Retirement dreaming on such a winter’s day.
More than half of workers say traveling and spending more time with family and friends are what they’d relish when they step away from the workplace, and almost half cite devoting time to their hobbies. A notable 30% of workers, however, hope to still have some form of work in retirement. Finally, 13% fancy launching a business.
Those are some of the findings of the recent 19th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey: A Compendium of Findings About U.S. Workers.
I asked Beverly Jones, author of “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO” and host of NPR-affiliated Jazzed About Work podcast, for her tips for those budding entrepreneurs yearning to be their own boss. Jones has a great perspective on this topic since she has lived it herself.
After more than two decades as a top corporate lawyer and lobbyist, she took a golden parachute retirement package from her position as vice president of external affairs and policy at Consolidated Natural Gas.
Jones had an inkling of what path she’d like to follow. She had always enjoyed mentoring others and had done so throughout her entire career. So it was a natural shift to find a way to take this innate ability and redirect it to create a business where she could help people navigate their work lives and get paid for it.
She was fortunate to have a modest pension, which gave her some flexibility about how fast she needed to ramp up her venture. To stay engaged and make some income, she initially did some legal work for a law firm in Washington, D.C., as well as some lobbying for a nonprofit.
Then to add the credentials she needed to enter the new field, she went back to school to obtain a Leadership Coaching Certificate from Georgetown University. But she didn’t stop there. She attended coaching workshops, hired her own career coach, and read extensively about the field and related areas such as self-help, spirituality, and fitness. “In time, I began to find my own voice as a coach and felt confident I was doing what I was meant to do,” Jones says.
Among her coaching clients at her Clearways Consulting, based in Washington, D.C., are attorneys, business owners, and high-level government workers (and the occasional friend pro bono)—many of them midlife looking for their “what’s next.”
Here are Jones’s top tips for those looking to launch their own business.
Be clear about your goals. You probably have more than one reason for starting a business. Sure, you want to earn some money. But are you also aching for more variety? Do you dream of a career that allows a more flexible lifestyle? Or do you want to take the next step with a hobby you already love? Write down what you hope to achieve, frame specific goals, and remember that your bottom line is just one way to measure your progress.
Start early to prepare. If launching your own business is something you want to do “some day,” it is never too soon to start laying groundwork. You might build expertise through local or online college courses. Or perhaps you could start a small side gig, to test your business idea and get some experience.
Learn business basics. From choosing a legal structure to paying your taxes, you must comply with laws. The rules that apply will depend on the state where you live, the nature of your activities, and the kind of entity you create. And, even when you have a small-business accountant, it is vital that you know how to measure your costs, keep track of expenses, and decide what to charge. You can take courses, work for a spell in a small business, or apply to a business incubator, as you learn what it takes to run a company.
Build your network. As you grow as an entrepreneur, your network will be a critical asset. You can visualize it as a complex pattern of human relationships, spreading out around you in concentric circles. While the innermost ring may include close friends and family, further out are people you know only slightly, like alumni of your college, members of your clubs, and folks who live nearby. Everyone matters. Even your most casual contacts can support your success. Throughout your expanding network are potential mentors, collaborators, customers, and fans.
Surround yourself with positive people. An entrepreneur must deal with discouraging moments. False starts, rejected proposals, and disinterested audiences are part of the game. Because emotions are contagious, one way to protect yourself from some of that negativity is to stay in touch with upbeat people. Try to reach out to the optimists in your circle, and avoid the complainers who leave you feeling down.
Offer and seek help. Even though you know that connectivity is the lifeblood of small business, building a supportive community can be a challenge. A starting point is to look for opportunities to be helpful. Reach out to old friends and new acquaintances, listen to their problems, and look for small ways to offer assistance. Introduce folks with good reasons to meet each other. Support other small businesses. And give authentic praise. The more comfortable you feel as a helper, the easier it will be to ask for the support and encouragement you need.
Define and promote your brand. Your brand sets you apart from the competition. As an entrepreneur, you will need to identify your special value, and have a plan for spreading the word. To get comfortable with projecting your unique strengths, a useful exercise is to write a brief statement summarizing your personal brand. Be honest with yourself about how you want others to see you. And your current brand can help pave the way for your future business. For example, if you dream of opening a doggy day care facility, your brand might include your skill as a dog trainer. You can raise your brand profile by connecting with dog lovers, whether that means posting on Twitter or volunteering with service organizations.
Listen to your customers. Turning yourself into an entrepreneur may require a shift in your mind-set. When you start your business, your customers will ultimately determine whether you succeed. So now, wherever you are in your career, cultivate the habit of listening intently to the people who are impacted by your work, including your boss and your colleagues. Make it your job to understand what your “customers” need, what they want, and what they think. And keep looking for new projects and products that might help your “customers” meet their goals.
Learn to be motivated. You may have heard that “entrepreneurs are passionate about their work.” But what if you’re not sure you can maintain that kind of passion? The reality is that motivation is something you can acquire and manage. Now, in your current job, you can develop the skill of triggering your own drive and enthusiasm. One way to build motivation is by setting small goals, taking action, and experiencing moments of success. If you have put off tackling an important project, schedule an hour to focus on it exclusively. Quickly create a list of small subtasks and power through them for the 60 minutes. By actually getting some things done, you will motivate yourself to do even more on the project tomorrow.
Create a social media strategy. Even if you avoid Facebook
and other apps in your personal life, don’t ignore the power that social media can bring to your business. A smart mix of channels can help you check out the competition, understand your potential customers, keep up with industry news, and show off your products. It takes a while to get a feel for tools like Twitter
LinkedIn, and Pinterest, so practice using them as you expand your network.
To add to Jones’s recommendation for ramping up social media savvy, check out my recent column, Social media tips for midlife entrepreneurs, for free ways to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube
to grow a business.