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Posted: July 16, 2013

Become your own boss in three easy steps

...and maybe a few more

David Sneed

Let’s face it: you probably don’t like your job. Most likely you’ve thought about starting a business to get yourself a better boss or better hours or more money.

Turns out, you may just have to. The way the job market is going, more and more Americans are becoming contract employees. Soon, we’ll all be self-employed.

Even if you aren’t there yet, you can take steps to start a small business anyway—something on the weekends for now—so that you’re ready when the time comes.

The first step is always: What can I provide that others want or need?

You can be a CFO-for-hire, or freelance HR consultant. Accounting, carpentry and even the ability to walk a dog are other examples—and profit has been made from all of them.

Note: Some people look down on simple business. They’ll say ‘you just own your job’ as if it’s pitiful. Don’t let them get to you: it’s still better than not owning your job. I’d argue that hiring yourself out is the original capitalism and the very foundation of America.

But in order for self-employment to work for you, talk to others who have made the jump. Get a coach. I did, and here are some tips I picked up for being a micro-business today.

  • Don’t quit your day job…yet. Set up your business first. Keep an income until you get it figured out.
  • Limit where you spend.  Only buy essentials. If you’re an accountant, you need a pencil and paper.  After your first job, buy a calculator. After the next, order business cards. This way, after each paying gig you reinvest in the company but you don’t lose your house if it’s a train wreck. Other entrepreneurs will want you to buy ads from them. Most are a waste of money.
  • Keep it simple.  Offer one or two services and become the best. After a while, you can offer an additional product. Become the best at that one too.
  • Understand marketing.  Learn WordPress and focus on your website (and getting it seen by search engines.) SEO is important, and if you can read, you can do it yourself.  With a good web presence and the right message, customers will find you.
  • Stay small.  If you scan economic publications, all they talk about is growth. “If you aren’t growing, you’re failing.”  Ignore them. If you make a good living without a lot of hours, you’re succeeding.
  • Limit your hours. This is a tricky one. If you put in 40 hours to make $900, you’re wasting your time. Find efficiencies to do it faster, or charge more.  There’s no point in being a business owner who earns less than a comparable employee. But make 20 percent more just to keep up with the extra taxes.
  • You have to pay taxes. Like 30 percent. There’s a self-employment tax that covers the portion your employer used to pay. I say from experience: April comes around every year, and if you haven’t paid quarterlies you better have savings. Internal Revenue takes a dim view of citizens who forget to share.
  • KISS. You don’t need an elaborate business structure.  Form an LLC or just stay a sole-proprietor.  You can always change it later.
  • Stop sleeping in. 80 percent of everything you’ll accomplish today will be done by noon—no matter when you roll out of bed.  If you want to get any work done, you have to do it early. Plus, that’s when everyone else is doing things.

So okay, that was more than three tips. But it really is easy to start a small business. If you’re wise, and market smartly, and produce a fine product, you can prosper selling dog walks, math, or kitchen tables.

And that part about being an entrepreneur to get a better boss? Not always true. I’m self-employed, and mine is a lazy jerk.

If you current self-employed readers have any more tips, we’d sure like to hear them.

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company,and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss– The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company." As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at  David@EveryoneHasABoss.com

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Readers Respond

Slappy: Business is for money-making, hobbies are for passion fulfillment. Greg, Thanks for noticing. (-: By David Sneed on 2013 07 16
Here's something i struggle with... i'd like to start my own business on a venture I am passionate about. But what's getting in the way is that i've witnessed many people try to turn their passion into a business venture that either a) fails - 'cuz they're good at their "hobby" but not as a business model. Or b) succeed, but then end up resenting their "passion" and are now passion-impaired. I'm hoping there's a "c" options, but I rarely see that pan out. What do you think? By Sloppy Joe on 2013 07 16
Quite a few chuckles from this column. David's last comment reminded me of a Quigman's cartoon from over 20 years ago. Shows a guy looking in the mirror with a classic boss/employee dialog in balloons on each side. The bottom one said: "You can't fire me, I quit!" The caption below read something like: "Self-employment starts messing with Brad's head." Nice column, many good insights. By Greg Wright on 2013 07 16
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