Making the jump from freelancer to business owner is never an easy step. It's a decision riddled with fear, doubt and uncertainty. But despite these challenges, there are enormous advantages to establishing a multi-person organization versus a one-person operation.
One of the biggest shortcomings freelancers face is their inability to attract reputable clientele. The fact of the matter is that Fortune 500 and other major organizations have abundant financial resources, and are more than willing to use them to hire a team of top talent versus an individual. As a skilled freelancer, there's no doubt you’ll be able to pay the bills and perhaps have a little left over for some of the nicer things in life. But let's face it, it’s not easy out there these days! There's a growing disparity between the ultra-rich and regular people, and because income levels aren’t keeping up with the increased cost of living, a freelancer’s salary twenty years ago went much further than it does today.
So, how do we get started?
1) Passion and vision: With any venture, you need to have a strong passion and vision for what you are setting out to accomplish. This vision needs to excite you; it should give you butterflies in your stomach every time you think or talk about it. Not having passion and excitement for your venture is tantamount to getting married to someone out of convenience versus love: passion is something that can't be fabricated or conjured up; it needs to be real and come from within. Lacking this level of passion likely means that you're not doing what you really should be doing.
2) The plan: Now that you've decided to take the plunge, you'll need a plan. Some might disagree with me on this, but believe me, you don't always need a business plan to begin a new venture. Take my story: while I didn't have a comprehensive business plan, I was very clear on my objectives and how I planned to execute them. Much of what I originally set out to do would eventually be modified over the years. So as counter-intuitive as it may sound, I would strongly urge you not to consume yourself too much with putting together a business plan that's overly detailed.
3) First partner or hires: This person can be either a first employee, or a partner who compliments your skill set and talents. For example, I am not a Drupal Web developer, so I had to make sure the first people I brought on board were strong Drupal developers. Your initial hire(s) are going to be your most important ones. Theses initial team members will make up the glue that will shape your organizational values. If you lack the resources to hire an initial team, sell your dream and vision to one partner who is talented and with whom you share similar values.
4) Sales and marketing: Once you've got your plan and vision lined up, and you've rounded up a small team or possibly a partner or two, your next step is to drive revenue to your company. While every company has a different approach to both of these elements, there's one variable you absolutely must adhere to: don't skimp out! Each business has a different necessity for both. For example, our company once hired a team of outbound sales people. After four months on the job, we realized this team simply wasn’t cutting it. After letting our entire sales staff go, we hired a marketing company that increased the leads we generated through a pay-per-click campaign by over 50%. Bottom line: invest in your sales and marketing. The expression that "sales eats first" is very true for any organization.
5) Hiring: This next one is a personal favorite: if you want a great team, just hire great people. I wrote a small piece for Inc. Magazine a while back that addresses the main points (http://tinyurl.com/mfrfqeh). But in a nutshell, hire people who are not only talented, but all-around good people. You should surround yourself with team members who come to work with a positive attitude. Working with Debbie Downers and toxic people can bring your entire office down. There's nothing like having a drama-free office space.
6) Procedures: Now that you have your team of rock stars, you need to begin creating and documenting your company’s procedures. Do not be surprised if these procedures are modified over time. I think procedural changes reflect a positive work culture that's open to change. Use what works, and if something isn't working, replace it with a functional procedure. Let your procedures continue to grow and evolve.
7) Leadership: Thousands of books have been written on how to be an effective leader. For me personally, leadership is the ability to drive your company's vision forward: hiring great people, promoting a positive internal culture,
executing effective sales and marketing strategies, and bringing out the best in each team member. I believe these are the traits that make an effective leader.
8) Trust: As your company grows, you will inevitably reach a unique point at which you will struggle with letting go of some responsibilities and handing them off to other team members. It's important to trust the people you work with, and equally as important to be able to let go of these responsibilities.
9) Culture: Everyone knows about the cool offices of Google with limitless amenities. It almost seems as if no one there is really working, and everyone is just playing around all day. At my company, I’ve focused on developing a “fun” workplace, with an arcade and pool and ping pong tables. We frequently go out as a group to happy hour or eat at restaurants together. But this alone does not make for a great work culture. Having talented individuals who come in each day with a positive attitude and the desire to contribute to the greater good of the organization is what ultimately will define a great workplace culture.