Keeping a balance in the game of independent ownership

Keeping a balance in the game of independent ownership
May 24, 2015 by Jenny Poff

I have found that running a business is a lot like playing Jenga. I’m sure you’re familiar with the game where you stack wooden rectangular blocks to construct a well-organized, seamless tower. When the tower is first built, it is done in a painstakingly careful way to make sure it is sturdy and secure. Then slowly over time, pieces might be removed or resituated which causes other pieces to shift and become unsteady.

The wooden blocks of my business are things like clients, financial security, flexibility, video conferencing, phone calls, late nights, early mornings, successes, headaches, perseverance. Recently I have found the Jenga tower of my business to be teetering. If you own your own business – you know exactly what I mean because you’ve been there. It’s not unusual for us to have to stop and ask ourselves, ‘What am I doing? Where am I going?’ For me, the careful inspection and subsequent removal of the financial security wooden block were threatening to knock down my tower. Not because I wasn’t generating income, but rather I was feeling burnt out.

One night when my mind was winning the game and I felt at a particular low, a force called me to look online to just see what kind of communication/marketing/design positions might be out there. I was surprised to find two open positions that matched my skill set perfectly. A bubble of excitement and a question of ‘Could this be my path?’ led me to apply for both full-time positions. The first was filled internally. The second, after two lengthy interviews, held such promise that I was already imagining how I would begin the transition of independent ownership to employee and the safer work-life balance that it would deliver.

But that position was not meant to be and my dreams of a new Jenga tower crashed.

So I sat down with my journal and poured out my heart and my thoughts, filling page after page. What was so appealing about the job I thought was the answer to my teetering tower? The answers to that question surprised me. Leaving the house and going somewhere, day in and day out. Attending staff meetings and being part of a collaborative team. Enjoying my family time without the pull of my home office luring me to put in just a few hours. A few hours that always turned into shutting out the light finally at 2 a.m.

I needed to figure out how I could restack that wooden block of financial security without burning the candle at both ends.

A colleague of mine and a good friend called to check in to see if I had heard about the position for which I had interviewed. He was compassionate and also determined to get me to consider renting an office space down the hall from him. I was nervous. I said I would never have an office outside my home. How could I give up the flexibility of having my mom hat and business owner hat worn in the same place? Reluctantly, I agreed to come to look at the space. The rent was reasonable. But I still wasn’t sure it was the right move.

That night I was on a Skype call with a client in my home office. I heard my husband and daughters giggling in the living room downstairs. The giggling escalated and I heard my 5-year-old come up the stairs and go in her bedroom. All of a sudden, my office door bursts open and there is my precious girl completely naked in clear view of my Skype call and giggling in hysterics, “I peed my pants!”

I grabbed the lease off my desk and signed it – it was time to leave the home office.

As I prepared my new office for the first official day, I was asked if I was excited, but it really felt like I was about to enter detox. I’m used to the flexibility of working while the kids are playing nicely or when there’s a quiet moment to grab some more creative time. But in the new office, away from home – I am learning how to compartmentalize projects and meetings into a 9-5 workday and just five days a week.

What have I learned along this new path so far? I have gained confidence and have been surprised by some of my networks response of, “Now you’re legit!” – not sure why having more overhead validates my work, but since being in the new office I have over 10 new clients in just 6 weeks.

I have been operating my independent creative business for almost 10 years and I am proud of what I have accomplished while balancing raising my daughters. Could I have gotten to this place of a dedicated office outside of my home without the roller coaster of the last few months? I think it was a necessary shakeup that I desperately needed.

Being an independent business owner is tough work, and staying positive about all your hard work is exhausting in itself. But thanks to my Designers Roundtable community and close colleagues that I’ve met through the DR and the HOW Design Live Conferences, it made it easier to work through this roadblock to stay focused on my passion and reignite my motivation to do great work for great clients and support my family at the same time. I encourage you to check out our community to help keep you motivated and encouraged to keep working hard.

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Meet Jenny Poff

Jenny an independent consultant who specializes in marketing, branding, and graphic design. She partners with business owners and nonprofits as their out-of-house marketing manager to relieve their time and stress of DIY marketing by amplifying their advertising with expert strategies for unparalleled results

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