Small Business

How I Started A Business At 22

10th October 2020

As of now…
I’m writing this blog post from the comfort of my bed almost a year after I became a freelancer. This is going to be a long intro/trip down memory lane, but it will make sense in the end, I promise.

First things first

About this time last year, I was fresh out of college as a recent graduate in Communication Design. Design has always been my passion and I’m fortunate enough to have been able, not only to go to college but to have a supportive family that always has my back & taught me to do what I love. Some of my classmates didn’t have the same luck as I did.

Design (and fields related to the Arts) has always been sort of the degree with no prestige and that no one encourages you to take, even though you need a pretty high grade to get in (in my year, higher than most engineering courses). Why? Because you’ll end either in McDonald’s or unemployed. And although I didn’t experience this myself, I witnessed how my friend’s families thought they were throwing away all their hard work and good grades by pursuing the dream of becoming designers, when they could be lawyers or doctors.

Well, after 4 years and getting my degree I felt like I had something to prove. That I didn’t have a degree for anything and that I could get not only a job but one where I felt inspired to go to work every day.

So I paved my way as well as I knew

I already had my portfolio on Behance, a LinkedIn profile, cleaned my social media profiles in case any prospects came looking around and I even had a letter of recommendation from a short curricular internship. I was ready.

What followed that was 4 months of sending e-mail after e-mail after e-mail and getting nothing back. Not even a no for an answer, just an empty inbox. I sent an average of 30 curriculums a day and I couldn’t get a single interview. I began to despair: thinking I wasn’t good enough, that my work was amateur, that maybe society was right and I would be unemployed forever.

That lack of confidence got me an internship, though. An underpaid, soul-sucking, corporate know-it-all, braindead one. Let me explore each one of these facets:

Underpaid: I worked from 9h-19h, Monday to Friday and earned around 500–600€ a month. I couldn’t have a side hustle, because this contract required me to be exclusive. And you were only seen as a good employee if you did extra hours.

Soul-sucking: after a 4-year degree in Communication Design and studying History, Typography, Corporate Branding etc., my job at this internship was to print daily restaurant menus made in Powerpoint.

Corporate Know-It-All: I worked in the Marketing Department in a big hotel. As if entering through the parking lot wasn’t humiliating enough, the dress code forbid me to wear t-shirts, denim and tennis shoes. And Lord forbids if you didn’t put on makeup because now you look “so tired”. Oh, and you had to smile at all times to not affect customer experience, the bathroom stalls didn’t close, the food was leftovers from the hotel guests and my Department was located in the basement right next to the laundry room.

Braindead: I received 3,6€/hour in this job. The cheapest room in the cheapest season was about 200€/night. An orange juice was 5€. I cried every single Monday when I woke up at 7h15 to go to work.

Life’s made of choices

So it was easy to leave all of this behind right? I wish.

Remember when I told you I had no confidence in my abilities before? Now, I had even less: I hadn’t properly designed anything in 2 months and this was THE ONLY place where I even got an interview. So maybe, I just wasn’t that good…

However, everyone has a breaking point. And after 2 months of being made look like an absolute fool, I had mine. I quit on Christmas Eve (I was meant to work on Christmas & New Year’s) after working 2 weeks for free (don’t ask, long story). It was sort of a gift to myself.

I was glad I never had to wear suit pants and a shirt again, but I was also scared shitless. Was I going back to sending all those e-mails and getting nothing in return? Was I going to end up somewhere worse? At this point, my parents thought I was nuts. I quit my first job, a stable one, after 2 months. It looked as if I hadn’t even tried. And I did it with no plan B.

Now what?

As expected, I started sending out curriculums again and, once more, getting no answers back. But after crying every morning to go to work, as I did previously, this didn’t affect me as much as it did in the past, and I started looking at things differently.

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
— Alexander Bell

If I couldn’t get a job that I knew I was ready for, and more than capable of doing, then I was going to take control of my life again. Why should others be the judge of my abilities? Why can’t I try and see what it’s like to freelance?

At this point, the plan was to freelance for a while, doing small graphic design jobs until I had the chance and opportunity of getting a job that I didn’t hate and that offered me stability.

