Transitioning from employee to creative business owner


Transitioning from employee to creative business owner can be scary!

Will anyone even want what you’re making or providing?

Will you make enough money?

How will you even figure out where to begin?

It’s so easy to be so overwhelmed by these types of questions, that you never take any action and continue sleepwalking through your life with frustrated dreams. 

Yes, I can be dramatic but, I know what I’m talking about. That was me for a long time! Dreading morning commutes – observing all the miserable-looking people on the bus or train with me and wishing to never be one. 

It was a cold pill to swallow that, I was just like every single one of them. Stuck in what was comfortable and not truly pursuing what was in my heart. Not letting my creativity be as expansive and as impactful as it could be.

As much as I didn’t have a roadmap to solve this problem, I knew that the first step was to leave employment and take control over my time and professional decisions. 

That’s how my journey began and it’s been quite a colourful one (literally!). I share more details in my 10 biggest take-aways from from 10 years of Afri-love and my creative business

Looking back, there are some things I’d have done differently, better or not at all, in taking that leap from employment to running my business. In this post, I share them with you, to hopefully give you some confidence to stop holding yourself back and just start on your own journey of transition.


9 tips for transitioning from employee to creative business owner

3 things that worked well

Easing into it

I had managed to secure some personal design clients, during the time I was employed. I’d work on these projects in the evenings and on the weekend. 

This experience helped give me the confidence that work was out there for me and also helped me to hone my solo practice.

I highly recommend this approach, if even just to make sure that you enjoy what it is you’re thinking of doing. That enjoyment will be necessary to sustain you through tough times! Just make sure that any side-hustling of this sort isn’t in conflict with your job.

Being vocal about my move

As soon as I was a free agent, I told everybody about it! I announced it on Facebook, I tweeted about it and I told all my friends and family. 

As a result, opportunities started coming my way – from former colleagues in new roles that needed my support, as well as referrals from friends and acquaintances.

In the early days, being active on Twitter was really beneficial. I connected with like-minded strangers who ended up being amazing clients and collaborators, linking me with great opportunities they were involved with.

If I were transitioning from employee to creative business owner in 2020, I’d definitely use Instagram in this way. This has been my biggest growth channel lately and can be for you too. Here’s how.

Building a financial cushion

Throughout my employed life, I was super diligent with saving a portion of my earnings. This came in very handy when I forfeited my predictable paycheck for very unpredictable pay days! It would be a few years until I was able to commit to a consistent salary for myself.

I also made an arrangement with my former employer to work remotely, a few days a week, for the first few months after I left. This meant I had some steady income secured which gave me a little peace of mind.

I recommend setting aside much more than you think you need and if possible, having a supplementary income source. That will give you the space to not have to compromise on what you’re building. If you can save up 6 months or even a year of expenses, you’ll be unstoppable!

3 things I’d do differently

Save even more!

And/or secure a predictable income source for longer. My good friend and business BFF, biz coach Danielle Anderson, said something to me years ago, with regards to establishing a business. With all my work with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I’ve witnessed this to be true, time and time again: it will take much longer than you anticipate it to and it will cost much more than you think!

Not only do I recommend the savings goal in the point above but, it’s really important to work out all your number goals, for your business and your life in general, and for right now as well as the coming years. I’ve put together some tools to help you do this, in my free Foundations For Freedom course.

Invest time in figuring out my brand

As much as my employed work heavily involved brand consulting, when it came to myself, in my new reality of doing things on my own, I overlooked branding myself. 

Sure, I knew what I stood for but, I didn’t take time to clearly articulate for myself – and package for my audience – what I wanted to be known for. I hadn’t honed my style of expression and so I wasn’t leveraging the power of finding your voice.

Part of it was down to not appreciating the true importance of this foundational exercise for a successful business. When you’re not clear on your brand, you have no structure for your marketing and you’re not clear on who your audience is, so you don’t know where to find them.

