By the calendar, it has been one month since I left my job. 30 days of not working full-time, 30 days of being at home with my daughter, and 30 days of trying to find a new balance with starting my business and doing freelance and project work. Now, I'm not really good at the whole "relax, wait and see what happens" thing, so I pretty much always plan ahead, in advance. Before I had even left my job, I had 10 hours per week lined up with the Edison Papers Archive, an awesome project that needs a seriously technology boost. It just so happens to perfectly align with my master's degree, in which I focused on digital libraries - something I was never able to put into use professionally. This project provides me with predictable monthly income, which is really great for peace of mind. It's not enough to cover the gaping hole left by not having a full-time salary, but it's a significant contribution to our monthly expenses.
Building on that baseline, my next focus was turning my idea for a UX and web design bootcamp into a reality. Without the daily grind of a 9 to 5 plus commute, I was able to travel around, find locations, network with people at meetup events, and hold my first training all within a 30 day span! A lot of that was due to my "latent network" - the groundwork of connections, relationships, and ideas I built up over the prior years, but never had time to fully take advantage of. Now that I can afford to more fully engage those opportunities and relationships, things are happening! And things happening is very exciting! Especially coming from a background primarily spent in higher education, where things take a very long time to happen.
But despite that initial flurry of activity, I'm learning the age old lesson that starting a business takes time. I've recently watched a bunch of episodes of "Chef's Table" (on Netflix, watch it, it's good!), where world-renowned chefs share their personal stories. They all inevitably talk about opening their first self-owned restaurant and barely getting any customers the first day, and week, and sometimes month. Even multiple months. Unlike engaging your friends and family, engaging with the public is a humbling lesson in learning that nobody cares much about your personal qualifications or exciting ideas! That alone is not going to motivate them to buy from you. At least, not in the beginning. So as my initial predictions for my bootcamp earnings vanished into thin air, I turned to my third option for generating income. (No joke, my predictions were off by an order of magnitude or more, even with "reasonable" predictions; total training income earned in September? $281).
I knew that I could seek out freelance jobs, gigs, and projects at any point. I have the skills and qualifications. But small projects tend to place higher demands on you, as you are dealing with clients with limited budgets but broad goals - particularly when it comes to websites. So I had wanted to avoid that as much as possible, but it was time to at least poke around and see if I could rustle up one small gig. I turned to freelance job sites focused on web, tech, and design, and chose Guru.com for no particular reason that I can recall. Probably because it had a stream that showed jobs being posted as recently as 1 hour ago. I scrolled through, selected one that I thought I could handle, and walked through the process to apply for the job. As I was using the site, I noted that each job generally had 10 or more quotes, and some had several dozen! Wow, I thought to myself, how will my voice even get heard in this mix?
So I decided to go personal - I introduced myself (not my business), I talked about why I was freelancing (my daughter), and I responded to their job post not with an overly confident but meaningless attempt at a bid (way too many unknowns), but rather with careful thought and further questions. I gave some meaningful estimates, pointed out where more information was needed, and pressed send. To my surprise, I got a response back fairly quickly, and had my first gig lined up! Beginner's luck, but also some validation of my approach.
So here's where I get to the creativity part. All of this varied work, jumbled and messy and slightly chaotic - a steady gig, starting my own business, networking at meetups, a freelance project - has really gotten my creativity peaking. I think the best way to show it is to just list out all the things I am working on or starting to get myself involved in:
- Doing a major user experience and technology upgrade for the Edison Papers which has a unique digital library of over 200,000 images, one of the largest collections of its kind in the country
- Starting my own business initiative with NJ UX Web Design Bootcamp, pulling together years of experience, years of attending conferences, and many presentations at meetups and professional societies
- Doing freelance work via Guru.com, essentially for small business owners who themselves are running their own businesses and bringing their vision into reality
- Building a design workshop lesson and curriculum for undergraduate students at Rutgers to teach them how to prototype ideas for mobile applications
- Taking the initial steps in the third prong of my company, Human Experience Systems LLC, to begin conceptual product development of prototypes of several wearable devices
- Joining a local hackerspace and makerspace, FUBAR Labs, so that I can access and utilize their conference room space for my trainings, but also so that I can network with makers who know how to solder, program Arduino boards, and knit (among many other things!)
- Breathing life back into the meetup group I co-founded, now titled Central NJ Design Meetup, which had sat idle since early this year
- Discussing potential overlap and partnership with an entrepreneurial duo working on a business plan and seeking investment to open a coworking/makerspace in Newark
- Through local networking, becoming involved in the township non-profit that deals with maintaining and expanding the downtown business area (main street), and taking on a half-started project to provide municipal wi-fi
What will come to fruition? Only time will tell. But it is so much FUN that I'm not too worried about it. And fun is energizing. The kind of fun that is energizing and freeing is often missing in our modern lives, in our daily grind, and I think that ties back to opportunities to be creative. Humans are creators at heart, but many of us work in an information factory where ideas are forced into an assembly-line process, mimicking the physicality of the industrial revolution for reasons that seem more historical than anything else. So if you can, look around for those opportunities, and make something happen!