According to my parents, my nickname as a small child was Hurricane Hannah. I’d storm on the scene and make my presence known, regardless of my audience or the social setting. Little did I know that my “Hurricane Hannah” approach would later play an essential role in my work as an entrepreneur and freelance consultant.
Before becoming my own boss, in my 23-year career, I worked in business development and marketing, honing my skills at global companies like 3M. Eventually, I found my way to what is now my true professional love: helping companies use their powers for good. In the five years before starting my own business, I led community affairs for a global, publicly-traded company. This work included designing the philanthropic strategy, engaging employees through volunteerism, and working together with customers to improve the community.
I firmly believe that companies have both the obligation and the honor of strengthening the communities in which they operate. To do this effectively, I have learned that companies need a strategy that also propels the profit side of the business. Aligning profit with purpose frees up more resources to fuel the positive impact they want to make.
In 2017, it was time for a new professional challenge. I left my corporate role and planned to transition to a similar job at another corporation, but while I was interviewing, I came to a surprising realization. What I most wanted was to be able to help companies, including those that weren’t large enough to have someone like me on staff.
I observed that most companies were contributing a lot of time, talent, and treasure in their communities, but weren’t very focused or aligned to the needs of their business. They needed help aligning their business with the social sector as a whole.
But it was another hurricane that launched my entrepreneurial career. While I was still in the process of figuring out the next career steps, hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck the Gulf Coast. My former employer asked me to help them create a disaster response program. Suddenly, I was a consultant!
This project led to additional client work and to merging my consulting business with a co-founder, Maggie Miller, creating our consulting firm Magnify Impact. We help companies turn their social responsibility program into their most important tool for engaging customers and employees. I also run a small staffing company where we provide contract writers and graphic designers to help companies with their ongoing needs.
Now, more than two years later, I’m impressed at how far we’ve come and how much I’ve learned. I want to share a few tips for new entrepreneurs based on my early experiences.
Invest in Sound Systems and Processes Early On
As a freelancer, the tools you use to manage your workload and run your business are incredibly important. Everyone has their favorite combination of software and paid apps, but here are some of my favorite tools:
- Freshbooks. This helps me track projects, expenses, and invoicing.
- Gusto. This makes it easy for me to pay subcontractors.
- DocuSign. In my experience, there is no easier way to get your contracts signed, especially for remote clients.
- DropBox. Even a one-person business is going to generate a lot of documents.
Having these systems early in my business created a level of discipline and professionalism that puts me on the right track.
Learn From Others
I am a big believer in learning from people smarter than me, especially in areas where I know I have room to grow. For example, I am currently taking a course for female consultants to help us improve our sales processes at Magnify.
I also recently completed a similar course to learn how to better leverage LinkedIn to promote our thought leadership and create relationships. I read a lot, listen to industry podcasts, and always make time to talk to smart people. You’ll learn valuable lessons in unexpected places sometimes.
Wait a Bit Before Spending a Lot of Money on Marketing
Your message and how you present your business to your potential clients will be in a constant stage of change. I recommend putting up a simple but attractive website - Squarespace is excellent for this - and having an inexpensive logo designed. You can check out Fiverr, Upwork, or Etsy for great graphic designers with affordable rates.
And save the expensive logo design and web design for down the road when you have refined your message and brand aesthetic. Especially initially, you are selling within your network. Your connections need to see you are credible, but don’t spend a lot of time on marketing assets early on.
Protect Your Time to Protect Your Energy
I could not begin to tell you how many coffee meetings I had in the first year of my business. You need to get out there, tell people what you are up to, and build awareness for the skills you offer. But, before long, you will start to learn the types of conversations that are more worth your valuable time.
Wherever possible, take the first meeting over the phone to save yourself driving back and forth. You need time to work on your strategic plan, and you can’t do that when you spend your day driving between meetings. Another lesson I’ve learned is to chunk my sessions together in a couple of days a week. This way, there are at least two other days I can be in my home office - in my yoga pants, no less - and work on projects that require all of my focus and attention.
Periodically, my business partner and I schedule planning days where we can look at the business at a high level, as well as tactically. This approach helps us refocus our energy, so we aren’t always focused on the to-do list.
If You Can’t Sell, You Don’t Have a Business
I learned something recently: you need 2-3 times the amount of revenue you want to make in the “pipeline” to make your goals. So, if you’re going to make $100,000 in revenue, you need $200,000 - $300,000 worth of likely potential client work in the hopper (the prospective client is actively evaluating your offering).
We are not there yet. We are actively creating strategies to increase this flow at the top of the sales funnel to create the # of clients we need to reach our revenue goals. This is a top priority. Even if you have a strong personal network, at some point, you will need to emphasize customer acquisition if you want to scale your business and income.
Run Your Own Race
You have to fight the voice that says you should be further along by now. How are you supposed to know how far along you should be? After all, no one has ever done your exact business the way you do it.
No matter how high you climb in your freelance career, you will also always be striving for more. This means you should be more focused on the steps you take each day to improve your business than the long-term destination.
While the journey of becoming an entrepreneur has been incredibly challenging, it has changed me in more positive ways than I can count. In the end, though, it’s been a worthwhile experience, especially since I truly believe in what I am doing. I get to show my three little girls what it means to chase a dream, fail often, and get up and keep pushing forward.