You’ve been thinking about starting a full-time consulting business for months… maybe years. You’ve read the books, you’ve taken the courses, you’ve done your reality-check interviews, you’ve written your business plan. But you’re still hesitating to launch your business, or you’re trying to work on your business evenings and weekends while spending your most productive time as an employee for someone else. What will it take for you to make the leap?
I remember the six months or so before I launched Bates Information Services. I had a full-time job and was worried about the sudden dip in income from quitting my job. I didn’t have any clients lined up, although I had written up an earnest — but sadly out-of-touch-with-reality — business plan. I kept telling my friends and family that I’d be quitting my job “any day now” until finally one of my sisters called me on it. “OK, Mary Ellen,” she said. “What’s your launch date?” Put on the spot, I blurted without much thought, “April 1st, three months from now.” She congratulated me, I hung up the phone, and I had a short meltdown about what I’d just committed to.
At that point, everything got serious. I planned backward from my newly-announced launch date and applied my project management skills to figuring out what steps I needed to take in order to go full time as a solopreneur by the promised date. Sure, it was one of the scariest things I’d done up until then, but I was so tired of being an employee that I was truly motivated to make this business work.
You may still be waiting for that moment when you decide that it’s time to get serious and turn your dream or moonlighting gig into a full-time business. Having talked with a lot of fellow solopreneurs over the years, here are some thoughts that have helped them make the leap.
- Make sure you’re actually ready. Have you set aside six months of living expenses so that you can absorb the drop in income once you focus all your time and energy in your business? If you are worried about incurring credit card debt to cover your day-to-day expenses, consider holding off until you have more of a financial cushion.
- What is really the worst that could happen? After six months, you’ll look at where you are and where you expected to be, and decide whether it’s time to continue as before, pivot, or consider whether being a solopreneur is right for you. Failure or a shift in your business is not the end of the world. (And, again, if you find that you have to go into debt to pay your living expenses, perhaps it’s not yet the right time to launch your business.)
- Reflect on what you have learned from your reality-check conversations. You have new and unexpected insights about what your market actually needs, values and is able to pay you well for, and you know how they describe their pain points. This primary research is essential to launching a successful business; once you’ve done this, and figured out how you can align yourself with your clients’ most important needs, you have all the information you need. A critical skill of being a solopreneur is making the best decision you can now, without waiting for absolute certainty.
- You don’t have to be perfect. One of the best lessons I learned from working for Bill McGowan, the entrepreneurial head of MCI Communications, was his management philosophy that “you’ll never be fired for making a mistake but you’ll be fired for making the same mistake twice.” I work on the assumption that not all my ideas will be winners; what is important is to set meaningful metrics, implement any idea with 100% commitment, and then fearlessly evaluate the results after the amount of time I have allotted.
- You have to learn how to function while scared. Being a solopreneur is scary sometimes; I’ve been in business for almost 30 years and I still scare myself regularly. I take on a project I’ve never done before. I agree to speak in front of an audience I don’t know anything about. I launch a new initiative for an association, knowing that I will have to learn how to do it as I go along. My stomach may clench when I first agree to take on something entirely new, but I have learned that as long as I’m willing to ask for help when I need it, there isn’t much I can’t accomplish.
- Visualize what it will feel like to run your own business. During the three-month preparation for launching my business, one of the things I practiced while I was out walking my dog was how to introduce myself to people as a business owner — “Hi, I’m Mary Ellen Bates; my company helps business professionals make better-informed decisions.” I worked out a daily schedule that ensured I would come into my office every morning with purpose and focus. And I told all my friends and family that, starting April 1, 1991, I might be at home all day but I was running a business I had confidence in.
- Surround yourself with other successful solopreneurs. I joined the Association of Independent Information Professionals before I went independent, and quickly found a mentor I admired, respected and hoped to emulate. Lurking on the AIIP discussion list helped me see that being a successful infopreneur required perseverance, courage, creativity and a healthy sense of humor. Seeing how colleagues handled adversity and challenges helped me handle my own first-year glitches without worrying that a temporary setback would spell the end of my business.
What will it take for you to take the leap and start creating the business you want?