Gestern ist dieser famose Artikel auf einem meiner Lieblingsblogs (rookiemag) erschienen. Bei jedem Wort und jeder Zeile habe ich nur da gesessen und zustimmend in mich hineingenickt, und da ich den Inhalt gerne weitergeben will bin ich so frei, ihn hier einfach weiterzubloggen. Er ist in englischer Sprache verfasst und ich werde mich bemühen, ihn noch zu übersetzen. Er stammt aus der Feder von Jessica, einer Musikjournalistin aus Chicago. Sie schreibt hier über das Thema Selbstständigkeit, und ihre Erfahrungen werden sicher einigen von euch bekannt vorkommen. Viele ihrer Tips kann ich – auch, wenn ich noch nicht so lange ‚dabei‘ bin wie sie – genau so weitergeben, denn hier spricht mir jemand aus dem Herzen. Es werden viele Themen angesprochen, die nach und nach auf einen zukommen – und ich selbst hätte diesen Artikel gerne schonmal vorher gelesen.
(Article by Jessica from rookiemag)
When I was 19, with scarcely six months of actual full-time public-relations work under my belt, I started my own PR firm. In my apartment. I had a phone and a computer and, because it was the ’90s, a fax machine. My net worth at the time was $600, which was my rent, and the promise of approximately $300 in monthly revenue. I had no savings, which meant I had to hit the ground running and figure out how to do what I did and find people to pay me to do it.
That might sound foolish, but I really didn’t have any other choice. Not because I was unemployable—I did fine at the jobs I had previously held (mostly working at record stores)—but because I had too much ambition and was a little too evangelical about my passions to be ringing up someone’s Foo Fighters CDs for long. I knew I couldn’t keep it up; I had to get out or I’d explode. So I gave two weeks’ notice at my part-time job, put out the word to everyone I knew that I was starting a business, and got to work.
I had no business knowledge. I had no formal training or college degree. I had no employees. I had no business cards, credit cards, or investors. I had some contacts, but not many. But I also had something people needed—I knew a handful of bands and record labels that were looking for someone to help them promote their albums and tours in the press. Back then, the only people who were doing this charged about 10 times what I did. I picked up some bands, and we all grew together. I found a niche and filled it. By the time I quit doing PR nine years later, I had a staff of five, made an OK living for myself, and had worked with more than 200 bands and dozens of labels—including some of my favorites (Gossip! Kill Rock Stars! Blur! At the Drive-In!).
Being my own boss totally spoiled me—I have never known office politics, or worked outside my apartment, or had a nine-to-five schedule. When I would tell people I ran my own company, they would look at me like I was bullshitting, because I was 21 or 25. Part of that, I think, is the notion that in order to start a company, you have to be really official and raise capital and have an office and all that. That is one way to do it, but you can also just bootstrap it and turn your hobby/interest/skill-set into a thing that you charge other people for, and maybe that becomes your career. Or maybe it’s just something you have on the side to help you make money, or to keep you sane while you work a job you hate. In any case, here are some of the lessons I learned along the way that might be of use to you if you’re thinking about starting your own one-gal business:
Running your own business requires passion and obsessive dedication.
For the first few years, when I was really building my business, I worked 70 hours a week, including nights and weekends. I had to drag myself away and go do other stuff—like eat or be social or sleep—because the list of things I had to do was infinite. It was necessary for work to basically become my obsession—if I didn’t work, the lights didn’t stay on. I couldn’t have done that if I wasn’t totally dedicated to the mission of what it was I was doing: I loved the music I was promoting and wanted to help get it into the world. Building a business requires real temerity—the long hours are much easier if you’re doing something you are passionate about.
You don’t have to be all official.
Depending on what kind of business you are starting—if it is a sole proprietorship, or a partnership with other people—you might want to become an LLC (limited liability company), which protects you and whatever assets you might have from your businesses’ obligations or financial liabilities—so, if someone you’re working with sues you, your business might lose money, but they can’t come after your own personal money, or your family’s. You might also need to get a license for certain types of business endeavors, like retail, food, bodywork/hair, or construction. If you are unsure, check with other people who do what you want to do. A lot of the time, if the business is just you doing something you have some talent and/or skill and/or knowledge for, and your office is just the left side of your bedroom, you probably do not need to be official or on paper when you are just getting off the ground. I was the sole owner of my business, so I never had to get a tax ID or a license. The only thing I did was tack on extra insurance for my car and my apartment, so that if I got robbed or my stuff was otherwise destroyed, I didn’t have to start from scratch.
