-employed / freelance means that it's all down to you which is amazing, terrifying and empowering all at once.