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Hello Adulthood: Owning Your Own Business

I’ve been officially (and legally) operating my business for almost three years now! I remember receiving the certificate in the mail from the State of Ohio and the letter from the IRS stating my EIN (Employer Identification Number). It was all really exciting – and to be honest – it still is really exciting. Over the past three years I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with professionals of all ages looking to start freelancing and working for themselves. I’ve compiled some advice and tips if you’re in the same place in life (oh and scroll down to the bottom to win a copy of one of my favorite books).

START SLOW // BE PATIENT

This advice is inspired by my mother. She always uses the phrase, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Unlike a lot of small business owners, I never had to take out a loan or invest in a lot upfront. I had my MacbookPro and Adobe Creative Suite and that was pretty much it. It was tempting, as time progressed, to upgrade to all the newest technology or buy software to help with finances but I was patient. I’m just now getting to the point where I can hire contractors, pay for an advanced account with Freshbooks, or upgrade my computers. I do, however, suggest investing in ONE thing before anything else: a laywer. I connected with a lawyer a year into freelancing and I have never once regretted it. It’s nice to know you have that protection and I would highly suggest hiring her/him to write up your contracts. Other great free (or affordable) resources when starting out: Curdbee Invoicing ($5/mo), Square, Dropbox.

BE WISE // START GOOD HABITS

In college I really learned how to handle my money — unfortunately it was because of a lot of failure and a bad experience with credit cards. I registered my business at the age of 22 and knew there were some key habits that I wanted to establish before I began. They included (but weren’t limited to):

  • No using credit for the first 5 years – So far, so good. When I upgrade my computer later this year, I plan on using credit with the cash available to pay it off immediately.
  • ALWAYS USE A CONTRACT. ALWAYS. ALWAYS. ALWAYS.
  • Put 30% away for taxes – This never gets easier but I do plan on paying quarterly starting next year so the final amount owed won’t be so painful.
  • Handle small tasks like email, bookkeeping, account management, etc until it doesn’t make sense financially – It wasn’t until this year that I realized some tasks just aren’t worth doing! I’ve recently hired on a virtual assistant and I’m excited to pass off the bookkeeping soon too.
  • My husband and our personal goals come first – I’m not freelancing full-time yet because our personal goals are the priority right now. We are going to buy a house early next year and so for now I am content with where I am and work hard to juggle two jobs for now.

BE HUMBLE // WORK HARD

I designed my first logo for $50! HEYOOO! The first year that I “tried out” freelancing (2008) I would predominately work with Etsy shop owners and many of them didn’t even have budgets. In early 2010, I was a nanny in order to keep some type of steady income. Often times I spend my Friday nights and weekends working. It’s not always glamorous but it is so, so fulfilling if it’s what you’re supposed to be doing. I think it’s important to work hard and always keep learning. Just remember, there are so many talented designers/artists so prove to your potential clients why you’re worth it! Maybe it’s between you and another designer and the only reason they picked you is because you’re easy to talk to. Be kind!

As a last gesture of sharing, I thought I would give away my copy of Creative, Inc. to one of you lovely entrepreneurs out there. I read this book a little TOO late–I ordered it last year and was happy to realize just how much I had learned on my own! It’s great for those contemplating the small business owner role. The authors, Meg Mateo Ilasco and Joy Cho, share so much wisdom and really walk you through issues like: creating your portfolio, promoting your work, setting fees & terms, dealing with taxes, handling your bookkeeping and giving yourself a vacation. This giveaway will end at midnight on Thursday, June 8th and the winner will be announced Friday morning.

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41 Comments

  • Reply Allywan June 4, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    I don’t currently have a freelance business, but I plan on starting one in the future. So thanks for sharing your tips in this post. I’ve also been eyeing that book on Amazon. I’d love to read it!

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 10:41 AM

      You’re welcome and hope you can read the book soon :)

  • Reply Brittany Gerena June 4, 2012 at 7:51 AM

    Lovely post, so insightful and inspiring. I have no doubt someday soon all your hardwork will turn into MAJOR MAJOR success, but from where I sit I’d say you already have it ;)

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 10:41 AM

      Aw thank you so much!

  • Reply Fiona June 4, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    This is really inspiring. So amazing to see how far you’ve come and all that you’ve learnt along the way! I’m with Brittany -watching as your business grows from strength to strength!

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 10:42 AM

      Thank you Fiona! It is pretty cool to look back and see the progress.

  • Reply Jon June 4, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    I agree that this is an inspiring post. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of freelance and how I would even begin making the connections that would lead to jobs, etc., but I definitely have aspirations for having my own business in the future. Thanks for the great advice in this post.

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 10:42 AM

      Glad you enjoyed it Jon! The nice thing about freelancing is that you can get your feet wet while keeping your 9-5.

  • Reply candace m. June 4, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    yay for advanced account freshbooks!

