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265: 10 years of self-employment: What I’ve learned

"Your business grows as fast as you do." -Tara Swiger Learn more at TaraSwiger.com/podcast265

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You guys, I have been self-employed for TEN YEARS, this week! That is really unbelievable to me, because I had no idea what to expect when I quit my dayjob to make yarn full-time. I have learned so much, struggled so much, and had weird unexpected successes (like improving my credit score, and earning a lifetime achievement award at Midwest Craftcon?).

Today I want to look back on it with you, and share some reflections that may help you in your own business journey.

I have been running a business full-time, since July 1, 2009. I quit a dayjob in an office, in part because I worked for a state university (an administrative assistant in HR) and the state cut funding, so there was a hiring freeze and a buyout. I applied for buyout and took it (it paid for us to pay off the car, and rent a UHaul to move), because I had grown the business to replace my day job salary most months.

I actually talk more about my business journey in the very first episode of the podcast, and you’re going to hear it again next week! As a celebration of 10 years of self-employment, and to spend more time with my foster kids this summer, I am re-broadcasting older important episodes from the last 5 years of the show. In July you’ll hear some of the oldest episodes that are the most important topics that basically no one has listened to, about launching and fear of success. In August you’ll hear the most-popular episodes ever, most are from about a year ago, and they cover topics like “how to stop seeking approval”, and “the pressure to be perfect”. You don’t have to do anything extra to get these episodes – just tune in each week  and you’ll get a new intro from Current Tara, along with a listen at the old musical intro (it was bad!) and Past Tara. Then I’ll be back in September with brand-new episodes!

As I was talking in the Starship about being self-employed for 10 years, Jennie asked me: if you could have a do over, would you change the rate of growth of your business? Would you grow faster/slower/the same? 

My answer is always: I wouldn’t change anything because then I wouldn’t be where I am. 

Which is kind of an annoying answer, so I really thought about this some more. The thing about my rate of growth is – sure, if I could have scaled to more profit, quicker, especially in the earlier days, that would have been fabulous, I would prefer to skip the years of being really broke and my business just covering the bills. But I would have had other growth-related problems and the fact is, I wasn’t ready to handle those problems until I grew.

One of the truths about business is that your business grows as fast as you do. If you’re expanding your belief in yourself, if you’re setting up systems, if you are confident and assured, you’re going to grow. But if you get stuck, or you leave something undealt with, your business will grow as much as you can until you hit that stuck point. You are always the bottleneck. Whether it’s that you don’t know how to let go and delegate, or you don’t believe in yourself, your business or the mission, or you’re not taking care of yourself, or your running yourself too hard, or you don’t value yourself, whatever it is, it’s the bottleneck.

So, the answer to the question is: Sure, I’d prefer that my business grew faster if that meant that I was growing and developing faster. But I couldn’t skip over learning what I needed to learn. So let’s talk about what I have learned:

Rule #1: Figure out how you make money.

I know this seems obvious – you make a sale, you make money. But do you? What’s the amount of profit on that sale? (I teach this math in the class Pay Yourself, which is only available in the Starship program, you can learn more about it at taraswiger.com/starship)

The next question is – how do you make a sale? What do you do that generates a sale almost every time? Or maybe you do a thing 5x and you make one sale?

This is really the first thing to figure out, before you’ve got your whole marketing plan, before you commit to whatever every day for the next year, test it out: What do I do that results in a sale? How often do I have to do X thing to get one sale?

Start to look at what you want to buy (for yourself or the business) in terms of what you’ll need to do to make enough sales for the profit to afford that thing. This is where all my early growth came from. I would want to do a thing (like a big craft show across the country). How could I afford the trip? I’d have to sell X skeins, so I’d have to Y listings on Etsy, followed by Z emails (emails were the thing that generated sales). And then I would do it.

Now, over time you need to be consistent in doing the things to generate the sales, so you have an idea of what you can regularly make. But to scale up or push yourself out a plateau, challenge yourself to make a certain amount of money is a certain time and hit it.

Again, I want to stress, this is not a long term path to consistent income, but you HAVE to have this knowledge to scale or become consistent with the RIGHT stuff.

Everything is figureoutable.

There is no question I can’t answer. There is no problem I can’t overcome. As long as I think of something as a mystery (or something someone else is just “naturally good at”), it’s always going to be a mystery. The good news: I always figure it out. Always.

