Shane's been self-employed since 2005 when he wrote online for money after a car accident forced him to find a way to work from home.
Should You Be Self-Employed?
The fact that virtually no one uses the word self-employed, but the fancier word "entrepreneur" has taken its place shows just how trendy working for oneself has become. I've been mostly self-employed with a "real job" as my occasional side hustle here and there since 2005, so I have more than a little bit of experience in the ups and downs of self-employment.
Don't get me wrong, I love being self-employed, but it's not for everyone. And multiple times, I've contemplated how much further ahead financially in life I'd be had I gone the career route while making my self-employment a side hustle. That's not regret, but it is a fact.
Being an entrepreneur is extremely hard, and while I wouldn't discourage anyone from going that route, I do believe more attention needs to be given to the struggles and downsides of going that route. So let's jump in so you can have a more complete picture of building your business and decide if it's really right for you.
1. You'll Work Twice as Many Hours (At Least)
Forty hours a week? You dream! If you're serious about building your own business, that means a lot of 10–12 hour days, six days a week at a minimum! Depending on the business, you may need to work a lot more. If you're working less, it's because you're still working to supplement your income, are more of a freelancer, or are probably in trouble unless you have a lot of help.
Building a business is an extreme amount of work. Even if you're designing something with The 4-Hour Work Week lifestyle in mind, it's worth noting that anyone who has actually read the book noted the author Timothy Ferriss had spent 80–100 hours a week for 1–2 years to build up the business to the point where he could then apply those concepts that eventually led to the best-selling book.
So prepare for the long, long haul because there were many years where holidays during the day were with family, and at night when everyone went to bed, I was back on the keyboard making it happen.
The initial excitement will wear off. People who supported you early will question you when you're not the next "overnight millionaire" in a few months. A lot of passive-aggressive or mocking comments will follow on days you don't want to work, but you need to commit to putting in the hours if you want to succeed.
2. No One Will Take You Seriously at First (Nor Should They)
You might have a group of really supportive friends or family members who encourage you or give you the "Good for you!" encouragement, and that's nice. At least for the first month or two. When your business doesn't immediately skyrocket into the stratosphere in mere weeks or months, that support often goes away, especially if there's no one in your circle who has gone the entrepreneur route before.
Even if you don't get negative feedback, in the beginning, no one is going to take you very seriously.
- Not friends
- Not family
- Not potential clients (which is the one that really matters)
- Not the competition
- And deep down, you may potentially start to lose faith in even yourself
This doesn't matter. You need to push through all of this if you want to make it running your own business. You need to see what they don't, listen to people who have actually done what you want to do, and swallow all pride and embarrassment to do whatever it takes to break on through.
But the part of this section title that probably caught your attention was the "Nor should they." What do I mean by this?
Well, tough love time. Ask yourself these questions:
- What have you actually done?
- How do you know you can do as good as the competition, much less better?
- Why should a business owner trust their business with your lack of a track record?
- If you're being honest, would you trust an unproven startup like you against a larger entity with a proven track record?
Read More From Toughnickel
"Potential" is something you like to see in junior high and high schoolers. After that, it's just a synonym for "Haven't done anything (yet)."
You need to PROVE that your potential clients should take you seriously, and if you understand that and have that mindset, you are far more likely to succeed.
3. You Need to Grow a Thick Skin, or You'll Fail
Oh yeah, the classic thick skin. I could throw in dozens of quotes here that can be summed up as "If you don't have haters, you're doing it wrong." You need to have a thick skin because even if you're one of the best of the best, you will have people and clients who hate your work and even personally hate you whether they've met you in person or not.
Welcome to running your own business. There will be insults. There will be refusals. There will be times when you get called up on sub-standard or mediocre work that you thought was good until you saw the review. You will also turn in amazing work that gets ripped to shreds.
