7 unexpected takeaways from starting my own business

In September 2019, I left a job at a global top-three advertising agency where I worked on multi-million dollar projects with U.S. government agencies and Fortune 500 companies. I left to start my own business and become a digital nomad.

I started my own business to help smaller passion and purpose-driven businesses and nonprofits maximize their impact through business, branding, and marketing strategy consulting. I also wanted to become a digital nomad and travel the world while supporting myself. It was absolutely a risk (even more so now that we know how 2020 turned out…), but I was able to replace my corporate salary within four months.

I knew when I started my own business, Duraca Strategic, it was going to be challenging. Both of my parents are self-employed, and I’ve seen firsthand the constant hustle it requires. With greater freedom comes greater responsibility. I’ve seen the ups and downs, the financial uncertainty, the headaches. It’s a big reason why I never thought I’d go into business for myself. What I didn’t expect were all the positives. It’s been almost a year — here are the 7 best parts of the transition I didn’t see coming.

I’ve never felt more valued.

My clients hire me because they know the value I bring to the table. They trust my expertise and opinion. And they know that I’m choosing them as well — I don’t work with just anyone, only folks I believe in and know that I can make a difference for. It’s very different from being an employee. Of course, my past employers wouldn’t have hired me or promoted me if they didn’t value me. But when you’re paying an outside consultant to come in and get things done, it’s very different from always having someone on call you can rely on. I’ve never felt taken for granted by my clients, and it’s a great feeling!

It’s all about the work, and not about the where and the how.

For the first time in my career, I feel I’m being judged only based on the work that I do — how I show up and what I deliver. I’ve always been a hard worker, and I’ve always enjoyed doing some of the intangible things that help with being well-perceived in an office: going to happy hours, volunteering, organizing workshops, participating in Latinx, diversity, and women’s groups. But it’s great not to feel any external pressure to go above, beyond, and outside of my job description. It leaves me feeling free to spend all my time outside of my client work exactly how I choose, doing the things that I value most. 

black and gray laptop computer on brown leather couch

No office drama.

It’s rare to find an office without any type of gossip. But I’ve found that the combination of having my own business and remote work in particular lends itself to being drama-free — everyone is focused on getting the work done. In fact, sometimes a little too much — I make an effort to genuinely connect with my clients at the start of a call. It’s a crazy time in the world, and being empathetic and understanding where people are coming from is important to me.

No shoes, no problem.

Not having to fit into a dress code every day has changed my relationship with clothes. I feel freer to express myself and experiment, and I now consider anything with a zipper (unless it’s pants or shorts) to be fancy. I still put on makeup and a nice shirt to meet new clients and for workshops, but I’m far less focused on my appearance. This frees up my headspace to focus even more on the content of what I’m delivering.

More freedom to pursue a routine that enhances my productivity.

Not being watched allows me to do what’s best for me, instead of worrying about being judged for how I spend my time. If I have several days of early morning calls in a row, I might block off my calendar and sleep in. I often go to the gym in the middle of the day. If I have a lot of late night calls, I might spend some time prepping during the day, then go out to dinner with friends, and come back just in time to hop on the call. I actually feel like I have better work life balance now than when I was working for someone else. 

turned on laptop

If something goes wrong, I’m ok with it.

When working for others, one thing I struggled with was defending decisions I did not agree with. When you’re the boss, you have no one to blame but yourself — and I’m ok with that. I am making the decisions, and if a rare mistake does happen, I take full responsibility. I’m also fully empowered to remedy the situation in whatever way I think is right.

Even when I’m working long hours, it doesn’t feel like it.

It’s no secret that starting a business is hard work. It takes time and dedication. I make an effort not to work overly strenuous hours, I hire expert help when I need it, and I protect my down time so that I can do this sustainably. But there’s often an ebb and flow to business, and I would generally rather overwork myself a bit as opposed to turning down a project that I want. So busy, intense weeks are sometimes inevitable. And I don’t resent them. I know that that time is an investment in the future of my business. And I try to balance the high-tempo busy times by rewarding myself with a break after finishing a big project. 

Starting a business is challenging in the best of times — and I think we can all agree 2020 isn’t the best of times. It’s been almost a year since I founded Duraca Strategic, and I can definitely say the positives have outweighed the tough times.

When I went into business for myself, I was excited to be able to choose my clients, focus on social impact projects I believe in, and empower small businesses and nonprofits with the tools, processes, and ideas that large private sector companies use. But there were so many benefits I didn’t see coming. I’m glad I took the risk — and discovered these for myself.