When I started working for myself in 2014, I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur; I thought of myself as someone who wanted to pursue my passion on my own terms.
The only problem was that I didn’t have a mentor to show me the ropes, which proved to be a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, all of the learning curves taught me meaningful lessons; however, understanding the intricacies of entrepreneurship from someone else’s perspective could have saved me a lot of late nights. Now, I like to use my experience as a platform to share my journey with others, so that aspiring business owners can make decisions for themselves with the valuable advantage of insight.
Don’t be discouraged by fear
In the beginning of my independent web designer career, it was easy to fall prey to self-doubt. I charged clients severely under market rate because I was unsure. Not of my skills, but of the space.
Being a freelancer is a bit like being an astronaut; you’re floating out there on your own, completely in awe of the seemingly endless universe. It wasn’t until my head caught up with my hands that I began learning the dollar value of an hour’s work.
“Each project meant more experience in building my brand, and the saying ‘time is money’ finally made sense.”
The more hours I worked, the more I started to rethink my business model, prices, and how to set expectations. With this, I gained the confidence I needed to mentally move from a freelance web designer to an entrepreneur.
Let your confidence guide you
In the spirit of confidence, I was able to release my fears and allow myself to step into the role of a business owner. This meant that instead of thinking from project to project, I began looking at my business holistically. When I did this, it became less about siloing a set amount of hours for one project and more about figuring out the best way to allocate those hours.
I understood that there were about 20 hours in my workweek that I needed to devote to cultivating my client relationships. The time I spent getting to know new clients, scheduling check-ins, and then ensuring projects were staying on track and launching kept me from actually designing—a realization that forced me me to re-evaluate which pieces of a project could be handled by someone else.
The problem was that I worked by myself, and wasn’t sure who I could trust to give my projects the same love and care, so I set out to find the right employee who could help grow my company in the right direction.
In doing so, I gained the time I needed to focus on the best parts of running my own business, and, almost like a switch, my confidence as an entrepreneur bloomed. I was suddenly comfortable stating my worth to clients and didn’t hesitate when a potential client asked why they should choose my company over a competitor’s.
Perhaps it was because I sensed a shift in the way people regarded my business after I hired my first employee. At closer inspection, however, I found it was less about the fact that I had someone working for me and more to do with the self-assurance I experienced because of it.
“In the spirit of confidence, I was able to release my fears and allow myself to step into the role of a business owner.”
Don’t sell your services short
“When you lead with confidence, you think differently.”
Becoming comfortable with change helped me quiet the fear that raising my prices would scare away new clients; in fact, higher pricing brought in more projects.
When I thought about it, it made sense. My services are like any investable purchase, and people pay more for quality. Once you embrace the mentality that your services are worth paying for, you’ll be able to speak to business owners with ease, and go from sitting and nodding in a conference room to owning it.
I remember my first big opportunity with a large equity firm in Manhattan. The secretary led me to a boardroom where my potential client and his team were waiting. I was never “given the floor” before, but suddenly, I had it. And I had to nail it.
I walked them through the web design process, highlighted a few points that I believe make me different from competitors, and assured them that their voice would be heard through completion of their website. I guess I was successful, because they hired me. It was certainly intimidating at the time; I was more used to meeting clients in coffee shops, but, I impressed myself.
Being on a high floor above the city skyline, dressed in my business clothes, didn’t change a single thing about my capabilities and what I have to offer. The experience solidified the belief that I could really do this, be a business owner, and more than that, be one people respected and wanted to work with.
If you’re ready, go for it
It seems casual to talk about such big steps, but if you get to a point where you’re jumping from stone to stone (project to project), and suddenly you look up and realize you’ve made your way across, it means you’re ready for the next frontier. For me, that included incorporating my business as a legitimate entity, putting myself and my employees on payroll, and using a bookkeeping software to streamline and track my business development.
“When you trust yourself, your attitude shifts.”
You become someone who sets business expectations instead of questioning what they should be. When I felt that I had solid footing, I expanded my business services to include branding and copywriting. Intuitively, I knew this would help grow Awaken and set us apart from other design studios.
More than 4 years later, I can say that following my gut has been the biggest asset to my company, and it’s truly amazing to see how many incredible websites have been created in a short amount of time. If you feel stuck, ask yourself if you’re making excuses because you might be afraid of the unknown. If you trust yourself and feel confident in your skillset, success is sure to follow.
Interested in learning more?
Karen is the founder and creative director at Awaken Studio, a creative design studio helping startups and small business owners grow their brands through smart and beautiful websites.