Starting a Freelance Business? Start Here
Going out on your own?
It’s either going to be your worst nightmare or the best decision you’ve ever made. Maybe both, at different points.
The lure of a flexible schedule, working in your PJs, and never reporting to a boss again is hard to resist. Every day, more and more people are quitting their jobs to jump into the solopreneur economy.
You’ve likely worked for someone else long enough to have sharpened your expertise in the real world while also feeling like you have a pretty great idea of what you could do better once you are finally freed from the shackles of how they did it.
The first step is making the decision to take the plunge – but what’s next?
A logo! A website! Business cards!
Hold your horses.
It’s a common first mistake: most people start getting creative and playing with colors and monograms, but this only diverts the attention away from what’s MOST important: getting your first clients.
If you think a logo and website are necessary to get those first clients – think again.
Designing a brand without clarity around what you sell and why you’re different, even if you have ideas about it, is not going to trick those first few clients into thinking you’ve got an established business.
Because that’s why we think we need a logo and website first, right? Because we need to tell people we have a legit business.
But let’s be honest: you don’t yet! You just started. Maybe you haven’t even started yet!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard the word “authenticity” thrown around. Well, when you’ve never had a client but are trying to pretend that you have a business (there’s no business without clients, by the way), that’s inauthentic, and we can all smell it.
So what do you do?
That’s what this article is about. Let’s put your solopreneur dreams on standby for just a moment and talk about all the things you didn’t know about starting a business.
Laying Your Business Foundation
Websites and logos will undoubtedly be part of your success, but they shouldn’t serve as the starting point for your business.
Rather, you need to think about the business you’re trying to build and what’s motivating you to go out on your own in the first place. Your business beginnings should focus on owning what you already have and what makes you special and valuable.
What are you planning to do?
How are you going to do it better than your competitors?
What value will you bring to future clients?
It might be the fact that you know how to deliver the actual value you’re selling because you have been copywriting for another marketing company for a while. Or maybe you’ve spent years coding for a big web development firm or have been internally developing leadership for a corporation. At some point, you realized that there really is no difference between the work you’re doing now versus the work you could be doing as an outside consultant.
This is what you should build your business on.
NOT flashy websites and color schemes.
People aren’t buying your logo or home page; they’re buying into what you can do for them. And while you may use a website to communicate your abilities, you’ll first need to figure out how you can use your skills to stand out from the ones who have been doing it longer than you.
Your Vision Needs Paying Clients
Let’s get one of the biggest rookie mistakes out of the way: you don’t have to be the cheapest provider to get good clients. In fact, I never recommend using price to sell your services in the long term.
However, in the beginning you’ll have a hard time charging what experienced consultants charge without tenure in the industry.
This is a huge opportunity! Having the value to offer, but not having the business yet, makes you a unicorn!
In the short term, the fact that you’re a smarty-pants looking for your first client will be an asset to the right people.
Those right people are people that already know, like, and trust you. They’re going to be psyched to get your expertise before you’ve become savvy enough to charge what the big dogs charge.
Where do you find these clients? Your best bet is to tap into your existing network of people you made at your former job.
A friend of mine, Jerome Chiu, was working as an in-house consultant for a company but faced a number of barriers which prohibited him from implementing his recommendations. As a result, he left that company, realizing he could do a better job and have a larger impact if he worked with multiple service providers and started his own consulting company – RadBx.
Because he had been in his field of expertise for about ten years (as a clinician and expert in health Insurance), he knew so many people in other companies that already thought of him as an expert in this field that once he told them he was out on his own, he picked up a few more consulting gigs. And he threw up a website after he landed those first few clients.
Now, I’m not saying you never need a website and brand (of course you do!). But I recommend getting a few clients first before you start building it.
Putting the Brand Before the Horse
It takes time and effort to find clients, even when you’re reaching people who already know you. But don’t let that stop you from building up your brand in the meantime. Here’s the branding work you can and should start doing right now:
Start Asking Better Questions
The best way I get on track is by thinking about my overall goals.
Asking yourself questions about what you’re trying to accomplish and why, what’s driving you to do the work you’re doing, and what you hope to achieve for others is an amazing way to get clarity on what to do next!
You’d be amazed at how many assumptions you are operating on that you aren’t even aware of until you ask yourself these deep questions! (P.S. – That’s why our branding process starts with the Brandshrink interview, and if you’d like to answer a sample of our questions, you can download our Minishrink here and Shrink yourself!)
Start Thinking Like an Owner
One of the biggest new entrepreneur mistakes I see is forgetting that working for yourself means pulling double duty as a business owner AND service provider. If you’ve never owned a business, you are starting from square one (I know, sucks to hear). You’ve spent years building your knowledge and experience for credibility and clout in your field of expertise, and now you’re starting from scratch again?!
Being a successful business owner who can get hired is a separate skill set from being a great architect, stylist, coach or graphic designer. It requires knowledge about sales, marketing, and managing money so you remain profitable. These are not intuitive skills everyone has, and if you aren’t sure if you have them, chances are you don’t.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn them! So start educating yourself about money, marketing, and selling as soon as possible! Read books, take a course, listen to podcasts. Hang around other entrepreneurs in the same boat (you can join my Facebook group to meet them!)
The more information you have when you’re first starting, the faster you’ll get to where you want to go.
It’s Not A Race.
Diving into your own business is an incredible decision, and I send high fives all around for having the guts to do it. I will tell you right now what any successful business owner knows: owning your own business is a roller coaster. There are peaks and valleys, and you need to design your mindset to weather some storms.
It’s hard to think long term and invest when we’re struggling, but working on ways to create exponential leads will keep you employed. Plus, strategic efforts like branding are always better investments than any hairbrained ‘make money now’ ideas such as lowering your price or getting a new logo.
If you take nothing else from this article, remember this:
The reason there is so much mindset talk out there right now in the entrepreneurial world is that without the right mindset, you will not have the stamina to push through what can be challenging times in business. But rather than fearing those moments, relish in them, because they are also what makes the highs so freaking satisfying!
If this whole entrepreneurial thing was just smooth sailing from the beginning, everyone would do it.
But you’re not everyone. You’re a motivated, determined expert who has a lot of value to offer the world. So get going! And if you need guidance on what to do next, start with the Minishrink.