Monday, July 6, 2015

Approaching With Confidence

Taking leave of the corporate world and striking out on my own has thus far been much easier in practice than it was in contemplation. As I prepared to give up a regular paycheck to officially live by my wits, I had moments of emotional free fall. On occasions when those moments stretched into hours, I would call someone who had done the same thing and wouldn't have it any other way.

An acquaintance who nearly a decade ago started her own, very successful recruiting firm told me panic at the outset (and many times more) is par for the course. "But once you get that first check, you think, wow, I just got paid for this. My client thinks I am up to the task, so I guess I am." So true. Getting paid, once it started happening, made real what I'd set out to do.

I always admired my entrepreneurial friends, and that is even more true now that I've joined their ranks, if not their league. Those who make payroll and office rent each month and seem to go about life without heading into paralysis from that responsibility are, in the true sense, awesome to me. A few have assured me they have their own free fall moments and routinely wonder what on earth they were thinking when they decided to launch their own enterprise. But then, what else would they do? Go and work for somebody else? Hell, no.

The encouragement I've gotten from other independents has been heartening and a lot of fun. I've found an informal support network where professionals with complimentary skills make introductions. Referrals go to and fro. There are also the beginnings of formal networks; the Freelancer's Union offers resources, including benefits, for project-oriented workers. This space has advanced rapidly since the days when I dipped my toe in as a stay-at-home mother almost two decades ago, and instead of calling local publications and agencies, much of my work comes from people I will quite likely never meet in person.

A popular recent article on Fast Company is titled "These Are the New Rules of Work." The commute to an office, it reports, is nearing extinction, as work can happen from anywhere and churns on 24/7. In my corporate life, I managed international conference calls in the middle of the night from my kitchen and car, the airport, and a few other places I'd rather not name. People around the globe dialed in from bars, hotel rooms, security checkpoints and once, a train station, complete with blaring horn, in Copenhagen. (Even people with advanced degrees sometimes forget the genius of the mute button.) In that role, it meant I worked all the time. In my new one, I still put in long hours. But if I  walk the dog at ten in the morning, nobody cares.

The best piece of advice to me in this new phase has come from a longtime PR professional I hadn't seen in ten years. She kindly and immediately accepted my lunch invitation and was gracious with her advice. Her independent practice started when her now grown children were very young and she'd just moved into single mom status. "I figured out how much I needed to make, and realized that meant I needed three solid, regular clients. And you know what? I did it. The most important thing is to approach everything with confidence. Do that, and you'll get what you need." Still raring to go, she is now building a successful food photography business.

So far the only downside of my new work arrangement is too much solitude. When T is away working and my son is with the other half of the parental unit, the house is quiet. Really, really quiet. Last week I tried out a workshare space in the West Seventh neighborhood in Fort Worth. It's in a warehouse-type building and is tucked away behind a bustling retail area. For a remarkably reasonable monthly fee, I can perch in a comfortable common space and be around some young creatives. It's all new and exciting, and my first day I felt like the new girl looking around the cafeteria for any indication of welcome. I ended up having a great talk with a young business owner. He said, "I'm only 27, but I already know I don't ever want to work for somebody else." I plan to learn as much as I can from the cool kids. In the meantime, I'll pretend to know what I'm doing.

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