I thought it would be fun to do something a little differently, so this episode will be a bit of a Q&A session. I posted a poll on social to find out what you might want to know from me, and here are a few of the suggestions.
How did you know it was time to go out on your own?
That’s a question I actually get quite often. And it’s not like I had this lifelong goal of running my own business. For a long time, I actually didn’t want anything to do with running my own business. It’s what everyone assumed I would do, but at that time, and for a lot of years, I just didn’t have that drive to do it. I think it’s because I’ve been working pretty much my entire life. I started when I was 16. I worked full time through high school. In college, I had a full-time job, a part-time job and a full-time course load. Then I started working. I’ve never really not been working. And at the time when I was younger, the idea of running a business had implications of buildings and people and just a lot more than I wanted to deal with at that time. I hadn’t thought about the idea of being what they call now a solopreneur. I don’t even think that was a term back then. But I knew I didn’t want a bunch of other people depending on me for their livelihood.
And I was pretty happy in my job for quite a while. I was at the same company for almost 10 years. But towards the end of that run, a lot of things were starting to change. People were moving on to new jobs, the corporate managers started having more involvement in our operations, and I didn’t agree with how they were changing things. And essentially, the job stopped being fun. And that was a big part of why I had stayed there for so long, because it was a lot of fun.
I had started to reach this point where I knew something needed to change and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. So I decided to go back to school. I had originally gone to college right after high school, following the “normal plan.” I didn’t want to take out student loans or anything like that, so I went to the local community college where I could pay a third of the price, knowing that I could then transfer to the university and still have my degree from there. So it was just a matter of saving money because I’ve always been a little bit frugal. So I got my two-year degree in business management, and then I moved to LA.
I planned on continuing college there, but tuition was quite a bit more expensive. So then I decided to wait a year so I could take advantage of the lower tuition for in-state residents. But by the time that year was up, I knew that LA was not the place for me, so I went back to Las Vegas. And at that point, I just needed to start working. And I dove straight into my career, and I never had time to go back. And it never held me back. Not having that piece of paper had no impact on my career. And that’s not to say that having a degree is a bad thing by any means. It just didn’t have the same impact that I thought it might.
So I had been working full time all of those years, and when I started to get bored with my job, there were a couple thoughts that came into play. First, I was bored, and I don’t think it’s okay to be bored at a place where you’re spending 40 to 50 hours a week. But I wasn’t being challenged. There wasn’t anywhere for me to go within that company. But while it was fun, it didn’t bother me as much. But once it stopped being fun, I knew something had to change. I thought that going back to school would give me some kind of idea of what the next step would be for me. I also don’t like to leave things unfinished. And so even though I was never held back by not having that degree, I still wanted it because I had started it and I never reached that goal. So I figured if nothing else, at least I’d get my fancy piece of paper.
I went through it very quickly, and I got my piece of paper in May of 2015. But the only thing that I really learned was that I wasn’t going to learn anything from school that I didn’t already know. I really did spend all that money for a piece of paper that didn’t matter. The education was very basic, and my years of experience had taught me way more. Taking those classes didn’t open up my eyes to any grand plan that I should have. It just reminded me that I already know what I need to know in business. Not to say that I can’t still learn, and that I don’t still learn, because it’s a continuous process. But what I learned from going back to school was just confirmation that I already know what I’m doing.
I won’t say that it was a waste of time, though, because it did get me thinking about things a little bit differently. And I started formulating a plan about what I could do that was different from my job. At the time, and I think I’ve mentioned this before on the podcast, my plan was actually to get out of the production industry entirely. I had a number of reasons for that, that I won’t get into right now. But I felt that my best move was to really focus on the business stuff. I realized how much I wanted to help people manage their businesses. Every job I’d had had been some level of managing chaos and getting things to work. But once I got them to work, my job became very easy and almost routine. The challenges were gone. And challenges are what keep me motivated sometimes.
