This post is a bit of a departure. I normally write about digital strategy topics and share things that I hope marketers will find useful. However, I recently passed the 5 year anniversary of starting Kickframe and have become agonizingly self-reflective. To get out of my own head, I thought that I would share a few lessons that I have learned from my experience as a ‘solopreneur’ (a.k.a. things I really, really wish I knew 5 years ago). For those who may be considering a similar path, I hope you find these, well, useful.
Know what success looks like for you
After working for years at larger companies, I decided to go out on my own because I wanted control over my work and my time. I did not have a great epiphany about a business idea or dreams of building a large company with my name on it. I wanted to work on my terms - that’s it. Over the last 5 years, I have had a number of people offer suggestions that I should hire staff, take on large digital production projects, or join a larger consultancy. While these comments are no doubt well-intended, they used to make me feel defensive and self-conscious – am I not doing well enough? I learned that it is easy to become distracted by the expectations of others and the conventions of ‘what I should do’. I wish I was better at reminding myself in these moments of the reasons for why I started Kickframe, and that I was (and am) achieving these goals.
Fit how you work into how you want to live your life
Your home-life will always be impacted by the nature of your work. Commuting, seasonality, business travel, project milestones and other factors all eat away at available non-working time. When I started Kickframe, our 3 kids were 4 (twins) and 6 years of age. I expected a demanding work schedule with long hours that would leave me with less time and energy. I was right. It took me a stressful first year to finally take steps to force my work into the life I wanted to lead with my family. This meant committing to being home for dinner / bedtime and prioritizing remote work that allowed for greater flexibility. It meant booking vacations without a clear view of my work schedule. It also meant renting an office 5-minutes from my home to easily work early mornings and late evenings when required. I wish I realized earlier that I can take more control over how I work, so that it better fits in with my life and what is most important to me.
Take a long-term view (in a short-term world)
As a consultant and trainer, I typically work on projects (vs. long-term contracts or retainers). The pace is quick, and I need to be planning my next project while completing my current one. This reality makes it challenging to look too far ahead. When I was starting out, I was so focused on maximizing my day-to-day, hour-to-hour billings that I would sub-consciously calculate the opportunity cost for meeting someone across town for coffee or lunch. This myopic heads-down approach led to unnecessary stress and missed opportunities. It took me a few years to gain the experience and confidence to take a longer-term view of my financial targets (i.e. quarters vs. months), but when I did it gave me the space to breathe and the time to find the right, next thing to work on. Ironically - though in hindsight not surprisingly - focusing less on maximizing my days led me to more rewarding work. I wish I was more comfortable placing my financial milestones out further, earlier on in my journey.
Find your own flywheel
One of the things I love most about being a consultant / trainer is the variety of projects I work on and the variety of people I work with. However, all of this variety can feel disorienting at times. How am I getting better? Where is this leading? What am I building towards? After a few years, I stumbled upon what felt a bit like my own professional flywheel:
By focusing on this flywheel, I found that I was able to keep up-to-date, challenge myself, sharpen my thinking, and find new business / collaborators. It also provided me with an overarching connectedness and rhythm to my work. I wish I was able to place my individual assignments into this larger framework earlier so I didn’t feel like I was constantly losing the plot.
If you are reading this, there is a good chance that we have crossed paths at some point over these past 5 years. I want to sincerely thank you for your support during the most fun and rewarding chapter of my career. Here’s to (at least) 5 more.
More digital stuff next week ;-)