The other part was fear of showing up fully as myself.

The better approach would have been to take the time and money to invest in figuring out my brand. It would have saved me A LOT of time, money and heartache in the long-run. People often think of branding as the superficial, visual expression of your business but, it’s much deeper and more critical than that.

This personal journey was the inspiration behind creating my Soulful Branding course which is now within my Free to Create program. 

Narrow down my offer sooner

When I opened for business, I was open for all design-related business, and to everyone! My fear of scarcity led me to try and be all things to most people.

The challenge with this approach is that, it doesn’t allow for focus. You end up putting out too many messages and giving people too many choices. As a result, they get confused and take no action. 

It’s also difficult to be memorable when you’re doing all the things. In addition, you get stretched too thin and you don’t get to let your true genius shine bright.

The better approach would have been to narrow down from the very start and then adjust as necessary, given the response. Being narrow helps your tribe/community to find you. It also makes it easier to identify what exactly isn’t working. Even if you’re still exploring things for yourself, I believe this approach will get you to the gold quicker!

3 things I’d do better

Be more strategic with my content creation

Content creation has never been a challenge for me. When I was in elementary/primary school: I’d write stories; create drawings to illustrate them; go to my Dad’s office on Saturdays to use his secretary’s typewriter; cut and paste and photocopy pages; and voila – a zine was ready to deliver to my friends.

When I left employment, I engaged in creating content – posting on social media and on this Afri-love blog. However, the former was relatively random and the latter consisted very much of what I wanted to share, without really considering what my audience wanted.

What I know now, from experience, is that great, relevant content grows your business. It’s how you grow your audience and nurture them to become paying customers. Content is not an extra or nice-to-have, it needs to be a priority.

Looking back, I would have been more strategic, intentional and consistent with my content creation.

Set up considered systems before hiring

I hired pretty early in my business life and I’m happy I did. It was useful to get over that fear in the beginning and has enabled me to achieve much more than I would have done alone.

However, what I’d do better is to invest time in designing and setting up robust systems before hiring. Had I done so, I would have saved a lot of time and ran a more efficient business from early on. The more efficient a business is, the more profitable! I’d have focused on systems from day 1, when it was just me and my business partner, and then refine, refine, refine!

Get intimate with my numbers

The beginning of my business journey started off as a partnership. My partner handled the numbers and I didn’t pay as much attention to them as I should have. I had full trust in him however, in retrospect, I would have pushed back on several key decisions.

Regardless of who is handling your numbers – YOU have to be intimately involved with them. Rebuke the idea that creatives aren’t good with numbers. We can and should be, if we want to thrive.

Profit First is a book I wish I’d read before I started my business. I read it at the beginning of 2020 and implemented it right away! It’s revolutionised my business and eliminated a lot of the cashflow anxieties I used to have. 

Over to you

Have you made the transitioned from employee to creative business owner yet? 

  • What did you learn?
  • What worked well?
  • And what didn’t?

If you haven’t – what’s stopping you?

  • What fears?
  • What barriers?

Let me know in the comments!

Shine on!

I’ve put together the systems, tools and inspiration that have helped me, in my journey towards my creative dreams. I’ve now packaged them all into SHINE – a program designed to equip creative business owners in building a profitable, sustainable and joyful business. 

At the heart of SHINE is a series of 9 workshops to help you set up foundations for success.  You will implement mindset shifts, systems and processes to get your money right; to find ease in marketing and sales; and to become a brilliant version of yourself that is organised, purposeful and nourished.

It’s time for you to SHINE!

4 thoughts on “Transitioning from employee to creative business owner”

  1. This post is very reassuring to read – I’m doing a lot of the right things and now I will read Profit First 🙂

  2. Thanks for this Lulu – the points are really helpful. I about 10yrs behind you, so learning from your experience is invaluable.
    Could you clarify for me what you mean by ‘systems’
    “to invest time in designing and setting up robust systems before hiring.”

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