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What's a Business?
One of the main tenets of business hasn't changed since the days of cave people, and that's this: business is about people being willing to pay you for your solution to the problem that they're having.
In the case of a caveman or cavewoman, let's visualize a caveman who knows how to sharpen a bone to a very fine point that can be used to make a spearhead for hunting. The cave woman next door really wants to buy one of these sharpened bones because her son is learning to hunt and he's having bad luck throwing rocks at woolly mammoths. The cave woman offers her bone-sharpening neighbor a deer skin in exchange, and both are quite happy (as well as the unsuccessful young hunter who now has a better way to kill his prey).
Now, in the 21st century, you'd likely offer a businessperson money in exchange for a solution to a problem you're having, but let's just assume correctly that deer skins were units of exchange back in the old days. It's all barter in the end, after all -- we just use money now instead of shells, rocks, or skins.
Can I Solve a Problem?
If you want to create a nurse-run business, the first thing you need to do is find a problem for which you have a solution, and then ascertain if there are people out there with that problem who are likely to pay you for that solution in the form of a service or product that you have expertise in. You can also reverse engineer this process by first finding a problem that people are having and then creating a solution out of thin air.
You can also do what Apple has done quite elegantly: create a solution to a problem that people don't even know they have yet. No one knew they needed a personal computer, an iPod, or an iPhone or iPad, and Apple's genius was creating something for which there was pretty much no market and convincing us all that we couldn't live without those products. I don't recommend this line of thinking for your first business, but go ahead and try it out if you like.
How Do I Get My Business Ducks in a Row?
Once you've identified a problem for which you have a solution that seems people are willing to pay you for (or at least you're pretty sure they will), your next step is making your idea into a viable business.
Unless you have loads of free time and energy to figure it all out by yourself, you're going to need help to get your ducks in a row. We'll talk about where to look for help in a little while. The things you may need help with can include:
- Deciding on and setting up a business structure (eg: sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc)
- Designing a business plan
- Setting financial goals
- Renting a space if you have a "brick and mortar" business
- Creating a budget and bookkeeping system
- Opening bank accounts, obtaining lines of credit
- Creating a website and social media accounts
- Printing and/or developing promotional materials
- Learning to use social media for business and marketing
- Writing blog posts, articles, and other publications
- Figuring out how to track clients, sales, and other important data
- Using video and audio to broadcast message across to various audiences
- Networking with other businesses and entrepreneurs
There's no shortage of things you'll need to do, and you won't be able to do all of them yourself. If you're going into business with other people, hopefully each of you has skills that the others lack. However, you may still need to hire experts to help you with certain tasks that need doing -- that's just a reality.
You may be tempted to do everything yourself to get your business set up, and you may be equally tempted to do everything once your business is launched in order to save money. However, if you're really good at training caregivers for your new home health agency, wouldn't you be better off recruiting and training caregivers rather than spending several hundred hours trying to figure out Wordpress? I learned this the hard way, and eventually broke down and hired people to help me with the things that I'm just not that good at and don't have time to properly learn. And after all, isn't it better to spend time doing the things I'm really good at?
Where Do I Find Support?
There's tons of support out there, and you can find people to help and guide you everywhere. Here are some suggestions about common places to seek out help:
- Find a mentor at the local Small Business Administration Incubator
- Connect with other entrepreneurs at the local co-working space where you rent office space
- Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups of other entrepreneurs, especially nurse entrepreneurs
- Join organizations like the National Nurses in Business Association and attend their annual conference
- Hire a business coach
- Hire an accountant and/or bookkeeper
- Seek out a social media manager (there are several who specialize in healthcare entrepreneurs)
Side Hustle or Full-Time Gig?
Many nurses I speak with feel overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a full-time business venture. My response? You don't have to!
It took me about six years to get to the point where I actually quit my day job and became 100% self-employed. Sure, having a j-o-b and a business takes up a lot of your bandwidth, but you can keep some money coming in as you get your business to the point of relative financial viability.
Some people want their business to remain a side hustle, and there's nothing wrong with that -- it all depends on what you want. Maybe you'd just like to have a little business gig that brings in an extra $1,000 a month -- that's doable. Basically, there are no rules -- except the ones you create yourself.
How Will I Ever Get Started?
When it all comes down to it, you just need to get started. If you think about the end product too much, you’ll easily get overwhelmed. Focus on each step that takes you closer to where you need to go. Taking into consideration every little detail will make your brain explode, so remember that a small business can be launched in increments.
If you don’t have the money or time to create a website, start with a Facebook page as a way of testing the market and communicating with your target audience. Do research on social media, request informational interviews with entrepreneurs you admire or trust, and do as much assessment and data collection as you can – that’s what nurses do anyway. The more information you have, the better decisions you’ll generally make.
Fear is what keeps most aspiring entrepreneurs from ever starting the journey. Remember when you first began considering applying to nursing school? You really had no idea how you’d ever get through Anatomy and Physiology or Statistics, but you tackled each step along the way. Sitting at home, if you had allowed your fear of doing your first IV or catheterization stop you from even signing up for nursing pre-requisites, your new career dream would have been dead on arrival.
It took me about seven years to get from dipping my toe in the entrepreneurial waters until I actually quit my last j-o-b and became completely self-employed. Seven years! I’m not saying it’ll take you seven years, -- the point is that it will take you however long you need it to. I was fine with a seven-year runway – your runway may be seven months or two years. It’s always an individual process.
Can I Love the Hustle?
The finer points of your business venture – branding, Google Analytics, search engine optimization, sales skills – this will all come in time. Like my friend Kevin Ross of Innovative Nurse likes to say, you just have to grind it out every day and love the hustle. If you keep your eyes on the prize but focus on what needs to get done right here and right now, you’ll be more likely to succeed over time, especially if you can love the hustle most of the time. Sure, it can be lonely and owning your own business can be a drag, but there’s also nothing like having control over your life and command of how you spend your hours and days.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart, but neither is nursing. Find one of your passions that can actually solve a problem for someone else, and you’re on your way to monetizing your passion and being a nurse entrepreneur. If you can love the hustle and enjoy the ride, you’re halfway there.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.
Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog, NursingCE.com, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.
Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality and social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and intelligent cat, George.