Do you ever dream about being your own boss? About pursuing your talents on your own terms and growing your own company from the ground-up? The thought is invigorating, but all of the unknowns associated with starting out on your own can be really scary!
I know, because I’ve been there.
A few years ago, I was in a professional rut. Work was boring and creatively-stifling. I was writing small pieces of code to help people install software on their computers. It was a safe job at a big company, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I needed something more. It got me thinking, “How can I use my passions and skills to actually make a living?” It was one of those thoughts that I couldn’t get out of my mind. So, I started taking steps to make my dreams of starting my own business a reality. Here’s how I did it.
Find Your Niche and Build Your Skills
The first step for me was matching my passions and skills with the job I ultimately wanted to do. Since I coded regularly at work, I looked into creative areas in software development to use skills I already had. Website development seemed like the perfect fit. Every new website was a blank canvas I could shape into anything I wanted. It felt like the ultimate form of creative expression.
However, there were some skills I knew I was lacking if I wanted to make website development a full-fledged career. So, over several months, I focused on building my skills. I took free online courses and watched YouTube videos on web-development. I signed up and participated in daily coding challenges to sharpen my skills, and I practiced building small sample websites.
Develop Your Marketing Strategy
After honing my skills, my next challenge was, “How can I actually get paid to do this?” After working at a large company for so long, I wasn’t sure how to bring in paying clients.
I turned to online freelancing marketplaces and classified ads, but I soon learned that the competition was fierce, and I had to charge low rates to land jobs. I calculated my hourly rate from my first few projects and found I was making less than one third of the state minimum wage! It wasn’t sustainable, and I knew something had to change in order to start turning a profit.
I started to learn about marketing and branding strategies that might bring in more profitable clients and projects. I scoured the web for answers and joined freelancing forums to learn from the best. I explored ways to expand my services through my professional network and used social media to advertise. Initially, my efforts felt fruitless, but over the next few months, opportunities increased as I invested more and more into my marketing efforts. Slowly but surely, I even started to get referrals and additional projects from returning customers!
With practice, I’ve also learned how to better communicate my value and negotiate rates with potential clients, which has led to better projects and higher service fees.
Work Through Challenges
Although my business is growing and I am gaining success and confidence, things are not always easy. I work through challenges each day, taking opportunities to learn and grow. For example, one recent project resulted in a dispute about payment. I only had a verbal agreement because the scope of the project changed along the way. Because I didn’t think to get each scope change written down and signed, I ended up doing three weeks of free work. This was an important learning moment for me. I now make sure every agreement and any subsequent changes are backed by a signed contract.
Be Open to Different Types of Opportunities
My active social media presence helped me promote my services and expertise. But it also led to new and unexpected paid opportunities. As I promoted the launch of my clients’ new websites, I started getting requests for coaching and mentoring new web-developers. It was a growth opportunity that I never considered. I also got requests to help clients with photo-editing and content translation. I’ve found that one of the most exciting things about working independently is you’re totally in control of all the twists and turns your business may take. And, mine took a lot!
Take the Plunge
In hindsight, I’m so glad I pursued my dreams and started my own business. I’ve sharpened my skills and learned so much about marketing myself and building my brand. I’ve faced a lot of challenges, but they are far outweighed by the excitement of watching my business grow.
So, if you’re debating taking the plunge to start your own business and are willing to learn more than you ever imagined, I say go forth with confidence!
Sasha is a California based Web/IU developer, currently building websites for a tech company in Silicon Valley. Sasha also creates digital art and blogs about her experiences as an entrepreneur.