Six Lessons I've Learned Since I Started Working For Myself

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It's been nearly two years since I've received a corporate pay cheque. I left that world and haven't looked back since. Was it an easy jump?

Hell no. It's been hard — very hard — but I don't regret it and still consider it one of the very best things I've ever done for myself.

Two years ago, I formed two private limited companies: Green Web Publishing and Battery Powered Games. I formed two because the two businesses are unrelated and have totally different risks. This means if one crashes for any reason, I still have the other making money.

I have a few active websites run by GWP and five games now published under BPG. Both businesses are profitable in that they make money even when I only do the bare minimum maintenance work. That's nice because it gives me time to continue investing in them and is the exact reason I chose the businesses I did.

If you're looking to work for yourself, here are some of my experiences and suggestions:

#1 Give yourself lots of time

It usually takes a lot longer to get good solid money coming in than you planned on. Don't underestimate this. I remember last year when I was honestly convinced I could publish a game that would reliably make me $50,000 in the next year. Not true!

Of course, there are exceptions, but when you're in a highly competitive market with low margins and fickle consumers — you can't bet on anything. Give yourself LOTS of time to get started. A full year MINIMUM. Two would be good. In my experience, and with talking to others in the same boat, it seems like it's a good two years of R&D and learning about the market and how to sell your products, before you're making what you originally thought you should be at two months.

#2 Keep your overheads LOW! Running out of money is horribly stressful

You don't have a regular pay cheque. On a good month, you'll make a few thousand. On a bad month, you'll make next to nothing. Business expenses will pile up, including new equipment costs, contracting, legal fees and other.

If it costs you $2500 per month just to stay afloat and you only have $10,000 in savings or available as credit, you're not going to last long. You must get your monthly expenses down if you're serious about doing this. That means selling your car if you've got a car payment. It means buying cheap groceries and rarely ordering food or eating out for a year. It means cancelling pay TV — you won't have time to watch anyway.

My wife and I found ways to rent really cheap or house sit for people we knew for over a year. That saved probably $1000/month for a year. It may not be an option to most people, but don't rule any cost savings out. You NEED to keep your overheads low, because you won't be able to make good decisions when you're desperate.

#3 Network. Network with everyone

Find local common interest groups and go. Talk when you're there! I go to game development and mobile interest groups here in my local area, and I've met some of the most valuable leads in my life at them.

I've also seen people who show up and don't say a word, getting very little out of the ordeal. Just go and get to know everyone. Most people are very friendly at those things, and you may end up making a few good friends out of the deal as well.

#4 Make yourself known

My blog has developed into good leads for my business. All I did was blog about the Android development that I've done, and even though I haven't really written much in the last year, it seems to have been enough to get the attention of a few important people here and there. This has given me opportunities I couldn't have dreamed of before.

#5 Be persistent

Your first attempt at what you're doing may very well fail. In fact, the second and third attempts might also be unfruitful. It gets tough — especially when you've got those glistening, big bright eyes staring at the prize, and it all seems to slip through your fingers as the game, app or website you've developed simply doesn't take off.

There's a lot to learn about designing, developing and marketing a product that really takes hold. For 99.9 per cent of us — it doesn't happen overnight and certainly doesn't happen on the first attempt. I'm still searching for that magic bit of gluey game design that makes people rave about a title. I haven't quite found it but get a little closer with every try.

#6 Be patient

This may be reiterating a point made above but these things take time. Though it's happened to a few, don't plan on winning the lottery with your first bit of IP. Stay the course, keep refining and improving, and keep calm.

This may seem very abstract if you haven't started anything up yet, but it'll make more sense down the road. Of course, there are always exceptions, but these things have been very important for me so far in my venture.

[Via Robert Green's DIY]

Robert Green is a self-employed mobile game developer and small-business owner. Battery Powered Games has had three different Android games featured with over 2.5 million total downloads to date. Green Web Publishing operates a few small but consistently profitable and stable websites.

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