On one writing platform I started at way back in the day as a freelance writer, I was one of the highest-rated writers, and I had 40 repeat clients who put in feedback some variation of "The best writer I've ever hired" or "My highest paid freelancer and I'm still getting him for a steal."
On that platform, I had over 450 positive reviews, 5/5 stars. I had two 3 star reviews with no comments. And I had six 1-star reviews who trashed my work, my revision attempts, and spat paragraphs of venom in the review section (despite finding four of them using my work word-for-word on their sites later).
It's part of the game. Accept it, take any valid lessons to get better, and then move on. You need thick skin because it doesn't get easier as you build your company up, so you need to be able to separate constructive, helpful criticism from all other kinds and not let it get you down.
4. You Live or Die on Cash Flow
There's a reason that so many companies are ramping up, looking at funding or brag about venture capital investments: because they want to attract more. This is because cash flow is king, and most businesses are going to live or die on getting that early cash flow up to the point where it can self-support and then grow further so you can grow the business to where you want it to be.
Getting steady, reliable cash flow is crucial. If you're always scrambling for a little bit more cash to pay the bills, that almost always results in taking worse work for less cash just to make those payments.
That's wasted time because that's time not spent on getting high-end clients, advancing your offerings, or improving your overall process, things that are all much more useful and important.
Getting that cash flow is crucial, and it also makes a huge difference when it comes to getting future funding or support when the time is right for a strong expansion or investment in a big project.
Cash flow is absolutely crucial, so don't let it get ignored.
5. Learn to Speak to Pain
This goes hand in hand with marketing or selling, but I'd argue this is the concept behind all those skills that is crucial. Seeing the pain points of who your business serves, understanding those problems, and being able to offer a solution in terms they understand and relate to makes a huge difference between whether you'll be successful or fail.
Speaking to pain is powerful, and it brings your message back to where it needs to be as an entrepreneur: not "What I can do" but shift the message to "This is how I can help you.
- Don't focus on features; focus on benefits.
- Don't pitch them a product; pitch them a solution to their biggest problems.
- Don't tell your company's story; explain how you'll solve their biggest issues.
When you can speak to their pain and provide a clear solution, you won't have a problem figuring out the marketing and won't need advanced sales tactics because you'll know how to speak to your potential clients and grow a long list of examples (proof) of how you can be the solution to their problems that they've been searching for.
6. Be Prepared to Fail a Lot
Failing is a normal part of creating your own business, and it's going to happen frequently. Even multi-millionaires have projects that are massive failures, so why would you think you're immune to the same?
Be Prepared So You Don't Get Discouraged
Failure is going to happen. If you quit, you lose, and the business loses. While no one likes failure and everyone would prefer to succeed, no one's perfect. Growing a successful business or making a living as a self-employed freelancer is dependent on being able to learn lessons from failure instead of quitting.
Being prepared makes this much easier.
Learn From the Mistakes You Made
Study why you failed, what went wrong, and why. There are lessons to be learned from every failure. Maybe you need a new strategy. Maybe you didn't understand the market.
Maybe the idea was there, but you were clearly lacking specific skills that would actually allow you to execute. Building up those skills might be the next step to taking your business to the next level.
Double Down on What Went Right
Going too far in the other direction is also a mistake I've seen many beginning entrepreneurs make. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Look at the things that were done well, went right, or got results, and double down on those when you're able to.
Don't Let Failure Make You Scared or Gun Shy in the Future
While it's natural instinct to try to stay away from failing again, you can't get gun shy as a business owner. Learn from past mistakes, reinforce good habits, learn new skills, and take those risks in the future to grow the business, pick up new clients, and expand.
Don't let past failures prevent future success—use them to learn and grow.
7. You Will Need to Learn a Lot!
No one starts a business with all the skills they need to succeed. Not even close. Aside from the fact that there are so many things in life and business that are best learned by doing versus studying or reading, every single business, niche, location, and industry will be different and have its own unique quirks or challenges.
