As a business of one, it often feels like my main role is just to get the work done. Client work is what is keeping my business running, what makes me a freelancer and gives me the business in the first place. So, for the first four years of my business journey, it has been my main focus.
Recently, a lot has changed. Which is strange, because really nothing has changed. I’m still here, doing my client work, building networks, meeting interesting people and fitting all of that in alongside the other areas of my life. And yet, in a way, everything has changed.
Realising that you’ve built a business while you weren’t even looking
After four years, I’m ready to move my business forward. I’ve decided to see my client work as a business, as a thing that stands alone in its own right, set apart from the fact that I’m a freelancer or a remote worker.
Over four years I’ve taken on a lot of different clients. And other clients I’ve worked with throughout that time. I always describe myself as ‘lucky.’ I’m lucky to have so many clients, I’m lucky to work with them long term, I’m lucky that they get the way I work and enjoy working with me.
Then I realised, maybe I’m not lucky. Maybe there is something about me that is good at this, that has learnt things over the past four years and has knowledge to share. Maybe I have regular clients *because* of the way I work, maybe I have so many referrals *because* of how I do things. Suddenly luck didn’t seem like the right word any more, it turned out that I’d been building a business all this time and telling myself it was all just the normal run of things.
2018: Doing it differently
I started the year with a plan. I broke the year into 3 month chunks and set about setting myself goals in each area that I thought was important for me personally and professionally. Then after 3 months I looked at it again and realised, I had no idea where to go next.
I know that I love the work that I do, the clients I get to work with, the space that I take up in my client’s businesses as part of their team. I know that I understand where they are in their business and what they need to more forward. That I can break down their pain points and build solutions for them. I know that I’ve been freelancing long enough for others at the start of their freelance or business journey to be asking me for advice.
And over the top of this I knew that I’ve come as far as I can on my own. I’ve travelled this path exactly as I needed to. Slow to start, I’m glad that I’ve not invested much money or time in the overarching concept of ‘my business’ up until now. It would have been money wasted, I didn’t have clarity about my business the way I do now.
I knew that I felt like I was staring out into the rest of my career, my working life, stretching before me as an untrodden path. Not in a bad way, just in the way that makes me see the reality that this business I’ve built could be the thing that provides my working life in the future and I could continue to grow it. And I want to walk down that path, I want to make it the best damn path I can because I’ve really come to love what I’ve built so far, and I want it to keep growing. But after the first three months of this year I had no idea where to find growth next.
Business Coaching as a mirror for my business
So I started working with a business coach. We’ve broken down what is important to me, what I want, what my values and goals are, where I want to go and then we’ve started to break apart how I can get there.
Out of that I’ve realised that the next chapter of my work goes down two paths. One path is me, as a freelancer, as a person representing the journey I’ve made and the learning that I can pass on to others who want to freelance, work remotely, build their own business and take on the world.
The other path alongside that is my business. Without knowing it, I’ve built something that stands on its own. When I look at the threads in my business I see exactly where I add the most value and how I want to bring that all together under a business brand that is my own. I work with my clients, who run established and flourishing small businesses, to solve their digital problems. Small businesses are looking at a massive digital skills gap in the next decade and I want my business to be one of the ones that builds a bridge to show businesses all that digital has to offer.
Taking the role of CEO in my own business
Every business needs a CEO. So if I now have a business, it therefore follows that I need a CEO. And if I’m all things in my business, then I’ve now been handed the job of CEO alongside my roles in Finance, Admin and making the coffee.
So what does a CEO do? For me they are at the helm, they are trying to live the values of the business as best they can through their actions at work. They help to steer the business to make the decisions that need to be made. They look at the bigger picture, the future, the next move.
My new favourite podcast is ‘Letters to a Hopeful Creative’ with Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington. In one of their episodes they talk about business development and taking a CEO day. As soon as I heard the idea, I wrote it down in my notebook with a big star next to it. CEO day, yup, need one of those.
So here I am. CEO time. This is my first attempt at taking a step back from where I am in the middle of my client work and making time to get a ‘big picture’ view. I’ve also squeezed in some time here and there for little bursts of CEO inspiration throughout my work. When ideas come into my head I take 10 mins, if I can, to write them down and flesh them out a bit. What do I want to do? Where does that fit in with my current offering? How could I take that forward?
Building my business as a CEO
Alongside my work with my business coach it’s all coming together. Working with her has given me a clearer view of the values I hold at the centre of my work and every time I have an idea I now have somewhere to hang it, or something to hold it up against. Does this idea fit in with my values? With my goals? Does it speak to the types of clients that I work with? How could I make it a reality?
And like all creative time, it takes practice. I’m not setting aside a whole day for this. Right now that wouldn’t work, I’m not sure how long I can think high level business development thoughts for! The odd moment to scribble like crazy works well. I revisit the notes I’ve made and use those to choose ideas to work on. I’ve decided what content to build and how to build it, the lists are refining, the writing is starting.
It’s a work in progress, but then in my new role as CEO I’m finding out that most things are.
Isn’t just a skill that you as a business coach need to thoroughly know, it’s also a skill you need to teach to your clients.