I turned 30 years old last week.
Which means I can no longer be considered for any “30 under 30” awards. Bugger.
But you know what? I’m okay with that, especially since I accomplished so much this past year, like jumping back into freelancing, making more money than I was at my day job, reviving this blog, etc. Plus, in my personal life, I managed to go on a 3-week trip to Europe with my husband, start decorating the house we’ve owned for a year, redo our kitchen cabinets, and successfully host five relatives for Thanksgiving.
I really did quite a bit when I was 29. I also learned many valuable lessons this year which I wanted to share with you lot.
These five lessons may not apply to you. But I wouldn’t be sharing them with you if I didn’t think they’d benefit you in some way as you work on growing your business in 2017. So let’s dive in and see what you think:
Being an Expert Isn’t Instant
This is the most recent lesson I learned, and probably the most painful.
For a year and a half, I’d been trying to make Geek & Prosper into something it wasn’t, and consequently morph myself into something I wasn’t. I wanted to be an online business coach and expert, without having actually put in the work myself in a consistent manner over the course of several years.
Basically, I thought I could become an “insta-expert.”
The truth? These people don’t exist. They act like they do, but they don’t. Not really. A freelancer friend of mine who’s been in the game for around ten years virtually slapped me upside the face one day and made me realize this. She told me trying to be an insta-expert was stupid, misleading, and ultimately harmful to my long-term career. She told me I was better than that — bless her soul.
Fortunately, I believed her, and here I am putting my focus back into building my freelance business, as I should’ve been the entire time. And I’d caution you to do the same instead of trying to become someone you don’t deserve to be (yet).
You can read more about the moment where I basically poured out my soul, came clean, and laid out my plan to pivot this blog’s direction in this post right here.
Niching Is Brilliant
I’ve determined the majority of my success at earning more than my old day job can be attributed to one major decision: picking a niche.
Professional freelancers always tell you to pick a niche when you start your business, but I never did. I flopped around in the mire of generalist freelance-dom for far too long, and while I don’t wish I could change those days (they taught me a lot about the kinds of people I wanted to write for and the types of industries I cared about), I do wish I hadn’t been so scared to take the pros’ advice and niche down.
At the time, it just seemed silly. Why niche down when you could write about everything from any client who wanted to hire you?
But when you stand for nothing in life, you’ll fall for anything, and the same is true of niching. Freelancers simply can’t charge more or progress their businesses if they don’t specialize in something.
Fortunately, I recognized this dilemma in 2014, pivoted to focus on B2B content marketing in the online video and digital media realms, and now have no problems getting work. It’s brilliant.
Success Looks Different for Everyone
Speaking of niching, part of the reason I can charge so much now and have the life I want is because I chose to go back to a full-time day job in the industry I wanted to specialize in.
I agonized over this decision when I was making it. Okay, not true: I more like jumped at the opportunity, because I knew it’d get me the connections, experience, and insider knowledge necessary to break out on my own again.
But guess what? Other freelancers might see this move as me “giving up.”
And that’s fine. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t maintain a full-time freelancing career because I didn’t niche down properly (on top of some other poor decisions in the past). I’m fine with the fact that I did freelancing part-time on the side of my journalism job. Others may not feel they could do the same and still consider themselves successful freelancers.
Trust me, there’s no judging here. It’s up to each freelancer to determine their own version of success.
Starting Over Can Be a Smart Move
Ironically, while some freelancers would consider going back to a full-time job to be the opposite of success, for me, it was a smart move.
Because I decided to niche down and then take a day job in that industry, I now have little problems finding new freelance gigs. The referrals and connections I made working a regular 9-5 position have been irreplaceable. Besides, I would’ve had to work just as many hours and just as hard to earn the same level of connections, as well as their respect, if I’d stayed a freelancer the entire time, anyway.
So really, “starting over” as a freelancer — or maybe just determining what I really wanted to write about — was the best decision I could’ve made at that point in my career.
Putting Yourself First Isn’t Always Easy
Self-employment is 100% the life for me, but lately, I’ve been finding it takes away from self-improvement.
While I’ll admit I let myself slack in many areas and wasn’t as disciplined as I should be, more often than not my excuse to not exercise or read a book or, hell, even take a nap because I was falling asleep at my keyboard, was to work on growing my freelance business instead. Why would I work out if I could spend that hour marketing and possibly landing a new client?
But that attitude is not only dangerous, but very unproductive on the whole. When I don’t treat my mind and body right, I have no energy to work on my business and certainly no good results to show for it, either.
I’m working to rectify these problems, though. With exercise, I started two weeks ago with the goal of just two workouts of 30 minutes each per week, and now I’m moving up to three 30-minute sessions per week. Soon I hope to be back up to the point where I felt my best, when I worked out four times per week for 45 minutes to an hour. Yes, I know that’s a lot, but that’s also when I felt most in tune with my body’s needs, as well as when my brain was most sharp and my business most productive and organized.
As for, this blog, well… as you can see, I’m trying to treat it and myself as if I was my own client. In other words, I’m making time for it in my schedule in 2017. It also helps that I actually want to write about my freelancing journey and experiences on this blog now
So that covers it. These five lessons are what I’ve learned about my business when I was still 29. It was a lot to learn, but I’m so, so glad I did.
Now I’m curious to see what I learn while I’m 30…
How about you? What did you learn this past year about your business?
Header photo via Charos Pix