Proceed with Caution

As much as you may love the idea of working for yourself, you have to also think about the realities of being self-employed. For starters, there are often a lot of really hard days. Until you fully get off the ground you have to do a lot of hustling. Be prepared to have some periods of extreme highs that give way to many more extreme lows.

Working from home does keep your costs down. However, it doesn’t always make it any easier. The temptations to stay in bed are often over-powering and if you don’t already suffer from depression, you can experience for the first time, emotions that you may not realize or understand. It takes a lot of self-motivation and fortitude when working for and by yourself. Sometimes you forget why you decided to make the plunge and if you can make it long-term. Those are the times that you have to really dig deep. If you’re in a situation where you aren’t able to pay your bills, you should really consider other alternatives with regard to supplementing your income while embarking on the road of self-employment.

Statistically more small business fail than succeed. However, you shouldn’t necessarily view this as an immediate deterrent to starting your own business. You should, however, be very cognizant of the very likely reality of some extreme hard times. The fact is, it’s not at all easy. Deciding to start a business takes a lot out of you and its impact is far-reaching. It will test you and it will test your relationships with your significant other as well as friends and family. Regardless of you deciding to have a regular brick and mortar establishment or if you’re simply working from home, do what you can to be better about saving money and about sticking to a strict budget so that you’re better prepared to avoid some of the more common pitfalls.

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10 Small Business Startup Tips

According to a recent article, over a half a million small business get started each month while more shut down than start-up. With this statistic it’s not a surprise that some would be leery in joining the almost 30 million small businesses in the United States. It may also come as a surprise that over half of the working population works in a small business and that most small businesses are home-based. Why then do people start small business with these kinds of odds? Because many of us are still deciding what we want to be when we grow up. And once we’ve learned that, we choose to make a go of it on our own.

Starting a small business or a home-based business is not something that should be entered into lightly. More often than not you’ll go through a long period languishing while trying to make your business viable. As with many big decisions in life, starting a business is a very big risk. There’s never an assurance of success. Rather, it is expected and statistically likely that you’ll fail. However, if you’re willing to work at beating the odds and fulfill a professional goal, this may still be the route for you.

I’d worked in libraries for over a decade. I spent the majority of that time in library administration. I knew a good deal about how to run a small business because I’d essentially been doing so for quite some time. However, when you go out on your own there are many pitfalls that can be made in your businesses’ infancy. Contrary to the popular song lyrics, the best things in life aren’t free. Shortcuts will likely come back to haunt you and so too will not putting in the sweat equity needed to not only financially succeed, but to also feel emotionally and psychologically empowered.

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Putting Your Best Self Forward

A lot can be said about doing the little and sometimes free things that will put yourself in a more positive and credible light. Vagueness aside, I’m talking about more than getting inexpensive but professional business cards or even an elegant and simple website. I’m talking about making sure that you’re fully ready to take on clients. I’d managed, since deciding to work for myself, to avoid doing a service agreement. If you’re wondering what or why you need one, you’re not alone.

Sure, you can put up a storefront and you can have a small or even concrete idea about what services you want to provide and at what price, however, you have to go beyond the basics if you want to grow your business and protect your interests. I am a full supporter of Elance. It is the first and only freelancer website I’ve used. I found almost immediate personal success there and in so doing I tailored what would have been some semblance of a service agreement into the fillable area of my profile. I have since grown from solely engaging Elance clients and with that growth comes changes. Sometimes those changes you’re prepared for while others you have to just figure out, albeit, not alone.

It you’re in the business of providing a service, in my case, as a virtual assistant, you have to make clear to your clients and sometimes, surprisingly, even to yourself what it is that you will and won’t do and for just how much. Don’t allow the idea of it to overwhelm you. In truth, there are plenty of free sources on the web where you can find sample text for the service industry and position that you need. When in doubt, Google it! I devoted 12 hours of my own personal time to take the next step in becoming a more polished business. I even feel more in control as a result of having done so.

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Shedding the Baggage of the Past

The past two days have found me very bitter and angry. The pain and baggage of my past career came rearing it’s soul-sucking head. Like a personal relationship gone bad or even a death in the family, unresolved issues can weigh on you and kill personal and professional growth. Rather than sit and stew over something that there’s no changing, it’s important to use the pent-up energy and use it in a more positive way. Even though no good deed goes unpunished, you can make lemonade out of lemons.

I sacrificed my health and so much of my life for my former career and employer. In the end I decided that after over 12 years, a master’s degree in that discipline and countless other professional accomplishments, I was finished. The thing is, while there is a lot of things you can’t take with you, what you and should take with you are the skills and know-how into your next stage of life. Just because that job and part of your life is over, it doesn’t mean that life is over.

