September 23, 2016
In 2013 I made the move to solopreneur after 15 years in corporate roles. I was three years into a role leading talent acquisition and innovation at NPR, tasked with rebuilding a talent function that helped NPR broaden towards digital. I was brought in to be a builder during this shift, and the building was done. It was time for a change.
I knew I wanted to go out on my own and try my hand at building a business. That move nearly happened the year prior, but in hindsight that year I spent preparing to make the move positioned me much better for success.
I’ve since launched my firm that helps companies like SpaceX, Hootsuite, and Duo Security develop talent strategies. These are some of they key learnings that helped me prepare for a new career as a solopreneur.
Start Your Solopreneur Journey While You’re Employed
Starting any new job can be scary, but when you’re going out on your own, it can be downright terrifying. The more preparation, research, and planning you can do while you have the financial security of a full-time paycheck and benefits the better.
You likely have an idea of what you’d do as a solopreneur. Spend some time understanding the market for that niche. Comb your contacts and gauge opportunities. Build your network. Work to gain visibility and connections in the spaces where you want to work.
Being good at what you do is important, but so is being known. If you’re the former without the latter, you may struggle to get your business off the ground.
Become an Entrepreneurial Student
You likely have a high level of functional expertise in your field (if you don’t, consider adding a few more years in corporate until you do). That’s good. That’s why people will hire you, and you’ll make money. But, do you have any idea what it’s like to run a company? Bookkeeping? Marketing? Business Development? A corporate background will give you skills you need to be marketable, but it likely won’t help you learn how to run a business.
Seek out other entrepreneurs from your network, or those you admire. Buy them coffee. Read their blogs. Build Twitter lists of other entrepreneurs. Find out what inspires them and expose yourself to those things. Read. Study. Learn as much as you can about what’s involved in running a business. No learning efforts are wasted. The education of being an entrepreneur has no end date.
Claim Your Digital Space
Strangely this is one of the most difficult aspects of starting a business – naming it. In today’s digital world it’s more than just coming up with a name for your business. You have to do some diligence on the digital properties (website, social, etc.) before selecting your name. Even if you plan on having a heavy social component to your marketing efforts, you’ll want to lock up the channels, so your future customers aren’t confused by similarly named businesses.
Platforms like knowem allow you to research urls and social channels by name. Use that as you’re evaluating your options. Be sure not to fall in love with your perfect company name, only to later realize your digital real estate is taken.
Build Your Brand
You don’t need to be an established company with paying clients to begin building your brand. Once you’ve determined your business name and secured your digital assets, create your website. Even if it’s a work in progress, you can start established SEO and brand recognition before you officially launch.
Consider building your website initially as a blog where you share your expertise and insights from your field. This blog allows your future audience to start associating the company (errrr, blog) with you and vice versa. It allows you to start building your business brand while still doing your “day job.”
Don’t Forget Your Day Job
On that note – don’t forget who’s paying you today. It’s easy to get lost in the romantic notion of starting your own company and gravitate your focus there. If you get too immersed on that next move and take advantage of your current employer while doing so, you risk a bad exit. You don’t want to carry that negative momentum (or worse, a hit to your reputation) as you start your own venture.
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