Lessons Learned from One Year in Business
On June 1, 2017 I nervously posted this and announced to the world that I was officially open for business as a grad student coach, and editor. I've just closed out my first year of business, and here are some of the lessons that I've learned in this exciting, hard, rewarding year:
- Finding a new normal after the PhD takes time, and diligent effort. My one year of business coincides almost perfectly with two years since I handed in the last round of edits on my dissertation, and I am just now feeling stable and grounded in my new, #withaphd life. It took me that long to feel confident in my choice not to actively go on the job market, and to gain back a sense of what I liked to do (and what I didn't!) outside of the "you must do all the things" mindset of the PhD.
- Many of the tools that got me through the PhD got me through my first year of business. I have perhaps never relied on my project management tools, my planner, and my rules about sleep and rest than I have this year. Being self-employed means that I constantly have to monitor my own time, my own productivity, and my own health, and I had to relearn how important systems to help do that are!
- The imposter syndrome is hard to shake. About every five days, I see a post or new product or just have a thought about something someone else is doing in their business and/or life and I start down the path of worry: am I doing enough? Are they working harder than me? Will I ever be successful like they are? What if a client finds out that I'm a hack? What if I'm not a great enough x, y, or z to charge money? What if people find out??? I have no real advice for how to overcome this, except for my next point....
- Find a community. Find collaborators. Joining Self-Employed PhD was one of the most important things I did for my business this year. I met great collaborators, and more importantly, could exchange knowledge and fun with other people in my situation. I can't tell you how many hours of googling and wrong turns I've saved by searching their archive to see if others had encountered a similar issue, and then added my own findings. Even as I mostly work on my own, finding people to talk with, and work on projects with has been invaluable.
- Beware the time-sinks. Just as it was during my grad school days, there are certain tasks (social media scheduling, endless stat checking, market research) that will take over my whole day if I'm not careful. Getting ruthless about what I was spending my time and focus on, and how i managed my time on any one task helped me see where the highest impact places for me to focus on were, and what things i could reduce or avoid all together.
- The MVP is your best friend. Minimum Viable Product is an idea I've borrowed from various Agile workflows, but the idea is golden. Figure out what the barest of requirements are for your product to ship, and just complete those. Getting new products, services, and concepts out quickly for feedback has helped me break the perfectionist cycle and launch things with less fear. I know there are always things to add, fix, and refine, but at least i'm giving the ideas a fair shot out in the world rather than obsessing over how it might (or might not) work in a hypothetical sense.
- It might not look the way you think it will. When I set out a year ago, I imagined that I'd be working at least 50-60% of my day with one on one clients - and then I quickly learned that grad students need more affordable options. Now, I'm working on a variety of lower-cost things (Thrive PhD, planners, online courses, workbooks) so that people can choose what they need, and build a suite of coaching tools a la carte without breaking the bank. I had no idea a year ago that I would spend so much time marketing, or doing graphic design, or editing, but I'm happy that I let myself explore these ideas as they came up even if they weren't "in the plan".
- Find multiple ways to measure success. In the early days of my business, I set very unreasonable revenue goals for myself and then felt awful that I wasn't immediately meeting and exceeding them. Focusing on other metrics (# of discovery calls, business cards handed out, overhead costs reduced) helped me see all the things I was doing well, as well as the places where I still wanted to grow.
- Dream big. I have a tendency to see new ideas as too daunting, too far outside of my comfort zone to be worth trying - shaking this habit and at least letting myself research a big idea has been a huge breakthrough. Things are often easier and faster than I imagine, and the challenges I could foresee were always nothing compared to the ones I didn't see coming.
And now, because I do so much love a good goal setting session, here are my goals for the second year of my business:
- More in person events! Writing retreats, mindfulness workshops, workshops for campuses - I want to expand my local presence and also maybe even travel!
- More customizable options! I want clients to be able to pick and choose the most useful tools for them at any time - so I have to expand my offerings. My first Thrive PhD course is launching this week, and I have plans for planners, workbooks, and a variety of new groups to build and grow too!
- Better work/life balance! I'm a workaholic - and I want to reestablish some balance back into my schedule. More hobbies, more time with friends, more mornings in the garden. One of the main reasons I'm self-employed is that I love the flexibility - it's time to take advantage of that.
And to all of you, thanks for being part of this wild ride. Can't wait to see where we go next!