An explanation for an Unexplained Absence

Let me say first that I didn’t expect that his summer would mean a total hiatus from the blog, but it’s happened. I did get busy with work this summer but not that busy in terms of hours worked. Save for a couple of dozen nights I was usually home well before dark. I did find this summer though that the mental load that went along with it was pretty overwhelming. I do mean that in the least dramatic way possible, but we will get into that. So I guess this is just sort of a catch up post of how the summer went, a little tooting my own horn and oh yeah, I finally got COVID.

How it started

This summer my super duper helper took a better opportunity for her for work this year. Knowing that I had a lot of big expenses on the horizon and hearing how hard it was to hire people I decided not to try to hire and do it on my own. Truthfully, the most profitable hours are still the ones I work on the ground and managing an employee does cut back a little on the hours I work each week. Last year my employee wanted to come on full time from part time and I was able to do that for her when she wanted. It worked out though because it gave me the potentially once in a lifetime chance to accomplish a dream. That said there were 6 weeks we were both going full time.

One of 3 races I did this year, Sole Sister’s 5k with my mom. I might have been a delinquent runner this year but that lady kept crushing it!

This year was the first year of my business that I knew it would be my full time gig in advance and last year meant I had lots of returning customers. Over last winter I had time to plan, build a website and really strategize. That and my rock star mechanic told me a year in advance that it would be time to buy a new truck. COVID has been unkind to car prices but particularly unkind to pickup truck prices and the one I wanted was rare to start with. So I had lots of time to think, shop and set some goals that I really did need to reach. 

Last year I was thrown into making my side gig my full time job and that was the source of stress for 2021. By the end of the season I was able to confidently say that turned out to be a good thing maybe even a great thing. But how much could I really grow the business if I had time to plan and try?

What Have I Been Up To?

Two things: Not running and still crushing it none the less. Other than a few races done with family I haven’t been running or working out at all. That said almost all the days were still 15 000+ step days. Its been a really big change this year where I wasn’t still ‘on call’ for honey’s business too. For both of us if it’s not raining cats and dogs it’s a work day. Most of the season I worked for myself on weekdays and helped him out on the weekends. This year I basically started out April 1st but I could have started a week or two sooner. The spring and summer was pretty good weather but it was a very dry august. 

My typical day was up at 6:15-ish, overnight oats and out the door by 8. Usually I clocked about 8.5 hours a day in a 9 hour work day and home around 6 pm. Until June I was typically tutoring 3 nights a week for about two hours as well. I’d chill for a few hours in the evening and then about an hour and a half of book keeping.

You know how men do that thing where they find a good present and just stick with it. This year it was deck furniture so I spent a quite a few evenings out there by the fire pit.

 I’ve been packing all of my meals and taking coffee with me most days which was a big change. Basically all season I’ve been acting as broke as possible so I could get that new truck in time for winter. I actually love bringing my own lunch and coffee with me since I tend to eat healthier and I like the coffee we make at home more than Tim Hortons. It’s not to say I didn’t eat a few slices of Chester pizza but over all it was a big money and time saver. More than the money saved buying lunch it basically let me bill out an extra hour each day. 

One big change from last year was the fact that I didn’t organically get lots of new customers along the way. Last year a lot of neighbors hired us too. This year it was actually helping honey out that put me in touch with new people. There were some business bumps in the road along the way but this year I found myself prepared for them. Having policies and experience about non-payment, budgeting time and dealing with suppliers really took a lot of the steps and thought out of the day to day. I started using the workflowy app and took some time Sunday night to at least loosely plan out the coming week. 

I’ve always worked in the larger St. Margaret’s Bay Area but this year I have a few established customers in the Chester area too. It’s enough work that I’m down there at least one day a week. This is really great because it’s a huge and high-end market with lots of growth potential. I am finding that there is a much higher level of service expected down that way. A lot of people might not realize it but there are lots of trade suppliers in Chester I have to visit down there either way. I’m actually really excited about this development and right now I’m thinking it’s my biggest area for potential growth

How it’s going now

I set a goal to grow by 30% this year on my own. If I did that with a safety net of hubby and if need be mom in mind. With that I would have been able to have a truck in better shape and just enough extra for the rest of my needs. Believe me I know how lucky I am to have not one but two safety nets taking risks when so many don’t have one. It turns out that would have been a big underestimation of how expensive life is these days. Here comes the crushing it part, I grew the business by a little over 90% in profits this year compared to last! I bought the truck I wanted in cash and I should be good for the winter too. It looked like a 3/4 ton would be out of reach with prices these days. In the end that’s exactly what I got. It’s a year or two older than the 1/2 tons I was looking at but the milage is lower than those were too.

Meet Alex! He since got a sweet set of rails and a rack.

It might sound like I’m overly focused on money and that it two an extent true. This year I had to be. Beyond big expenses this year is the one that determined if this going to be just a phase in my life, go back to being my side gig or be my job for the long term. The way it went last year was good but it wasn’t going to make for a very comfortable lifestyle especially how hard I was working to get there. At the end of this season I can totally keep doing this as a career if that’s what I want to do and for right now at least, I think it is.

