Should I Go Back to Work?

Dear Danielle:

I was wondering if in starting your business you also worked a job or ever decided to go back to work while building your business? My first fully paid retainer is coming to an end. The client is realizing she doesn’t have enough to delegate to continue retaining me. With unemployment running out, I am pushing myself to make this work. –LY

Yes, when I very first started my business, it wasn’t even really a business. It was more of a sideline I did while I worked a “real” day job. I was always striving toward working for myself, even if it wasn’t a fully formed, conscious thought at first. So many people (family, friends, coworkers) were giving me little projects that eventually I wondered if I could actually turn it into something real and earn a living from it.

I spent many years taking on piecemeal work like this prior to actually taking out a business license and officially forming my business. And I continued to work my day job all the while. Several years later during a company-wide round of layoffs, I was able to engineer my own layoff. I receive a very nice severance package and used that to fund my full-time business operations from that point forward.

It was somewhere during this time that I realized project work just wouldn’t ever afford me a living. This was also when I started realizing the difference between merely being a secretarial service doing odd, piecemeal project work and being a business that provided actual administrative support. Once I got clear and conscious about this distinction was when I really started making money. I still did and do project work that comes along that interests me, but my main bread and butter is and always has been the administrative support work I do for clients who pay a very nice monthly fee for that support.

Now, during my early years in business, I accidentally fell into a target market of the local retail shops, clubs and restaurants. These are businesses that are notoriously difficult to succeed in. They always had money issues and I was always having to deal with people who didn’t have the slightest clue about business. They drove me crazy, lol!

This wasn’t a market I intentionally chose. I just fell into it due to having a few clients in those areas and then having my word-of-mouth marketing take off. But I didn’t care for these clients  and all their “issues.” This was when I started getting conscious about who I actually wanted to work with and what fields dealt with work I found more interesting. I realized I didn’t want to work with start-ups (because they had too many financial feast-and-famine problems) and I wanted to work with a more sophisticated clientele in a more professional field.

It was at this time that I let go of all my current clients at that time in order to completely reinvent my business to cater to attorneys.  I took on a part-time job to help replace part of the income I lost in letting all my old clients go. But it was crazy-making. I found it really difficult, even at just a few hours, three days a week, to juggle the marketing, networking, business-rebuilding and everything else while working a job.

And it only took a couple months to realize that I was completely ruined for ever working as an employee again. I just could not stand the having to be somewhere at a certain time and report to anyone, lol.

So long story short, that’s my experience in case any of that is helpful.

In your case, I don’t want to sugarcoat things… Since you are down to the wire, you may need to go back to work for a time. And that’s okay. Because being in a position of need and desperate financial straits is never good for any business. You want to get your feet more firmly in the ground. And I can see that it could be a really beneficial time for you to take some of the financial pressue off, give yourself some breathing room and go back to the basics in setting up the foundation of your business and having time to study up a bit more marketing and developing those all-important consulting skills.

And the reason I mention re-setting up your foundations and working on developing your consulting skills is because those are the things that would have better helped guide and inform the relationship with this client right from the beginning. Getting clear about a target market and ideal client helps you in making sure you are working with a sector that has money (rule #1: it must have money to spend and a need for what you do; you can’t force a horse to drink water and you can’t afford to work with anyone who can’t afford you).

Likewise, in developing your consulting skills, you will become better at leading and coaxing the consultation conversation along so that you are identifying what areas of support clients need help in and better identifying what the level of work may be. Of course, this client could be just using that as an excuse, but either way, an improved skillset in consulting would help you identify these issues right from the beginning. I would encourage you to put consulting skills at the top of your list as you rebuild your business.

Hope that helps!

4 Responses

  1. Judy Reyes says:

    This is very solid advice and especially relevant since you’ve been there, Danielle. I always enjoy reading about your own beginnings and how you’ve developed the business over time. and LY, you at least got your feet wet and experienced your own business. You can build on this!

  2. Verleene says:

    Great advice. I’ve actually done that myself. With back to work to supplement my income,learning more about consulting, and also identify my target market.

  3. Jonathan says:

    As always, great advice, Danielle. I do have one question to LY: has she tried asking her current retainer client if they can recommend her to other parties they do business with? Assuming she’s doing a good job with her retainer right now, I don’t think it would be much of a stretch for them to refer her to someone else who can use her services.

    Nothing beats word-of-mouth marketing… even having a high-ranking website won’t do better than being recommended by your own clients.

  4. Claire Smith says:

    I have just become an ’employee’ again though it is not something I relish but needs must in tough times. I have retained my key clients so my days are quite long but I don’t see this going on forever.

    It’s been a very stressful few months and I have been distracted and not doing what I need to in my business. I found myself thinking today about how I am going to get back to it so coming across this today is just perfect. I now know what I need to do to make it happen!

    Thanks Danielle, it always seems so straight forward when you say it!

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