It's been 20 years since I took the leap. TWENTY. YEARS.
I was, I now recognize, so very young. So very young to have taken the leap into the big wide world of self-employment, eschewing the safe route of a corporate job. But even then, at that young age, I recognized that the safe route isn't necessarily always the smart route, nor the correct one, nor actually even "safe".
Before starting Andiamo, I had been working in a fast-paced, in-house agency - my first and only corporate job in Chicago or anywhere. The company was located on Michigan Avenue, right at the bridge crossing the Chicago River. I can still muster the thrill I had walking out of the office after my very first day on the job in January 1995, stepping out onto a dark and bustling Michigan Avenue still a-sparkle with Christmas lights. Living in the city, taking the train to and from my tiny apartment in Lakeview (where else?), making friends and gaining work experience - this was the life I'd been yearning for.
(Spoiler, there's a special offer at the end of this post!)
I spent three years at that job. I made some very good friends who still are good friends to this day. The company was huge and successful and expected a lot from their mostly very young employees. We worked long hours, learned a lot from each other, and we had a ton of fun. There was also enormous turn over in that company. For a girl who was new to the city, I found that within three years I suddenly had a network of friends and acquaintances working in an array of downtown agencies. And many of these friends were contacting me to take on freelance projects in my spare time. It didn't take long before it was obvious that the day job was holding up my real career. I launched Andiamo as my full time gig shortly thereafter.
There have been ups and downs, certainly. The recession hit me hard. Most of my clients at that time were in the architecture, interior design and engineering fields and work from those sectors dried up very suddenly when the recession hit. I was flailing around for a while trying to replace those clients, but I did manage to keep it going.
Really, what choice did I have? So many lost their safe, corporate jobs during those days. The market was awash with creatives looking for work, which meant there were very few full time gigs to be found. My only choice was to find a way to keep moving forward with Andiamo.
Now, standing a few years on the other side, while I feel a bit beat up, I also feel buoyed. I'm still standing, still self employed, and things are going well. I did learn some good lessons though - here's what I learned.
- Beware of being comfortable. Things had come so easy for such a long time that I allowed myself to think it would be that easy forever. It's not. There are always going to be ups and downs, so enjoy the good while you have it but always plan for the inevitable rough patches.
- Never put too many eggs in one basket. I'd seen a lot of small agencies topple when their main client moved on to another vendor, so prior to the recession I'd lived by this rule. When I was experiencing the worst dry spell in my career, I had an offer for a steady work flow from a single client. I jumped at the chance, setting aside the eggs/basket rule, and that helped me get through the worst of the recession. However, I let that one client take up far too much of my time for far too long, and when the opportunity ended, I was again flailing to replace the work flow. Eggs. Basket. Right.
- Never stop marketing. The eggs/basket problem above would never had been a problem if I had also continued building my business in other directions, while simultaneously maintaining that big account.
- Recognize and capitalize on your strengths. As a sole proprietor and a generally independent person, I like to do it all myself. While this may seem good in the short run, it inevitably holds you back. Why spend so much time working on things that do not come naturally to me (accounting and coding come to mind) when I can job those things out to folks who are really good at it? This frees up my time to hone my strengths, market my business, and keep work flow a-flowing.
- Appreciate what you've got when you've got it. Along this bumpy road I have had the great fortune to work with some really amazing clients and equally amazing creative associates. I may have hit some difficult times and made some unwise decisions, but those people were there alongside me the whole time, giving me laughs, inspiration, strength and knowledge. A big thank you to all of you, you know who you are!
The last 20 years passed by faster than I could have imagined. I have had some second thoughts about my career path over the years, but ultimately I think that self employment was the right choice for me then, and it still is now. I do not always feel safe in this choice, but since when is safe any fun?
And here's the special offer...
As a thank you to all the people who have been there with me all these years, I offer to you a limited-time special on Andiamo Creative's branding design services. I will take 20% off the top of your next branding project, as long as it is booked with me before the end of March 2018.
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