The phrase ‘unprecedented times’ has been thrown around a fair bit this year.
And for good reason.
With a global pandemic that’s brought much of the world to a grinding halt, it’s been easy to sit back and casually say, “Stuff it, I think I’m just gonna wait for 2021”.
A year’s worth of goals and pursuits have been put on the back-burner while the new daily goal has become eating a slightly less amount of corn chips than the day before.
And as much as extended couch time has been good for the lazy part of the soul, it can’t go on forever.
To be honest, the stress of no work, lack of direction, and general sense of ‘what the hell does my future actually look like?’ has started to weigh much heavier.
So, with all that crap hanging around, I decided to start a small business. A copywriting business to be exact.
Even though it may seem a little odd to start a business during a time of crisis, the benefits have been enormous — emotionally, mentally, and creatively.
Here are 5 ways in which starting a business during COVID-19 have helped me gain some clarity as to what the future might hold:
1. I’ve had time to figure out what I enjoy
Exploring your purpose is a tricky task. Finding a balance between what’s good for us and good for the world doesn’t always come easily. And it’s made even more complicated by a global crisis that has really sunk the boot into job security.
Viewing this down time as a transition period has encouraged a freedom to explore what it is that can bring back joy to my work day. It’s provided an opportunity to take stock of what it is that has or hasn’t worked for me in the past, and apply it to my future.
But what does that mean, exactly?
Let’s get seriously curious
Trying to scratch a creative itch?
Feel like your analytical side has been deprived?
Reckon you’d be better off spending each day in the great outdoors?
Now could be your time to look into it.
For some, simply finding work that pays the bills and doesn’t leave you exhausted is the winning ticket.
And that sounds ace.
As a taller guy who’s worked as a primary school teacher, I wanted a gig that wouldn’t result in constant back pain at the end of each day. Plus, a little relief from the chatter of a classroom full of kids (and their often chattier parents), wouldn’t go astray.
But when it came down to it, the idea of helping small businesses and local community groups via writing was something that simply felt right.
I mean, it’s sorta been there all along, but having this extra time has helped nurture and accelerate the process.
Of course, goals will continue to shift and evolve, but for now, I know it’s what I’m meant to be doing.
2. It’s been great learning new skills
So I sorted out what I wanted to do moving forward.
Great. Fantastic. Let’s get started.
But, what about the actual craft? The actual skill of writing like you speak and helping people make informed decisions on who they support?
Well then, it was time to learn some new skills.
As somebody who always wrote personally and professionally (how wonderful school reports are), it seemed logical to build on a skill that was an extension of who I was already.
But where to start?
Learning a new skill takes time. With the lockdown in Melbourne seriously reducing my teaching hours, time was something I actually had.
But for anybody learning a new skill, there are heaps of things to consider:
- Should I teach myself?
- Should I invest in paid learning?
- How long will this take to learn?
- How much do I really need to know before I feel confident with it?
Not to mention the nagging thought you may not be able to learn the skill at all.
But you can.
You may not instantly ascend to the heights of the masters who’ve inspired you.
But you can get the ball rolling.
So what’s the best way to learn?
However the hell you want. Done.
Yeah, alright. That’s definitely true. But since we’re here, let’s have a look at how you might go about it.
I started with books — digital and print — as well as free PDF files.
Learning at your own pace and with your own choice of materials is a wonderful starting point as you feel fully in charge of what you consume. And while it can be the cheaper and more liberating way to learn, it can soon become a tad overwhelming. Scouring the internet for the next step of your journey can be a tiring endeavour — one that can stop your learning in its tracks.
That’s where paid structured learning comes in.
And I don’t mean packing your bags and heading off to live on campus for the next 4 years.
Like all of our favourite 2 a.m. infomercials say, ‘There has to be an easier way’.
And there is.
With courses and subscriptions often at reduced rates, these two sites provide long form video content from experts in a huge variety of areas. And with my subscription to Skillshare still going, who knows, I might even pick up some well overdue and desperately needed photography tips.
Specialised courses and training
If you begin to feel good about what you’ve learned on those sites, it could then be worth looking into specialist courses that might be directly related to your new direction.
I decided that I needed a website, and I couldn’t afford a web designer. So I jumped online and found the How to set up an SEO friendly WordPress site course and built my own.
And I’m stoked that I did.
Necessity forced my hand and I created something that I’m genuinely proud of.
And best of all?
Learning something from scratch is a deeply rewarding and satisfying journey.
It’s all you.
Still, it’s something that people often shy away from. And that’s understandable.
Starting with a blank canvas is terrifying, but it eventually disappears once the smallest brush strokes start. And pretty quickly, you’ll be glad that you at least gave it a crack.
