Because of the project-based nature of much creative work, many Berklee students and alumni are self-employed. Some have founded their own company or organization that employs or contracts with others. Some are in business to market their own services but are not necessarily seeking to grow that business beyond what they themselves offer.
Whether you aim to be a creative freelancer with a steady stream of clients or a successful entrepreneur who can turn a good idea into a profitable business or a successful nonprofit organization, self-employment comes with both joys and challenges. The Berklee Career Center is here to help.
Before You Begin
Before you get started on building a business or a self-employment career, it’s important to be self-aware. As Panos Panay, founding managing director of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE), will tell you, entrepreneurship is a mindset. Not everyone is inclined toward that mindset, however, so the key is to be honest with yourself before deciding which path makes the most sense for you.
Are you disciplined in setting your own goals, forming a plan, and then working relentlessly to execute the plan and reach those goals? Given that many startup businesses fail, are you somewhat comfortable with risk? Can you make building your business your top priority? Can you sustain that commitment for as long as is necessary to reach your goals?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but it’s important that your answers are informed by your authentic sense of self. In some cases, this may also mean thinking about factors other than yourself. For example, perhaps you are supporting a family, and you consider the heightened level of risk with founding your own business unacceptable given your current priorities; you may find that seeking employment with a well-established organization in need of your services is preferable to self-employment.
On the other hand, if you answered an unequivocal “yes” to all of the questions above, self-employment may be an ideal path for you. Before you get started, you should probably also ask yourself this: at what point in your timeline will you need to either begin enjoying the fruits of your labors or move on to something else? In other words, what is your self-imposed deadline?
These are just a few of the questions a Career Center advisor can help you explore as you ponder your career path and the possibility of self-employment. We encourage you to make an appointment with us to discuss your specific situation in greater detail.
Free Business and Legal Resources
In the excitement of starting a business or launching a self-employment career, it’s important to be mindful of the necessary paperwork, licenses, and/or permits you may need to apply for and file. However, doing this correctly from the beginning will help ensure that your business is in good legal standing and will help you avoid costly mistakes. Here are some resources that you may find helpful:
- U.S.-based startups can take advantage of free (tax-supported) resources from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Start with the SBA’s Starting a Business page to get an overview of all the requirements and considerations you’ll need to take into account to set up your business.
- The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) is an organization of more than 11,000 volunteers with business experience who offer free mentoring, workshops, and tools to help you start and grow your business. Get started by requesting a mentor.
- There are approximately 1,000 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) operating out of universities, colleges, and state economic development agencies. SBDCs help entrepreneurs establish new businesses or grow existing businesses. To get started, find an SBDC near you.
Nonprofits and Fundraising
Can and should your new enterprise be a nonprofit organization? A number of factors come into play in answering this question. The resources below can help you determine whether you may wish to go the nonprofit route and, if you choose to do so, how to create a nonprofit that will succeed. While these resources can help, we advise you to seek legal counsel to discuss which type of nonprofit may make the most sense with your plans and to ensure that you're in compliance with local, state, and federal laws.
- The National Council of Nonprofits is the largest network of nonprofits in the U.S. The organization does not provide one-on-one assistance, but its online guide to starting a nonprofit may be a good place to begin learning about what's involved in doing so. The council also offers many resources on fundraising as well as a map to find your state association of nonprofits, which may be able to provide referrals to attorneys, accountants, or consultants focusing on nonprofits.
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers a list of the different types of nonprofit organization designations, how to apply for a designated status, and filing requirements. Seek legal counsel to discuss which type of nonprofit may make the most sense with your plans. Charity Navigator also offers a condensed overview of all the different types of nonprofits that the IRS has established.
- Grantspace, a service of the Foundation Center, has compiled a list of organizations providing pro bono (free) legal assistance for nonprofit organizations. Grantspace suggests contacting your local bar association (statewide organization of attorneys) for referrals to attorneys focusing on nonprofits, and it also offers information on finding, writing proposals for, and attaining grants.