I often hear from self-employed professionals that they are struggling. Running a business is hard work. Marketing and sales can be uncomfortable or even scary. You frequently don’t know where your next client is coming from. It can make you feel pessimistic, or even worse, powerless, as if there’s nothing you can do.
But there is something you can do. When you’re in business for yourself, there is always something you can do. This is both the blessing and the curse of being self-employed.
There are many difficulties that come with working for yourself. You have to get up every morning and go to work with no boss looking over your shoulder to tell you what to do and make sure it gets done. You never know whether what you’re doing will pay off. You have to manage a fluctuating income, unexpected client demands, and balancing the needs of your business with your own personal needs and those of your family.
But it can be done. You can succeed. And you can do so in any economy, at any time of year, and regardless of what roadblocks appear in your path. Look around you right now. Are some professionals and freelancers in your field succeeding at this very moment? Yes? Then you can, too.
I don’t have all the answers. No business owner ever does. But here are some steps you can follow to put your business on the success track, right now and any time you find yourself struggling.
1. Get grounded.
What made you decide to start your own business in the first place? Were you seeking more independence, control over your time, a higher income, to practice the profession you love, to make a difference in the world? Whatever your original vision of self-employment was, get back in touch with it. The dream that motivated you in the first place can inspire you again.
Spend an hour re-creating your business vision. Visualize your enterprise as a success, giving you everything you dreamed of. Write down what you see, or draw it, if you prefer. Imagine yourself living it. Then keep your vision in your sights. Re-read it or gaze at the picture every Monday morning and whenever you feel down or stuck. Let your vision guide your choices about what to do -– or not do -– to create the business you desire.
2. Get real.
What is it really going to take to make your business more successful? Do you need to improve your marketing, manage your time better, find a new customer base, raise your prices, lower your expenses, get more help? Too many self-employed folks spend precious time “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Just doing more of whatever you’re doing now is rarely the answer. What do you need to do differently?
Outside perspectives can help a great deal with this question. Read entrepreneurial books like Jeffrey Shaw’s The Self-Employed Life or listen to podcasts like Amanda McCune’s Business for Self-Employed Creatives. Ask for opinions from successful entrepreneurs you trust. Hire a consultant or business coach to help review your options. Allow yourself to explore new possibilities with a beginner’s mind.
3. Get going.
What is the most important thing you could do today to boost your business? Now, are you doing it? Procrastination, fear, and self-sabotage kill more small businesses than external factors like economic conditions and changes in the marketplace. Make a three-item to-do list every day of what your business needs most to succeed, then make those items a priority. If you have trouble getting started on a task, commit to spend at least five minutes and see if that breaks the log jam.
There are many entrepreneurial tasks that can provoke fear, bring up resistance, and otherwise seem too difficult to tackle. But as Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, said, “It is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.” Substitute your own occupation for the word “artist,” and you’ll probably agree.
4. Get help.
What or who can provide the support you need to succeed? It’s a rare self-employed person indeed who is completely self-motivating, knows everything necessary to build a successful business, and already possesses all the skills required. There is no rule that says you have to succeed on your own or it doesn’t count. In fact, I’d argue that trying to succeed without help is more likely a recipe for failure.
Take a class to learn more about topics like sales or finances. Work with a business or marketing coach for ongoing support. Hire professionals for focused help with copywriting, bookkeeping, web design, or any other area where you’re not an expert. Join an action group, success team, or membership community for self-employed folks. Don’t wait until you’re drowning to ask for a life jacket.
It’s time to take back your power to create your own future as a self-employed professional. Put pessimism on hold, and surround yourself with people who believe in you. Make smart choices about what will make a difference in your business, then take action on what you choose. You can do this.