The world is full of freelancers, consultants and entrepreneurs — it seems nobody has a boss any more. But how do you break free from corporate life?
I’ve been in jobs since 1997, having freelanced before. Most recently, I held a halfday position as editor of a health website. The other half of my week was taken up with freelance writing, some strategy and consulting work, and studying. I took the scary step of giving up the security of a job in July last year. And in November it became clear I’d jumped just in time: a company-wide round of retrenchments put almost half ‘my’ team — each excellent in their role — out of their jobs.
Job security is a mirage. What I see clearly now is that work security may not lie, as it did for our parents, in a permanent position with an established corporate. Instead, it is the person who chooses what many refer to as portfolio working — working in several different capacities, for themselves or for different people, simultaneously — who is best equipped to ride out employment downturns. Security lies in self-determination.
Innovation guru Bruce Nussbaum calls the trend to independence and entrepreneurship “indie capitalism”, and declares that on a global level it “may prove to be the economic and social antidote to the failed financial capitalism and crony capitalism that no longer delivers economic value in terms of jobs, income, and taxes…” He defines indie capitalism as being characterised, among other things, by the fact that it’s not trading old value, but creating new value — people are making things. It’s smaller-scale, so it’s social in the sense that it’s connected to real needs or wants; and… it cares about sustainability, and ethics.
From here to there
It’s all very exciting for anyone who fancies going out on their own, but how do ordinary people with mortgages and children’s education to plan for — people who might not consider themselves entrepreneurs — make the big transition from being wage slaves?
In my case, I took a degree which gave me the language to articulate what I knew — a degree that changed my perception of how and where I could add value to others’ businesses. For many people, that’s the first point: not studying, but changing self-limiting thinking. Entrepreneur and Wall Street Journal columnist Mike Michalowicz, author of the book and blog The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, says: you are your friends. Test your thinking about yourself by bouncing ideas off others. Specifically, if you want to strike out on your own, seek the company of those who have successfully done so, and ask their advice, both in terms of their perception of what you have to offer, and in terms of practical advice.
On LinkedIn, join relevant groups and ask well-thought-through questions: you’ll be amazed at how many are open to sharing knowledge and helping to solve problems.
Take it step by step
You don’t need to be an inventor:
Steve Jobs never invented anything — he simply recognised the potential of what others invented, and did it better. Look where that got Apple.
Connect with trends:
Sign up for free international online newsletters like those from Trendwatching.com or Springwise.com, and see what others are doing. You’ll keep seeing things that make you say: “Oh, I could do that here!”
Also, look for seminars and conferences that relate to what you’d like to do, and attend as many as you can. It’s a great way of getting a deep understanding of the world you’re entering, and great for networking.
A business plan is essential to obtain financing, and to provide a roadmap for your business. Vitally, it’s about getting your head right about what you want to do, and how you’re going to do it. A business plan should include an analysis of your USP (unique selling point), a competitor analysis, and a thorough exploration of who your stakeholders are. These can’t be superficial.
Give it lots of thought, and chat to others as you put these analyses in place. Along the way you’ll find that your headspace starts swinging around to really understanding your new world.
Alerting the potential buyer to the service you offer or the product you’ve made is critical. There are myriad ways of marketing, from online social networking (free) to hiring professionals to do it for you (pretty pricey). What’s effective depends on what your offering is.
That’s why competitor analysis is interesting — what marketing are they doing? And your USP? What’s your message, and how do you make it compelling for your target customer? Get on top of this, and you’re likely to be more successful than most who strike out on their own.
Do the prep:
Some people find it easier to make the transition through establishing their own business. If that’s your plan, find a good bookkeeper who understands small businesses and can help you with the transition and the paperwork, from registering your business to putting the appropriate contracts and taxation protocols in place.
Time management skills:
The biggest challenge is to know when to stop working. But equally, many people struggle with a lack of external structure. If this is you, know that you’ll need to set strict parameters for yourself, because in the free-range world, no work means no money. Self-knowledge is critical to your success.
People judge a book by its cover:
But don’t get distracted by interactive websites and embossed cards. Business comes first; window dressing follows. If your focus does not reflect that, you need to think hard about whether you’re really ready, or whether you’re simply dazzled by the idea of being your own boss. It’s enough, intially, to establish a clear visual identity by using the same colours and typefaces on anything that will be seen by the public, like your website and business cards.
A FINAL WORD
You can build a business working on it part-time, as I did. It’s amazing how much you can get done in the evenings and over weekends. If possible, scale down your formal job and cut your cost of living to clear space and time to devote to growing your own business.
Over a period of months or even a couple of years, you can build up the confidence to kick off into the middle of the pool — the water’s lovely!
— Gallo Images