07/24/2011 01:24 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2011

Making It in the World of Self-Employment

What do we do now?

-Bill McKay (Robert Redford) in the 1972 movie The Candidate

I believe in self-employment. It has worked well for me, and every trend shows that's where growth and opportunity will come from. Leading more people down that road is also part of my overall goal to reduce the influence of Wall Street on people's lives.

People need to understand that money will not come in on a steady basis, the hours will be long, and they have to stay self-motivated.

For those who understand the risks, and appreciate the opportunity to go after their dreams and visions, self-employment is the way to go.

Being self-employed is good for people who need, or want, to work outside the nine-to-five world, even if it's temporary.

Self-employment is not often about financing a start-up company and making the INC 500. It is often about making a living at something you enjoy.

For those of us with large and unlimited ambitions, and those who have a part-time gig on the weekends, business success comes down to finding and retaining excellent customers, who, in turn, refer you to people like them.

In 1999, I went to Toronto several times to be part of the Strategic Coach program founded by Dan Sullivan. Dan is a coach to highly successful entrepreneurs and has published many books.

Dan once said that all it took for anyone (entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs) to be successful is to:

  • Be on time
  • Finish what you start
  • Say please and thank you

Everything comes down to respect and appreciation of the people in your life.

I am one of those people who tend to show up early for everything. Long before I heard of Dan Sullivan, I was a big football fan and embraced the concept of "Lombardi time."

The concept of "Lombardi time," is a concept credited to legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

The idea is to show up 15 minutes ahead of every scheduled meeting and use the time to catch your breath, collect your thoughts, and show respect for the people you are meeting with.

I am frequently the first person in a meeting room but have never considered it "wasted time."

Finish what you start is one ideal that can trip up many people, including me. I have a lot of ideas and can get off track until I focus on a larger goal.

Business people know that it is not the idea but the implementation that means success. You can immediately identify people who finish what they start: They have money in their pockets.

Saying please and thank you gets overlooked. I've done that, too.

Success in life is about relationships. No one rises to the top by herself. Somewhere along the way, a family member, teacher, mentor, or friend helped a person get to a higher level. Those who get to the top of the mountain never forget that.

People who want to stay on top of the mountain need to continue to remember how they got there.
At the 2009 Million Dollar Round Table, I was in the audience when Sullivan noted that entrepreneurs often neglected their best clients.

He compared it to marriage. He said that when people are in a courtship, no one is ever "too busy." Once they marry, the spouse is often secondary to work, children, and other interests and hobbies.

Sullivan said many spouses could be accused of "bait and switch." They were sold one type of relationship and got another.

The same holds true for business clients.

When Dan used the "bait and switch" line, it was like a punch to the gut. Or a wake-up call.

It made me realize what many of us do, in business and life. We overlook the people to whom we are closest.

My structured settlement firm was built by attorneys and claims people referring clients to me. Most have been sending clients for more than 20 years and are intensely loyal. When they quit referring me and start using a competitor, it hurts. It really hurts. It is like losing a family member.

When I find out why, it is almost universally the same answer: Someone else took the time to build a closer relationship.

It is never about competence or job performance, it is always about relationship. Sometimes the competitor has a geographic or family connection, but more often than not, it is because the referral source has not seen me in a long time.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, he talks about people he calls "connectors." Connectors go out of their way to refer people to other people. I'm that kind of guy. If I like a service, person, or product, I tell everyone about it.

How and why a person refers tells a lot about character. Often times, people will refer an idiot friend or brother-in-law for a job. They aren't interested in helping a person solve a problem; they are trying to steer income to a buddy. When I find a person like that, I won't ever refer him. I ultimately can't trust his judgment or motives. I want my referrer to send the best person for a job, not the person who needs a job the most.

When people get to the top and dominate their profession, they assume that potential customers will come to them because they are the best. Thus, they leave themselves vulnerable to someone who is developing relationships at other levels.

Mark McCormick, who founded the IMG sports marketing empire, gave a great example in his book, What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School. McCormick's first three clients were Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player, the three greatest golfers of that generation.

He naturally assumed all other golfers would come to him and his lack of a "courtship" allowed competitors to spring up and pick off business.

McCormick and IMG figured out their mistake. McCormick died several years ago, but IMG continues to be one of the dominant sports marketing firms in the world.

Being on time, finishing what you start, and saying please and thank you are the foundation of any successful business.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC of Richmond Kentucky is an award-winning financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor. He is the author of the book, Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money, which will be released on September 5.

McNay founded McNay Settlement Group, a structured settlement and financial consulting firm, in 1983, and Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC in 2000.

McNay has Master's Degrees from Vanderbilt and the American College and is in the Hall of Distinguished Alumni of Eastern Kentucky University. McNay is a Quarter Century member of the Million Dollar Round Table and has four professional designations in the financial services