What I’ve learned from three years of working for myself (and what you may want to know about working for yourself)
Working for yourself. We’re going to dig into it in this post.
This post is actually a quasi-follow-up to one that I wrote three years ago when I went back to a corporate job for one year after being a solo-preneur for a couple years, doing writing and fitness.
My path to being a true business owner is not linear, because I started my career working for really big companies in communications, public relations and writing roles before moving to the West Coast and getting more into fitness and the blogging side hustle, with a couple returns to corporations for small stints. But this time, my solo-preneurism is for real and has been going strong for almost three years.
And I’ve got to be honest, I hadn’t planned on writing about this. In fact, I told myself a couple of years ago that this blog was only going to be about fitness, food, wellness, momming and that’s it, so I didn’t stray too far and try to be too many things, like talking about blogging and business. But it seems like a good time to chat about the business side, because I know so many of you are interested in it. And the truth is, a big part of my reality is the fact that I work for myself, with all of its pros and cons.
What I’ve learned from three years of working for myself (and what you may want to know about working for yourself)
These are the things that I’ve learned. While they mostly apply to my situation as a blogger, writer, group fitness instructor and Beautycounter consultant (and mom), they can also apply to anyone doing their own thing in some way. Here we go …
You will often question yourself and question everything.
I know for sure that I’m supposed to be writing, teaching group fitness and trying to help people. However, sometimes I panic and wonder if it’s all working. But that’s the ride of being someone who works for yourself. Some days you’ll feel like you’re on a roll, killing it and doing your life’s work. Other days, you’ll be completely unsure of your path and existence and wonder if anyone even cares at all. Like if I never wrote another thing would anyone notice? Are you out there? (This is especially true of being a content creator who puts things out into the world on a daily basis and always hopes for a little response here and there, ya know?)
I don’t sit around and think — “hey, should I go back to my last corporate job?” Not at all. But I do question whether I’m going about things in the right way. Doing too much or too little. Being too diverse and not laser focused on one thing. The mental struggle is real. But right when that happens is often when I get an email with something exciting that pulls me back in and validates everything. Oh the ups and the downs.
People may not understand what you do. They will be skeptical. They may also ask slightly rude questions. And that’s okay.
I completely understand that it’s hard for people to understand what a content creator/entrepreneur/writer/group fitness instructor actually does, because it’s a fairly new field for people to be in and is not easy to explain. In fact, I can remember one such instance when I was back in Florida that someone asked me if I was ever going to work again.
Also, not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me, “So do you actually make money?” “Like how?” Yes, I do. It’s always funny to me that people are so open about asking probing questions about your business when you have your own business. If I said I was a teacher, nobody is going to ask me how much I make a year or how I bring in that money. But when you do your own thing, all of a sudden they think that is fair game. I usually laugh it off and give just enough info to satisfy, because I know that people are just curious and don’t mean any harm, but still … 🙂
By the way, in my end-of-year recap, I’ll share more about how I diversify my income and where the biggest chunks come from. But here’s the gist: ad money from views of the blog, partnerships with brands for sponsored posts, affiliate relationships with brands, Beautycounter consultant sales, freelance writing projects, ebook sales, and lastly, teaching group fitness.
You have to do things that you don’t like. And you will wear many hats.
I don’t particularly like admin stuff. I don’t like creating and sending invoices. I don’t like compiling stats and quotes to give to brands after a partnership. I don’t like making graphics. I don’t like editing photos or even taking photos. But those things are parts of the job. I’ve been able to keep all of my work in-house, if you will, because I’m a control freak and like managing everything, other than back-end blog technical work that I pay someone for. I definitely can’t outsource the pictures, because I often have to be in them. So I basically do it all.
And let’s remember here, that I have a very small blog in the scheme of the online world — very small, enough that I’ve been able to handle everything on my own. I don’t have a vision for myself to create something huge that requires a lot of help at all.
Because part of the reason I like working for myself is to get to do it all and still have the freedom to watch some Bravo maybe once or twice a week and keep my nails well-manicured (truth, folks) — I don’t need to be in charge of an empire. Maybe that will change one day — but for now, it works. I’m shooting small, so I can maintain some good normalcy in other parts of my life.
You don’t have a boss. But sometimes you wish someone would tell you what to do.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said to Dave “I wish there was someone who would just tell me what to do or steer me in the right path.” But there isn’t. If you are your own boss, then you are in charge. And it’s both an amazing and scary thing. If I don’t come up with new ideas, nobody will come up with them for me. If I don’t make myself keep on a schedule, no one else will either.
