One of my favorite things to do is create vision boards – it’s like permission to daydream. And while that’s a great way to find out what your heart wants, a lot of us need something more solid, a plan to get to our dreams. After all, that house in the French Mediterranean probably won’t buy itself, right?
When I decided to branch out as a freelancer, there were so many things to do before I even got down to the business of starting my business. It was mind-boggling.
And honestly, if I’d been better prepared, I would’ve done a lot more of that work before I quit my full-time job. So if becoming an entrepreneur is on your vision board, take it from me: Start early on your dream, because there’s plenty you can do while you work your 9-to-5.
1. Write Your Business Plan
Maybe when you hear this you think (as I did) boooooooring! Who wants to do all those nitty-gritty details? Who’s even gonna read it? Well, if you’re looking for financial backing, the bank will be interested, for starters. And maybe your significant other or anyone else relying on your income.
But even if you’re not financing your business with a loan, a business plan is something that every entrepreneur, solopreneur or freelancer can benefit from. Why? Because it gets you looking at your business from angles you hadn’t thought of before.
You’ll find the answers to questions like:
Some of the best insight I’ve heard was that most people who start a business are not business people. They are folks who are good at making a product or providing a service and think they can do it better than others.
Most of us aren’t really skilled in business sense, and writing your business plan can give you a better sense of where your strengths and weaknesses are as well.
2. Take a Class
After you have an idea of where you excel and where you could use some help, look into taking classes on running a business. A lot of community colleges and learning centers have night classes on accounting, marketing, HTML and many other business skills. Small business centers often have weekend seminars.
Just a few hours a week over several months can get you to a place that will help exponentially in the future of your business. Plus the skills you learn while you’re juggling classes with work – time management and prioritizing to name a few – will get you prepped for being your own boss as well.
3. Create Your Financial Action Plan
A lot of us don’t have a timeline for when we’ll be able to start our business because we don’t know when we’ll have the cash to do it. Using your business plan as a guide, look at what you’ll need to invest initially and open a savings account for your business.
Start contributing to it monthly, even if it’s only $10. Add any extra cash you make (tax returns, gifts, etc.) to the pot as well. Create a fund-raiser-type thermometer to tell you how you’re doing and update it quarterly. This will help you get in the habit of reviewing your business finances, and it can encourage you to save even more.
4. Find a Mentor
Unless you went to college for business, you probably don’t have a lot of people in your life who are successful business owners. Most of the folks you know probably work for someone else, and while that’s fine most of the time, you need someone in your life that understands your drive and desire. Because entrepreneurs are special people – they like to take risks, they value their freedom.
Finding someone who has already done what you want to do is invaluable, not just for honing your business acumen and improving your network, but also for camaraderie and encouragement. Check with your local Chamber Of Commerce, Small Business Development Centers or Service Corps Of Retired Executives for names of people who might be able to help you.
Ideally you want someone within your industry, but more importantly, you want a person who has good business sense and time to mentor you. Reach out to a few of these people in a respectful and formal way, almost like you would approach a prospective employer.
Know that most of them are busy, so be sure to stay on point and assure them that their help would not be wasted on you. Then slowly get to know them over coffee, lunch or some other industry-specific activity. Come armed with questions, and be sure to always follow up with thank-you notes with specific insights you’ve gleaned from your visits with them.
Remember that so much of being a successful entrepreneur is keeping the back-end of your business running smoothly – not just providing goods and services. Starting early, while you’re still getting a paycheck from someone else, will help put you in the position to make more money later because the business of running your business will already be handled.