After deciding I could no longer spend my life auditioning for Broadway shows and waiting tables (let’s face it — I was burned out from singing 16 bars), I then spent many years working 9-6pm “assistant” jobs in NYC. I worked for a hedge fund, I worked as a nanny (another fave job), I worked as a personal assistant, an executive assistant, admin assistant in financial services and I’m sure a few other assistant jobs in there. But what prepared me MOST for owning my own virtual “assistant” business was the one job where I was NOT an assistant. It was my final NYC job as Program Coordinator for a busy, NYC startup non-profit where I worked for nearly 4 years.
I realized recently that working for a startup was the best training ground for creating the business of my dreams. The startup environment is so unique and also hard/exhausting, but so rewarding.
If you’re looking to learn a ton and you’re just starting out– look for a GREAT startup to work for. You’ll learn a lot.
And here’s why:
- I wore 15 hats. No really – 15. Ok, maybe 6 (but it felt like 15 some days). I spent my mornings working in logistics/international shipping and then afternoons doing an email campaign/tweeting, entering invoices into QuickBooks, booking international travel, helping to design a new office space, assisting our accountant with our annual audit, booking hotels in remote parts of Africa and more. Endless. When you work for a startup, you get the chance to take on many things. This was such an incredible training ground for a future small business owner.
- Freedom. I was given the freedom to try things in my work. I think this should maybe be #1 here. For many years as an assistant working in financial offices, it was the opposite. No freedom. No say. A very “Mad Men”-ish, secretarial existence (which killed me softly inside for years). In a startup, many times, you’re given a lot of freedom in your work to try things. No one ever breathed down my back to make sure I was completing a task. Therefore, I worked harder. I was happier. I wanted to be there making an impact every day. A sense of “freedom” in the workplace makes the difference between a job and a great job.
- Small teams. At this startup, I worked on a small, amazing team. Working closely with just a few people (who also each wore 15 hats) taught me so much about working closely with a colleague. Most of my work now is one-on-one with a client or solo-entrepreneur. It’s so important to learn how to communicate well (and fast) with your colleagues and working in a startup was great prep.
- Fast-paced. In a startup (or a great startup at least), you’ll learn quickly the meaning of “fast-paced.” I’ve always worked pretty fast, but when you have 4 people running an entire company with many things happening, you learn to work as fast (and diligent) as possible. Learning to work in a fast-paced environment is so, so important if you want to run your own business. It’s a must. I’m still trying to get on “Tahoe Time” here…
- Great People. I had incredible managers who asked me on a monthly basis – “what do you want to do, Emily?” — “what do you want to focus on?” — “how can we help you develop this?” A great startup usually has a rigorous hiring process because they want the brightest people on their small team to grow their business from the ground — up. I was very lucky to have worked with smart, smart people who taught me to so much and cared enough about me to help develop my natural work talents.
- Risk-taking was OK. I worked for a CEO and manager who took risks (see my “testimonials” page). Calculated, smart risks…but risks. We tried things a lot — some worked and some didn’t. Most did — not gonna lie. But — this sense of “the worst thing you could do is NOT try” really stuck with me. In this past year, I have said yes to some potential clients who I did not think I could take on (or was scared to) and it’s turned out wonderful.
- Flexibility in the workplace. What literally led me here was that I was given flexibility with my job. We had a generous maternity leave policy and the option to “ease” back into work after maternity leave (working from home on Fridays for a few months before coming back 5 days a week), which was SO incredibly helpful for me. These things really make a massive difference and most big corporations don’t have such flexible policies. I was also given the flexibility in the office to work wherever – rarely at my desk. At the office kitchen counter. In the small phone rooms. On the couch. The startup environment is awesome in this way — allowing employees to get up and move freely, which in turn makes them more productive and never bored. I am a firm believer that you could and should work where you’re most comfortable. For me, it’s at home by myself. For some, it’s in a bustling office. But it should be wherever you work the best.
- Modern business systems/ideas. Most startups are just that – starting up. And to do this, the business owner/CEO/Founder wants to make their employees happy. Many startups have a lot of fun perks and benefits (we didn’t have a ping pong table, but we did have a sweet espresso machine and some awesome views). They also use a lot of modern systems to run their business. Because of this, I learned so much about working “in the cloud” and running a paperless/electronic business. I think so much of my work now involves systems for entrepreneurs (and systems that I learned there), so learning these programs was huge.
Lately, I think a lot about — how did I get here after just starting this business a year ago? I think a lot of it is because I worked for a fast-paced, NYC startup that gave me the freedom to thrive and focus on what I loved working on. Instead of being pushed down in a cubicle, I was built-up daily and given the reigns to try things and take risks (something I had never had before). I owe so much to the time I spent there. I would not have been able to move here to Tahoe, to work from home and to live out this little business dream of mine.
So yes…working at a startup…a great idea.