Have a plan, even if it’s just some bullet-pointed goals and a rough timeline.
The first few years of many start-ups are about just trying to keep the internet and lights turned on—day-to-day survival. When you are dog-paddling your way through every day, you can lose sight of big-picture goals. You need a business plan: a clear idea of what you’re doing and how you’ll make money (or at least how you’ll avoid losing money). You don’t want to get a year into something and then realize it isn’t working after you’ve been sinking money and time into it. The plan is vital to securing investors should you decide you want them, but even if you’re bankrolling the whole thing yourself, your business plan is your mission statement—your reason for existence. If you really think about and write out your biggest goals, and how and when you’ll meet them, it’ll be easier to assess whether any decisions you have to make day to day are in service of those goals. Your business plan shouldn’t be set in stone—you’ll probably be refining it all the time, and updating your ambitions as you dream bigger or smaller. What is your contingency plan? Scale back? Ask for help? Lots of time, people want to jump into their business full time, right away. Working up to that conservatively and organically is a much safer bet; there is nothing wrong with starting (very) small.
It helps to have a mentor.
I didn’t have a proper mentor, but I did have a good friend who was higher-up in the music business whom I could call when I needed help navigating a situation. Your mentor can be a former boss with whom you really connected, or just someone in your line of work whom you admire. Reach out to them to ask how they conduct themselves and their business. You’d be surprised how willing people are to offer advice and to commiserate, particularly if your new enterprise is not in direct competition with theirs. And sometimes you need resources and advice from someone who has already been down the road. There may be alumni or staff at your school that could help guide you in your ambitions. Also, there are all kinds of mentoring organizations and professional networks for women that offer to pair people and resources—these tend to be locally affiliated, and some have membership fees, but Google this. My mentor friend gave me some simple advice that changed the way I did business—like this next tip:
This is your business, not the Salvation Army.
After your initial getting-off-the-ground phase—when you may be doing projects for free or cheap to build your experience/résumé/portfolio—don’t work for less than you can afford to. If you’re manufacturing something to sell, for example, you need to take into account your time, the cost of materials, and labor. Charge what you need to in order to survive. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t cut deals or throw in a freebie occasionally, but don’t make your profit margin so low that you can’t sustain what you are doing. You will grow to hate the work and resent the people you work for/with. I worked at cut-rate prices for years, despite being great at what I did, because I thought it was the punk thing to do and would instill loyalty. Neither of those things is true. At one point I found out what our competitors were charging and doubled my rates for all new business—and no one batted an eye. Charging bargain-basement prices may make people think less of your product or service, too. If a project is going to be a lot of work, charge accordingly. When people approach my friend Joan to work with her, but do not have enough money to actually hire her at a going rate, she offers a consulting rate, where she guides, suggests, and gives know-how, but doesn’t do the work.
Don’t go into debt.
I have never had a credit card; my business always subsisted on cash on hand. I borrowed money from parents exactly once to pay my rent three months after I started my firm. Later on, my dad gave me a short-term loan to buy a copy machine and pay my taxes. Both times, I knew how soon I could pay him back, and I did. I am the only person I know who has never had debt. If I had had a credit card at that time, I would undoubtedly still be paying it off at an extremely high interest rate. So if you decide you need more money than you can save for in the beginning, you might approach family and friends with a business plan and ask for help, or try to raise money on a site like Kickstarter, or go to a bank for a small loan—but keep in mind that many new businesses won’t see a profit for five years. Only lay out what you know your business can recoup, or what it needs in order to sustain itself. I never consulted with a financial advisor or lawyer, but many small-business owners do. I just knew that I needed to make a total of $1200 a month to survive, a number I arrived at by adding up my rent, all of my monthly bills, and the cost of groceries and coffee, plus $100. That was cutting it close, but I knew if I could earn that, I didn’t need to get another job.
Think “like a woman,” but occasionally execute “like a profesh dude who is kind of a dick and full of himself.”
