Going Solo: Ropes to Skip

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2008/03/31 1 views

in e marketing 101 KISS

One of our readers has read about Going Solo – an upcoming conference in Lausanne (see logo below) and wanted to know if he should attend AND what he might get out of it.

I tried to assess this issue from my perspective. Please keep in mind that I have registered myself, paid the fee and look forward to attend Going Solo. Hence, my response may be somewhat biased, nonetheless….

As an entrepreneur or freelancer some of the things we point out below may sound very familiar to you, remember those days? How about a smile? For those of you working on a new venture, please keep these Ropes to Skip in mind. You could just save yourself some grief.

Going Solo is a conference for freelancers and entrepreneurs. I am sure many of you will be interested. Stephanie Booth (the organizer) had a chat about the focus of the conference with Stowe Boyd, one of the speakers. What they discussed you can read about in more detail here:

Going Solo: The Three Skills of Soloing

I agree with everything the say, particularly that somebody going solo needs to considerGoing Solo conference for freelancers, May 16th, Lausanne (Switzerland).

a few things to make sure to increase their likelihood of success. These are:

1) Doing the work,

2) Marketing and networking, and

3) Prospecting, contracts and cash flow

I would probably put prospecting under point 2 but that is just a small detail. Nonetheless, my limited experience in this field has taught me a few more things that I would like to share with you here. These I see as the Ropes to Skip on the journey to becoming a successful freelancer or entrepreneur.

A) Where will your business be located? In some countries, doing freelancing is much easier than in others. The reason might be culture, regulation and possibly the people as well. Hence, when I launched a business in California during my university studies that was easy (i.e. got a licence, used one room in our condominium and voila, we were open for business). Doing it again in Canada (Alberta) was very much the same. Have the idea, get a license and start selling.

When I came to Denmark and wanted to try it there, it took a bit more paperwork and effort to get going. Same rules apply for Switzerland when I started last year. Therefore, whenever we think about going freelance, how things work in San Francisco is different from how they work in Aalborg (Denmark). In some countries, it takes more time and effort to get it right the first time.

To illustrate, in Switzerland I discovered that blue chip clients are reluctant to give work to a freelancer. Things can improve if you offer unique skills, work in a niche and have incorporated your business (hence, you have some capital invested besides just sweat equity). Being able to show that several people work for your micro enterprise does also help.

My advice: Keep cultural differences in mind and set things up properly before quitting your daytime job.

B) So you are hanging out a shingle – why should clients come to you? Others might put it even simpler: You can quit your current job after you have secured and successfully brought to completion two contracts. It will be tough to do these contracts while holding down a full-time job. However, it is the best way to get a taste of what it takes to work on your own. It is especially helpful to discover how tough it can be to succeed in the marketplace, without having all the resources of a large employer at your disposal (expertise, infrastructure, contacts, brand, etc.).

Deciding to quit your current job is the easy part. Securing a revenue stream that is large enough to pay your bills and rent is a much greater challenge.

In some countries, without the right social network and people who know and trust your skills and capabilities, it might take you months until you get some jobs that pay serious money.

Remember, costs add up from day one. Will you be able to survive the first three months without any serious income?

So do not go out renting a nice office or spend money on fancy equipment, unless you have a client who signed on the dotted line giving you the work that will pay for all this. Do not forget, you need to pay yourself a salary for the next three months.

My advice: Do not spend anything unless you have the cash to pay for it. Cash is king.

C) Do you think we need another consultant or product / software / gadget? The advantage of an older person deciding to launch her business is that you might have worked in the industry for a while. Not only have you gained experience but also, more importantly, you have probably established a network of contacts in the industry.

To illustrate the above, UK statistics suggest that starting as a freelancer or entrepreneur at a somewhat older age helps. The likelihood of a business still thriving after five years is greatest for freelancers or entrepreneurs who are around 50 years of age when starting out. Apparently, those folks know the industry, have the necessary contacts and are able to identify and exploit a market niche that helps their venture succeed.

My advice: Unless you can pass the elevator test (ground floor to first floor is all it takes to explain who is purchasing your product and why), it will be a tough uphill battle on the road to success.

D) Does your service, software or tool satisfy a need? A marketing ace just recently asked me about our ComMetrics software for benchmarking webpages, blogs and social media efforts and said:

What is the product’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?

I explained it as follows:

    ‘If you are in the situation where you run a social media program at a corporation (webpage, blog, online advertising) and you need to measure your success against your competitors, ComMetrics is for you. More importantly, the tool helps one to show to the bosses that this ‘new media’ program is worth its weight. The ComMetrics Social Media Health Check empowers you to demonstrate the value of your social media program as well as indicating where your program can be improved over the next Quarter.’

In simple terms, customers want products and services that serve a need and a desire. Therefore, unless your consulting service or your software tool does that, it will be an extremely hard sell. Accordingly, there is a reason why women wear black high heels when going on a date and not sneakers:

Why women buy black high heels – the guide for everything

Nonetheless, even designing and making black high heels does not mean that women will flock to your store to purchase these things. We should address that issue in another post.

My advice: Check if you can identify the need your service or product will satisfy and, most importantly, your chances for successfully exploiting that market niche.

Bottom Line

In some countries, things are a bit more formal than in others. Hence, having some experience in the industry and knowing the key players personally does help your efforts when starting out as a freelancer or entrepreneur.

In addition, large companies or blue chip outfits may not be willing to do business with a self-employed designer or software guru. Our experience has been that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) offer us the best opportunity for securing new contracts. For starters, the owner may understand very well what it takes to start out. Moreover, he or she can make a decision about your contract without having to secure support from many parties. This is often required in a large corporation. In fact, your counterpart may not want to take any risks by giving you the job and, instead, prefer to hire a blue-chip consulting firm.

The greatest challenge is to secure a regular revenue stream. Once you have a few regular clients that provide you with monthly revenues, things get a bit easier. You can plan and invest in new ventures or equipment, while being sure that the money is coming in to pay for these expenses.

Going Solo and Benchmarking Yourself

So what about Going Solo. Well if you are going solo or thinking about it, check this out:

Who is Going Solo For?

The above points we put up can be seen as important markers that you need to address before going solo. Success is the result of hard work and your family, friends or children may not always appreciate the time commitments you must make to help your venture grow.

Whatever you decide to do, going to an event such as as Going Solo gives you a chance to hear from other freelancers, learn the ropes, add a few more tricks to your toolbox. etc. And let us not forget that besides networking you will have a good time, I am sure.

also of interest:
A Theory About Freelancers in the Internet Industry Why benchmark?
European Commission – defining the term SME Who is Going Solo For?

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