I’ve realized running your own business is a lot like a hot dog eating contest.
Year One is all about getting started. You run out of the gate chomping with excitement. The world is your oyster (or hot dog), and you take in everything you can, noshing away at the plethora of opportunities the world offers with victory in mind.
Year Two, you start to find yourself a little overwhelmed at the task at hand. Suddenly you’re feeling pretty full but you suddenly realize this is much more of a marathon than a sprint. You find that you need to be more strategic about how you conduct things.
And finally, Year Three is when you realize that despite your best made plans, you have stuffed your gut to max capacity. You are going to explode or toss your cookies very soon if you don’t make some big changes, stat.
2016 was my year three as a full timer (year 9 of running a business…eek!), and I was stuffed.
The specifics are not important, but 2016 broke me.
I had a moment in late August, while running a 5K on limited food and 4 hours of sleep. I was running straight into the scorching sunset. My best friend had had emergency surgery a few days prior, and my packed work schedule hadn’t allowed me to be there for her like I’d wanted to. I’d had a speaking engagement the day before, and as I stood in front of a room full of people fumbling through my presentation I was simultaneously receiving emails from a disgruntled client that started to get a little too personal. We were leaving for Europe in ten days and had only secured lodging for 20% of our trip. I’d been training for this race for months, and was ignoring my the stifling heaviness of these current circumstances because I really wanted to see how well I could do.
But I was out of fuel. The muscles in my legs said, “No thank you,” and despite my Bieber-filled playlist, I couldn’t muster much more than a brisk walk the last mile of the race. I was so disappointed in myself, to come so far just to struggle my way to finish line. It became apparent that my body was telling me the same thing my heart had been trying to communicate: “If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t take control of your days, someone else will.”
That day in August I realized that in my hunger things had spun out of control. My days, my health, and my relationships had gotten away from me, and it was time to take back control.
So I ran away to Europe for ten days, buried my face deep inside of Purpose Over Perfect (run, don’t walk to get this book), sent an email to my clients saying I was no longer accepting new projects for the year, and tried to figure out how to be honest with myself about my current state of affairs. I began the uncomfortable practice of getting up without a completely packed schedule, and the awkward discipline of saying no frequently. I read Essentialism.
I began to understand that I had a lot to offer the world, a lot of good things. An empathetic heart, a strategic mind, above-average writing skills, swift hands in the kitchen. And all of these things were being overshadowed by fluff. I was spending most of my time doing the things that employ the fewest of my skills, and in the wake of that my friends, clients, family, and self were getting a sub-par version of me.
There’s nothing more sobering than realizing you’ve built a business that isn’t really working, and you have no one to blame but yourself.
But the cool part about being an entrepreneur is that each day is a new day to make things better and different.
So here we are, at the brink of a new year with an entirely new business model on my desk ready to go, one that plays up my greatest strengths as a creative and a business person and passes all the things I’m not so great at to someone who can do them better. What does this look like? It looks like more structured (and limited) service offerings, a more straight-forward process for all my projects, and a more discerning attitude toward what kinds of projects I take on, and which I pass along to other amazingly talented creatives.
You’ll start to see some changes around here soon, and hopefully you’ll be hearing more from me here on the blog too.
In the meantime, I need your help. 2016 taught me that I certainly cannot do this alone. In 2017 I’ll be looking for subcontractors in the following areas: graphic design, web development, SEO, social media marketing, email marketing, marketing consulting, copywriting, admin work, and PR. If you know someone please pass this along, and if you think you fit the bill, please reach out to me.
To everyone who stuck with me through the muck of 2016, thank you. Having an exceptional community around me was by far my biggest win of 2016, and I’m so grateful to have been able to walk alongside each and every one of you this year. We’re all in this together, let’s kill it in 2017.