6 tricks for anyone who wants to start a business and be self-employed

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I just completed my second week of running my own law firm, Dyan Williams Law PLLC. While I’ve coached individuals and groups on creating their ideal work-life mix since 2009, I kept my attorney job for many years. On October 17, I finished my last day as managing attorney at a prominent immigration law firm and joined the ranks of the truly self-employed.

Here are 6 tricks for starting a business so you can quit your day job:

1. Prepare for your transition. If you wait until you’re ready, you might never go for it. At some point, you just need to take the plunge. But have a solid plan — that covers the strategic and the tactical — for where you want to go. Use your strengths and capitalize on your interests to create a valuable product or service that others will buy.

Create a road map for how you will fill your pipeline with clients or customers, whether through direct contact, referral building, networking, online marketing, speaking, writing, generating publicity, or advertising.

Build enough savings so you’re not forced to take on crappy projects or less-than-ideal clients. You don’t, however, need a gazillion dollars to get started. In The $100 Startup, author Chris Guillebeau talks about entrepreneurs who built businesses earning $50,000 or more from a modest investment ($100 or less, in many cases).

Decide how you will keep overheads low, at least in the beginning. In law practice, salary and rent are among the biggest expenses. They are also perhaps the most controllable. I opted to go solo and maintain a virtual office. Employing a dedicated team or renting a full-time office space can come later.

2. Change your mindset.  Being a business owner requires a different outlook than being an employee. When you’re self employed, you’re ultimately in charge of bringing in revenue to pay the bills. When you’re employed by someone else, you just do your job and expect to get a paycheck in return.

Limiting beliefs about whether you have the skills and interest to market, oversee and manage a business can discourage you from starting one. While it’s healthy to consider the realities of owning a business, don’t sell yourself short.

I used to believe I would hate running a law firm because I love lawyering more. But visualization, affirmations, strategic thinking, tactical planning, positive feedback, shaping new habits, and deliberate actions led me to see that I have the strengths and interest to do both.

3. Focus on your action plan.  Commit to one or two big goals a week and stick to them. Avoid setting too many goals that leave you feeling scattered and overwhelmed. Take actual steps to make your dream tangible and real. They don’t need to be giant leaps – just tiny hops, in the right direction, built on one another.

During my last weeks at my attorney job, I broke down my goals into actionable steps with dates to complete them. I wrapped up my cases and projects or worked toward a smooth transfer. I set a time limit for myself and did not waver from it.

At nights and on weekends, I worked on launching my own firm (e.g., applying for a PLLC, choosing a malpractice insurance company, selecting a bank, buying a scanner, creating my website, and developing a marketing plan). I got tons done because I applied laser-sharp focus and dropped the non-essentials to meet the time limit.

4. Have your big vision. It’s not enough to hate your job so much that you have to escape from it. I loved my job, but yearned for more freedom to create a venture (or adventure) around my own vision, work style, priorities and interests.

Think strategically so you don’t get tied up with minutiae. Grow your business by design, not by chance. Think about the core purpose of your business and develop your systems, tools, teams and approach around it. Take stock of where you are and where you want to go.

Key questions to ask include: What will you do to create a remarkable product or service? Who are your ideal clients? What do you want your business to stand for? How will you stand out from other businesses in your industry? What are your core values and how will they shape your business? What is your business culture?

5. Define success on your own terms. You are free to make your business into whatever you want it to be. You can build a business to suit your preferred lifestyle, create a legacy and empire, or invest in a valuable commodity.

Your business has to make money to make self-employment possible. But you decide how much money you need. Stop comparing yourself to the other guy – he’s not you. Hone in on earning just enough to meet your definition of success. Anything over that is gravy.

John Warrillow’s Built to Sell is a terrific book, but you don’t have to build a business to sell or take public. You can keep it just for you, run it for a certain time, and then shut it down. You can also run more than one business as long as you don’t stretch yourself too thin. Define what success personally means to you and create and work on your chosen terms.

6. Develop a strong network for support and accountability. Having my husband’s buy-in from the start made it much easier for me to give notice to my employer, quit my day job, and become fully self-employed. I got insightful feedback from my sister and “you can do it” cheers from my mom. I told some of my closest friends and everyone who would be affected by my decision about what I planned to do and when I would do it.

No one ever told me that I was nuts and that I should keep my day job. I parted on good terms with my employer and I didn’t burn bridges. Having support made the change less disruptive and the transition more natural.

Building a community around your goals enriches the creative process, leads to new ideas, and helps you stay accountable.

These are the 6 tricks I used to start my law firm and run it alongside my coaching business. They can help you launch your own business so you can quit your day job (or supplement your income if self-employment isn’t for you). The freedom to chart your own course is a real treat.


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Photo by: Steven Depolo