The most valuable lesson that a digital career has taught me is to take a risk. At any given time there is a lot happening online. There is space for any idea to be validated. Often traditionally educated professionals seek safety in a corporate career, and that certainly has its perks, but the digital world can offer a parallel opportunity to try something new. It’s your turn to try to create an independent product or service.
Breaking out on your own can help you by:
- showcasing your skills to your future employer
- getting you noticed by the right people
- helping you gain confidence
- earning money on the side (which could turn into a full-time opportunity)
This article will give you an idea of how to get started, and the main mistakes to avoid on your first try. I will also share with you my story of creating a content marketing workshop series.
The first word on a blank page
The biggest challenge when getting started is writing those first ideas down, and knowing how to create something that people will love. The biggest mistake people make is having an idea that they haven’t validated, so the first word on your blank page needs to be validation.
Step 1: I have an idea
Back in 2015, when I started at ManageWP I had to teach a lot of the customer happiness team to write in a way that our customers could understand them better. I taught them how to communicate, and educate our target audience. After an informal internal workshop I received feedback that they loved all of the tips I had for them, and asked me could I do another workshop. My idea to create independent content marketing workshops was born.
At this point I knew I loved teaching, and sharing my knowledge, but more importantly I realised that people wanted me to do workshops with them. There was a demand for what I was selling. This was the first stage of my idea validation.
Good ideas are usually born by people realising that there is a gap that an idea can fill. My workshops were not original, or the first of their kind, but there was something I was doing right.
Step 2: I need an audience
I couldn’t charge for my internal workshops, so I needed an audience that I could independently run my workshops for. I asked around the office if they thought people would want to come to workshops. The next step was to volunteer my workshop at a local meet-up event. My workshop was published, and advertised at WordCamp Belgrade. Alongside my workshop there were three others running parallel, which made me sceptical that people would show up. I capped the workshop at 25 people, on the day 70 people showed up.
This is when I knew I was onto something. People from all over Europe showed up to learn from me. I spoke to most attendees 1:1, and did my very own research on the type of person who could attend my future workshops. Understanding my audience helped me target individuals when I was ready to market my new idea, and this resulted in full slots for the next three rounds of workshops.
Step 3: Create a timeline
As you can already see I started experimenting in 2015, and only in 2017 I was able to validate my idea, and had the courage to do something about it. Once I realised that without a solid timeline it could take me another two years to take the next step, I set myself a strict deadline.
I encourage you to do the same. A timeline helps you own your project. It also means that in case of a service idea like mine – you can set deadlines for advertising, and decide when you want to offer your service. My first workshops took place just before Christmas, and I had a three month lead up with all of the work I needed to get them ready.
Step 4: Spread the news, and get noticed
Once you know who you want to target, and you have a timeline it’s time to choose your promotion channel. The most important thing to remember when picking your promotion channel is address your audience where they are already talking. This is obvious, but often people will spend hours creating very beautiful landing pages, when all they needed was a Facebook group.
I started by creating a video of what my workshop was about. It was a very amateur production, but it meant I could use it on Facebook to target my audience. I followed that by creating a simple Facebook page, and adding a tab on my website that is dedicated to my workshops. Nothing too fancy.
p.s The bloopers on that video are probably the best part!
Step 5: You need to invest in order to earn money
For someone who has never invested money into a business, or any type of self-promotion this isn’t the easiest concept to digest. I know you understand that in order to get an ad launched you have to pay money, but to be able to calculate how much money to invest vs what you expect to gain is not easy when starting out.
I had some help along the way for this part. My advice for you is set aside more money than you think you need. This part really is hit or miss until you understand how to use paid promotion channels effectively. Expect to lose money, and be ok with needing some time to pay back what you invested in marketing. The first round of workshops covered my initial costs, so only 6 months in was I earning money.
If you are ready to buy yourself a new dress, or high-tech bose headphones, you need to be ready to invest in your project.
Step 6: Don’t give up
Step 6 is what differentiates those who manage to succeed from those that don’t. Even as I write this I am telling myself not to give up on Digital For Students. You need to give yourself time to succeed. Having a full-time job, and doing independent work on the side can be exhausting, so pace yourself.
You will have weeks where ideas will just come to you, and you will be confident in your project. You will have weeks where you look back and ask yourself why am I doing this. Brace yourself for an adventure, and be gritty in your pursuit to independence.
What NOT to do
Let’s look at some of the things you should avoid when breaking out on your own.
Don’t insist on being original
It’s really hard for me to tell you this, because I am all about being a unique snowflake. Also this doesn’t mean your original idea won’t work. However, there is this notion that being original is what you need to succeed. There are many successful businesses and individuals that have a fresh take on an established idea, or solve part of an already known problem. Being original is great, but it’s not essential, and if you aim just to hit this criteria you might miss out on a quality idea along the way. Also for your first time experimenting on doing something alone you should focus on what you are good at.
Don’t try to do it all at once
Good execution takes times. Sometimes we set ourselves aims that are not realistic, because we need to give our idea time to develop, to test assumptions, and to get feedback. Don’t rush into something half prepared, and fail because you didn’t have the patience to spend an extra week doing research.
Better good today than perfect tomorrow
As a language student, and someone who used to have the tendency to look at every comma I have learnt that trying to be perfect is counterproductive. In business perfection is much less valued than at university. This is a difficult shift for a lot of humanities students, but it’s good to learn at the beginning of your career. Quality is always important, but reading, and rereading your text ten times won’t help you execute your idea better. It will only slow you down, and might cause you to lose focus, and move away from the big picture.
What can you expect if you break out on your own
I think that it’s important you set clear expectations for each new project.
My aim with the content marketing workshops was to educate the local community, and encourage young people to embrace opportunities in digital. Much like this site. There were other positive side effects. One was money, enough to pay for my scuba qualification, and a trip to Egypt. My workshops helped me get back my confidence, after taking a slightly different career path I needed validation that I was doing something good. I got a lot of credit in my community, and eventually the skills I learnt managing my own project landed me my job today.
Your break out should be about you. If it isn’t you are less likely to stick with it. My original idea was to create a language platform, but languages was always something I was good at, never something I was passionate about. My passion is education, so here I am.
Good luck on your next idea!