There will be plenty of days when you wonder if you made the right decision. In your gut and in your heart you probably know that you did. However, when faced with what you feel is a sense of immediacy, life may not see it the same way. Your current pain can be just a momentary bump in the road. Sure, it can be very hard. Your mind goes back to the security you felt you left behind and the instability of today. It’s much like impulse buying, you can, in a moment, think that you made the best decision and then suffer from buyer’s remorse shortly afterward. Cooler heads will prevail in time. I promise. This too may be yet another phase in the twists and turns of life.

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Finding Your Stride

The chaos that occurs as a result of being a sole proprietor and in working from home is surprising to most. Sure, rolling out of the bed and having only a few steps to walk beats having to get in the car and dealing with the headaches of commuting. However, there is a great deal of self-discipline that one must have in order to be successful. I assure you, I didn’t just immediately become self-disciplined while working from home. There still continues to be a lot of trial and error. Some days, like today, when my husband is off from work I find that I feel a lot less interested in working. Rather, I prefer to spend it in his company. We’ll sleep in, watch television. Simply, we relax. And although in those moments I sometimes still feel the strain of figuring out what to do in order to make ends meet, I also know that downtime is required in the pursuit of success. If you burn out you’re no good to anyone.

With perseverance you’ll start to make it. It may not be at the time you want it to or even in the way you expect, but it does come. For the first few months I languished as I reduced my hourly rate in order to gain clients and more experience being a full-time virtual assistant. And despite what some may say, being in the right place at the right time also helps. One of my current clients referred me to another of my current clients and then he, to another. And while I don’t always like working multiple projects, they do give me a great deal of variety and each capitalize on some of my favorite personal skill sets. But don’t think that now everything is great. To the contrary, I’m still very nervous as being an independent contractor doesn’t give you job security, not in the sense that one may theoretically have in a “regular” job. When you find a client and a project that is long-term, then those are the ones you get excited about.

It’s sometimes hard to accept that as an independent contractor you do miss out on what I consider passive income for a regular 9-to-5 employee, PTO. Personal time off can happen whenever you like but in these cases if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. That’s why it’s extremely important that you find something you enjoy doing because if you’re at all like me, you only get paid for each minute you actually work. That means those in-between times when you’re surfing the Internet and you realize an hour has gone by, you’re not getting paid. You’ll also discover that while there may be things you’re really good at, they may not be things you find joy in when you try to monetize it. What I mean is that sometimes, when you have the added pressure of having to do something versus doing it at your leisure, it may not be something you want to take on in your professional life.

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Becoming Overwhelmed

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed when you’re starting your own business, even more so if you’re your only employee and are fully responsible for all the things that happen and don’t happen within your business. You can drive yourself crazy as you contemplate the things that you must do as well as all the other things that you need to do but can’t find the time for. How do you solve this dilemma? You need to learn how to breathe and take your time.

As a business begins and starts to grow it experiences a lot of growing pains. You must decide how you’re going to handle your bookkeeping, taxes, your marketing, everything. And it’s easy to become depressed and struggle to find the right balance. When embarking on my home business I was anxious for work. I was determined to do as many projects as I could in order to bring in some money. Sure, I earned money but it was not at all near the amount of money I needed in order to make a living.

I’m still finding my way. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities. I now have two recurring clients and another pet project. However, as I’m still in my full-time home business infancy, I’m finding that it’s easy to get caught up in the pitfalls of working for yourself. It’s easy for your worse habits to worsen. If you’re a workaholic then you’ll take that to a whole new level. If you love to be on the computer, days can begin to blend.

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With a Little Help From Your Friends and Family

Being a small business owner can be a fickle experience. You are plagued with extremes in highs and lows and you do, in fact, work longer hours than you would if you were working a 9-to-5 job. So why do it? Because if you’re smart, you have chosen a business that doesn’t feel like a job. Over the past several days I have spent more time awake than I have spent sleeping. Again, this falls into the realm of finding a good work/life balance. Long-term, you definitely don’t want to forego days of sleep. However, the thing about doing what you love and doing it from the comfort of your own home is that when you get in the zone, you can stay in the zone for as long as you can sustain it.

This past week has been very fruitful. I went from being a little disillusioned a few days prior to gaining more experience and clients. I am almost nearing a point where I will either hold of on submitting proposals for Elance jobs or I’ll have to parlay the experience into obtaining higher paying opportunities. And even though I have now earned a little money, the part that I love the most is the work. I love organizing, documenting, researching, it’s what fuels me. And that is why at the end of the day, even on the days where there is not a lot of projects going on, the feeling of doing what it is that I love is well worth the very high highs and the difficult lows.

