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August 20, 2011
An Accidental Entrepreneur
Some people say that entrepreneurs are born. I don’t know if that’s true because I am neither a sociologist nor a behavioral scientist. I only know that in my case I tripped into it.

My immediate family was full of “company men.” My father, my brothers, and I all worked for a family business, but it was someone else’s family. My mother, who hardly ever worked out of the home, somehow became an expert career counselor, advising anyone who would listen to “Go out and start your own business!”

Nobody ever listened to my mother, certainly not I! By the time I graduated college I had already had several full- and part-time jobs at Other People’s Businesses. I had every intention of staying at the job I landed after getting out of school but due to a series of changes at the company it became apparent that I wasn’t going to move up in the organization. Ever. Since they were very busy I was able to freelance for them on a nearly full-time basis. It was win/win for both of us: I was making more per hour, and more money in total, and they only paid me when they needed me.

Soon I was freelancing for other ad agencies, and rather quickly after that I began to pick up my own clients. All of a sudden I had a real business. Don’t ask me about the steps I took to get there. I don’t remember being deliberate or there being any kind of planning involved, it just happened! It all sounds so brave, doesn’t it? I was all of 23 years old and not only was I not brave, I wasn’t even smart enough to be scared!

If you have been following trends here at Talent Zoo, you’ve probably noticed that more and more people are suggesting that you start your own business. They provided plenty of helpful tips and good, solid advice that I recommend you pay close attention to. Accountants, lawyers, contracts — all very serious and important stuff! Now I am going to impart the kind of advice that you don’t often get. Probably for good reason.

1. Curing Writer’s Block/Designer’s Block
Everyone knows that the cure for writer’s block is a nice, hot, long shower. I have no idea why, but it works. Don’t question; just get clean. When it comes to designer’s block I have my own method: I garden. If I can’t garden I go where there are flowers. For some reason Mother Nature helps me visualize what I need to create. You are going to have to find your own source of inspiration and go out get it when you need it.
2. Wear Bunny Slippers!
And don’t forget the pajamas! When you work at home you are entitled to be comfortable. After all, unless you are using your webcam to communicate with important clients, who will know? How you are dressed is not important, but where you work is. If possible, have a separate room for an office with a door that closes. At the very least have a space dedicated for work only, whether it’s a simple desk or one of those “office-in-a-cabinet” things. Try not to run your business from the kitchen table. Having to constantly move your stuff is a waste of time, and spaghetti sauce stains don’t usually add to the value of your work.
3. Think “Charlie’s Angels”
Another popular topic here at Talent Zoo is how tough it is to get work when you are “of a certain age.” If it makes you nervous even thinking about going out there and making sales, partner with someone else who can do it for you. By “partner” I don’t necessarily mean set up a partnership, although that is of course one alternative. You could hire a salesperson on a commission basis. Outsourcing jobs, especially doing technical things you may not be comfortable doing, is another option. Remember, there are a lot of people out of work and no doubt willing to work with you — like my daughter. She and I have partnered in a new venture because she’s young, cute, smart, personable, and very likely closer in age to our potential clients than I am.
4. Make Sure You Know How and When You’ll Get Paid.
When I had my ad agency some of my clients called me “my advertising girl.” Let me tell you something I learned about being an advertising girl: First the rent gets paid, then the phone bill, and somewhere near the bottom of the list is “the advertising girl.” You DO want to stay in business, don’t you?  If you can start out by receiving an upfront monthly retainer, that would be optimal. What I have done with some success is a hybrid version of that; do some of the preliminary or set-up work payable at completion, then set up a monthly fee for ongoing work. But even if you must accept payment only when you finish the job, be very clear about your terms and make sure the client understands and agrees, and try to get partial payments periodically on very large projects.

Finally, even though you will probably be starting out alone and on your own, make sure you are not alone! Join industry groups and go to the events. Develop relationships with other small business owners with whom you can bounce your ideas around. And please share your stories with us at Talent Zoo.

Good luck!

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Rhonda Wenner is a Very Old Advertising Person who has been there, done that, and seen quite a bit.
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