Self Employment Conditioning: Rewire Your View Of Work

Getting a job has been so culturally conditioned in our psyches that it’s almost inconceivable to think about being self-employed. Think I’m wrong? Exaggerating?

Consider your friends and family. How many are self-employed? Now, think about your high school or college classmates. How many chose to work for themselves?

If you are like most of us, you will come up with only a handful of individuals. Why? Because self-employment was not typically presented as an option for a working life in the last 50 years.  Now, it’s satisfying to see that colleges and universities are starting schools of entrepreneurial studies and at least giving students some insight into another viable, occupational alternative. 

To prepare you for the transition from employment to self-employment, there are a few key changes you will have to make in your thinking and outlook.

Understanding Opportunity. 

For many in the working market, or about to enter the market, opportunity is defined as security. The aim of many of these people is job security, or at least the promise of a stable work environment and a regular paycheck. This really isn’t opportunity; it’s a situation. In a more vintage version of a job description, it was said that one was looking for a situation, with the implication that you want to settle into your job/situation: one that will sustain you for years to come. Then, there is self-employment. When you are self-employed, you are driven by the opportunity, not the situation (think America, Land of Opportunity). Your “situation” is the enterprise that you create to capitalize on opportunity. Security is not the sole objective of creating an enterprise, but can be the by-product of pursuing that opportunity.

 

In order to recognize and capitalize on opportunity, you need to first retrain your brain. Stop thinking like an employee and focus like an enterpriser.  When you see an opportunity, figure-out how to marry this chance with your talents, resources and products. Our conditioning – especially for those born and raised in the years since 1945 – has programmed us to avoid free thinking when it comes to careers, occupations or employment. For many of us, our collective experience in preparing for working life— from parents, elders, educators, counselors— has been to focus on obtaining a situation within a large organization. Corporations, governments, health-care institutions and similar organizations have been the suggested end points for young people seeking employment for as far back as I can remember.

View Yourself and Your World in a New Way 

As mentioned above, a large part of the transition to self-employment involves changing those neural pathways that were cut over decades. First, you  must learn to think like an entrepreneur, or perhaps a better word might be enterpriser. By this term, I refer to someone who views work as a series of opportunities. An enterpriser can still have a career— that is, working in one profession for a lifetime. The difference is that this career will be punctuated by a series of opportunities.

Launching a new enterprise and hiring yourself for the first time is a daunting task. However, if you go into this task well-prepared, the angst and anxiety of the unknown can be minimized. Here are a few things that you can do to help you reduce the stress of converting from traditional employment to self-employment.

Know Your Business. 

Be sure to do your market research and get a clear picture of what you can expect. For example:

  • If you’re launching a product/service in an established market, then the task of introducing your brand may be easier and quicker to start earning.
  • If you’re entering a mature market that has a crowded marketplace, expect that it may take time to break through and begin earning.
  • If you’re introducing a new product/service, or even a new approach to a traditional product/service, you will have to educate prospective customers/clients before you can sell to them. This takes time.

Get Frames of Reference. 

Talk to business owners and managers who operate enterprises similar to yours. Find out how long it took them to succeed. Ask about problems/issues that they encountered. If you have realistic examples to draw upon, you will have realistic expectations for your enterprise.

Going Solo: Five Essential Jobs To Learn For Success

In the first article in this series, I talked about five tips to help your business take off and they all begin with YOU.

So, too, for the established enterprise and in particular, for one person operations, or solopreneurs. I spent more than three decades as a solo provider of marketing and advertising services and there’s one thing that is applicable to most solo operations and that is, YOUR ABILITY TO MULTI-TASK.

I’m speaking about more than just wearing different hats. In today’s warp-speed business environment, you will have to do several things and do them very well and in a timely manner.

Let’s do an overview of these five essential jobs;

1. Primary Source of Your Core Business– Whether you are a free lance designer, independent sales rep, solo professional practitioner, interior designer or handyman, you must keep you core skills up-to-date and efficient. It’s easy to get lost in the mechanicals of launching and running a profitable business. Just don’t forgot what got you there. We witness this mistake regularly when large corporations diversify too far and pay less attention to innovation and quality control in the core offerings. Remember, as a solo enterpriser, your skills are the “products” that your “factory” makes and they have to be consistently outstanding.

2. Marketing Manager – Creating leads is essential. Whether you use social media, email blasts, traditional print or broadcast advertising, it’s essential that you –– as  the solo enterpriser–– learn to understand your medium(s) of choice and how to create attractive content. Learn how to write persuasive copy for your posts, ads and videos. The age of DIY marketing is here and there is no need to be shy about doing your own video post, or writing an ad for your business.  Study and learn: Check out what other small businesses are doing, use their work as a template or guide, and then craft your own messages.

3. Lead Sales Person – No matter how great your solo services are, there is no  business or professional practice without sales. In my experience as a self employment and business consultant, I found that this is one area with which many solos struggle. It’s going  to be your job to take the leads you get from marketing and convert them to sales.For a lot of people, the thought of direct sales if terrifying. Take heart, there are ways to make the process easier. For example:

• Arrange to showcase your services by giving an educational seminar.

• Make it clear to your prospect that you would like to give a formal presentation. The  structure makes some people feel more confident.

• If you’re more of a personality-centric sales person, than presenting over lunch, golf or other social function may better suit you.

     In short, choose your battlefield and you will be more confident in your sales efforts.

