Is self-employment right for you? Is now the best time to start your own business?
Questions like these are common right now. And the answer is: definitely, maybe.
Regardless of the type of business, self-employment isn’t for everyone. It requires passion, know how, and opportunity. It requires strategy and great timing. And it takes resources.
To be sure, there are many pros and cons to consider:
- With unemployment claims at 30MM in the U.S. and unemployment dropping to 10.2% (16.5% factoring in part-time employees), there is still a lot of volatility in the market.
- In the months of March and April the US economy lost more than 21MM jobs, and in May, June, and July, regained 9.3MM (about half of jobs lost). While this upward trend is good news, the question remains, what happens next? A lot depends on three things:
- The virus: While scientists are making great progress toward a vaccine, the number of new cases continues to grow.
- Consumer confidence and behavior: Some experts speculate that many people used the $1200 US stimulus check to pay-down debt, rather than stimulate the economy with new purchases.
- The government’s response: At the time of this writing, the U.S. government has not reached a consensus on a second stimulus bill. Of course, this is really only a piece of the puzzle in response to a global pandemic.
- For the unemployed, with no indication of a work return date, now is a great time to explore possibilities.
- According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, when people have a greater amount of time to find the right position (with the security of un-employment benefits to sustain them), they find a better fitting job. Sometimes, this means creating a job perfectly suited for them, while solving a problem for their clients.
Many leaders, executives, and managers secretly wish that they were self-employed. When they examine past career choices, future opportunities, and the reality that time is finite, they open the window to options and opportunities.
Are You Ready for Self-Employment?
- What steps must I take to transition to entrepreneurship?
- Can I give myself permission to succeed, or fail?
- How does fear keep me in a reactive stance, constrained by outmoded routines?
- Am I content to live partially, or am I ready and willing to explore new ways of thinking and feeling?
- Can I gather the energy needed to realize my unlived potential?
- How can I take one small step?
The shift to self-employment can be the most rewarding accomplishment and pathway to success there ever was. But, ask anyone who has ventured out on their own, and they’ll tell you tales of blood, sweat, and tears shed. If you’ve got a novel, great idea, it won’t take long before others are nipping on your heels. It’s important to start right: start smart.
Hone Your Value Proposition
Begin with a value-proposition: a simple, memorable statement about what you do, and why you do it. Your value proposition describes the functional and emotional benefits of your company and brand. Functional benefits are linked to specific product features, while emotional benefits refer to positive feelings that customers experience when using your products and services.
For example, the functional benefit of a gardening tool could be the efficient removal of lawn weeds, but the emotional benefit could be its ease of use by people with knee ailments. Value propositions are not necessarily about offering the cheapest products. They are about convincing customers that they are getting value for their money.
A value proposition can be created in four steps:
Step 1: Know your customer
Your customer is a business person with quite a large house, who likes the "meditative feeling" of cutting his own lawn, but gets bored by the job when it takes too long. He’s looking for a good quality of cut, for the job to be done quickly and enjoyably.
Step 2: Know your product or idea
The product is a ride-on mower with a 25 horsepower (powerful) engine and 45 inch (wide) cutting blades.
Step 3: Know your competitors
The mower goes faster and cuts wider than the competition.
Step 4: Distill the customer-oriented proposition
"Our mower cuts your grass in 50% of the time of ‘big brand’ mowers in its class. And it leaves the lawn looking beautiful too!"
Craft Your Business Positioning Statement
Your business positioning statement flows from your value propositions. It should describe why customers should use one product over another.
For example, a small bakery’s positioning statement could be its multigrain breads and custom-designed cakes that appeal to customers who are looking for flavorful and creative products that are different from the standard mass-produced items at big-box grocery stores. Correct positioning could determine market-share gains and profitability. In this case, the bakery is trying to position its products in the market segment that includes customers who want high-quality, high-priced goods. If it tries to compete solely on price, it may not survive because bigger companies can use their buying power to drive down input costs.
Positioning statements focus on the most relevant benefit and points of competitive differentiation that are meaningful to the persona:
- Audience (persona type/niche market)
- Key customer benefit
- Think "Why?" and answer the customer’s question of WIFM
Be prepared to modify your positioning statements to respond to changes in the business environment.
Memorize Your Personal Positioning Statement
Your personal positioning statement flows from your value propositions and business positioning statement. It describes why customers should choose you over someone else.
For example, your personal positioning statement could include how you have helped other clients and appeal to prospects who are looking for similar results (or have similar problems). Based on your niche market values, personal positioning statements focus on the most relevant benefit of working with you versus your competitors.
