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“But really – what’s stopping you from starting your own business?”

That was the question posed on the anonymous online forum Fishbowl. Two days and 37 replies later, a litany of the usual suspects had been posted, including 10 common ones – some rather colorfully stated:

  1. Risk vs. ROI.
  2. Lack of a good idea.
  3. Not having an idea deemed “sexy” enough.
  4. No skills to implement the idea.
  5. No balls.
  6. Paying student loans.
  7. Not enough startup capital.
  8. Competing goals like grad school – and marriage.
  9. That old devil: Health insurance.
  10. And my favorite? Plain ol’ Laziness.

I smiled to myself.

Earlier this year, I took a deep breath and plunged back – after two previous fails – into independent consulting. A colleague referred me to a well-established independent HR Compensation consultant, Mae Lon Ding, owner of Personnel Systems Associates. She has been in business for over 30 years, with many name brand clients, and was two-time President of the Association of Professional Consultants.

Filled with excitement about my new venture, I set up a networking call with her.

Casually, Mae Lon burst my bubble with the sobering news that the type of entrepreneurs who make it are not “overnight” successes. “Expect to work full-time your first year and make half your salary; in Year 2, make three-quarters of your salary; in Year 3, break even; but,” she advised me, “if you make it to Year 4, you’ll never go back to working for someone else.”

She also pointed out, “only 50% of success is your technical skill – the other 50% is your ability to market and sell yourself and your products or services.”

While this advice didn’t exactly come as a surprise, she emphasized that the first year is an ideal time to establish credibility through thought leadership – while perhaps producing a small amount of income – by focusing on actionable marketing activities such as the following:

  • NETWORK/SPEAK – Don’t just attend networking and professional associations meetings and events – serve on boards or committees and speak at chapter meetings or conferences.

  • WRITE – Post articles, whitepapers, infographics or guest blog posts that showcase your knowledge and experience, such as expert tips, industry trends or case studies of successful client projects.

  • TEACH/MENTOR – Look for opportunities to teach or mentor others in your area of expertise, either in the classroom or online. See “Network/Speak” above.

  • DEVELOP A PRODUCT – You might want to develop something you wish you had, such as a directory, how-to guide, or an inspirational story/message. Give it away or sell it to drive traffic to your website. You do have a website, right?

Wrapping the call, I sat down to ponder Mae Lon’s great – and hard won – advice. I realized that if I am going to avoid another fail, I’ve got to bear in mind these three critical factors:

  1. You really want to go independent
  2. You are mentally prepared to face rejection
  3. You make financial preparations to survive the first few years

If you were not deterred by this advice, but instead felt energized – as I was – then going independent may be right for you. We’ll see how my third pass at the independent life goes. Feel free to drop me a line with your favorite tips and you just might be featured in a future blog post!

Jessica Williams is an independent consultant who excels at leading large scale change journeys at diverse, global organizations. Her writing explores trends in career, change and talent management.


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