So You Want to Go Out on Your Own
The desire to “go out on your own” is often sought by an individual who is frustrated with their current position, compensation, level of respect, or potential for growth. To top it off, the glory of others’ success stories enhance the temptation to be your own boss, work from home, set your own hours, and live a fancy lifestyle. If this is what you are after, you will have more luck playing the lottery because a decision to “go out on your own” should not be primarily motivated by hopes of greener pastures. Do you really know what you are getting into?
Whether you are looking to become a freelancer or start a company, are you really aware of the commitment that you are about to make?
For starters, don’t expect to get paid right away. Unless you have a backlog of sales already committed and have set up shop in advance, it could take months to get prepared. From establishing a company name to defining a business structure to setting up an office and finally soliciting to potential customers, just getting started is a lot of unpaid, time consuming work.
While making more money, being more successful, and gaining respect are good motivating factors, going out on your own requires not only the skills necessary to deliver the good or service that you are selling at a profit, but also involves being a business owner and an entrepreneur.
Have you taken the proper steps to think about your current situation and plans for the future?
Right now, going out on your own may seem like a good idea, but can you sustain yourself for the long haul? Despite the confidence that there may be a high demand for your skills now and you may have name recognition in the industry, it is important to have a business plan and make informed decisions in order to sustain yourself for future security. This is a long term commitment, not just another job.
Common business concepts such as developing business marketing plans, whether brief and informal or extensive and formalized are necessary steps toward ensuring the hopes of a successful, sustainable venture. I will admit that I didn’t have all this knowledge and preparation when I started my business; however, I very quickly learned the importance and value of it. Free quality resources such as SCOREwww.score.org and the Small Business Administration www.sba.govprovided me with the counseling and background knowledge that I needed to get and stay on track.
Changes in skills, technology, competition, complementary businesses, and economic times all lead to fluctuations in demand, pricing, and customers’ needs. How do you plan to adapt to these challenges? Sometimes too much business can be as tough as not enough business. Knowing when to say “no” while maintaining customer relationships is a masterful art. This uncertainty, unpredictability, and risk are the difference between commitment to job and a lifestyle of a business owner. Consult other business owners and I’m sure that they will agree.
Owning a business can be paralleled to parenting a baby.
A business is a living entity that requires care, nurture, development, maintenance, and priority attention. The responsibilities can be boundless and very unpredictable. There are always obligations to be satisfied and more that can be done to improve current and future positioning.
Along with time requirements and dedication comes the need for knowledge and skills beyond the core competencies that were the selling point and basis for starting the venture. Working understanding of sales, marketing, accounting, management, and law, to name a few, all come into play when going into business.
The time that it takes to realize and master the responsibilities of being a business owner and make that transition can often be the difference between success and failure.
In my field of independent audiovisual control system programming, if you are the principal programmer, your responsibilities shift from solely being an accomplished programmer to now being a programmer/business owner, which requires a different set of skills and training. Since you are what you sell, unless you have partners or employees to cover the requirements of running the business, doing sales, marketing your company, and producing your products and services, your hat collection will grow very quickly. You also face the challenging aspect self supply and demand. While you want to keep busy and earn money, you can’t sell if you are too busy and if you over commit you can’t keep up with the production requirements much less business maintenance.
Most independent programmers do not consider themselves freelancers. They are small businesses who have a fiduciary responsibility to their customers and manufacturer partners to establish themselves as a reliable, ethical, reputable, and persistent resource and service provider. To that end, InfoComm’s Independent Programmers Council www.infocomm.org/ipc is developing Best Business Practices for Independent Programmers to establish guidelines for independent programming companies as well as to set the expectations of their clients. When put into practice, these principles and procedures will yield a high level of quality, consistency, and confidence in a working relationship. Those who do not dedicate themselves to a level of excellence by following best practices not only hurt themselves and their customers, but also make a bad name for other independent programmers in the industry. The Best Business Practices will also force those who aspire to be independent programmers to better understand what is expected of them, how to effectively serve their customers, and what it takes to run a successful independent programming business.
Owning a business is life changing commitment from which you can derive great satisfaction, sense of accomplishment as well as the opportunity for financial reward and growth. It can be one of the best decisions that you make. For your own sake and the interest of your family, colleagues, and friends, before deciding to “go out on your own”, understand what is required and expected and don’t get lured in for the wrong reasons. If you are unsure and just leap in head first without a plan, you’ll probably find rather quickly that the greener pastures are elsewhere.