I felt the need to write this blog because of a question I was asked recently when visiting one my dearest friends and her sister. As new-ish mothers we were sitting together with our three babies, when the sister asked me: “How do you do it? You make it seem so glamourous and easy. You made the front page of the Montreal Gazette and McGill University repeatedly invites you as a motivational speaker.”
I almost dropped my child, literally. Glamorous? OMG. This is the furthest from glamourous I think my life has ever been. “Honey, I’m in marketing,” I said. “That’s my job. Nothing is what it appears to be.”
A part of me is glad I guess I’m doing my job right, but the bigger part of me is thinking “do you realize the highs and lows I’ve experienced? And how unpredictable things can be at times?”
You have to be somewhat crazy to start a business.
Maybe not crazy, but driven and utterly fearless. Whatever the motivation, you definitely don’t decide this overnight. Owning and running a business feels less like glamour and more like construction and demolition. More of the latter, actually.
I won’t get to the part where I started Mirror Marketing full-time, nearly two years ago, while 6 months pregnant. I’ll save that story for my next article titled: “Raging hormones starts business”
When you hear people claim running a business is ‘glamorous, fun and super easy,’ they’re either lying or not in a real business.
The kind of business I’m referring to is the one in where you have employees and bills to pay and clients who demand a quality product or service (yesterday). You’re always ‘open’ and everything rides on customer satisfaction. No one gives you a steady pay check. There’s no goofing off, paid holidays or sick leave benefits. You’re on your own.
So let’s start with the first part:
Employees and bills
Top priority, no matter what. Make sure you have money put aside or a credit card/line of credit that you can rack up. At least enough to cover running costs for 5-6 months. Whether you’ve made money that week or not, your employees must still be paid. At the beginning, I had weeks where I had to pay wages using money from my husband’s line of credit. (We are surprisingly still happily together).
Then there’s bills. Office expenses, programs, computers, internet, phone, advertising, plugins, file transfer services and lots of coffee. The list goes on and on and on. Most of these bills are due monthly. You’d think that a service industry would have low overhead, but that’s far from the truth. Business is also like a roller coaster. You can feel on top of the world one week, flush with funds and a great outlook, only to find yourself down the bottom shortly afterwards, with minimum income and maximum stress.
So here’s a little secret for when you start out: you may begin with smaller clients, who are usually great and pay their bills straight away. You get accustomed to pay your own expenses up front and develop the trust of other businesses. As you start to grow and gain some larger clients, your expenses will also increase. But those larger clients now have 30, 60 and even 90-day billing cycles. So, while developing that website for them, you’re still paying your employees weekly. You’re also paying upfront for any necessary programs, plus other associated costs, and you may even be incurring interest charges on your line of credit.
However you’ll only see payment for your work one to two months on average AFTER you’ve completed the project and submitted your invoice. This is where I recommend staying small if you don’t have credit or money to fall back on. In this case, keeping your overhead to an absolute minimum and sticking with smaller clients as a freelancer is a really good way to go.
It’s a gamble. The bigger your company grows, the bigger the expenses and the more you have to lose. Or gain.
Which brings me to my next point.
Working “five” days a week.
You may be ‘open’ five days a week, but you’re never really closed and will need to make sacrifices. I missed a lot of time with my daughter and my mind is constantly preoccupied with outstanding projects. Honestly, you’ll work a 12-18 hour day, including the weekends. The bigger you grow, the more work you attract and the more deadlines you need to meet. Often, you’ll find yourself in that in-between stage where you should hire an extra hand, but realize you probably won’t make anything after paying them. So you take on the extra work by yourself.
Vacation? No! Business trips are now my vacation. And they’re far from relaxing. One advantage in my field is that technically I can work from anywhere. But ask my mother about my last trip to Mexico. I don’t think she’d consider it a vacation for anyone. I had a great view though, I’ll give it that. And I guess tapping away on a laptop in a bathing suit outside wasn’t too bad either. But still, it was a full time job.
Work doesn’t just stop and take a break, unless you’re employed by someone else. Having experienced both sides of the desk, I can say it was really easier to work a 9-5 day, come home to the family and enjoy evenings and weekends. Even the nights I brought work home don’t compare with being self-employed. So if you’re looking to start a business because you’d like ‘free’ time, you’re deluded.
You’re 100% accountable for absolutely anything that your employees do or don’t do. If they miss a deadline, it’s YOU who’s late. If they messed something up, it’s your businesses reputation on the line.
At Mirror Marketing, we strive to excel at customer service. We offer 24/7 support (from me, not my employees) and we don’t leave people hanging. I pride myself on always being the main contact with my customers.
However, we’re far from perfect and have made mistakes. I’m eternally grateful to one loyal client who’s stuck with me despite some serious blunders. It doesn’t matter who made the mistake, it’s on me. When it’s your business, you need to oversee absolutely everything and you are accountable for it all.
That brings me to the next misconception
Being self employed means being your own boss
I get exasperated when I hear people claim to be their own boss, or say they’re in charge. I don’t like to call myself the CEO of my own company, because I’m actually not the boss. I’m completely owned by my customers, employees and service providers. Without a satisfied customer, I have nothing. Without a customer, I have nothing. Without my employees, I cannot have a customer. And without my service providers, I can’t run a business. So you tell me, who’s the boss?
Although this may all sound depressing, I don’t want to discourage anyone from launching their own business. In fact, Mirror Marketing has started a new foundation that helps entrepreneurs get a head start and set them up to succeed. But I’m here to tell you it’s hard. Especially at the beginning, for at least a year, which is the period when many startups fail.
Do I regret it? No, I don’t. I can honestly say that I have never felt so fulfilled. There’s one thing though. You really have to want it, more than anything and it takes a certain type of driven masochist to succeed.
But it does get better. A lot better. It’s such a thrill and a real feeling of accomplishment, when you start getting clients you believed were out of your league and they’re happy to work with you.
You also get to decide the working conditions for your employees. As an ex cubicle slave, it’s very rewarding to enable people to work from home so they can have a better quality of life. It’s great to know you’re helping them put food on the table and highly gratifying when their efforts show that they love working for you. My employees are the reason I’m here today and they make it all worthwhile.
I’m fulfilling my childhood visions of being a successful woman. I didn’t dream of pretty wedding dresses or life as a fairy-tale princess. When I was a young girl, I fantasized about wearing a business suit and walking down Wall Street with my hair in a bun, wearing serious glasses. (Fortunately, you can buy non-prescription frames to give yourself that look, if that’s what you want.)
Whatever your idea of success, whether it’s a happy family life, running a business, working for a good company or even not working at all, as long as you feel fulfilled, that’s all that matters. With or without glasses.
Owner, Mirror Marketing Inc.
Founder, Miss Notable (non-profit organization)