It’s one of the greatest American dreams. You make your own hours and choose your own clients, while doing what you love and getting paid for it. Starting your own small or freelance business can be an empowering and life-altering experience, but before you get to the good part, there’s plenty of work to create the foundation of a successful business.
Today, there are many new tools to get you started on the right track, but they are still based on tried and true principles.
* There’s no such thing as too much networking. “Start with your immediate network,” says Shawn O’Mara, senior partner at design firm ocreations, who earned his associate of applied science degree in Visual Communications from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1991. “Do you have an uncle who owns a pizza shop? Offer to create a new logo for him. The money doesn’t matter as much when you’re first starting out; you need to concentrate on building your portfolio.”
Another great way to build your portfolio is to contact non profit organizations. “Non-profits usually do not have a large budget, so if you offer to do the work at a reduced rate, you’ll get the experience,” says Dana Melvin, director of career services at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Once you’ve started working with get those clients, Melvin reminds business owners to make sure to get permission to use them as references.
Melvin also reminds entrepreneurs, “No matter where you go, your business card should come with you.” That includes the gym, grocery store and gas station. “You never know when you’ll meet a potential client and you should never pass up an opportunity to get your contact info in their hands.”
One of your biggest networking tools doesn’t even require you to get out of your pajamas. “Facebook, LinkedIn and so many other social media outlets allow you to reach out to people you could not reach before. A lot of the work I am doing is for people that I went to high school with and I could not have connected with them if it were not for social networks,” says O’Mara.
O’Mara also encourages budding entrepreneurs to think outside of the box when advertising their business. He encourages people to find sponsorship and donation opportunities in the community. “My son plays pee wee football, so I donate the T-shirts so that everyone who comes to the games sees what I do for a living,” O’Mara emphasizes that everyone you know should know what you do for a living.
And then there’s office space. Do you need it? There was a time when a business without an office wasn’t much of a business at all. But times have changed. O’Mara’s business is graphic design and although now has an office, he says all a freelancer in his field needs is a laptop and the right software. He says most client meetings can either be held at the client’s office or at your local coffee shop.
If you do decide you need an office both Melvin and O’Mara advise that you look into co-working spaces. “Those facilities have common conference rooms, shared office equipment like a copier and fax machine, a common kitchen and some have a receptionist for all the businesses that share the space,” explains Melvin.
O’Mara says there’s an extra benefit to the shared space as well. “The people you’re sharing the space with become part of your network and help you to grow your business; they can also become your clients.”