8 lessons learnt – one-year anniversary of my one-woman business

Today marks my one-year anniversary since I checked out of my 9-5 job at DSB and checked into a full-time freelancing career. I must admit there have been both ups and downs the past year. But what a ride it has been! I have learnt so much both on a personal as well as a professional level – and I feel I have grown at least 10 centimetres, despite the height chart still saying 153 centimetres.

A one-year anniversary is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the previous year and share some of the lessons learnt. Of course, everyone’s journey differs – but I hope that at least some of the lessons learnt can help others facing the fear of stepping out of their comfort zone and pursuing their dream of becoming their own boss, because we need more female freelancers in Denmark.

1. Take the time to develop your personal brand

Corporate branding is an integral part of the success of any company and so is personal branding. However, developing a personal brand takes time, and you need to invest a lot of time in it.

The first thing to consider when starting a new business is the company name. It’s always tempting to come up with a fancy company name, but after some consideration, I named my business after myself – Mette Willert – as it is honest and straightforward, and I strive to create trust and confidence in people’s hearts and minds. Moreover, it needed to[HI1]  represent my brand personality and my interest in creating visual storytelling and helping brands build their brand development by creating an emotional bond with their audience.

Next, I set up a website with the help of my friend Sara Schelde, using a predefined design template from www.squarespace.com This allows you to have a sleek and professional online presence, which is very important when you are a small business and want to start selling your services wrapped in slick storytelling. There are no quick fixes to setting up a website. It takes a lot of time and is an ongoing process to maintain.

Then I reached out to my photo friend Abdellahn – a great portrait photographer. On a cold December day he shot a series of portraits of me in my red coat. Pictures I have later used across my website, social media platforms and for press photos when needed. This to ensure consistency in my appearances across all potential touchpoints.

Lastly, I hired Jens Wolter, a graphic design student from Design for Visual Communication at University of the Arts London, to create a professional and eyeballing logo, new business cards and, not least, to help me finding the perfect red colour code for my brand identity.

My personal tip: It is so important to stand out in today’s competitive digital world. So don’t neglect your online as well as offline presence. People love well-designed content, so invest a lot of time and money in creating a powerful personal brand – consistency is the key to success.

2. Set goals

It is hard to score without a goal! As a goal-oriented person, it was natural for me to set a long-term revenue goal for my business. I am an avid advocator for celebrating your successes when the goal is achieved – by drinking champagne. However, last year I decided to go for something unique, if I met my revenue goal. So I found a hand-stitched, quilted leather bag which I would never have imagined buying when working my 9-5 job at DSB. A picture of the handbag was archived on my desktop, so whenever I was feeling unmotivated or too tired after a long day, I opened my desktop and looked at the bag. That pushed me to move forward and work a bit more.

My hard work didn't entirely pay off, as my goal was quite ambitious for my first year as self-employed. So I didn't get the handbag. This year I have defined a more achievable and realistic long-term revenue goal, the classic handbag has been replaced with a new 'item' on my desktop, so I have something to strive for in 2019. Moreover, I have also broken down the year into quarters and set short-term quarterly goals so I stay focused while celebrating the successes during the journey towards my goal.

Personal tip: Remember to set a not only a measurable, but also a motivational goal, so you can celebrate your successes. It boosts your confidence.


3. The power of your network

The power of and support from both the inner circle and the broader network has by far been one of the most positive and encouraging aspects of my first year as a freelancer. I knew I had a vast network, but often you read articles with a tagline questioning: ‘How powerful is your network?’ I admit that having a strong network has been highly [HI4] valuable for my journey, as it has helped me connect with new business relationships. This summer it came to a test, when I used my network to connect with creative and like-minded individuals [HI5] during my Office Rail trip. I succeed getting not only 8, but 14 business meetings during my train ride through 8 countries. All thanks to my network, hence a special mention to Malene Birkebæk for connecting me with Ward (Brussel) and João (Lisbon).

Personal tips: So if you are ready to face your fear and start a new working life, remember to take a closer look at your social media channels, your e-mail inbox and the contacts in your phone. Don't worry, if you don't have a huge network. The important lesson is that when you reach out to your network for their help – you will be surprised to discover how helpful people are.

4. Get a co-working space

At first I was working from home, but the space became too small, and I felt isolated because I hardly saw any people except when I had business meetings. Hence the concept of work-life balance became very blurry. I wanted to take my work serious, so I reached out to my network to find a suitable coworking space. First of September I moved into the most beautiful office space I could ever imagine – Better Office – a space furnished with beautiful Vitra furniture, green plants and, not least, great and inspiring coworkers. I now say, ‘I work from Better Office – because it feels like a home.’

Personal tip: The past year, new coworking spaces have steadily opened up on almost every corner in the city centre[HI6]  of Copenhagen. Make sure to visit a few of them and feel the vibe, before you decide where you want to plug in your computer and invite clients for a coffee & chat.  

