When I took my first job out of college I never thought I’d be self employed before I turned fifty.
At this so-called “integrated communications” agency, I was put on 3 client accounts and 1 internal project. As my “senior” (I’m an arrogant snob, get ready) account colleagues walked me through the grunt work I’d take off their plates, they all said the same thing at the end of their “training”:
“So you’ll do this for about a year . . .”
I of course didn’t say this out loud. But this is what I screamed in my head and from my gut in about .07 seconds:
I didn’t go to college, study comms in a consistently ranked top-5 program, be the comms VP of a 60-person team with a 5-figure annual budget, intern with the university’s spokesman for a year on getting coverage in top trade publications and national outlets … to land HERE doing something I, on my now FIRST day, could train a high schooler from down the street to do in 15 minutes!! You’re gonna PAY me to do that?
OH … AND … we’re gonna BILL our clients, HOW MUCH, for me to do THAT? And you want ME, with all my skills, to be THE ONE doing it … for a YEAR?!!!
You. Gotta. Be. Kidding.
Someone pinch me. Plzzzz.
This can’t be happening.
It was so so so hard to humbly listen to anything my new colleagues said.
As I saw it then, who cares if they had been at the company for a year, or two? None of them studied comms in college, let alone a top-ranked program. None of them had jobs or legit experience in comms before starting, which I did. And ANYONE who thought it worthwhile to spend a year doing this mindless crap must not have two cells between their ears to rub together and therefore isn’t intelligent enough for my attention.
Yeah I just wrote all that. That was 6 years ago and the visceral-ness is still there. I warned you … my intellectual arrogance and snobbery game were strong.
In fact, I’m certain I came across this very ecard or something close to it, printed it off, and taped it on the wall behind my desk.
Within a few days, it mysteriously disappeared.
If you hang this at your desk at your corporate gig . . . my money is that you’re destined to join the mighty ranks of the self employed just like me.
I bring all this up to point out WHAT I REALIZED from my then “for a year at a time”-oriented colleagues:
I was used to living life by semesters . . . ie, in 4-month cycles. And I had NO plans to change that.
In 4-month cycles, I learned:
- a good chunk of Newtonian physics
- partial differential calculus
- to name every bone, bone segment, organ, muscle, muscle segment etc. in the body
- the chemistry of how DNA replicates and the physical science of exactly why DNA is an oblong double helix
- how to plan, draft and launch PR campaigns
- the major points of a dozen political philosophers
- to identify dozens of works of art, literature, opera
- that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is nothing like what we’ve turned it into
- you know … every class I took in college
I LOVE learning. Have always sought out and taken the fast track.
AND NOW . . .
A YEAR to do what I’ve conceptually mastered in the 15 minutes you took to explain it to me?
I had NO idea what I was getting into, and this was one of my ruder awakenings to #AgencyLife in New York City.
I committed at the moment to NOT let this “adult” “grownup” view of living by years take over my pattern of mastery/growth/rebirth in semesters or 4-month cycles.
NO WAY was I going to slow down my life just because people around me start talking in terms of years.
# # #
One year later, the writing on the wall was strong.
And a year after that, I was let go.
On July 17, 2012 I was what I call “friendly fired”: given 30-days’ notice.
I first talked publicly about getting fired on The Brave Entrepreneur (ep. 18), and my Quora answer on how I emotionally/mentally/physically dealt with getting fired has been viewed nearly 18,000 times.
# # #
There’s a corollary to the 4-month semester cycle, and it lasts around 4 years, or sometimes as little as 2.
These are like degrees:
Middle school + junior high
So this month, September 2016, when I crossed 4-years being self employed . . .
And Linkedin reminded everyone of that . . .
And I got dozens of ‘likes’ and canned notes . . .
(which I sincerely appreciate, btw, and consider this post, my friends, my return note to all of you) . . .
I had a moment:
I’ve employed myself FT twice as long as my agency tenure (two years) and for as long as I was in college.
I therefore have “a degree” in being self employed.
I have a degree in providing for myself, as my own boss.
I have a degree in how to make and earn money without an employer.
I don’t have a masters of business administration, but I DO have rudimentary mastery (at least) of ALL aspects of administering a business:
- I do my own bookkeeping
- I write and review my own contracts
- I set my own strategy
- I do my own business development
- I close the deals
- I collect payments
- I send the invoices
- I do the work
- I run quality control
- I’m my own “account manager” “customer success manager” “client happiness specialist” and so on
- I’m my own HR department
- I’ve hired/released/completed/fired 20+ contractors
- I’m my own marketing department
- I’ve closed deals and finished projects for 50+ businesses
Anyone who is an entrepreneur/business owner knows what I’m talking about.
