We’ve all heard of the ‘starving artist’, how pursuing your passion can never make you rich, and that 9 in 10 businesses will fail. At the other end of the spectrum, we see the massive success stories of the Richard Bransons and Elon Musks of the world, as well as being bombarded by ads on Facebook where pretty young things are broadcasting videos from a beach in Bali where they claim that they can help you make 6 figures in 6 months.
The truth, as ever, is somewhere in between.
Running your own business does not have to be as inherently risky as you think and pursuing your passion can absolutely make you money if you have a validated idea, a robust business model and a solid strategy behind it. However, it will undeniably take time to get your business up and running – to get clarity first of all on what you want, to establish your credibility and attract an audience in this new area, to build relationships, and to get money flowing in consistently.
As a result, it can take weeks, months and even years to get to where you have a thriving business.
So what do you do in the meantime, in order not to starve while working on your dream?
The first and most obvious option is to continue in your corporate job while working on your business as a ‘side hustle’. This allows you to keep the security of a steady income while you build your business alongside your current work. You can validate your idea, find out if you really do enjoy working for yourself and start building a client base before you become 100% reliant on the new business as your main income stream. (Check out 8 benefits of starting a side hustle >>)
It’s ideal if you can go down to part-time, of course, as this frees up more space for the new business while you retain a steady salary, as long as the reduced income is sufficient for you and it’s acceptable to your employer. You may be surprised at how flexible your boss will be when they’re faced with the prospect of losing you – but there are also companies and roles where working part-time just isn’t an option. In any case, you’ll need to get very good at managing your time effectively and making progress or your new business in the limited time you have. (Check out How to balance a full-time job with a new business start-up >>)
If you don’t want to stay in your job, or if you’ve already left to pursue your passion project, you’ll need to find another source of income. You may be lucky and have an endless pot of savings (although let’s face it, no one has endless savings!) but otherwise, you’ll need an interim solution that brings you income while you build the new business. Freelancing is a great way to transition from your previous corporate work into running your new business full-time in the future. It doesn’t require an upfront investment or a big product inventory, there aren’t a lot of moving parts, and you can leverage your past experience, skills and network. (Check out Why freelance >>)
To get started freelancing, you can look for job postings, pitch clients who you’d like to work with, or sign up to platforms like Upwork or Freelancer.com. When you use those platforms, make sure that you filter based on budget and reviews so that you don’t end up with low-quality clients who expect the world but pay peanuts. To some extent, it’s also a numbers game, so don’t become despondent if you don’t get any replies on your first few applications! (Check out How to get started freelancing >>)
Whether we’re talking about freelancing or consulting, or building your new business, your network is an absolute goldmine. You may be surprised how supportive friends of friends can be! However, people won’t know that you’re looking for clients unless you tell them. So the first step is to let people know that you’re looking for work or that you’re offering x or y services. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) go in for the hard sell right away – just ask if they know someone who might be interested, or if they have any tips for who you should talk to.
You never know who will know *someone*, so talk to everyone you know! You can find all sorts of important connections via friends, family and colleagues. Don’t just send a generic email to your whole email list but do have one-on-one conversations with people and tell them what you do and how they can help. Most people are more than happy to put you in touch with people they know or recommend your services. This also includes connecting with people in the online world, for example, on LinkedIn or on Instagram, depending on your business.
Your passion may well be in working one on one with individuals but the truth is that – unless your ideal clients are millionaires! – you will always get more money more quickly working with companies than you will be working with individuals. While you might need 20 individual clients to make things work for you financially, you’d only need a couple of big projects with corporate clients to earn the same amount. Even if the long-term plan, your dream, is to work with individuals, you might want to consider working with companies in the interim.
If you’ve already left your day job, then consider your past employer(s) as possible clients – they already know, like and trust you, and they may well be interested in working with you as a freelancer or consultant. Contact other similar companies where you know that you could solve a problem that they’re facing or fill a gap. Keep in touch with people, build relationships and follow up – even if they don’t buy from you today, you’ll stay top of mind for when they are ready to invest.
In order to earn enough money not to starve (and, ideally, more than that!), you need to know how much money is ‘enough’. What are your personal expenses? What about your business costs, in terms of paying tax, accounting, web hosting, graphic design, advertising? How many hours can you work (in the short term) and how many hours do you want to work (in the long term)? Do the maths and see how many clients you need and what you need to charge in order to make it work.
In terms of hours, remember that you aren’t going to be able to (or want to!) work Monday to Sunday on client work because you’ll need to spend time on business development, marketing, sales, admin, accounting, and so on, not to mention time off for fitness, family and sleep!
In terms of fees, you’re most likely charging too little. You may have beliefs that are holding you back, for example, “I’m just starting out, I can’t charge more” or “this is the maximum that the industry will bear”, and it’s important to work through these. The truth is that you have a lot to offer, that people will value your work more when you charge higher rates and you’ll attract a higher calibre of clients when you do so, not to mention the fact that you’ll be able to thrive in your business and in your life because you’re earning enough to keep going! If a target client group really can’t pay more, than you’ll need to either reconsider your audience or get creative in terms of how you can generate more income with different offerings.
Some people love selling and negotiating and would happily do it at the dinner table or while on holiday. Others find it incredibly uncomfortable and even sleazy. Whether it feels good to you or not, it’s something you will need to get comfortable with; avoiding it will only hurt your business. Recognise that selling is really serving – more people buying your services means that you’re helping more people – while, again, you will only thrive in your own life and business if you are earning a decent living from your work.
Put yourself out there, practise your elevator pitch, and own your unique value. Don’t take rejection personally as it’s very rarely about you – just move on to the next one. Be persistent and patient – one email is never going to get you the sale so always follow up, build the relationship for the long-term and know that the results will come, eventually. If you don’t believe in yourself and your product or service, why should anyone else (and why are you working on this business in the first place?)?
Finally, given that it takes time to generate money from your dream, it will only take even more time if you wait and do nothing – so get started now! Brainstorm ideas, research the market and your competitors, test and see if there is traction, start building an audience and a brand, and lay the groundwork for the future.
You absolutely can earn money with your dream business, and you absolutely do need to earn a living while you work on it. So get started now!
If you want my support in creating a short-term plan for bringing in money and the right strategy to achieve your long-term dream, then get in touch!