I used to tell anybody who’d listen that I’d never work for myself. I loved the comfort of having a boss and working for a company. For almost 15 years, since I graduated with my master’s degree in creative writing, I’d always worked for publishing companies.
All that changed a year ago, when my position of 11 years was eliminated. Everyone told me I’d find a new job right away, since I had so much experience as a magazine editor-in-chief and head of multiple departments. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. I applied for hundreds of jobs and didn’t receive one job offer.
When I was employed and someone would ask what I’d do if I was no longer at my current job, I would say tongue-in-cheek that I’d launch my own company. But in January, after yet another 9-to-5 job interview, I decided I was ready to take a leap of faith, and I launched my own writing services business.
Here are five smart things I did when I started my company.
1. I hired business coaches
I had tons of experience as an executive in a company and knew my way around running a department. However, I knew that I didn’t know how to run a creative services business.
My coaches first helped me grow the right boss mindset. For example, many freelance writers like myself underestimate the money they can make with their skill sets, so they undercharge. They often work 50 hours a week, barely making ends meet.
Mindset work helps you know exactly what you offer and its value, so you can clearly communicate that on sales calls. Getting really clear on my market value helped me find the right clients and type of work to match my expertise. I work way less than 40 hours a week.
It’s always good to work with coaches who are several steps ahead of you. My coaches had run several six-figure writing services businesses, so I got lots of spot-on tips to scale fast.
2. I’m always marketing
This was a hard lesson for me, but it’s a fact: As a business owner, you can never stop marketing.
At a certain point, I had a lot of writing work, so I said, “I don’t have time to take on new clients, so I can stop marketing.” Then, the bottom dropped out.
In the same week, two contracts canceled, both for reasons within the client companies that were beyond my control.
It took me almost two months to find four new clients — and that was with pitching several hours every day. (Cold pitching via email and LinkedIn works best for my business.)
One coach wisely said I should always be prospecting, because relationships can take months to convert to paying clients. One of my biggest clients, in fact, took six months to sign on the dotted line.
While you may not have to prospect every day, market your firm at least several hours a week.
3. I partnered with the right accountant
When I first set up my LLC, I hired a budget-friendly virtual accountant I found online. Unfortunately, that firm recommended and set up the incorrect business structure for my personal situation, which caused me to overpay on taxes on multiple fronts.
Luckily, a fellow business owner who’d been in a similar situation told me to shop around for the right accountant. (Whether or not the firm is local to you, it should understand small businesses and your state’s particular forms and regulations.)
I visited several local accountants and found one I felt was the right match for me. That accountant set up my new business structure, helped me get all the paperwork in order for my state, and even refiled my 2017 taxes so that I’d get back some of the money I overpaid.
4. I hired virtual assistants
When I first started my business, I did it all: marketing, selling, invoicing, and producing all of the creative content. It became overwhelming.
If you’re used to working in a company with colleagues or a staff, suddenly wearing 15 hats can be daunting. My business coach suggested hiring virtual assistants, who are business owners offering contract administrative services. For a solopreneur like myself, this was amazing news: I couldn’t wait to say goodbye to the days of starting working at 5 a.m. and working on and off till midnight.
Now I have two assistants. One handles my bookkeeping and accounts payable and receivable. My other assistant helps me with all sorts of nuts and bolts activities for my clients. For example, she posts blogs I’ve written with images on our clients’ sites, or she’ll schedule their social media posts via Hootsuite.
5. I live by my Google calendar
As my workload increased, my handwritten to-do lists just didn’t cut it. Now, every Friday, I email one of my assistants a list of my work tasks due the next week, along with plenty of white space so I can fit in personal stuff, like scheduling doctors’ appointments, going to the gym, or even getting a massage.
I also use the Pomodoro Technique (which one of my coaches suggested). I set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on a single task during that time (no checking email or a client’s social media). The longer I’ve done this, the easier it’s become for me to draft a client blog or another writing exercise that used to take much longer.
Now, I get up every day feeling like a real boss, and loving the business I run.
This article first appeared on Business Insider.