I do want a solid week of sleeping in, writing and wearing pajamas as soon as I can get it. I’m actually still finishing up now and working everyday. I realized I absolutely love doing this work and working for myself. I get to putter in the gardens of some of the provinces most beautiful homes while listening to podcasts and often no one speaks to me for hours or days at a time. I’ve earned the respect of my suppliers and learned so, so much. I completed two or three projects this year 2021 Allison wouldn’t have been able to do. I’ve also earned the respect of customers that intimidated me at the start of the season.

I made this! It since got another truss and a metal roof. Last year’s me wouldn’t have tried and instead asked for help or handed it off to honey.

Probably the biggest disappointment of the summer and likely the year was the fact I got COVID at the worst possible time. Unlike many, I know exactly where I got it (one of honey’s SUBs who gave it to him and he shared with me). We both stayed home and are confident we didn’t infect anyone else but in Nova Scotia people haven’t been required to stay home with a positive test result, so no one along the way did anything wrong. I actually did get pretty sick, terrible headaches for three days and a very high fever which was easily controlled with medication but that wasn’t the source of disappointment. Being as sick as I was wasn’t terribly fun though! I tested positive three days after honey and 4 days before my stepson’s wedding. Honey did his 5 days and tested negative with 24 hours to spare before the wedding and got to go. Though it was more important that he got to go I was pretty heartbroken about staying home. He was the first of the four kids to get married and the one I get to show my support for the least in our day to day lives. The way things are looking at the moment it doesn’t seem like another family wedding is coming up any time soon either. So I really can’t explain just how much I really wanted to experience that moment in person. Honey and the maid of honor (also honey’s daughter) did a great job keeping me up to date with pictures and videos so I didn’t totally feel like I missed out.

Plans for next year

Now that I know I can do this comfortably and cover all my needs and then some I really can’t wait for next season to come. I still want to grow next year, maybe by 15% or so. I didn’t max out the number of hours I could reasonably work this year so that is totally an option. Growing forward past that point I know I won’t be able to do it alone. We have a great set of friends who have taken their business from nothing to millions who really inspire me and are always available to offer advice. I can’t say how much I appreciate that and the time I spend with them but I’m not sure that exact lifestyle is my goal either. Knowing that I could pay all our family’s bills if something happened (at least the basics) feels pretty great too. Perhaps the goal is just to get to a place where that is fully comfortable with a few extras.

As of now I have two new customers signed on for next year for ongoing maintenance and three more interested in the same. New people will come along next year in all likelihood too. Past that I will definitely need some help next year. I have two leads in that department too. Up until this point every returning customer was so important I pretty much had to keep them and that was stressful at times. Not that I’m looking to drop anyone yet but now I find myself saying no or you’ll have to wait a while, which is new. The feeling that I can say no to someone who is truly unreasonable is a nice feeling too. This year wasn’t particularly stressful beyond the unknown. Taken all together I feel like next year will be calmer just because I know it is possible and now I know what it takes.

Worst of the damage from post tropical Fiona. 18+ big poplars down on a house and all around it. Cleaning up after Fiona was a big part of both of our Septembers.

Though I’ve learned a lot and did my best to lean into the confidence that comes with that knowledge I do recognize there is more to know. I have some idea of the gaps in knowledge that need to be filled now. For example I need to know more about the legal landscape of running a business and I would like to be able to deliver a stunning and professional landscape design. Over the winter I plan to do some courses on both and start filling some holes. I might even ‘practice’ on a particular property that I know is coming up for design bids next year.

Mental health

I know you’re expecting to hear about being burnt out with a heading like that but that’s not where we are. Am I ready for the quietness of winter? Totally! Am I sitting around the house for two weeks when the season finally does end? You better believe it but this profession adds back at least as much as it takes away. Telling people “to find what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is all well and good even if it’s not true or possible for most. There are lots of days I don’t feel like moving 4 yards of rock 600 ft with a wheelbarrow while it’s raining but on the whole my job is also a hobby I would do either way. I love working for myself, making my own schedule, taking a swim when I get hot and being treated with respect all around. 

I’m not so sure I’ll be as eager to give away my weekends next year and I do need to find a space for running in the majority of my year. I do know it is possible because last year I was more stressed and also trained for a marathon. It might be as simple as just signing up and picking a plan to train for something in advance of the season every single year. We had exactly one boat day this year. Even without having a pleasure boat this year in addition to the work boat and I would like that to stretch to at least 3 or 4 days next year. As a couple we actually did a better than average job of having nice date nights and staying connected for us this year than last. 

Birthday date!

Next year I won’t be committed to spending over half of the profits in one go so a lot of the push to work all the hours I can and make X number of dollars every single week will be greatly diminished. This year it felt good to make my husband and stepson who work for themselves in the trades proud of me. Having the loin fruit recommend me to their customers was a pretty great day. I did have to pull over for a minuet and cry though. But more than that I made myself proud! I also passed the point financially where I made more than I would have compared to the career track I always thought I would be on in the best case scenario. Working in this field instead has a hell of a lot more work life balance and is much closer aligned with the life I really want to live now. 

Hopefully that didn’t come off a just one big humble brag because that’s not what I intended. I didn’t intend to be braggadocios or terribly humble either. I did want to explain to readers where I have been and why I might have been away. I’m excited to be back to writing here and am thinking of changes I can make on Sweat Sweetly so that a long absence like this doesn’t happen again but we will get to that in time.

Bear with me for the next couple of weeks while I come back inside and let me know if you would like to see more of that part of my life on here. I hope you all had a wonderful summer too and that you also get to make yourself proud this year!

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