High Five

It has been said that if a business can get to the five years mark, it will probably survive, and maybe even thrive. Ratcliff Creative is crossing that threshold here at the end of May.

Sometime right before Memorial Day in 2019 – I cannot remember exactly – I decided to bring my old design studio back to life. Even though I had been doing some good work and gaining traction, I shut the studio down in 2010 to get a real job, largely because I needed insurance and a consistent paycheck while raising my children.

But after being re-orged out of the org in 2018 then again 12 months later at my next job, I said to hell with corporate life. I did not feel I could count on anyone any longer for gainful employment. But I can count on myself. So, I built a new website and started calling my network to drum up work. I wish this was a better origin story, but that’s how it happened.

The past five years have been a rollercoaster. Thankfully, I had a lot going for me. In my last two jobs, working with people remotely all over the world was part of the gig. This made the transition to a solopreneur who doesn’t have an office a bit easier. I used to hate video calls; now it is most of what I do. I also had a great network, full of generous, kind people. They have given me plenty of good advice, leads and projects. Timing also helped. In 2019 I was getting the business established before the pandemic hit. Like most everyone, I took a hit during that time and work all but dried up to a trickle in the summer of 2020. But I was able to weather the storm and got to the other side relatively unscathed. Maybe even in better shape.

Rather than making this post all about congratulating myself, I’d like to offer some lessons have I learned from being a solopreneur for the past five years. I could tell you a lot of things that you have probably heard elsewhere: get an accountant, stay on top of your taxes, prioritize self-care, keep growing your network, etc. All that is good and true, but here are some other important things to think about:

Be who you want to be. Sure, having a real job can offer security and stability, but often at a high cost. Being out on your own can be daunting, but also fulfilling on not only the professional level but also emotionally and spiritually. You make all the choices. Create the kind of life you want to live.

Extend yourself. Say “yes” to things that make you uncomfortable or stretch you in new directions. Beyond learning and practicing on the job, this is how you grow, by challenging yourself to do more. You might find out you are more elastic than you imagined.

Stay relevant. Every day I read something about AI doing more and more graphic design work, my bread and butter. Or see clients using platforms like Canva for small projects they used to call me for. Beyond practicing your skills or learning new software, figure out how the services you offer cannot be replicated by AI or anyone else.

Treat yourself kindly. Take time off. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t be THAT kind of boss. (Note: I am notoriously bad at following all this advice.)

Lastly, believe in yourself. If you can’t place a bet on yourself, you need to rethink things. People who know me know I am very cautious in just about every aspect of my life, but I was one bet I was willing to make.