I started my business by accident. Sophie Zen was only meant to be a blog that allowed me to express myself and connect with like-minded women. I never imagined that it would provide me with an income or even pay my bills. But less than six months after starting my blog, I applied for an ABN and started working with my first clients. At the time, I was almost finished a marketing and journalism degree at university and was working as a part-time digital and publishing assistant with a local magazine. I loved my job at the magazine and didn’t want to leave in order to find a full-time job when I graduated. So I made it my goal to finish university and have enough clients that I didn’t need to go and look for another job. Six months later and I made that dream come true.
Meanwhile, my partner had moved to Melbourne while I stayed on the Gold Coast to work at the magazine. But after six months of long distance romance, and six months spent learning everything I could in my position with the magazine, I decided to move to Melbourne. While I was sad to say goodbye, I was also excited to have a number of new clients who were happy to continue working with me as I made the move interstate. For a number of different reasons, I decided not to apply for a job before moving to Melbourne. Mostly, I wanted a little break. Second, I had an inkling that perhaps my business could be the 'main thing' that I did. Perhaps it could be the only ‘job' that I had. You see, it was also during this time that I had a lot of conversations and read a lot of articles about ‘going full-time in your business’. It didn’t matter who I was speaking with, it seemed that everyone was trying to grow their business so they could leave their 'day job' and be ‘full-time’ for themselves. And while I was in such a big transition in my life, I latched onto this goal and decided that I could go full-time in my business too!
For the first three months of living in Melbourne, I worked completely full-time in my business. And while I was proud to tell other people that’s what I was doing, I failed to tell them I was struggling to make a four figure income each month. Yes, I know that money and success is relative. And there have been times in my life where a monthly four figure income wasn’t the epitome of success. But at this moment in time, I felt like I was failing. While my business was looking successful on the outside, I wasn’t feeling successful on the inside. This was my first time realising that maybe ‘full-time business’ wasn’t going to work for me.
So when another part-time job landed in my lap, I took it as a sign and dove straight in. This second part-time job was different to the first and after working full-time in my business for three months, I actually struggled to be away from my home office for three days a week (this wasn’t something that happened when I was working at the magazine). It was during this time that I also experienced a huge amount of growth in my business (as a result of all the hard work I had previously done) and went on to hire my first team member. While it was a stressful and full time in my business, I was so grateful for the security and abundance that my part time job allowed me to have. And after three months working in my part-time job, I transitioned back into having a full-time business (now with a larger client base and a team member to support me).
This time, I felt a lot more steady on my feet. I had a bunch of long-term clients and had just scored another job with an online entrepreneur. While this was technically my third part-time job in two years of business, I was able to work independently from my own home and did the work in a way that was very similar to the work that I did with clients. It was during this time that I realised being full-time in your business looks different to everyone. For me, I considered ‘full-time business’ to mean that I worked from my own home office every single day. It meant that I didn’t have to get up and go to an office or I wasn’t expected to be working for someone at certain times of the day. And if I use my own definition then I continued to work full-time in my business for another eighteen months… which brings me to June this year.
I had just run my first in-person social media workshop and I was on the biggest high. The workshop was the highlight moment from three years in business and I couldn’t have wished for anything more. But the thing is… I was wishing for more. I was wishing for something different. While I loved running my workshop and I loved working with my clients, I felt like I was running out of dreams. My vision was starting to go blank and I felt stuck and stagnant. Although I’d definitely had these moments in my business before, I knew this time was different. And I knew it was different because things were the best they had ever been in my business… but it wasn’t enough.
Acknowledging that I wasn’t happy in my business was a difficult process. I thought that full-time business was the epitome of success and I struggled for a long time to recognise and validate my own feelings and experience. From the outside, my work life looked perfect. I had incredible clients, I was doing highly creative work and my days were filled with flexibility and freedom. I felt like a crazy person for admitting that I wasn’t happy. But slowly, I started to own my truth. And realised that I need to make some changes.