5. Create your own project

Your company needs a great story as it is a way to strengthen your brand. As a visual storyteller I know that the key to building a strong brand is told through pictures, and as a digital nomad I can work from anywhere. As long as I can plug my MacBook and iPhone into a power socket, I have access to cyberspace. So instead of spending the summer working from home, I developed my own office concept which I called ‘Office Rail’. I used the train as an office space while traveling through 8 countries in Europe, meeting creative and inspiring people in 8 cities while creating stories along the ride. I learnt so much on that journey that I could bring into my working and private life. Insights I can now apply in my process of developing a new office concept for this summer.

Personal tip: Don't be afraid to take calculated risks and create your own project, if you believe in it. By investing in your own ideas you have a great way to communicate and connect with potential peers, clients, customers and investors.

6. Take time to reflect on your progress

Once a week, usually on Fridays, I unplug from all my online devices and take valuable time out of the calendar to look back at the previous business week. I have created my own analogue freelance-playbook where each week I draw the same matrix with a pencil on a new blank sheet. One of the sections is titled ‘Hard things learnt’ the previous week. I especially love this section because that’s where I reflect on the bumps and bruises I have experienced the previous week.

When you’re on a new journey alone, it is vital to keep a close watch on every single step you take even though they seem tiny at first. But once every quarter I look back and am impressed by how big a distance I have traveled. And this provides the perfect framework for planning my next quarter in my continuous journey to grow, develop and evolve.

Personal tip: It’s never too late to start reflecting on your working life. So unplug from social media for a few hours at least once a week and invest time in writing or drawing your dreams on a blank page in a nice notebook.

7. Hard things learnt

One of the hard things learnt the past year (and I am still learning) is what I believe to be every freelancer’s biggest challenge: to incorporate the word “no” in your vocabulary. This small word with only two letters can cause so much damage, if you don’t respect yourself and remember to use the word. I have experienced this the hard way several times. I knew from the start that a project was not going to be successful, yet I rejected my own thoughts and feelings and ended up saying the three-letter word ‘yes’. Of course, it can be tough turning a client down from an income perspective. However, it only lead to working on projects where I ended up getting stressed – and sometimes working for a very low pay – because the scope wasn’t clear from the beginning or because there wasn’t a great fit with the client. My self-reflection has taught me that I need to be very selective in finding work that fosters enthusiasm and also that I shouldn’t drop to a rate that makes me uncomfortable. But in order to stay on that track, I must master the art of saying ‘no’.

Personal tips: Start saying ‘no’ more often right now after reading this article.

8. Self-care strategy

I have read a lot of articles, interviews and even bought a little handbook titled ’The working woman’s handbook’ by Phoebe Lovatt to prepare myself for the new year. Everywhere I learned about the importance of investing in your health and protecting your private sphere. When I reviewed my first year as a self-employed businesswoman, I came to realise that I had neglected looking after my own wellbeing entirely. I had been so focused on reflecting on my professional career, but when you are a freelancer your personal and professional life are closely connected. If you don’t look after yourself, it will become a drawback on your professional life and vice versa. So I have renewed my subscription to the gym to give my mind a rest when running at a fast pace on the running machine. I also wrapped up 2018 by rebooting my mind, body and soul by jumping into the icy water at Svanemølle Beach  after spending ten minutes inside an oil-infused, steaming hot mobile sauna. I was so proud of myself afterwards – and I loved it so much that I have repeated it five times in January and will continue diving into the cold water.

And lastly, I have replaced the classic New Year resolution with 12 self-care challenges. Each month comes with a new challenge.

Personal tip: Have a clear self-care strategy as my Headspace guru Andy Puddicombe always says: ‘All it takes is ten minutes’. So, either do to a ten minute guided meditation, listening to Andy Puddicombe’s soft voice, walking around the house for ten minutes, or take your bike and get out to the water for a quick, cold winter swim. It will all have a positive impact on your wellbeing.

In closing

Right now I am in a really happy place. My first year running my own one-woman business has taught me so many lessons about being my own boss, like the art of saying ‘no’ and the importance of remembering to look after my own wellbeing. I will continue improving my work-life balance, finding a balance between working smarter, not harder. But I also know that if there were only ups during my journey, I wouldn't grow.

I would like to wrap up my blog post with this quote that summarises the essence of facing your fear and being courageous. It’s by Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.’

I would like to say thank you so much to all the individuals that has supported me the first year on my new journey - without your help I couldnt have made it! ❤️

If you’re thinking about a career change or starting your own business, reach out. Or share the article with someone in your network whom you know are dreaming about pursuing their career in a new direction.

I’d love to talk.

Thanks for reading!

Mette WillertMette Willert