Venturing On Your Own: Here Are 10 Lessons To Put Your Ideas In Motion
Venturing on your own has started to be more and more common, which makes sense because being your own boss means more flexibility, the opportunity to put your own touch into your work, create a life on your own terms and grow fast by learning new skills and expanding your network.
Although many people say they’d like to work on their own soon, few of them actually start a project. I think this mostly happens due to a lack of entrepreneurial culture and little knowledge on how to put their ideas in motion. I started to work on my own 4 years ago and throughout this article, I’d like to share first hand lessons I have learned to put a project on the right track.
1. Be clear on your assets
To begin, make a recap of your current situation: knowledge, skills, network, financial context… Do you have expertise in a specific field? Do you have valuable technical skills? Can you create products or services? Are you particularly gifted for something? Do you have in your network of people someone you could partner with, ask for initial fundings or offer to join you as a co-founder? Do you have a stable financial situation at the moment? Do you have a purpose or values that guide your life and you’d like to inject in your project?
Get a clear picture of your strengths, a summary of your competences and skills, so you become more likely to leverage your assets. For example, I used to focus on trying to build a software only to realize later on that my coding skills were too limited and I did not know any techie ready to join me as a co-founder. In hindsight, starting with a clear assessment of my assets would have allowed me to realize that other entrepreneurial paths were more appropriate.
2. Refine your idea
Do you already have a clear idea of what you’d like to build? If yes, that’s great, and I recommend that you go to the next step by filling a business model canvas that will help you work on the strategic elements of your project.
If you’re not sure yet about what you’d like to create, find inspiration by looking up entrepreneurial projects that you find interesting. Notice what you like in each of them: one may be based on an original concept, another one has a stunning design and another one is built around a vibrant online community… By mixing ideas you picked here and there plus adding your own touch, you’ll start getting a taste of what you’d like to do, a certain sense of direction.
3. Have a financial backup plan
Although being optimistic is key, you should not forget that making money could take more time than expected. If you’re planning to quit your job to venture on your own, brainstorm on what can be done to improve your financial situation during that period of transition.
You can start by identifying and removing all unnecessary expenses and create a life that is simple. Do you really need to eat out that often, buy new clothes and upgrade your smartphone? Check the way you’re spending your dough and keep the motto “Less is more” in mind.
The same goes to your living situation, if your house or apartment is taking a big chunk of your money, perhaps consider moving to a place that is cheaper. Most importantly, do not see cutting back on expenses as a constraint: 4 years ago I was living in expensive San Francisco and I decided to move to Central America, then to Asia, this allowed me to discover the digital nomad lifestyle and I met my partner Ruth on the way! Here is our list of the top affordable places we worked from these past years.
Also, find a way to create different revenue sources if possible. For instance, while we live in Central America we rent our spare room to help us pay some bills. I have some friends who found part-time jobs or gigs as consultants or freelancers. Although not perfect or sustainable in the long run, it will be a good way to begin.
It’s easy to get caught in thoughts like: now is not the right time, I need a co-founder, I need more skills, I need more money… Although some of these may actually be true, the majority are probably excuses you give yourself because you’re afraid of leaving your comfort zone.
Put yourself in motion, take action! For example, Ruth recently started on Instagram Stories a guide of short videos and pictures to take care of your body, your mind and the environment: she brainstormed a few ideas and rapidly started to share her knowledge. And voilà, no big plans or unnecessary thinking were needed to create the first version of her product.
The more you work on your projects, the more skills, knowledge and connections you’ll acquire. For the moment, begin with what you have and you’ll improve on the go. Things won’t be perfect at first, and as everything takes time, I can only recommend that you start as soon as possible.
5. Set up your brand and create awareness
A key question to have in mind from day #1 is: what’s the purpose of your project?. Then, write a compelling story around this raison d’être that will catch other people’s attention. Really, people are more attracted by projects whose founders are crystal clear about why they do what they do.
Then, create a brand design that matches the message you want to deliver: pick colors, fonts and overall style that go well with your story. In order to create a cool brand design, find inspiration in work that you admire; I recommend that you also check the Canva Design School to get creative. Also, do you have a cool name in mind for your project, or do you prefer to opt for a personal branding option?
