Way back in 1997, I left my corporate job to start a consulting, training and facilitation company in Colorado. Yup, I took some classes about how to be a self-employed person and build a business. But there were things I never learned back then that would have saved me immense amounts of time, money and emotional energy. These are the kinds of things they don’t teach you in school.
You either get the knowledge through experience OR from someone who has been there, done that. I got two great pieces of advice from a mentor. He said, “Never be afraid to turn down business when it’s not the right kind of business or if you have doubts about the clients’ intentions.” He also said, “Keep your overhead low.”
It’s still hard to figure out some clients, but I’ve definitely kept the overhead low by working from a home office, driving a used car and learning how to build and manage my own website and blog.
So, the following tips are especially helpful for freelancers, those who have recently started building a small business, or anyone who has a regular job, but plans to go out on their own at some point in the future.
- Buy your name as a domain name and never let it go.
- Create a list. This is hugely important! Get ACT or another contact management software system, then build it up and back it up. Don’t rely on LinkedIn for your contacts list.
- Build a following of people who love you and value what you have to say, THEN create a product or service they want and will pay money for.
- Build an audience of blog/newsletter readers around shared interests (business, self-improvement, gardening, fishing, camping, antiques, etc.)
- Don’t wait to start your business until everything is perfect. Start and then adapt as you learn what people want and need.
- You will get rejected – often. Gird your loins and expect it to happen. Then you say, “next” and move onto the next project.
- Don’t wait for someone to give you permission or (like Seth Godin says) to “pick” you. Create the work you want to be part of. Pursue the clients you feel connected to and who can pay you. (That last part is important!)
- Some people will say they want to do business with you but they really want to: A. find out your pricing structure because they have a friend who is a competitor, or B. get a “third bid” so they can meet purchasing requirements. You will get wise to this and be able to detect when someone is pulling your chain. Consider it part of the learning curve.
- Write. Write articles, blog posts, tip sheets, white papers, newsletters, opinion pieces in the newspaper — anything that will help you educate others while showing your knowledge and experience.
- Most people I know don’t do just one thing. They piece it together. They set up multiple streams of income, all designed to serve one market.
- Keep your eyes peeled for people you’d like to do business with who can support you, such as a virtual assistant, graphic designer, accountant, IT person, etc. You will need them at some point.
- Don’t get intimidated by those who have established businesses and many clients in the same industry or line of work. They have worked hard to get there and were once where you are now. You will get there too!
- Leverage your personality, even if you are a bit quirky. Don’t try to blend in and be like everyone else. Let people know you are an introvert, you love bears or you make fabulous margaritas. Give them something positive to remember you by along with your business expertise.
- Get rid of that yahoo or hot mail email address and use a professional one, like BillSmith@BugZappers. com or Mary@BBQTips. com. Avoid info@XYZ. com — email distribution systems like Constant Contact will not like it and people won’t trust it.
- Buy small amounts of business cards so you don’t feel wasteful when you decide to change something on them — you will end up throwing them out.
- Don’t use a free blogging site (like Blogger) to host your website or blog. At some point you will realize you don’t own that real estate and it’ll be a pain to move everything over to your own self-hosted site.
- Pay off as many bills as possible before you start your business. Cut your monthly expenses. Learn how to live on less.
- Serve on a committee, a council, a commission for your community or industry.
- Be picky about the work you accept. Your reputation and sense of self-worth is on the line.
- Re-purpose work you’ve already done. Create templates and systems. Most of us aren’t creating from scratch.
- Commit one afternoon a week or hour each day to professional education. Listen to business or industry podcasts, read blogs and trade magazines, attend webinars, etc.
- You don’t have to be a social media whiz kid to have it work for you. Have patience. Be friendly. Pick one or two platforms and forget the rest for now. Invite people to friend or follow you. And don’t get hung up on the numbers. Be in it for the long haul.
- Be there for other business owners. Being self-employed can be tough. You’re usually in it all by yourself. Be generous with your encouragement and support.
- Remember, one phone call or email can change everything. Just because you’re struggling this month doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Every day you get a new opportunity to make things better, do good work and help someone out.
- Don’t be afraid to stand out. There is a risk you take by trying to be like everyone else in your industry — by designing your website the same, using similar language on those awful tri-fold brochures, choosing a business name with words like “solutions” or “resources.” The risk? You’ll be lost in the crowd. So, take a stand on something that’s meaningful to you. Leverage your name, a hobby, family history, the distinctive car you drive, the color of your hair or the method you use to solve problems. Find something that will help you stand out from the pack, so you will be memorable.
Don’t let this list discourage you. If I had it to do over again, I’d follow the same path. Being self employed is one of the most worthwhile and personally rewarding things I’ve ever done. Despite all the ups and downs, I have learned more than I ever expected and been able to serve so many wonderful folks along the way!