Starting a business has never been easier: with a good laptop and a website, you are often only a visit to the Chamber of Commerce away from your very own company.

The life of a young entrepreneur is often envied by peers. You can work from home or a coffee shop around the corner, and if you don’t want to set an alarm clock once, you can do just that. But the most important reason to start your own business is perhaps that you will never again have to work for a boss.

Nevertheless, entrepreneurship brings with it a lot of uncertainty. You are one hundred percent responsible for your own success (and income), so you are constantly under pressure to perform. After all, customers don’t come knocking on their own.

Or do they? Professionalising your business may be easier than you think. With these 6 steps you can transform your business into a truly successful company.

Step 1. Create a professional look and feel

Clothes may make the man, but the workplace makes the company. Starting from a garage – like Apple, for example – has the romantic feel of a million-dollar business appearing out of thin air, but at the end of the day, you’re still in a garage. In the Netherlands this probably does not happen as often as in America, but it’s looked at in the same way as working from home, libraries, the university or cafés. Receiving customers in these venues is almost impossible if you want to make a strong first impression. It radiates neither professionalism nor success. In addition, the mailing address of your company is usually on your website and this subtly says something about how you present yourself.

If you have an address at a beautiful location it adds a bit of status to your image. There are plenty of opportunities to match a workplace to your desired look and feel. Think, for example, of looking for an office building with a group of other entrepreneurs, a start-up incubator, or a co-working space. This gives you a place designed as a working environment. So, look for a place where you don’t have to feel ashamed when inviting a potential customer or client, an address that also has a nice ring to it.

Step 2. Expand your network

For some freelancers networking is a dirty word. Making a sales pitch for yourself feels like selling your soul to the capitalist devil. But in an office where many different people sit together, with different interests and various activities, the question of what someone is involved in already classifies itself as a networking conversation. Your honest interest in how someone else fills their day is already enough to add someone to your network. After all, you now know what that person specializes in. You don’t have to worry about selling yourself, when you’re having a sincere conversation with someone, the question comes naturally. These kinds of conversations are very valuable because most of the jobs you get as a freelancer or entrepreneur are through word of mouth. Just ask yourself: when you purchase a service (from a hairdresser to a marketing campaign, it can really be anything), it feels a lot safer and more reliable when you have been given a personal recommendation.

Meet-ups

An ideal place to expand your network is through meet-ups. With a little bit of browsing around on Google, you’ll find out where and when events like this take place. An example of one of these is the Startup Boat. With the sun on your face and a drink in your hand, you can sail along with a group of like-minded people over the Amsterdam canals. Networking can be so tiresome…

When you find a fixed location, creating a network doesn’t even have to be forced, like when visiting a business networking meeting. It is easy to get to know new people, because you can easily meet each other.

Step 3. Don’t try to do everything yourself

You are not good at everything, you can’t be. Accept your own faults. Of course, you can make your own website for quite cheap. It costs absolutely nothing in terms of wages, and only a fraction for the domain and hosting. But if your company doesn’t focus on creating websites, or digital design, chances are that you’ve never made a professional website before. The hours spent figuring out how each button on WordPress works can also be put into what you are good at. The hours you spend ineffectively could also have resulted in income through skills you possess as a part of your profession. Additionally, there is no chance that the site will look as beautiful as it would if you had let a professional do it. The intention is not to insult your website creation skills, the point is: delegate.

Network
By finding others for the things you’re less good at, you can focus more on the core of your business. By this you also protect what you are good at yourself. Your customers do not hire you for the things you are not good at, but for what you are good at. Surround yourself with a fixed network of people who can fill in the gaps (see step 2).

Step 4. Take risks

You are going to make mistakes. This is inherent in entrepreneurship and sometimes you can’t even do anything about it. However, how you deal with these mistakes is entirely in your control. If you are more inclined to adopt a safe approach after making a mistake, you may be hindering your own growth. By taking risks you increase the risk of failure, but also the chance to learn.

