Many people dream of being self-employed. The freedom to make your own choices and set your own hours is an appealing alternative to the corporate grind. But as you think about how to work for yourself, even the first steps toward self-employment can be scary.

Irregular (and sometimes nonexistent) income, judgment and skepticism from family and friends, bureaucratic red tape and the looming threat of failure can keep us nestled in the security of traditional employment.

These fears are normal, even good! They’re a sign that you are dreaming big!

Careful planning will help you feel confident about moving toward a new reality of self-employment.

Here are the basic steps to help you figure out how to work for yourself:

Determine your business idea

Make a list of your special skills and interests, starting with your current daily. Perhaps one of those duties could lead to a business idea.

For example, if you are an administrative assistant, your job might include scheduling meetings, typing letters, and arranging travel.

Travel agent, perhaps?

Don’t forget to include things you do that you don’t immediately think of as job skills: driving, cooking, cleaning, helping kids with homework, and so on.

Tap into what you know, and let your imagination lead the way!

Choose a business model

Research the different self-employment business models and decide which is best for you. Sole proprietorship? S-corporation? LLC?

If you’re not sure, the US Small Business Administration website describes the different business structures and includes a handy comparison of the options.

These business models all have different regulations, tax implications, income reporting requirements and insurance needs. Further, your structure will influence many other decisions.

Making this important decision is a necessary early step in starting a new business.

Research your field

Use Google to find competitors and spend some time on their websites and reviewing their social media.

Observe how your competitors present themselves to clients, how they describe their businesses (usually in an “about” or “about me” section), their pricing structures, and how to contact them to order products or services.

You can use these ideas as models and templates for your own website.

Build a solid foundation

Self-employment comes with some risk, and financial hardship is a big reason small businesses fail in the first year.

To avoid this, sock away enough cash to cover at least a few months worth of living expenses. It’s unlikely that your new business will be immediately lucrative, and that can be stressful. Knowing that your mortgage, bills, and food are covered for a little while will allow you to concentrate on how to build your new business.

Depending on your situation, you may be able to keep your day job while getting your new business off the ground.

If you are fortunate enough to have a job that offers regular hours, a steady paycheck and good benefits, hanging onto your job, at least through the beginning phases of starting your business, can be wise.

Spread the word

Create social media accounts (Facebook and LinkedIn, to start) and a website (Wix or WordPress are great options), and tell your friends! Leveraging connections you already have is a great way to start.

But be prepared for naysayers. Even well-meaning friends and family might make some discouraging comments. When it comes to advice and feedback, take what is valuable to you and discard the rest.

Once you’ve let your friends know about your new venture, narrow your marketing efforts to more relevant targets. You can attend conferences and join your local Chamber of Commerce to find others in your field.

Everyone you meet can be a potential competitor, client, or supplier. By building relationships with people and practicing talking about your business, you will get to know your network and gain experience speaking confidently about yourself, an invaluable skill.

Don’t give up!

Starting your own business is hard. Confusing tax laws, unpredictable income, and judgmental comments from family can, understandably, lead to self-doubt.

Persevere! Read self-employment success stories, surround yourself with supportive friends, and celebrate all your victories, big and small. Remember that in the end, figuring out how to work for yourself and be your own boss is worth the effort.

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