Happy Anniversary to me! On this date, June 24th, in 2001 I officially went into business for myself. I started off with a business license in the state of New York, and then a few years later I became incorporated... and that's the story of the beginning as short and sweet as possible.

Dad & Me around 2001

Of course everything hasn't been all wine and roses... especially since I don't imbibe and I can't seem to smell roses. There have been ups and down, with some of the ups being magnificent and some of the downs challenging my psyche as to whether I wanted to continue in this vein or not.

Even those self employed people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year will tell you it's not all that easy to do. Overwhelmingly, most small businesses fold within 3 years; I've beaten that. I've also learned a lot of lessons along the way, some of which I talked about in my 14th anniversary post in 2015. I also talked about 3 more items last year, but in the video below:


If you know me (or even if you don't), you know that I have a lot more to share about this subject. Let me say this up front; some of these are things I wish I'd done, and some of these are things I actually did do. I'm going to tell some truths here so you can see the pretty and the pretty ugly and how I dealt with each. It's possible this might end up being what's known as a pillar post, which is uncommon for this blog. But it'll be helpful for anyone who reads this and for me as well; let's get started!

1. Make sure you either put away enough money for six months to cover bills or have another way to generate enough income to pay your bills.

I didn't do this part because I ended up starting my business months before I had planned on doing it because of circumstances out of my control. However, I got both severance pay and qualified for unemployment, both of which made sure I had enough money to cover me through the first 9 months. I got lucky in that I got a short term project 3 months in and my first speaking engagement the month after that, which allowed me to pause unemployment for three months; that helped a lot.

Truthfully, six months of income stashed away is recommended by a lot of self employment consultants, but the truth is you should try to plan for a year's worth. You're going to incur expenses you've never had to think about before that you might have to start paying for.

One is insurance, although at this point in time that's a bit tenuous depending on the politicians. Two is for anything that might go wrong that you definitely have to pay for, such as if your computer goes down, your car suddenly needs new brakes or your child needs to have some teeth pulled. Those things won't help your money last longer but it'll help take care of unknown emergencies.

2. Do some research to verify that there's a need for the services or products you want to provide.

Free-Photos / Pixabay

When I decided to go into business for myself, I picked a field that I knew something about but had no idea how many companies or individuals would avail themselves of it. Leadership and diversity can be dicey professions; unless you're doing speaking engagements or programs, most companies tend to wait until something goes wrong before they contact you.

The internet was a different animal back in 2001. There wasn't nearly as much information online then as there is now, so a lot of research was incomplete and frustrating. What I got lucky with was having a background in health care finance, as those are the types of gigs I got most often early on, assignments I knew there was a big market for... at least out of town.

3. If you're going to do work in your field of expertise, make sure those you need to market to understand what it is you do.

This is still a continuing problem with a big portion of what I do. The main thing I do for hospitals involves something called a charge master, which is the 2nd most important thing for hospitals and their finances, but is the least understood thing by the people who I need to talk to who will eventually sign the contracts so I can work with them.

Therefore, a big part of my marketing efforts go into talking about charge masters and other services I offer in areas such as diversity. This early mention explains #9 on this list, which I'll be getting back to in a little while.

Also, one of the biggest problems I see with a lot of small businesses is that they use these industry terms that even people in their industry don't fully understand what they mean. For instance, every time I see a website that says "business processes" I cringe because it's a phrase that means something different to every single industry. Whenever someone says something like that at a networking event (something else I'll be talking about), my next question is always "what does that mean". It freaks out nearly 75% of the people I ask that question of; if you have trouble explaining what you do to people your business is going to be in trouble.

4. Take some marketing and sales classes and courses.

I came from a hospital background when I decided to become self employed. Most of the places I worked had no close competition; that's how small to medium sized hospitals are.

This means they don't have to do a lot of marketing, being the only option in town. This means that when I started business, I had absolutely no idea of how marketing was supposed to work. I bought MS Publisher and started making my own brochures, and I'll just say that they looked comical even if the message was legitimate. I did that for over a year before I knew better; ugh!

I started reading some books on marketing and sales, but I got a lucky break when it came to some real training. I met someone who I pitched the idea of doing some leadership training for and it turned out that only did I go to high school with his daughters but we'd actually met previously and I'd been in his house. He offered me 2 years worth of sales training; it was the best! You're probably not going to get that lucky, but I'm here to tell you that marketing, more than sales, will be the eventual key to your success.

5. Don't waste your early money on too many supplies you might not need.

Free-Photos / Pixabay

The first week I was home after leaving my day job I went to Staples and bought all the things I had in my desk at work... only more of them. I still have a lot of that stuff 17 years later; pencils, rubber bands (though they've dried out; I just won't throw them away); 2 different sizes of paper clips; two different sizes of binder clips; 3 rolls of Scotch tape; a 3-ring hole puncher and 3 rulers. At least I went through all the printer paper and tablets; those were useful.

