More than 20 years ago, I decided to start my own business and step away from my job (vice president for corporate communication) at an organization which had employed me for nearly 29 years.
It was not a rash decision. Under the guidance of a career counselor, I had spent 12 months planning for the transition. For about 10 years before that, I had taken courses about self-employment during my free time. A small (but timely) inheritance gave me the financial cushion I thought I needed to strike out on my own.
But, even under those circumstances, I soon learned becoming your own boss is not easy. Here are some tips I’ve collected over the years that may help smooth the path for yourself when you decide to strike out on your own.
Tips for Refining your Focus
1. Use social networking to identify new needs for your product or service within redefined niches.
2. Capture market niches which are affluent or not affected by economic downturns.
3. Target sectors which need reform and your creativity (such as education, health care etc.).
4. Help your customers minimize their own risk in managing their careers and personal lives.
5. Capitalize on the value today’s society places on gaining information, education and training within a community setting.
Tips for Being Realistic
1. Take stock. If you don't have the business basics — the financing to get started, the time to give it your all, the passion and motivation to overcome the obstacles along the way and support from an advisor or mentor — you may not be ready to start a business.
2. Listen and do market research. This is critical if you want to start a small business at home and use social networking as a relationship-based marketing tool. Relationship-based marketing is all about gaining followers online and gaining the trust of those followers. After you have established your credibility with those followers (they trust you), they become potential leads and potential clients/customers.
3. Develop essential small business skills (such as bookkeeping, scheduling, networking, marketing, time management etc.).
4. Learn how to be your own leader and manager. Nearly 90 percent of all small business failures are due to poor management decisions, according to award winning author and veteran Scott Clark.
5. Consider forming an LLC for your small business to limit your personal liability from a financial standpoint.
6. Bear less risk in launching a new venture by working on basics and choosing low-cost ideas.
7. Never underestimate the value of cash in hand as a cushion against unexpected downturns, emergencies etc.
8. Seek out deals for quality supplies and equipment for your small business at reduced prices.
Tips for Extending your Reach
1. Plan carefully and visit a Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) counselor for assistance. Advice from a mentor will prove to be invaluable as you start your new endeavor.
2. Make sure your SCORE or Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) consultant has a general understanding of your disability. You and your consultant need to develop your business in accordance with your limitations.
3. Set up a simple local advisory board that includes a wide spectrum of professional expertise you can tap for advice. Such board members are often attorneys, certified public accountants, civic club leaders, owners or managers of businesses similar to yours, and retired executives. They could be three to five individuals who are knowledgeable about the environment in which you do business and are able to connect you with the information you need to make good decisions. They could help you "follow the money" by targeting potential customers who need your product or service and have the ability (and willingness) to pay you for what you offer. The information you gain will help you develop a profitable business. You can do all this online through social networking sites. For example, you could set up your own private LinkedIn group, Facebook fan page, Twitter chat etc. just for your temporary advisory board.
4. Give a first name to each type of potential customer you think you may have. When you dig deeper into their buying attitudes, behaviors, etc., you'll find it's easier to keep each customer type straight in your mind. Once you have analyzed your potential customers and described their problems or concerns in their own words/voices, then rank those concerns in priority order.
5. Realize that once you’ve completed your business plan, and have developed a business model (on paper) about how you’re going to make money with your small business, you may have need of a website as a place for attracting potential customers, marketing your product or service, and conducting business transactions (delivering your product or service in exchange for money).
6. Know exactly what you are going to sell to the customers with your customer profile and how you are going to attract them to your website -- and be committed to spending a lot of time at your keyboard while using social networking to attract a continual flow of potential customers, gain their trust and convert them from potential customers to paying customers who are satisfied with your product or service.
7. Remember that Web-based businesses with narrow focuses and pinpointed solutions have much more value than ever before. You don’t need a gigantic following to succeed as an online entrepreneur online. One thousand dedicated followers can yield a sustainable business.
8. Know how to locate potential partners and extend your business through affiliate agreements.
9. Delegate one-time as well as routine services to others and consider offshore services which offer quality work at reasonable prices.
10. Take advantage of your agility to take away market share from large companies.
Quite a list, huh? That’s why I recommend gaining some business experience by working at an organization or company a few years so you can refine your skills and build a network of potential customers before striking out on your own. Starting a business requires hard work and relentless motivation. So before you dive in to this life-changing decision, make sure you're ready. But, if you’re ready, you’ll be embarking on a journey that can be personally and financially rewarding.
Copyright © 2016. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved
Jim Hasse (www.jimhasse.com), Global Career Development Facilitator, has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both jobseekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy, and owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, which develops win-win direct mail fundraisers for champions of disability employment.