I hate being bossed around (maybe that’s why I always ended up leaving corporate jobs heheh), but every once in a while, I wish someone would just give me an assignment, so I could do it and not have to come up with the idea myself.
You will work on off hours. And you will work a lot.
I do something “work related” every single day of my life, especially on the weekends. While I consider it a win to only spend maybe 2 to 3 hours working on the weekend, it still happens and probably always will. I also still work about an hour every single night after Brady goes to bed, because other than his nap-time, that’s my prime working window.
I have made a choice to be in charge of Brady and spend every day with him (outside of his two short mornings a week at preschool, or when he is in gym daycare), and I have also made a choice to create my schedule how I want it to be — which is part of the beauty of working for myself. I don’t put in full-time hours every day and have had periods where I’ve done very little (like the first few months of Brady’s life), but I do work in small blocks all throughout the day and week — and with everything that I do combined, it’s over the usual 40 hours (and more than that if we count caring for Brady in there).
I keep weekend nights mostly for fun, and I leave plenty of room for other stuff. I love what I do (so it’s not a pain to be doing it), but I also love living life. It’s a good balance, although it’s not always easy.
You don’t always know how much money you will make. And every month is different.
This year will be the first year that I will make more working for myself than I made in my corporate job. And that’s a huge deal to me. Whenever I get unsure about things, Dave always reminds me of this. I have created something that produces a good income, and yet, I’m able to be Brady’s care-taker and have some flexibility.
When I started out this year, I didn’t know how much I would make. I did my forecasting and tried my best to plan things out. But as an influencer, you never know what kind of partnerships will come up. I had some good ones come out of nowhere that have been lucrative, my pageviews have increased, and I’ve been growing my Beautycounter team, so things have been better than I expected.
Side note: I am incredibly lucky and blessed to have the stability of Dave’s corporate benefits for our family — which makes it easier for me to be out on my own, and that’s not lost on me. If I had to pay for my medical insurance for Brady and me, things would be a lot different. Just had to mention this, because the benefits part can be a big downside for entrepreneurs.
It takes years of slow growth. But as long as you’re growing, you’re going in the right direction.
Sometimes I get down when I see a new influencer pop up on Instagram and grow their following overnight and then get all these crazy cool partnerships and start traveling the world. Because that hasn’t ever happened to me. In fact, Instagram has never been a big thing for me at all.
My path as a blogger and even as a writer has been slow and steady. I started this blog as a little journal for family and friends back home after our move. I was going to continue writing it for nothing other than a hobby. It took years before I thought about monetizing it. And even then, I created a business plan and told both Dave and my Mom, my goal was to make $100 from my blog, and that was in the year 2013.
I worked in other jobs, I did many things, but I always made time for at least one blog post a week. And because I never gave up, eventually I was able to grow it enough to turn it into a real income-producing business, along with my other projects. And then, now six years after writing down that goal, I’ve compiled a true full-time salary. That’s many years of work. This was not easy. And this was not an overnight success. It’s just “the-little-blog-that-could” (which is what I always call A Lady Goes West to Dave).
You will compare. You will compare. You will compare.
I don’t recall ever comparing myself to anyone else in the corporate world. It’s like we were all doing our things and trying. But for some reason, once you are out on your own, you instantly look around and see how other people are running their businesses and just … wonder.
How do they do so much more than me? How are they growing so quickly? Could I get an idea like that off the ground too? The list goes on. This is always a daily struggle to me. Especially when I look at influencers who don’t have kids who are doing so much. Things change when you have a little one to look after, and I’m mostly okay with that … but there are times I get down on the fact that so many people are out there killing it way more than me.
You’ve got to find a support group or gang who understands you.
It took me a long time to make blogger friends who I could talk to about blogger things. I made a few online and have also had the awesome opportunity to spend real time with those friends every year at IDEA World Fitness Convention.
This year, after the conference, two of my best blogging/influencer/fitness mom friends and I decided to do a little monthly mastermind call. We’ve done a few now, on FaceTime at night in our jammies, and helped each other along with our various business ideas. I should have done this a long time ago. It feels SO good to connect with others who are sort’ve in the same lane as you, because oftentimes your other friends don’t quite get it, and/or care. Truth.
