Before my role in Automattic I for a time ran my own business. I’d fallen into it through good connections and chance. Following my passion was scary but it lead me to some incredible spaces and grew me in ways I couldn’t imagine I could. What I did also changed, starting with piece by piece work and then towards the later part of running my own business longer term projects, more consulting.
The entire experience of running my own business was if I am honest inconsistent, it constantly changed and phased. At Automattic there was recently a small business survey and in the results I found this diagram.
I paused, this was presented as linear yet my memories were of pretty much constantly shifting in and out of these phases. I read on…
Small business owners are in states of Subsisting, Surviving or Thriving, generally progressing between these levels as they build and acquire the necessary skills and acumen to advance their business.
On reflection, momentum likely was happening forward. I could see this with the longer term projects, moving away from the piece by piece pushing. However, I was still stuck thinking how this wasn’t the reality I experienced. Was this perhaps because of the nature of my work? I read on…
Small business owners may move forwards or backwards through this flow, as things such as an illness or a financial blow can cause them to regress or lose ground
Memories flooded back. That one Christmas early on where I struggled so much to even pay rent.. it’s even hard to say so now. Holidays are hard for those running their own business, invoices often don’t get paid for months. Pride wasn’t something I thought I had until I ran my own business and wow I had a lot of it around that. Asking for help is hard, asking for help when you’ve moved from reliable, solid, supportive paid work to risk it on your own company… yeah that’s near impossible to do. You are following your dream. Those who come with you as family are supportive but they are in times like this reasons why you dig your heels in, you put everyone there. Life hits you and sometimes it hits you several times in a row, you stagger and sometimes you drop to one knee. That Christmas I was close to two knees down.
Whilst I may not fully agree that it’s a back and forth, progressive flow, I do recognise it. I think perhaps it’s maybe more of a spiral, the lows don’t go so low as before the more you progress. I recalled how in the last few years of my business I had a cushion both in savings and in being able to call on reliable source for stop gap work. Comfort though isn’t always good for business and dipping can spur on to new highs. Thinking more on the spiral it sure felt like I was on one. My moving into a job again from my business, was from the position of an established optimist.
Memories now fuel the work I do. Many years have passed and through processing the power of those memories no longer causes me to crumble, it’s just enough to feel but drive me to action in the work I do. I never want to forget these memories, they are precious. Feeling, relating is how you create something that truly matters for those it’s intended. Experiencing is everything but we can’t experience everything as a designer. We can however gain insights from surveys, speaking to those living those memories. Their voices can speak through the work we create.