Starting your own business or breaking out of a traditional corporate role is a dream many of us only dare to dream. Two years ago I made this dream a reality when I left the corporate world to follow my passion of becoming a professional writer. Prior to that I spent over a decade in sales, marketing and events. Leaving my career was a huge risk because I didn’t yet have any concrete evidence that I knew how to put together sentences well on paper, or that I could story-tell with the best of them. But just like anyone who’s starting a new company or building a brand – you have to start somewhere. The first step is always the hardest.
Once I did leave corporate America I quickly realized its a whole different ball game when you don’t have the recognition of an established brand printed below your name on a business card. You’ll definitely have your work cut out for you, but once you’re ready to take the leap here is some sound advice to set you up for success:
Set realistic expectations
When you begin your new venture it’s important to set short-term and long-term goals. Make them achievable, too. Actualized goals enhance your confidence and give you motivation to keep going. You will not be an overnight success or replace your corporate salary in six months, so plan and save. Patience is a virtue you must now learn to love.
Start a blog
Even if you’re not a writer or don’t care to be, blogs are a platform to build your network and credibility. Blogs are also a direct line of communication in a professional format to get information to an intended audience. You control the content and control the image. I started a humor blog about parenting, but also had a career advice section that included my business credentials in my bio. I knew any follower could potentially be a future client – and I was right.
Create a professional website
Having a professional website solidifies your business. If it’s in the very early stages and you cannot finance a site, there are plenty of sites with free templates you can use.
Perfect your pitch
The second question everyone asks one another once they meet is, “What do you do”. Be ready to answer this question in a few short sentences that provide just enough information to peak their interest. Let them lead the conversation from there so they don’t feel “pitched” to. Remember, when meeting new people you only have about thirty seconds to build credibility and prove you’re an expert in your field. I advise to practice with friends or in the mirror what to say before you go to any event to build your confidence.
Always ask for referrals
Referrals will be your lifeline. Never end a professional conversation without first asking for referrals. All of my paid work I received in the first year was strictly from referrals. Once someone does refer a client to you, be sure to send a thank you by way of a personal written note or a small token of appreciation.
You will have to prospect
Prospecting is something few people like to do, but it works. Dedicate an hour each day to reach out to friends, old colleagues and potential clients. When I first started, I reached out to every old contact I had to tell them about my new venture. I also follow up periodically to check in and keep the connection alive.
Reach out to others who took the same path as you. With social media it’s easier than ever to connect and network. I found my newfound friends’ advice to be invaluable and helped guide me to where I am today.
Be present on social media
In order to be successful today, you have to play the social media game. It is the easiest, least expensive, way to grow your business. Choose a few outlets, mine are Facebook and Twitter, and maintain them well. Do not create accounts for every platform available; you will not be able to manage them all. Post several times daily to maintain visibility. Promote activity and conversation to boost your posts. If you are not a regular in a newsfeed, people will forget about you and your services. I’ve built my over half of my portfolio from using social media.
Never turn down an invite
I know this can be difficult, but each event provides the opportunity for new relationships. Relationships build partnerships. Partnerships build empires.
You will do a lot of free work
In my experience, free work led to paid work. Any work is an opportunity to expand your network and build your brand. In the beginning, I accepted any opportunity that came across my desk and was in my skillset. I still do free work, especially if it’s great exposure or for a reputable brand or cause.
Pay it forward
Those who give always get. It brings me joy helping others who are where I was just two years ago. Cross promotion, training, advising those seeking assistance is also something I will not turn down. As I said earlier: relationships build partnerships and partnerships build empires.
Carving out your own way is a lot of work, more than I could have ever imagined, but building the life you love – is worth it. The smallest step taken is a step in the right direction. Know you will experience set backs and feelings of failure, but if you keep moving forward and remain persistent – success will come.