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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

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.

261: 37th Birthday Lessons

"Just Take a deep breath it's gonna be alright." -Tara Swiger TaraSwiger.com/podcast261

It's my birthday month, and that means it's time to review my year and share the lessons I learned from another year on the earth.

Each year, on my birthday, I share a  bit about my birthday review process. Just like we do at the new year, I look at what was great, what wasn't, and what lessons is my life teaching me?

To do this birthday review, I use the monthly questions found in my book, Map Your Business. The book has these questions every month for 12 months, so you can start whenever, and make reviewing your month (and planning for the next) a regular part of your business (and life!). You can find the book at on Amazon.

At the bottom of this post, I've linked to all the past birthday posts – they go back 10 years – this will be the eleventh! And I gotta tell you, I read back through last year's transcript and it was SO GOOD. I needed to re-hear the lessons I learned last year!

This year, it was epic.  Big big changes in our lives!

The not-so-good stuff

Before I get to the good stuff and lessons, I want to share the negative side of this year. Now, this isn’t actually bad, it’s stuff I chose, but I don’t want this whole episode to sound like everything is perfect. I made sacrifices this year, but they were my choice to live the life I want, so I was happy to make them.

I didn’t travel as much as I have in past years, although I did go to Columbus, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Charleston, and together we went to see my parents in Oregon and Cookeville, TN. We also went to Asheville a lot.

Also, my business didn’t grow as much as it has in the past. That’s because I didn’t work in it as much as I have in the past, and I made some explicit choices to cut back on some things, which I knew would be a short term loss in exchange for a long term gain of time and energy for other projects. You can hear more about how I streamline my business in episode 224.

This year’s good stuff

  • We became parents! I became a mother! No big deal, my world was just completely shattered by a 3 month old, a 2 year old and 6 week old.
  • Finding meds that work for my mental health.
  • Figuring out how to run a business and be a mom.
  • Learning the foster care system, inside and out.

Lessons learned this year

Motherhood + entrepreneurship is no joke.

I know, y’all veteran moms are saying, uh, yeah, duh.

But I’m gonna be totally honest – I knew it would take a lot of time and energy, but I was not prepared for how much of my BRAIN it took over. I mean, we have no warning, so it’s always a little crazy, but I literally could not think my own thoughts for the first 2-3 weeks. It was all baby thoughts, all the time. Thinking of even my own needs, like to shower or to read a book was not even an option.. and so of course the deeper, thinky stuff like my business was just not even accessible to my brain.

Now, that is for a short(ish) time, but even after we’re used to each other and it becomes less of a shock that THERE IS A BABY IN MY HOUSE, I never fully recovered my thinking brain. So that makes dong things like strategic planning, or heck, even writing a podcast REALLY hard.

And so the lesson was: it is more emotionally and mentally intense than I was expecting and also: everything will be ok. It’s ok to not be at 100%. It is OK to feel slightly slow all the time.

I need more grace

One of the things I struggled with most during this transition to motherhood (which is still ongoing, just on pause until we get the next placement!), is being really hard on myself. I have never been a perfectionist, I am always saying “oh, it’s fine. Done is better than perfect.” I’d rather have something done and then fix and upgrade and improve on it than try to perfect it from the start.

So I was totally surprised when I became so hard on myself for everything related to child care (especially with the toddler). I was disappointed I didn’t feed her even more whole foods. I was disappointed I snapped at her. I was frustrated when her nap didn’t happen. I think it’s that I didn’t see that, just like my business, this parenting gig is a progressive thing. You don’t have to get it perfect the first time, you just doing your best and something less than your best because you’re tired or annoyed and it all works together to be fine.

The good news is, I recognized this. I recognized that so much of being a foster parent is out of my control, and I was being really relaxed about not being in control of the system and the big stuff (will she go or stay? How many visits per week?), I was instead trying to exert control over the situation by controlling myself, controlling my parenting, and constantly beating myself up for not doing enough.

So when I recognized it, I talked to other moms. I talked to some of you on Instagram Stories and I talked to moms in real life and I decided to give myself more grace. Grace to be imperfect. Grace to mess up. Grace to even make the wrong decision sometime, knowing that it’ll be ok.

I know I’m not alone in this and I know it’s not at all about parenting – it’s about being nice to yourself vs holding yourself to some impossible standard.

So I’m gonna invite you to give yourself some grace.

My business will survive!

As Jay put it as we were talking about this episode, I learned that  “your business can survive your lowest point, and your highest stress.” Because, seriously, that’s what this year was full of. From having the worst depressive episode last summer, to the stress of having a 2 year old who is a total stranger – I put my business on hold more this year than I ever have. Yes, I streamlined and planned for the first maternity leave (when we got our placement in October)… but right as I was starting to work again, she went home. And then it took me a while to get back in the swing of productivity and we got our 2 year old friend. And it took me over a month to get a handle on any kind of productivity. She stayed 3 months so I got into a good workflow during the days she was out of the house… but then she left. And 2 weeks later we got a baby for a week.

All that to say, one maternity leave is great, but all of the unknown and the emotions, and the wanting to not to commit to anything, because I may have to cancel at the last minute… it’s hard on me and hard on my business.

And yet… my business is resilient. My audience won’t all leave. Actually, most won’t even notice when I go silent for a week or two, as long as my promises are fulfilled (students get what they bought and the podcast keeps dropping each Wednesday morning).

Now, my business is extra-resilient because I set up lots of systems to keep it running (again, I talk about those in episode 224 and teach you how to do it in my workbook at TaraSwiger.com/leave)

But I always had a little bit of doubt, I worried that if I didn’t do X or Y or if I cancelled on someone or didn’t follow through, everything would fall apart. And while it did slow down, it did not fall apart.
I wanna share that with you, because I know a lot of you have the same fear. So just take a deep breath, it’s gonna be alright.

