First Steps to Working for Yourself (Follow-Up)


Last week I presented a scenario from one of our readers. Anna was recently laid off from a middle management job, and rather than look for work, she was hoping to become self-employed for the first time.

What are the first steps? she wanted to know. I said that I would share my answer, but first I wanted to hear from the rest of our community.

If you’re in a similar situation or are just curious, you can read some of the answers and see if any advice serves your needs. I’ve copied a few of my favorite responses below.

Derek said …

I think *THE MOST* important thing to working for yourself is to earn your first $100 to $500. That means that in the first few weeks, skip:

– Branding
– Buying business cards
– Establishing LLCs
– Complicated strategies
– Etc

Skip everything except things that will generate immediate cash. Why? Because the very first time you make tangible money as a freelancer or solo entrepreneur, it suddenly becomes a lot more real. You’re no longer just experiencing it as a dream or a hope, but you’re actually on track to making it happen.

Krishan said …

Create something — anything — and get it in front of a potential customer. If you think you want to help people with their taxes, create brochure. If you want to do arts and crafts, make something and post it on Etsy. If you want to start writing, start a blog on posterous and send it to all your friends via email and ask them subscribe and share it.

Michelle said …

The old cliche of do what you love and the money will follow, should actually read, “Share what you love and the money will follow.” It is through the sharing of what you love that value is brought into the world – the doing is only a fraction of the process. So I think you should focus not so much about what you’re going to do, but what you’re passionate about and how you can share that with the world.

Gene said …

What’s missing in your life? What are you looking for that you can’t find? That’s how Restoration Hardware was started. Someone who had a need and couldn’t find the goods they were looking. And it doesn’t have to be goods it can be services too.

Alain said …

Self employed for 20+ years. First thing you need is to be ABSOLUTELY comfortable with uncertainty. Regardless of what you decide to do, being self employed you will rarely know where the next few checks are coming from. You need to be real honest with yourself that you can deal with this. In twenty years of self employment [successful 6 figure hospitality consulting/lobbying] I rarely could tell where my money was coming from 90 days out. I simply did the work, persisted and it all worked out but the anxiety never left. Your partner, children, family, friends, bankers etc are usually not that accepting.

Brandon said …

Decide whether you want to be self-employed or if you want to own a business. There is a big difference. Either way can be the right way for individual people. But decide whether you are a solo individual providing a service (like writing, or graphic design, etc.) or whether you are creating a system where a product (or service) is being provided for customers, and you are the one who manages the system.

Heather said …

Unlike many other folks here, I’m not going to recommend you dig deeply into yourself and follow your heart. You need to create a business that meets your financial needs and rewards you with all the benefits of self-employment. Yes, you can create a business around your skills and interests, but at the end of the day it’s still a business and must be treated as such. You need your work, and you need your hobbies.

Our biased judges picked Derek as the winner of the $50 gift certificate from Thanks to everyone who shared advice!

My Thoughts

I’ve been self-employed for almost all of my adult life, a story I told in more detail in the AONC book. It wasn’t always a strategic process—in the beginning I was motivated primarily by the desire to avoid working for anyone else—but most of what I’ve learned in nearly 15 years of working for myself can be reduced to a few simple concepts.

My first step would be to figure out what I can offer that other people will buy. Everything comes down to this interaction. How can I create something that is both desirable and compelling?

People ask all the time about various technical things: “Which web host should I use? What’s an RSS feed? How can I accept online payments?” and so on. There’s nothing wrong with these questions, but they’re not what you should focus on when first learning about self-employment.

I made a short video about the distinction between strategy and tactics a while back. Simply put, you can always figure technical things out. When you’re not sure what to do about a technical issue, this site is a great resource. But there’s no website that will tell you exactly what kind of business you should run.

Instead, ask yourself questions like these:

What do I know how to make?

What do I know how to do?

Is there anything I can teach?

What skills do I have that are valued by others?

Your “first steps” should comprise of answering these questions, or at least thinking carefully about what to offer the world. You can then tackle the “next steps” of figuring out how to create a business model around the answers, how to craft an offer from your business model, how to get the word out about your offering, and everything else.

Note: We’ll soon be gearing up for the pre-sales of The $100 Startup, a book that has been in the making for more than two years. The book is all about this very subject—how to make a living doing something you love. I’ll be going on tour to 30 cities in the U.S. and Canada starting in May, then to other countries a bit later. Stay tuned!

We have a big community of people like Anna, as well as a lot of people who are already self-employed. I hope to do a better job of answering questions like the one we’ve looked at here, and also to facilitate more interaction between both groups.

But First, I’m Off to Nauru

This morning I’m leaving Brisbane, Australia to fly to Nauru, the world’s smallest republic. Long-time readers may remember that my previous attempt to visit Nauru was disrupted due to a visa problem which resulted in my first visit down under. I LOVE everything about Australia—we’re planning a whole tour down this way later in the year—and I’m also glad about finally getting to Nauru.

The world’s smallest republic is not known for high-speed internet access, so I’ll keep comments off on this post and we’ll resume them again later in the week when I’m back on the mainland.

See you all from the road!

– Chris


Image: Robert

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