How to be an entrepreneur (without leaving your 9-5)



I just finished reading Lisa’s post from April, “It’s Not the Recession, You Just Suck,” and took it as a reminder to write provocative headlines. Lisa nails it when she says, “entrepreneurs are ruling this recession.” In fact, in March, 2009, The Economist put out a special report that I bought and love – the report was on entrepreneurship. They called entrepreneurs “global heroes.” It was a good reminder for me – and for my nonconformist, entrepreneurial friends around the globe – to keep up the hard work. These are a few ideas that have worked for me on my entrepreneurial journey.

Micro-fy your outreach I’m a big fan of thinking small. I just bought a loft in Boulder, Colorado. It’s not huge but it gets the job done. I think your outreach needs to be the same. Consider the weight of the paper stock on which you print your business card. That type of detail can be the difference between your card landing in the recycling bin or being the topic of a blog post.

Give something away (free food!) Once, I received a business card with a packet of seeds attached. Another time, a hand-made piece of gourmet chocolate. Both of these businesses, since the time of our meeting, have gone on to do great things. I believe giving away food with your business card, if it’s delicious, is a winning situation. We all get hungry, eventually, right? Let people associate your name and contact information with something tasty.

Get public (work once/week from a coffee shop) Lots of folks have written on how to get out of the cube. One of my personal favorites is Michelle Goodman’s “The Anti 9-5 Guide” (follow her on Twitter). Working once a week from a coffee shop if you can get your boss (even if that boss is you) to allow it, can expose you to new ideas, random pieces of information that you might not catch cruising the social web.

List your ten offerings Put your ten current offerings on your site, sticker, business card, 3×5 card, 8×10 sheet of paper at the door. Remind yourself and friends of what your top offerings are. Don’t assume your friends know. They don’t. Or they’ve forgotten on their own quest to remake themselves. The best way to explain what you are up to is to first remind yourself.

Trade Many of my successful entrepreneur friends traded their services long before they got paid for their services/wares. You don’t have to keep giving it away, you can trade up.

Team up with other entrepreneurs Chris calls this building your small army. Call it what you like, just think about who is in yours. I know who is in mine and whose armies I consider myself to be in. Basically, when they call, I come. And it’s mutual.

Ask for it Ask for testimonials. As soon as you finish a gig, no matter the size, ask for a testimonial. I keep the testimonials fresh because I view my site as a résumé-in-motion.

Make yourself scarce (the case against attending every event) There are folks who want to be at every single networking event, conference, meetup and tweetup under the sun. I know, I sometimes am one of those people. But I think it’s also crucial to know when making yourself scarce leads to growth.

Be relentless Put a follow up date on the calendar and follow up with prospective clients/gigs.

Wear yellow Know when to stand out. Know when to make a splash.

On that note, know when not to wear yellow Know when to let someone else be center stage. It’s easy to think, erroneously, that if they’re looking at you you’re doing something right.

Microaction Do a bit of this now. Not tomorrow. And see the microactions stack up.

Even if you’re employed, act like an entrepreneur Because hey, you never know, you might be someday!

I’m an entrepreneur for life. I became an entrepreneur even while I had a job (albeit, an unconventional one teaching English to elementary school children in Japan) and once I started my first business I knew it was right for me. Someone asked what I think of Lisa’s “You Just Suck” post. My answer? It resonates. If it resonates for you, take that string and run with it. Entrepreneurs are fond of referring to what we do as a hustle. If you love the hustle, entrepreneurship might be right for you.

Your Comments

  • Sarah Bray

    Yay, yay, YAYYYY! Good for you for getting your unconventional guide out there. It needs to be said and said again.

    And you know…before I became a full-time entrepreneur, I had three jobs. I quit them one by one. And then my husband quit his. So it was definitely a long journey (wish I had your wonderful tips when I started!)

  • Phil Buckley

    Great advice Gwen, can’t believe I hadn’t thought of giving away some really cool chocolate – which is dangerous for someone with a sweet tooth.

  • Tiffany Starnes

    I am not an entrepreneur. But I work for one and live with one and am pretty much surrounded by them in New Orleans these days. They are the reason that on the eve of Katrina’s anniversary, we are getting positive media attention in WSJ and Entrepreneur magazine. And they are definitely the heros that are reshaping a city that has always embraced creative and snubbed conformity.

    As an anti-establishment kind of gal, it’s exciting to see the little guys winning. I don’t think you can underestimate the power of community and collaboration. I am a proud member of a few precious armies. And when we rally, watch out, Goliath!

    Thanks for the advice. Keep up the great work!

  • reese

    I really appreciated the ‘bite-sized/you-can-do-this-right-now’ nuggets you brought to this piece. Great take aways.

    Do you think you always knew you’d be the master of your own domain (literally and figuratively)

  • gwenbell

    Sarah thank you for getting out there & rocking out. I can’t wait to spend time with you in September!
    Phil hasn’t chocolate been called the miracle food?? Basically, free anything tasty has a habit of sticking around in my wallet.
    Tiffany thank you for jumping in here & look forward to seeing what you create next!
    Reese thank you for all that you do to support this lil army! Your designs positively rock. I think that’s an interesting question you pose. I think everyone is the master of their own domain – maybe they just haven’t woken up to that fact. So, in a perfect world we’d all fully embody our space in the world/our domain. I’m doing the best to embody mine – and encouraging others to do the same.

  • Hiro Boga

    Thanks for the excellent ideas and advice, Gwen. (Love those square business cards–they’re spectacular!)

    Congratulations on launching your Unconventional Guide . . . I look forward to reading it!


  • Dave Curtis

    Hi Gwen, Congrats on the loft in Boulder. I love Colorado so much!

    I come from a long line of entrepreneurs going as far back as the family history. I have known since childhood working in my parents shops in NYC (they each owned a business) what it took to grow their businesses and what they needed to pay the mortgage, the insurance, and to put away for retirement. Working alongside their employees on my days off and after school I knew the kind of commitment I had to apply to help see their businesses do better.

    Today I own my own web design and SEO business and work for dozens of people just like my folks, and know that providing each and every one of them with the best I can do, full well knowing that they are not technically proficient enough to check up on me and know whether I have been slacking off or not, and giving them more than they have paid for is my one ace in the hole that pays me back every time. Quality work and finding innovative budget solutions for people I like is how I find meaning in life. I always wish I could be better (no matter how good I am) – but I know in my heart that caring and effort makes all the difference. While those extra efforts may not be as visible as free chocolates – they’re there. And the little micro-actions of things like collecting and sorting email addresses and building clients newsletter mailing list databases do add up.

    I will tell you this, I haven’t spent the day in a coffee shop in far, far too long, Gwen. I’m blaming it on too much stacking up, the economy… but I think tomorrow I’ll take your advice and get out with my laptop for a change, say hello to my friends, and remind them of what it is I do. Thanks for the wonderful advice. :)

  • Desiree Richardson

    I like the idea of teaming up with other entrepreneurs. That’s what I have done and that has been the most successful venture. I am a 39 year old married military nurse and mother of three wonderful children. I have been a nurse for 10 years and I am really loving my online business and traffic generation. My goal is to retire in 3 1/2 years from the military. I want to do PTA and other great stuff with my son who is currently 5. I want my online business to be in the six figure income range. I will never put all my eggs in one basket and I encourage multiple streams of income.

    Rich and Rich Entrepreneurs