HELP! My Manual is Missing!
There’s an old saying that all new parents can relate to…
“Parenthood…It doesn’t come with an instruction manual!”
The same problem applies to many new freelancers and small business owners…
Many people entering “self-employment” for the first time — especially those from “Corporate America” — are lost…largely because there is no “guidebook.”
This is both understandable and problematic:
Coming from the corporate world (and this also includes working as a government contractor or for a government agency), you’re used to manuals, instructions, clearly defined responsibilities…in other words: STRUCTURE!
This lack of structure — combined with the sudden awareness that you have to make “all the decisions” — can be extremely intimidating (almost paralyzing) to many first-time freelancers and SMBs.
If you are facing this issue, here are some tips to help in the transition to being your own boss:
1. Don’t Try to Launch “Yesterday”
- If you are entering the freelance/SMB arena for the first time, don’t think you can RUSH into it and get it successfully off the ground within a few days or weeks.
- Unless you are fortunate to have a successful freelancer or SMB mentor to guide you, who understands how your specific niche/industry “fits” in the big picture of things, this will take significant research and planning.
- Every niche is different, and you’ll need to spend significant time researching how — and most importantly IF — your intended niche will be in demand…This isn’t intended to scare you off. On the contrary, often “tweaking” your niche slightly will yield a truly successful niche, but you won’t know this if you don’t conduct the requisite research. ***[link to niche articles]
A Word of Caution!
A better option is to proceed with your freelance/SMB research & planning, but do everything you can to get some immediate freelance work, independent from your “business” venture. By independent, don’t restrict this search to your self-employment niche, but bid on and accept any jobs that will bring you immediate income, to relieve some of your current financial worries.There are numerous freelance sites where you can list your expertise and bid on jobs.
- This has the added benefit of building your credentials as a freelancer (you will have “freelance history” — in addition to your corporate work history, and there are subtle differences — once you complete some projects).
- You will gain invaluable practical experience doing freelance work:
- How to evaluate project scope
- How to write a bid or proposal
- How to handle client questions
- How to take deal with contracts and payments.
- You will also gain insight into fees & estimating for the type of work you are doing.
- This can be extremely helpful in setting your fee schedule once you DO launch your freelance/SMB company.
2. Do Your Homework!
There is NO substitute for research & planning. [link to Business Plans & Planning articles] Things you will need to know include:
- Your “Specialty” or Niche [link to niche articles]
- IF there is a demand for freelancers/SMBs in your projected niche (a “competitive analysis”)
- IF so, you then need to know:
- is it increasing?
- remaining constant?
- on the decline?
- Ideally, you’d like to get in on the upswing, but if there is a constant demand, that’s should be fine.
- You DON’T want to invest in any niche that is on the decline…
- Understand how the “current economy” is impacting your niche. For many industries/niches, today’s volatile economy is actually benefiting freelancers/SMBs; it is often cheaper for businesses to outsource services to freelancers/SMBs than to hire new employees to do the same work “in-house.”
- Determine how you will “work” — will you offer services:
- face-to-face (limits your reach to only work locally, but may be best for your specific industry)
- “virtually” (via web site, email, and phone). This greatly expands your “reach” and with today’s technology is “doable” for most types of services.
- If you have products, how will you “sell” them?
- Write a Business Plan! This doesn’t have to be “formal” but should include the basics [link to template for download]. These are questions that MUST be answered as a part of your planning process.
- Write a Marketing plan! [link to articles, such as niche, “message”, etc.] Ditto for this one…
3. Estimate Costs!
- Entering freelance/SMB can be done extremely inexpensively…thanks to modern technology. For freelancers and many SMBs, you can work from home — likely with what you already own: a computer, internet access, a cell phone, and printer/all-in-one.
- Be brutally honest and decide what “tools” you absolutely MUST have to get started…nothing more! It is very easy to want a new this…a new that…but ask yourself:
“Are these essential to running my business???”
The last thing you want to do is incur unnecessary debt when starting up!
- At the very least you will need:
- A computer & high-speed internet connection (which you probably already have if you’re reading this 😉 )
- A smartphone/cell phone (ideal for getting business emails while NOT at your computer)
- A web site…and the requisite domain name [link to appropriate articles]…
- Some business cards (TIP: go inexpensive at the outset, with some standard but appropriate graphics, instead of hiring a designer. When you begin bringing in paying clients you can always update your cards with a custom logo.)
4. Honestly Evaluate Your “Work Environment”
- Assess your personal situation:
- Your family life: Is it conducive to spending time in “your own business”?
- It is imperative to have the support of your family (in your same household); “self-employment” is different from the “9-to-5” corporate schedule
- Do you have “child-care” issues, kids to pick up from school?
- Do you have elderly parents/family members to tend to?
- Any other obligations (such as PTA, clubs, membership groups)?
- Having any of these is certainly NOT a deal-breaker, but you need to be realistic about how and when you will work.
- Are you passionate about your niche? You must be, because you will frequently be working nights and weekends, at least in the initial phases…It shouldn’t feel like “work”!
- Assess Your Immediate Relationships
- This may sound “extreme” but ask yourself:
- Are you solitary?
- Do you have a “rabid” social life?
- Are you a home-body?
- Are you a social butterfly?
- This may sound “extreme” but ask yourself:
- Identifying potential “life-style issues” (interruptions & distractions) will help you make an honest assessment about the practicality of self-employment for you
- This isn’t to say you need to isolate yourself. Life balance is critical to avoid “burn-out” (whether you are self-employed or not). But, if you’re friends are not going to understand why you have to reduce or limit your “social participation,” you could have momentum-destroying distractions which can certainly create unnecessary stress for you.
- Self-employment is often lonely…you NEED a great support group. If you are the only self-employed person in your group of immediate friends/family, you need to cultivate some new associations…
- Speaking from personal experience, many well-meaning friends and/or family members may try to shield you from “making a big mistake” by telling you all the reasons you shouldn’t become self-employed…(for me it was my over-protective, but well-meaning parents)
- Others may be jealous of your guts, initiative and new-found perceived “freedom”
- Your support group needs to be POSITIVE in all areas, while still being realistic!
- Many self-employed people start or join “Mastermind groups” to help them stay accountable… (Google “mastermind groups“for more information)
This is obviously not a totally comprehensive list of everything you need to be a successful freelancer or small business owner. However, if you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to starting out right and conquering that “no text books…no manuals” problem…