Somewhere around age three, it dawned on me that I hated it when people told me what to do.
Not unsurprisingly, there was a lot of pushback: I waged full wars on homework assignments, ignored my softball coaches’ direction and guidance, got in regular arguments with my parents over my outfit choices and had serious issues with almost every boss I worked with. For whatever reason, I have always hated being controlled by others.
It took me a long time to realize that this deeply defining characteristic was pointing me in one direction: entrepreneurship. I had to be my own boss, create my own things and control my own career. And today almost two years out of my undergrad, I have my own business, choose my clients and set my own rates. Here’s how I did it.
1. Take a self-awareness test
As I said above, I had a keen sense of who I was from a very young age. I knew my strengths and weaknesses, my interests, my goals and my habits. This is what gave me clarity in my professional direction.
If you aren’t fully aware of yourself and don’t know what you want to do, then sit down and write it all out. Ask yourself: What do I suck at? What am I good at? What interests me that I’d like to know more about? What are my insecurities? What types of environments do I most enjoy? What’s my ideal lifestyle?
From there, you’ll have a stronger base going forward and have an easier time navigating your way through your career discovery.
2. Know that working independently isn’t for everyone
A lot of millennials seem to have this idea that entrepreneurship is “sexy” or “trending”. They like the perceived lifestyle, the flexibility, and the creativity, and all of that is great. But it’s also really, really hard work. When working for someone else, you can work for eight hours a day and be home by 6, but people who are growing their own businesses often work 15 plus hours a day.
For me, I know I don’t really have a choice. I either go to an office for eight hours a day and be miserable, or work from a cafe/my kitchen table for 15 hours a day and be excited the whole time. Even if it’s harder, I’ll take it any day!
3. But if it is for you, you have to be confident in your decision
I can pretty much promise that people will try to derail you. They’ll pressure you into getting a “stable” job, saving more money and not being such a “dreamer”. None of this is bad advice, and it’s pretty expected from those within our parents’ generation.
But, if having your own brand is really what you really want, then you have to stay on track and remain confident in your decision.
This isn’t rocket science: you just have to keep going. Keep your head down, put in the work, and find motivational outlets to keep you inspired. Maybe it’s watching Gary Vaynerchuk videos, following Instagram accounts like @AHustlersBible or reading entrepreneurship oriented magazines like Foundr. Whatever it is, keep going and don’t let their concerns put pressure on you.
4. Get ready to go broke
This might be the hardest one to swallow. It’s very likely that you will go broke, or lose a significant amount of money while building your business. What many do to make this work is to get a job (typically a mindless one) that you have no emotional investment in. You could also invest energy in side-projects. You can then simply collect your paycheck, go home and continue working on your business goals, while also being able to pay for your groceries and rent.
This setup is doable, but it can be challenging to not get distracted when juggling both. However, it’s a very common scenario for a lot of young entrepreneurs.
5. Put out content that helps people
Building your brand comes from developing relationships with others in your industry, and the way you can do that is by putting out content. This could be anything from Medium blog posts, to videos, to infographics, to listicles to feature pieces. Whatever it is should be highly beneficial to your audience and offer insights that will benefit them. And, as we all know, that’s how you build relationships and become a good friend, right? You bring relevance and value to others’ lives, which in turn brings trust, loyalty and connection.
Don’t know what kind of content to put out or where to start? I recommend looking at what others are writing about within your industry and seeing what types of content performs well. A great way to do that is by using free tools like Renoun, which let you see industry influencers and publishers’ content based on engagement and relevance. This is great for finding writing inspiration, connecting with industry influencers and sourcing sharable content.
6. Utilize your personal connections
When building your own brand, your strongest asset is the network of people who you’re already connected with (this is why I think resumes are stupid, which you can read about on Medium here). Reach out to those who already support you (friends, family, older mentors, college roommates, previous employers) and tell them about what you’re doing. Ask for their advice, learn about their experiences, and see how you can apply their successes to your own business model. Not only have you now gathered valuable insights, but you’ve spread the word about your business as well. Since these people feel invested in you and your success, they can be great connections for finding relevant leads, resources and opportunities. So, appreciate these people and keep them close to you during your journey.
7. Create an online presence
Before your business is even ready, I recommend building your own website (I use SquareSpace) that explains who you are and what you bring to the table. Although many millennials advocate against business cards, I love them and think they’re extremely important. In fact, I was in Rome a few weeks ago and was able to conveniently hand a business card to a Vatican employee to discuss the Vatican’s Snapchat usage. #TrueStory
The little things are just as important – add your info to your email footer, hyperlink your website in the content you write and create social media accounts if you think it will be beneficial. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to appear narcissistic – your brand, your dream and your success is on the line here. Don’t get distracted by haters who are threatened by your ambition.
8. Be patient while you watch your success unfold
This is a process that can take years before seeing tangible results, whatever that means for you (awareness, income, leads, etc). So be patient, stay calm, and don’t let anxiety get the best of you during these often turbulent times. It will pay off. But whatever you do, just don’t stop. Keep going, stay focused and enjoy this evolving journey.