5 Truisms I’ve Learned From Being Self-Employed

5 Things I've Learned From Being Self-Employed


I’ve been a self-employed sole proprietor for 30 years now.  I make and sell handcrafted jewelry.  For the first several years, I worked out of my home and sold my jewelry at craft fairs on the weekends.  In late 1992 I opened a little retail store in my historic downtown area.  With my mom’s help, I continued to do shows for another several years while running the store at the same time.

Then I got married and had my son and as he got older I decided I didn’t want to travel so much (and the craft shows were no longer as lucrative as they had once been).  So I focused on the store and started to grow my online presence.   Business is about 60% in-store and 40% online as of this writing.

I continue to love working for and by myself as much as I ever did.  Most of the time it’s just as awesome as you think it would be!

Let me share with you a few things I’ve learned along the way:

1) Working for yourself is great!  (But you have to WORK.)

In my opinion there’s nothing like it.  You set your own hours, you determine what the priorities of the day will be, you’re totally in command of what gets done and how much money you can make!

But you have to actually DO those things.

You have to set hours, and stick to them.  Consistency is very important!

You have to determine what your priorities are and how each one is going to advance you toward your goals.

You have to BE in command of what gets done.  Yes, things actually have to get done!  Or the amount of money you make will be nowhere near what you need to live, let alone thrive!

2) If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.

A bracelet needs to get made for a special order?  That’s you.

The trash needs to be taken out?  That’s you.

A customer walks in the door and needs a smile and some assistance?  That’s you, no matter what mood you might be in.

Pictures need to be taken and edited, and descriptions written for online listings?  (After all the stuff won’t sell if it’s not out there being seen!)  That’s you.

The phone rings?  Email inbox is overflowing?  Bills need to be paid and supplies need to be ordered?  That’s you.

I think you get the picture!

3) Expect the unexpected.  (Until something beyond unexpected happens, then just put one foot in front of the other and plow through it.)

Some days are going to be incredibly productive.  You’ll be on a roll, the ideas are flowing, you’re on track to make $500 worth of inventory today, there are no significant interruptions and suddenly it’s quitting time and wow…look at what you’ve accomplished!

Some days are going to be the exact opposite.  Every time you turn your attention to the task at hand, the phone rings or your neighbor stops in to chat, and no matter how brief the interruption, it takes twice as much time to get back on track.  You run out of the most important component you need to make inventory.  You just flat don’t feel well today.  Whatever it is, big or small, when you work for/by yourself, it will impact your business.  So you build the “bad” days into your plan for the week or for the month, because they’re inevitable.

Then there are the days that you can’t possibly imagine, no matter how much of a pessimist you may be.  Here’s a true story:

July 2014, I’m across the room from my desk talking to my business neighbor next door and I hear a strange, “wet” noise.  I turn around and there is water starting to POUR out of the ceiling onto my desk!  I race over and grab my laptop just as the floodgates open.  My neighbor says something to the staff of the restaurant we’re next to, and everyone runs in and starts grabbing stuff off my desk and running it to the other side of the room.  We start a bucket brigade with wastebaskets, dumping the water out the back door.  It continues to POUR out of the ceiling.

The landlord is called, they try to shut the water off to my unit and it’s not working.  It takes almost 15 minutes, and water has to be turned off at the main on the street–which shuts it down for the restaurant and all 15 other units in the building.  By then the floor is flooded all the way across my store to the front door (about 20 feet).  Every piece of paper that was on my desk–all the important things, of course–is a soggy mess.  My printer and shredder have been splattered, all the artwork on my wall above my desk is dripping, my jewelry-making tools and supplies are in various piles and boxes on every counter, shelf, and flat surface in my store.

I can’t even put into words how devastated I was.

I was out of business for a week.  They brought in fans and dehumidifiers to dry out the carpet and cabinets.  I set up 3 extra tables in the middle of the room and spent hours peeling wet papers apart and laying them out to dry, trying to salvage years of design ideas, invoices, phone numbers, notes, and every other kind of paper with “life” jotted down on it.  I spent more hours sorting beads and findings and pieces of wire into separate containers.  I had to clean rust off my tools before I could use them again.  Fortunately, all my electronic stuff was okay!

It turns out a pipe had broken in the space between the floor of the unit above me, and my ceiling.  The landlord took care of all the repairs immediately, paid for the clean-up, even offered to replace my carpet (which I decided to decline, as that would have kept me out of business even longer, and the disruption of packing up EVERYTHING, moving it out, moving it back in and setting it all up again was more stress than I could bear at the time.)

On the downside, I still haven’t replaced all the artwork that was on my wall above my desk, and I miss it.  It was inspirational.  On the plus side, all my beads and findings and pieces of wire are still neatly sorted in separate containers!

A scenario that I would never have predicted, but that obviously had to be dealt with.  The day it happened, I went home and cried.  The next day, and every day after that, I got up and went in and did what had to be done to get through it.  And now it’s a year and a half later, and it’s just a thing that happened, a story to be told.

4) You will learn, grow, stretch, and improve in every area of your life.

It is the nature of the entrepreneurial beast for you spend a lot of time planning and thinking about how to grow your business and make it better.  That inevitably translates to the rest of your life, if for no other reason than your brain gets in the “habit” of looking forward and working toward something better.

Every tidbit of information that you learn, read, hear, or come across will filter through the lens of “how can this help my business?”  And when you ARE your business, all that newly-absorbed information can’t help but spill over into personal learning as well.

When your business takes a step forward, you’re thrilled beyond description!  It’s a “rush”, a “high” and you’ll subconsciously want it more often.  (Yes, owning and growing your business is like being on drugs…LOL!)  It’s easy to begin to work on other areas of your life in the same way so that you’ll get that rush of accomplishment and fulfillment.

5) When you’ve “made it”, for heaven’s sake don’t rest on your laurels!

If you don’t stay relevant, stay in front of your customers on a regular basis, and continue to grow and develop–both as a business and as an individual–you’ll find yourself sliding backward faster than you can imagine.  I can see how this has happened in my own life over the last two years, and now I’m working hard to re-establish the relevancy–and, quite frankly, the income–I used to have.

It’s a challenge I’m meeting with hope and a smile, and I’m looking forward to you coming along with me!

Leave a Comment