Becoming successfully self-employed is no easy feat. However, after talking to so many of you here about how you created your jobs and how you found your first customers, we passionately believe in the opportunity to tap this powerful community to successfully make the leap to self-employment.
Whether you want to hone your skills as an independent contractor, kick off freelance work, start a business from home or sell on Etsy, your fellow members and their stories enable all of us to learn faster and realize success sooner with fewer mistakes along the way.
If you haven't checked out The Handbook for How to Be Self-Employed, Part One, stop right here and head over there first. In this section we'll be covering some of the questions you've probably asked yourself about getting customers and generating revenue from day one.
Think about the last time you tried to find a new barber shop, local pizza place or hardware store. How did you decide who to trust? You probably looked at reviews online, or at least tried to figure out which business had adequate experience and a good reputation.
We're all in the same boat. Every business starts with a first customer. You can't have five-star reviews on Yelp or years of experience until you start from scratch. Don't worry! While this might seem daunting at first, remember that every self-employed professional and every small business in town went through the same thing. Everyone started from scratch at some point.
One thing that helps make getting customers a bit easier is branding yourself well. We are suckers for great branding here in QB Community and have some fantastic examples of using branding to stand out.
Next, take some time to reflect on the unique value that you bring to the world through your business. How do you make yourself indispensable to your customers? How can you stand out from your competitors, if you don't yet have reviews or experience? Could discounts, special features or unparalleled customer service set you apart, or hurt your business over time?
Tap your network of customers, friends and former colleagues to validate your value proposition, and make sure you set realistic expectations for yourself. Now get out there and tell the world what you can do for them! You are right around the corner from 10 happy customers and the path to growing your business well beyond them.
"I'm piloting Cafegency as an entirely new business model. We're a coffee shop AND an insurance agency... at the same time. We stand out in the local community, and that means more customers and more profits." – Joe Fowler, self-employed business owner
Once you've landed your first customer and proved yourself with 10 happy ones, you are ready to scale! It's time to make sure your customers see the value you bring to them and that they want - no, need! - you whenever they think about the product or service you provide.
This stage of growth means tackling three things well:
1. Raise the quality of your product or service with existing clients
2. Make it easy for new customers to find you
3. Find ways to get faster and be more effective at #1 and #2
Great service comes with time and repetitive practice, but that doesn't mean you can't start early. A fantastic formula we've learned from those who know how to be successfully self-employed is to delight your first 10 customers, then build the right dynamics into how you work so that you continue to delight them as you add new ones.
One important way to do this is to capture what it really takes to service a customer. If it takes six hours to help one client, what happens when you're juggling eight at the same time? Remember that you still need to sleep, eat, find new customers and manage the administrative side of your business. If you aren't sure how long it'll take you to finish a project, offer a safe estimate. When you finish ahead of schedule, you'll exceed expectations.
Next, think about how you can get faster and more efficient at delighting your growing client base while finding new ones. One great way to do this is through client testimonials and word of mouth recommendations. Another is to make yourself impossible to forget with a fantastic business name.
If you want your customers to find you on Google, remember to leave you a good review on Yelp or mention your services at a dinner party, it requires a powerful combination of delighting customers and making yourself memorable. with a descriptive, compelling personal brand.
"I had a hunch that clients would rehire me if I was easy to remember. That's when I took on my lovable alias: The Hangman. Having a memorable personal brand changed my life, and drastically increased my daily income." – Kevin Meagher, TaskRabbit Tasker better known as "The Hangman"
Figuring out your pricing strategy is no easy task. It's not a perfect science, as you can see from what other folks here have learned about pricing. But there are a few strategies for doing the math to get ahead.
Before you set a price tag, consider these four important factors:
1. Market Demand
2. What Others are Charging for Similar Services
3. Your Business Expenses
4. Your Own Income
Market Demand: How valuable is your product or service to your current or prospective customers? How many customers want what you are seeking to sell? That's market demand. When there is a lot of market demand for what you offer, you can set higher prices because you are delivering value that is hard to get. If no one is buying what you are seeking to sell, it may require returning to the drawing board and finding something else to offer.
What Others are Charging for Similar Services: Now shift your focus to the people selling similar services or products. Are your prices lower than theirs? That might be a sign you can raise your prices a bit. Be smart and don't price yourself out of the market, but sometimes raising prices brings the type of customers who value what you offer *and* you can pocket a little more cash at the end of the day. Who doesn't love that?
What if the competition's prices are lower than yours? That's a sign it's time to cut costs or expenses and seek to update your offering with prices more in line with what others charge. Where can you cut back?
One idea is to pick three top expenses, and strive to cut them in half with cheaper alternatives.
Your Business Expenses: Make a list of every expense that goes into helping a single customer. That includes the cost of advertising, paying subscription fees for software, mailing envelopes and packaging. What's the total expense? If you're spending $100 on each customer, then you have to charge more than that to make any money for yourself. The goal is to make each customer profitable. That's how you successfully build your self-employed lifestyle.
Your Own Income: Finally, it's time to think about *you.* What do you need to make in order to feed yourself and pay the rent? Divide that annual income by the number of customers you expect to have in a year. That's how much you'll need to charge per client to get to the income you want.
You'll find that this math is tedious, and sometimes overwhelming, but it's worth it. You can figure out your business' hidden strengths and areas for improvement before you even start!
"I did the math and discovered that I could start a flower delivery business with my own money even in the middle of an economic downturn, without having to get a loan. That was key to my success." – Christina Stembel, owner of Farmgirl Flowers
You may be thinking at this point that this is no easy feat. It's hard to get customers, make enough money and put food on the table. But in hearing the stories of the thousands of members here making self-employment work for them, we can confidently say you can do it.
While you may need to be open to lifestyle adjustments - such as working more flexible hours, or considering moving across town to save costs - if you have a willingness to learn, you can adapt quickly to new information. If you do one thing everyday that scares you even just a little, you can make being self-employed work for you.
The key is not to think of these as "bad" changes you're making. Remember that you're getting the freedom, responsibility and independence that you couldn't have before. There will be challenges, but also new opportunities. It's finally time to take a vacation on your terms or pick up the kids from school in the middle of the day.
There are some exciting transitions ahead, and we'll be here every step of the way. We can't wait to see what you do from here.
"I've actively made financial adjustments based on my new freelance income and my travel goals. I gave up my car, but I bought a bike that I love. My priority is to save money so that I can hit the road again and write in new countries!" – Catarina Gutierrez, freelance writer
We're guessing you might have more than just four questions about becoming self-employed. So, where do we go next? Check out Part Three of The Handbook for How to Be Self-Employed.
In the meantime, let us know what you're learning about self-employment by sharing a new post here in QB Community!