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.


5 Secrets to Juggling a Job While Building a Business

Juggling a Job and a Business

You don’t have to quit your job to build a business.  It’s a common misconception, especially among those looking for excuses, that they have to dive into the deep end when in reality they just need to walk slowly and steadily forward, inch by inch.  You can keep your job, and start your business.  Low risk, high reward, and a hell of a lot of work.  But when is anything worthwhile ever easy?

Having two jobs at once, especially when each seemingly requires all of your focus, is a lot like walking through quicksand.  Ignore the melodrama, and it’s possible to slog your way through.  Relax, plan ahead, don’t panic, take your time, and make steady and measured progress.

So here they are, tried and true, 5 secrets to juggling a job while building a business:

1. Quantify your time

Be clinical about it. Don’t just assume you can do it all.  If you work a 40 hour-a-week job but for a boss that typically demands 55 hours of effort from you every week, then count those hours. Optimism has a time and place, but not when it comes to time management.

Yes, you’ll build a business more slowly if you only have 5-10h a week to offer, instead of 20 or 30 or 40 hours, but the important thing is that you’ll still be doing it.  And that alone puts you ahead of the millions of wannabees and could-have-beens who spend hours dreaming but never doing.  Even just five to ten hours a week is action.  Moving forward, inch by inch.

And I don’t care how busy you are, everyone can carve out at least five hours a week for something that has the potential to change their lives.  Get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning.  Cut out 30 minutes of television a night.

2. Be real with yourself

If you constantly have a to do list for Saturday that never gets done, leaving you scrambling on Sunday to complete your list of chores, then don’t assume that you’ll be motivated enough to pile on building a business to the weekend task list.

On the other hand, if you consistently find a quiet hour or two every Sunday morning, then take advantage of it.  Inch by inch.

3. Don’t force yourself, motivate yourself

There will be days and weeks and months where it all seems too much and impossible and so why even bother.  Instead of quitting, and instead of trying to grimace and bear it and forge ahead, remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place.

Have coffee with a mentor, or friend, or colleague. Someone whose positive and inspiring and believes in you.  Read a favourite inspirational blog post.  Get back in the head space of where you were when you started your journey.

Don’t throw in the towel because of one bad day or week.  Just pick yourself up, and go again.  Forward. Inch by inch.

4.  Manage your own expectations

You can’t do it all.  Something will have to give, and you’ll need to decide what that is.  But when you do, just go ahead and drop that ball. Let it slide.  Deliberately fail. And don’t feel guilty about it.  Just choose wisely.

Think about the least important things that consume your time, and let them go. Call in reinforcements. Maybe you can’t keep on top of cleaning the house or mowing the lawn or fixing the car while you’re working long hours at a day job and putting in hours on building a business while simultaneously having a personal life.

But so what?  Call a cleaning service, hire someone to mow your lawn, and pay someone to fix your car or ditch it and lease a new one.  And yes these things all cost money, which brings us to the last point.

5. Cash is king

Stay on top of your budget. Live within your means.  Cut out some of the luxuries that you love, but don’t need.  If building a business is important to you, these are easy decisions to make.

If not, then you’re not ready to start and you don’t deserve the reward that you’re dreaming about because you’re not willing to do the work. Harsh but true.

Going after what you want, and actively trying to free yourself from your current situation, will require sacrifices of both time and money.  The good news?  It’s worth it.

“One of the rewards of success is freedom, the ability to do whatever you like” ~ Sting


From Unemployed to Entrepreneur

It’s one thing to hustle 3 months of freelance work, but how do you turn a brief reprieve into a life changing career?

Path From Unemployed to Entrepreneur

When I was called into an office one fateful day and told I was being down-sized, I suddenly had a new title.  Unemployed.  What was I?  Who was I?  My career plan had been wiped out, so now what?

When I landed my first contract, I had an income again.  I felt relieved for half a second, but I still needed to figure out a plan.  How would a new employer be any different than the last?  What did I really want?  I had a small taste of the flexibility of being my own boss; did I really want to return to the 9-to-5 grind, once again at the mercy of someone else’s whims and directives?

Long before I finished that first contract, I started hunting for the next revenue stream.  I was no longer looking for a full-time job.  As far as I was concerned, I already had an employer – myself!

And that was the mental shift that changed my fate.

I’ve had friends, many, who have lost their jobs over the years and who have gone on to other jobs.  Some went through a few short contracts or freelance work similar to the work I did when I first started out, but invariably they eventually found and settled back in to full-time employment situations.  That was their choice.  Along the way, if they didn’t have steady income coming in, they considered themselves “between jobs” or unemployed.

Since going out on my own, I’ve only ever considered myself to be my own boss.  It didn’t matter how many customers I had (or didn’t have), I was always working for myself.  I wasn’t unemployed, I was self-employed.

That was the very first step of a journey toward realizing my own dreams, instead of working on someone’s else’s.