IT career paths: Working for yourself is an attainable dream

Working for yourself can have tremendous payoffs. But what does it take to go out on your own -- and make it stick?

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Many IT professionals aspire to work for themselves. The thing is, a lot of people who try often end up back on someone else's payroll.

Working for yourself can have tremendous payoffs. You have more freedom. You don't have to report to anyone. You can earn triple or quadruple what you'd normally earn in a traditional job. But what does it take to go out on your own -- and make it stick?

Well, it's not a simple formula. Instead, it's a mix of decisions, personality traits and an unwavering desire to make it happen.

Here are the most important considerations if part of your long-term IT career path included the goal of working for yourself:

You need to be a risk taker. You have to be able to endure some short-term pain (lack of money, lack of sleep, etc.) if you want to have bigger payoffs down the road.

You need to be resilient. You're going to have to have thick skin, embrace humility and possess a deep-down stick-to-itiveness to see things through.

You need to have the ability to see the big picture. Focus solely on your goals until you meet them. Relentless incrementalism is key.

You need to be good around people. The relationships you have with your clients, colleagues and business partners is so important. Being a responsive and likeable person is critical. So is your ability to communicate well in person and on paper.

You need to understand marketing and sales. If you don't get out there and demonstrate your value to others on a consistent and periodic basis, you'll simply wither away with your eggs in the basket of one or two clients that may not be around long-term. Build and nurture your network so people will think about you first when asked if they know of anyone with this or that skill.

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You need to know your limits. Even if you believe you know it all, you'll quickly find out that's impossible in IT. No one knows everything in our field. You have to be prepared to admit you’re out of your league and have a few good people to bring in when needed.

You need to understand that failure is an option. You're going to trip and fall. That's acceptable -- as long as you learn and vow to get better.

You need to believe that you're unstoppable. You're going to have people who tell you you're crazy for going out on your own. That's fine. Others will discourage you from this IT career path because they may secretly envy you. Ignore those people. What matters is that you've decided to be successful on your own and you're going to do what it takes to keep it that way.

And, finally, the most important element when it comes to working for yourself:

You need to remain positive, most of the time. When negative thoughts come to mind about your projects, your clients or business overall, view them as passing phases and work on substituting positive thoughts as a means of distraction. Over time you'll see the glass as half full more often than not. This will have a tremendous effect on your energy and your outlook.

About the author
Kevin Beaver has worked for himself for over 10 years as an information security consultant, expert witness, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. He specializes in performing independent security assessments revolving around information risk management and is the author/co-author of many books, including The Practical Guide to HIPAA Privacy and Security Compliance and Hacking For Dummies.

This was first published in February 2013

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