The first question people most often ask me after they hear what I do is “how did you start your business?” They might be expecting an answer like; couldn’t work for other people anymore… took a huge risk… quit a cushy job and used my life savings. The truth is, I was laid-off from my last employer (now a competitor) after the dot-com bubble burst. At the time I was totally devastated and just looking for another full-time gig. A couple people suggested freelancing, and I thought they were nuts.
I showed my book to anyone who’d see me, and one day someone who liked what he saw but didn’t need help referred me to a friend of his called Neil. I called Neil, he asked me to come right away and stay the afternoon if he liked me. He liked me, I stayed, he had me back a couple more days. Then he made a proposal – if I was there and available to him (and only paid) as he needed me I could use the space and equipment for free to start my own business. I actually said no and did a short stint at a large agency, but left after only a week because I just didn’t fit there.
I went back to Neil and never looked back.
It was an awakening. I discovered a whole other side to myself. I was completely addicted to being independent and in control. It didn’t make me feel free to sleep in and work when I wanted like one might think, it made me wake up even earlier with no alarm clock. Although I really struggled financially my first year, I felt like I had more than when fully employed. May sound a little odd, but I was just happier.
It started with freelance work for Neil, then also some for a former colleague who’d started her own shop, then I got my first client. I was very lucky to have Neil’s advice and guidance early on. The value of learning from others’ experience is something I recognized and have used throughout my years in business.
Unfortunately Neil’s work started falling off and he didn’t know how to get more. We both became frustrated and spent too much time in dark booth at Betty’s (145 King St E).
The folks at Betty’s knew we were great but…
Then, I had my second awakening – no one was going to find us at Betty’s. I literally stepped out into the sunshine and looked for places to meet prospects. I discovered networking with CAWEE (member for five years and serial board member) amongst others. I even started co-hosting a networking event which I found I loved. I had no idea that I was such an extrovert and loved meeting people. I had also discovered a great new peer group, who were not only in the same boat as I, but had the same underlying drive and guts that made us entrepreneurs.
The rest is history.
As Neil’s business faded away I began getting more and more of my own clients. Networking and relationship-building was a natural for me and soon momentum took over. As far as making the leap from worker bee to running a business, I was lucky to be eased into everything. I eventually had to lease a computer, then start paying for a phone, then some internet, then some rent. Eventually Neil left and I took over the whole space. I didn’t take out any loans, write a business plan or invest in swanky office space, I just leapt and figured it out. I didn’t set out to build what I have today, but I took the opportunities I recognized, was compelled to move forward, to build. I learned as I went. Life had thrown me a detour and I found something even better.
Stay tuned for lesson 1: Hiring.
BTW, Neil is doing much better, is much happier now running the studio at a large organization.