When people ask me what I do, I usually don’t come right out and say, “Oh, I’m a blogger.” Usually I’ll say something along the lines of, “I’m self-employed” or “I run a small business.” Most of the population doesn’t realize that blogging is a viable career option, so I try and ease them into the idea. As of now, I don’t think a single adult outside of my close circle has taken me seriously when I told them that I am a self-employed blogger.
People are typically suspicious, curious, or irrationally rude. The rude people figure that because I don’t have a boss or schedule or have to deal with customers that what I’m doing isn’t ‘real’ and that I have it so much easier than they do.
But I’ll tell you something: Self-employment isn’t a walk in the park. Now, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Self employment in college.
Most people don’t even consider self employment as an option for themselves, and certainly not in college. (It’s always a ‘some day’ thing.) So if you have wondered if self employment is for you – chances are it could be. A few qualities you’ll probably need to be successful are:
- Self-motivation (and lots of it!)
- Patience because success in the wonderful world of self employment doesn’t come in a day.
- An organizational system – lack of organization kills the entrepreneur.
- Optional: Money to invest (more on that later – usually less that $100!)
Got it? Great! Now lets talk about the types of self employment that exist. Me? I’m a blogger. (Or, according to my resume, ‘a digital influencer,’) But there are a million different types of self employment. Chances are, if you’re reading this post you might already have a pretty good idea of what your side (main?) hustle is going to be while you’re in college. But if not, I’ll give you a few ideas that can have you regularly bringing in good money:
- You can be a totally awesome blogger like yours truly!
- An online coach (for whatever you’re good at: health, fitness, meditation, motivation, you name it!)
- An Etsy seller
- A virtual assistant (AKA a blogger’s best friend)
So obviously that is just scraping the surface of the opportunities that are out there. I didn’t touch on things like babysitting or dog walking or photography because one of the main things I am focusing on here is making sure that your side hustle is something that you’re in control of schedule wise – no waiting on others or working around schedules because you are 100% in charge which is important for those of use with crazy college schedules.
So now you know what your hustle is going to be?
Now let’s talk about how you are going to find success. I am going to give you some insider tips that I didn’t have when I started (I didn’t even know I could monetize until a few months in!) so hopefully you can get on your feet and hustling away in no time. Remember when I said that you’re going to need a lot of dedication? Well these first few weeks are going to be where you need it most – and your level of dedication now will be what makes you or breaks you.
- You’re going to need a landing page. No matter your hustle, you need somewhere to send customers. Somewhere that they can find out who you are, what you do, and why you’re the best. You’re always going to want to go with a custom domain to put yourself ahead of the competition, and that’s where the investment will come in. You can use this guide to set up your page for a year for around $60, but if you don’t have the money you can always go with a blogger page, too!
- Come up with prices. Pricing will vary based on what you’re doing and your experience level. See what others in your field are charging and make yourself competitive. (But make sure that you don’t start a race to the bottom. Don’t stoop down to charging less than you’re worth! Value yourself and your work!
- Advertise. This is another place that you can choose to spend money on, or go the free route. When I started blogging I didn’t spend any money advertising – and still keep those expenses to a minimum. Word of mouth should always be your best method of advertisement – people believe their friends before they believe a facebook ad!
- Create a brand. Branding yourself is the hardest thing in the world. You want to be authentic and likable and it’s a lot of pressure. You will be judged based on what you put out there, so be proud of your work. The way over simplified basics of branding are: tone, colors, and fonts. Way over simplified but hear me out:
- Tone: How you present yourself. My tone? I talk like I am speaking. I don’t have an overly professional tone because we are friends (right?!) and so I’m going to talk to you like we are best friends talking business. So basically we are BBFF’s.
- Colors: For some this is going to be very specific and everything they do will be in black, white, and blue. For life & style bloggers like myself it’s not so simple. I take pictures of my surroundings and my outfits so I can’t stick to a theme, per say, but I do stick to a way of editing so my pictures look cohesive.
- Fonts: The super recognizable brands all stick to the same font or two for everything they do. Constantly changing up your font (guilty as charged, but working on it) makes your brand inconsistent.
The tools you’ll need.
So there are a few things that you’re going to need to make you launch a success. This isn’t a one size fits all guide (it’s too broad!) so pick and choose from these tools so that they fit your needs best.
