We've Gotta Have it
Me, LLC: How to Start Your Own Business
The Two Main Ways to Get In Business with Yourself, and How to Get Started
Maybe you’ve always had the urge to work for yourself. Or maybe you’ve been let go, and suddenly the idea of never letting someone else decide your career moves for you is appealing.Or maybe your current job is devolving, and the work no longer appeals to you or pays enough to make the grind worthwhile.
Whatever the trigger, the disruption to your status quo is a welcome opportunity, says career coach Stacey Staaterman, who helps women who are curious about working for themselves—whether that means starting a small business, working as a freelancer or otherwise joining that mighty, mythic swell of solopreneurs who have untethered themselves from the shackles of corporate life.
Staaterman’s own story proves there’s success on the other side of job burnout. She describes her mindset as “depleted and pissed off,” during the last few years of her “hotshot advertising career.”
“I started to feel like I was being crushed, like I never saw my daughter or my husband, like I was missing so much of my life while working my ass off,” Staaterman recalls. By contrast, running her own business “energizes and inspires me every day,” she says. “I’m living my values, I’m helping others, I’m my own boss.”
Sounds good! Sign me up, you’re thinking. But based on a mere urge—you know what you don’t want to do (more of the same) but you don’t know what you do want to do—how can you figure out your first, best step?
Help is here, in the form of two questions. Depending on which one you say yes to, we can help you figure out the best business move for you.
Do you have an idea for a small business?
Or at least the notion that you’d like to start a business, even if you can’t decide on the service or product you’d offer? You’re not alone, says Elaine Pofeldt, author of the book whose title might very well describe your dream state: The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business: Make Great Money. Work the Way You Like. Have the Life You Want.
“The number one question I get is: what kind of business could I start?” Pofeldt says. Her approach is simple enough. “I ask people to look at the things they’re good at—the tasks other people ask them to do because ‘you’re so good at it.’ And don’t worry if you’ve never been paid for those tasks, whether that means your work an unpaid fundraiser or making PowerPoint presentations for the PTA.”
The trend toward one-person companies makes sense given the radical shifts in the American workforce after the recession. Ten years into the recovery, the job market and economy are strong—but different. Companies run by solopreneurs are thriving, to cite just one change. And they’re killing it: non-employer firms with revenue of $1 million to $2.49 million a year totaled nearly 37,000 in 2017, the most recent year figures are available, an increase of 38 percent from eight years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Simply put, working for yourself (and by yourself) is what “work” means to an increasing number of Americans.
“If I hear people are looking for a secure corporate job with a good pension?” Staaterman says with the bluntness you absolutely need in a career coach. “I say good luck with that.’”
On the other hand, “I could start a business this afternoon on my phone,” she says. “Technology is the great leveler.”
This trend is especially strong among women. The number of female-owned businesses with revenue of more than $1 million increased 46 percent over the past 11 years, according to the 2018 “State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” commissioned by American Express. And age does not appear to be a barrier: more than two thirds of all female-owned business (at all revenue levels) are led by women aged 45 or older.
Encouraged? Then get ready for a few challenges, starting with, well, “cash flow,” says Pofeldt, who left a corporate job as a senior editor of Fortune Small Business magazine in 2007. Still, even with four children, she makes it work, by “trying to live below my means,” she says, as a hedge against gaps between payments. The big benefit: flexibility around where and when she works.
Confidence might also be an issue, especially for first-time solopreneurs (although there’s an argument that says low confidence is a near certainty when doing any job for the first time). Here’s where seeking a mentor is key. According to a survey conducted by UPS, 70 percent of small business owners that received mentoring survived more than five years—double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses.
Fortunately, mentoring and coaching are built into the U.S. government’s Small Business Association, which runs more than 100 Women’s Business Centers across the country, (. The SBA also offers grants, as well as access to a federal program that has pledged to award at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses every year.
Is your urge mostly about working less, with less stress and better work/life balance?Put another way: Are you looking to take what’s called a “step-down” job that aligns with your interests but is a hell of a lot less work for (probably) less money? This option is especially appealing to women who have spent decades in the workforce and worry about switching it all off, all at once—both the occupation and the salary.
Again, a change in the way U.S. businesses are structured is opening up opportunities for “second act” freelancers. Pofeldt cites companies which no longer need or want to employ a full-time accountant or comptroller, for instance, but which are contracting with “fractional” executives instead. “That means a former corporate CFO can serve as a part-time financial executive for four smaller companies—or just one,” she says.
She recommends Flexjobs, an online hub for remote and freelance work, across a wide range of roles and skill-sets. A peek into the list of “The 100 Most Surprising Flexible Jobs,” reveals postings for everything from an “Outdoor Gear Tester” to a “Menu Specialist.” Likewise, Upwork allows employers to peruse the site’s vetted freelancers, offering editorial, marketing, web development and accounting, among other skills. Workers also browse posted opportunities and apply for gigs through Upwork, which manages billing and payment in exchange for a sliding-scale percentage of freelancer earnings.
And soon, ReacHIRE, the organization that helps women return to the workforce after a career break, will pay “second act” female executives to work as mentors, helping women re-find their footing in their industries, even as the mentors are phasing out of it.
And then there are the less-conventional opportunities. Does “farm sitting” appeal? ZipRecuiter currently has a handful of farm postings, while Housesitting Magazine is a hub for an entire lifestyle that exists for this new kind of nomad, who earns fees for sitting for houses, pets and farms located all around the world. Teaching English abroad is another gig attracting footloose freelancers looking for a second act. While teaching abroad is associated with much younger workers, international organizations like the HESS International Educational Group are well-regarded for the posts they offer in Asia (China, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore), even for native-English speakers who have never taught English before, whatever their age.