Have you ever wondered how websites are designed, created, and magically appear on the web? Five years ago I didn’t have a clue how any of that worked or what web hosting, domain names, WordPress, or blogging were. Oh how my life has changed so much these last few years in that regard! One of my fellow Yakezie Network Members, Andrea Whitmer, is a guru when it comes to servers, building websites, design, and understanding how all the techie stuff works.
I recently discovered she started her own business, Nuts and Bolts Media, and became eager to learn more about how she did it and what her experience has been like. More and more women are shattering the template lifestyle and branching out into entrepreneurial careers. In fact, the number of female owned small businesses is growing 50% faster than the total number of small businesses. And it’s also estimated that five years from now, 33% of new US jobs will come from companies owned by women. (Click to read more interesting and also scary facts about business.)
Today Andrea shares some of her insights with us about her entrepreneurial journey in the following interview.
Sydney: Tell us a little bit about your company, the type of work you’re doing, and how long you’ve been self employed.
Andrea: Nuts and Bolts Media offers website design, graphic design, web hosting, and support services to individuals and small businesses. Basically, I try to be a one-stop shop for anyone who wants to get started on the web or improve his/her existing online presence. I left my career in December 2011; at the time I planned to earn most of my income from freelance writing, but I quickly realized that there was more demand for my skills in design and coding. By May of this year, I had given up all my writing jobs to focus on design work full time.
Sydney: Was there a particular event or inspiration that lead you to switch careers and become an entrepreneur?
Andrea: Before I started my business, I was a psychotherapist for seven years. Once I started earning money online, though, it became really difficult to go to work every day. Still, I was committed to staying in my career for at least a few more years to make sure I was financially prepared to become self-employed.
In August 2011, I accepted a transfer within my agency from a salaried position to one that paid by the billable hour. Shortly afterward, my state enacted huge changes in the Medicaid program, severely impacting my ability to bill for therapy, and my agency decided to triple the cost of benefits for billable hour employees. I would sit at my desk realizing that I could be earning more money in a few days at home than I was making in two weeks at my full time job. The risk seemed low because I was already making more from online projects than from the tiny paychecks I was receiving at the time.
Sydney: Did you have any set goals you wanted to complete before leaving your last job? How did things work out?
Andrea: When I left my job, I was in survival mode. I wanted to be self-employed more than anything, but circumstances pushed me into it much sooner than planned. My only goal was to make it through 2012 without having to go back to a “real” job. That meant taking a hard look at my monthly expenses and giving up a lot of things to keep costs down. That said, with less than 2 months left in the year and plenty of scheduled design work, I don’t see any way that I won’t meet my goal, so I’m pretty proud of that.
Sydney: How much did you know about web hosting, graphic design, and running a business before you took the leap?
Andrea: I’ve been designing websites since I was 13, so I felt very comfortable with my ability to design for other people – it was just a matter of building a portfolio. Similarly, after growing up in a gadget-filled home with an engineer father, I know my way around a server (though there were definitely some things I had to learn as I went along). Running a business, though? That part has been a little more difficult. I have been flying by the seat of my pants all year, and while I’ve learned a lot, I also realize how much I don’t know on a regular basis! I spend a lot of my so-called “free time” reading and researching – I’m always looking for better ways to run the business.
Sydney: Were people supportive of your decision to become self employed in the beginning? Did that affect you?
Andrea: I actually didn’t tell many people that I left my job at first – it was right before the holidays and I didn’t want my family members to be worried. My parents knew, of course, and that was an adventure in itself. My dad’s parents were business owners, so he was very open to the idea of me being self employed, especially given my work situation at the time. My mom, on the other hand, had a much harder time being supportive – her father is a retired union coal miner. She grew up in a world where paychecks, benefits, and time spent at work were set in stone and completely reliable.
It took some work to convince my mom that today’s workplaces aren’t as stable as they once were – the changes in my job and pay at the time were proof of that. She still worries constantly; I make sure to call her every week to let her know that I’m still making money and my son and I aren’t starving to death in a ditch somewhere (her vision of self-employment).
My parents are my biggest supporters in all aspects of my life, so it was important to me that they understood my reasons for quitting my job. I was also fortunate to work in a field where I know I could find a job again pretty quickly if necessary. So while I’m mindful of my parents’ opinions, I also knew I was at a critical point and had to do something different.
Sydney: When you were growing up, did you ever imagine you would become an entrepreneur someday? Why/why not?
Andrea: It’s kind of funny that you asked! When I was in kindergarten, my school hired a videographer to interview the class on tape as a surprise gift for our parents. In my interview, I was adamant that I wasn’t going to go to college; I was going to be a writer and I would make my own way. While I did end up going to college (and graduate school), I never really shook that feeling that no one would care as much about my future as I would, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time/effort learning things on my own. I think my independent streak was there from the beginning; it just took awhile for me to realize that working for someone else wasn’t the best choice for me.
Sydney: What was the hardest and most unexpected thing about becoming self employed?
Andrea: Everyone says this, but that’s because it’s the truth: I was completely unprepared for the “feast or famine” lifestyle of a freelancer. When I left my career, my paychecks weren’t even enough to cover my bills, but I did know I was getting at least a small amount of money every other Friday. Now when I get paid for a design project, I’m never sure what to do with the money. Should I hurry and pay ahead on my bills in case next month is slow? Should I stock up on groceries? Should I squirrel the money away in savings?
It’s much harder to plan ahead and there have literally been moments where I didn’t have the money to pay a particular bill until the day before. That said, the money has always come in at the right time, so I try to be grateful and keep my stress levels down. At this point in the year things are much more stable, but early on it was very difficult to cope with the erratic nature of freelance income.
Sydney: How many hours do you work a week now on average?
Andrea: I have averaged just over 70 hours a week so far this year. Considering the fact that I’m the owner, designer, bookkeeper, spokesperson, tech support, consultant, and receptionist, that’s actually not too bad! I do hope to cut back in 2013 – I’ve learned a lot this year that should make next year run more smoothly.
Sydney: Do you have any tips for single parents who work full time?
Andrea: Spend as much time with your kids as you can, especially while they’re young. I know it’s difficult when you’re the only one bringing in money and the only one taking care of things at home, but the time is gone before you know it. My son is 14, and I really regret waiting this late in his life to find a career that allows me to spend more time with him. If I could do things over again, I would have tried self-employment much sooner. Not to say that it’s the right choice for all single parents, but if you can find something that pays the bills and allows you to be home more, go for it!
Sydney: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business?
Andrea: Oh, I could write a book on this topic! Most importantly, make sure you (1) actually have some kind of skill and (2) can find people who are willing to pay for it. If possible, start your business while you’re still employed full time – build up your savings account so you can float through the rocky months. Have a fallback plan in case things don’t go the way you plan, then make a fallback plan for that one as well.
Overall, if a person has a good idea, the skills to put it into action, and the ability to stay focused and work independently, I’d say there will never be a better time than right now to give self-employment a shot. Get prepared – don’t just quit your job tomorrow without knowing what you’re going to do – but if you truly want to work for yourself, you’ll never be satisfied until you at least try it.
Further Untemplater reading
Untemplaters, do you have any questions for Andrea? How many female business owners do you know? Have you ever thought about starting your own company?