Growth versus static mindset
Having the right mindset might belong in the list of the latest generation of “nails on a chalkboard” words, but that’s because few people really know what it means. In short, there is a scale that runs from static mindset to growth mindset. You have a growth mindset if you believe that talents and skills can be learned through hard work and taking criticism to heart, and a static mindset if you think talents are a gift from heaven (Carol Dweck has focused the majority of her research on this. This short summary does not do justice to the theory behind it – her book can be found here, and if you have less time, her Ted-talk is here).

Doing things outside your comfort zone feels like taking risk, but growth takes place outside your comfort zone. Don’t be discouraged by the risks on your path but embrace them as learning moments and opportunities. A small side note: recklessness and risk-taking are two different things. Be honest with yourself in identifying them.

Step 5. Feed your own motivation

There is a chance that the working conditions you have created for yourself may not be conducive to your motivation. You may even be unaware of this. The reason you started working for yourself is usually not because of money. You wanted to set up something and are willing to give everything. The motivation for this is high in the beginning, but sometimes you have trouble holding on to it. It is not the mission of your company, that you are completely behind. But sometimes, setbacks seem to be more difficult to digest than you are normally used to.

The motivation with which you started your start-up is not fictitious. Unfortunately, this motivation can be destroyed, and sometimes you don’t even realise that this happens. The psychological theory about intrinsic motivation has a number of conditions that need to be met in order to keep your successful company on track. These are: connectedness, expertise, and autonomy.

When you belong to a group of like-minded people, this will help your motivation. In case of a setback you feel supported by the community. A place where several entrepreneurs sit together creates a sense of community. In addition, doing something you are good at is fun and motivates you to more. Becoming good is fun too. Starting a business in an area that you are not good at, or do not want to get good at due to a lack of interest, can start gnawing at you in the long run, which reduces your motivation.

Doing things for someone else isn’t bad, but if you always have to follow the orders of others, you become deeply unhappy. Making your own choices feeds your motivation, even though the action you are performing is the same. Imagine, you’re on the point of unloading the dishwasher and when you get up from the couch and walk to the kitchen, your friend says:’ If you’re up, feel free to unload the dishwasher’. This statement undermines your own choice, which makes you feel less inclined to do the job.

If you can ensure that the three conditions (connectedness, expertise, and autonomy) are met, there is a good chance that you will go to work with a lot more happiness. In addition, it is also easier to put a lot of hours in at your company; it takes less energy. And then it really goes well.

Step 6. More productive by your environment

You do not associate your living room with working. When you’re in the living room, your brain automatically connects to relaxing, Netflixing, or having friends over. When you take your laptop in this ‘dirty’ mental environment and try to sink yourself into deep concentration, the smallest degree of distraction is enough to disrupt it. Research also shows that creativity is stimulated when individuals are connected to each other in social networks. People with different backgrounds look at problems through different lenses.

When you get stuck on a problem, it may be that you fixate on it too much through your own perspective. Someone with a different background, or another field of expertise, can then help you by approaching the problem from a different angle.

(Bonus) Step 7. Combine all the above in one good decision

No one is a successful entrepreneur overnight. It takes time and effort, you make mistakes and achieve successes, and you make good and bad decisions.

One such good decision can be to spend a day at coworking space StartDock, completely free of charge, of course. On this day you will be received by one of the founders. With a cup of coffee or tea in your hand, you walk together through the monumental canal house through the workplaces of the freelancers. The founder shows you the meeting rooms – one with a view of the Herengracht and the other an old safe. The premises of StartDock used to be owned by the ABN-AMRO, which left the original safe behind. Every now and then a movie evening is held here. After the tour you will get a desk where you can work for the day. Around lunchtime you are welcome in the common area, where the Dockers have lunch together. This is of course entirely without obligation. If you visit StartDock on a Friday, you can join the Feedback-Friday at the end of the afternoon with a drink in your hand. Here someone gives a short presentation about his or her company, followed by a question fire and tips and tricks on how to best deal with existing problems. You are also welcome to stay for the drinks after.

At the end of the day you have to make a final decision: will I become a Docker?