In 1993, I launched Ellen Shriner Communications when my sons were 1 ½ and 4 years old. I had been looking for full-time work as a marketing communications copywriter and was offered freelance projects. That simultaneously answered the questions: “What should my next job be?” and “How could I spend more time with my boys?” Eventually, I discovered an additional benefit—I had time to take Loft classes, write personal essays and finish a book-length memoir.
Initially, having my own business was a means to an end. During the next 18 years, it became a huge part of my identity. However, by 2011, I was ready for different challenges, and I gradually shut the business down. Today, as I dismantle what remains of my office in preparation for moving, I’m reflecting on what the business meant to me.
Days when it was great to be self-employed . . .
- Over the years, I wrote a lot of ads, brochures, direct mail, newsletters, training materials, videos, websites for national clients like Radisson Hotels, Hallmark, Target, US Bank, Medtronic, Sears, Capital One Auto Finance, Eli Lilly, and Pillsbury—work I’m proud of.
- I had the pleasure of teaming up with many talented graphic designers at firms including, InMind Design, Grand Ciel Design, Matt Shimon Creative, Zetah Design, and Fuego Design. We functioned as virtual ad agencies and delivered loads of smart creative work.
- Some of my work won awards.
- Being my own boss meant that I could flex my schedule so I could attend my sons’ field trips and Halloween parties.
- Similarly, I had the flexibility to run errands and manage car or house repairs.
- On sunny summer days, I could take a walk or do a little gardening over my lunch hour.
Days when being self-employed wasn’t as great as it sounds . . .
- Dozens of times I went on sales calls and left them shaking my head at how clueless and cheap some prospects were. More than a handful had to be told “No” when they asked me to work for ridiculously cut-rate prices.
- Plenty of my clients were so small that you’ve never heard of them—an African entrepreneur, a wedding singer, and a manufacturer of knock-off beauty products—and they had the budgets to match.
- Sometimes I was in a panic trying to hit my client’s unreasonable deadlines. I’d stay up too late, get up too early, and be jangled by too much caffeine as I tried to power through projects to deliver them on time.
- No one paid me if I were sick or wanted to take off on vacation.
- Often I took on projects even if I was too busy or it was inconvenient, because turning down work from good clients drives them away.
- Equally nerve-wracking were the times I had no work and nothing on the horizon. My billings were bleak after 9/11, when the Great Recession began, and plenty of times in between.
- Working alone was isolating—an unintended consequence of being a sole proprietor.
After 18 years, I was growing restless. My guys were in college and I was ready for something new. So when a client offered me a part-time job writing marketing communications, it seemed like the perfect solution. I could continue my writing career while maintaining my part-time flexible lifestyle. I’d be paid every two weeks (no more scrambling for billings!) and receive paid vacation and holidays.
At first, I couldn’t get used to the idea that when I left my desk at the end of the day, I was done—no more working nights or weekends! I thought I would miss my home office, but having professional colleagues has more than made up for it. Besides, working in your bathrobe is over-rated.
I was incredibly lucky to have professional work and the flexibility to be with my guys as they grew up. I’m grateful, too, for the time to pursue my literary projects. Today, Ellen Shriner Communications is a proud memory, but Ellen Shriner, Writer is alive and thriving.