3. Creativity is key (for me at least)
If you’ve ever been stifled in your employment, you’ll know the dread that can come from rocking up day in, day out, to a place that not only sucks the life out of you, but actively looks to suppress your creativity.
It’s better to just go with the flow and avoid any unwanted stress.
As an educator at a wonderful school, I was lucky that my personality was intrinsically connected to my teaching. It came with years of experience, and confidence in my knowledge of the curriculum and how to engage with students.
But it still felt too restrictive.
Some ideas needed to be vetted by a million people before they could even be considered.
It was too much.
Looking for creative freedom
When I decided to start my writing business from home, I wanted to follow a path that would open to new avenues for creative exploration. And I knew that if I wanted to freely express a client’s tone of voice and maintain rhythm in my words, my skills would be the foundation for this.
Every new skill you learn — be it a language, an instrument, a recipe, even a card game — encourages a greater freedom for self expression. That’s the end goal.
And even as a beginner, you’re able to bend and break the rules in ways you couldn’t before.
Yes yes, it’s the old, ‘know the rules so you can break them’ cliche.
But, it really does work (unless you’re joining a noise-rock band, in which case, stuff the rules and buy more guitar pedals).
This very post you’re reading wouldn’t have been possible a few months back. And in a few months time, I hope to refine my skills even further.
Greater self expression
Ultimately, I’ve taken the time to assess how I can best express myself through work. It’s an evolving journey that doesn’t have an end goal, but it does come with the opportunity to actively seek out creative people and projects — something I can’t wait to explore further.
4. Making awesome new connections
It’s been a tough year for our social lives.
With isolation guidelines and COVID restrictions casting a giant shadow over how we interact, making new connections and building a business seemed like some far off fantasy.
As somebody who leans slightly towards the introvert side of the fence, getting away from society for a little while has had its perks.
More time to think.
More time to learn.
More time to create.
But for the part of me that wanted to connect with others and get the ball rolling on my new business, it all became a little daunting.
Importance of online communities
Regardless of what industry you may be looking into, there’s almost certainly a group or forum waiting for you.
Behemoths like Reddit and Facebook provide a base starting point to meet like-minded people. They also require you to wade through tonnes of terrible, terrible memes and an ungodly amount of immature bickering before you can really find anything of substance.
But rest assured, there is some good stuff knocking about on there.
In my case, I stumbled across The Clever Copywriting Community.
This is a friendly group of copywriters who would rather lend a hand to complete novices like me, than constantly blabber on about how I should hand write every single Gary Halbert letter if I want to make $8 trillion dollars a month.
And for sure, that’s some people’s bag.
But for me, that’s not what I was looking for.
And that’s the key. Some will profess that you need to do it this way or that way.
No one way is correct.
I wanted a group that would provide interaction and feedback. A group that would allow people to freely share their work or ideas for honest critique.
Eventually, I found it.
Find the right people for you
At the end of the day, you know the type of people you want to surround yourself with. It might take some time to find them — I mean the internet’s a pretty big place — but they are out there.
It makes it heaps easier to explore new concepts than if you’re going it alone. And if you simply need to get some stuff off your chest about a tough client or a not so great day, you have that option too.
So definitely get out there, have a look (for the big-time lurkers), and connect.
5. Finding happiness in what I do
Ultimately, all that I’ve set out to explore this year has been for one thing:
Doing something that will pay the bills and make you happy is a rare thing that a lot of people never get to experience. And as of this year, it’s a possibility for me that could be within reach.
It’s a constant battle against uncertainty, change, and a paralysing fear of failure. But I’m lucky enough to have the time, support and resources to pursue such a dream.
Actually, scratch that.
I’m beyond lucky to even think of having a go at any of this.
And for those out there who may be in a similar situation, where your main fight is against yourself — it’s worth it.
Knowing that every skill you learn, word you write, and connection you make is for your long-term happiness — it can’t be beat.
All successes and failures fall squarely on your own shoulders.
Sure, that’s a terrifying thought, but it’s one that can hurtle you towards a time and place where you have the freedom to express yourself day in, day out, and call it work.
Sounds bloody amazing.
A long way to go…
It’s been a challenging year for a lot of people.
But it’s also been a rare time for learning — mostly through trial and error.
And there’s still heaps to do.
I suspect there always will be.
From honing my craft as a writer, to the finer details of running a business, there’s a bunch more to get done.
Regardless of what new direction any of us might take, or how long it might be until we’re in the place we need to be, it’s important that we start.
It doesn’t have to be a massive grand plan, one where you dive straight into the deep end.
I mean, that could work.
Any little action will do. So get out there and do it.