Try this basic template, and fill in the blanks:
For ____________________ (your audience/niche market/persona type),
I am the ____________________ (your specialty or category of service)
with the unique combination of ________________ (your differentiator)
that can help you ____________________ (key customer benefit/the “why”/WIFM answer).
These tools also help to keep your vision alive. They are reminders of what you do, and why you do it. Most importantly, they prepare you to answer the question: “what do you do?”
Unleash Your Inner Entrepreneur
Leaders and executives often make great entrepreneurs. After all, many have grown through the ranks in an organization, and understand what it takes to succeed in business:
- Mystic (magnetism)
As an entrepreneur, you’ll move through the ranks. Knowing which aren’t a good fit—and knowing what you don’t know—allows you to focus your time, energy, and attention on areas where you excel.
Generally speaking, your passion will stem from your knowledge or experience with the technical aspects of your business: the first three ranks. Successful entrepreneurship requires a solid understanding of logistics, including resources, supply chains, and production, as well as marketing, finance, and everything in between.
As you take on more responsibility (and grow your business), the role of facilitator, teacher, and pragmatist can be taught to others, delegated, or hired out. Your role will shift to motivator as you encourage others in their performance.
As a visionary, you’ll share your ideas, identify possibilities and opportunities, and make connections others may miss. Even without a team yet in place, you’ll be called on to communicate your vision and inspire action from others: creditors, investors, and clients. This requires social intelligence, charisma, and magnetism; it requires the mastery of mystic.
The Mastery of Mystique
Mystique is a transformational, rather than transactional, quality. It affects our internal—not external—state. The charismatic entrepreneur changes the way we feel about ourselves, our values and our beliefs. Our behavior and performance are therefore influenced on a deeper level.
Consider your formative life experiences. It’s not about what happened to you, but how you responded. For example, if something traumatic raised your self-awareness; if it caused you to question, reflect, gain insight and ignite your passion, share this with others.
In challenging times, charismatic entrepreneurs can unite a group and inspire focus, more so than any other force.
Serendipity, Self-Employment and Success
Self-employment isn’t for everyone. It requires passion, know how, and opportunity. It requires strategy and great timing. And it takes grit. Successful entrepreneurs use their grit to:
- Anticipate that obstacles are inevitable and find a way around them.
- Develop their abilities by finding solutions to setbacks.
- Build willpower by using it like a muscle—anticipating when they’re vulnerable, avoiding temptations, and preparing contingency plans and coping strategies.
Successful entrepreneurs focus on what they will do, rather than what they won’t do—a tactic that fosters positive energy. They know success depends on adapting to challenges and persisting, even when they’re ready to wave the white flag. And, they are open to opportunities in surprising places.
Successful entrepreneurs see what others don’t; they notice the un-noticed, and expect the unexpected. Those who are successfully self-employed turn these noticed, unexpected observations into opportunities. Some call it serendipity.
As Christian Busch, PhD, writes in The Serendipity Mindset (Riverhead Books, 2020), “[Serendipity] demands a conscious effort to prompt and leverage those moments when apparently unconnected ideas or events come together in front of you to form a new pattern.” To put it simply, they connect the dots.
According to Busch, there are three types of serendipity: Archimedes, Post-it, and Thunderbolt.
- Archimedes Serendipity: When a solution to a known problem comes from an unexpected place. This type of serendipity is common for natural entrepreneurs.
- Post-it Serendipity: When a solution to a known problem is stumbled upon by exploring a different and/or unrecognized problem.
- Thunderbolt Serendipity: When a solution to an unknown problem presents itself.
Why Is This Important?
As successful entrepreneurs will tell you, no matter how strong your passion or know-how, success depends on your openness to opportunity, and how well you have trained yourself to recognize opportunities around you. You see, serendipitous entrepreneurs connect the dots between the small things and life’s bigger problems.
Busch writes, “Learn to spot serendipity.” Recognize opportunities in things, places, and with others. Connect the dots and recognize patterns.
One of the biggest hurdles in this process is confidence, or lack thereof. Sometimes, our need for perfectionism (and fear of failure) holds us back. But when we accept that failure is better than no attempt, we can let go of limitations, and open to a world of possibilities.
Some successful entrepreneurs intuitively cultivate serendipity. They are open to the unexpected, able to proactively lead during times of uncertainty, and understand what is within their control. Others work to cultivate a serendipitous attitude. What about you?