  • Reply Jess June 4, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out my long-term career goals (as you know). Right now I’m super happy, but I think eventually I’ll want to strike out on my own (like years down the road). Great tips, and I agree that Dropbox is one of the handiest little tools ever! And I agree—get everything in writing is the biggest key. Contracts, of course, but even email correspondence helps everyone remain clear.

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 10:43 AM

      I agree! Communication is key throughout the entire process.

  • Reply Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) June 4, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    Thanks for this series. I have been operating as a schedule C freelancer but seriously need to open an LLC I think.

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 10:44 AM

      I’m currently a sole proprietor but will becoming an LLC in December. It should be nice for many reasons but mainly having that security when bringing in contractors to represent my business.

  • Reply Kate June 4, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    Thank you so much for writing this- I love reading other designers’ experiences with the business end of things. That book has been on my to-read list for a while, I need to make it happen!

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 2:49 PM

      Glad you enjoyed the post and I hope – no matter what – you can read the book soon!

  • Reply Lisa // Elembee, Etc June 4, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Always great to read another designer’s perspective. Great tips! Creative, Inc. was the first thing I read before I even really started freelancing. I still refer to it all the time.

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 2:50 PM

      I’m so glad you read it before starting out! Not sure if it was published when I got started in 2008 but it’s so helpful and has great reminders no matter where you are.

  • Reply Kate June 4, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    Thanks for writing this! My business is just in the baby steps, and it’s so reassuring to know that it is possible to make it and do well :)

    • Reply Allison June 4, 2012 at 2:50 PM

      I’m so glad it was useful and good luck with your business :)

  • Reply Chrissy June 4, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    This is a great post! I may not be ready to call myself a business yet, but I’m working on a plan!

  • Reply Kristen June 4, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    I’m planning on starting up a freelance design business and also an art shop… I’m a little overwhelmed with everything it’s going to take and would absolutely LOVE some direction in this area! Thanks for the giveaway! xo

  • Reply Ciara June 4, 2012 at 4:59 PM

    Thanks for the advice! I’m trying to kick up a freelance business, and any advice is helpful!

  • Reply Sydney June 4, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    I just started my own business and this is PERFECT! Thank you for sharing your wisdom :)

  • Reply Sydney June 4, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    haha hit enter too early, what i would do to grow it is to get myself some industrial space! Right now I am running a home baking business and I would love to have myself some space where I can be creative and not worry about the rest of my normal-life kitchen! haha

  • Reply Andi June 4, 2012 at 7:18 PM

    I opened (with my sisters) an etsy shop selling embroidered pendants and other vintage-inspired accessories in Nov. of last year. We’ve been taking it slow, but have been learning so much in the past few months. Thanks for the great tips and the giveaway!

  • Reply Lauren Kaczmarski June 4, 2012 at 8:02 PM

    Great post. So many people assume they can easily quit their day job, jump into freelance and will suddenly be able to sleep til 10 every day. The truth is that it takes a lot of sweat (and sometimes tears, let’s be honest…) to get a successful freelance business up and running. I know your work ethic will pay off – keep up the great work. I’d love to get my hands on that book : )

  • Reply Vanessa June 4, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    Great tips! I’m definitely going to be emailing you soon ;)

  • Reply T.wood June 5, 2012 at 1:13 AM

    Awesome giveaway hope I win this knowledge!

  • Reply Jessica June 5, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    Thank you so much for the great advise! I’ve been doing the Etsy thing for almost 2 years.. and its just now picking up. Definitely have had to be mega-patient! Would love to get my hands on that book!!

  • Reply Beth June 5, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    This is my second day of full-time self-employment! As a graphic designer/photographer, I really appreciated your words of wisdom. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply annie June 5, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    I would love Creative Inc.! I’m a writer with a degree in English and a graphic design hobby and have considered freelancing, but I have no idea where to start!

  • Reply Jamie June 6, 2012 at 2:33 AM

    I’ve already learned so much just reading your posts I am so curious and excited to read this book! Definitely will have to get it if I don’t win!

  • Reply Amy June 6, 2012 at 3:07 AM

    I have wanted to read this for a while now! fingers crossed :)

  • Reply amyluna June 7, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    I’m dipping my toes into the world of freelancing and loved your insight!

  • Reply Friday Favourites » Amy Elizabeth June 8, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    […] Hello Adulthood: Owning your Own Business – some great tips from Allison Lehman […]

  • Reply Danelle June 8, 2012 at 5:54 AM

    Ahh! I’ve been wanting to get myself a copy of that book. Would be awesome to win! :D *crosses fingers*

  • Reply ALDAN June 9, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    This is a definitive blog post right here…

    • Reply Allison June 12, 2012 at 5:17 PM

      Thanks Aldan!! I like it like that.

  • Reply Blog Love January 26, 2014 at 9:23 PM

    […] Allison has some tips on owning your own business >>> […]

  • Reply But We Will Stay March 25, 2014 at 9:30 AM

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