In June 2016, I walked away from an 11-year career in association management to start a full-time coaching practice. Here is what I learned in the process of being a business owner and what I would and wouldn’t do differently.
1) Have a Plan – I thought if I had a website, I had a business. People will get what I’m trying to do and will hire me right? So wrong. First my website was a jumbled mess of all things coaching, buzz phrases and lofty ideals. My lack of simplicity and clarity was a red flag that I probably should’ve been more organized and had a plan. This is where working with a mentor or coach is critical. They’ll be able to identify your blind spots and work with you to create a comprehensive plan to avoid the confusion and frustration later on.
2) Have a Financial Cushion – Thankfully I had this from a house sale earlier in the year before leaving my job and I live relatively modestly for DC. Money has been a huge fear trigger for me and being able to see months of expenses in my bank account was my saving grace.
3) Have Clients – Oops forgot about this one. I had been coaching for over a year before I left my job, but at the time of my departure I didn’t have a single paying client. This was intentional on my part to light a huge fire under my butt and start hustling. It worked the first month and then distraction set in (see #6).
4) Know Your Niche – I started as an Executive Coach for nonprofit executives only I left the nonprofit world and thought I would make a much better Life Coach, so I gave that a try. Then I decided to get grounded in Business Coaching for new businesses and start-ups. It’s nice to think that you’ll have this all figured out when you start, but most of it comes from trial and error and preferences. Be willing to explore first and dig into who your ideal client and market is. Believe me it makes marketing and website copy that much easier to write.
5) Don’t Think It’s Going to Happen Overnight – This should probably be in the number one spot. While I was getting certified as a coach, I was convinced the clients would come flocking in with little to no effort. I would be swimming in dough and vacationing for months at a time by month 6. SO WRONG. This is a fickle grind that is reliant on individuals deciding whether or not they work with you. Sometimes you have amazing months and sometimes contracts stall out. The key is moving forward each day and staying consistent with networking, marketing and follow up. If one area doesn’t work, try something new or if the clients aren’t coming in, get certified or read up on new technologies during your slow period. Just keep moving!
6) You Will Be Tempted to Go Back to the 9-5 – It is freaking scary out there on your own and anyone who tells you differently is full of it. The security of a paycheck is tempting, I almost fell for it twice (once in July/August and Once in November/December) it knocked me off of my business development game, but I learned a ton about myself in the process (check out the blog post on that one).
7) Health Insurance Is a Glorious Thing – If you don’t have it, get it. Nothing is worse than feeling like crap and not taking care of yourself when you have to run the show. Get checked out on a regular basis and stay healthy. My stubborn self has had to learn this lesson the hard way, but thankfully I have people in my life who actually want to see me healthy and don’t put up with my BS excuses.
8) Get Set Up on Quickbooks ASAP – It’s super easy and cheap and your accountant will love you come tax season. You’ll know where you stand financially at any moment with the online version and won’t have to guess if someone has paid or not or if you can make your bills that month. Knowledge is power – get you some!
9) Remove All Negativity From Your Life – There will be doubters disguised as friends and family. They come under the cloak of security and protection, but underneath it is full on pessimism and nay saying. Put them in a box and share what you want, but know that your business is sacred territory meant only for a select few who understand your passion and pursuit. This is where you share the highlights of your story and not your diary. The details worry people who don’t get it. It’s okay. They’ll understand when it comes together or maybe they won’t. It comes down to you keeping yourself healthy across the board. I have had to move away from several friends and family members throughout this process. You can love them, but sometimes it needs to be from afar.
10) Trust in the Process and Believe in Yourself – Here’s the thing I wouldn’t have walked away from a secure position if I wanted to live on the edge of uncertainty. I’m pretty risk averse, actually. What I do know about myself is I won’t give up trying until I’ve exhausted every option and I’m pretty resourceful. In the last 15 months, I have created a client base and support system that keeps a roof over my head, food in my belly, love in my heart and laughter in my gut. I am thankful every day that I made this move. It’s certainly not for the timid or indecisive.
If you’re thinking about taking the leap or have made the bold step into business ownership, I’d love to chat with you.