However, when you don’t put your whole heart into something, there’s no way it’s going to work. At least, not to the extent you hoped for. And that was my first mistake.

I was so afraid of being and telling people that I was a full-time freelancer that I didn’t tell anyone, so there was no way clients could find me. All because it wasn’t seen as the sensible thing to do for a 22-year old who never had a job. But I was even more terrified of going back to a 9–5 that made me as miserable as my previous one. So, one day, I woke up and decided I wasn’t going to half-ass my freelancing gig any more: I was going full-time.

What the hell do I want?

This question popped in my lead a lot. Do I want to do whatever graphic design jobs others need? Not really… As my experience taught me making PowerPoint menus just wasn’t my thing. Do I want to offer every possible type of design? This didn’t seem sustainable, and I’m not a fan of burnout. Do I want to niche down into one industry? Somehow making brands just for restaurants sounded like a straight road into creative block…

So I might not have known what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. 

And that’s a very good place to start from.

I had to start somewhere, so I did little projects that paid very little and that I didn’t really like. But I started having real experience with clients, which was already a plus. I also realised that my greatest struggle was talking about my rates: each time someone asked me how much was “x” service, I could feel my whole body shake and sweat drops forming in my back. I still wasn’t confident in myself. And don’t even get me started on talking contracts at the time…

Nonetheless, knowing what your struggles are is the first step into finding their solution. I knew how to design, but I wasn’t confident in my design skills, I didn’t see myself as being different from my peers and I had no idea how to sell my services to potential clients or where to find them.

So, I learned.

And not through another college degree, but from online courses.

Why? They’re faster, more intuitive and more practical. I didn’t need this big theoretical knowledge of how to take advantage of the human brain & psychology to sell something; I needed actionable tips and steps from someone who once was like me.

First, I made a big investment and became a B-Schooler, through the course of Marie Forleo. This gave me not only my confidence back & some very important lessons in marketing and how to leverage of several platforms to boost your engagement but it gave me a community of like-minded entrepreneurs from all over the world (more than 55K!) to test ideas, to ask for advice, to share my stories, struggles and wins.

Then I came across a new course made by a designer for designers about how to elevate your client experience and how to be viewed as an expert in your field. This was The Breakthrough Designer, by One6Creative. Nothing has changed my business like this: in a few weeks, I knew exactly how many clients I could have per month, what to charge them, what services to offer, and how I could stand out as a designer without niching into an industry!

And there’s still a lot I haven’t figured out!

My advice? Figure out what you need in order to get from where you are (point A) to where you want to be (point B). Then, it’s much easier to find the appropriate solution!

For me, right now that looks like learning about money mindset and searching for ways to automate the admin part of my work, so I can spend less time in my inbox and more time doing what I’m passionate about: designing!

So what do I want you to know?

Most importantly, trust your gut. If you hate your job, get a new one. You can change your life at any time, you just have to put your heart into it. No one here is saying it’s going to be easy (spoiler alert: it’s not!) but it will be so worth it when you get that feeling of: “I made it, I did it!”

Because your future is yours to create.
(props to Medium itself for this one-liner.)

What do you need to freelance?

You need so much less than you think. You don’t need to have everything figured out: no one does, not even the most accomplished CEO. Most things will never be perfect, or perfectly finished, but if you don’t start believing in yourself and moving stuff around you to make things happen, no one will do it for you. Try answering these:

1️⃣ What would you be happy to do for the rest of your life?
These will be your services.

2️⃣ What does your dream client look like? How do they behave?
This will be your Ideal Client Avatar.

3️⃣ What problems does that Ideal Client have?
This is what you want to solve with your services.

4️⃣ What makes you different from others in your field?
This will be your Unique Offer Proposition.

Once you’re able to answer these questions, you’re ready. All the rest will come with time. You know you have already within yourself everything you need in order to be successful. If you need a sign, this is it.

Are you on the fence about becoming a full-time entrepreneur, freelancer or self-employed? Do you need someone to tell you to go for it and that it’s going to be fine?
Feel free to DM me if you’re in need of support!