Unless you're a craftsperson, you're probably not going to use all the stuff you had in your desk at work because, truthfully, you probably rarely used a lot of that stuff to begin with. I always needed paper and pens; anything else I've needed I've purchased when I needed it to use immediately. It saves both money and space doing it that way.

6. Find a group that's related to what you do and join it for at least a year.

Within the first year of business I joined a bunch of different groups related to what I was going to do to make money. I was already president of a local medical billing group, so no changes there. I joined the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the American Society for Training and Development (not sure they're called that anymore) for both leadership and diversity training, and pretty much everything in between. I thought it was important to see who else might be doing what I was doing and what the needs might be for those in the group who worked at specific businesses.

I stayed in SHRM for two years before I realized it wasn't for me. I stayed in ATD for 5 years before they changed the direction of the organization and I knew, once again, it wasn't what I wanted to do. The thing is, I did find out what was going on and, at least from one of the groups, I met some people I'm still connected with; that's a nice benefit.

7. Join a networking group in your local area and be a participant for a least a year, whether or not what you do is local work.

For a few years I was a member of the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce until they switched their focus from small businesses to the big boys. I've been a member of the Greater Liverpool Chamber of Commerce for about 10 years (there was a gap of a few years in there). I did little business with anyone I met there but I did meet a lot of people. This was important for me because in my previous life all the people I knew were either health care people or bowlers (I bowled for decades lol), so this opened me up to meeting a lot of other people in lots of other industries, some of whom I still get together with here and there locally.

8. If there's a consulting group in your area, join it!

I belong to a group called the Professional Consultant's Association of New York, obviously a local group of consultants whose goal is to educate ourselves in all the things that can help us become better consultants and business people. Overall, it's been the most important group I've joined because it's helped me become a better consultant across the board, so much so that I'm also a board member and I manage the website and the blog.

There are national groups for consultants but there's not a ton of them. You could do what some enterprising self employed business members did here back in 1995 and start your own organization and set up your own parameters and have it become, in a way, your own mastermind group. In the past year we covered topics like ethics, business writing, business goal setting, social media, branding and security (I led two of these). Any group of likeminded people you can get together with and learn more about your craft outside of your industry can only make you better.

9. Set up a website for your business; think about adding a blog.

main webpage

In today's world, having a website is key for your business for multiple reasons. One, it's a place where you can send people to learn more about both you and your business, since you can only put so much information on a business card. Two, you can create a business email address with your domain name on it; that's called branding! Three, you get to define who you and your business really are without worrying about someone else filtering your words.

Remember earlier when I talked about that "blogging" thing? Now we've come back to it. In February this blog turned 13 years old, and I wrote a piece giving 7 ways business blogging has helped me grow along the way. One of the things I didn't mention was how blogging helped improve my business writing over the years. I wasn't bad to begin with but I really didn't find my "true voice" until around 2009... 4 years after I'd started this particular blog. My marketing letters have improved drastically, and I'd like to think other things have improved as well.

10. Find people you can network with who might lead you to gigs you might not be able to get on your own.

I have to admit that I fell into this one accidentally, but it's worked out well over the years. I mentioned that I was the president of a local chapter of a national organization geared towards medical billing (actually revenue cycle, but most people have no idea what that means lol). What I didn't mention is that, because I was president, I got to go to all these national meetings for free and I met a lot of people.

Many of these people were in business for themselves; some of them were recruiters for interim services. I connected with some of these folks, who introduced me to other folks, and a bulk of the major work I've had the opportunity to do has been the result of these associations. Because of these associations, I've been to many places I never expected to ever be, made more money than I made in my previous 18 years working for someone else (I actually had a 3-year period where I made more money than the previous 12 years combined!), and had the opportunity to work on some amazing projects. I would never have gotten, let alone been considered, for a lot of these projects without this bit of networking, where none of the people lived in the state, let alone close to me.

11. Establish the kind of people you want to work with.

This is a tough concept for a lot of self employed people to get their heads around, but it's the most important for your own peace of mind. Whereas I've enjoyed most of the projects I've done, I've also worked with a few people where I ended up quitting on them before they had the chance to get me first. Sometimes they were unethical; sometimes they couldn't tell me exactly what they wanted and it was frustrating.

The best part about being self employed is being able to up and leave, or to turn things down that don't fit what you believe you want to do or who you'd have to work with. I've been offered a lot of things I've turned down because I knew I wouldn't be the right fit. I've also turned things down because I was asked to do something I decided I wasn't going to do.

I've seen a lot of unhappy people who were self employed give up the game because they kept doing work for people who were cheating them out of what they were worth. Taking money for the sake of it will never make you happy, and it'll be frustrating as sin. You have to stand up for yourself, decide what you feel your worth is, decide if the person talking to you will listen to you and let you do the work you need to do and then stick to your principles.