Taxes are serious, but not excuses

Don’t be scared, have a plan.
I get soooooo annoyed when people are afraid to make money because they’ll owe taxes. You should HOPE your business owes taxes – that means you were profitable! If you want your business to be sustainable, it’ll be profitable and you will owe taxes. So I’ve always been HAPPY to owe taxes, but I haven’t always had a good plan for PAYING for those taxes. I didn’t plan well, and I owed taxes. But you know what? It’s actually not a huge deal (as long as you file on time and always talk to the IRS). Everyone I’ve ever talked to at the IRS is super friendly and helpful, so it’s nothing to be afraid of, but it is something to take seriously.

I can trust myself – I am my best business resource.

We make it big and scary. But nothing is as risky as we think. There are always other options if it doesn’t go well. And just like everything is figureoutable, what I know for sure is that I always figure it out. I can trust myself in any situation, I will be ok. I will make a good decision. Often there is no “right” decision, so I just need to trust myself and then COMMIT to whatever I decided.

I am my best resource and that means my #1 job is to keep my business resource (aka, me) in the best condition possible. This isn’t about a size or “clean eating” or anything full of shoulds and shame. This is about feeling what I feel, giving myself permission to feel how I do and need what I need. It’s sleeping enough, drinking enough water, journaling, and asking for help when I need it. It is prioritizing Peak Tara over everything else in my life. Yes, even kids and Jay, because THEY deserve Peak Tara too, they would rather I asked for a night completely alone instead of NOT asking and biting their heads off all night. (I just double-checked with Jay and he confirmed this is fact). Which every new challenge in my life, I have to learn this anew!

I certainly don’t have everything figured out, or even most of it. But I am proud of myself for keeping my business thriving and above all, for growing myself and creating something I love. I wish each of you the joy of looking back at what you’ve created, for however long you’ve been working on it, and knowing you still have so much ahead of you. That it is ok that you aren’t where you thought you should be.

Thank you so much for being here and being part of what I’m doing for however long you’ve been here! Whether it’s been for the 13 years of my biz or for the 5 years of my podcast or you just tuned in for the first time! Thanks for listening and have an enthusiastic week!

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

Teaching Your Craft

I'm super honored to be interviewed by the fabulous Diane of CraftyPod about teaching crafts (and specifically, knitting). We had a great conversation about the experience of teaching and how to get started teaching.

If you've wanted to start teaching your craft, listen to the conversation here.

Diane mentions that my Learn to Knit kit taught her to knit (squee!), you can find the kits here. Even if you know how to knit, these kits are a great way to teach a family member and avoid frustration that comes from not knowing how to describe when-the-loop-does-this-you-do-this.

Have you taught your craft?
Anything you'd add to our conversation?

Path to Yarn – Learning to Knit

This week I’m celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

Yesterday the crafty-ness started at home. Today, I got to college and learn to knit!

I went to a beautiful little University, 8 hours away from home, deep in southeast Tennessee. After a freshman year filled with what-should-I-major-in? torture, I decided on French Literature.

I absolutely loved books and I love language, and I had taken 4 years of French in High School, so it just made sense.  I imagined myself as a French professor, at a small college (perhaps the one I attended), spending my days teaching a few dedicated students the joys of Prevert's poetry, while reading and writing and always learning.

And it wasn't until I was a Teacher's Assistant my senior year, that I ever doubted the plan. During my first day to teach the class, I stood up….and was blank. All those faces staring at me! I started shaking and blushing and stammering (in English!)

While I denied it at first, I knew: I was terrified of standing in front of people – how did I think I was going to be a professor? I didn't really acknowledge that teaching WASN'T for me until a year after graduation, when I started to apply to grad schools.

By this time, I was deep into knitting and dyeing and business-stuff, so moving on from French Lit was a little easier.

But wait, let's go back to college!

All along, I did little crafty things. Making dinners for my roomates, scrapbooking, handwriting letters to my best friend.

But my senior year, I stumbled into the craft section of the bookstore. This was in 2004, when big, gorgeous knitting books were just starting to hit the shelves.

I bought Knitting Pretty, got really hideous mauve acrylic yarn and some metal needles. When I got home, me and my roomate Lindsay sat on my bed and tried to decipher the instructions.

We would read slowly, look at the pictures, look at the yarn in our hands.

Casting on was a breeze (backwards loop cast-on) but the knitting, not so much.

We were completely stuck at the “pull loop on right needle through loop on left needle”. What? Pull what through what? The pictures showed the yarn wrapping around the right needle and in the next picture – bam! The new stitch is made!

Eventually we got it and I knit maybe 50 rows on that scarf before it went in a bag and I focused on gradutation, moving back to Ohio, and planning my wedding.

Tomorrow, I get married (to Jay) & get obsessed (with yarn)!

PS. Don’t forget: I’m answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I’ll answer at 3! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don’t forget there’s a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com