Thinking about hanging out your shingle? Start here.

Hanging shingleWith 23 years running my own business under my belt, I may be doing a few things right. So when friends or acquaintances say they are thinking about starting their own businesses, I’m happy to chat about my own experiences.

Assuming that you have searched your soul and are positive you’re suited to the independent life — you’re disciplined, resourceful, good at what you do and can maintain your sanity working on your own, among other qualities — these suggestions I recently gave a friend may help you get started:

Get a website. People expect you to have one, and you look less professional if you don’t. Writer Paul Lima calls this “the foundation of your business.” See more of his thoughts on Secrets of Successful Independents.

You might also want to start a blog. This gives you a chance to share your expertise and get noticed by those all-powerful search engines. Keep a blog journal to jot down ideas for future posts as they occur to you, for those times when you’re fresh out of ideas.

Get a business card. As old-fashioned as they are, you still need one to give to people you meet in person. If you aren’t sure about the specific services you will offer, keep it plain with name, email address and phone number.

Join your industry association. For communicators, the top choice is (still) the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), and if you are more of a PR person, the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) or Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Check if they have a job board or a member list where you can search by name or industry for companies you might approach.

…and go to association networking events to meet people face-to-face. Bring your business cards. Go in with an interest in meeting people rather than hitting them up for business.

…and volunteer with your association. This blog post describes the value of volunteering, including showing what you can do.

…and if it has a special interest group for independents, join it. IABC chapters that do are B.C. (Independent Communicators) and Toronto (Professional Independent Communicators). I believe the Dallas, Ottawa, San Francisco and Washington chapters also have special programming for indies.

Build your profile on LinkedIn. This blog post shares tips for fine-tuning your profile.

Be active on LinkedIn. This keeps your name in front of people and it will be more likely to show up in a search. Go in every day and post an interesting update, comment on someone else’s update, or send a request to connect with someone you know. (It’s not a numbers game!) Join groups and participate in discussions. Follow companies you’re interested in.

Build your social media presence on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and other channels where your prospective clients might be. This post talks about how to use social media to find/get found by clients.

Talk to previous employers, friends and family. Let them know what you are doing and the type of work you’re looking for. Word of mouth is powerful and you never know which friend of a friend might have work for you. See these prospecting tips from Steve Slaunwhite, who advises finding prospective clients by connecting, not selling.

Talk to other independents and ask for advice. Buying them a coffee or lunch is okay too. :)

Get childcare if you have small children at home. Yes, you’ll work when they are asleep, but you can bet they’ll be awake and demanding your attention right when you have an important call to make.

Are you a freelancer? What other advice would you share? If you’re considering making the leap, what other questions do you have? Let me know in the comments.

Related posts:

Image: “ponsulak” and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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12 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    These are great tips. I would also add having a separate phone for business. If you work at home, you don’t want a three-year-old answering when a client calls! Also, I have found public speaking to be a good way to get known, get remembered and get business.

  2. Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I wish there were a humane solution to the occasional problem of having your dogs barking in the background when you’re on the phone.

  3. Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    One thing to add is PROSPECTING. No matter how many people you know, you cannot rely on referrals. Ever since I stopped procrastinating and started to write those emails and cold-calling (yes, I really do this) my pipeline does not dry out. For this I strongly recommend Steve Slaunwhite’s webinar, or his book Practically Painless Prospecting, Jill Konrath’s blog and free sales kits http://www.jillkonrath.com, and a book I keep re-reading called Red-Hot Cold Call Selling by Paul S. Goldner.
    Sue, this is a great post I’m going to share. Thanks for putting it together.

  4. Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Donna, you’re right. Failing that, call display also works well when the kids are old enough to read or your caregiver can tell who’s calling.
    Gloria, that is funny. My own barking dog once prompted someone I was interviewing to say, “Oh, I have a dog, too!” and we had a nice conversation about dogs for a few minutes. So it *can* be an icebreaker or a nice human touch.

  5. Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Good point, Andrea, and you have suggested some great resources! I mentioned Steve Slaunwhite’s prospecting tips as well (under Talk to previous employers), which are very helpful in turning ‘cold calling’ into ‘relationship-building.’

  6. Craig Fairley
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget about that sure thing in life: taxes. I think it’s worth having a meeting with an accountant about how to set up your books and learn what you can and cannot legitimately claim on your taxes – and how to do it correctly. Government websites also have lots of useful information on this. One of the first things I outsourced was my bookkeeping. Although I was quite capable of doing it myself, it used up a lot of time I could have spent on doing client work or building my business.
    Thanks for sharing your experience, Sue.

  7. Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    One more tip: If you are leaving a salaried position to set up an independent business, apply for a line of credit while you still have a job. In the early days of your business, revenue might be in short supply, and you will have expenses.

  8. Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Good post with smart advice. I would add two things:

    1) Get over any wobbly feelings you have about promotion. There are ways to do it without annoying people – like focus on their needs. I spent a lot of time with no clients because I was shy about tooting my own horn.

    2) Fish where the fish are. Find a way to hang out with people who can hire you. Go to their conferences. Learn what they need. I love the folks in my professions (trainers, coaches and communicators) but I started to get business when I began hanging out with people in my husband’s field.

  9. Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Craig, you’re so right. I use an accountant but I track my expenses in the categories he uses for my income tax, which I hand over to him.

  10. Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Excellent additions, Donna and Sue! Thanks everyone for commenting.

  11. Martha Muzychka, ABC
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    You covered a great deal of information in a small space Sue. What an awesome post! I thought readers might be interested in this article I wrote after the session I facilitated in San Diego. http://soloprpro.com/flying-on-your-own-charting-your-course-as-an-independent-practitioner/ Here’s hoping we’ll have an indie day in Toronto this June.

  12. Posted January 17, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Terrific points, Sue! Will help anyone who’s embarking on this adventure – newbie or experienced. Thanks so much for the mention and links!
    One of the things I found very helpful when taking Chris Brogan’s course was that we need to identify and understand our distractions. (for me it’s email) Once you are conscious of what derails your productivity it puts you more in a position of control and you can manage it better. Has really worked for me so far!

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