A while back, I announced that I was launching a mentoring program for women who are seeking to catapult their new business into the real world. I said I would take 4 mentees for a year. I had 70 applicants. I spent days reading through each woman’s essay, learning about her, researching her and her business, and giving specific and tailored feedback even to those I didn’t select for the program.
Even though each applicant and her business and her situation were unique, I found myself giving some of the same advice over and over again. If so many of them needed this advice, you probably do, too. So here ya go:
Stop doing pro bono work.
If you are struggling to get a roster of paid clients, you can not afford the time to do pro bono work.
I know, I know. It might lead to referrals, right? So do paid clients.
Pro bono work might generate something you can include in your portfolio, right? So do paid clients. And so do fake clients! If you really need material for a portfolio, create “model” or “sample” pieces that reflect what you do for *paid* clients – and it’ll take you far less time than that pro bono work.
When you have a full deck of paying clients, I strongly encourage some volunteerism. Go ahead and give back. Of course! But until that time, reserve your schedule for the hard work of building your business.
Pick a name. It almost doesn’t matter what you choose when you are starting out. You can always change your mind later. Is your name Karen Oberhill? How about Oberhill Consulting. Boom. Done. File the LLC paperwork and go.
Too many of the women I saw were full of beautiful ideas that could change the world but were stuck at an early and easy step, like choosing a business name. The world is waiting for what you have to offer, so get out of your own way.
Lack of a singular business focus was a common obstacle and that’s legit. I went through this course by Seth Godin ages ago and it helped me refine how I framed my work.
Some women said they didn’t know the process of starting a business. So here it is:
- Pick a name (see above)
- File LLC paperwork. I used LegalZoom back in the day but recently had a lawyer chastise me for this, though I think that’s what lawyers are supposed to say.
- Buy a domain name and build a website. Squarespace makes website building so easy, you can do it in an afternoon. Potential clients need a place to go to learn more about you and send what they learn in an email to their boss. So website usually comes before networking. Which leads me to…
Get your name out there.
Where are your potential clients? Instagram? Twitter? Wherever they are, go there and talk about your business. Consistently – which means at least twice a week.
Target specific clients you’d love to work with. Then go to LinkedIn (Yes, it finally has a purpose) and see who you know that knows someone who works at a place on your dream list and ask for an introduction. That’s how it works.
So these three ideas are the basics to give you the space and direction you need to get your business running. However, the real issue that I think is at the core of all of this is a lack of confidence. Some imposter syndrome. And it drives this mentality that everything has to be perfect before you launch or no one will take you seriously. Listen, nothing is going to be perfect. Every successful consultant is constantly tweaking her website and periodically rebranding. So aim for “Good Enough For Now” instead of “Perfect.” Confidence comes as you get paid fairly from clients you respect. Which means you just have to go get them.