Newly self-employed? How you can overcome your biggest obstacle

A famous businessman once said, “The world has many professors who know everything but own nothing.” In other words, knowledge does not guarantee a successful business or practice.

Whatever your reason for transitioning from being an employee to self-employed, one of the biggest challenges is to understand that you will always spend at least 20% of your time marketing. In the early stages of your business, that could be 100% of your time if you don’t have any clients. Professionals and technicians can be amazing at their work but forget that before they can do it, they have to get it.

Sales trainers say that nothing happens until somebody sells something. Large law firms have marketing teams whose function it is to generate work and new clients, whether that is by holding events, chasing government tenders or maintaining relationships in the corporate world. Even surgeons and medical specialists must spend time and money building relationships with general practitioners to ensure they get referrals until their reputation is enough to guarantee a steady flow of new patients.

Often people become self-employed with one key client (sometimes their ex-employer). They merrily work away almost full time for that client, forgetting that at some stage, for whatever reason, the contract will end and they will need to have a pipeline to get new clients.

If you are thinking of setting up your own consulting, technical or professional practice, you need to be clear on who is going to buy your services. Hope is not a strategy.

Everyone’s circumstances are different in terms of why they start, how much money they want to earn and how hard they want to work. However, no matter what their motivation is or what their goals are, they need to generate cash – as cash is the oil that keeps a business and practice alive (and pays the grocery bills and mortgage).

I recommend people starting out to:

  1. Take anyone with “a chequebook and a pulse” if they have no work.
  2. Beware of the paradox of the big contract, which will eventually lead to no contract.
  3. Use a CRM (customer relationship management) program to track everything they do in contacting prospects, clients and referrers.
  4. Allow at least 20% of their time for networking and business development.
  5. Engage an experienced mentor or coach who has done it all before (not someone who is working from someone else’s manual) if things aren’t working out.

If you need help setting up your professional practice, email me at