Think about starting a website: Squarespace, Weebly, Wix or Strikingly can be your friends, or work with Wordpress and pick a theme on ThemeForest. Set up a presence on social media and share content related to your project’s mission on a regular basis. It takes time to get noticed so start sooner than later.
6. Be clear on WHO you want to help
As serial entrepreneur Steve Blank said:
“If you’re not passionate about the people you want to help you’ve got a big, big problem.”
Think hard about who you want to help. Consider these two questions: 1) who you’re relevant to work with and 2) how much you like helping and mingling with them. If you have expertise in a domain, you may be interested in giving beginners a hand for example. And if you want to jump into a field you know nothing about but attracts you, there is nothing wrong with that, just keep in mind that it’ll take some time and extra work to be seen as “relevant”, to be accepted by that community and speak your peers’ jargon.
Attention: If your project is for everybody, then it’s for nobody. Start with a niche, a community of people who would be particularly interested in what you have to offer. Try to be as specific as you can. You’ll have the opportunity to gradually expand your community to more a diverse range of profiles later on, but so far it’s better to narrow it down. For example, Facebook was originally designed for the Harvard students’ community only, not for the entire planet.
7. Identify REAL problems to solve
If there is one thing to remember about entrepreneurship, I believe it would be this one: find REAL problems to solve. We tend to forget that our jobs as entrepreneurs is to create value for our users and to do so, we need to solve a problem or fulfill a need they have.
Finding real problems to solve can be more difficult than it sounds. Many entrepreneurs focus on a problem that is not worth solving or on an issue that is not specific enough. You need to wonder about: 1) what people are trying to achieve and 2) what the issues they face to reach their goals are. Another good question to keep in mind is: what keeps them awake at night? The answer may not be in your mind right now, so I recommend that you invest more time observing, questioning and listening to people you want to target.
8. Test, test, test!
Entrepreneurship is about testing new ideas and solutions, conducting experiments, measuring, understanding what works and what doesn’t… and learning fast!
A bad entrepreneurial habit is to spend a lot of time creating something only to realize at the end that it was not the right thing to build. In order to avoid wasting time and to lower the risk of failure, take smaller steps: create a simple solution, send it to the people you want to help, observe how helpful it is… If the solution is relevant, you’ll have time to improve it somewhere down the road. Again, Ruth’s latest project is a great example of that: she started with a simple — yet relevant — offer, she observed what works and what doesn’t, and according to the results, she got new ideas on how to create something more substantial for the next version.
9. Get the basics of personal productivity
When it comes to efficiency, two things are important: having strong daily motivation, and knowing the best-practices about personal productivity. Here are some recommendations to help you work smarter, not harder.
- Have a clear to-do list for the day and your objectives for the week. If you have a co-founder, have regular chats about the tasks to do, to be sure that for both of you, the work is well prioritized and fully aligned with the project’s mission and vision.
- Don’t multi-task or you won’t get much done. It’ll give you a sense of having tons of work, but ultimately not a lot will get done. Try to focus on one task at a time.
- Learn about the Pomodoro technique, an easy and fun time management method that will help you avoid procrastination, eliminate burnout and improve your work/life balance.
10. Believe in yourself and be ready for an emotional rollercoaster!
As Henry Ford famously said:
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”
In a recent study, successful entrepreneurs have mentioned that one of their #1 asset has been their ever-going self-confidence. Although I like sharing my enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, I don’t want to be too rosy either: the entrepreneurial journey is challenging and knowing how to deal with setbacks is crucial.
I meditate 10 minutes per day which has been key to cultivate a calm, resilient and positive mind. Also, I advise you to learn about your emotions and how to keep them under control: it’s a must-have skill as frustration, anger or self-doubt will come crushing down on you, guaranteed. It will also help you appreciate each day more; remember that the journey is as important as the destination after all, isn’t it?
That’s it for this list.
If you’d like feedback/help on your project (even if it is just at the state of an idea at the moment) I give FREE 30-minute consulting sessions on Skype. If you’re interested, please fill this form so we can find the right time to talk.
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All the best,
WEARECO 🌿 | Co-founder