6 Things I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. By, Kim Grotto
By, Kim Grotto
Have you ever felt the drive to start your own business? Or maybe you just grew up knowing that, one day, you would work for yourself. I fall into the latter category. Both of my parents are self-employed, and coming from a family of nine kids, I saw the benefits first-hand: the flexibility in hours (great for my mom who could work late at night while the kids were sleeping), the flexibility in pay (when you need more money, you can take on more clients), and the personal satisfaction that you can implement your own hard work and ideas.
But starting your own business can seem to be difficult and overwhelming. There are a multitude of questions you need to ask yourself. The biggest: what exactly am I going to do? I personally didn’t focus on “creating” a product, as I had no idea what to create. So I focused on services that I could provide and that I enjoyed. Then, how am I going to do it? For me, I worried about people taking me seriously. After all, I’m fairly young and understandably, to some people that means inexperienced. And another “how,” how am I going to get clients?
After I graduated from college, I spent a year getting acclimated in my job and absorbing every learning experience that I possibly could. A year later, I found myself itching to explore my options, and focus once again on my long-term goal. I knew that a stable job and paycheck was important, and I wasn’t ready to leave it yet. However, I also knew that my time in the corporate world had an expiration date.
In 2006, at age 23, I started working to get myself into position to transition to being self-employed. I wanted to work as a marketing consultant, and found my first client through Craigslist. I worked with her at night and on weekends for about a year, and eventually added a second client. To start, I focused more on the value of attaining experience than the value of money. I again took the time to absorb every learning experience with my new clients, and I also took the time to read as much as I could. The more I grew and learned, through both consulting and my day job, the more confident I was to adjust my prices to account for the value I provided.
Finally, in December 2008, I reached a point in my career where I had to make a decision. Through networking and hard work, I reached the point where I was either going to have to turn down potential clients, or take the leap and consult full-time as a self-employed person. I took the time to consider important factors such as health insurance, my bill cycles vs. pay periods, and of course, salary implications. The benefits outweighed the positives, and I chose to make the change. I definitely work longer hours now than I ever did, but the experience has been immensely satisfying and I can’t imagine my life any other way.
Here’s what I learned through my journey to self-employment:
1. Decide what you want to do, and commit. This doesn’t mean that you can’t evolve over time, but jumping quickly from idea to idea won’t help you establish yourself.
2. Start early. Take on a client or project in the hours you have time. This will help prepare you mentally for the work, and build up a client base and resume. Be honest to potential clients about your background and goals. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough experience yet, be confident in your ability and know that ambition can go a long way in getting yourself hired. However, don’t be afraid to substitute dollars for experience in the beginning, especially if you have a full-time, stable job.
3. Don’t be afraid to look for clients in unconventional ways. I found my first two clients through Craigslist. I still find short-term jobs such as research projects there. People posting jobs on Craigslist are looking to hire right now, and you are looking for a job. It’s a win-win.
4. Don’t be afraid to look for clients in conventional ways. Even if you have a full-time job, don’t keep your side work a secret from your friends, family and even some co-workers if you feel comfortable. Networking is the easiest way to get clients because it usually comes with a strong referral on both sides. I’ve found clients through my friends, former co-workers, current clients and even my parents and siblings. I’ve also found them on my own, by walking into a store or just through everyday conversation with people.
5. Work hard to educate yourself. I read as much as I can, to stay on top of current trends and to push myself with new thoughts and ideas. Don’t become stagnant in your knowledge.
6. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge to full-time self-employment, take the time to consider all the factors and scenarios: health insurance, emergency cash fund, new pay periods (will you now be paid once a month instead of twice?), client turnover, etc.