How I Started My Business
It's probably the #1 question I get asked - "So, how did you do it? How were you able to quit your corporate job and start a business of your own?" My short answer is usually - I made a list and I checked things off that list. Once everything was checked off, I knew I was ready to make the jump.
Honestly though, there is a lot more to it... So, I thought since I have a blog now, that I would use this platform to walk you through how I got here. Hopefully someone reading this feels empowered to start taking steps toward their goals too!
To start, we have to go back in time a bit... Back in 2018, I had some health scares and so did my husband. This, after what seemed like back-to-back years of losing some of my closest loved ones (my mom in 2011, my grandmother in 2016, and my grandfather New Year's Day 2017). Everything worked out, and thankfully, we were able to get all of our health issues under control, but a light switch clicked on when I got the call that I had Lupus. I didn't know what it was at the time and so, of course, my mind went wild. All I knew about it was that I had heard of people who had died from it. Well, it turns out Lupus comes in several forms and so far, I only have it on my skin. I'm able to manage it with medication and sunscreen. They also say (as they say with everything) a healthy lifestyle and keeping stress low is a huge part of keeping flare-ups at bay. After a full year of doctors appointments to figure out the extent of my Lupus and a couple of other medical conditions I had on top of it, I started to really pay attention to how many hours I was working, how stressed I was, what foods I was eating, how much I was or was not exercising, how much sleep I was getting, etc. The more I took notice, the more I realized I had a long way to go before I was living a healthy lifestyle. I knew I was the only one who could do anything about it, so I looked to books and podcasts to help me change my life.
Here are the podcasts I listened to and the books I read that I HIGHLY recommend:
-Happier with Gretchen Rubin
-Happier in Hollywood
-The Moment with Brian Koppelman
-Oprah's Super Soul Sunday
-Do the Thing with Melissa Urban
-The Ultimate Health Podcast
-Hello Monday with Jessi Hempel
-Unlocking Us with Brene Brown (this just came out, but I couldn't make a list of
podcasts I love without including it!)
-Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
-The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown
-The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
-Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin
-The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin
-Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis
-Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
-Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes
-Wild, Cheryl Strayed
-The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
-A Whole New Mind, Daniel H. Pink
-Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown
-Rising Strong, Brene Brown
-The Time Is Now, Joan Chittister
-Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
That same year, a hot yoga studio opened in our small town, so I did what I could to work out more and eat healthier. I tried Whole30 and it made a HUGE difference in how I felt. It turns out a lot of auto-immune protocols are diets very similar to Whole30, so it's no wonder it worked.
As I was trying different things and immersing myself in what it meant to have a healthy life, I was still working an insane amount of hours at Amazon and had all of the stress to go with it. I'm pretty sure it was a Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast episode that talked about your "Fantasy Self" that made me realize what I actually wanted to do with my life. Gretchen talks about the "Fantasy Self" a lot. This is the person you often imagine yourself to be or activities or things you imagine yourself doing, but you don't actually do them. For me, my Fantasy Self had leisurely mornings with lots of time to think and be creative, I had a small office within walking distance of my house, a business where I could set my own hours, spend more time with my son and my husband, and had ample time to cook healthy dinners and work out every day. My Fantasy Self was healthy, happy and creative.
And that was it. Once this realization crystallized in my mind, it was always there - poking at me and making me wonder if it was possible to attain. It was right around this time that I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. (Get ready, I'm about to quote this book 500 times, haha!) In this book he says, "Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance." This unlived life is the Fantasy Self. What I love about Steven Pressfield is he is no nonsense. He believes in going for what you want one day at a time - "Put your ass where you heart wants to be." It's not enough to want something, you have to manifest it, plan it, and then sit down every day and DO THE WORK. Some days the work may not be any good, but you keep showing up every day and you do it until you beat what he calls the Resistance. He defines Resistance as, "an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It's a repelling force. It's negative. It's aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work." It's main fuel - FEAR.