But I started thinking about it and realized that I could help more people by doing what I did, and then going away. So essentially, I could get them organized, teach them how to do it, and then move on. So they didn’t have to pay my higher salary full time – they could hire somebody to just maintain the systems that I had already set up. And then that would stop me from getting bored because I could finish working with one company and move on to the next. That’s kind of how the plan started. But as with everything in my life, plans change, and I look for opportunities, and they come my way. And that means changing paths a lot of times, and I’m really glad that I do that.
Boredom was a big part of that equation. The other part, the bigger part, was I wasn’t being valued for everything I did for that company. Through some of the changes, my eyes were opened to what had been going on for quite some time that I hadn’t been aware of – and they were things I didn’t agree with, and I didn’t want to be part of. I expressed my concerns. I was given a lot of false promises. And ultimately, I decided to stop going. That’s not to say that I quit, it just means that I stopped going. I completely pulled an “Office Space” move and said, “I’m just not gonna go.” I still did my work, I just did it from home. And I hadn’t gotten permission to do that, but I felt it was my only option at that time. They knew I wasn’t happy. I had told them I wanted to quit many times. They kept begging me to stay, but then they never followed through on those promises. So that was my compromise. If they wanted me to work there so badly, I was going to do it on my terms. And that meant working from home.
During this time, I was upfront with them that I was starting a new business, that I was working on the side. I didn’t try to hide it from anybody, because I always believe that transparency is important. But it was all very clear at that time that it was time for me to go out on my own.
How long did it take you to get started?
This ties into that last question a little bit. Like I said, I didn’t always have this plan to work for myself. But once I decided to do it, it didn’t take that long. I got that degree in May of 2015, and I started my LLC in August that same year. So three months from degree to LLC. I didn’t start working full-time on my business right away, as in I wasn’t working with clients yet. But I was taking the time to develop all of the systems, get the website in place, all of that pre-business stuff that you have to get done. The first job I did for that company was early in 2016, and by April of 2016, Aardvark Girl was my full-time job.
Overall, it was just under a year from the time I decided to start the business until I was doing it full-time. When I know what I want, I go for it. And that’s not to say that it wasn’t scary, and that I wasn’t on the fence quite a bit about whether I should do it or whether I shouldn’t. There was a lot of uncertainty, none of which had to do with my confidence so much as my entire life of security. Like I said, I had been working full-time since I was 16. I’d never been without that full-time income, and to abandon that was a bit intimidating. At that point, there is no more guarantee of salary, there are no more benefits. Now I have to rely on myself to find the work and to hope that the clients who said they would be working with me would be true to their word. And you know what? A lot of them weren’t, and that was okay. It all worked out.
What is the best and worst advice you were given when starting out?
I think the best advice I was given was from my friend Angie. She had done the full-time work. She had done the freelance work. She’d gone back to full-time, and freelance, and she’d done a permalance, which is a blend of the two. And she said to give it three years to find your stride. She said she had watched a lot of people go from full-time to freelance, and it always seemed to be about the three-year mark where everything really clicked, and started to make sense, and they knew exactly what they were doing.
A lot of people get frustrated very quickly, and they’re very impatient. And if the first few months, or even the first year, doesn’t go as well as they expect, sometimes they give up. But persistence is very important because you have to give yourself time to figure things out. You’re not going to make the right decisions every time. You will make mistakes, and you’ll learn from them, and you’ll get better. And you’ll do things right the first time, and you’ll be very proud of that. But you have to prepare for a lot of fluctuation – not just in the level of business, because you’ll have really busy months and you’ll have really slow months. You just have to go with the flow and learn your process, figure out how to plan the best that you can, and figure out how to react and how to proactively figure things out, like putting money aside to cover those slower months. There’s a lot that goes into it. And it doesn’t matter how much you’ve done it for another company, how much you’ve read about it, or learn about it through school, or online research, or anything else. You really don’t know until you get in there and start doing it. And she was right. It was about three years in where I really felt that I understood the cycles and fluctuation and everything else that made things really comfortable for me.
