The Big Quit: 10 Things to Know When Starting Your Own Business
Last November, more than 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs. This Big Quit (or Great Resignation, as the media has dubbed it) is the largest in at least two decades. Where are all the people going? Many are leveraging this moment to get similar jobs at a higher salary. Others are re-evaluating work-life balance and looking for long-term job satisfaction. And They’re finding it — by starting their own businesses.
If that’s you, welcome to the world of self-employment. It may not be as peachy as all the digital nomads will have you believe, but owning a business is a massive step toward work-life freedom. To help you get started, I’ve rounded up my best tips from the past 13+ years of self-employment. Regardless of your niche, here are ten things to know as you start your own business.
Organization is Everything
If you’re a disorganized person in your personal life, that’s up to you. But when it comes to your business, it’s time to get organized.
Creating systems impacts every level of your business. It alleviates the day-to-day frustrations of invoicing, working up job proposals, quoting, and answering emails. Organized systems mainly help when it comes to quarterly and annual tax filings.
There is no one size fits all solution to stay organized, but here are a few systems I’ve put in place:
- Email templates for responding to job requests and submitting new proposals.
- Filing system in Google Drive for each new project.
- PDFs and infographics that answer my clients’ most frequently asked questions.
- Monthly meeting structure to stay on top of projects — especially ones outsourced to contractors.
- Digital tools to help manage marketing campaigns.
- Accounting software to streamline invoicing, expenses, and taxes.
When you start your own business, it’s best to start with an organizational system in place. You can always change it as your business grows and changes. However, it’s easier to build on a firm foundation. Start with organization.
Yes, You Need a Website
No, it doesn’t need to be fancy.
Regardless of what you’re selling or offering as a service, you need an online presence. These days, even a single landing page helps your clients see that you are an established business.
Many new businesses make one mistake: they need the most advanced website from the get-go. In the meantime, they settle for a less than optimal digital presence while they try to find the time (and budget) for that dream website.
Don’t wait to get online. Websites can always be updated (and so can brands). However, that perfect URL won’t stick around forever, and neither will a customer who can’t find your website.
You Don’t Have to Know Your Niche
Trial and error is your friend. There’s a lot of chatter on the internet (I’m looking at you, TikTok) about finding your perfect niche. Niches are great, but they are also limiting.
When you’re starting, it’s essential to explore the different avenues of your industry. As a graphic designer, I knew I loved creating wedding invitations and cards and designing fun things for my friends and family. However, by letting myself explore my skills, I learned that my eye for design translated well into several different services: branding, website design, marketing design, and even social media marketing.
It’s okay to know your niche, but it’s also okay if you don’t. Have fun trying new things. Be open to projects that feel slightly outside of your comfort zone. And ignore all those pro-niche influencers (for now) while you get started.
Define Your Services
While you don’t need to pigeonhole yourself into a specific niche, you need to understand what you want to offer your customers.
Before you start advertising yourself to the world, take a moment to define your services clearly. For your sanity, set firm pricing (or at least a baseline price you won’t go below) for each service or offering.
In the spirit of trying new things, it’s also good to have a list of services you are willing to offer if asked. For example, if you are a UX designer, you may want to keep copywriting in your back pocket. Chances are, you’ll get asked to add copy to a site you’re working on. Keep that in mind, and know what you would charge if asked for that secondary service.
Set Realistic Expectations
Let’s be honest, we won’t all earn six figures in our first six months of owning a business despite how many blogs we read.
Instead, set some realistic expectations for yourself. Research what the average salary is for a self-employed worker in your industry. Understand that income ebbs and flows when it comes to owning your own business. Take freelance writing, for example. According to ZipRecruiter, the average income of a freelance writer is $18k to $100k per year. That’s a huge difference!
Set realistic goals for your earnings, and you’re more likely to exceed your expectations. Growing a business takes time. Start where you are, dream big, and give yourself realistic milestones along the way.
Understand Your Time Investment
Worried about how to price your service or product. Start by tracking how much time it takes to complete the entire process.
I think part of the reason freelance and self-employed earnings fluctuate so much is that business owners notoriously underestimate how long it takes to do their job. When pricing your business offerings, it’s essential to also include administrative time. No one is paying you to update your website, market, send emails to clients, invoice, and stay organized. Make sure the cost of running your business is also factored into your prices.
Understand your time investment for each type of service you offer. This sets you up to earn a healthy wage (and hit those realistic goals you set).
Say Yes Frequently
That is until you have the luxury of saying no.
When starting out, be okay with saying yes to projects that aren’t overly thrilling. I’m not proposing you take on work that isn’t worth the money or a job that just doesn’t fit your brand, simply that you stay open to new things.
Saying yes does two things for you: it lets potential clients know you are accessible and eager to work, and it helps you stay mentally positive toward new projects. And who knows, maybe one of those projects will expand your connections, services, and business as a whole.
As your business grows and you start to hone your offerings and prices, then it’s time to say no to the jobs that don’t fit your goals. Saying no is a healthy skill to have. Just make sure you’re also willing to say yes to new opportunities.
Work For Free
Before you stop reading, hear me out. Offering pro bono work is an important business strategy. It shouldn’t be your go-to strategy, but it needs to be part of your plan.
Firstly, know who you would be willing to work for pro bono. Is it a charity? A business partner? A friend or family member (be careful with this one as it is easy to get taken advantage of)?
Secondly, know why. Maybe a particular job adds value to your portfolio. Perhaps it opens up business opportunities and connections. Or it provides support to a significant charity or community group. Whatever it is, make sure you have a reason to offer your services for free.
Thirdly, know what you’re willing to do for free. Create a list of services or products you offer pro bono when the opportunity arises.
These three things go a long way to helping you determine the right time and place to offer free work. If someone is requesting your services gratis and they don’t fall into your who, why, and what categories, you can comfortably say, “Sorry, but no.”
Look For Opportunities to Collaborate
One of the exciting things about running your own business is getting to build your own team. Whether you hire contractors or work as one yourself, you now have the freedom to decide who you want to work with.
We often choose a “go it alone” attitude in the business world. However, collaboration builds connections. Connections, in turn, create opportunities.
Look for ways to collaborate with others in your industry, whether they are established businesses, other freelancers, or even former employers. If you are selling a product (rather than a service), look for ways to support and collaborate with other local businesses. Offer space for a pop-up shop for a local artisan. This draws new customers into your shop while helping a fellow business person.
There are many ways to collaborate in business. Find the opportunities that make sense within your industry.
Be Kind to Yourself
Starting a business is hard. It takes a lot of time, energy, creativity, and grit to build something from the ground up.
You are fully capable of making it happen. However, on the days you feel less than capable, be sure to give yourself a break. Take time out to be present with loved ones. Switch your business brain off at a specific time each day so you can truly rest. Develop a habit of taking breaks throughout the day to give yourself a mental break.
And most importantly, be kind to yourself. Upgrade your inner monologue with encouragement and motivational thoughts. You deserve all the support you can get, even from yourself.