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

lemonade stand

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

When to Take Advice, and When to Ignore It

Good advice can get you out of a jam and get you where you need to be. Bad advice can keep you stuck and spinning your wheels.

So when do you take advice and when
do you ignore it?

Here are key questions to ask yourself:

Is the advice requested or unsolicited?

If you asked for the advice, listen up. Get specific about your dilemma and let the person describe what they would do if they were you. Take notes (mentally and literally – on your writing pad or electronic device).

If you didn’t ask for the advice, you’re probably dealing with an overbearing know-it-all. Set boundaries. Tell the person you don’t really need the advice. Or just politely say thank you, then walk away and make yourself scarce.

If you need to talk through the problem without being advised on what to do, find a good friend, a trusted confidante or a skillful therapist who will simply listen (and maybe ask you insightful questions to move you out of the rut).

Who is the source of the advice?

Determine if the person who’s giving you advice is truly an expert or too much of an expert. The person needs to be smarter or have more experience for their advice to be worth much. But a smart person with lots of experience might give you advice that is based on situations that are different from yours.

Know whether the person has a biased perspective, ulterior motives, or a vested interest. If you’re looking to hand in your resignation and start a business, getting advice from a risk-averse, overly cautious colleague won’t be very helpful. This person might scare you into hanging on to your day job. They will tell you to play it safe and keep the status quo, when what you really need to do is take a risk and make a change.

What is your history with the person? Do they normally give you sage and sound advice, or wrong-headed and misguided advice? If the person is someone you can count on, stay open to what they say. Otherwise, be skeptical.

Are their values and priorities similar to yours? Getting another person’s perspective helps. But don’t take their advice if it conflicts strongly with your values and priorities.

Get advice from someone who walks the talk and leads by example. If they talk about how much they care about friends or family members, but do and say things to alienate them (like lie, criticize and blame), don’t take their advice on how to resolve an interpersonal conflict. Go to someone who has deep, strong and healthy relationships.

What does your instinct tell you?

What’s right for one person might not be right for the other. What works in some situations might not work in others. What led to failure or success in the past could result in a different outcome in the future.

At the end of the day, you need to trust your own instincts. The advice has to resonate with you in order for you to truly internalize it and act on it. Solicit feedback and use others as a sounding board, but pay attention to your own gut.

You will usually feel discomfort or get defensive when there is something critical to learn. Getting revved up doesn’t mean the advice is right or wrong. But if it hits a nerve, take a step back to see what’s really going on.

There could be tremendous truth in what seems to be wrong advice. There could be misleading information in what appears to be right advice. Give yourself time to process the feedback. And trust that you know what’s best for you.


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Photo by: Laughlin Elkind

top 10 lazy ways to get things done

Over the past 13 months, I’ve blended parenting into what I thought was an already challenging work-life mix. Since July last year, my kid Eleanor has grown from being a defenseless newborn to now an assertive toddler.

Along with parenting, I’ve kept a thriving law practice and continued to coach, write and speak on creating a purposeful and enriched life. My marriage, relationships, and friendships also remain top priorities. Then there’s my taking weekly piano lessons, learning music theory, and mastering contemporary to classical pieces. And while I no longer practice yoga, tai chi, or meditation daily, I still turn to them when I need that extra glow.

Objectively, my work-life mix is by no means extraordinary (other way more productive, creative, successful people get tons more done). But personally, it keeps me fulfilled and moving toward my BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals).

Although I sometimes wish I had more than 24 hours in a day and the energy of iron man Rich Roll, I mostly rely on “lazy” way to get things done. Here are my top 10:

10. Work in short bursts. This could mean 90 minutes of work followed by a 15-minute break. Or it could involve breaking down your work in 25-minute blocks with short breaks in between. Or you could set aside just ten minutes to perform the task.  When time’s up, stop and move on to something else (or keep going if you’re in the zone).

The energy and attention you bring to the task is just as, if not more, important than the time you spend on it. Limiting your work hours often leads to sharper focus.

9. Complete big journeys in tiny steps. Whether you’re setting up a new business, creating an online course, or writing a book, chip away at it in easy, micro steps.

Break down the big project into small, actionable to-dos. Then take the first step and the next one. Find your ideal teacher. Sign up for the art class. Go to class. Buy the watercolor paint brushes. Fill out the canvas.

8. Embrace “good enough.”  You don’t always have to impress your friends and enemies with epic, ground-breaking stuff. Save your best work for when excellence counts. Forget about crossing all your t’s and dotting all your i’s in a routine report that everyone just skims.

Tolerate tiny mistakes. Accept your limitations. Do the job well enough to keep your clients, build your reputation, and avoid getting fired. But don’t expect to execute perfectly every single time. Perfectionism will drive you mad.

7. Make it a habit. Reduce decision-making fatigue by narrowing down your options, making repeatable and satisfactory choices, and following routines. President Obama wears only gray or blue suits because, as he told Vanity Fair, “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Willpower is a limited resource. Maintaining self-control can be exhausting. Routinize the mundane areas of your life. Develop healthy habits and break bad habits. So you don’t have to think and work so hard.

6. Get help.  Delegate. Barter. Hire someone. Stop micromanaging and trust your team to figure it out on their own. Accept help – especially when it’s free, reliable, and offered with enthusiasm and no strings attached.

5. Take a break. When you’re feeling depleted and drained, getting the caffeine boost or sugar rush isn’t truly what you need. A weary body is often a wake-up call to get more sleep. Nap whenever and wherever you can.

Don’t disrespect your inner energy with artificial stimulants. Invigorate yourself naturally. Step outside for some fresh air. Listen to the birds and the trees rustling. Stroll at sunset or walk in the moonlight. Sit quietly and meditate. Or go for a run or hop on your bike. Taking a break gets you recharged, refreshed, and ready to take action.

4. Put things off.  Deliberate delay isn’t necessarily unproductive. It can lead to an extra burst of energy or add to your sense of urgency to get the thing done. If you work well and deliver good results under external pressure, putting things off until the last minute does little or no harm.

Procrastination works in many situations.  It can also cause you to lose projects that weren’t right for you, didn’t matter to you, or didn’t capitalize on your strengths. (Good riddance!) Sometimes what looks like procrastination is really incubation (i.e. your mind is preparing for work and you’ll snap into action when the time is right).

3. Do what you feel like doing. Permit yourself to just do what you want to - at least for an hour each day. Ease up on the self-imposed deadlines, let go of obligations, and drop the productivity rules. (You can get back to them later if you must.) Think about what excites you, gets the creative juices flowing, and lights your fire. Then do that thing.

2. Do less. Simplify and shrink your to-do list. Have just three main things to do on a given day. Focus on only three big goals in the week. Do one thing at a time. Declutter your life so you have one less thing to do, clean or maintain. Buy wrinkle-free clothes so you don’t have to iron much. Stop buying stuff unless it’s absolutely beautiful and/or useful to you.

Doing less frees you up to create your best work and deliver top-notch results on the things that matter. It makes room for interruptions, distractions and emergencies that are bound to come up. Don’t commit to anything else when you’re working on a major goal that deserves your undivided attention.

1. Do nothing. Many things take care of themselves and get resolved without your interference. There’s often no need for you to send a reminder note or make a follow-up call. The package arrives at your doorstep when you’re home. The approval letter you’ve been waiting for eventually comes in the mail. Your client sends the exact information you need to finalize the project.

Step out of the way and let things happen naturally.

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This top 10 list is not for those who are lazy in the traditional sense.  It requires a more focused and conscious approach to productivity. Instead of being super busy all the time, you get to decide what really matters and get those things done at the right time.


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Photo by: ShellyS