There are many things you need to be to start your own business and work for yourself. After over five years ‘going solo’, Nick Mills shares his personal journey.
For those considering leaving the constraints, confines, and — let’s be honest — comforts of a wage in order to navigate the world of self-employment, there are a few important things I’ve learned along the way that have helped me enormously.
According to statistics published by the Small Business Administration (SBA), seven out of ten new employer establishments survive at least two years and 51 percent survive at least five years. This is a far cry from the previous long-held belief that 50 percent of businesses fail in the first year and 95 percent fail within five years (source: businessknowhow.com.au).
Either way, if only 51% of businesses are going to last five years or more, then I guess I deserve somewhat of a pat on the back. What are some things that have helped?
1. Discipline. This one might seem quite simple, yet simple always doesn’t translate to easy. When you have large amounts of cash coming in sporadically, it’s tempting to think you have more in your bank account than you can, in reality, claim as ‘yours’. You need to remain disciplined about planing ahead and pacing your expenditures. Often, you’ll find you are in constant demand. There is also the chance of dry periods. Be sure to buffer your finances.
Another factor is that it is all too easy to fall into the trap of working too little or too much. Without a boss to motivate you, you might find you procrastinate more. Or, because the boundaries between your professional and personal lives is blurred, you might find yourself working at all hours. Be sure to take the breaks you need.
2. Routine. Getting dressed in your work clothes. Making coffee at certain times. Taking breaks. Not getting distracted by TV. Planning your day as if you were in the office. All of those things you’d normally do in an external office need to be replicated in your home office in order to best remain productive and focused. One colleague I know takes a brisk walk around the block to emulate a ‘commute’ and arrives back at the home office as an employee rather than someone who needs to do the washing up.
3. Networks. No man or woman is an island. It’s important to regularly keep up contact with others and, in particular, those who operate in similar roles. Not only is it a great way to burn off stress but you’ll also keep a healthier perspective.
You’ll also find that you benefit from the sparks that fly when you tell others about the work you’re involved in. Friends and colleagues may offer a fresh view to a problem you’ve been grappling with, or provide a trigger for an insight or innovation.
4. Resilience. You’ll need to be able to bounce back quickly when you receive that ‘narky’ email from a client. Albert Mehrabian said that 93% of the communication message was in voice and tonality and body language. When it comes to emails, all that nonverbal information is removed, so our brain quickly ‘reads’ meaning into it. Sometimes, uncarefully constructed emails from your clients contain words that might jump out at you as more offensive or hurtful than they were intended to be. In reality, it might just be ‘data’. In the absense of fact, our brains make it up. (reference this)
5. Planning. This isn’t just about prioritising your day, but about longer term planning for your business. It’s very easy to get stuck into working ‘in’ the business. How often do you take a flipchart, go sit in the garden and set some goals for yourself or review ‘how you are going’? Remember to factor in regular time to go over your vision for the future. Has anything changed? Check in with the ‘why’ of your business. Does it still apply? Have you drifted from the course you set previously? Is that a good or bad thing?
I’ve found that when these five elements are in balance, I work at my best. When I find myself working less effectively, I go over the list to make sure I am not favouring some and ignoring others. After a while, it becomes second-nature. I have to say that, even with the expected ups-and-downs, I’ve managed to navigate the currents of self-employment, and the ride has been great.