Category Archives: personal branding & self-marketing

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

Do what comes naturally: myths & pitfalls

Strengths-based development has been touted by the Gallup consulting firm for more than a decade.

Through their best selling books, Now, Discover Your Strengths and Strength Finder 2.0, Gallup authors advocate building your strengths instead of fixing your weaknesses.

The related Clifton StrengthsFinder, an online assessment tool, helps you uncover your talents (natural patterns of thoughts, feelings and behavior) and identify your top five of 34 talent themes (e.g. Achiever, Adaptability, Communication, Empathy, Responsibility).

The strengths-based approach is rooted in positive psychology: Do what you do best. Focus on what you’re good at. Play to your strengths. Praise positives rather than punish negatives. Take more time developing your talents and spend less time overcoming your flaws.

Capitalizing on your strengths is an effective path to maximizing your potential and achieving extraordinary success. You also enjoy your work more when it allows you to leverage your talents, knowledge and skills.

But there are myths and pitfalls to watch out for:

1. The strengths-based approach does not excuse you from addressing your weaknesses.

In Strengths Finder, strengths are loosely defined as “consistent near perfect performance in any activity.” Weaknesses are “anything that gets in the way of excellent performance.”

Because weaknesses can create problems for you and others, you can’t ignore them. Weaknesses have a stronger hold on you if you don’t work to improve them.

As a budding pianist, I prefer to practice playing the notes by ear instead of reading the sheet music The sooner I learn to play a piece by heart, the happier I am. But as much as I dislike reading music, I take a stab at it anyway. It’s integral to my appreciation of music and my growth as a pianist.

Awareness of your weaknesses helps you avoid blind spots. You can choose to improve your deficiencies or surround yourself with others who have complimentary gifts and talents.

2. Playing to your strengths is not always possible.  

Being a top performer often requires you to do what doesn’t come naturally. Taking on more responsibilities might demand that you learn new skills irrespective of your natural talents.

Your strengths might not be what your organization, your team, or the world needs now. In complex, uncertain or changing environments, versatility and flexibility matter.

3. Strengths can become liabilities when they are overused or when they are used at the wrong time or in the wrong way.

Whether a natural tendency (or innate ability) is a strength or weakness depends on how and when you use it.

While being direct encourages open communication, it can backfire in a situation that calls for greater tact and more empathy. Being too action-oriented can lead to impatience, poor decisions, a judgmental attitude, and extreme competitiveness.

4. A focus on strengths can limit your growth.

What you think is a weakness could simply be an unknown potential or untapped ability. If you focus too much on your strengths, your learning and development will stagnate, says Robert B. Kaiser, author of The Perils of Accentuating the Positive.

Talent can also be developed with time, effort and tenacity. As Carol Dweck notes in Mindset, it’s not just your aptitudes and abilities that create success. Whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset plays a huge part as well.

With a fixed mindset, you believe that ability and talent are fixed capacities that primarily determine outcomes. With a growth mindset, you believe that ability and talent can be cultivated through growth-oriented activities that largely determine outcomes.

While not everyone has the capacity to be Einstein or Beethoven, it’s hard to know your true potential until you apply yourself and get some experience.

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Affirming your talents and leveraging your strengths are keys to long-term success and lasting fulfillment. By all means, switch to a new role if your current one doesn’t fit and wears you down.

But to truly reap the benefits of a strengths-based approach, you need to watch out for the myths and pitfalls.

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Photo by: Ed Yourdon

Networking for introverts (and other anti-schmoozers)

Introverts rarely see themselves as natural networkers. They are inner oriented, think before they speak, energize by being alone, guard their privacy, and prefer one-on-one conversations.

Even some extroverts, who are externally focused, love to talk, energize with others, enjoy public sharing, and prefer group conversations, are uncomfortable networkers.

A common reason is that networking is often associated with schmoozing with strangers, working a room, manipulating others, and exchanging as many business cards as possible without forming true connections.

Like it or not, networking helps you reach your full potential, gain access to opportunities, grow your business, get the promotion, accomplish goals faster, lead others, and stay engaged in your work. Because networking is important, introverts and those who dread it still need to do it. You can redefine the process and do it on your own terms so it becomes more palatable.

