Back about mid way through the year I made a big step for someone in their mid 20s — I became fully self employed. Now I’d done freelance work for years (and did Figoli Quinn & Associates work part time) but diving both feet into being self employed was a brand new experience. Four months into it, the business is still running, has increased it’s revenue every month, and I think has been doing better work every month, and I thought I’d reflect on what got me here, and how the process has gone so far.

Why I became self employed

The process was a long one that has a final trigger point. I hit what’s pretty common in the design / development industry — burnout. Burnout due to workload, burnout due to creativity constraints, burnout by doing the same thing day in and day out. In addition, there was a lack of control, being just a designer / developer, with decisions happening due to office politics rather than what was best for the project. While I could have tried to climb the corporate ladder the gain control, I saw two problems.

I would’ve had to climb quite a ways as often my boss and sometimes their boss was under similar decision making constraints I was in
I wasn’t ready to give up the pixel pushing and code writing of my day to day work and become a full time manager. I just wanted decisions that were in the better interest for the projects.
A group of friends and myself came together and decided to start a design agency in early 2014. We saw internal and external groups struggling with these same problems, as well as individuals who were passing off shoddy work while charging ridiculous prices, where much of the price was due to the overload of project management instead of the actual work being done. A couple drinks later, Figoli Quinn & Associates was born, though in a mostly part time effort from all of us with the idea that it’d be nice to do it full time one day.

That time finally came for me mid 2015 (Tony Figoli had already jumped on full time long before this). I was frustrated with my current job for the reasons above, plus I wanted to do more design work, which at the time I was doing none of during the day. Figoli Quinn & Associates was also having the great problem of there being too much work for the effort being given, and needed more of my attention. With a lot of though and discussions with my family and friends, we decided to take the plunge. I quit my job, and my self employed life began.

Time Management : Being my own boss and working from home

Working from home and being your own boss, it’s the dream right? It’s actually a ton of work. Now I’d already been working from home full time for a year by the time I made the jump, but it’s still an environment that takes some getting used to.

My biggest advice for those looking to do the same is set up a space that’s your office space, and place it as far away from the other things in the house as possible. My office is upstairs away from the TV in the living room and the kitchen. It sounds stupid but it keeps those type of distractions during the day out of sight with the extra benefit of when you have to work late (and you will), it’ll help segregate you from others in the house without it being an inconvenience. Second, try to keep regular hours. Like I hinted before, if business is going well you’ll work a lot of hours, at least if you care about your business (the more you work the more you make, right?). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best to keep a routine.

Humans love routines and keeping one will help your brain focus, relax, etc
It helps when interacting with the outside world. You might have this amazing freedom of hours but chances are those you’ll interact with don’t — they probably do an 8 – 5 sort of schedule and probably don’t want phone calls at 11pm. If you keep a schedule similar to those you interact with, it’ll help everyone’s communication involved
It helps reinforce downtime. Remember burnout from earlier? Let’s try to avoid that.
I also do my best to keep the office space as productive as possible. For me this meant having some fun toys around the office and keeping it clean. To help create a break from my previous job (since it’d be the same room I’d be working in) we also painted the room. A little drastic, but it’s amazing how much of a difference that made, it was like an entirely new office.

Finances

This was probably the scariest part of the entire thing, and to be honest still is. It hits you that you’re no longer guaranteed that paycheck twice a month. In fact, you’re not guaranteed anything at all. What happens if you don’t bring any work in? You go hungry. Well hopefully not. This is the place that I saw the least amount of help out on the internet getting ready to go into this, but I think I’ve found a system that works well. We’ll see how well it works when Figoli Quinn & Associates hits a dry spell at least.

First thing was making a budget. As a family we sat down and figured out how much money we needed per month, and subtracted out what my wife made to see what the bare minimum I needed to bring in was. Once we had that number, we looked at what Figoli Quinn & Associates had been bringing in, and what our projected revenue was for the next few months. Was it enough money? Good news was, it was, and was actually a good chunk more than that number. Now we knew that we couldn’t rely on that necessarily being consisted all the time (there will be good months and bad months) so we came up with the following to help manage that.