Every time I thought about going after my Fantasy Self, I felt this fear and would immediately tell myself it wasn't possible. I could list for you all of the reasons why it would never happen, but then one day, I had a thought. What if I just write up a list of the things it would take to start a business and leave my comfortable corporate job? I'm a list person, so this felt like a manageable task to me. I would never actually do it, but there was no harm in writing the list, right?
This list ended up being the actual list I used to launch my business. There are some things on here that are very specific to my field, but I'm sure others looking to launch a business of another kind might still find it helpful.
Here is my checklist I created to start my own design business:
-Pick a business name (make sure this name is unique, no other businesses with this
name, trademark check, etc.)
-Get a LLC (after hiring my accountant, I have since applied for an S-corp)
-Get a WA State Business License
-Get a City of Monroe Business License
-Buy a website domain name to secure for future website.
-Write a list of contracts I might need for the business.
-Find a contract attorney and develop a Master Services Agreement and Project
Agreements to start.
-Find an accountant
-Find an insurance agent (buy Professional Liability and Commercial Liability once
-Hire a Branding Consultant/Graphic Designer for logo and brand development
-Buy hardware (computer, printer/scanner, monitors, keyboard, mouse, chargers, etc.)
-Buy software (AutoCAD, SketchUp Pro, Adobe Suite, Enscape, Quickbooks Online,
File Sharing/Storage, Conference Call system, etc.)
-Find a small office space (must have natural light, and plenty of space for material
library and pin-up boards, want it to be a nice space I can have clients to if needed)
-Take/Pass NCIDQ Exam (this was a late add, I think partly because I wanted to have
this credential if I was on my own, but probably mostly because I knew it would be
hard and if I didn't pass, would be an excuse to hold off on opening my business)
-Open Business Checking/Savings accounts
-Link bank accounts to Quickbooks Online/learn how to use it
-Buy office furniture, decor and signage and set up new office space.
-Get professional photos taken for website
-Design and launch website (I used Wix.com and did it all myself)
-Get a side job/income lined up for a sense of financial security (this ended up being
my part-time teaching position at Cornish College of the Arts)
-Have a client lined up.
-Quit job and take some time off.
-Move health insurance over to husband's work
-Make sure to have $X in savings in case money doesn't come in for awhile with the
Most of this was on the list from the beginning, but I definitely added to it and changed things as I learned from talking to all of these new resources I was working with. There were also several things I thought would happen in a certain order and didn't. There were some weeks where I would cross three things off the list, and some months that would go by where I wouldn't cross anything off. But the list was always there, and I would open it often and just read it over and think - it's really not that long... By the end of 2019, most of the items on this list were actually crossed off, and I had a potential client reach out to me and wanted me to get started in January the following year. That was the final piece I needed to push me over the edge...(By the way, that client ended up falling through and I'm still okay!)
And even with all of this set up, a part-time job where I knew I would continue to have a monthly income (albeit small), and a client lined up, I STILL felt terrified and like I couldn't do it. What if I failed? What if I didn't make money? What if I made my family broke and we didn't have enough money to eat? I wrote several pros/cons lists where I would list off all of the pros for quitting my job to do this and all of the cons. One night, my husband got up in the middle of the night to find one of my many lists, and he wrote next to each pro/con what category it was (ie: money, happiness, fear, etc.). The next morning he showed it to me and said, "It's interesting to me that everything you've listed in the pro column are things that will make you happy and everything in the con column are superficial things like we will make less money. You need to do it. It's okay if we end up making less money because you will be happy and we will get to spend more time with you." I was very lucky to have a super supportive family through all of this who cheered me on through every milestone. My husband was never afraid or worried we wouldn't make it, which I found incredibly hard to understand because I was SCARED OUT OF MY MIND! He really wasn't.
