“Owning your own business is so glamorous!” said no one, ever. Building a successful business requires resilience, determination, a growth mindset, and a dash of serendipity. As fellow APMP members, we’re guessing you’re proficient in your career, maybe even an expert at your craft – whether that’s proposal management, writing, designing, or business development. But being great at your craft doesn’t mean you’ll be great at running your own business.
Trust us. We’ve learned MANY lessons over the course of the last 360-some odd days since we made the leap from corporate greatness to small business ownership. A few days ago, we celebrated our integrated marketing & proposal consulting firm’s one-year anniversary, and we also reflected on the huge amounts of humble pie we’ve consumed over the course of the past year (best served a la mode).
If you’re anything like us (you are), and you’re considering starting your own consulting business or starting a freelance side hustle, then know this: Taking the plunge is probably the first time in a reallllllly long time that you’ll be doing something completely new. And there is no playbook. No master class. So, you can be at the pinnacle of your career, and suddenly – finger snap – you’re back to feeling like an utter novice but with way more responsibility.
To save you from having to ingest every crumb of humble pie, we’ve compiled some of the most useful ideas, tips, tricks, and lessons (even the hard ones) for your benefit. . . including things NO ONE talks about.
Idea #1: You will never be ready. You can wait until your nest egg is about to hatch, until the timing is just right, or until your dream client comes knocking on your door. Or you can just start. Let’s face it, you will never be fully ready. When you realize that what’s holding you back is actually preventing you from pursuing your dreams, it becomes easier to swallow the risk of entrepreneurship.
On that note, here’s Lesson #1: Get real about your budget. Turning off the corporate-paycheck faucet can be terrifying. Be sure you’re realistic about the need to completely readjust your personal budget and how you spend money. For us, it meant downsizing our homes, moving to a country with a lower cost of living, and investing most of the company’s earnings back into the business to help us grow. Adios, five-star vacations.
Idea #2: Starting a business is hard. Running a business is harder. But it’s not impossible! With perseverance and flexibility (your original business plan won’t look the same as your one-year-in business plan), and with good old-fashioned research and tried-and-true networking, you’ll likely be successful. (Remember, you are an expert in your field!) When it came time for us to write contracts, we did a lot of Googling and read truckloads of different examples. And then we paid for a subscription to LegalZoom to get the basics down. We learned by trial and error, modifying our contract around 100 times as clients gave us feedback and lawyer friends offered free advice (thank you, friends!).
Which leads to Lesson #2: As we suggested above, Google is a good friend, but networking is your best friend. Legal. Finance. HR. Taxes. IT. Insurance. You simply cannot be an expert in everything. Contract terms, employment law, cybersecurity insurance? Not a chance. Part of being a successful business owner is surrounding yourself with experts to help you make the best decisions for your company. Get ready to be humbled every day by the learning curve. And then get ready to ask for (and receive) help – a lot. Look to APMP to find quality writers and designers; leverage LinkedIn; and ask everyone you know to refer you to their trusted experts.
Idea #3: Once you get secure with your values and boundaries, your priorities will shift too. Growing your business will consume every waking hour of your life and force you to rethink your priorities – both on a personal and professional level. You will evaluate every expense, prioritize weekend mornings for deep work (the mimosas can wait), and constantly re-evaluate what is significant. Along the way, you will learn where to focus your energy and how to integrate building a business into your life.
Lesson #3: Learn to say NO. At first, you’ll say yes to everything. And then, you’ll remember your business plan and your values and your boundaries, and you’ll find the courage to start saying “no” to opportunities that don’t align with your mission and vision. We recently made the decision to walk away from a very lucrative contract (we’re talking almost half of our projected sales for the entire year) when we realized we’d be compromising our own values by agreeing to the terms. We had to get very clear with our defined values because we realized that not only do the people who work for us need to embody those, but our clients do too. It’s easy to get distracted by making money, especially when you’re still building, but being successful is so much more than just revenue.
And now, for the sprinkles on top of the humble pie served a la mode: some tips and tricks that will make daily servings of humble pie more delicious.
- There’s an app for everything! FreshBooks is great for small businesses and especially for those who don’t like math/accounting (hello, that’s us!). Asana is a task management tool, and we affectionately refer to her as “our boss.” It keeps our thousands of Things To Do organized and allows us to share projects with team members and clients, so they’re in the loop (we’ve completed over 6,300 tasks to date!).
- Invest in a virtual assistant! After a few months in business, we realized that we were bogged down by processes and operational responsibilities. Investing a few thousand dollars each month for someone to share in the heavy lifting of the operations has been profoundly helpful and worth every penny. Don’t know where to start? Check out Belay.
- Run your business on the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). EOS is a set of concepts and tools that help guide entrepreneurs to run successful businesses. There’s a website, a blog, a few books, and lots of workshops you can check out to begin learning practical stuff. Every time we integrate a new tool from EOS into the business, we become a better run machine.
Are you eager to make the leap to consulting? Pull up a fork, join us at the table for some hot-out-of-the-oven humble pie, and check out these additional resources. We’re happy to share!
About the Authors
Krystn Macomber CP APMP Fellow, LEED AP
Co-Founder + Chief Executive Officer
Hayley Watkins CP APMP, CCMP
Co-Founder + Chief Operating Officer