As the second anniversary of SJC approaches on January 1, 2014 (happy dance!!!!), I want to revisit the forever fascinating topic of self-employment and entrepreneurship. As much as I learned about these topics in year one, that was nothing compared to year two!
Before I share 10 more tips for striking out on your own, I'd love to thank some folks who really make my job possible. Although entrepreneurship sounds super independent--and in many ways it IS--this form of work absolutely takes a village. My village includes but is not limited to:
- Amazing, kind clients whose nonprofit work makes the world a better place. Without you, I wouldn't have a job. With you, my professional life is enriched.
- Incredible colleagues who send referrals, talk shop with me, and send lots of good juju my way.
- A super supportive husband who usually sees my potential long before I do.
- Family and friends who think I can conquer the world.
- Caregivers and fitness mentors who keep me physically and mentally healthy.
- Trust thyself. Is that little voice inside throwing up warning signs about a potential client or project? Trust the voice. It knows what it's talking about! At the same time...
- Step outside your comfort zone. If you've worked full-time for years for another employer, then pursuing self-employment is already unfamiliar territory. But beyond that first step, be open to projects you wouldn't have otherwise considered--projects that scare you but seem exciting. My recent leap: Starting a series of video logs to expand the Fundraise Well brand.
- Never stop marketing. Even when you're rockin' and rollin' with projects, keep your eye on what could be next. Carve out time to send follow-up emails to potential clients and seek out new leads. Expand your website. Join professional organizations in your field. Work it to get work!
- Network, network, network. This is a holdover from last year's list because it bears repeating. Ask colleagues and friends if they know anyone you could meet with to talk shop. Do favors and return favors--but mostly do them. Because to get, you should really give first. Treat folks in your field to lunch. Get to know other consultants/entrepreneurs.
- Position yourself as a thought leader. Chances are pretty good that you're hanging out your own shingle in a field that you know like the back of your hand. Whether it's presenting at workshops or tweeting about your area, shed light on what you know, and share it freely. Though largely unpaid work, this effort will not only attract potential clients; it will also illustrate your knowledge and credibility.
- Find your voice. After years of working for an institution whose voice and mission you must follow, it's tempting to conduct yourself and your new business in a way that you think your peers would approve of. The crazy truth about entrepreneurship: there's more than one way to skin a cat! Be your most genuine professional self, and set aside time to develop your personal approach to business.
- Embrace your new schedule. This is at once the single best work upgrade and the toughest to master. In my first few months of full-time consulting, I would sit at my desk from 9 to 5--whether or not my hours were even being filled with work. Then a consultant friend advised me to "sleep while the baby is sleeping." This means that now I go with the flow: I'll work 12 hours straight one day and pull into Showcase Cinemas at 1pm the next. All that said...
- Create the structure and boundaries you need to succeed. Guess what? No one's hanging over you to see if you finished that analysis project on time. You're accountable to your clients, but mostly you're accountable to yourself. Don't watch TV while you're working if you know that will slow or completely derail your productivity. If you work from home, try to conduct business in the same room every day so that it doesn't spill over into your downtime. Religiously adhere to whatever system of lists and tasks works best for you. I primarily use two whiteboards in my office to track of all projects and their associated deadlines (and if they don't have a real deadline, I make one up! Self-accountability for the win!)
- Treat the cynics with kindness. They are few and far between, but once in a blue moon someone will snicker, "Must be nice to work in your pajamas all day!" or "You get to do whatever you want all week long." In these rare instances, I give a chuckle and come up with a light joke such as, "Ahhh! That would be nice!" Chances are good that these folks are unhappy in their own professional or personal situations. Empathize and redirect the conversation.
- Don't go it alone. In addition to identifying your own village of support, please know that lots of independent workers exist in the world and find professional education resources and support through free groups like Freelancers Union and Freelance Switch. You can also find support in various specialty LinkedIn groups and by following other entrepreneurs on Twitter. Join your local chamber of commerce, too. It's worth the investment!
Here's to 2014. Good luck, all!