12. Establish your ethical and moral base up front; what will you do or not do for money.

You know that principles thing I was talking about. This is different, more difficult and stronger in the long run.

It's different because one hopes we all have a moral base that controls the things we do. I like to think my morality will keep me from doing unethical things at all times. My top 3 are loyalty, trustworthiness and honesty.

For the most part I've stuck to that as my long term strategy and it's served me well... except once, and I wasn't thinking about it at the time. During a period when I was writing a lot for other people and getting paid for it, I wrote some college papers for someone going for a masters degree in a subject I knew pretty well and knew she knew pretty well, without considering that I was doing some of the work she should have been doing.

She had a full time job and had trouble keeping up with everything and contacted me during the period when I was advertising that I would write "anything" for the right price. She wasn't really a friend but she paid me well for the papers, and I never thought much about it until after the semester ended. Then I asked a few friends about it and they thought it was unethical that she asked me to do it and that I did it; I also thought it was probably unethical, and I never did anything like that again.

It's easy to get caught up in something without thinking about it, even when you believe you've centered yourself so you won't do something you might regret later on. In looking back, one thing out of 17 years isn't bad... but obviously bad enough for it to still bother me all these years later.

13. Be ready to forgive yourself because you're going to make mistakes.

I'll be upfront about this one also; I don't do forgiveness well. I don't forgive people who've wronged me or others based on my moral base. This also means I don't forgive myself for some things I "haven't" done in getting more business than I've had over all these years.

I've made some minor mistakes over the years that have driven me nuts later on. There's an article online I wrote for someone else and I spelled this one word incorrectly over and over... and the person I wrote it for, who should have noticed it (it was a Spanish word) never has, and has never changed it even after I wrote them and told them about the error. That one bothers me a lot, but I've worked on forgiving myself for it because I tried to fix it afterwards.

Know this; no one is perfect. You're never going to be perfect. Be the best you can be, and hope that it's good enough for your clients... and that if it's not, you'll almost always get the chance to make it better if you're qualified to do to.

14. Work on toughening up your mind and sensibilities; self employment isn't easy.

Here's some realities about being self employed that aren't positive. Self employment is lonely; self employment is stressful. You're going to go through periods where you're wondering if you're ever going to get another contract again. You're going to wonder if you should be better, be spending more time on this or that, or whether you should give it up and go back into the working world.

These are all valid things to worry about; as I mentioned above, it's rare that many small businesses make it past 3 years. The pressure can work on you and bring you down. Your spouse and children might not be happy during your struggles.

I've been through some of these over the years. I haven't taken a vacation since 1999. I've had a couple of years where I made so little money that I could have qualified for Medicaid. I've gone through the depression and the worry and the fear that I'm a fraud... as I said above, it's not always easy.

However... here's the other side of things. I have made a lot of money, enough so I can make it through the tough times without lots of worry. I may not have had a vacation since 1999 but I've traveled all over the country doing projects and going to events I'd have never gone to had I stayed working at the hospital. Sure, I've put in some long hours, but I've also written 3 books, created some products, been interviewed for local media and national magazines, spoken in 9 states, met some famous people and written over 5,000 articles for myself and others.

You can be tough and kind; never mistake kindness for weakness. It's all about what you're willing and able to do to be successful, and how you define success.

It takes guts and dedication. It takes a willingness to defer from your stated goal and ride a fresh train when an opportunity presents itself. When all is said and done, even though I'm really happy for the good financial times, I'm happy that I've always been able to make enough money to pay my bills and eat out at my favorite restaurant at least once a week. I've also helped a lot of people along the way; that's pretty good satisfaction right there.

15. Find things that will help keep you motivated when things are tough or you need a boost.

Back when I was an everyday director, I was always trying to find ways to encourage employees to be better and feel better about the work they were doing. I didn't know until years later that it was a type of motivation; I'm not even sure I knew the word all that well until then.

After my dad passed away in 2002, I was floundering. I didn't want to work for anyone else but I also didn't want to work on my own. I just wanted to sit around and forget that life was... well, all around me. My wife did the best she could, but I was in a bad place mentally.

That lasted a couple of years until one day it hit me; I've got a lot of years left and I need to find something to help me change my mindset. I'm not sure how I learned of a couple of these things, but my mental turnaround began with a movie called What The Bleep, then I discovered and bought a movie that hadn't yet left Australia called The Secret.

My friend Kelvin had given me a book called Illusions that I'd read previously and didn't understand, and for some reason I decided to read it again... and this time it helped motivate me. I also discovered Zig Ziglar; that's my inspiration guy!

All of these things helped me get my mind heading back in the right direction. I created my own mantra, printed it out and, at the time, taped it to my computer so I'd see it every day when I came to my desk.

