I never thought I could work for myself. It was something I always thought about, but I never really had the courage to take it (myself?) seriously. Well…here I am. Doing it.
Here are a few things I’ve figured out in the last 6 months that have helped me move in a positive direction. Xzibit hasn’t come calling yet, but I feel good about where things are headed.
- Find a mentor
This is probably the most important of all. You need someone who can guide you, someone who’s been through it before. Here’s what’s strange about this – I didn’t look for a mentor. I just started speaking to people who could help me because they knew more than I did.
My father-in-law was able to get me on track with how to invoice, keep records, set rates – all things I would have had to learn the hard way. He’s helped me have legitimacy from the beginning and kept me in control as things have grown.
Bloggers, books, friends, family…whoever. Someone can always help.
- Be authentic
This could be tricky for some. I can think of a handful of people who may have trouble getting and keeping clients if they we’re as “authentic” as they wanted to be. But I’m not talking about being overly personal or raunchy. I’m talking about being real. Being vulnerable and humble.
We’re bombarded with marketing ploys all day long. People can smell them coming a mile away. And if you’re not being you, people will tell.
Understand that people make mistakes, including you. If you do, own it, apologize, and move on. It’s what people expect. You don’t have to speak a certain way or act like you know more than you do.
People will trust you if you’re real and honest. Not if they think you’re saying what they want to hear to earn their business.
- Remind people you exist
I vastly underestimated how time consuming this is. You need to find a way to remind people of your business and what you can do for them.
This is a delicate balance between being seen and being annoying. I had to start a spreadsheet (love spreadsheets!) to keep track of who I’ve contacted and when, just to walk to appropriate line. Email and phone calls are always the best way to do this. People have a hard time blowing you off if you’re talking directly to them.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other en vogue social media tools seem like easy ways to remind people of your business, but I find it’s hard to be authentic in the limited capacity they allow. And people are so used to skimming social media cites these days, they may pass right over your witty thought that you were sure would get people to your website.
Email them. Or better yet, call them. Then they can’t ignore you.
- Learn to be fearless
Talking to people comes pretty easy to me, so this isn’t one I thought about much until people started to point it out to me.
Apparently not everyone is comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger. But you need to learn to be. There are tips all over the Internet that can help you with this (another post here, perhaps?), but the only tip you need to get started is to just do it.
Use the 3 second rule. You have three seconds to introduce yourself to someone before you decide not to. Look at everyone as a potential customer. Be authentic (see #2), and just talk.
It may not pay off immediately, but you never know when they may need you. And get some business cards. It makes it harder to forget who you are.
- Become a sponge
I didn’t anticipate how much “down time” I was going to have. Prioritize projects. They pay the bills. But once they’re done, learn something new.
You work for yourself for a reason. If you’re not working on something that has personal value to you (I understand that money has personal value, but that’s not what I’m talking about), then what are you doing?
Read. Write something. Start a blog. Go to lunch with people. Send emails to new clients. Read some more. Go for a walk. You’ll soak something up from every little experience.
It took me a while to see how lunch with a friend could teach me anything, but similar experiences or contacts they can provide are always good. It’s how I found my accountant. It’s how stay focused. Whether passing along my business card or bouncing ideas off someone else, there’s always value in meeting people face to face.
And I can’t say enough about reading. Blogs, newsletters, biographies, whatever. Information is more abundant today than any other time in history. There is no reason not to be getting answers from other people.
So there you go. My top five essentials for being your own boss. What would you add to the list? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments sections.
About the Author
This article was written by Aly Chiman, a freelancer and brand strategist. He enjoys frequenting coffee shops and camping trips. He writes about marketing, innovation, and entrepreneurship on his blog www.alychidesigns.com.