Shanna Trenholm is a writer, brand visionary and creative catalyst who helps businesses and creative entrepreneurs find their voice, communicate their message to their adoring fans (or future fans), and build the satisfying life and work they dream of. Today, she’s taking us behind the scenes of what it was like taking the leap into self-employment.
Where it all began
I was working a full-time job (as Director of Development for a nonprofit literacy organization) where I was required to fundraise through grant writing. I had to learn the ropes of this particular form of writing on the job. I had been writing since I could remember (it was always my first interest and love) so I took to grant writing with ease.
I was having success winning grant awards for the organization. Colleagues would ask me about my methods. Eventually, someone asked me if I wrote grants for other organizations. I didn’t, but I said that yes, I could and would. That was the start of my side gig, which eventually eclipsed my day job and started me on the path to self-employment.
I always dreamed of being a writer, making a living through words, and I’m doing just that! I’ve been running my writing and branding consultancy for more than a decade now and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Sometimes I have to Pinch Myself
I look forward to designing my workflow and workday the way I want to and in accord with what my body, and my clients, need. There are no typical days in my business and I like that.
I am surprised sometimes at how much educating I do. I get hired to be a writer and brand strategist, but often clients aren’t really sure what they need. So, I end up being an educator first — then I can get down to the writing once the client is up to speed with what they actually need.
When working on a creative project, like naming a hotel or restaurant, or writing web copy for vegan gelato, I have to pinch myself that this is what I get to do. I work with fantastic creative clients to help them define their brands and hone their voice — it’s really like play for me, the creative writing aspect of my business.
Even after all the years I have been doing this, it’s still exciting to collaborate with clients and hear them say that I really understand them and their businesses. There’s nothing like delivering more than the client expected. It’s gratifying work.
Risk… The Calculated Kind
I’ve always been entrepreneurial, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to people close to me. Some of my friends and family were concerned, but most were supportive.
There were the usual naysayers — those who thought it was crazy to leave a steady paycheck and benefits for the insecure world of self-employment. I have a fairly high tolerance for risk, but calculated risk. I didn’t leap without money in the bank.
I worked my side gigs for two years while maintaining a full time job. I knew what I was getting into, and nothing that anyone would say could change my mind. I’m just not cut out to work in a traditional employment setting.
Burnout vs. The Big Picture
There was a time early on in my business when I lost a major client. This client made up 75% of my income. When they stopped my contract, I panicked. It was a huge financial loss. But I never thought of throwing in the towel because I am just not cut out for doing anything other than working for myself.
I now know that lean times will come and go and I manage those times with more finesse. I also have greater resources and a strong referral network, so I don’t feel like I’d ever be in such a dire situation like that again.
My biggest challenge has been burnout. When you are self-employed, even if you have others working for you, you are still responsible for all the daily ins-and-outs of running a business.
I like to keep good records, but that takes a lot of time. Then there’s the constant marketing and keeping my name out in front of potential clients and just staying on top of the workload itself. The key is to stay positive and take the long view — that’s how I combat burnout.
So Many Hats
I participate in education opportunities and conferences to keep my skills sharp and my connections current. Everything I do, whether reading, writing for publications, or participating in cultural activities is a business investment. Being curious about and engaged with the world makes me a better writer and collaborator.
I don’t think most people realize how hard it is to start a business — especially in the beginning. You have to wear so many hats. You’re the service provider, the marketing team, the bookkeeper, etc. I also think that people don’t understand money or have enough of a cushion set aside when they start.
The best things a person who wants to try self-employment can do are to assess their strengths and invest in the areas where they are weak. Hire a bookkeeper. Have a pro design a website. Hire a copywriter! In an effort to save money, people often take shortcuts that can be detrimental for their brand. Focus on what you do well, and get help to do the things that are not your strong suit.
As told to our Community angel, Madeleine Forbes.
Over to you
Running a business involves so much more than sharing our talent – it means wearing lots of other hats, too. How do you stay on top of all the roles in your business, and how do you decide when to get help? This is something we all come across – I’d love to know your experience in the comments below.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Corrina Gordon-Barnes
“I don’t think most people realize how hard it is to start a business” @ShannaTrenholm shares with @CorrinaGB