The ‘being self employed’ ride has been INSANE but I’m grateful to have put myself through an incredible learning experience, in which I’ve laid a foundation for a life I am excited to live at this very moment and am eager to continue building upon.
Here’s a recap of my entrepreneur coursework that led to my Self Employed Degree:
For simplicity and to make general themes more obvious, I limited myself to three “classes” per semester when really, as in college, it was more like 6-7 at a time.
Fall 2012 (Sep-Dec)
Reality Check 100: Oh crap, am I really doing this?
Desperation 101: Consult for free
Desperation 102: Also interview for FT jobs in a lateral industry
Winter 2013 (Jan-Apr)
Client Satisfaction 101: my first legit client (CMC)
Networking 101: night events, shows, conferences, masterminds, etc.
Business Admin 100: bank account, domain, invoices, contracts, etc.
Summer 2013 (May-Aug)
Experiments in Marketing 210: “I Do Gamification”
Business Expansion 150: Second client, yay! Third client, yay! Fourth client, yay!
Skill Development 180: Email + CRM with Mailchimp, Infusionsoft
Fall 2013 (Sep-Dec)
Investment 201: sponsor a conference
Investment 202: business coach
Struggle 101: second-guess my selection for a business coach
Winter 2014 (Jan-Apr)
Mega Excitement 240: biggest client renews with massive budget expansion!
Scaling 210: subcontractors, subcontractors, subcontractors
Shiny Objects 100: bunch of random side projects I feel I can do because of all this main-gig income sustaining me
Life context: sleep and energy management at all-time low, begin Ironman training
Summer 2014 (May-Aug)
Life context: Ironman training in full swing
Skill Development 225: managing website projects
Struggle 300: what did I get myself into with all these subcontractors?
Struggle 480: biggest client pulls the project plug early
Fall 2014 (Sep-Dec)
Life context: I’m an Ironman
Consequences 300: planned income for rest of year is gone
Business Reflections 312: I didn’t start a business to spend all my time managing subcontractors . . . and, somehow, I want to bring triathlon in business
Experimentation 206: build and launch an online course (initial success promptly fizzles)
Winter 2015 (Jan-Apr)
Life context: live the winter in LA, decide to move out of NYC
Rebirth 285: marketing advisor (help a lot of business owners a little bit, do no implementation) + endurance coach
Launch 286: group program where I advise small biz owners on marketing AND coach them in endurance training
Skill Development 325: coaching, teaching, lesson plans
Summer 2015 (May-Aug)
Business Reflections 412: the people I count as the greatest successes, in business and sports, pick something and embrace the routine grind . . . repetition, repetition, repetition
Business Reflections 413: my business lifestyle (lots of ups and down, lots of travel) doesn’t align with life priorities, and there’s little room for repetition, meaningful practice and mastering a craft
Business Reflections 485: survey course, hmmmmmmmmmmmm
Fall 2015 (Sep-Dec)
Life context: temporarily, under-the-radar move to Utah
Drastic Measures 420: cut ties, fire clients, don’t renew my group coaching program
Embracing Your Craft 421: work as deeply as possible (on marketing) with as few clients as possible
Business Reflections 460: if “being a great marketer” is more important than being an entrepreneur, maybe a full-time role is a good idea? Open the door to FT job search
Winter 2016 (Jan-Apr)
Life context: move permanently to Utah … buy a car, get my license, etc.
Job Search 300: say no at the 1-inch line for a role when asked to negotiate one of my from-the-outset non-negotiables; from another, get a “want you on the team, but can’t bring you on until maybe around end of the year . . .”
Skill Development 410: build my first website from scratch, in Squarespace
Struggle 210: I’ve been entertaining FT work options, it hasn’t panned out, now I need more clients . . .
Summer 2016 (May-Aug)
Business Revelations 482: Holy smokes, I can make websites on my own without a developer or designer
Rebirth 386: Full-Stack Marketer . . . strategy + traffic + content + website + CRM + automation
Business Expansions 402: website project, website project, website project, more websites than I can deliver on deadline, begin time tracking and creating administrative controls and processes
And now on to . . .
Fall 2016 (Sep-Dec)
Business Admin 505: tracking time, cash-flow control systems, time and resource allocation
Elevation 512: rate hikes, packaged services with (smartly priced, profitable) fixed project fees
Demand Generation 560: systematically booking work 6+ months ahead of time