What It’s Really Like Starting Your Own Business in Your 20’s

We speak to three 20-somethings on launching and running their own businesses – from figuring out finances and using social media, to how they find their inspiration to keep going.

You don’t have to quit your day job… yet

For the past three years, Cassie Smith, 24, has balanced her full time job at an advertising agency while running Souseau, an Australian swimwear label. For the moment, she is comfortable doing both, even if it means waking up early to send emails and running to the post office during her lunch break for deliveries. “It’s quite full on and Souseau does get pushed to the side a bit,” she says. “Some days I want Souseau to be my only source of income and other days, I’m happy with where it is.”


Cassie Smith of Souseau. Image supplied.

Jacquie Manning, 29, spent six years juggling a full time job in events and building her independent business as a freelance photographer doing commercial work and wedding photography. In the end, the exhaustion of doing both and the success of her freelancing finally pushed her to commit to photography fulltime. “I was taking so much time off work to do photo shoots,” she says. “I pretty much burnt out. My hair started falling out!”

Amy Pragnell, 28, was less prepared to launch Nailed at Work – an express manicure service for busy women (and men!) that comes to the workplace – but an unexpected redundancy prompted her to forge ahead. “I was really worried and upset but I thought, ‘I’ll give it a full six months and my 100%. If it doesn’t get up and running, I’ll get another job,’” she says. After months of trying to juggle both a part-time marketing job and Nailed at Work, she was grateful for the chance to give it her everything. “Before, my business wasn’t my priority because I had somebody else giving me a paycheck. If you have a fallback option, you’ll fall.”

Understand your finances

To Amy’s advantage, she didn’t require a whole lot of capital to officially launch the business. As she does the manicures herself by going to people’s workplaces, there are no big overheads. It mainly came down to her time and energy. She began cold-calling immediately. To buy the necessary equipment and pay for her website, she used money from her and her husband’s dual savings. Having the financial security of a second income has been a huge support as she grows Nailed at Work.


Amy Pragnell of Nailed At Work. Image supplied.

Similarly, Cassie designed a financially viable business model with a small outlay made up of savings. “I looked for production places that would allow as little quantity as possible and that were the most affordable,” she says. She used her professional skills to design her own website and market her products.

For Jacquie, the capital needed was much larger. She took out a large loan from the bank to buy professional-grade camera gear and moved to The Kimberley for a cheaper mode of living. “Rather than slave in Sydney and pay it back slowly, I paid off my loan in six months,” she says.

Get social

Smaller budgets mean little or no money for advertising, which is where social media becomes a key player. Amy found her very first client on Instagram; the morning after she lost her job, she sent a private message to a luxury hamper business, offering a voucher for a manicure. She also pilfered her Facebook contacts list – connections have helped her to book some really high-profile clients like Spotify, Channel 9, Australian Rugby Union and the Cancer Council.

Souseau also took off via social media. Cassie uses sponsored posts and regularly sends her swimwear to promoters and influencers. She says a large percentage of her customers come from Facebook and Instagram, and they’re great tools for growing her brand, advertising sales and alerting buyers to special events.

Jacqui Manning 2

Jacquie Manning. image: Jacquie Manning.

While Jacquie uses Instagram to gain potential clients, most of her work comes from her real life social network: word of mouth. “I find networking and maintaining good relationships with past and potential clients has been the most successful way to build a client base,” she explains. “I get most of my work through recommendations.”

Be prepared to work, work, work, work, work

Owning your own business means a lot of hard work, for which you’re solely responsible. Cassie dedicates almost all of her free time to Souseau and wears several hats in the running of her business, from looking after accounts, to doing hair and make-up on her swimwear models. “It’s non-stop,” she says. “I’m always on my phone.”


Via Souseau’s blog.

The flipside of this however, is being able to reap what you sow. That’s the biggest thing I’m learning,” says Amy. “Everything I’m putting into it, I’m getting out.” She’s made it her priority to teach herself as many business skills as possible, through books, podcasts and seeking personal advice.

There’ll be some sacrifices

Being your own boss also means making sacrifices. All three women say they are reluctant to take a holiday, go out for an expensive meal or spend money unnecessarily. “There is financial anxiety,” says Jacquie. “I also don’t have any job security, paid maternity leave, injury compensation, mental health support or even just a boss patting you on the back telling you that you’re doing a good job.”

“I think one challenge is it’s just me in my apartment/office,” agrees Amy. “On a day that I don’t have any bookings, it’s just me hustling. There’s no one to bounce ideas off or pick you up. It can get a bit lonely and isolating.”

Foster your own development

For Jacquie, having mentors has played an important role in her self-development. “I got to a point in my career where I felt like I had learned everything I could via self-teaching and needed to branch out,” she explains. “I contacted three photographers I really admired and said I wanted to assist for them. I think a lot of people let their egos get in the way of their growth. I was OK with admitting I wasn’t as good as others and in turn, I have gotten so much better and really refined my skills and style.”

Love what you do

Hard work and long days seem to be worth the luxury of working your dream job. “I get to be creative, travel and meet and work with new, amazing people everyday,” says Jacquie. “I hated the monotony of an office job. Now, if I’m editing, I get to work from home and there’s no daily commute. I can choose my hours. If the beach is calling, I’ll treat myself to that and just work in the evening.”

For Amy, the sense of achievement obtained from reading fantastic client reviews and knowing her service has been well received is hugely gratifying. “I’m really passionate about women in the workplace and I wanted to start a business that helped solve the problem of working women being time-poor,” she says. “Seeing my clients recognise that, and that objective come to life, is so rewarding. It’s a buzz like nothing else.”

Olivia is a writer currently living in NYC, and she contributes regularly to and Sunday Life Magazine in Australia.

Lead image: Jacquie Manning. Supplied.