7 Lessons learned from 6 months as a solopreneur

Starting my own business this year has felt like jumping off a cliff, in a lot of ways.

I’m so glad I did it – the ups have definitely outweighed the downs – but there are a few things I wish I had known before taking the plunge.

Starting my own business this year has felt like jumping off a cliff, in a lot of ways. Some people describe it as entering into a black abyss – where there are a lot of shadowy unknowns.  

I wasn’t expecting everyone to be on board with my career move. It was risky;  it didn’t follow the “normal” trajectory of someone in my position. It also immediately cut my paycheck – almost by 100%. But I quickly realized it was what I wanted to do, so I talked to all the important people in my life, who had a lot of great questions and advice, and then officially launched.

I was overwhelmed by the support from my friends. So many of them told me how proud they were of me and how I inspired them. One even sent me a congratulatory card. What?! I was just trying this new consulting career on for size! It was incredibly heartwarming. Take these gold stars, these notes of encouragement, and file them away for a day you really need it – you will.  I’m so glad I did it – the ups have definitely outweighed the downs – but there are a few things I wish I had known before taking the plunge.

1. Don’t listen to the naysayers

While I had such a supportive network, I was equally surprised by the naysayers, all men in my case, and most whom I didn’t know very well. One told me it sounded like I needed “a break.” Another insisted I was using this as a cover to look for another “real” job. Another said this would be a black mark in my career.

While these comments were hard to hear, the silver lining was that it made me realize that I really, really wanted this. And more than any planning or anything I could have done, needing to prove the naysayers wrong has made me really ready.  

2. Just launch the damn website already

I agonized over building the perfect website before I was ready to launch – it took almost 2 months to get it to a place I was where I was happy.  Finally, one of my friends just told me to “launch the damn website already!” Before I launched, even though I was spending hours behind the scene, it was all talk and no action. Was it perfect? Hell no. But it got my name out there and it’s something I can continuously build on.

3. Keep overhead as low as possible

It’s incredibly easy to spend money while starting your own business. In fact, there are many organizations that will make it very easy for you to part with your hard earned (or yet to be earned!) cash. Resist. I was lucky that I read the $100 Startup before launching (I can’t recommend this book enough) which made me incredibly frugal about the way I was spending my money – and making sure the things I did spend on were really worth it. It’s easy to rack up the expenses before you even make your first paycheck.

4. Lawyer Up

Watch your spending, but don’t be afraid to spend money where its worth it.  A lawyer is well worth it. I first created an LLC through LegalZoom, and then had a lawyer friend help me develop a general contract and review my first few contracts. This was enormously helpful to teach me the ropes and make sure I didn’t end up in a bad place down the line.

I was surprised to hear from most of my consulting friends that they didn’t get a lawyer.  To each their own, but not having one in the beginning can leave you incredibly exposed.

5. There will be downs, and there will be ups

I heard this from a lot of people, but I had to really experience it myself before I knew what they meant (you likely will too). At the beginning, it seemed like only good things could happen. Then suddenly, I lost both a potential client and a paid speaking opportunity in the same day. They were completely unrelated, but I couldn’t help but feel that the universe was suddenly working against me. While I wanted to pout (which I decided to do for exactly 60 minutes), I instead channeled my energy into hustling. I wrote a new article, sent out a bunch of pitches, and by the next week, I had landed 2 more clients. Speaking from experience, you can’t get bogged down with negativity or it will be all-consuming.

6. Nail your elevator speech

Remember your college counselor telling you about this one when you were hunting for a job? The same thing goes for starting your own business. You need to have your 30 second “about your company” perfected. This will be something you use at networking events, at BBQs, and even when you meet someone on a plane. You never know where the next business opportunity may come from, and you need to make sure your impression lasts long after your encounter.

7. It’s OK to evolve your business

Even 6 months in, I already have an idea of what my business will look like in 6-12 months, and it’s much different than it looks today. Trial and error are OK. Finding a different way to make money that you didn’t see at first is OK. Realizing you don’t like what you’re doing is OK. Be flexible; once you are, the world is yours.

Mary Sheehan is a co-founder of Bad Ass Lady Bosses and the founder of The Go-To Marketer. 

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