Many people will, unfortunately, find their employment status significantly altered after we have survived the coronavirus, which of course, pales in comparison to other losses we have mourned.
The lucky ones may be returning to an altered job with altered pay. Others, however, will be striking out on their own, and it is something they never intended to do.
I have been on the roller-coaster ride of self-employment for more than 20 years, and I know how daunting it can feel. However, with the right attitude and a sound approach, the challenge need not be bigger than us. Not only that, but we can surprise ourselves.
I have four simple rules that have driven my effort and maybe can help those about to fly solo:
Rule 1: Have a Plan, No Matter What
Perfect is truly the enemy of progress here. Do not expect to conjure up the right plan just out of the gate. Some aspects will be right, and others won’t be. However, the plan will help lay out some actions and hold us accountable.
Twenty years ago, the plan I created was as follows:
— Focus on small- and medium-size business in health care and technology
— Develop my website (back then, it was a crude shell of a site with zero sizzle but allowed me to plant a stake)
— Reach out to three colleagues weekly
— Target a monthly billing goal (will spare the specifics)
— Offer up an intro or pilot rate
— Build a base of clients who could be good references
Lessons were learned, and my plan evolved. In a word, I got smarter. I extended a good-faith credit to a business owner who didn’t deserve my good faith, resulting in a significant unpaid invoice. This has happened to me only once. Instead, I have made different mistakes.
All along the way though I learned and adjusted. My plan became a dynamic statement of where I was based on what I knew. Self-employed individuals should always, always start with a straw-man plan.
Rule 2: Work From the Inside Out
Begin self-employment by engaging with your network of colleagues and acquaintances. In the land of plentiful talent, gigs can be hard to find.
The people most likely to retain your services are those who know your capabilities and like working with you. It sounds obvious but our sphere of connections and influence is usually bigger than we realize.
There is another aspect of working from the inside out. Often we can imagine services or skills we would like to offer, which are a small skip away from what we have done repeatedly in developing our track record.
When starting out, it is best to say with the core skills that your network knows you possess, and then eventually migrate as the opportunity presents itself to something more peripheral.
I went from doing market studies to writing case studies to then performing an activity called “Simple rules,” which helps teams work better cross functionally. All along the way, I made certain that how I extended my value was believable to my clients.
Rule 3: Keep Your Ego Both Large and Small
At best this rule sounds contradictory. At worse, it sounds plain silly. Our ego needs to be large enough to continuously extend ourselves despite hearing countless rejections. We just can’t take it personally.
Imagine hearing “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel as the soundtrack that pumps you up. As the lyrics go, “The fighter still remains.” My work has frequently involved working with sales teams, and the exceptional sales reps combine persistence with short memories. They don’t let rejections shrink them.
A small ego is needed for a different reason. As we offer our skills, we need to let our client be the hero, and we the invisible hand. This goes against all human instincts for recognition and validation — and yet is the key to long sustained relationships with well-placed trust.
Rule 4: Celebrate the Singles
We live in a home-run driven society. We want to win, and we want to win big. In my 20 years, I have had only a few home-run moments, but I have had consistent work with good clients. Consistency wins every time — which is a lesson I take with me on the tennis court as well.
Bottom line: It will help to imagine going solo as a new opportunity. Stick to these four simple rules, and you will help yourself mentally, tactically and strategically. You just may surprise yourself.