Over the past two weeks or so I've learned some pretty amazing lessons about entrepreneurship.
I got sick.
What seemed to start as allergies quickly turned into what we now think is bronchitis, and it knocked me on my butt! Thankfully it wasn't COVID (although the initial symptoms weren't dissimilar), and I'm slowly shuffling along the road to recovery.
For the past 10 days or so though, my work slowed to a crawl. A simple blog post for a client that would ordinarily take a few hours took 4 days to complete. I pushed myself to attend a meeting or two, but beyond that I spent the majority of my time coughing, sleeping, or nursing a hot cup of tea.
Now that my mind is clearing up I'm able to reflect on some of the lessons that I've taken from all of this, and wanted to share just a few today.
Entrepreneurship is a gift.
The last time I can recall having bronchitis was nearly a decade ago, prior to law school, when I was working at an HR company. My employer was understanding, but I tried returning to work too soon, and wound up back in bed for several days more because of my stubbornness.
This time I remembered that I make the rules, which meant that I could set the pace of my recovery. I tried my best to meet set deadlines, but also didn't overdo it, and was able to take breaks and rest as needed.
Even on a work from home setup, I likely would not have had this same freedom on someone else's clock. I am grateful that I was able to give myself what my body needed to start healing, instead of pushing through and only prolonging my illness.
Client relationships are everything.
I am incredibly fortunate to have a roster of truly amazing clients, some of whom have been with me since the earliest days of this business, and I have been lucky enough to pick up more and more through referrals.
The truth is that while I occasionally might need to ask for an extra day to get something done, last week I needed a lot more than that. I trust my clients enough that I could be honest with them, and tell them that while I would try my best, I likely needed a few extra days across the board to meet their deliverables.
I prepared myself for the potential backlash, but clients could not have been more supportive. Everyone was kind, understanding, and sympathetic. Along with all the well wishes, many told me to "get it done when you can," and insisted that I take the time I needed to recover. I was able to lean on those client relationships at a time when I needed help, and my clients came through in spades.
I needed a week off...but this wasn't it!
I am convinced today that whatever virus decided I would make a good host was able to get nice and cozy because it could tell that I was already exhausted.
The reality of entrepreneurship is that it's hard to not see vacation as a money-losing venture. Without a consistent salary, you become the driver of your source of income, and the consequences for taking any time off are yours alone. This is only made worse during a pandemic - with nowhere to really go, if you're going to be home anyway then why not work around the clock?
I knew even before I got sick that this was the wrong approach. I had already been trying to limit myself to avoid burnout, implementing measures like not checking emails in the evenings, and taking at least some time off on the weekends (or even daresay the occasional full weekend).
The truth, though, is that I needed more than a day off. I had not taken more than a weekend off since pre-COVID, and even without a far-off destination I knew that I needed a few days just to recharge. Getting sick wasn't a great way to take them (nor was I off work entirely) but I now realize that I need to take a few days off at regular intervals.
There's an old adage that says that it's not work when you love what you do, but that's something of a myth in my view. I love what I do, but it's still work, and no one can perform well when they're working non-stop.
A secondary stream of income is key.
As the agency continues to grow (spoilers ahead), I have been working on some exciting projects to diversify the business and offer more content to a wider audience. I was actually in the middle of working on one of those projects when I first got sick.
I haven't had the energy or stamina to jump back into it just yet, but this was a serious lesson in just how important it is to have additional streams of income. If your labour is your only source of revenue, and you take ill with something far more serious than I did, your entire livelihood can be in jeopardy.
Insurance may be helpful (and always advisable for an entrepreneur) but residual income can be a truly amazing back up plan. Residual income means that you can take that time off, whether it's for vacation, recovery, or even just to do other things and part of your business will keep generating money while you're not there.
I've long understood the benefits of residual income, but don't think I had really internalized them until this point. Now I know just how much it means.
Gratitude is the best attitude.
Even curled up in bed with a hacking cough and all sorts of aches and pains, I was grateful. I'm eternally grateful to my partner, who despite what she'll tell you was an incredible nurse, and took the time to look after me when I couldn't look after myself.
I'm grateful to my parents, who repeatedly offered to deliver soup from an hour out of their way, even when I was well enough to make my own. I'm grateful to the family and friends who consistently checked in on me and asked how I was doing.
As a business owner, I am so grateful to my clients every day. They have supported me on this journey just as I try to support them on theirs, and they are just as happy to celebrate my successes as they are supportive when I've been down. If I've had the privilege of working with you, thank you. If you enjoyed it so much that you've referred work my way, that is the greatest compliment that I could ever receive.
The Write Stuff Agency turns 2 in a few weeks, and I cannot wait to see what's coming next.