Taking care of myself is everything

This year really challenged me to step up how I treat myself. Emotionally, by giving myself more grace, but also physically, by ya know, actually taking time to shower, to go walk in nature, to diffuse the essential oils I’m craving. I’ve known this for a long time, but when I didn’t really have anyone depending on me to be at my best, I would tell myself that it wasn’t important. Even though I know I’ve had my biggest business growth and had the best mental health in the years that I was running longer races (2013-2015), I told myself it wasn’t worth the time.

But I am working on changing that message, on valuing myself enough to take care of myself. As Jay says “Your entire job and business is based on you being the best Tara you can be. It only survives if YOU are feeling great.”

So although I’d love for us to take care of ourselves simply because we are valuable, I’ll be honest that I had to have another reason to convince me. Knowing the kids in my life deserve my best, and knowing that you and the business deserve my best – has convinced me. (This is classic enneagram 2, I’ll do it to help someone else.)

Because of this lesson, I created a free 5 day Challenge for y’all, along with a workshop. It walks you through 5 days of just doing teeny tiny things to take better care of yourself. And after the challenge is over, I’m sharing my own journey of taking better care, in monthly exclusive letters. You can join at taraswiger.com/takecare

Thanks so much and have another enthusiastic year.

Past Birthday posts

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.

What I’ve learned in 33 years

WhatIveLearnedin33Years

Today's my birthday! In today's episode, I look back at all the awesomeness of the last year and share what I've learned about my business (and life).

Past birthday posts:

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!).
  • Get all the blog posts, email lessons + podcast episodes in your inbox, subscribe via email.

Find all the podcast episodes here.

3 Things I’ve learned from teaching 5 workshops in 2 weeks

3thingsivelearned
Over the last 2 weeks, I have taught 5 live workshops to over 75 students in two different states.3 workshops were in partnership with Handmade In America, at North Carolina community colleges. The other two were in partnership with friends + students in Boston, MA.

It wasn't planned, it just happened through a fluke of scheduling, but this packed schedule was the best thing for me. You see, just a few months ago, I was nervous about teaching live, to an audience that didn't already know me. But this total immersion in live teaching, new students, and  unknown venues has cured me of any stage fright I ever had. (Have I told you that the entire reason I didn't go to grad school and become a French Professor as planned was because I couldn't stand up in front of the class without puking? Yeah, it's ironic.)

 

Creating "market your class" workshop for Cabot St Studios in BOSTON! #cantwait #mapmaking (details on site)

Along with becoming a braver, more adventurous teacher, I've learned three big lessons that I don't want to forget.

  1. It's not about me, Part 1.

    I've created a lot of content in the last 3 years of writing about business and I've systematized how I think about businesses. (I have a system for turning your ideas into action, a system for creating a sane holiday, a system for improving your profitability, a system for your overall marketing).

    But the most valuable thing I can offer is the experience of everyone else. You see, I'm in this unique (and delightful) position of having talked to, worked with, or worked in hundreds of small businesses. My own experience running a handmade business pales in comparison with all I've learned from working with a copywriter, a retailer, a tech start-up in addition to what I've learned in hundreds of solo-sessions with smart and successful artists, authors and makers, mixed with the deep conversations I've had over coffee with friends and strangers about what works for them. This massive database in my head (and my connection-spotting superpowers) allow me to answer student questions with real-life examples of what's worked for someone in a similar situation. (From knitting-book launches, to magazine submissions, to press releases, to finding more profit, to changing your business model drastically – my students, clients and friends have done it all.) It's not about me, it's about what works for individual situations. The longer I do this, the more individual examples of success I amass + the quicker I can give you examples of what worked for someone else (and brainstorm ways to morph it into something specific that will work for you.)

  2.  It's not about me, Part 2.

    Two years ago someone told me that their favorite part of my classes were the massive amounts of worksheets that I make you ask you to fill out. Hearing that shifted everything – it completely changed the way I was writing the book (it's more of a work-book than a reading-book). When I teach a live class, I'm actually doing very little teaching. Instead, I'm presented some ideas and then forcing asking you to work with them by applying it to your own business. Instead of using live events as an opportunity to spread my own ideas, I think of workshops as giving you the time and space to work though an aspect of your business. Because let's face it, most of us do not put into practice what we learn. We just file it away for “when I'm not busy” and then never get to it.

    It's not enough for me to talk at you about business (or life) principles, I want you to start putting it into practice and shape it to fit your situation, right now. So I regularly stop and say, ok, fill out your own answer to that question on page 5. And this is by far the biggest aspect I get feedback on. People love the worksheets. And they love that I gave them two hours to think deeply about their business.

  3. Everyone has the same questions.

    You really, truly are not alone. The  HIA workshops have included a huge range of students – from party planners, to new bakery owners, to massage therapists to personal stylists.

    And everyone of them has the same questions:
    What do I do next? (This is usually answered by breaking down your big goals into actionable steps)
    How do I find more customers? (The answer is usually somewhere in the message-creating process – either by clarifying who you you serve or what the benefits are.)
    Am I doing the right thing? Should I even be trying this? How do I know if it's going to work? Is it my fault it's not growing faster?

After every new adventure, I like to take a few moments to reflect back on what I've learned (I remind Starship Captains to do this every month!).

What about you? What have you learned from your last adventure?

 

cross_stitchesWant to attend one of my live workshops? 
I'm now planning my 2014 tour. Find out how you can help here. (First stop: TNNA in San Diego in January!)