8 Things Smart Self-Employed People Do

When you’re self-employed, you feel a lot of pressure. You’re responsible for the success (or failure) of your business. You want to do whatever you can to take your business to the next level, but what are the most important things to do?

Regardless of the type of business you own—from construction to consulting—here are eight things you can do to set yourself up for success.

1. Get on a budget. That’s too basic, right? You’d be surprised at the number of people I’ve coached who don’t have a budget for their business or their personal lives. You need spending plans for both. Otherwise you’ll run out of money and go out of business.

2. Get out of debt—and stay that way. In the business world, some leaders treat debt like it’s OPM—other people’s money. They think debt is a tool. Don’t believe that lie. It’s not a tool; it’s a danger. It does nothing but delay your progress. Smart self-employed people know that it’s possible to start and build a business with cash. You don’t have to take on debt. You’re only putting yourself in a hole when you do.

3. Get a retirement plan. Even though you’re self-employed, you still have lots of options for investing for retirement. You can choose a traditional IRA, a solo 401(k), a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension), IRA or other similar options. The rules and setup for these can be a little tricky, so talk to a financial advisor to get help opening an account.

4. Treat retirement like any other expense. Don’t wait until all the other bills are paid to set aside money for retirement. When you create your budget, make sure to include retirement savings as one of the essentials—once you’re out of debt with a full emergency fund of 3–6 months’ expenses. You may have to start small, but start NOW and don’t stop.

5. Avoid stupid decisions. You’re self-employed, so you don’t have the time or money to make dumb choices. For example, one of my clients was told he needed to spend $50,000 before the end of the year or pay taxes on it. Even though his current work truck was, well, working, he bought a $60,000 tricked-out truck. Not so smart. His business is seasonal, so he should have paid the taxes and put the remaining money in an emergency fund for the lean months. That one stupid decision cost him thousands. The lesson? Read #6. . . .

6. Hire an accountant you can trust. Get one who understands your business. In the previous example, my client’s money guy didn’t understand the nature of seasonal work. You also want an accountant who believes in your business philosophy of building a business with cash, not debt. Keep in mind, though, that your accountant doesn’t run your business for you. He crunches numbers. The buck still stops with you. You have to remain in control.

7. Slow down! You don’t need to lease a 10,000-square-foot building when you only have three employees. Buying bigger won’t make your business better. Working hard will make your business grow. Yes, you want to plan for the future, but you want to make smart, logical plans for the future.

8. Look at the long term. Ask yourself, in two years, will I look back on this as a good decision? In four years? Questions like these give you a broader focus and keep you from acting too quickly on an opportunity. Sometimes, you’ll have to say no to the good so you can push toward the best.

Between 2013 and 2014, more than 2 million businesses closed. You don’t have to become a statistic if you make smart choices. Stay on guard against debt. Build your business on cash and use a budget to stay on track. Don’t expand too soon. Find the right people to join your team. Doing things like these lays the groundwork for success. It’s all up to you!