[This article was first published on gooroo.io]
I recently decided to do my own thing and be working for myself. This was not a decision that came overnight or easily, but rather required a lot of planning, hard work and dedication. Since then I have had a number of people not only congratulate me (which is nice) and wish me luck (which I hope I don’t need), but also ask “how do you do it?” My interpretation of this is not “How did you manage to quit your job”, but instead “How can you do it and not be completely petrified, stressed and worried about how you’ll support your family?” And that is a fair thought and question, hence I decided to try and provide some points of guidance on how to get to a point where you can be a master of your own time too.
Disclaimer: I have only been an independent contractor for a very short time. I don’t know what I don’t know so these tips are given from the perspective of getting to the point of going independent, not how you stay in that state.
Probably the most important point is also the most talked about and the one most people find the hardest. Networking is an artform and if your charisma is lacking, or you feel intimidated talking to strangers this can be hard. Really hard. But always bear in mind that “it isn’t what you know, but who you know. Except for one project I am working on, all of my work comes through existing connections.
There are many ways to network, but ultimately you will have to speak to people face to face. Remember when you are working for yourself, you essentially will have to sell yourself (but not necessarily your soul, see below) and people will only hire your services if they trust you can do the task they want done. You might have the most impressive skillset and know all the right technologies in depth, but if you can’t network and get the word out, then it doesn’t matter.
Great ways to start talking to people is joining meetups, user groups and participate in community events. I co-organise DDD Melbourne, run a Meetup, speak at various events and much more. I love talking to people and hearing what makes them tick, but if you aren’t that outgoing, start small. Join one group and start from there. Keep setting goals of what the next step is. Before you know it, you are “networking”.
Learn to Say No
One of the hardest things for me is to say “no” to helping people, “no” to presenting, “no” to taking on another project. But I am learning. What I have learnt is that if you say yes to everything, you have very little choice in your work, and you will get into a terrible pattern of always having to do something you either don’t have time for or don’t want to. Saying “no” is powerful and it sets the standard for how you select your projects and how others perceive you.
Build A Brand
The ultimate in branding is when someone wants a specific task done and they immediately think of you or someone else recommends you. Building a brand is incredibly hard work, and it is something that can take years. My good friend Troy Hunt has an incredibly strong brand and when you hear his name, most people in the IT industry will think web security. It has taken Troy many hundreds of blog post, presentations, tweets, training courses and many other activities over a period of 5-6 years to get where he is. But now the work comes to him.
My personal brand is getting stronger and stronger, and writing an article like this one, sharing experience and knowledge is a part of it. Find your niche, make it yours and don’t settle for second best.
Treat Everyone Equally
Once you have a network of contacts and you start to get your brand imprinted into people’s minds, you will start to meet people from all backgrounds and with all skillset. Meet everyone where they are at, and don’t assume people know more or less than you, are better or worse, or they don’t have anything to offer. Every person you meet deserves the same level of courtesy and respect, regardless of how they approach you or treat you. Who knows, this might be your next major project or business opportunity.
Even if you come across unpleasent individuals (and you will, because you can’t please everybody) take the high road. Don’t get dragged into arbitrary arguments, because there are no winners. And it is likely you will have much more to lose.
One of the beautiful things about working for yourself is that you are in charge of your time and your schedule. But it is also easy to take on work that is merely trading time for money. My definition of a “job” is trading time for money. You give some hours to your employer and get some money in return. If you stop giving hours, you stop getting paid.
Instead seek out opportunities that will generate a passive income. Projects where the time you put in continues to pay off after the work is complete. This is the clever way to work. In my case it is mobile apps that continue to sell, Pluralsight courses that continue to generate royalties, a Bed & Breakfast, a startup with profit share, and more. It is hard to get out of the “must have money now to pay bills this month” mentality, but it is the only way you can get real freedom and happiness being self employed.
The hard work that you put in now will pay off exponentially in the future. That is the key.
If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.