Got my "Ghost Hunter" business card, now what?
May 28, 2011 7:27 AM   Subscribe

How do off-the-wall, one-person operations get their professional start?

There are a number of quirky jobs or businesses where there isn't a specific educational path, and you can't exactly work your way up in the ranks of an established company. For example: bounty hunter, private investigator, personal shopper, trend predicter, scrap-booking consultant, etc etc.

How do people get started with these careers? Do they just hang out their shingle (or print their business card) and start looking for clients? How do they overcome the anxiety of starting without much or any specifically relevant experience? How do they find people to hire them without same? Is it just an exercise in bluffing?

There's probably not a definitive answer to this question, but your anecdata appreciated.
posted by crackingdes to Work & Money (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Based on what I've seen, people do other work to keep them afloat, but wind up doing odd jobs in what becomes their specialty. Perhaps they rope in one major bread-and-butter client, and then gradually shift over to only doing that thing.

I think one thing going on, often, is a savvy sense of "Oh, I've been doing some of this certain type of work - if I focus on it a bit more, I can elbow my way into a decent niche" rather than "I've got a great idea for some weird niche work. I'm going to quit my job and print business cards and dangle some bait out there and hope some clients bite and that I can pay my rent."
posted by entropone at 7:35 AM on May 28, 2011

A) Get a related job, make connections in the industry and then quit to go freelance
B) Work for someone else that is doing that job.
C) Start off doing it for friends of family, then word of mouth lets you do it full time.
D) Buy a franchise.
posted by empath at 7:37 AM on May 28, 2011

Just a step at a time. I have a 12 year old business, and have taught myself every aspect, every step of the way. I selectively took classes to fill in blanks of knowledge that I couldn't do otherwise.

There are many avenues of education and you can find them yourself. You don't always need a "school" to lead you.

Mentors, night classes, self study, certifications, community groups, apprenticeships, lower level positions, the list if endless and easy to take advantage of. It just requires a different kind of commitment, as you have to be accountable to yourself instead of an academic degree.
posted by Vaike at 7:41 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hope that you won't think of this as a non-answer, but, off-the-wall, one person operations get off-the-wall, one-person kinda starts. They use family fortunes, they beg borrow and steal with all of their many talents, they get crazy, once in a lifetime breaks...

I'm trying to build a wacky one person operation based on music and video games and the way I got on the road I am is to make personal sacrifices (walking away from too-time consuming salaried jobs, not letting personal relationships get in the way), doing things my own way even if it means they might not be successful, and leaping on every opportunity that lands in my lap that seems like it could be potentially fruitful. Any time I spend looking for a map means I wind up doing it someone else's way. Lately I've been faltering because I've been looking for help to set my vision. That's how off the wall, one person operations lose their mojo, I think.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:06 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Why, crackingdes, you're describing my work for the past six years!
I became a professional dog walker after I got canned from my cubicle slavery. I "invented" this job (not professional dog walking, which already existed, of course) but I created it out of this set of criteria that I pondered during my welcome stint of unemployment:
1. What line of work doesn't involve co-workers? I vunt to work alone.
2. What doesn't involve a dress code or "cleavage police?"
3. How can I work the hours I damn well want to work?
4 There are many moneyed people in this town. How can I make them share it with me (while providing them with a valuable service?)
5. How can I avoid having a boss at all costs?
6. How can I avoid supervision/surveillance? (see #5.)
7. What takes a minimum of start-up cost?
8. And really, most importantly for me, how can I make myself get outdoors in all weather and battle this f*cking Seasonal Affective Disorder?

"How do they overcome the anxiety of starting without much or any specifically relevant experience?"
My attitude has always been: You'll adore me! If not, you either can't afford me, or you have Down's Syndrome.

"How do they find people to hire them without same?"
Much low-cost web advertising, neighborhood weekly papers, word-of-mouth. Now, website.

"Is it just an exercise in bluffing? "
Let's put it this way. If you have an acting background and are gregarious, you'll go far.

Hope this helps!
posted by BostonTerrier at 2:44 PM on May 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Goddamnit, now I have a crush on BostonTerrier. What a great answer!

I have been in both Fortune 100 companies and self-employed, and everything in between. Access to unusual projects has always been easy for me in any kind of place because I am a creative, energetic, cocky technologist with business training, always willing to take on a looming disaster. Sometimes, I prevail and other times, I get my ass thoroughly destroyed.

It helps to have a suite of capabilities, to generalize them as much as possible, and to look for the generalities in the world around you. Toward that end, what is it that you do, can do, or have done? What's in your personality tool kit? How do you deal with success and failure? What are your current economic circumstances? What's your allowable time frame to achieve happiness? How accurately do you feel you see the world? Can you tell what's going on in social interactions? Do you learn fast?

Can you manage a brutal self-assessment? Is it OK with you if you are lousy at one or two things?

If you don't need a lot of money, it helps when you want to be quirky. Most reaallllllyyyy successful entrepreneurs try several times before finding a groove. I've always said, to collect money, it's best to stand in front or close to a stream of it blowing by. You don't need to catch it all, but being near the flow makes it easier.

Some comfort with number crunching (really simple dollar sign math) is helpful. Some comfort with making projections and estimates is good too, but you can develop that easily (e.g., if I make $10 on a ______ and need $100 per day to live, I need to sell 10 ____. Is that reasonable and do-able?) I always double my expenses and half my income and if it still looks good, then it's promising (but never guaranteed).

If you want to do something, find someone who needs it done, do it for them for free, if need be, and see if that's really what you want to do. If so, you are half way there. Now all you need is someone willing to pay for it. Then another, then another... yada yada. The rest is just bookkeeping and kicking over rocks to find more clients.

Good luck. (if you have something specific, memail me and i'll brainstorm with you.)
posted by FauxScot at 8:57 AM on May 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your thoughtful answers and willingness to share. If anyone has more, please keep it coming.
posted by crackingdes at 4:47 PM on May 31, 2011

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