Networking does not have to be selfish, phony, conniving, political, or terribly time consuming. It simply involves making connections and cultivating relationships with a variety of people, one person at a time, to create mutually beneficial outcomes.

Within your network, you share information, make introductions, exchange referrals, provide recommendations, and return favors. While there might be some quid pro quo, the best approach is to build your network before you need it and give more to others than you take from them.

Networking can actually be fun if you know how to use your strengths, tendencies and preferences. You don’t need to be a fabulous talker or charming comedian to be a great networker. You don’t have to be an extrovert to enjoy the process.

As an introvert myself, I admit that attending networking events to meet new people is not on my list of top 10 favorite activities. They can be draining for an introvert like me.

This doesn’t mean I’m shy or I don’t enjoy getting to know people. I love public speaking as well as teaching and coaching large groups. I love sharing a good laugh and great stories with others. But if I’m networking all the time, especially at purely social events, I get bored and wiped out. I need to recharge by being alone.

Introverts get a bad rap for being standoffish, dull, unconfident, withdrawn, arrogant or slow. But introversion is not an illness to be cured or a weakness to be overcome. It can be a valuable asset in networking if you know how to leverage it. It doesn’t have to get in your way of building a strong network.

The following are steps that introverts and anti-schmoozers can use to network on their own terms:

Capitalize on your preferences and tendencies. Being a deep listener and keen observer allows you create meaningful, sustainable relationships. When you are focused and fully present, you convey a genuine, trustworthy demeanor.

Listen for clues on what really interests the person and what you find interesting about the person. Ask questions about it. Show up early before the party grows large. Talk one on one or in small groups. Large group conversations are not required.

Shift out of your comfort zone every now and then. Be the first to introduce yourself, make eye contact, smile and extend your hand to another. Be prepared to share appropriate amounts of personal information and stories. Your asking all the questions and revealing nothing about yourself can feel like an interrogation. It’s hard for most people to stay engaged in a one-way conversation.

Preserve your energy. You need alone time to decompress and recharge.  Spending at least 30 minutes by yourself is especially recommended right before and after you attend a networking event.

Instead of staying late for cocktails and small talk, give yourself permission to leave in an hour or two. Just get to know a few interesting folks, connect with the host, speaker or other key persons, and exchange contact information before you take off.

Think about what you can offer and give it generously. When you strive to contribute value to those you know, networking feels more purposeful and less political. Those you help are more willing to help you in return.

If someone is seeking opportunities outside your area, offer to connect him with those who can provide what he needs. Ideally, the connection should benefit both parties. Recommend books, movies, music and restaurants. Share your industry knowledge.

Join organizations that interest you and become an active participant. Get on the board, volunteer to plan an event, or serve as a formal speaker or facilitator. Having a specific role at the event makes networking easier.

Follow up with those you meet and cultivate your connections.  Build relationships of different types, constantly and consistently. While it’s important to have close relationships, weaker connections also come in handy. People you rarely see can still offer critical information and open doors for you.

Maintaining your network does not have to take huge amounts of time. For your strong connections, you could meet one on one for coffee, brunch, lunch, happy hour or dinner every month or so to maintain ties. For your weaker connections, you could send a short email or make a quick telephone call once or twice a year to stay in touch. Share photos of your travels and special occasions or provide news on major changes in your life.

Start with those you know. Social media like LinkedIn and Facebook help you find people, keep your contacts updated, and revive and preserve ties. While I am still not on Facebook, I joined LinkedIn three months ago and used it to reconnect with people I had lost touch with 10 years ago. I met with three of them to catch up, share news, and have lunch together.

Reach out to new people, focusing on topics of mutual interest. Is there something about the person that you admire or inspires you? Did you hear them speak at an event or teach a class? Make contact, invite them to an event, or ask to meet them over coffee. Don’t take it personally if they can’t make time for you.

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Genuine networking is not about people taking advantage of others. It’s about people building connections, cultivating relationships, and helping out each other.

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Photo by: Trebor Scholz