I have quite a bit of experience in both failing and succeeding in my career, from working as an employee to being an entrepreneur. If you follow my blog you may not know this as I haven't really blogged about it. In quick summary: Back in 2007 I quite my day job and went all in on a side project I was working on to build a product to sell with Simplovation LLC. The product didn't sell quite like I had planned, so I had to get consulting work. I was a freelance consultant for quite a few years overall. In 2009 the ball got rolling on another startup for me that was kicked off in 2010, Carto LLC. In 2012, business wasn't as I had hoped so I started doing contract work full time again. In 2014 I went the employee route to get more stability after 7.5 years of being independent. This was an extremely tough 7.5 years, very straining on my wife and kids, and very financially stressful.
Currently, I'm employed as a Solutions Architect with a specialization in Microsoft Azure. Plus, I still have more side projects (Simplovation, Build Azure, Build HoloLens, Open Source, and many more!) than I have time to work on. Given the opportunity to redo past experience I wouldn't do anything different. I'm a serial entrepreneur. Building things in ingrained in who I am. I was extremely lucky to be able to have taken the leap to be independent and see where my various business ventures and experiments would take me. Today, I'm not as big of a risk taker than I used to be. This isn't because of the tough times, but rather because I now have kids and a family to support. I must be more strategic and careful with the chances I take.
My passions are learning, building and sharing. This is likely evident to many who have been following my blog for the past however many years. When I learn something technical, I enjoy sharing it. Since I've never really blogged about starting a business I thought I would share some tips I've learned over the years.
- Specialization is a required. This is how to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Anyone can build software, but how many have deep expertise in a specific technology or industry?
- Selling is Hard. In fact, selling is harder than you think. Whether you're selling a product or just your consulting services, it is difficult to sell. To affectively sell, as an independent, you basically have 2 full time jobs. The first is to perform the services you're selling, the second is to be the salesman your business needs. Don't underestimate how important it is to sell yourself. Rarely do sales opportunities come to you, especially when first starting out.
- Promotion and Marketing are NOT Bragging. I used to feel that I shouldn't try to market myself and my business too much as that meant no being genuine. This is just an excuse of the fearful. You need to market yourself. Blogging helps, but participation on Stack Overflow, social media, forums, local user groups, conferences, etc. are all good ways to market your business. If people don't know you exist, they will never know to consider doing business with you.
- Offer something for FREE. Never be afraid to give something away for free. If you can offer someone value for nothing, then they'll come back to you and be more likely to pay you for even more value. Plus, offering something free like a Blog, Open Source project, or even a free consultation or product trial help get customers dependent on you. Once they're hooked, the'll likely stay with you for a while. I once had to give a client free usage of a Software as a Service product for an entire year so I wouldn't lose them, and they stayed and started paying after the year was up.
- Produce as much blog, video or other content as you can. The more content you produce the more value you will be able to provide. Whether it's Free or Paid content, it doesn't matter. You can't be of value if you don't produce. Plus, producing Free blog, video or other content will offer proof that you know what you're doing. It's one thing to say you know something, or have a resume reference, it's a whole different matter if you can show an open source project, blog articles and/or videos demonstrating irrefutable proof that you know something.
- Learn, Learn, Learn. Never stop learning! Read books, subscribe to blogs, subscribe to YouTube channels. Consume as much quality content as you can that will help you learn new information, gain new perspective, gain the experience of others. Never stop learning as much as you can.
- Be Financially Smart. Don't waste money on things you don't need. Everyone spends their money on what they want. Some people want a brand new car every couple years. Some people want a fancy house. You have a finite amount of money, you must spend that money on the things you desire. If you want to start a business, then you'll want to keep your monthly expenses as low as possible so you have extra money to spend on required business expenses.
- Start your business on the side. Don't follow my lead, but learn from my experience. Start your business on the side. Keep your day job so you can pay the bills and keep saving up while you get your business off the ground. Sure you won't be able to spend as much time working on your business, but most people don't have the money to support themselves for 1 year or more that may be required to create a sustainable business.
- Don't be afraid to Pivot. Pivoting is changing directions. For example when I started Simplovation it was to sell a product. Since revenue wasn't as high as I needed it to be I pivoted to getting software development contracts. The product or service you start your business out doing is not always the product or service that you will be successful with. Don't be afraid to change directions and follow the path the money takes you.
- Never give up! If you want to be successful, you must never give up. Everyone fails. You must learn from that failure, learn what you can, and try again. "If at first you don't succeed; try, try again." You can do anything you want, it's all up to you. You are ultimately the only one that could ever truly prevent you from succeeding.
- Experiment. One of the ways to find what works is to experiment. The more you experiment, the more you will learn what works and what doesn't. I've created a few Windows Store apps over the years as experiments. While these experiments don't make very much money, they taught me a lot about many areas of business, marketing and delivering products. If you don't know what to do, start by making a small time/money investment in an experiment. If the experiment work, then follow it. If the experiment failed, then take what you can learn and do another experiment. This can provide a rapid way to prove out ideas without sinking high amounts of time and money that might fail.
I've been following John Sonmez for close to a year now, and he's really inspired me to get back to specialization, blogging and promoting myself more like I used to a few years ago. Thanks John!!
Here's a video John Sonmez from SimpleProgrammer.com recently posted that summarized some really good advice for those thinking about starting their own business: