It’s no surprise to me that everyone and their friend is interested in learning more about what it takes to ditch the corporate drone power suit and become their own bosses. It took three months out of college at a consulting gig to know that corporate life was not for me: too much red tape, not enough professional autonomy, and moronically slow growth, all to be labeled an impersonal number in a sea of thousands.
Halfway into my time at the consulting firm, I remember looking up at a clock one day and being reminded of two things that would prove to be life changing: first, that at 4:27 in the afternoon after a particularly successful day I was still not satisfied with what I was doing in my professional life, and second, that there was no time better than the present to do what I wanted.
The current economy notwithstanding, more and more people would just rather create work they love to do rather than feel stuck in unrewarding careers. When I made the entrepreneurial leap, I found that there were many great things about investing in an industry I was interested in, with the ability to create my own path and give myself more professional options being just a few.
Take it with a grain of salt, though: whether you’re selling artisan breads and goods, starting up a personal training service, or designing websites, just don’t expect it to be easy.
A decade after my first business venture in targeted email marketing and website services, everything remains a challenge. I could succeed a hundred times and still wonder if I’d be afloat tomorrow, in the next month, or the next year. Although there is no exact formula for success, there are a few things everyone should consider before becoming his or her own boss.
Find the Right Industry For You
The old adage that you should do what you love couldn’t be truer for starting your own business. Is there a hole in a particular market that you think should be filled? Or do you have a great idea to improve an existing service or product? Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that you feel excited about and something that you know like the palm of your hand.
Email marketing and open source technology doesn’t sound that captivating, but it was something I had an interest in and knew would be an important tool down the road. I studied, learned, and immersed myself within the finer details of the trade. After many years, I do not think I would’ve been as successful if I hadn’t pursued and committed myself to something I loved.
Hire the Right People
The people you hire are huge determinants for the strength of your business’s core. As it turns out, I would rather hire someone who is slightly less experienced but has that passion and willingness to learn than someone who has more experience, but also a certain arrogance that comes with more experience. When you have the right people who are motivated to push boundaries, something cool happens: those core employees become a kind of catalyst from where future successes build.
And while we’re on the topic of hiring the right people, your business cannot be run like a dictatorship where you do not give your employees autonomy. Think of your employees as an extension of you, share your knowledge, and trust them to get the job done. At the end of the day, your business can’t grow if your employees don’t grow.
Build Your Network
I don’t think anyone likes to network, but it’s something you have to do as a business owner. Once I made the commitment to my business, I knew I had to get out there and build a network of supporters.
Don’t underestimate the power of networking—it’s rarely an immediate gratification kind of deal, but something that can be cultivated for long-term effects, like the almighty referral. I don’t mention this casually: my first client actually came from a referral through a person I met at a networking event. I was in my mid-twenties, hustling to get my business’s name out there. I had a compelling pitch but just needed a little serendipity on my side.
What I learned from that initial introduction is that you have nothing to lose by putting yourself out there—in fact, if you’re in the right place at the right time, networking can be extremely beneficial for your business. To this day I still credit my success to that one networking event years ago.
Three months into my first job I knew there was no time better than the present to get started on my path of becoming my own boss. I won’t sugarcoat it; it takes guts—but if you play to what you know, find the foundational core of people who can catapult your ideas, and build your network of support, you will have the resources you need to help your business grow.
Ab Emam is the Founder and manages the day-to-day business operations at WDG, The Web Development Group, Washington, D.C.’s premier full-service creative web agency.