4. Operations Officer & Logistics Manager   –  For  all intents and purposes, the principle in a solo enterprise of also the Chief Operations Officer. If yours is a service enterprise, then the focus of your efforts is going to be on the following:

• Follow sales patterns, growth and non-growth periods and making adjustments.

• Keep an eye on the competition. Make sure you’re positioned competitively in terms  of offering optimal value for dollars spent. This means checking your pricing and service offerings against the competition on a regular basis.

• Customer satisfaction. There is a lot “satisfaction surveying” going on every where we go today. Little of it, from my experience seems, to generate much in the way of service. Those organizations who make outstanding service a part of their culture, do it all day, every day.

5. Finance Manager – Being a solopreneur also means learning a thing or two about business finance. I cannot provide you with a comprehensive course in business accounting  in this blog, but here is some advice I can give as a guy who made it through more than 37  years operating completely solo.

• Understand what “Cash Flow” means and make sure to check it daily, really twice daily. That it is to say, your need to have the right amount of money in the right places at the right times.

• Establish relations with a bank, preferably a local or regional one in which the personnel changes will likely be fewer. Let this person get to know you and your business. When the time is right, get an unsecured (or secured, if necessary) for your business. You’re most likely going to need it.

• Stay up with collections. I know first hand that it’s very hard to ask a good client for money that it owed you, but you must develop a way to handle this.

 So, you’re probably thinking right now, this is great, but how do I acquire all this knowledge? Well, some of it might come from education or previous experience. However, if you don’t have  schooling in marketing, sales, logistics and accounting , or your lacking experience in these areas, then it comes down to plain ‘ole on the job learning.

  I guess the latter adds another job to functions to learn as a solo enterpriser.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Five Tips to Help Your Enterprise Take Off and They Begin With You

Lead, Follow or Get Out Of The Way, Part One of Two

There are many reasons why some new enterprises thrive while others suffocate in the first couple of years. Of course, there are the often-cited, concrete reasons for failure such as poor capitalization, higher then anticipated development or production costs or, in the case of independent contractors, lack of reliable support staff.

However, there five less tangible elements that can capsize your business ship in a hurry. Interestingly, they all focus on YOU.

#1. Have YOU done your due diligence?

By this I’m talking about solid market research.  If you haven’t the funds to hire professional research specialist(s), then do your research at a grass roots level by obtaining frames of references and basic market information. Questions that you need to answer include:

  • Are similar enterprises in my markets doing well?
  • Is this an established or mature market? 
  • Are there competitors? If so, is there room for more competition? Is there room for my enterprise to grow?
  • Can you compete with the market leaders?
  • If there are no competitors, why? Is there a reason that no other enterprise is in this market?

#2. Advantage: You?

When you’re doing your due diligence on the competition in your markets, also ascertain if your enterprise will have any specific advantage(s), by asking the following questions:

  • Does your product or service have a specific advantage over the competition?
  • If so, what is the perceived value (of those in the market) about your advantage?
  • Is there anything truly new or unique about the core idea of your enterprise?
  • If you are selling your services, is there something special or extraordinary about you, your skill set, or your personality?

#3. Have YOU honestly considered inherent disadvantages?

While you are assessing the advantages of your enterprise, you will also need to think about its disadvantages. This is just as essential in assessing the potential success/failure of your enterprise. Factors to consider include:

  • Is there so much competition in your chosen markets that it reduces the earning opportunity?
  • Is the market so crowded that trying to stand out or be recognized will be a costly effort with little chance of return on investment?
  • Is the competition too strong? Will your business be up against major players, with deep pockets that control a sizable portion of the market?
  • Are you launching an original product/service or a variation of an existing offering that requires client/consumer education?
  • Are there competitive disadvantages in the products/services you’re offering?
  • Is there a price disadvantage or perceived lack of value for your product or service?

Part of the picture with several of these considerations is the money factor. If you are competing in a crowded marketplace, or a market that is dominated by some big players or a virgin market, it is likely that you will need to be well capitalized.

#4. Are YOU and YOUR Skills, Attitudes & Personality a Threat To Your Business?

As a newcomer to your chosen market, an enterprise that lacks unique features, has uncompetitive pricing, or delivers poor quality is not likely to survive. One of the hardest elements to isolate in assessing the potential success of a start up or young enterprise is the Founder Factor.  That is: You may have founded the enterprise but are you truly the right person to be running it?

Consider the following examples:                                                                                          • Are you a skilled and experienced manager? Would your enterprise be better off with someone who can manage operations and people?

• If you’re going to be responsible for sales on an ongoing basis, such as is the case in solo enterprises, do you have the temperament, speaking abilities, confidence and tenacity to handle this vital task?

• If you’re not a good money manager with your personal finances, it’s likely that you’ll be the same with your business. Acknowledge this limitation at the outset and hire a financial officer. If you’re business lacks the funding or is too small for a full time financial officer, retain an accountant.

#5. Lead, Follow or Get Out Of The Way

This phrase from an old Chrysler/Dodge ad, and spoken by famed CEO Lee Iacocca, has become a popular catch-all for many things. I find it truly resonates for those of us who are starting, have started or are running our own enterprises.

The idea, design, vision, etc. may have come from us, but are we the best ones to grow it? The answers to this vary with the individual entrepreneur.

If launching your business into the stratosphere of earnings and market dominance, then you should consider those that can get you there.

However, if you’re in a small enterprise and your driving goal is to provide a service or product that represents YOU, then you’re going to want to retain control.

More on this in Part Two of Lead, Follow or Get Out Of The Way, posting on October 10, 2018.