In addition to that, business isn't done in a vacuum. Ask any freelancer offering SEO services and ask them how things have changed in the last 10 months, much less the last 10 years.
If you want to grow and succeed as a business, you will need to learn, adapt, and learn some more. You will pick up new skills, learn where you need to hire outside professional help, learn how to do that without getting ripped off, and put some form of that process on repeat for as long as you're in business.
The ability to learn and then use that knowledge to adapt is going to be crucial to your continued and ongoing success.
8. The Ability to Pivot Is Crucial to Your Success
The line to success is rarely straight, and the ability to not only learn but then take that knowledge and act on it to pivot and change your strategy, your sales techniques, the way you provide your services to the market, or your overall plan for building the business.
Pivoting is a nebulous term in that we all understand what it means, but explaining it clearly can prove a bit more challenging. Successfully running a business you found is more about being able to do it versus explaining it.
Pivoting from strategies that don't work to those that do is crucial, and being able to jump on a strategy that's working and doubling down on it is just as important to help ensure long-term survival and success as getting away from losing strategies.
The faster a startup can do this, the more likely it is to get ahead of the pack and end up with long-term success. Pivoting isn't just an action, but being able to do it well is a skill in and of itself.
9. Soft Skills Are Powerful
Often overlooked, soft skills are really crucial when it comes to running
Just a short list of "soft skills" includes:
- Time management
- Ability to listen
- Clear communication
- Clear and concise written communication
- Creative problem solving
- Creative thinking
- Critical thinking
- Emotional empathy (EQ)
- Work ethic
These are skills that aren't easily taught, they're not tangible "hard skills" that can be taught by book or class, memorized like other facts, but they are crucial skills that can have an enormous impact on projects.
Don't underestimate the soft skills that you have, and think of ways to work on ones where you might be lacking. At first glance, an improv class or working on socialization and public speaking skills might not seem like something that is going to help with business, but those activities can help a series of creative soft skills that then, in turn, make you more capable and prepared for a bevy of other challenges.
10. The Market Is Never Wrong (Whether You Like It or Not)
If no one wants your product or service, it's not them; it's you. Entrepreneurs who take rejection personally are going to struggle and eventually quit. At the end of the day, the market decides how good or bad an idea is.
Even if hypothetically you have the perfect solution that a certain type of business needs, if they don't buy, then something is your fault. Maybe it's your sales strategy; maybe it's your inability to explain it, maybe it's a lack of connecting to the pain of your target demographic.
Whatever the faults are, if you assume responsibility, you can start working on fixing the problems so your message does get through. Or you can make adjustments to actually meet what the market wants instead of the all too common route of trying to tell the market what they want and failing as a result.
11. Action Trumps Everything Else
A mentor once told me that "nothing trumps action," and that was followed up a few years later by finishing up an internship where the last line spoken to all the interns was: "Nothing trumps taking massive action. If in doubt, just act, and you will move the needle."
This doesn't mean it's not important to research, learn, study markets, etc., but nothing takes the place of massive action, and I've seen that play out in so many places, in so many ways, over and over again in so many businesses.
If in doubt, work. Take action. The businesses that tend to get attention are ones that get a big break or make their own after 10+ years of grinding, but many more successful self-employed simply blue-collar grind their way to success, and enough action can make that happen by itself in many cases.
Noah Kagan Talking to Multi-Millionaires
Entrepreneurship Is an Adventure, So Go Write Your Story!
While these warnings can be discouraging to some people just getting started, they shouldn't be. No two self-employment or entrepreneurship journeys are going to be the same, and the personal and professional growth that comes from being self-employed, from starting a business, and from giving it your best is an amazing reward regardless of whether or not that first business takes off, crashes and burns, or ends up somewhere in the middle.
Following the 11 tips here will help you avoid major mistakes common to beginning entrepreneurs, be prepared for hardships that catch others by surprise, and get you focused on building the best possible business you can, even as a beginner.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Shane Dayton