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I never dreamed about starting a business. In my dreams of running a bookstore and being a writer, the business aspect was always just there. And, of course, it was successful.
When I made the decision to leave my position as a bookstore manager (see the following posts for that story),
I didn’t realize how difficult starting a business as a freelance writer would be. (And that’s probably a good thing!)
At a recent network meeting, someone said that there are three stages to starting a business: 1) the weeds 2) creeping along 3) the leap. Looking back, I can clearly see these stages in my own journey.
1. The Weeds
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And while my physical limitations made writing a great encore career option, like most who want to write, I had a very romanticized view of what actually working as a freelance writer would look like.
In my imagination, I was always sitting somewhere beautiful and writing. I never had to deal with writer’s block! And my readers (lots and lots of them) always enjoyed my writing. But best of all, I never had to look for work or find publishers. I didn’t have to deal with the demands of deadlines or clients. And I only worked when I wanted to work.
That may be a reality for some writers, but it isn’t my reality. At least not yet.
Yes, there are parts of my dream that have come true. Sitting somewhere beautiful and writing is one of them. In the summer, I am outside on my deck, and every once in a while, deer wander through my yard. The glorious tree colors inspire me in the fall. During the cold winter months, I’m warm and toasty inside, and my view of the beautiful snow-covered trees is pristine. And while I have a love/hate relationship with Michigan in the spring, my encore career as a freelance writer has provided me with the freedom to travel.
I am blessed and I love what I do, but it is still work. There are several crucial aspects of starting and running a professional, freelance writing business that don’t fit into the romanticized view. And honestly, without them, I wouldn’t make enough money to stay home and do what I love.
Those aspects are what make starting a business so hard.
I registered the domain name JeanneNoorman.com on Tuesday, November 27, 2012, just five days after that rotten Thanksgiving. While I was still employed full-time, I didn’t have to be at work until 9:00 am. So, my days began between 5:30 and 6:00 am with researching, writing, and building my writer’s website. My first few clients were friends, and because I needed samples, I didn’t charge them. In March of 2013, I began working with my writing mentor, Ed Gandia, and dreaming of the day when I could write full-time. Getting started was relatively easy.
And then it got hard.
Finding customers who were willing to pay me a fair price to write for them was the first hurdle that slowed me down. Crafting creative copy that catches attention, connects with your clients, and conveys your message in a meaningful way takes time and brain power. Yet, many businesses expect freelancers to work for pennies per word. I refused to work for the content mills that paid $10 to $25 for a 1000-word blog post. And I’ve never regretted that decision. But, finding good clients who respected me as a professional writer took time, lots of it in the beginning.
1.5 Getting Out of the Weeds
A key character trait required when starting your own business is confidence. I believe most anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m very confident. But looking for writing work, sending out query letters and proposal after proposal, keeping in touch with unresponsive prospective customers, and compromising my rates in order to win writing contracts just about destroyed my confidence.
Even writing about it now is difficult. When lack of progress became ordinary, Resistance and his best bud Procrastination snuck into take the place of forward momentum. (Apparently, this is normal for right brain-creative people like me.) Finally, one day when I was really, really down, I decided that I was either going to succeed as a freelance writer by a certain date or I was going to go out and find a new job.
Resources that helped me win my crisis of confidence and battle with procrastination include: (Affiliate links provided for your convenience.)
- The War of Art, Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield – an easy to read explanation of resistance and how to break through it
- The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin – An autographed copy of this book arrived one day in my mailbox just when I needed it most, a gift from my writing mentor Ed. Thank you, Ed!
- Hilda: Tackle Your Inner Naysayer, Get Out of Your Own Way, and Unleash Your Badassery by Coach Jennie – In addition to Coach Jennie and Hilda the Book helping me get out of my own head, the encouraging community of entrepreneurs and business owners in Coach Jennie’s Facebook group Get Out of Your Own Way were instrumental in helping me take my business from baby to booming. Thank you, Jennie, RJ, Gail, Kinzie, Donnie, Stacy, Tiffany, Nicole, Dawney, and so many more!
- Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling by Michael Port – Though a bit dated when it comes to technology, the internet, and social media, this book was recommended by both Ed Gandia and Coach Jennie. While it was neither fast nor easy, it helped me overcome my biggest hurdles which were making a plan and putting myself ‘out there’
2. Creeping Along
My business crept along through 2013. My energy surged, and I had a short season of success when I left my position as a bookstore manager to freelance full time in the spring of 2014. Then, in the next year and a half, we sold our house and moved twice (once to a rental and then to our new home), I helped plan our daughter’s wedding (which took place just three weeks after our second move), and I spent many days driving down to Chicago to cuddle our newborn grandson.
To say that these things got in the way of building my business would be wrong. Part of the reason I was starting my own business was to spend more time doing the things in life that I enjoy most. During this time of creeping along, I also began working with my first corporate and international clients.
I recently shared my story of getting out of the weeds and creeping along on Ed Gandia’s podcast, High Income Business Writing. While I wouldn’t classify myself as a ‘high-income’ writer yet, listener response has been amazing and encouraging. And I am well on my way.
3. The Leap
I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. That said, I know without a doubt that ‘the leap’ began when my business mindset changed from ‘struggling to survive’ to ‘celebrating success’.
Little by little, as I put myself out there, became active in online communities where my skillset was needed, attended networking meetings, and emailed prospective customers about my writing and editing services, clients came along. Initially, it was editing work, helping people improve their copy (which is just plain fun for me). Then eventually, I started to receive more and more copywriting inquiries.
I think I finally knew I was a business writer when I had the confidence to let my biggest client go. I will always appreciate the confidence they had in me when I was still a newbie. But, when project deadlines almost always became emergencies, the marketing director was mostly unresponsive, and payment took months from the time invoices are sent, it was time to move on. And so, I did.
Oh, So Worth It!
Letting go of a difficult client, leaving a job I no longer loved, and overcoming the challenges inherent with starting a business have all been difficult. But in the process, I’ve grown so much, and I’m a much happier person because of it.
As sensible, reliable, conscientious, dependable, mature adults, responsibility often has to trump happiness. I say this because I’ve been there. And I recognize that most of you, my readers, cannot just quit your job to start a business. And starting a business is hard! But I also want to encourage you to take a look at your life. Do you love the life you’re living now? Or are you just working through it and looking forward to retirement? If you answered yes to the second question, then I urge you to find a way to begin Rehearsing RetirementTM today.
I don’t know if I’ll ever fully retire. Freelance writing, both blogging and writing for business clients, is work – sometimes hard work. But it’s work that I really enjoy doing. And it’s work that allows me to use my skills to help people which is really important to me.
I’ve always wanted to be a professional writer. But in 2009, while I dreamed of a freelance writing career, I went out and found a job to pay for the girls’ college educations. That was the responsible thing to do. After the college bills were paid, it was my initial intention to continue working to put money into the retirement accounts that Greg and I had set up – more on that in another post. And there are those who believe leaving a good paying job with benefits is an irresponsible decision. But it was the right decision for me. Starting a business was hard, but it was oh, so worth it.
I love what I do. My encore career as a freelance writer provides me the freedom to work from wherever we are. I’ve worked from my mother’s living room while she was recovering from knee replacement surgery. I’ve worked from my daughters’ apartments, from hotel rooms, and from airports. In addition, while the first years starting my business were lean, and I haven’t completely replaced my bookstore income, I’m once again contributing financially to our retirement accounts. Life is an adventure, and because I made the hard decisions and persevered through the difficult first years, I am now able to fully live it Rehearsing RetirementTM today.
Now it’s your turn.
Are you living your life as fully today as you’d like?
Do you dream of a different career? Maybe an encore career?
Looking five or ten years down the road, what do you want your life to look like? What can you do today to make that dream come true?