Dear readers of this here somewhat-stale blog:
I just passed the 1-year mark of self-employment!
There is so much I want to write about what I've learned--pages and pages about client management, coding, preparing for a web project, communities, productivity, personal happiness--but as is always the case when you let your blog lapse, the only cure for a backlog of content is writing.
September 1st, 2012 was the first day I was full-time self-employed. Now, looking back from a year's perspective, I can see how many big, big lessons I learned.
1. Never underestimate the importance of sleep.
The first thing I did upon becoming self-employed was sleep as long as I needed to without an alarm clock. After about six weeks, I settled on a number: nine hours a night. With nine hours under my belt, I am a sunny, undefeatable machine of productivity (with a mouth like a sailor). With seven hours under my belt, I'm a surly, easily frustrated, slightly dumber grump (with a mouth like an angry sailor). Sure, those weeks were not the most remunerative, but they taught me one lesson that a thousand blog posts on the subject never did: If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of the work. This lesson has rippled out to many areas of my life, including writing, dancing, and taking care of my body. Sometimes, the thing you most need to complete a hard task is a nap, not another hour staring angrily at CSS spaghetti.
2. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Next I had to come to terms with what it actually means to put yourself out there. It means letting people see your imperfect work. It means staking your reputation on previous projects. It means asking potential clients to trust my skills when I am still feeling shaky on some of them.
It also means coming to terms with the fact that nobody in web development or print design knows every single thing there is to know. It means trusting myself and my abilities. Redesigning sparklingrobots.com was the first of many challenges in this arena.
It was a painfully long process--not for technical reasons but for emotional ones. I kept putting obstacles in my path so I could solve them and thereby gain some self-confidence--look what I can do! I was also unwittingly saving myself from the imagined embarrassment of actually launching my business. Eventually I realized that I needed to, you know, get some paying clients and that means, you know, actually launching the site.
3. I could have quit my job much, much sooner.
If you are at all familiar with me, you know that I hemmed and hawed about leaving my job for a long time. And though my September 2012 outlook was pollyanna-ish in many ways, the fact is I could have done it sooner. I would have been happier sooner, and I would have learned just as much. You can't anticipate what you don't know; it's been a lesson in letting go of the feeling of control and taking the next step instead of worrying about the next step.
4. Ask for help.
The big lesson going into Self-Employment Year #2 is this: Ask for help when you need it. As an introvert who likes doing things independently, this is a hard lesson for me. I still have to remind myself to ask who can help me with something, be it learning a new technology or reaching a new audience. The presence of two excellent coaches in my life has taught me that simply by asking for help you can clarify your thinking and get a lot more done.
So here is to another year of freelancing! I'm going to open up a bottle of something delicious and celebrate tonight. I have been experimenting with pricing models, with client deliverables, with my internal development process. I am learning about version control and responsive design. I'm excited to be in a place where I can take on projects that are a really good fit for what I do, because "what I do" has become a whole lot clearer to me. Which is thrilling. (I don't get out much.)