Written by Tim Russell
For most of us, starting a business means bootstrapping. Funding it ourselves by becoming an independent entrepreneur, keeps costs to an absolute minimum, and generally being as lean and mean as we possibly can. It’s not always easy, as some new business elements – websites, brochures, accounting and so on – can involve either hiring full time staff or outsourcing to freelancers and contractors. Particularly if your business is in a sector that requires high levels of perfectionism and a super-slick cutting edge website for example.
But for the rest of us, ‘good enough’ is, well, good enough. And to save costs there are various skills we can learn in order to cut down on staffing and freelancer expenditure in those crucial early days. Yes, months or years later you may look back on your early efforts with a mixture of amusement and embarrassment. But you’ll also be justly proud of how much you achieved and the new skills you learned. And remember, if the business doesn’t work out (it happens, sadly) you’ve learned some valuable new skills. These will make you more employable if you need to go back to the 9-to-5. So here are my recommended new skills for you to learn if you want to be a truly independent entrepreneur…
Right, let’s start by jumping right in at the deep end here! Web design is probably the trickiest of the skills in this list. However your website is probably going to be your biggest initial financial outlay when you’re starting up. So doing it yourself can save you a big chunk of cash. OK, if you’re launching a sophisticated e-commerce site or need something ultra-stylish, you’ll probably have to pay someone else to do it. But if you just need a simple company site with a homepage, a few information pages and maybe a blog, there’s no reason why you can’t take the DIY approach.
For absolute beginners, drag & drop solutions such as Wix or Squarespace are probably the best way to get started. And they’ll also set up a domain and hosting for you without the hassle. If you want a little bit more control, WordPress is the way to go. It’s a steep learning curve and can be teeth-grindingly frustrating in the early stages. But it’s getting easier and easier to use thanks to a combination of hosting companies launching easy WordPress setup packages. And a growing number of page builder solutions that make it much easier to design your site and add content. There’s also a lot more free online help out there for WordPress users than any other solution (including some really helpful Facebook groups where you can get your questions answered and your problems fixed in minutes). As well as plenty of free or cheap online courses. And if you do get stuck, WordPress’s huge popularity means there are plenty of affordable freelancers on sites such as Upwork and Fiverr who can fix your glitches for a few dollars.
As I said above, you may look back on your early efforts with a bit of embarrassment. Thankfully there is no evidence left online of the first website I built back in 2009! But at the same time, it’s incredibly satisfying to build and launch your first website. And if you want to be an independent entrepreneur, it’s a really valuable skill to have.
Another big financial outlay when you first get started is graphic design. This encompasses a number of elements you’ll usually need when you start a business including:
- Branding (logo, colour scheme etc)
- Business cards
- Photography (products, stock photography, headshots etc)
- Social media graphics (Facebook headers etc)
You can of course outsource all of this, but costs soon mount up. So if your design needs are fairly simple and straightforward, this is definitely an area for a bit of DIY.
There’s one solution that rules the roost for most design needs and that’s Canva. A freemium graphic design solution that even enables an aesthetically challenged independent entrepreneur like me to design nice looking logos, collateral and graphics with a minimum of fuss.
You may also need photography for your website or marketing collateral. Whether it’s stock photography, team headshots, product images etc. Hiring professional photographers can be expensive. Hiring enthusiastic amateurs is cheaper but risky. Buying stock photography from sites like Shutterstock guarantees quality but is also pricey. So again the best solution here is to get yourself a camera and learn the basics of shooting and editing. That’s just what I did back in 2009 when I launched a tour business in Vietnam. I had no money to pay for a photographer to take destination shots. So I bought myself a camera and taught myself to take pictures that were (mostly) good enough for my needs. These days most smartphones have incredible quality cameras that should take shots that are good enough for your site. So unless you’re selling high end property or luxury goods, in which case you WILL need pro-level shots, try taking your own pictures. You’ll save money, learn a new skill and have a whole lot of fun! And since I started doing photography in 2009, it’s become an obsession and also a source of income in itself.
Hiring a qualified or capable accountant is expensive. Good accountants aren’t cheap. Obviously as your business takes off and you start making and spending larger and larger sums, and need to get involved with taxes and social security and so on, you will need someone who knows what they’re doing. But in the early stages, this is another area where you can do it yourself.