Young women who are ambitious and energetic are perfect candidates for starting a business. I also think that women tend to be especially tenacious, and are often good at reading situations and understanding what other people need. Growing up in a patriarchy instills us with those skills, so why not turn them around to serve your business? Sometimes I would find myself being manipulated by a client or having to beg to get paid, and being way too understanding about what basically amounted to them disrespecting me/my business. You get afraid to say what you need, because you don’t want someone to think you are a bitch. But do you think any high-fiving corner-office bros ever think that? NIX THAT LINE OF THINKING! I was backstage at a music festival a couple years ago, and I was hanging out with a bunch of dudes in my line of work. Rather than casually conversing, the convos went like this: “Here is the genius thing I am working on and the next-level project after that.” I found myself (im)patiently listening and wondering: Why aren’t I bragging and hustling about my career? So the next time I was in a similar situation with my professional peers, I did that, and it got me a bunch of work. Occasionally, it helps to channel some super-assertive, braggy energy on behalf of your professional swagger. If you don’t want to emulate a cocksure dude, just be Beyoncé. Do you think she’s shy about getting what she wants?
Be cautious about your online presence.
A journalist friend suggests that you read all your potential tweets through the eyes of your boss’s boss. If you are self-employed, read them through the eyes of your clients. Or have a business-related account and a separate, private account. When you work for people, they may see what you do as an extension of your brand or company. Be mindful of how your comments/tweets/etc. might look to someone who doesn’t know you.
Do not be afraid of the phone.
Sometimes, long, impassioned emails are not the way to go. If someone is being a jerk, if you need to do some negotiating, or if a client is blowing you off about payment, get them on the phone. If you’re going back and forth for an hour, realize that a five-minute chat is time saved. Also, talking on the phone builds professional relationships in a way that a zillion emails cannot.
Get help when you need it.
I hired my first employee about three years after I started my business, but before that, whenever I needed help, I would hire a capable friend or acquaintance. Saying you are too busy to train someone else to help you, even though you are desperate for help, is usually just about control—you are afraid to let someone else do even a little. But being overworked is bad for your business. So if you find there is an aspect of your business that you cannot reasonably teach yourself—doing your taxes, building a nice-looking website—hire someone else to do it. Also, holler at the local colleges and get an intern to work for college credit. Give them some real work so they can learn to actually help you, aside from whatever small tasks you have for them. I wound up hiring almost every intern I ever had that did a good job—and they were great, because they knew the business from the ground up.
But remember that no one is going to work as hard as you do—and don’t expect them to.
In the last few years of running my company, I couldn’t have functioned without Dave as my right hand. One day, around 5 PM, Dave was packing up, and I said something about work that still had to be done—I was a little annoyed because it was our busy season, and I was working until 8 PM most nights. Dave looked at me and said, “Unless you are going to pay me for overtime, I am not going to work overtime.” He reminded me that this was my business, and as much as he loved working in my cold-ass basement with me and believed in what we were doing, for him it was a job, not a dream—and he would never let it take over his life. Don’t expect people to work more hours than you pay them for. Don’t expect people to pledge their souls (and/or free time) to your endeavors. Don’t expect them to care as much as you do about whether the business survives. Even if your business is casual and all buddy-buddy, conduct yourself in a professional manner or else the people you work with will not respect you, and they won’t stick around very long.
Even if you don’t have a schedule, have a routine.
Being self-employed after having worked for other people can feel really weird. You are possibly at home all day, maybe not interacting with anyone; the demands are totally different. It’s hard for a lot of people—it was for me for a long time. Even if you don’t have an organized schedule, at least have a routine: get up, take a shower, get dressed, make some tea, and go sit at your desk or work space. Have a to-do list. I do my best work in the late morning and am creatively useless after about 3 PM, so I do all my errands and office-y tasks in the afternoon.
Take care of yourself.
Don’t run yourself ragged with the all-consuming task of starting your business. Rest, eat, take a break, and walk to the bodega for some gummy worms. Take off and go see a matinee. Skype a friend and talk about something other than business. Cook a totally involved lunch. Get a decent chair to sit in if your business involves being on your computer all day long. Do some yoga and stretch. Rest your eyes. One of the big reasons I have been self-employed for so long is that I can take a nap whenever I want to.
Some of these lessons I learned the hard way, and how you go about starting your business depends on whether you want to crochet bonnets to sell on Etsy, consult for Fortune 500 companies, or manage bands. The main thing I want to convey is that, a lot of the time, all you need in the beginning is ambition and ideas. You can start anywhere and at any age. Doing something you love as a profitable hobby now can very well turn into your radical adult-life career—so think about it. ♦
(* Photography from http://www.fotocommunity.de/pc/pc/display/24528582)