Back in 2001, when I first set up my writing business, here’s a small sample of what was common advice at the time.
You must have an office in an office park, otherwise you’re not a real business.
You must have a fax machine. And a separate land line. Otherwise people won’t take you seriously.
It’s okay if your website is nothing but static content on cheap hosting. You’re going to do most of your direct marketing in person, through mail or by phone anyway.
You must accept lengthy terms of payment well in excess of 30 days and always by cheque, otherwise you’ll seem difficult to work with.
You need to have in-house staff and have a wide range of services to offer, otherwise you’re just a freelancer.
Belief and bias about a “one right way” to structure and run a business comes from what people think is true, until it’s not.
More often, these notions are a by-product of habit and sometimes even of a self-insulating arrogance about the world. This is how rules (especially unwritten ones) propagate.
Rules are not facts. Rather, they are subject to change by deeper, rarer truths about what your market expects and wants and needs.
You can choose to buy in to the mythologies of others. Or you can make your own.
Either way, the rules that you choose to adopt are going to serve you and your customers best when they show the value of what you do, rather than just adhere to someone else’s idea about how the work needs to get done.
Jason Fried of Basecamp sums it up nicely in his book Rework: “There’s a new reality. Today anyone can be in business. Tools that used to be out of reach are now easily accessible. Technology that cost thousands is now just a few bucks or even free. One person can do the job of two or three or, in some cases, an entire department. Stuff that was impossible just a few years ago is simple today.”
Things have changed. Building a business that’s right for you and right for your clients is no longer a matter of choosing one over the other.