10 learnings from 1 year of running 3 Dotted Penguins full time

10 learnings from 1 year of running 3 Dotted Penguins full time

One year ago (or 3.5 years after creating the Instagram account 3 Dotted Penguins), I quit my day job to focus solely on 3 Dotted Penguins (and my family). I had come to the point where I had to decide between either my full-time job or what used to be my small side-business “project” 3 Dotted Penguins. 

In this post, I am sharing my biggest learnings and realizations in one year of being fully self-employed and running 3 Dotted Penguins as my main business. 

1. The step is less scary than expected

Being an engineer by education, I am passionate about analyzing data before making significant life changes, such as leaving my secure day job. However, after a year of self-employment, the experience was not as frightening as I anticipated.

I had a general idea of the journey I was embarking on. When quitting my day job, I had been running 3 Dotted Penguins as a small side business for 2.5 years. I set up the first systems during this time, built an audience, and established a few income streams. 

It is also less scary, partly to having a clear understanding of my goals and the direction I wanted my business to take. This leads me to my second key lesson learned.

2. Have a plan

Know your business and the direction you want to go with it (as much as possible when starting). Clearly define your objectives for the next year, and break them down for each month. A clear understanding of what you want to accomplish within a business year will provide direction and help you prioritize effectively. If you encounter difficulties, revisiting your goals for the year should steer you back on the right track.

However, don’t limit yourself to rigid goals and remain open to new and exciting opportunities that may arise, potentially requiring a change in plan. The result will be worth it. 

3. You must learn to say "no"

While saying “yes” to new opportunities that fit your business will be easy, saying “No” to opportunities might not always be easy, but it will be necessary from time to time. Not every opportunity presented to you or every new idea for your business will be beneficial and contribute to its growth. Keeping your goals in mind, lets you determine if a particular opportunity or vision aligns with your plan and business objectives. Similarly, if a project or client doesn’t “feel right,” it should be an easy no. Sidenote: Especially in the beginning, you might take on jobs that are not the perfect fit for your business  to figure out if you like doing that/if it could be a new revenue stream, or to simply bring in money – and that’s ok. Nevertheless, still, assess if the opportunity checks any of the boxes. 

I have found that declining in a friendly and polite manner,  along with a brief explanation of why the project is not fit for you, is often well-received by clients. 

4. Multiple revenue streams are important

Having multiple sources of income, also known as diversifying your revenue streams, is vital. This provides more stability in your earnings, as not all revenue streams will perform equally every month, but it also offers a way to offset changes in a single revenue stream. These changes may be beyond your control and come out of the blue, but they can still significantly impact your revenue. This was my experience last year when Swiss Post altered its pricing policy for international shipments, resulting in a substantial increase in shipping prices. As I had to pass most of the costs to my customers and a large portion of my product order on Etsy are international, this change significantly affected that revenue stream. However, I was able to compensate for it through other revenue streams.
When starting, it’s best to focus on building one revenue stream at a time. Keep in mind the goal of having multiple revenue streams and regularly evaluate your existing streams and opportunities for new ones. Sometimes changes might feel scary, but in the end, you will often need to step out of your comfort zone to make progress.

5. Know you finances

When running a business (but of course not only there 😉 ), it is essential to know your finances. You need to know where you are bringing in money and what you spend on. What is each revenue stream bringing in? What is it costing you? Are you making a profit, and if so, how much? Remember that you often will be investing a lot back into the business.

Building a business takes time. Try to build up a financial cushion before going full-time by putting aside some money every month while you still have a regular income from a day job (if your financial situation allows it). Knowing your monthly expenses can help you assess any saving potential. The savings and understanding (and potentially changing) your monthly spending level will help you manage your finances while you still might be building up additional revenue streams until you reach a sustainable income from your business.

6. Maintaining a work life balance is much harder than expected

When running your own business, you have the freedom to set your working hours. Especially in the beginning, you will be tempted to work extra hours to get your business off the ground and bring in some extra money. There will always be some loose ends you need to tie together. It is up to you to set strict boundaries for your working time and what needs to get done.

One year in, I am still working on improving my work-life balance as I fall into the habit of working too late into the night (night owl here!). Especially if you work from home, no physical barrier will stop you from getting to work at odd times, so you need to be your own barrier. One of my goals this year is to get my sleep back ;-). I will report back in a year about how it’s going…

7. You will wear many different hats

When you run your own business, you will spend a lot of time on things other than your “core” business, than the activity that is the foundation of your business (block printing & surface pattern design, in my case). Finances, packaging orders, planning a new workshop or offering, sales, product photography, the next newsletter, social media, website, you name it – so much is not your core work. Still, these activities are core for your business. So, your actual core activity will get less time than you often wish, leading me to #8.

8. Get help

There is lots of support out there that you can get – there are plenty of free resources and groups of like-minded people who are in the same boat, and you can exchange ideas with them, get support and advice, and challenge yourself. Both are important!

But many of us wait too long to get other professionals’ (paid) help or invest in software and personal education by trying to do it all alone. We often forget that trying to figure it all out by ourselves (doing work in areas of our business that we are not good at) takes time – time that we could use more effectively, whether inside or outside our business. Time is money. You don’t need to hire employees right away – but counting on the support of experts in their field for specific projects (often freelancers) will often help you move the needle while reducing your financial risk significantly – no matter if you get help for accounting, website design, social media, packaging, …

9. Get it done

As your own boss, it can be super simple to lose focus on the essential tasks and spend your time doing fun (but irrelevant) tasks instead of those that will move your business forward. Or you might think you can only offer something to your clients once it’s perfect and checks all the boxes. Your focus will be on getting things done – progress over perfection. Your learning curve will be steep, and you can always do better the next time.

10. It will be the best decision

One year in, that’s what I am saying over and over again: it was the best decision! I have not regretted this step a single day so far, and I hope this feeling continues to grow every day. Will it always be easy? Oh no! Will there be days filled with activities you don’t enjoy? Oh yes! But spending your days pursuing your passion makes such a difference. And having the freedom to work from anywhere and at any time (even if it’s in the middle of the night) and to be able to take vacation days whenever it fits you is the icing on the cake.

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