January 25, 2018. It was late on a Thursday night. Sean and I were exhausted from the hour-long commute from Manhattan to central Jersey. We probably ordered takeout and split a bottle of wine while we commiserated about our respective workdays.
At some point, we looked at each other and said, “Screw it. Let’s make our freelance work a real business.”
Ten minutes later, we were filling out online forms on the New Jersey Treasury Department’s website and got our official business registration certificate from the State.
At the time, we didn’t know where this side hustle would take us. Both of us had been independently freelancing as writers, editors, and SEO consultants on the side of our careers in digital publishing. Both of us had aspirations of entrepreneurship and being our own bosses long before we met each other. It just seemed like the perfect time in our lives as a young, 20-something couple to merge those two things together by forming an LLC.
Our business has evolved beyond our wildest dreams, but there have been a few hard-learned lessons along the way. Here are three critical entrepreneurship lessons Sean and I have gained from launching, growing, and running Lightning Media Partners from a freelance side hustle to a full-fledged agency.
1. Your initial vision might change, and that’s OK.
Our initial goal and vision when we started Lightning Media Partners was to bring our journalistic skills and backgrounds to the world of marketing copywriting. We envisioned ourselves producing corporate blogs, social media content, and PR campaigns that were tailor-made for the modern, digital-first business world of SEO rankings and Google Analytics.
While well-researched, SEO-friendly copywriting is still a big part of our business, we eventually came full circle back to our editorial roots. As we began to hire talented writers, editors, SEO specialists, and content strategists, we accidentally recreated the type of “content engine” editorial team we had each managed at our previous corporate jobs. Today, we do it on purpose and work with prominent digital publishers as an extension or augmentation of their existing editorial department.
Our lesson: Don’t be afraid to pivot and change direction as your business evolves, even if it strays from your original idea a bit. More importantly, don’t be afraid to carve out a niche for yourself doing what you’re really, really good at.
2. There’s never a ‘perfect’ time to quit your day job (but laying a strong financial foundation helps).
In the early days of our business, we had a lot of conversations about our “magic number” — the steady monthly revenue we would need to earn to leave our jobs and take LMP from side hustle to full-time career. I had blind faith that we could take the leap on the bare minimum we needed to pay our bills; Sean wanted to hang onto our steady income for as long as possible until we were earning above and beyond what we needed to be comfortable.
Sean’s plan was the right one, and in September 2018, we landed two large, lucrative contracts that allowed us to walk away from our corporate paychecks and benefits. I stayed on as a part-time employee for another six months just in case something fell through, but with Sean dedicating his full schedule to Lightning Media Partners, we were able to onboard enough clients to support ourselves and a couple of freelance writers we had hired to help out. We’ve been growing ever since, and it’s because we waited until we had enough money coming in to keep ourselves afloat.
Our lesson: The best time to quit your day job is when your gut and your numbers are telling you to do it. If you’re not quite financially ready when you pursue full-time entrepreneurship, put all your efforts and energy into building up your client/customer base.
3. Don’t try to do everything yourself.
By far, the biggest challenge of growing LMP has been learning to let go of the tasks we used to tackle entirely by ourselves. This is a common trap for new entrepreneurs: Budgetary constraints mean you can’t always afford to outsource and delegate, so you end up playing every role by yourself.
Trying to be a one-person show (or in our case, two) is a recipe for burnout, which means you won’t be able to serve your clients and customers at your fullest capacity. Expanding our team to seven incredible employees and a group of steady retainer freelancers has been and continues to be the best business decision we’ve made so far. The process of hiring, onboarding, training, and paying a fully remote team was daunting at first, but it has ultimately freed up our time as business owners to focus on business development and work processes (arguably two of the most important factors for growing a company).
Our lesson: Hiring employees and/or outsourcing work for the first time is scary, especially because people are now relying on you and your business’s success for their income. However, when you hire the right people for the right jobs, your investment will pay off by giving you the time to continue scaling your business.
To our fellow small business owners, we know the road can be tough. You will have ups and downs, ebbs and flows, and moments when you ask yourself why you ever decided to go down this wild path of entrepreneurship. In those moments, remember that you are in control of your own future and the direction of your business. You are your only limitation, and with the right strategy, attitude, and support system, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to your success.
Hi! Want content marketing insights delivered to your inbox?
Sign up for our newsletter!