Becoming self-employed is a very big step and unless you have a large pot of money, it never seems like the right time to just do it. A quote that I recently read by “homeless valedictorian,” Griffin Furlong sums up the experience very nicely. “No one is going to hand you success. You have to go out and do it yourself.” There will be plenty of moments where you will wonder if you can make it. Then there are the moments where you feel like you’re doing exactly what you should be doing. Don’t get too deterred by the chaos and uncertainties of it. And when possible, be sure to let the people who support you emotionally and financially know that you couldn’t do it without them. We sometimes forget that achieving our dream comes at a price. So sure, put in those long hours, do the occasional “at cost” job and do what you can to hone your craft. But at the end of the day, be sure to spend it with the ones who love and support you on your best and worst days.

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The Highs and Lows of a Home Business

Starting or even committing to a home business can be very challenging. You are guaranteed to go through almost constant highs and lows. I made the decision 20 days ago to make my side business my primary one. It meant forsaking all others and consciously deciding to commit my whole self to the process. Each day brings challenges and uncertainties. And until you get things really going, you have to sometimes put in some very long hours.

I do have a few working projects. I have two that I’m actively working on and another two that will be starting within the next week or so. Elance has been a great place to set up a virtual workspace. That is where the bulk of my leads have come from. And while I’ve certainly been busy, it has not yet materialized into any real income. Like anything else that’s worth fighting for, you have to put in the time and dedication even when you feel like you’re not making any progress.

One of my projects that I’ve devoted the most time and energy to is also one that I have not yet been paid for and which I won’t be compensated for the full-time and scope of what I’ve completed. However, it was something that I had to consciously decide to do. Sometimes you have to decide if the experience is worth more to you than what you’ll make monetarily. While I don’t always encourage doing this, it can be a good thing to do in moderation. You may find that working for free provides you with the chance to learn new skills that you’d previously only dreamed about learning or had been putting off learning all together. But as I said, you must know how to balance your desire to learn more with the reality of having bills to pay.

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Up and Running

It’s a little hard to contain my excitement, so much so that I’ve not been sleeping much. When you decide to fully commit to being your own boss you do so in the face of regular convention. I’ve worked a “regular” job for over a decade. A lot can be said for the consistency of a bi-weekly or monthly paycheck so it’s important to know whether or not owning a home business is for you. When you decide to work for yourself full-time you have to do so accepting and expecting that it’s going to be very hard. My husband works a full-time job and although his benefits have not yet kicked in, we’ve been fortunate enough to have insurance through the Marketplace and so that’s taken a load off my mind. For all the bad things that there has been said about it, as someone who needed it and who now has a little more peace of mind deciding to work for myself.

This week I gained two potentially long-term clients. In one case it seems that it could be enough work and compensation that I can take the time needed to really ease into my business. When developing a business you must at least know what it is that you want to do, what services you’re going to provide, the price point you’ll be doing those services, etc. I use Elance. It’s a great way to find jobs and develop relationships with clients seeking servicing. So, if nothing else, you can do what you love part-time via this avenue.

I’ve also had to pay a great deal of attention to sunk costs. When you’re starting out and you don’t have much in the way of income to support monthly recurring costs you must be very careful. But, just because you need various services, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get them for free or at an affordable price. In my last post, Small Business Basics, I discuss some of the services I use for my business. In most cases there are free options provided by the providers. Thus, if you want to take it slow and very small, you’re able to do so at no cost.

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Small Business Basics

Yesterday was a full and exciting day. The cost of running a small business professionally can be minuscule if you’re careful. What I mean is that you can use the following providers for some basic and much-needed services:

VistaPrint – A great and very inexpensive place for business cards and other promotional items. Don’t scrimp on their free offerings that include their branding (not unless you like that kind of thing). Pay the little bit extra so that it looks truly professional. I purchased cards from them in 2011 and did so during a great promotion so I still have cards and mailing labels even today.

FreshBooks – If you’re just starting out and don’t have many clients you can use the premiere online accounting and invoicing software, FreshBooks. As of 5/7/14 you can still get a free account which provides you with the ability to add up to 3 clients. You do have to pay a premium for the first paid package. This package, which costs $19.99 per month, allows you to have up to 25 clients and provides some additional features. I used the free account for a long time, I then upgraded, downgraded and I just upgraded again. A way to get the most of the free account is to use one of the client slots as your “general client.” This works well if you do a one-off job for someone. Plus, even if you upgrade later, it’s easy to reassign their invoice to their newly created client status. There is also a iPhone and iPad app in addition to their web interface. I’ve used them since 2011 and while Zoho‘s invoicing software also comes with a great deal of bells and whistles (including their paid plan of $15 per month and 500 clients), I’m sticking with FreshBooks.

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