Meaningful self-employment: How to get started?

​How to get started building your own business, and making it successful?

Over the past 12 years I’ve coached many self-employed people and I’ve found these to be the overall steps to success:

1. Decide the initial type of business. (It can change over time.)
2. Carve out the time for work. (You can’t expect to just “find the time”.)
3. Get a step by step strategy from mentors and advisors who know your field.
4. Self-regulation, mindful work, resilience… or what I call “joyful productivity”.

Let’s look at each step… 
1. Type of Business

First, decide what type of business you’re passionate about -- and therefore, will have the staying power to see yourself through the many ups and downs.

Basically there are three options:

1. Brick-and-mortar (retail) business
2. Startup that you plan to scale
3. Self-employment / freelancer

Traditionally, when people said they’re going to “go into business” it was imagined to be some store, restaurant, or yoga studio. It can be meaningful to have your dream space and be able to care for your customers in person. 

Yet, it’s very risky compared to the other types of business. It’s a big risk to get into a long-term lease, let alone the equipment and furnishings you’ll need. Then, you’ll have to do your local marketing to get enough customers in to make your business viable. I don’t recommend this type unless you have lots of business experience and a minimum of $100,000 (and 2 years) that you can risk, without dipping into your retirement savings.

On the other hand, the modern idea of a “startup” usually deals with creating software or an app. This requires technical skills or the ability to recruit a technical founder who is willing to work for sweat equity. There’s less risk for this compared to brick-and-mortar, because with a startup, it’s easier to raise investment money. 

Still, I wouldn’t recommend a startup until you have business experience and connections in the target industry.

The third and most modern type of self-employment is where I have the experience: being a freelancer and creating a “lifestyle business”.

These days it’s common to start by driving Uber/Lyft or doing delivery services. The system is all set up for you, so you don’t have to think. However, that means it’s neither creative nor deeply meaningful, compared to offering your own services.

What I recommend is an authentic business which is to create a service out of your life experiences and passions. For example: life coaching, relationship counseling, career mentoring, health advising, etc.

It costs much less to start this type of business compared to the other two (retail shop or launching a startup). Plus, it gives you the most flexibility. You can always expand to the other types of business later, when you have plenty of money and have created more time freedom.

I offer you a basic 10-year plan for an authentic business: 
10 Year Plan for Self-Employment Success

2. Carve out Time

You don’t “have” time to build your business. Your busy life won’t allow for it.

Instead, you need to create time. You need to make boundaries with your family, friends, and entertainment, in order to have at least 10-20 hours per week to create and grow your business. 

It won't magically build itself, and you can't wait for inspiration to get started.

To build a financially-viable business within a few years, carving out 10 hours per week of focused effort is a minimum.

10 hours a week for building a business?
(Read that post for my suggestions.)

3. Find an Aligned Strategy

Now that you’ve carved out the time and set boundaries with your family (and yourself), do you have a proven strategy for the industry you’re going to work in?

It has to be one that you’re excited to implement. Being educated about why the strategy works, will help you get motivated to do it. 

I recommend approaching others in the field (that you want to get into) who are established and successful. Can they recommend any mentors to help you? Having the advice of someone who’s done the kind of thing you want to do, can save you years of trial and effort.

Every industry has multiple successful strategies, so be sure to find one that feels very aligned with you in terms of values. You don’t ever have to do business in a way that feels pushy or dishonest.​

Yet, no matter how “perfect” of a strategy you discover, you still need to do a lot of experimentation so that you can find your way of implementing the strategy, to really make the business meaningful and authentic to you.

Don’t wait for the perfect strategy. Find one that’s good enough, with some track record of success, recommended by someone you trust. Then get to work on experimentation. 

4. Joyful Productivity

You now have chosen the business model, carved out the time, and gotten a promising strategy/mentor. It’s time to get to work!

Are you joyfully working your plan every day?

Or do you find yourself resisting the work, maybe procrastinating, and feeling overwhelmed or anxious?

This is where the deep mental/emotional work gets done that results in successful “business building” -- you need to practice healthy mental & emotional relating to your calendar and tasks, on a daily basis.

Understand that it is a journey (not something we’re skillful at in the beginning) of building good habits in your workday, and a more joyful relationship to your tasks and projects.

For my insights on this, read my best blog posts about joyful productivity.

You also need skills of resilience, which includes reframing “failures” as experiments that give you valuable data. Work with a life coach or therapist if you can. Prioritize your mental health because it is the foundation of your business health.

May these 4 major steps help you get started in growing your true livelihood!

Explore further:
Online courses for self-employment planning and marketing.