Welcome to "ON YOUR OWN"- LongIsland.Com's "Self Employment" Column
Welcome to LongIsland.com's "Self Employment" expert pages. In this column, we'll be looking at issues concerning those fortunate individuals who are, or wish to become, self-employed. The focus of the column will be on full-time self-employment, not part-time or supplementary small businesses.
As a way of letting you know my qualifications to write this column, my working career began shortly after my college graduation in 1984. I went to work for a local market research company, and gradually moved my way into a comfortable middle-management position. I returned to school in 1986 and began working on my MBA. I received my MBA in 1990, and realized that the career path I had chosen, although lucrative and promising, was not something I wished to spend my life doing. After much soul-searching, I realized that my ideal job was something I had always pursued as a hobby- performing magic. (I know, everyone I knew had the same reaction you just had.) After a six-month planning period, I gave my notice in February of 1992, and have been on my own ever since. I've learned a great deal since that time- much of it from making mistakes.
My goals in this column are two-fold. First, I'd like to impart the information I've learned in the course of running my own business; second, I'd like to be a source of motivation and inspiration for those individuals who find themselves in the same position I was in 10 years ago- working in a job that they are unhappy in, feeling trapped, and knowing that there's got to be something out there you can truly enjoy doing. Nothing makes me happier than speaking to people in that position, relating my story, and watching the look on someone's face when they realize that they can do it, too. Let's get started.
THE BEGINNING- MOTIVATION AND PLANNING
Probably the first question you need to ask yourself before walking in to your boss' office and quitting is to ask yourself "Why am I doing this?" I believe that simply being unhappy at your present job is not a compelling enough reason to start your own business. While working for someone else can be very stressful, runnning your own business can be even more so- it's simply a different set of stressors. Unless you are truly happy doing what you do, you will simply be replacing one type of aggravation with another.
To be able to deal with the stresses of being self-employed- worrying about bringing in clients, dealing with paperwork you've never had to do before, working longer hours than you ever did in your previous job- you need to truly love what you are doing when you are engaged in the actual work of your business. Every day, I love doing what I do- I enjoy performing, I enjoy marketing, I enjoy writing sales literature. Enjoying your work makes it easy to deal with the downside- the uncertainty, long hours, and lack of support and structure.
Another important factor that must be taken into account is the support of your spouse or partner. While it may be possible to succeed being self-employed without the support of your partner, having him or her on your side makes it a lot easier, and in my opinion, much more fun. Thankfully, when I told my wife I wanted to leave my job to become a professional magician, she was 100 percent supportive. I know I could not have done it witout her, and her support strengthened our marriage even more than I would have suspected.
Of course, the best way to gain your partner's support is to show him or her that this is not just a whim. For me, this involved setting up a plan of action. Simply saying "I want to be a magician" did not make it happen. I need to figure out how I would be able to make enough money to keep paying our bills. At the time I made my decision, our overhead was relatively low. We did not own a home yet, we had no children, and our bills were low. This made my decision financially easier.
The main problem I faced was determining how I was going to keep enough shows coming in- this is the main problem most new businesses face- where are the clients going to come from. I knew that I could probably make my current level of income simply performing at birthday parties on weekends, but that didn't seem to be a viable long-term market. I didn't want to be away from home on the weekends, and that particualr market segment was very price-sensitive, with a lot of "weekend warriors" competing for the same shows. I needed to find a way to work as much as possible during the week.
For many people who are self-employed, this is a crucial point. In the insurance industry, salespeople have a high turnover because of this same fact. Initially, it seems like there are many potential clients for your business. Once you've sold all of your relatives and friends, however, that's when you have to sink or swim. The ability to see beyond the obvious prospects is what will make or break your business. No matter what type of business you're thinking about starting, you must be able to find a market niche that isn't already tapped, and fingure out a way of reaching those people. That process, of course, is called marketing, and it is the most important skill a self-employed person can have. The best product in the world will go unnoticed without it; with good marketing, even an average product can be a winner.
Next time, we'll look at how to develop a marketing plan. Thanks for reading this column- any questions, ideas, or comments are welcome. Email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time!