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Small business basics

How to work for yourself: A step-by-step guide

Ready to learn how to work for yourself? Today, we'll explain the basic steps to kicking off your self-employed career.

14 May 2020 · 9 min read

Ready to learn how to work for yourself? Self-employment is a fast-growing trend right now, with the self-employed workforce growing faster than the traditional workforce. To help you get in on the action, we’ll explain the necessary steps to kicking off your self-employed career.

How to work for yourself in 6 simple steps

1. Decide what you want to do

The first and most obvious step of working for yourself is knowing what you want to do. Although it’s not unheard of that people quit their job with no game plan and become a huge success, you’re going to perform a lot better if you know what you want to do ahead of time.

One of the best ways to figure out how you want to work for yourself is by looking at the things you already enjoy doing. Often, your big idea is going to start as a hobby or passion that you already have, whether that’s art, craft making, programming, etc.

These kinds of ideas make great startup ideas because even if things don’t work out, you’ll still have a lot of fun learning about and exploring a topic you’re passionate about.

Entrepreneurship or freelancing?

Another thing to consider when deciding what you want to do is to figure out if you want to become an entrepreneur or a freelancer. Though both are paths to self-employment, they’re very different.

Entrepreneurship is the traditional route of becoming your own boss. Becoming an entrepreneur just means trying to launch your own business. This can be any kind of business at any scale, whether you’re going to shoot to become the next big tech startup or simply an Etsy crafts store.

Freelancing, on the other hand, involves taking a talent or skill that you already have (like writing or programming) and finding clients to work with on your own rather than working for a company or agency. It offers a lot of the same benefits as entrepreneurship, like working for yourself and setting your own schedule and even follows many of the same steps. However, there isn’t as much growth potential as there is when starting a business.

2. Try it out

Now that you have your idea and you’re settled on how you want to pursue it, it’s time to give it a shot! And by giving it a shot, we don’t necessarily mean quitting your day job and throwing everything you have behind this idea.

“If you have a Plan B, you’ll inevitably fall back on it.”

Although this is a common sentiment expressed in entrepreneurial spheres - the idea that total commitment is required to succeed - the opposite is right more often than not. Having a Plan B can stave off the risks of your Plan A long enough for you to succeed, whereas only having a Plan A can cause you to fail spectacularly.

Instead of quitting your day job, ask to be moved to part-time while you pursue your dream. This will give you some stability and consistency in the midst of figuring out how to work for yourself. It’s also important to maintain realistic expectations. You should dream big and stay motivated, but remember that most businesses never become Apple’s or Amazon’s - and that’s ok! Instead, take pride in your work and focus on becoming self-sustaining.

3. Start small

In the business world, starting small is known as “starting lean”. This means keeping your costs as low as you possibly can. If you’re selling a physical product, only order/make a handful of that product at a time while you find your first customers. Don’t hire employees before you can afford to pay them, don’t buy anything that will require you to take out a loan, and don’t sign up for things that will consume all of your profits.

Keeping your costs lean will help you last longer in the marketplace. Often, becoming a success is a war of attrition. You don’t need to be the best; you just need to outlast your competition.

4. Build relationships

Now it’s time to talk about one of the most important pieces of advice in the business world: networking. The truth is that having or not having a Plan B, picking the right investors, or going into the right field will all have a marginal impact on your success compared to the relationships you build with your business.

In business, relationships are everything.

See, what people tend to forget when looking at all of the figures, dollar signs, jargon, contracts, logos and branding, is that businesses are made up of, run by, and created by individuals just like you. People are the cornerstone of every company.

Rather than trying to be the lone wolf taking on the rest of the world, take advantage of one of the most powerful tools at your disposal - mutual relationships. Provide people with good, personable service. Ask for advice and help when you need it, offer advice and help when you have it, and treat the business world like a team effort rather than a cutthroat competition. You’ll be rewarded greatly.