Let’s move on to some general questions …
Your questions about working for yourself from Instagram
I put out a request on Instagram for questions related to this topic …
Q: What are your tips for creating your website and for branding?
A: Good one! When it comes to your website, just go for it. Brainstorm some names for your brand, or just use your own full name, then buy the domain name on one of the domain sites (GoDaddy, HostGator, BlueHost or SiteGround, etc.), and get going. I have a WordPress.org site on the Genesis theme, which is very customizable. I’ve heard of a lot of people using Squarespace though. No matter what you use, get your domain and get going. We tend to overthink and over-plan, but the best way to start a blog is to start writing consistently. You don’t have to have the perfect brand to start out with. But go with what feels right and continue to improve it as you go along.
You can’t go wrong with using your own full name as your brand, so you can use that on your website, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to start. Take a profile picture, use the same one on all your sites and come up with a little mission statement to guide all that you do and try and stay true to it with everything you post. Moral of the story: Don’t let the idea of the perfect launch keep you from starting. Just start.
Q. How can you get started with a side hustle?
A: For many years, blogging and fitness were my side hustles. I had full-time jobs for the income, then slowly built the blog on the side. Once again, I’d just get started. So often I hear people say “once I do xx, then I’ll do xx.” And that’s great to plan, but life will never be fully in order so you can start something new. You just have to do it, make time for it and see where it takes you.
If you’re thinking you want to start a side hustle, figure out what your passion is and go for it. If you want to be a photographer, start taking a lot of pictures and find a local photographer who will let you work as a free assistant a few weekends a month to shadow. Know that you will always feel like there isn’t enough time for something new, but much like having a baby, you just figure it out. I’d say do the side hustle for quite a while to see if it’s a viable business that could eventually be your full-time gig.
Q: How do you handle the money situation, taxes, expenses, etc.?
A: Believe it or not, it doesn’t cost much to get a website up and running. Once you’ve had it for a while, you do need to pay for a host for your website, technical back-end work, graphics/design help, an email provider, etc. But it’s not a lot. However, the longer you’ve been in business and the more you try to invest back into it, you’ll spend more.
I still don’t spend a ton, so my overhead is quite low. As far as keeping tracking of expenses, I’ve always done it myself. I have a Google document where I record incoming and outgoing money, I have a separate business bank account, and I work with someone to help me with my taxes at the end of the year. However, this year, I’m finally going to get a CPA to assist me with bookkeeping on a consultant basis, just to make sure I have everything in order. It’s not as scary as it sounds, and I’ve been able to manage everything thus far. I’d highly recommend keeping your finances separate for your business and tracking everything from the very beginning.
Okay, we’ve reached 3,000 words in this post, so I think we’ll stop right here. As always, thank YOU for clicking over to read what I write. It means a lot. 🙂
Other posts you may like …
- Career real-talk: What it’s like to work for yourself or someone else (The original post that I referenced in the beginning.)
- Mom life: What I’ve learned as a work-from-home mom (This is from a while back before Brady was in preschool a couple days a week, but it sets the scene for what my days are like.)
- How to become a group fitness instructor when you have a full-time job (Because it started as a side hobby for me and could for you too.)
Questions of the day
Do you work for yourself or someone else?
Have you ever considered starting a side hustle or working for yourself?
What’s something I didn’t cover that you want to know?
How was your weekend?
For sure I would miss your writing if you just stopped 😉
Thanks for the info. Entrepreneurial endeavors are always fun to hear about in my opinion…especially when it’s juggled with Momming because HOLY HECK that is hard!
Hi Holly! Thank you — you are very sweet for saying that. And YES, once you add being a mom to the mix, everything gets harder!! 🙂 Hope you have a great start to your week!
So many truths here! I have to say it can be a very lonely career. I often wish I had someone to just complain about blogging stuff about or bounce ideas off of. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one and that you’ve found your tribe!
Hi Megan! For reals — working behind a computer from home all day isn’t super social ahhaa. I bet it’s worse when you are in the kitchen a lot testing recipes, like you are. But HEY, we’ve met through blogging, and I love that! Keep up the great work, my friend!!
I wish for the same thing!
Great post, Ashley! I think you’re killing it 🙂 I know it’s not easy to mom or be your own boss, but the best things in life aren’t easy, right? You’re very inspiring!
Hi Nicole! Thank you SO much, my friend! You are so sweet! I appreciate you!!! 🙂 Can’t wait to see you start a side hustle!
Oh it WILL happen …. between diapers, commuting, and “me time” haha!
