Published February 21, 2011
Sick of your job and ready for a change? Lost your job and don’t know what to do next? There are many reasons people end up breaking away from “The Man” to become their own boss. Considering the resources available on the Web these days, coupled with the challenges of the “New Economy,” more and more people are actually opting to make their own way.
Analyst Christopher Dwyer of Aberdeen Group estimates that self-employed workers made up 20% of the labor force in 2010 and predicts this number will rise to 25% early this year. The Freelancers Union even estimates this number to be as high as 30%. This begs the question: Does the life of a solo practitioner make sense for you? Here are a couple of questions to consider:
Do You Want to be a Practitioner or a Business Owner?
When I went to college my father gave me a critical piece of advice: take business classes. He told me that as a veterinarian running his own hospital, the challenge he always faced was the fact that he spent nearly half his time NOT practicing veterinary medicine. Knowing I would likely work for myself at some point, he wanted to be sure I was ready for the business side of being self employed. Practitioners enjoy immersing themselves in their craft while entrepreneurs and business owners really enjoy the art of creating and building a business. For those of you who want to “practice” on your own, you will have to find a happy medium, because nearly half of your work time will be spent on things like marketing, sales and accounting.
Going it your own means doing it all… on your own. Outsourcing some of these functions is always an option, but it will require capital and that usually doesn’t happen right away. I always advise those who truly want to practice their craft to think twice before going solo. Make sure you are willing and able to wear multiple hats, and keep in mind that wearing these hats will often be uncomfortable.
What is Your Niche?
The grass always seems greener on the other side, so knowing that you want to freelance is only the first step. Before diving in, you really need to know yourself, your audience, and the value you can actually deliver. In this increasingly complex world, most problems require a specialist of some sort. Having general knowledge or good-problem solving skills doesn't cut it anymore. Just as you wouldn't go to a general practitioner to treat thyroid cancer, prospective clients are unlikely to hire a "generalist" to fix their unique business problem. That being said, here are a couple things to consider when exploring your niche:
Know Your Value Proposition- Be sure to clearly define yourself and your offerings. To be successful you have to offer something that addresses a need in a unique and valuable way. Chances are you are about to enter a crowded field, and to compete, you are going to have to stand out in a positive way. You must be able to quickly articulate your value and differentiate yourself from the competition.
Find the Pain- Part of knowing your audience is finding and feeling their pain. Good politicians and good spouses know how to listen and empathize. Although this may sound a bit tongue-and-cheek, there really is something to the whole empathy thing. We all have pain, and from time-to-time we all need a little help. Do your homework and find out the sources of your target audience's pain and how to alleviate it.
Offer a Cure- We are a society obsessed with elixirs and tonics that promise to make the bad go away quickly. From anti-aging products to stress relief programs, we are always looking for a shortcut. Here's the problem: these short cuts are often short term fixes at best. If you want to stand out as someone who can deliver on your promises, you have to be able to cure problems, not just bandage them up and run. Know what you can and can't do, and be sure you are fixing problems and not just making a quick buck.
When it comes to taking the plunge, be honest with yourself. You have to be willing to explore what it is about you that can work against you vs. what you have that can work in your favor. Take a little time and consider these questions.
Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.