+44 7879 440170 helen@unlikelygenius.com

I am alone. Just me. And I’m happy that way.

The traditional interpretation of success in business is that you have to scale up, and do it quickly; increase profits as quickly as you can, expand the size of your team, and throw every penny (probably an investor’s, not your own) you can into getting big. Being the next ‘big thing’.

But this is not everyone’s definition of success, and it certainly isn’t mine. 

For years I have worked in big companies, educational institutions and small companies who wanted to be huge. Companies that just wanted to collect awards and accolades. Organisations who encourage saving every penny even if it meant scrimping on service; pushing to try and snatch every opportunity for saving on production even if that had an impact on the end-user. 

I never felt like I fit in and felt totally lost. But I had struggled to identify this until quite late into my career, and then longer to work out why. 

Where did things change?

I was trying to reach for the elusive promotions despite having an uneasy feeling about where I was trying to get to and not feeling that any of the opportunities would get me into a role I was passionate about or where my values aligned, or that was right for me. 

I felt like I should be wanting to get there, and I was desperately trying to get there, despite not really being convinced that I wanted the type fo extra responsibility I was heading for – to manage other people and sacrifice time spent designing. I wasn’t even convinced I wanted to work for other people, but didn’t feel good enough to go it alone. I felt a failure, a very confused one. I wasn’t sure what other options there were.

Cut a long story short and after unexpectedly launching headfirst into the world of self-employment I felt a massive weight had been lifted and that I could now finally dictate my progression. I could develop the skills I wanted to, decide on my own values, embrace the flexibility it afforded me in life and the work I could pursue, and I could master my skills. Most importantly, I could finally be myself in my work.

Successfully fleeing the nest of permanent employment

I am now 20 months into self-employment and it has been a true success (I still feel uneasy even saying this). So much so that I am now getting questioned as to whether I will be taking other people on, or have plans to expand. However, that is a hard no. 

I am happy to collaborate with others, pass work on to others, teamwork and maybe outsource a few bits. But success to me means the business staying small and flexible, continuing to be able to select what I would like to work on, and how I want to develop and master my disciplines. I need to find ways to increase profits and scale in other ways. 

To develop my business I need to look at working smarter, honing my niche, developing systems and processes, mastering my skills further and as a result being able to increase my rates. And all that is definitely possible. In his fabulous book, Paul Jarvis refers to this as being a ‘company of one’.

“The point of being a company of one is to become better in ways that don’t incur the typical setbacks of growth. You can scale up revenue, enjoyment, raving fans, focus, autonomy, and experiences while resisting the urge to blindly scale up employee payroll, expenses, and stress level.’

Paul Jarvis, Company of One

Initially, I wondered if I was somewhat alone in just wanting to stay small, and somehow increase profits. To reach a comfortable level of income which allows me to pay myself, live the lifestyle I want and actually be able to save some money each month. However, it looks like there is a whole army of us, and we are gaining momentum. We are showing others the way things can be, the joys of working for yourself, but also what it takes. It does take tremendous effort, dedication, resilience and time, but investing this time in your own business is, for me, so much more rewarding than doing it for someone else’s benefit. I am progressing in so many different ways, and that is all I have ever really wanted. To feel a sense of progression. I cannot handle feeling stuck. But society has always told us that the only progression is climbing that corporate ladder. I am so glad this isn’t the case. 

Building on my values

Staying small also allows me to align my work to my values – having the user at the centre of the experience – and to work on building relationships with my clients, providing a great service, and developing trust in my services. 

These relationships with my clients, fellow designers, social media networks (and basically anyone that is willing to put up with a stream of bunny and sloth photos), have been an absolute joy. I can tell I am thriving and being myself with the banter that is going back and forth, and that two customers ring me up for a ‘dose of insane’ when they need a pick me up – admittedly, mostly to know what random calamity has occurred in my day. Maybe I should add this to my services…

“Firstly, you are totally mental!!!! But I love it J Muuusshhhrrrrooooms will remind me of you forever more now.”

A happy customer who needed cheering up

Many self-employed peeps do not like the day to day humdrum of doing business-life admin; chasing customers, accounts, late invoices, and such. But I have managed to make it fun and something I look forward to by making it about checking in with the client, sharing anecdotes, being a sounding board. It is about more than amends, deadlines, and chasing invoices. It is often my only connection to the outside world so I have made it part of my routine, and in being myself it gives me the opportunity for a much-needed dose of banter and putting the world to rights. I don’t want to pass this off to someone else to do. And I honestly think this has helped me to get repeat work in. 

Everyone has their own style. 

I don’t want to be the next big thing. I just want to be me. And that is how I shall stay.

 


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