Slow and steady wins the race!
Slow and steady always wins! Why don’t you just get started with Beautycounter right now though? hahahah!! 🙂 xoxoxoxo
Hi Ashley, just wanted to say I really enjoy posts like these! Over the years, I’ve had different freelance roles in addition to my blog and although my blog isn’t my full-time gig, I can relate to a lot of what you said.
Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Cheers to your success!
Hi Diane! I’m so happy we’ve been connected through this blog world for so long — I believe it was something I wrote about Les Mills that brought us together? Keep up the amazing work — your blog is unique and very well done — I love your perspective based on your current life situation. Thank you for saying hi!!
I stay at home and write my blog but wouldn’t consider it a business at this point. I need to figure out how to turn it into more of a side hustle!
Hi Sandra! That’s awesome you have your blog as an outlet to write — SO needed as a momma, right? If you enjoy it and are feeling fulfilled, you definitely don’t ever have to monetize. But if you want to, I’d start with some ads. I used Google Adsense for a while and then SheKnows, before switching to my current ad partner, Mediavine. It’s a lot easier than you think to place the ads on your site! 🙂 Good luck!
I currently work part time in a gym (personal trainer), but one of my goals for this next year is to start monetizing my blog. Literally no idea where to start. I own my own domain, and I think I have google ad sense set up, but other than that I am clueless on how to build it and start making some money!
Hi Jen! Awesome — you can totally monetize your blog — maybe try applying for SheKnows or Mediavine ads? Then you can reach out to Collectively or Clever for sponsored posts that align with your interest. I’d also recommend staying consistent with your writing and staying true to what you like to talk about!! Good lucky, lady!! You can do it!
Thanks for the advice! I have had this little blog of mine for a lot of years, but it’s just been a hobby. I’m excited to make into something more!!
Hi Jen!! There are so many good blogs about blogging — try Helene in Between for some “make money with your blog” tips — she’s got a good one. 🙂 Have fun with it!
Hi! I am a fellow PR/corporate communications professional, so it is cool to know that is what your background is too! I do not want to come off as the person in your second thought above, but I am always very curious when I see people leave their “day jobs” to become full-time bloggers because it became so lucrative that they could. (I will say I have also observed for 99.9% of those people, there is a spouse/significant other working full time to provide the necessary benefits you outline above.) To your other point about not asking someone who is a teacher what their salary is, I completely get it! But, this shift toward blogging as a profession is such a new space, I think people want to know what the income looks like because I have yet to see/read anyone sharing it! Especially also because the amount of a full-time salary may be different to different people. Anyway, I am not sure where I am going with this but I will say I really enjoyed reading this post and gaining insight!
Hi Stephanie! How’s the PR/corporate communications world treating you? hehehe! Thanks for your comment and for reading. I totally understand the interest in the money part — inquiring minds want to know. I will say you are correct, that we do see a lot of bloggers go “full time” but actually they just don’t have to go to a day job and are only dabbling in blogging — which certainly works well for a mom with little time to devote to it. And depending on where you live, a full-time salary can mean very different things. For interest, I was earning a “full-time” salary for Florida a while back, but only this year started making a “full-time” salary for the Bay Area. It’s always a big range — and can certainly change from year to year. One more thing: The good news is that all of the stuff you learn in the the PR/comm field can set up a blogger with a lot of great insight into how to run a blog and market it. I think that’s what has helped me write and grow my blog for sure. Once again, thank YOU for reading!! 🙂 xoxo
Hey Ashley, great post! I feel like we’ve had similar career trajectories having come in and out of corporate a few times. I also hear you on the “full time Bay Area salary”. That can be hard to get to, but it sounds like you’re doing a great job!
Congrats in3 years in business. It’s not easy, but definitely worth it!
Hi Caren! Thanks so much for reading — and yes — full-time salaries are SO different depending on where you are. And hey, going back to corporate a few times lets us know when we are certain that we don’t want to go back! ahhaha
I love these lady!! Your career path is so inspiring! My heart has always been in fitness and now that I’m doing that more, I want to get back to my writing, another one of my passions! Such good tips though!
Hi Marielle! You should — fitness and writing go hand in hand for sure! I’m totally passionate about both too! 🙂
I can relate to SO much of this. Working for yourself is truly a whirldwind to say the least.
Hi Kayla, Yessss working for yourself is sooo a whirlwind, but we wouldn’t have it any other way! Right?? 🙂