- Social media accounts. The most successful small business owners are fostering relationships with potential clients and even their competitors. Use your social media to be engaging and make friends – don’t make it the ‘all about me’ show or else people are going to unfollow. Strike a balance between friendly and promotional.
- A graphics program. The best free option, in my opinion, is canva. They have premade templates and a lot of great font pairings. Using Canva takes a lot of the guess work out of design! If you’re feeling ready to take things to the next level, photoshop is a great step up!
- A camera (or a friend with a camera.) At the very least you want a professional looking head shot for your about me. People want to connect with you and they aren’t gong to if your picture is a grainy shot of you zoolander-ing into your self facing camera. But depending on how visual your business is – you might want to consider a camera.
Before you get started – you want to prepare. That means setting up your website, perfecting the ins and the outs of all of the pages, and being ready to immediately take on customers. This preparation can mean a lot of different things for different businesses.
Bloggers are going to want to have a few quality posts up so their site isn’t empty come launch. Social media coaches are going to want to have a few case studies to provide customers. Everyone is going to want to be able to show people from the get go ‘this is why you want to work with me.’
Don’t rush into launching or you might make mistakes. Cross your T’s and dot your I’s and ensure that everything is squared away well before announcing a launch date.
Things to consider during pre-launch:
- Start building your social media channels authentically as yourself, first. If you are going to be a big part of your brand, then start your social media channels being very ‘you’ and start engaging with potential customers and big players in your field before even mentioning the business you’re developing. Once launch gets closer make an announcement and your new followers will be thinking, ‘Wow, my friend is doing something awesome. I want to support him!’
- Give your services away for free. If you are doing something like coaching or design, reach out to a friend or someone that you admire who could use your services. Tell them that you want to get in the business of _________ and were wondering if they’d let you gift them your service. This is going to make them a fan, and give you a testimonial to put on your site. Gifting services isn’t a good idea for every niche, but it can go a long way if it’s right for you!
- Prepare yourself for wild success. If you work hard and the stars align – you’ll be getting business right away. Make sure that you are prepared to take on twice as many orders as you think you’ll need because you don’t want your expectations to be blown out of the water and find yourself unable to deliver.
After hyping up your new business for weeks, or maybe even months, the day has finally come. You are ready to launch and your stomach is a bungled mess of emotions. Don’t sweat – this is what you’ve been preparing for!
Launch is going to be so different for the different types of businesses. Bloggers can start promoting, sellers can start selling, and coaches can start bringing in clients.
If you have the type of business that calls for it, consider offering a grand opening discount or gift with purchase if you are selling something. People are more likely to be excited about something if they are getting a deal or getting something for free. Your first customers are invaluable, because they are the ones who are going to be telling their friends about you, and talking about you on the internet (the good, bad, and the ugly) so you want to make them happy!
Remember when I told you that being self-employed isn’t always a walk in the park? Well you’re going to find that out real quick after the magical newness of your venture wears off. If you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing, you’ll still love it, but chances are you will be overwhelmed by it from time to time. But let me try and minimize that for you.
- Use a planner. Use two planners. Use two planners, a calendar, and an overly complicated system of sticky notes if that’s what you need to do to feel organized. Just be organized. Organized people meet deadlines, manage their time, and have happy customers. Don’t let a lack of organization hurt you because there is no excuse for it. Write everything down even if you think you’ll remember, because sometimes you won’t remember and that’s when you’ll wish you had a better system.
- Respond to your emails. There are two things that make me more anxious than anything else: Exams and my email inbox. Unfortunately, playing my role of college student by day, and entrepreneur by night, both are realities of my everyday. But I’ve been able to come to terms with my emails with these simple steps:
- Search ‘unsubscribe’ in your search bar, and unsubscribe from every email list serve that pops up.
- Consolidate your gmail so there is only one tab rather than three. You don’t check the other two anyhow and sometimes important emails get mis-sorted.
- Have a folder where you immediately move any questions other bloggers/business owners have for you. I respond to all of the emails in that folder twice a week.
- Have a folder for important emails that don’t warrant a response. Don’t let it just sit in your inbox. I have a folder for every month, and I will move those emails to the appropriate month.
