Six months into my first “real” job out of college, I knew that corporate life wasn’t for me. I liked my job just fine, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I was driven and self-motivated, and I wasn’t good at corporate politics. Meanwhile, I worked with several independent contractors and microbusinesses who operated from home offices (or small outside offices) and had one or no employees. They dressed casually, they got to choose the kind of clients and projects they wanted to service, and they seemed to think that the risk and financial uncertainty they lived with were worth the price of freedom. I envied them, and I began to think that if they could do it, I could do it too.
Fast-forward to 2019: Today I have a small virtual business with clients in the United States and abroad, a network of talented, reliable providers, and a solid path I’m following for doing the kind of work I want to do and staying in business profitably. After years of struggle, I’m finally able to say the four words that I always wanted to say: I’m living my dream. But don’t get me wrong: it hasn’t been easy … and it still isn’t easy. I can never afford to drop the ball. There is too much at stake, too much change and disruption, and too many eager entrepreneurs starting businesses every day that compete with me. And in my business (as in just about all of them), competition is fierce. But rather than make it in somebody else’s world, I always wanted to make it in my own world, on my own terms. And based on that yardstick, I’ve hit the jackpot.
So, based on my experience, what is the absolute critical thing you need to be able to do in order to get started with a business of your own?
First let me tell you what you don’t need to do. You don’t need to start out by hiring a consultant, writing a business plan, doing fancy market research, and you certainly don’t need to invest in an office—even a virtual office or co-working space.
No, the first thing that you need to be able to do is generate cash. Without that, you’re not getting anywhere.
The experts will say that the very first thing to do is to find a problem and figure out a way to solve it. Which makes perfect sense, but when you find people that are willing to exchange their hard-earned cash for your product or service, in essence it’s because you’re solving a problem for them. I’ve yet to find anyone that enjoys wasting money or paying for things they don’t want or need. Now, the trick is to find lots of people with that same problem that you can solve.
When I first started working for myself, I had no intention of offering translation, interpreting, or any of the other services my company offers today. That first “real” job out of college had been as a publications coordinator. My job was to coordinate the production of an in-house magazine and all of the company’s marketing collaterals. I loved it because I got to write, plan content, assign stories to writers, and work with graphic designers and printers. I started with ideas that eventually became printed pieces of information. Later on, when I was ready to start working for myself, I thought I’d offer those same services to companies as an independent contractor. I started prospecting, but it turned out that nobody wanted or needed that. Instead, I kept hearing: “your name is Carmen, so you must be Hispanic. Are you fluent in Spanish? Because we need all our materials in Spanish.” In other words, I couldn’t find a need for producing content and material in English, which is what I’d been doing, but I stumbled upon the need to have that content re-created in Spanish. And boom! I found a problem that needed solving, and a ready opportunity to generate cash. And my first freelance business was born.
Once you land a few projects and you’re getting enough income to support yourself, then you can focus on growing. One step will naturally lead to the other. I didn’t know how to run a business or even how to balance a checkbook. But there are lots of resources you can tap into to learn what you don’t know, online or off. But one thing’s for sure: if your offering doesn’t generate enough cash to keep you going, you’re not solving a problem … and you don’t have a business.
Carmen Hiers is founder and managing partner of TransForma Translation Services. Get a free quote on your project today at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-722-3827.