At this stage, I didn’t know that I would be transitioning out of my full-time business. I simply knew that everything needed to change. And as I explored my own potential, I was handed a lost dream that had been hiding in the back of my heart for years. You see, I always wanted to be an English teacher. Always. But when it came time to leave school and go to university, I got caught up in the glitz and the glamour of becoming a ‘professional’ and ended up in a marketing and journalism degree (with a brief detour studying event management). Halfway through the degree, I re-realised my dream of becoming a teacher and made plans to do post-graduate study. But the universe had other ideas and I ended up on an entrepreneurial journey instead. Then, after three years of business, the dream of becoming a teacher came back with full force.
Becoming a teacher wasn’t an easy fix to my immediate problem. It meant another two years of study and a big change in lifestyle. It also wasn’t a decision that I could make straight away. I still needed to submit an application and wait for an offer for a degree that wouldn’t begin for another six months. It was a long term vision and I desperately needed an instant shift. So as I took the steps of applying for university and waiting for an offer, I decided to look for a casual job to help me out of the emotional and financial rut that I was stuck in. Within the month, someone that I followed on Instagram posted about a short-term casual position that was available in her natural, low-tox shop. I messaged her straight away, had one in-person meeting and I started the job a couple of weeks later.
As I started my new job, I also finished working with my main long-term clients. While I now had a minimal client load, and lots of spare time, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I got up every morning, sat at my desk and tried to force clarity. I also didn’t realise how much I'd let my business define who I was as person. So as I started to let things go, I felt like I was losing core parts of my identity. I’d always been so clear on who I was, what I wanted and what I was working towards. And when I lost track of this, I tried to force the answers to come. By letting go of my full-time business, I felt like I had let go of everything that made me feel successful and important. So during this time, I was also forced to rebuild my version of success.
And as I worked my way through the steps that I needed to take, I also found myself redefining the meaning of personal development. I used to think that ‘up-levelling’ in your life and business was what you did when working with a coach or investing in a program. And while those things are definitely helpful and valuable, I realised that up-levelling is so much more than that. For me, it was waking up every morning and deciding to be with myself, be with my emotions, be with the changes. It was deciding to do the hard things while also being incredibly kind and gentle with myself. And it was accepting that, sometimes, the hard things are not what you expect them to be.
My personal development journey had always been so intertwined with my business. And the people who I turned to for personal development advice were also the people with their own business. This link was so strong that I actually forgot that you don’t need a business in order to experience personal growth and development.
I used to think it was my business that made me an interesting, ambitious and passionate person. But now, I know that I am always going to be those things. No matter the business, no matter the job, no matter the title. I also know that dreams will look different for everyone. Just because I had a full-time business doesn’t mean it was my forever dream. Just because you have a business doesn’t mean it should be your dream either. If it is your dream… then go for it. And if not... then I hope you feel inspired to explore your own path.
In the online business world, there are millions and millions of articles that will tell you ‘how she did it’. And it’s human nature to want to read and learn all about how she built a million dollar business or how she got 100k followers or how she went full-time in her business. But that doesn’t mean that you have to prescribe to those ideals or expectations. Just because she has a million dollar business doesn’t mean you have to. Just because she has 100k followers doesn’t mean you have to. And just because she has a full-time business doesn’t mean you have to either.
And that’s where I am right now, navigating a business alongside other jobs and study and interests. These new opportunities have revitalised me in a way that I could never have imagined. They have provided so much knowledge, insight and wisdom. They’ve allowed me to feel dynamic, alive and whole again. And I almost gave it up because of my perceived idea of success. I’m sharing this with you because I don’t want you to do the same. I don’t want you to subscribe to ideas or goals or dreams that aren’t yours. And I want you to know that it’s okay to do things differently and to make your own creation. I used to love the fact that my ‘job’ and ‘business’ was to be creative but by attaching the idea of creativity to my work, I forgot that my life is the biggest creation that I will ever make. This creation isn’t always pretty and it doesn’t appeal to everyone. But it’s mine. And I hope your creative life - full of new opportunities and plot twists - feels like yours, too.
Here’s to doing business and life in a way that honours who we are - whatever that looks like to you!