My sister-in-law is leaving work to set up her own business … I know what she means when she says she is both scared and excited!
That’s exactly how I felt when I moved into self-employment in April 2014. Here are some of the things I mentioned to her, that I have learnt along the way.
1. Leverage your existing strengths, experience and contacts
Is there some work you could do for a previous employer?
Some kind of retainer, even five hours a week, can be a brilliant option. It takes the pressure off the rest of your time while you’re figuring out what you want to offer and finding out if it’s a goer.
2. Value your time – don’t take on low paid work even when you have no other work
I took on some low paid employment when I was one year into my business, at a time when I didn’t have much work. I quickly came to realise my mistake, when I had no time to invest in developing my business.
I was better off being paid nothing for those hours and spending that time on learning new skills and marketing.
3. Decide on your target market (or markets)
Choose a target market of people who can afford to pay you at a rate that will mean your business (and therefore your life/work balance) is sustainable.
That doesn’t mean you can’t branch out over time into other target markets with less financial certainty. However, when you have ongoing work at a reasonable rate, you’ll have a lot more fun exploring other options.
One issue with having two target markets is the need to maintain two different websites (which is what I do). This is more time consuming, but I feel it’s necessary in my case, given my two audiences are completely different (councils and small businesses).
An alternative is to clearly state your different target markets on the home page of your website, with links through to pages specifically written for those audiences.
4. People buy from people they know
I thought having my websites sorted would be the best way to get work, and at first spent most of my marketing effort on these, including publishing weekly blogs. But it has turned out that most of my work comes via people I already know, or from people I meet at networking events.
The websites are still essential, as are regular blogs to attract visitors to them. However, these strategies are most effective as a complement to personal connections and other networking, rather than as a stand-alone solution for gaining clients.
5. Consider what strategic alliances are possible with people who have different strengths or services
One of the best things to happen in my business in 2016 was meeting up with several people who could potentially have regarded themselves as competitors, but who instead chose to take a collaborative approach.
Collaboration (through referrals, or sharing ideas and war stories!) works really well with people who either have:
The awesome thing about being self-employed is expressing who you are through how you go about your business.
Be on the lookout for the kind of assistance and support that is a good fit for you and disregard the rest.
The best courses and books for me aren’t necessarily going to be the best ones for you. There’s a lot to be said for acting on your gut response when considering what’s available.
7. Allow time for catch ups with friends and exercise
I love working at home but when I find myself constantly checking my email, I know I’ve been home alone for too long! I aim for one or two catch ups each week for a walk or a coffee … it’s not always possible, but it does provide a good work-life balance.
It’s also ideal if these people are happy to hear about your business progress, want to discuss new ideas, and believe in your future success. Catching up with other self-employed people will make you feel more normal, especially if you (like me) have been an employee for most of your working life.
Finally, I used to feel a bit guilty being out and about on a work day, but I now know that being able to exercise and catch up with people during the day is part of what success looks like to me!