There are plenty of good small business accounting solutions out there that are easy to set up and cheap (or, at a basic level, free) to use. And most which even the most numerically challenged amongst us can get to grips with. Have a look at Freshbooks, Quickbooks or Zoho Accounts and do their basic training walk-throughs to familiarise yourself with the functionality. You’ll soon find you’re able to handle your nascent business’s accounting needs yourself, becoming an independent entrepreneur. And when you do need to scale up and hire an accountant, you’ll have the knowledge to keep an eye on your accounts as the business grows.
Like graphic design, digital marketing is a multifaceted discipline with lots to learn. At the same time, not all channels or tactics will be relevant to your business. So it’s a case of picking which approaches you’re likely to need and then getting yourself up to speed. It’s likely you’ll need some or all of the following:
- Email marketing
- Adwords/Facebook Ads
- Content marketing & blogging
- Social media marketing
These tactics involve further skills such as list segmentation, copywriting, graphic design, video, webinars, podcasts and a whole lot more. Yes, you can outsource some or all of these to a digital marketing professional but if you have the time, they’re all valuable skills to learn both for yourself and your business, and so you have the knowledge required to hire a professional if and when you need to.
There are plenty of free/cheap solutions out there (see this recent post), and also plenty of places to learn. And with many online course providers currently slashing their prices or even offering free content during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s never been cheaper or easier to learn. And as with web design, digital marketing is a really valuable and marketable skill for your own future, should your business venture not work out.
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Jerry Seinfeld)
Like it or not, at some point in your independent entrepreneur journey, you’re going to have to speak to an audience. Either online or in person. It could be any of the following:
- Conference or trade show
- Office opening or other company event
- Webinar or podcast
- Pitch or presentation
- Award acceptance speech
Now noone’s expecting you to be the most charismatic public speaker since Muhammad Ali or to have the eloquence and timing of the best standup comedians. And shyness will generally be forgiven. But there’s no doubt that persuasive and competent public speaking reflects very well on your business and certainly helps when you’re pitching to investors or clients.
So if the thought of speaking to an audience terrifies you, firstly ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? If you’re not the world’s best public speaker, who cares? Noone’s bought a ticket to see you and they’re not expecting entertainment. As long as you speak clearly and get your point across, all will be well. Noone’s going to heckle you or throw stuff. And secondly, think of it as just another useful skill to learn, that will prove valuable in future.
So read some books on public speaking. Watch some TED Talks on YouTube and see how the best speakers approach it. Truth: EVERYONE is nervous. My dad used to work weekends at a local theatre and told me that even some of the most experienced, slick comics and performers who played there suffered terribly from stage fright. Start off with webinars and podcasts, where you can’t actually see your audience. Practice, practice, practice. And use the adrenaline those nerves give you as an energy. You’ll soon find that after your first few efforts you actually grow to enjoy it and seek out opportunities to do it more often!
Become the Independent Entrepreneur
So there we have it. Five new skills to learn that will help you become a more rounded business owner and independent entrepreneur. But most importantly, save big when it comes to startup costs. Obviously not all of these will be for you. And it may be that, if you have partners (or even helpful friends and relatives), you may not need to learn these skills for yourself. And if that fails, you always have our team at Booming Businesses to give you a hand when you need it. But being multiskilled not only helps you in the early stages of your business when, like it or not, you have to be a human Swiss army knife. But it’s also useful as the business grows and you’re able to hire graphic designers, accountants or digital marketers. You will have much more knowledge of the skills you’re hiring for and the type of person you need. And you’re much more able to supervise and monitor your staff without being dazzled by charlatans who talk a good game but can’t deliver!
So embrace these new skills as an opportunity to save money, improve yourself and be a truly independent entrepreneur. Read books on these topics. Take online courses (Udemy covers pretty much everything and, as I said above, currently has some amazing pandemic deals). Watch YouTube videos. Follow blogs. Go to talks and conferences. Become a sponge when it comes to learning new skills. And, as well as boosting your business, you’ll have the pride and satisfaction of being able to tell people “You see that? I built it!” One of the proudest moments of my career was when, having come up with an idea for a B2B travel app, I had to learn how to build the prototype myself. With absolutely zero previous experience! Answering the regular question “Who built your prototype?” with “ME!” was very satisfying. So adapt the DIY mentality today and you too can get that same buzz of satisfaction and independence.