Who provides leadership in your business?

When I left the corporate world to run my own business, the freedom was almost intoxicating. Suddenly I could forget about my alarm clock and stop worrying about a lengthy commute. There was time in my schedule for vacation days and mental health moments, doctor’s visits and school events. No one kept track of when I worked or what I accomplished. #heaven

All this wonderful flexibility meant that I could work when I wanted… and make time for the people and activities that were most important to me. Unfortunately, it also meant that I had to lead and manage a very difficult person – myself! That realization started me on a journey of self-leadership… and what I’ve learned has made all the difference in my business.

Self leadership means taking a disciplined approach.

Creative people – myself included – typically resist structure a bit. Sure, we might like a general framework (such as a design brief or creative guidelines) but we don’t want anyone telling us what to do or how to do it. Nothing kills my creativity faster than feeling pressure to work on a specific thing on a specific day at a particular time. I can’t be that rigid.

But, I can’t play it fast and loose either if I want to get things done. #problem

The solution for me is taking a disciplined approach to my work. I block out time in my schedule for creative work and I hold that time sacred. I don’t book client calls in that time or go to appointments or events. I discipline myself to do my creative work in 4 hour blocks a few times per week. Is this the solution for you? I don’t know… but that’s not the point.

The point is that I found a system that works for me and got really disciplined about it. I have to “show up” to do creative work at the appointed time whether I want to or not. Why? Because without a disciplined approach to creative work my business won’t thrive.

Self leadership means doing the difficult things.

Do you do difficult things? I do. They include pushing through procrastination to actually start working on something I’m avoiding. They include refunding a client when I realize we aren’t a good fit for one another even though I really need the money. They include telling myself “NO” when I want to say “Yes” and vice versa.

When I worked in the corporate world, I always felt pressure to do my job – even when it was difficult or boring or stressful. Sometimes I had a boss or manager who told me what to do. Other times I just knew what was expected of me and so I took action even when I wasn’t into it exactly. I just knew that nothing good would come from bucking the system.

But now the consequences are much more subtle. I’m not trying to please a supervisor. I’m not working for my next promotion or for the approval of a team leader. Sure, I need to keep my clients happy and pay the bills… but that alone isn’t always enough to move me forward. Self leadership means giving myself a figurative “kick in the pants” when I need one.

Self leadership means solving the problems I create in my biz.

Okay, so this is the most difficult form of self leadership to master… at least in my opinion. I have to face the problems I create in my business, take ownership of them, and actually solve them so that my business can grow. I have to be self-aware, humble and honest with myself, and solution oriented. Ugh…

I have to do things like…

  • Cover a bad financial decision by not paying myself for awhile… and then review my decision-making process so I don’t do something dumb like that again.
  • Admit to myself that I’m overbooked, work through the weekend and into the evening to catch up… and then get honest about my production schedule so I can keep my promises to myself and my clients.
  • Recognize that I don’t have a needed skill or don’t do the best possible job in an area of my business… and then either get help (invest in delegation) or get my skills up to snuff (invest in learning).

Solving my own problems means looking at my financial numbers so I know if I’m profitable. It means asking for feedback – even when a project doesn’t go well – so I can identify areas of improvement and make things right with a client. It means admitting to myself that I need to improve in a certain area of my business and asking for help.

Being my own boss means leading myself through the process of running my business. That’s tough work… but it’s very rewarding.

How to become self-disciplined as a freelance web or brand designer.
Author: Michelle Hunter

Michelle Hunter is a business strategist and copywriter with a gift for connecting entrepreneurs and their clients using great writing. She is a regular contributer to the DtD blog and co-creator of Designing Success Bootcamp - Helping designers create a strong marketing engine to power business growth. Visit to contact Michelle or learn more.

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