Planning for Your Future as an Independent
When it comes to starting an independent business, there’s no sure path to success. It’s difficult to predict how the market will turn and what individual challenges will arise. With the proper prior planning, however, it’s possible for burgeoning independents to equip themselves with the tools and skills needed to deal with anything that comes their way.
The first step toward becoming a successful independent is to mentally prepare for the unique challenges that come with being your own boss, said Clint Lewis, founder of Colorado Independents, a Web resource for independent IT contractors. It can be difficult for people who are used to being an IT expert to take on the additional challenges of marketing, managing finances and administration all on their own.
Understanding the limits of your own skill set and getting outside help as needed is critical to any small business’ success, Lewis said. It’s also important to analyze the local market before investing time and money in a new business. Customizing your services to fill a vacant niche can give a business the competitive edge it needs to make a strong start, he said.
After you determine your organizational structure and business plan, the next step is to get the necessary legal and accounting information in order. There are several books and software packages that can help keep records and draw up legal papers, but it’s best to hire professionals to help with the start-up process, Lewis said.
Although it can be an expensive undertaking, having properly written legal documents and a solid accounting system can make a world of difference when times start to get tough, he said.
“When I started my business, I had two partners,” Lewis said. “As a result of writing the articles of incorporation correctly, when things turned south between us, I was able to keep the business in my name and buy them out. So, there was an escape valve there.”
When the administrative tasks are sorted, and it’s time to open shop, networking is a good way to learn more about the local business environment and get operational advice from more experienced independents.
Professional organizations such as the National Association for the Self-Employed can provide networking opportunities, as can independent resources such as Colorado Independents. Lewis said he started this organization to create a community in which independents could share their knowledge and concerns.
“It’s not so much that you’ll get a bunch of business from those people — I never really did,” he said. “But you’ll get ideas, and you’ll feel like you belong to something. The people you meet will be able to point you in certain directions that you might not have otherwise thought about on your own.”
Lewis also used Colorado Independents as a venue for articles he wrote about his work experience. These articles created a buzz around his Web site and increased the “Google share” needed to attract new customers for his business, 32U eSolutions, he said. (Getting your name onto Google is important because it marks the success of an independent, Lewis said.)
Finally, independents need to be open to new opportunities that come their way. Although “independents” traditionally are people who go into business for themselves, many corporations are trying to redefine the term to attract scarce IT talent.
After running his own company for about eight years, Lewis took a position as a senior technical architect for Stellent, an ECM vendor, because of the independent terms it offered him. Now, he said he feels as if he can focus on the IT work he loves and retain the flexible schedule and work style he is used to while benefiting from the security offered by a large corporation.
“I decided eventually to ditch the ‘be my own businessman’ thing and go back to work for companies that were in the mode of treating you as if you were an independent, and I’ve really enjoyed that,” Lewis said. “I could’ve done this either at my small company, where I’m the marketer, the CFO, the president and everything else, but I’ve come to actually enjoy working under the auspices of a larger company, where I feel like I’m still independent. So, I guess it just depends on what you’re definition of ‘independent’ is.”