- Respond to emails every day. If you let them pile up, that’s when you get overwhelmed. Don’t let that happen.
- Learn to say no. You are going to get all sorts of requests – learn how to tactfully turn down the ones you aren’t interested in.
- Don’t disappear. There are so many business owners that get overwhelmed, take a two month break, and expect to come back like nothing’s happened. If you disappear for long periods of time, you will come back and be irrelevant. You work hard to build a name for yourself, but if people stop talking about you, you will be forgotten.
- Be genuine. People can see right through you if you’re in it for the money/popularity/glamour/etc. Do what you love and if you don’t love it then accept that maybe you’re not doing what you need to be with your life.
Things to keep in mind…
So now you’ve made it as a small business owner – hooray! But among the glitz and glamour of being able to call yourself your own boss and set your own schedule there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. A few not so fun things.
There is a whole legal side to business, and if you don’t educate yourself on the legalities you can find yourself in a lot of trouble down the road. Two things that I want to mention are taxes and liabilities.
- When it comes to taxes you are going to want to track your income and expenses to a T. That means every penny you earn and every penny you spend you are going to want to record and keep receipts of. The downside of being a small business owner is that if you don’t have enough expenses you, you will end up owing the government in the long run.
- Screenshot and save any online purchases that you make for your business: Website fees, a new camera, a photo editor, etc.
- Consider hiring an accountant – they might be pricey but they can also help you find ways to avoid having to pay the government come January.
- Keep a cash cushion. This year I started making ‘real’ money with my blog and I keep my income divided in 3 places: 2 paypals and my bank. One paypal is to invest back into the business, one paypal is where I send a percentage of every payday for taxes, and my bank is where I put my ‘fun’ money that I spend on whatever I want.
- When you are self-employed you have to decide if you want to be a sole proprietor or register as an LLC. They both have their own pros and cons, but it mostly comes down to who is responsible if you are sued. As a sole proprietor you are, and as an LLC your business is. It might sound like the same thing, but when you’re an LLC you are only liable for however much your company is worth and you have the option of closing your business and filing for bankruptcy and allowing that to be the end of it.
- I am still a little fuzzy on the details here, so make sure you really look into it before making a decision. I’m currently a sole proprietor, but because I am growing I will be registering as an LLC in 2016!
Why be self-employed?
I mentioned that there are a million benefits to the self-employed life, but I thought I’d write a few out for you. Starting my own business (and treating this blog as a business) has been the best thing I’ve ever done and it has afforded me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.
- It looks awesome on your resume. Personally I plan on the self-employed life for the rest of my life but if you’re looking one day to move onto bigger and better things then nothing is going to set you apart like running your own business. I’m going to toot my own horn a little bit here and say that it is darn impressive to run your own business in college!
- It opens doors for you. Thanks to my blog I have been able to walk in a fashion show in Chicago, go to New York City for practically free, and next month I am going to be a VIP Blogger at St. Louis fashion week at no expense to myself. My dream is to travel and my blog is making it a reality.
- You are going to have the most flexible schedule ever. If you are running an online based business like myself, you are going to be able to do it from anywhere. After graduation I want to spend a small amount of time location independent, travelling the country (maybe even the world!) blogging from wherever the wind takes me. I couldn’t do that working a regular nine to five.
- You determine your own success. In the blogging world at least, you get out what you put in. Anyone can be a successful blogger, so long as they put in the work, and make a few investments here and there to get off on the right foot.
- You will be proud. Even though most people don’t understand what I do, I am so happy that I’m doing it. I would have never imagined that I would find success being a blogger, and two years ago I would have never imagined I’d even be a blogger. But here I am, and I feel darn good about it.
If you are thinking about being your own boss and taking charge of your life, I say go for it. Go in with a plan, and don’t rush the process and you’ll find success. I know that this guide is only providing the building blocks, because there is no way that I can sum up how to be a successful small business owner in just a few steps. Some of it you’ll learn along the way, and other things you’re going to need to ask for help.
Don’t underestimate online communities of girl bosses, entrepreneurs, and self-employed bosses because they are going to be an invaluable resource to you. In no way would I be where I am today if it weren’t for the guidance of bigger, more experienced bloggers when I was starting out.