As far as worst advice, I could probably list quite a few things for that one. But what comes to mind initially is the number of people who said, “Don’t do too many things. Don’t offer so many services. Focus just on one thing.” And I know I’ve talked about it before, so I don’t want to be too repetitive, but I’m really glad that I stuck to my intuition and decided to offer some various services, because that is probably the biggest thing that helps me deal with that fluctuation I mentioned. Because business does tend to happen in cycles. And I know that with production, for example, summer in Las Vegas is typically pretty slow. It’s very hot outside and people don’t want to be outside in the heat trying to film. Sometimes the gear shuts down, it overheats. It’s not the ideal place. So in general, my production work is very slow in the summer.
That’s where having other services comes in handy, because if one set of services is slow during a particular time of year, I have other services I can offer during that time. So while production is slow in the summer, that’s when I can take on more coaching clients. It all works out and it’s that idea of diversification that most of us learned about in high school or even sooner – you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Yet a lot of people advised me to put all my eggs in one basket.
I also had a lot of people tell me I shouldn’t use Aardvark Girl as a name. “It’s quirky. It’s weird. It doesn’t symbolize professionalism.” But you know what? I’m quirky, and I’m weird, and I am professional. My target market is self-employed creatives. Creatives don’t want to learn from some stuffy businesswoman and a pencil skirt. They want someone they can relate to. And I love working with creatives. I didn’t want to shy away from that. Plus, I already had the domain and email address, so it was simple to use Aardvark Girl.
And kind of as a tie-in to that, a few people also advised me that I should portray myself as a big company and not just one person – that I should represent myself as if I was an agency or a production company, and not just me. But I didn’t want that. I wasn’t trying to be a production company or an agency. I wasn’t trying to be anybody other than me. And part of that is because my entire life I had other people depending on me. Being a manager comes with a lot of responsibility, and there are a lot of people who depended on me in that position. I was at that point where I was burnt out, and I just wanted to do my own thing and only have to worry about how it affected me. So if I did really well, that was on me. And if I failed, that was on me, too. But I wasn’t interested in bringing on other team members. I just wanted to do my own thing by myself for a little while.
In addition, one of my big strategies was to keep my overhead as low as humanly possible. I didn’t want to take on office space, and utilities, and salaries, and health benefits, and all of those other things. I knew that I could work from home, with my laptop and my internet and some basic software, and that’s all I needed. That could allow me to stay home as much as I wanted to, and also to travel as much as I wanted to, which is a big thing for me. I love being able to travel the world and not fall behind on my work at the same time. Back when travel was a thing of course.
I think the people who were advising me to look like a bigger company also weren’t paying attention to the importance of personal branding, and how important that is to business right now – that the people you’re trying to connect with can get to know who you are as a person and not just a vague company. If I had chosen to use my initials or some generic name, I wouldn’t have that. At least with Aardvark Girl, people want to know why that’s my name. And it’s a good conversation starter. And every time somebody has to say the word aardvark, it makes me happy.
What is the most overlooked skill you need to be successful?
I’ve said this before, and I will continue to say it – instincts. Trusting your instincts is one of the most important skills you need as a business owner. It’s not something you can really take a class for or read about how to do. It’s something that you just have to learn how to do. You really have to be able to trust yourself at all times and listen to that gut feeling when you get it, and don’t be afraid to do what it says even if everybody else is telling you to do something differently. Innovation doesn’t happen by doing what everybody else is doing, so it’s okay to take risks sometimes and it’s necessary to do it sometimes.
And it’s also about honoring yourself. When you decide to start a business, you have certain goals in mind already, but one of them is usually the idea of freedom. And freedom doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want, whenever you want. But it does mean that you get to make your own choices for how you want to run things. The structure, planning, and processes are important, but you have to know how to make the right decisions for yourself. Your instincts will guide you if you let them.
That’s all for this episode but let me know what you think about this. Would you like to hear more Q&A episodes? What are some of the questions you would like to ask me or that you would like to know about? Please send them to me on social @aardvarkgirl or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I really want to know if this is something that you would like to hear more of, or if you prefer the single topic episodes instead. Thanks for listening.