5. Treat your reputation with care

Following along the same track as building relationships is caring for your reputation. Maybe you’re trying to work for yourself because of a boss you don’t get along with, or because you think you know something that the rest of the industry doesn’t. It can be tempting, especially after early successes, to rely on and abuse this arrogance.

But the brutal truth is that when you’re new to the business, the only thing you have to offer is your reputation. You don’t have a decades-old brand backing you, millions of investors’ dollars at your disposal, or skills that far exceed everyone else around you. All you have is your idea and your reputation.

During the early stages of your business, your primary goal should be to nurture your reputation as much as you can. This, along with your relationships, is going to form the foundation of your business. These are the things that will make or break your success. So, take care of them.

6. Build your website

Finally, once your business/freelancing idea begins to gain traction, it’s time to design a website. You don’t always need a website to get started; despite what many gurus would have you believe, the age of cold calling and emailing isn’t over yet.

Once you start to get on your feet, however, you will need a website to compete on a professional level. There are many different services available for building a website, like other freelancers, design agencies, web-builders, or automated web design services - like the one here at B12.

However you decide to go about building your website, make sure that it reflects the brand you’ve built thus far. Great additions for a website include a blog, bio page, and an area discussing your prices. Most importantly, though, your website should have some way to contact you. This is the one thing your website can’t live without.

Five signs you should be working for yourself

1. You’re a problem solver

A telltale sign that you’re cut out for the entrepreneurial road is that you love to solve problems. Most businesses begin as a way to solve a problem noticed by the founder.

On top of providing you with an excellent idea for your business, an aptitude for problem-solving can also help your company survive. Adaptability is often listed as one of the key traits of successful people, and for a good reason. Running a business is overcoming one problem after another. If you don’t have the resourcefulness to overcome these challenges, you may find your dream of working for yourself cut short.

2. You don’t have any dependents

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, as everyone’s situation is different. Generally, though, starting a business while you have dependents (children or otherwise) isn’t recommended. The obvious reason is that working for yourself doesn’t guarantee a steady income at the beginning, which could put your dependents at risk.

Now, having dependents doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t try working for yourself - it just means you need to take extra precautions. Having another member of your household that makes income can help substantially. As we mentioned earlier, another helpful aid, in the beginning, is to keep your day job until you start making a steady income.

However, if you are the sole income provider for your family and your idea for a business involves mass manufacturing the next iPhone, then you might need to hold off on your entrepreneurial idea while you work to modify your arrangement at home.

3. You’re self-motivated

Another important factor that can determine if entrepreneurship is right for you is how motivated you are. Everyone wants to be their own boss, but everyone forgets that being your own boss means being able to tell yourself what to do. If you have a hard time forming positive habits, breaking bad ones, and structuring your daily routine, you may want to work on these things before you pursue self-employment. Once you have these skills down, you’ll find working for yourself comes much more naturally.

4. You’re comfortable with discomfort

This is one that many may not like to hear, but it’s critical. If you’re going to survive working for yourself, you need to remain confident and comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Working for yourself requires you to step out of your comfort zone constantly, both in your interactions with others, your financial situation, and the risks you’ll inevitably have to take.

That’s not to say that entrepreneurship is a terrible and trying experience; a lot of it is exciting and rewarding. But there will be times where you want to quit, and to succeed, you’ll have to survive those times.

5. You can’t stop thinking about it

Last but not certainly not least, you’ll know if working for yourself is right for you when you can’t stop thinking about it. If you spend all day at work and home thinking about, planning out, and envisioning yourself as self-employed, then it’s time to act on that vision.

Begin your journey to self-employment today

Something nearly all successful people can agree on is that the right time is always right now. Now that you’ve learned the basics of how to work for yourself, it’s time to put these lessons into practice. For more help, you can check out the rest of our blog for tips and tricks on marketing yourself and building your website. You can even use our free-to-start website builder to launch your business.

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