Thursday, January 11, 2024

 So you have a business idea…

But it’s a pretty big mountain, and you feel like you packed snorkeling equipment instead of hiking gear. 

Let me back up a second to introduce the series. After talking with quite a few different folks, I decided to start a once-monthly “Freelance Friday” that will cover a variety of topics, each of which have been gleaned from specific questions or frustrations I’ve heard. If you aren’t an author or editor, or if your business/freelance/indie idea isn’t specific to those careers, that’s okay. Most of these topics will be broad enough you might find some nuggets of info! 

So in honor of January and the new year and one of the most popular questions I got when I put out some feelers about this series last fall…the first Freelance Friday covers the question of How To Know When You’re Ready to Roll. 

Going back to the snorkeling equipment and hiking gear and that awfully big mountain. 

I want to offer encouragement first: that mountain might look big and confusing, but it’s not scary, and certainly many more have traversed it before you. Even if your business idea is totally, completely, no-one-else-in-the-universe-has-thought-of-this — a lot of the initial work is similar when you boil it down. 

The first thing we’re going to do is cut that mountain down into pieces. Before you even dream of launching your idea, whether it’s your first book or a craft shop or custom services or an indie record or a Sasquatch hunting show (not judging if you are) have to look at the feasibility and logicality of the plan. You need to write down every question you have. Google “How to start an XYZ” business to make sure you’ve covered every base. And then dig into those questions and find answers. Keep notes. Ask more questions. Write down information even if you don’t think it applies to you, because it might later on. Don’t be afraid to go onto forums, Facebook groups, and so on (that have a *healthy* atmosphere about them) or attend webinars, seminars, in-person conferences, etc. to fact-find. 

Fact-finding and feeling out the current trends for your area of interest is also important. For me, as I began researching the idea of an editing business, I took a lot of time to look at other business models from fellow editors. I was offered a mentorship/internship opportunity and I jumped on it with both feet. I talked with friends that were likeminded and either new business owners themselves, or established in their own businesses already. I looked at how places like Reedsy offer their services. And from there, I didn’t copy their own ideas—I worked on my own thoughts, how I wanted to run the business, the legal documentation I needed (*cough* important *cough*) and then stepped out into offering services.

Absolutely give yourself time to ask questions, to reach out and ask others for advice if they seem open and willing to help. Brainstorm with friends even if they aren’t in the same career field; they might see blind spots you don’t. But give yourself a deadline—a set date where you will have your information gathered and you’ll either act on it or reevaluate. Otherwise, it’s easy to get drowned in information-overload and just keep staring at all your data without moving forward with it.

Next, you need to budget. Sometimes all you have to do is hit “publish” on a website, but if you want a dot-com right away, those aren’t free. If you plan on starting small, you might not have any upfront costs at all—but you will if you plan on expansion. Learn the ins-and-outs of that now, and keep that in mind for budgeting. 

Then, write down why you want to pursue your goal. Is it money? Probably, but that’s not the heart of your business (or if it is…re-assess that). What makes you interested in your field? What inspired you to walk this path? Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why is a stellar title I can’t recommend enough for freelancers and entrepreneurs of all sorts. It breaks down the titans of the business world, what their plans were, and why they were so successful. And most of them had a “why” that appealed to their audience, something that made their audience want to support them. It’s your motto, the thing that gets you motivated and inspired to do what you do.

My why has honed and changed as I learn and grow in my business and writing, and I’m trying to turn it into a habit to share at least once a year. Helping others achieve their God-given dreams using their God-given talents. Because it is—it’s more than making money for me, it’s pouring my own time into someone else’s vision because I know what it’s like to take the first steps into publishing and not really know what to do next. That’s what gets me up in the morning. So write down your why and keep it in mind. 

The next slice includes planning out a timeline for launch. How long will it take to get licensure, if needed? Tax licenses? Website design? Do you want to intern or mentor with someone first? Do you need to take any classes first? Learn marketing a bit more? Are there life events happening soon that might not mix well with launching a new business? Will you need some products stocked in-hand before you launch? Figure all of this (and more) into a timeline before you launch. For example, while I did editing with some friends before I hit “launch” on my own business, I was still in college so I waited until May 2019 to launch my business officially so that college finals were out of the way. And once you have your timeline, stick to it (barring unforeseen circumstances). Find accountability partners if you need to. Surround yourself with people who support you but are willing to lovingly tell you the hard facts if need be. Once you have a timeline decided and ironed out, it will be time to start marketing—yes, even before you officially launch. 

So…how do you know when you’re ready to make those announcements and launch?

Do you know each step that you have to take to achieve your first goals and start your business? Are you comfortable with the monetary, time, and physical/mental energy it will take to launch? Are you confident in what you’re presenting? Do you have a solid understanding of why you’re doing it, and a heart to match? You might not feel ready to launch a business, but if your ducks are in a row…it’s time to step out. 

So if you’ve already done that…

Where do you go from here?
1. Continue to make plans
2. Stick with it, but…
3. Modify as needed.

Don’t be afraid to be flexible. Part of freelancing, part of being a small business owner, an indie author/artist/creator—all of it rests heavily on the ability to modify your goals, plans, and necessities. Unexpected expenses come up, life happens and you have to delay a product release, or perhaps you’re beginning to rethink your trajectory entirely. That’s okay. Give yourself the grace to redirect your plans. The only way you can fail and not recover is if you get frustrated and give up. 90% of services I offered when I first started editing never received any attention, so eventually I took those down to showcase the services people wanted the most. Folks were walking away from my website because I didn’t offer certain package rates, so I figured out those rates and offered unique “combo-packs” that have gained a lot of traction. A couple years back, I found out I was actually losing out on clients because they thought I charged too little for my work (citing “you get what you pay for”) so I bumped my prices up to more than what I personally wanted to charge, and gained more website traffic and new clients. (Go figure.) I had less-than-worthless internet that wouldn’t work well enough to reliably run most online programs, so I asked clients to send me exclusively offline documents on Microsoft Word for a time (and they were more than willing to).  When people asked for editing critiques I wasn’t confident working on, I offered to work for a steep discount in exchange for feedback or took opportunities to beta-read for free in exchange for practice. Find what works for you, and don’t be afraid to flex, expand, and grow from time to time.

Being a freelancer, entrepreneur, business owner, or indie, regardless of what you offer…takes time, flexibility, and willingness to learn. You’ll wear a lot of different hats unless you can afford to hire out. (Marketing and networking are beasts, but we will talk about that in a future Freelance Friday…) You’ll face disappointments, frustrations, people who strive to discourage you (“when are you going to find a real job?” *insert eye twitch*), and did I mention frustration? But stick with it and you’ll find return clients/patrons/supporters who value you. Friends who help and encourage you. And you’ll find your own groove because part of freelancing, the good part, is the ability to be unique and make your business fit your needs and hopes.

If you’re thinking about launching your own small business, I hope this article encouraged you. If you have any questions, comment them below—even if I can’t help, there might be someone happening through who can! If you’re already established in your business, what’s one piece of advice you’d like to share? Sound off!

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