The very next day, after a late call with this potential client, I put in my notice at Amazon. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do because my boss is one of my best friends and one of my favorite people in the entire world. I knew she would be upset and I was already so afraid to leave. I knew talking to her would make me want to stay. As weird as it sounds, I was in a constant tug-of-war with myself during this period. I wanted to do it, but I also really DIDN'T want to do it, but something SUPER deep-down was marching me toward what I knew I had to do, or at least TRY to do. I remember times where I was saying things and taking action, but thinking the complete opposite inside, doubting myself and doing it anyway. "The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it." -Steven Pressfield
As I suspected, my boss was very sad, but she was so supportive and happy for me. Just six short weeks later, I was celebrating my last day at Amazon - leaving a team I had built from scratch, the most amazing boss I had ever had, and all of the securities of a corporate job, paycheck and health insurance. It was terrifying - every second of it.
I took a few weeks off for Christmas and New Years and began setting up my office space in January of 2020. Work started rolling in right away which was amazing. What's crazy though is how hard self-doubt hit me in those first few months. Every single day felt like I was having to fight myself to get my work done. Every day I would tell myself - "What are you doing? What makes you think you can do this? People are going to find out you are no good at this, and then what? Sure you have these clients now, but then what?" I had one day in one of my classes at Cornish, where I just completely screwed up the set up for their group project based on the class size and looked like a total idiot in front of the whole class. I wasn't feeling like myself and wasn't sure I would be able to snap out of it. I probably re-read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art five times during this time period to get me through. I just kept telling myself that I need to just show up every day and DO THE WORK. After I got through some of the first couple of projects and clients were liking what I was doing, my confidence slowly started to come back and I realized it was really just all of the fear that was creating this Resistance.
I met with a friend who had been on my team at Amazon for coffee around this time, and as I was explaining how I was feeling, she said, "It sounds like you are actually doing really well and you're doing everything you wanted to do...Maybe you just aren't letting yourself enjoy it." Light bulb moment! That was exactly it! For some reason, I was just not letting myself enjoy the fact that I was actually finally living the life I wanted to live. I was just inside my own head beating myself up for no reason. Once I let go of what other people might think and enjoyed the small wins each day and the extra time I had with my family, the more I was able to assimilate. I started getting up a bit earlier to start the morning routine I'd always dreamed of - sipping my coffee, looking at magazines or online for inspiration, writing, drawing, whatever I needed to do to get my mind ready for the day and cooking myself breakfast. I would drive the 2 minutes it would take to my new office and think - I can't believe this is my commute! I would go to my classes at Cornish and realize the students really did want to hear what I thought about their projects and appreciated me being there. Clients continued to pop-up, and I started reaching out to old friends in the business and networking again. Day by day, I was finally stepping into my new life.
Then... COVID-19 hit. Just about 2 months into launching my brand new business, a global pandemic ensues. As expected, and like happened for so many, I had some client work pause. Like so many other parents, my son's school went completely remote and I was making the switch to remote teaching for Cornish. I chose to take all of the extra time at home as an opportunity to spend more time with my son and my husband. I had spent so many years working really long hours away from them, so a big part of me felt grateful for the time. The other part of me was thinking what this would mean for my business, but since I had just spent so much time pulling myself out of a dark place, I actually felt okay - like everything would still work out. I might be slow for awhile, but the work will start back up again...
Flash-forward another four months and the work has continued to come in. I have both commercial and residential work happening (lots more to talk about here, but that will be for another blog post), I've been able to enjoy the Summer with my family, and I'm happy and healthy. That Fantasy Self I mentioned at the beginning? I'm living THAT life. Can you believe it!? Sometimes I can't.
Things are nowhere near back to normal - who even knows what normal will look like, but in the end - I absolutely made the right choice for me. If you take nothing else from this, I hope you think about what it is that you REALLY want for yourself. What would your day look like if you could make each day what you wanted and still support your family? Once you have that vision clear in your mind, just write down what you think it would take to actually make that happen. Don't worry about when you would be able to do it - just make the list and slowly cross things off. If you want to, you could set deadlines, but you don't even have to do that. I promise you, if you put what you want out into the Universe, things will start happening for you - "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now." - W.H. Murray (also quoted in...you guessed it, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield!)
So tell me, what is YOUR dream? Now go for it!
(A picture of me, super excited about my beautiful little office and my hardhat with my name on it!)