Flying solo: Some tips for a smoother takeoff

Janet Arrowood

Have the effects of the coronavirus outbreak got you thinking about ditching your 40-hour-a-week traditional job and going out on your own? Perhaps you’ve been thinking about flying solo for some time, but events of the past few months provided the nudge you needed to take off. Or maybe you lost your job and need to find a new way to make a living.

No matter the reason, flying solo changes your career as well as your lifestyle.

As someone who’s been flying solo for 30 years, I’ve encountered many different experiences and built up a repertoire of tips and ideas about what usually works and what to avoid.

First and foremost, never forget this is a real job, one that likely will require far more than 40 hours a week. It will change your work habits. Family and friends will feel the effects of your changing and evolving work situation. Flying solo is not for the faint of heart. Clients and customers won’t come knocking on your door or filling your email inbox with requests for your services or products.

Expect to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week or more to get your business off the ground. You won’t get paid for most of these hours. They involve the planning and marketing required to attract paying customers or clients. Once you’ve moved beyond the startup phase, here’s a rule of thumb to keep in mind. Plan on working 15 to 20 hours on marketing, promotion, training and other non-paying activities for every 10 hours for which you’re actually compensated.

That should factor into setting your rates. If you’re only paid for 10 out of 30 hours worked, you need to make at least three times the hourly rate the same job pays on the open market. This isn’t the entire cost, either. Don’t forget to include benefits, business travel, computers, holiday and vacation time, office supplies, rent and utilities in the calculation for your hourly rate.

Marketing is critical. Brainstorm ideas about how to meet, impress and contract with potential customers or clients. Here are three ideas:

Join a professional business networking group. There are a number of groups in the Grand Valley. Make sure you can commit to the time involved since most groups conduct regular weekly meetings. Identify the specific types of clients or customers you seek. To make this type of marketing work, you need to clearly and specifically state what constitutes a good lead, referral or “center of influence” for your business. For example, a mortgage lender or real estate agent might say, “A good referral for me is the human resources director at XYZ company since they’re relocating 30 new jobs here.” Avoid sentences with “any” or “every.” They’re too general to get results. Keep your fellow group members in mind every time you meet someone so you can refer business to them.

Join professional and trade associations. There are the usual ones specific to your industry. But don’t forget those related to or supporting your line of business. If you’re an independent paramedical exam administerer, for example, check out the local insurance and financial services professional associations since they have many members whose clients need your services. Look for organizations seeking breakout session presenters at their conferences and submit a speaking proposal.

Offer to write a regular column or series of tips for online and print publications your likely clients and customers read. Speaking from personal experience, this is an excellent way to gain exposure, build credibility and obtain clients.

Next, assemble a team of advisors. Perhaps you can exchange services to defray some of the costs. A writer or editor might help an accountant or lawyer draft website content in exchange for tax or legal advice. Should I carry worker’s compensation insurance, pay quarterly taxes or incorporate? Going it alone is risky enough without trying to be your own benefits, financial, insurance, legal and tax advisor.

Finally, make sure to get all the right accounts, licenses and registration. Keep your business receipts, expenses and other activities separate from your personal finances. And never, ever miss a tax payment or other regulatory filing.