You want to talk about miracles? With a week I had a project where I repaired someone's computer, recommended by a friend. It wasn't a lot of money but it was new money. A week after that, I was on my way to New Jersey with my first long term gig... and things started going very well from that point on.

I've come to believe that a positive mindset helps bring positive results. Nothing good happens when you're carrying around negative emotions; you need to find ways to change the mood as soon as you can and push forward. Even if things don't work out long term, you'll find that with a better mindset you'll make better decisions for better reasons.

There are a lot of things that can help improve your mood. Movies, books, music, videos, video games, naps... and friends. I'm bad at some of this; I tend to withdraw for a while before I work on turning things around. But when I do, I'm probably going to put on The Secret or listen to showtunes (I love showtunes!) or find one of those motivational videos on YouTube that adds both a bit of a testosterone kick with a sense of "you can do it" behind it. That's what works for me; find what works for you.

16. Work on staying connected with as many friends and other people as you can.

I'll own up to this one; I've failed miserably here. Follow the advice, not the example.

Mom and Me

Over the years of self employment, I've reduced my footprint from where I was to where I am now. I've never had a lot of real friends, and it's been a while since I've talked to a lot of those who were. Even my friends locally don't see me all that often, not counting my online presence.

Before my mother had to move in with me, I was becoming a virtual recluse. I go to few networking events. I've dropped every organization I'd belonged to except one. I almost never answer the phone or make a phone call. The number of people who have my cellphone number is less than 50... after 23 years... and I rarely text with the majority of them.

I'll admit that a lot of this came in 2016 just before and after the election. I don't trust most people much anymore; not that I was ever all that trusting. I've reduced the number of people I'm connected to on Facebook and LinkedIn. I almost never participate on Google Plus. Twitter is the only place where the number of people I'm connected to has grown; it's also the place where I talk to more people than anywhere else.

That's not really the way it's supposed to work. Most people need to keep a base of friends and associates they can talk to, whether it's for support or camaraderie. Staying connected is a positive business and personal move; withdrawing makes things tougher on both fronts.

Luckily I have my wife, and now my mother. I have a few friends I see on a regular basis. I'm also still part of my consultant's group. This means I haven't totally checked out; maybe there's still hope for me. lol

My advice is to increase your sphere of influence in many areas. Get out of the house and live a little bit, meet more people, find some connections that are mutually beneficial. Don't ever be over-trusting, but don't withdraw when faced with negative life experiences. On this point... don't be me! 🙂

17. Take care of your physical and mental health.

We're finally at the last point, and it's actually the most important. If you don't take care of you, no one else will and everything suffers... everything!

At #15 I told you about ways I work on turning around my mental health. It's an ongoing process, and I figure out new things to try on a regular basis. As it pertains to physical health, I've also gotten better over time.

I'm a type 2 diabetic, and I wasn't treating my body all that well. I was working upwards of 20 hours a day. I was eating only one meal a day, but eating dessert whenever I could. I was inadvertently skipping medications. I wasn't doing any physical exercise whatsoever. I was having major problems sleeping; I was a major mess.

a healthier me

Now... I have alarms to remind me to eat and take my medication. Once I got a Fitbit, I started walking at least 5 miles a day; sometimes it's 10 miles or more. I added Myfitnesspal to my smartphone and started tracking meals via calories... and was amazed to see how badly I'd been judging the foods I was eating.

I finally got some help with my sleeping problem. I have a BiPAP that helps keep me breathing throughout the night. I still have problems staying asleep, but I'm working on that and I'm slowly improving.

I have a podiatrist; I have an ophthalmologist. I go to a diabetes center every six months (they want 3 but I don't need to see them that often). I've never had a drink; I've never smoked a cigarette. These days, I'll take a painkiller when I need one; unfortunately, sometimes I need them.

In the last 6 years I've lost almost 50 pounds and a lot of inches. I've increased my stamina. I've reduced the number of hours I sit at my computer working and even take a day off here and there. I enjoy being outside more than I ever have; I still don't like nature all that much. lol

Here's the main and last point. No matter what you do, no matter what you consider success is, without both good physical and mental health it'll be meaningless. Think of it this way. How many people are there that you consider successful that have had multiple divorces? How many of them have ended up in the hospital for preventable illnesses? How many of them have talked about their unhappiness, even when others thought they had it all?

You've got to take care of "you" first. Self employment can be fun but it's a tough career. Even working for someone else can be disenchanting. Always put yourself first, even before your family. Taking care of you is taking care of your family. Mind, body and spirit; that's what's important. Let me share this story from Zig Ziglar with you. There's a lot more after this particular story, but I think the importance of this story overrides the rest... although it's great stuff also:


We're done here. I hope I haven't bored you too much. I'll make this promise; next year's anniversary post won't be close to this long. 😀