Thursday, August 14, 2008

How To Be An Entrepreneur

You don't have to have the idea for the next Google to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship can take many forms -- from someone looking to earn a few extra bucks a month, for someone looking for a flexible part-time job, for someone who wants to work full-time for themself. It doesn't take high-flying financial goals to start a business -- what's more important is choosing what you want to do and doing it well.

Here are a few pointers to guide you along your way:

1. Believe in Yourself: If you don't believe you will be successful, you probably won't be. Clients want to hire smart, confident people. I've hired people for little jobs before, and I never respond to anyone who says "might" or "not sure" or anything less than "I can definitely do that." Most clients treat freelancers as entities they expect to be able to come in, assess the situation, and do something about it.

2. Sell Yourself: People won't hire you if they don't know about you. Advertise in a local paper or craigslist, go to a local networking event, tell everyone you know what you're doing, post ads on community billboards (depending on your service -- this can be great for dog walkers, not so great for web designers). Also, use business social networking sites like LinkedIn.

3. Behave Like a Business Owner: Learn about what you need to do about taxes. Treat your business with respect and attention. If you don't take care of your business, it won't take care of you. Be confident when you talk about what you do. Know if you need to have specific kinds of insurance for what you do. Get business cards. Create a website.

4. Know Your Market: Are there many people doing what you want to do? No? Then great, because you'll be able to position yourself well. Yes? Then you have to find a marketing angle that will set you apart from the rest of the pack; or you will just have to work that much harder. Know who your competition is, and why clients should choose you instead.

5. Know Your Value (in cold hard cash): This is related to #4. Research and learn what the going rate for your skill is in your area. When I started out as a technical writer, I used online salary calculators to figure out what beginning technical writers earned and went from there. At the beginning, my rate was a bit high for my experience (but hey, I asked for it and received it!), though now it is probably a little low (this was recently told to me by someone more experienced in the freelance technical writing/editing field, and remember: I raised my rate by over 11% earlier this year). Don't be afraid to ask for a high rate -- if someone really wants you, they can negotiate with you, so leave room in your rate for that and also know your lowest acceptable rate. You are only worth what you think you are and what you ask for. No client will ever say "Gee, Sally here is such a good worker...we should give her more money" and then do so. Instead, they thank their lucky stars they found a great worker for a bargain basement price, and hope it lasts a very long time.

6. Deliver a Quality Product/Service: Take pride in what you do. As I've mentioned before, I only had to search for my first client. Contacts I have on Linkedin and a previous client have referred me to other people. While those referrals haven't yet generated business for me, it's free advertising. People are more likely to hire someone with a good recommendation from a peer, because it's expensive and time-consuming to find someone on your own.

7. Consider getting started by volunteering your services: If you need experience on your resume and are having difficulties finding clients, consider helping out a non-profit. This will give you experience, a line item on your resume, and you'll also meet similar people (who may be able to steer you towards some work -- the more people you meet=the more possibility of finding work).

8. Do what you have to do to get started: This is related to #7. For me, I had writing experience from when I worked at the hi-tech company. Yet when I wanted to go freelance, that wasn't enough for my resume, and the temporary agencies I went to wouldn't give me writing or editing jobs. So, I sought and created writing experience. I found some very small jobs via craigslist, and wrote some articles for a couple websites that pay for content. The websites paid shockingly small amounts, but I was able to add links to those sites, in addition to the links for the very small jobs (because they were also for websites), to my resume. Suddenly, my resume started looking like a proper writer's resume. At the end of my first month of searching, I was able to get one of my agencies to talk to a client and pitch me as a copywriter for them. I didn't get that copywriting job, but I started to get the agency's attention. As we all know, I ended up landing my own client, and I've not worked as a regular employee since then. The point is: I didn't have the experience, but instead of moaning about it, I went and did something about it. I didn't make much money that month (not even enough to pay my rent), but I acquired more line items and samples for my resume, and that landed me attention. It's not just experience, but initiative, that will get you where you want to go.


JB said...

I'm just starting a business this month and found your article great. You offer some great points... I think #1 is key - and might be the hardest to get past.

I've also started implementing #7 and it has worked great so far!

Curt said...

Great article. This is a good start. Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of things and the stars to align themselves just at the right time.

Matt said...

Great list! Being an entrepreneur doesn't require millions of dollars or the next killer idea. I think a lot of people miss that and don't take the chance.

Homemaker Barbi (Danelle Ice) said...

I feel the most important part of being an entrepreneur is a cross between #1 (Believe in Yourself) and #3 (Behave Like a Business Owner)... I'd call it #9: Have the Right Mindset.

It is so important to look at things (even potential bad situations, like a poor economy or a slow-down of customers) as opportunities. Seeing opportunity is something that is hard to stop once you get the ball rolling. If you constantly look for ways to create value for OTHER people, money and success will start to find YOU as opportunities crop up everywhere!

Great article, Shana!

Homemaker Barbi (Danelle Ice)