A former colleague called me during the summer of 2019.
Her: Hey, are you still starting your own business?
Me: Yep. I leave my job in two weeks.
Her: So, would you be interested in writing a book for one of my clients?
Long story short, I jumped on a call to learn more about the project. Before the ink was dry on my LLC, I traveled across the country to pitch my services in person. After a four-hour brainstorming session, they agreed that I was the right fit for the project, even though I’d never written a book before. They were my first client.
I was ecstatic. And terrified.
That led to a second contract to promote the book and plenty more strategic communication work throughout the pandemic as others faced layoffs.
Never did I imagine such a quick launch and full plate right out of the gate. My first paycheck as a solopreneur arrived before I opened a business account. I was building the plane as it was taking off, looking in all directions for ... well, direction.
For anyone considering entrepreneurship, I wish I could tell you that walking away from my office job was easy. Or that starting a business is easy. I can’t.
I’ve held a job since I was 15, spending the past 25 years working for large organizations. Until three years ago, it never occurred to me to go solo.
For much of my career I was a single parent without the safety net of a second income. Branching out on my own seemed risky and irresponsible. Once I remarried, it was my husband who planted the seed when he asked, “Did you ever think about starting your own business?”
I bounced the idea off a friend who was already a successful consultant. She said, “Tara, when you start making more money in less time — and you will — you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.”
That’s when I did the math.
My last “reliable” job averaged three hours of rush hour traffic daily. That’s 720 hours a year, the equivalent of 30 days of my life, sitting in traffic, for a job I didn’t love.
When I added traffic time, overtime, fuel and mileage costs, multiplied that by my hourly wage, then subtracted that from my take-home pay, my real net salary hit me square between the eyes. But it was a job, right?
Although money can’t buy everything, a steady paycheck with benefits buys peace of mind. That’s why so many of us stick with jobs that drain our souls faster than a Dementor on Harry Potter. My jobs weren’t all like that, but they didn’t always include meaningful work, work/life balance, a great boss or a healthy environment.
Regardless of the security that came with marriage, the day I walked away from a perfectly good job felt like I was teetering at the peak of a 400-foot roller coaster drop, just as it lets go.
The next day, I made a list of challenges I had conquered in the past. It reminded me that I can do hard things, and this wasn’t even the hardest thing I’d done.
Fast forward a year, when another former colleague asked to meet for lunch. We masked up, elbow-bumped and chatted about the usual girl stuff, then work. I was happy to report I was earning more, enjoying my work and operating almost exclusively from home. Then she asked, “How did you know how to start a business?” I answered, “I didn’t.”
She shared that she was working at a C-suite level job she didn’t love and was considering becoming a fundraising consultant. She wanted to pick my brain about how to begin.
I explained to her that I don’t have an MBA, but I’m resourceful. And I don’t quit. Yes, the learning curve for launching a business was steep but doable. My work generates more work, which brings in a steady paycheck. The business mechanics is where I needed help from a “C-suite.”
Curiosity piqued, she asked me to explain, and I walked her through my process:
1. Build your C-suite. Write down what types of skills you need on your team to succeed, along with anyone you know with those skills. Imagine them as your (unofficial) chief executive officers. For instance, Tony, my CPA, doesn’t know he’s my CFO, but he is. A woman who offered me free branding training is my CMO.
Others to include are a general counsel for legal advice, a CIO for your IT needs, an objective strategist and an HR advisor. This is the team you go to for advice. A CPA and legal counsel will likely send you a bill, but others may settle for lunch.
2. Identify knowledge gaps. Make a short list of big things you need to launch your business. For example: articles of incorporation, website, trademark, etc.
When I worked for someone else, websites were just there, with a “mighty Oz” working behind the scenes to keep it running. As a solopreneur, I realized I had to hire an Oz or become one. Many novices have created websites, so why couldn’t I?
Next stop, Google. I researched registrars, hosts, site builders, etc. The possible combinations of services were overwhelming. I searched available domains, then waited two days to decide, only to find the domains jumped from 12 USD to 1,800 USD because someone makes it their business to ransom domains. It was a year before they released a hostage, and I was able to purchase DGAcommunications.com for 9 USD. Lesson learned.
I joined a Facebook networking group where I stumbled across a post advertising “Website in a Weekend.” The business owner offered free, step-by-step training in return for reviews. Exactly what I needed. Nothing to lose but a weekend, so I jumped in and I created my website. She still answers my questions, which is why she’s my (highly recommended) CIO.
Taking a more traditional approach, I took online courses from a community college to better understand business, accounting and design basics. As a bonus, I now enjoy student pricing on most software.
3. Volunteer. Within 18 months, I contributed more than 140 hours of pro bono work for nonprofits. This paid off with new clients, referrals and reviews. I recently volunteered to serve on the board of IABC DC Metro, which provides an opportunity to network and collaborate with industry peers as I work toward my SCMP certification.
My final piece of advice? Make time for yourself. My CAO (chief adventure officer/dog) strongly advises me to spend more time outside. It’s really OK to grab a leash and save some work for tomorrow.
12 Small Business Resources
Alignable.com: Business referral network
America’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDC): Support network to grow small businesses
Bplans.com: Free business templates
Home Business Podcast: Best practices for home businesses
IABC Hub: Online expert community of IABC members
MBDA.gov: Minority Business Development Agency
Score.org: Business expert network, mentoring and templates
Small Business Administration: Support resources and guidelines
Small Business Forum: Q&A chatroom for business owners
Small Business Trends: Latest trends, statistics and resources
Succeed as Your Own Boss: Small business expert advice
USPTO: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Tara Mogan Blom, MMC, ABC
Tara Mogan Blom, MMC, ABC, is the CEO and founder of DGA Communications. Originally from Arizona, she holds a master’s degree in mass communication (MMC) and is accredited through IABC. Blom is an award-winning writer published in hundreds of media channels throughout her career. As a veteran strategist, Blom provides communication plans, assessments, consultation and coaching, bridging a gap that exists for many organizations. She is currently serving as VP of Communications for IABC DC Metro.