5 First Steps to Becoming Self-Employed

Self-employed home office

Many people dream about being self-employed and making money on their own terms. No more bosses, no more bullshit. But you can dream all day, and that won’t change your circumstances. The only one who can change your circumstances is you. It doesn’t need to be drastic or dramatic. Drama is best saved for the world of entertainment, not your professional career.  So you want to be your own boss? Let’s action that.

Start Small

I find people have pre-conceived notions of what “starting a business” means. Generally it’s whatever they’ve been fed in their daily diets of tech blogs and silicon valley success stories.

But there’s a big broad world of microcosms beyond those boundaries. Small businesses strive and thrive everywhere. With digital mediums and online marketing providing a lower cost of entry than ever before, people everywhere are making money for themselves.

If you’re an employee looking to step off the treadmill, do so at a reasonable pace. You don’t need to build the next Google. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the thought of renting office space, hiring employees, investing huge quantities of money just to ‘test’ whether your idea will work.

Start with what you can accomplish without a huge investment. Want to start a catering business? Cater a few small events initially for friends/acquaintances. Want to start an online business? Create a website and start actioning your plan for an hour or two each day, after your day job. Figure out what works and what doesn’t when the stakes are small.

Start With What You Know

Making money isn’t magic, and it isn’t dumb luck. It’s about generating value. People who don’t know what you know will pay you for that knowledge. And people who can’t do what you can do will pay you for that ability. Whether it’s a service (‘I don’t know how to do X, but you know how to do X, so I will pay you to do X for me’) or a product (‘I can’t create Y, and you’ve already created Y, so I will pay you for Y’).

Everybody has knowledge about something. Everybody has skills. What do you know? What can you do? It doesn’t have to be unique. You don’t need to be the only one in the world with this talent. But it needs to be comprehensive. Comprehensive knowledge or skills means you can compete.

Start Now

People that talk to me about wanting to work for themselves, people who dream of being self-employed, consistently express one common theme – “when the time is right”.

Often, for those dreamers, the time is only right when it’s easy (‘I have $100,000 in the bank and nothing to spend it on, what a great time to be self-employed!) or when it’s necessary (‘If I ever lost my job, I’d become self-employed’). “Easy” will never happen; “necessary” happens all too often.

The problem with waiting until you lose your job before you start your own business is that you’re starting at step 0 at a time when you have 0 income. Not smart.

Whenever you start, you will not be an overnight success. This doesn’t happen. Depending on your business, there’s a better than average chance that you also won’t be successful in one month, or two months, and possibly not even in six months.

Starting your business in your own time, while you still have a day job, is the safest, least risky path to successful self-employed.  That wasn’t my path.  My hand was forced, and I had to react, and react quickly.  Vistria’s origin story was more big bang than slow burn.

While the pressure of not knowing whether you’ll be living on the street in two months’ time is certainly motivating, it’s a less than optimal way to get started.  Better to have a steady income while you slowly and gradually work on your freedom plan.

The downside? It’s a hell of a lot of work. You will need to sacrifice your evenings and your weekends on a regular basis. The end game and the payoff is freedom. Freedom from being at the mercy of your bosses and co-workers, to answer only to yourself.

Only you can answer the question how bad do you want that freedom.

Start Confidently

As much as we rely on our friends to give us valuable feedback, be careful about asking your friends for advice about quitting your job.  Especially if your friends are salaried employees. By all means tell them about your endeavour and listen to their feedback. But don’t take their advice.

Employees will always offer the same perspectives about non-employees – ‘sounds risky’, ‘what if it doesn’t work’, ‘what’s your fallback plan’, ‘how do you absolutely know it will work’, ‘what if you can’t pay the bills’. You likely already have these doubts inside of you. Good. You should. It will motivate you to work harder to avoid those pitfalls. But don’t let your friends comments reinforce your doubts to the point that you fail to move forward because you’re paralyzed by fear.

Friends mean well, but if they’re working a 9-5 job, especially if it’s a job they hate, they’re likely not going to encourage you to break free of those same chains. Misery loves company.

Make sure you leave misery by itself as you walk on by.

Start, and Don’t Stop

This is the hardest step. Once you’ve started, you’ll be faced with challenges and obstacles, and even some failures. Don’t give up. If becoming sustainably self-employed was fast and easy, then everybody would do it. The secret, the secret that everyone really knows if they stop and think about it, is persistence. Do you really think that all of those people who are making a living as contractors, as consultants, as life coaches, as online business gurus, as retail flower shop owners, as caterers, as landscapers, as designers, as app builders, and on and on are really so incredibly special that they can succeed where you can’t?

Of course not. The distinction,the ONLY distinction, is that they don’t give up.  They persevere.  They believe.

Final Reminder If You Want To Be Self-Employed

When you think you can’t, when you have your doubts, when everyone tells you not to, remember this: Start now, start small, and start with something you know.  Don’t let the pessimistics and naysayers and cowards drag you down.  And after you’ve started, do not stop.

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