I've had the same conversation four times recently - what is it like going freelance or starting your own business? My response is - it depends. For a lot of people particularly in the not-for profit sector the temptation to go it alone can seem appealing, especially when there is greater pressure to do more with less, little recognition of your abilities and limited career development.
However, as tempting as it is not everyone is able or willing to go it alone. Some good advice I was given when I was first thinking of going it alone was, 'you're not ready, you don't have the reputation and you don't have the network'. Also, an important consideration is money, the moment you decide to step away from being employed full-time to starting your business you may have to live with the uncertainty of where the money for next months' mortgage, bills and food is going come from! Particularly in the early days of getting started. So here are my four tips:
Develop your networks. If you are planning on starting out you are going to need a referral network which can generate new business for you, an industry network so you know what other people in your sector are doing and a strategic network of key people who can help and support you develop your business.
Be clear on what makes you unique. This can be very tricky when leaving full time employment because you may have a diverse range of skills. But who will pay you for those skills? By being clear on what you can offer (knowledge, processes, analysis, enthusiasm) this will help package your offer. Don't assume new clients care about your experience, they want to know what you can do not what you have done.
Be disciplined with your time. It can be very easy to attend meetings that are interesting but don't help you or your business. This can be particularly difficult when perspective clients want to chat and discuss proposals but remember they are getting paid and you are not.
Sell yourself but don't sell out. One of the hardest things to do is promoting yourself, this does not mean you have brag or boast about your achievement. But it does mean giving clients confidence that you know what you could do for them. The risk can be that in trying to win new business you can over-reach with what you are able to do. It is important to remain true to your skill-set so you deliver high quality work rather than getting pulled into what your potential clients want you to do.
I am sure there are others but I thought these would be a good start.