Six Lessons Learned from Running my Own Business

This week is the three year anniversary of Cara Rufenacht Creative, yay!

I remember at the end of my first day I invited my friends out to happy hour and we toasted to “full-lancing” aka full-time freelancing.

Looking back on the last three years is hard. In many ways the time FLEW by. In other ways it definitely didn’t. Some days I feel like I am living the dream, other days I feel like the dream is a never-ending to-do list that my dog ate and more grey hair than I would like to acknowledge.


This business is a constant work in progress. It is always changing and teaching me things. So I wanted to take time and share a few of the lessons I have learned in my short time as a business owner. Let me be clear, I do not have it all figured out! But I know I have made progress and that is something worth celebrating.

It doesn’t matter why you start. What matters is why you’re still doing it.

As a creative entrepreneur it often seems like everyone talks about their passions and following their heart. They step out on a limb because x, y or z makes their heart sing. That was not the case for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love photography and believe in its power, but the start of my business is not a magical story. I was stuck and needed a change. I didn’t know what to do, I just knew the situation wasn’t healthy and I needed to get out.

So I quit. I quit my full time job and took a part time job, and less than a year later I quit that one too. I quit two jobs in one year. And I started a business cause it seemed like I had a skill that people would pay money for. I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew that I couldn’t stay where I was.

It took me a long to embrace this aspect of my business. Over time I realized that what is important is not how or why I started, but that I did, and that I found something I love doing and I believe in.

Whether I like it or not, I am an entrepreneur

I am literally cringing as I type this! I don’t know why I had an aversion to this word… maybe because I can’t spell it. Maybe because entrepreneurs are usually doing something techie or innovative and photography doesn’t feel like that to me.

For a long time I called myself a freelancer. It felt safer, less risky. In reality an entrepreneur is simply someone who starts a business. They take a risk and they start something. My mindset totally changed when I started calling myself an entrepreneur. It was time to put on my big girl pants and take responsibility for my business. Time to start being proactive instead of waiting for things happen. This has been a huge change for me in the last year. It’s one that I’m still growing into.

It is lonely, you must find your people

By far the biggest adjustment for me was learning to be alone. I seriously considered titling this post “Running a Business (aka: How to be Alone All the Time).” Now, I am an introvert so I really didn’t think this was going to be an issue. However, sitting alone in my office all day combined with Joe traveling for grad school = alone time overload.

I quickly realized I needed to reach out. I joined groups – photography groups, freelancer groups, online groups – probably too many groups. I get coffee, I co-work, I take walks with friends, I go to Target. Being alone is still a challenge, but I cannot say enough for what having a community of people around me has done for my business.

I will also say that finding a few people who you really connect with has been better for me than trying to know everyone. I would rather support and invest in small group of people than collect business cards at networking events three nights a week.

Structure = Balance or Balance = Structure

This is the million dollar question my friends… how do you balance work and life?  I would be a super famous person if I knew the answer to this. Everyone I talk to struggles with this. EVERYONE.

I don’t know the answer, but the only time I feel like I am mildly succeeding at balance is when I structure my day. It sounds counterintuitive because we all started businesses for the sake of flexibility and freedom, not structure.

Here’s my best advice: get a dog and remember to eat lunch. Joe and I got a puppy in December. Yes, she is a ton of work, but she also makes sure I go on a walk every day, and that I leave my office every two hours to take her out. Quite frankly the threat of something peeing in my office is motivation for me to get up and remember to be human instead of a robot.

I know this is advice is pretty unhelpful. It’s mostly a joke because most days I feel like there is absolutely no balance in my life. But like I said, at least now I go outside more often.


Ohhh, the slow burn. It took me forever to come to terms with the fact that I can’t do “all the things.” I’m not even talking about all the things in a photography business – I’m talking about running multiple businesses haphazardly, and in turn – running none of them well.

Last year I made a conscious decision to stop building and designing websites. I still like design but that is not where my energy and curiosity is right now. So I’m trying to focus, I’m trying to do less, but do those things well.

I am a Marketer’s Dream!

There are a lot of people out there starting and running their own businesses. It is a huge market! When I was first starting out I signed up for everything. I totally bought into it… Why yes, I do need to discover my ideal client through your transformative worksheets…. And yes, I obviously need to buy this pricing guide or that posing video. Of course, please tell me your 5 best blogging secrets for only $19.99!

At the end of the day all these things gave me was a feeling that I was doing it wrong, that I needed to fix every aspect of my business. In reality I just needed to chill out and run MY business.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t invest in resources to help you run a better business. What I am saying is be strategic in where you invest your time and money. Recognize that people are trying to help you with these resources, but they are also trying to make money. This is still a business for them however wonderfully authentic it may feel. You are doing fine. You are enough and you don’t have to have it all figured out on day 1, or even day 1098 <– that’s what day I’m on!

That’s a wrap friends! Thanks so much for following along and supporting me over the last three years. Cheers to many more days of entrepreneurship!


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Love this blog, Cara! So honest and true! Keep it up, girl!

You rule! I wanna hang out with you. Also, I need to mush my face into Flash’s face and make baby noises.

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