Lessons Learned: Reflections of My Decade as a Home-Based Solopreneur
Things don’t always go as planned.
Ain’t this the truth? After the birth of my second daughter 10 years ago, I decided to take a temporary leave of absence from my career as a graphic designer to focus on being a stay-at-home mom. A year and a half later, I welcomed my third daughter and, therefore, extended my leave of absence a little bit longer. My end goal was always to return to work. I loved my work. I loved the exciting environment of an ad agency. I loved being around others who were passionate about what they did. I looked at the future and planned to return to work once my youngest child was in school full time.
But in my line of work, I knew I couldn’t take off for 5 or 6 years and expect to go back. I decided to stay connected by picking up some freelance jobs here and there. My early client list included friends and former co-workers. Work was sporadic at best. But that was ok. I was busy with three children at home. I hardly slept let alone designed, so for the meantime, I was content with my business being not much more than a hobby to keep me busy until I could get back to work.
It wasn’t until about 5 years ago when things started to pick up. I began getting more work and growing my client list. It was never my intention to be a solopreneur. Yet, when the time came for my youngest daughter to start school, I realized that the business I’d not been paying much attention to had actually been growing all along. Now that I’m celebrating 10 years, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned over the years that have helped me get to where I am today. There are many reasons why my client list has grown from 3 people in 2006 to close to 200 businesses today. Yet, the following lessons stand out to me as the most significant ones that helped shape Erin Sweeney Design into what it is today.
Lesson One: In the Beginning, Never Say No
For years, I never turned any work away. I’d take on work I didn’t even know how to do so I could learn new things. For example, in 2010, a client of mine asked me to design her website in a WordPress platform. I didn’t know what WordPress was but I accepted the job and I taught myself. From there, I practiced as much as I could, redesigning my own website in WordPress, as well as volunteering to design WordPress websites for a few different clubs that needed a website. I now have over 60 WordPress websites under my belt and WordPress website design has become the bread and butter of my business. My website work is far more well-known than my graphic design work, and has led me to learn more technical aspects of design such as programming and coding. That initial request got me started down a path I never would have imagined for myself.
Lesson Two: Volunteer Your Services
My client list has grown as much as it has over the years thanks to word-of-mouth. It’s only been recently that new clients are stumbling on my website without knowing me personally, or knowing someone who knows me. The vast majority of my clients came from recommendations from past clients, friends, and acquaintances. This evolved after I moved to a new state in 2008. I knew no one, so I became involved in a local moms club hoping to meet other moms in the same boat as me. I soon volunteered to design their monthly newsletter. This gave me a creative outlet, got me more involved in the club, allowed me to practice in the programs I was becoming rusty in, as well as showed a new group of people the work that I could do. It was the members of this club who helped me land new clients with their referrals. From there, I continued to volunteer to create flyers and posters for various things in my town. I even volunteered to design a logo for the preschool my children were going to at the time. Through all of this volunteer work I was not only growing my portfolio, I was staying current with my skills, as well as developing a reputation. Folks knew what I could do and they were helping me grow my business by talking about it.
Lesson Three: Be as Professional as Possible Every Day
It can be very hard some days, but I’ve learned that committing to a work day that goes from 9 am to 3 pm is the only way to stay productive. This means getting up well before everyone else in the house and getting everything done before I “clock-in”: exercise, make lunches, make beds, clean up from breakfast, do some laundry, and take a shower. The shower part is key, because if I end up not getting a shower in before the 9 am start time, my entire day is off. Though being “professional” isn’t just about getting to work on time. It’s also important that I treat myself and my business professionally. For example, for many years my “office” was a table with a computer on it in the basement. I thought I splurged when I switched my metal fold up chair for a desk chair in 2009. My office space was miserable, especially in the winters when I’d try to work while wrapped in a blanket. A few years ago, as I became busier and busier, my husband and I decided to convert our underused dining room into an office for me. Appearance does make a difference and, in this case, having a dedicated office space has been one of the best things I’ve done for my business in the past 10 years.
Lesson Four: No One Can Do It Alone. Find a Network.
I spent the vast majority of my time over the past 10 years working alone. Initially, that was ok. I didn’t have a lot of work so I was able to be a one-woman show. As my business began to grow, so did my need to find other professionals to network with. Not only has finding a professional network of other women given me support and encouragement, it’s also helped my business grow. I’m finding other professionals who I can outsource work to. I used to try and do a little bit of everything for my clients. I now know where my strengths are, as well as where I need to reach out to others for support. Not to mention my network continues to refer new business my way. I don’t need to be a one-woman show anymore. It can be hard to find the time to step away from your desk and get out there, but it’s very important to make that time for you and your business. Once your business reaches a certain point, you need to get involved with others who will help take it to the next level.
Lesson Five: Nothing Beats a Dog at the Office
Honestly, if it weren’t for my dog being home with me all day, I think I’d go crazy. There’s been many, many days when the only set of ears around to listen to me vent my frustrations to are pointy and furry. But he listens. Well, he seems to anyway. As a solopreneur, there’s a lot of alone time. There’s no one to catch up with at the water cooler about what movie we saw over the weekend, or no one to offer advice when a code I’m trying to fix isn’t working. All I have is my 25 pound Shiba Inu, Bolt. He can’t help me with code, but he looks at me as if he understands my frustration. I can’t talk with him about a recent movie, but he’s always ready if I need to get out for a quick walk to clear my head. If I need a few minutes away from my desk, he’s ready to play if I am. He’s easily the best co-worker on the planet.
Looking forward to the next 10!
So, I guess this is it. This is what I’m going to be doing for the foreseeable future. And it’s a pretty good gig. I’ll never be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but I can volunteer for library with my 4th grader. I can be the room parent for my 3rd grader. I can pick up my teenager for a quick trip to the orthodontist and take her back to school. I can meet dozens of interesting people, learn about some really cool businesses, and make friends along the way. There are many things I miss about working in an office with others, but the pros of being a solopreneur far outweigh the cons. Not to mention I’m (hopefully) teaching my daughters that if there’s something that you truly love to do, you can find a way to do it, and do it successfully. I’m sure as I continue on this journey, there will be more lessons to learn. I’m excited to see where I am in 2026. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that life doesn’t always work out as planned…and how cool is that?
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