We had accounts with two banks. One that’s our ‘family’ accounts, and another with my ‘business’ accounts (not the Figoli Quinn & Associates accounts but money from FQ paid to myself). It didn’t have to be two separate banks, but it was already there anyways from before we were married.
At the end of every month Figoli Quinn & Associates pays all of us, and my share goes into my person ‘business’ account.
From there, I take roughly 25% of that entire amount and put it into a separate ‘taxes’ account. TAXES right? Being self employed means you’re no longer having those items pulled with each paycheck. Come having to pay taxes, you’re paying the entire portion ‘out of pocket’, though let’s be honest it’s your money whether or not you have withholding. I know roughly what I paid over the last few years and took a rough average of that, and that’s what I pull out of each of my ‘paychecks’ to myself and place it into a separate account, knowing that when I pay my taxes I’ll be most likely paying that full amount out as a check.
Remember that minimum number I came up with during budgeting? I pull that number (I actually pull more but that’s the minimum) and transfer it to our ‘personal’ accounts, leaving whatever is left over in that ‘business’ account. The idea is that this ‘business’ account gets built up over time so that if there’s a month that is slow, or Figoli Quinn & Associates doesn’t make anything, I can still ‘pay’ myself. Yes it’s still all our money and just money changing pockets, but it helps manage that money. The big piece here is having it as a separate bank, I can more or less ignore the ‘business’ account bank when looking at what our personal worth is. That way it doesn’t feel like money changing pockets, it feels like drawing a paycheck. Since it’s out of sight other than when I do steps 2 and 3 above, I won’t use that when making financial decisions and won’t spend it. It’s all about ensuring there’s money in the business bank in order to keep drawing a ‘paycheck’ even when times are slow, until that account is empty.
So far it’s worked well, but luckily we haven’t had a month where I’ve gotten paid than that minimum amount I needed was, so that extra account keeps growing. Let’s keep that up *fingers crossed*.

Organization

It’s probably obvious, but staying organized is sink or swim in managing your own business. That’s not just keeping your desk organized but ensuring that bills are paid, clients are kept happy, deadlines are met, and finances are on track. We’re lucky that there’s enough of us that we can split up that work, but it still needs to happen.

For client / project management we’ve gone with a home brew solution (hopefully we’ll be releasing that within the new few months publicly) but the idea is that as much as possible gets written down electronically. It’s easy to share and it doesn’t get coffee spilled on it. Even if you’re working on your own, it’s crucial this happens. It’s amazing how often you’ll have that spot where either you’ll have a rush of client interactions, or that stressful afternoon where you’re just focused on one thing. Either way, it’s easy to forget the details. When was this thing due? What exactly did they want? It’s also a great way to bring things in perspective. You’ll hit that point where you’ll start to feel overwhelmed, at least hopefully if business is doing well. When I had that, all it takes is to check out the task list. Is it really that many items? Are they all due right this instance? Rarely. It’s a great visual tool to do a reality check.

Communication, the crux of any business. While it’d be nice to get away from it, e-mail is probably still king and if you don’t stay on top of it, you’ll find your in box running wild. Here’s my couple of points for keeping my inbox manageable.

I try to at least skim my e-mails as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean I instantly drop what I’m doing every time an e-mail comes in, but I try to check it at least once an hour and do a quick skim. Especially doing design / dev work it’s amazing how many things are e-mails like “Can you do this ASAP?”. Don’t let those fall through the cracks.
Sort your e-mail, don’t let everything pile up in one box. I have a separate folder for each of our clients which makes it easy to find the majority of e-mails. Do something similar (or make it project based if that makes more sense to you). It’s amazing how many times you need to dig up that old e-mail.
If it’s not important (have instructions, etc) don’t keep it. It just making finding the important stuff that much harder.
Three simple rules, but it works for me, especially #1. I almost never let me unread messages get into the double digits. It prevents me from missing items, and helps cut down on the overload anxiety when that Mail icon shows 100+ new e-mails.

For finances, we’re 100% on Quickbooks Online. It’s easy to use, it makes it so any of us can quickly see anything, and nothing slips through the cracks. You’ll make a mistake or two at first (how do I classify this as an expense? Or make sure you check that box that reoccurring invoices are actually emailed and not just created) but it only took us a month of invoice problems to get ourselves straight.

Looking Forward

It’s been a great few months so far, and I’m definitely looking forward to this continuing on. We look like we’ll be hitting a little slower time hitting the holidays (it’s amazing how many business do though) but it looks like that our personal finance plan will help get us through plus our business organization and finance strategies. Here’s to me being able to write another one of these in another few months details how business has only gotten better.