I’ve always loved blog posts where people lay out their “real” day-in-the-life schedule. I get a kick out of seeing how people spend their time. And when they’re really honest about it. Working from home has always been a dream of mine and it’s a lifestyle that is all new to me and comes with its own set of challenges. Sometimes I think it’s actually harder than going into a real office. And with a toddler at home, even more so. So it’s been interesting figuring out how to schedule my time.
See – this working-from-home-while-the-baby-is-home-thing is hard. Even with a great babysitter. There is no break. Ever. Your breaks are your time to work. I work during naptime. I work at night. But this is what I choose to do and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have the afternoons with my child and I can run to the store if I have to. Or to Starbucks. To me, it’s the way working should be.
So I’m breaking down my “typical” work day for you (and let’s face it, nothing is ever “typical”) and really I’m doing this for myself to see it all on electronic paper:
6am-7:30AM: Sometime between these hours, my little guy wakes up. I pray for 7:30am, but some days it’s 6:01am. And some days it’s 8am! I always try really hard to get him back to sleep, but he usually disagrees. I unfortunately check my email upon waking. I know, I know. Most of my clients are on the East Coast, so they’re already hard at work and I like to make sure nothing crazy has happened. I try not to start work until 8am though even though I know it’s already halfway through the morning on EST.
7am-7:30: I start the coffee and this is our special breakfast time together before the madness begins. I make blueberry pancakes or eggs. Or toast. We eat lots of toast. But one of the most wonderful things I’ve loved about working from home is that I can make a big, fun breakfast for my little guy each day. I love this time so much before the madness begins.
8:00am: Babysitter arrives. Big Yay! Mama goes downstairs (long commute, y’all!) to her office and shuts the door. I turn on Spotify and get to work. I try to have “normal” clothes on when I go down to work, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was in sweatpants/leggings/workout clothes most days.
Babysitter plays with my son upstairs and I work in my office. These three hours are my most productive of the day. I bust out as much as possible, make my calls, update Asana, handle client requests, etc. It’s all client work during this time and I try to be as efficient as possible with these morning hours.
11am-11:30am – Break! I come upstairs (mama is back from work!) and I spend the next 30 mins or so playing with my child and making a quick smoothie or a quick snack before his nap. Babysitter leaves. Sigh…. (I feel so grateful that I get to be home with him – even though I’m working. It’s everything to me. Not easy and always hectic, but wouldn’t trade it.)
11:30am-2:00pm– Admin work + lunch + a few social media posts (for work)
The little guy goes down for his nap and I quickly get back to work. This is my 2nd slot of sacred, work hours. I call it 2.5 hours but it can range from 1 hour – 3 hours. I pray for 3 hours. It’s tough to depend on “nap time” for work, but this is just the way it is for now. I make myself a quick lunch. Maybe run the dishwasher. A load of laundry and do a little admin work (invoicing clients, tracking expenses, leads and emailing). I usually find myself working on bigger projects at night or in the morning. The mid-day work is all administrative, with some social media/FB Groups thrown in (we gotta do it!).
It’s also my most stressful time of the day b/c I am trying to accomplish as much as humanly possible during his nap — coupled with feeling like the home has to be somewhat taken care of/cleaned since I am technically here all day…
2pm-5:00pm– Play! Usually around 2pm or so (or when he wakes up), I finish working. This is the best thing about working from home with my own business — it’s on my schedule. I choose my schedule (I still can’t believe I’m able to say that). I still work 8 hours a day but it’s split into hours that make sense for my life. This makes me way more productive and happier. I get ultimate family time each day with my favorite little person and I get to work and make a living. We usually have lunch together, do some errands, go for a run or hike, go to the beach/lake or go down the hill to Target or Trader Joe’s. (This is kind of my chunk of time to pretend I am a stay at home mom and I love pretending!) I used to worry so much about running out to do an errand between 9am-5pm but now that I work for myself, I am able to do that without guilt and that’s awesome, right?
5pm-6pm – Dad is home and we all hang and make dinner. We love when Dad comes home.
6:30-7:30pm – Bedtime routine is in full force. (We’re talking bathtime, reading lots of books, pajamas, diapers, nursing. It’s no joke!) It’s then goodnight to my sweet child.** (**Sometimes I am so tired that I fall asleep putting him to sleep. That is not good for the biz and I try to not let this happen. But it happens sometimes.)
7:30pm-10pm – MORE WORK while hanging with husband
As hard as it can be, I often have to work at night. Luckily my husband is understanding (he likes that I’m working to make $$!) but it’s hard on a marriage sometimes. We do spend time together and have some (or a lot on some days) wine/beer while I’m plugging away on the laptop. I decided it’s one of the trade-offs to working from home with a baby. If it means I get to spend those afternoon hours with him, then I’ll work every night if I have to. I also tell myself that it’s only temporary that I’ll have to work late. Someday he will be in school and I’ll have the whole day to myself. For now, this is how I work though.
10:30pm – Fall asleep very quickly. (Although tonight, it’s 10:45pm and I’m writing this blog…)
This is my typical day lately. What’s your schedule like? I’d love to hear! Comment below.