“Elementary, my dear Watson,” says Sherlock Holmes.
Well, okay, Holmes never actually says that to Dr. John Watson in the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But the point is, it’s simple to deduce who committed a crime from just a few clues. Simple for Holmes, anyway.
His cranial prowess is what makes him such a great detective — and he uses that skill as a self-employed consultant, the only consulting detective in the world. Unfortunately, it’s not so elementary for the rest of us looking to become our own bosses or start a freelancing business.
Sherlock Holmes lived in a different era, but the Holmes of BBC’s excellent modern adaptation, Sherlock, shows us how the detective would operate in the 21st century. From the series, we can deduce a few pointers for entrepreneurs thinking about starting a small business or becoming a freelancer.
Do something you love …
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes)
Sherlock works as a consulting detective because he likes to solve crimes. He describes himself as “married to his work,” hates the boredom that comes in between cases, and is positively gleeful when there’s work to be done.
If you’re going to work for yourself, make sure it’s something you enjoy. You’ll be putting a lot of time and effort into this endeavor, and you won’t succeed unless you have the passion to keep pushing forward.
… But remember it’s also a business.
Sherlock cares little about actually getting paid for his work. Luckily, John is there to accept checks from clients when Sherlock neglects to. Sherlock also turns down many cases, even when he and John are low on funds.
Keep in mind that, unlike Sherlock, you will probably have to take work you don’t want in order to pay the bills, at least initially. There are plenty of other details to iron out as well. Sherlock works from home, but maybe you want to rent office space. Perhaps you plan on hiring other people. Don’t forget about administrative costs and other behind-the-scenes chores, such as tracking your finances and developing a website.
Invest in good marketing …
Even before he meets John, Sherlock hosts a website where potential clients can contact him. As the two of them solve more high-profile crimes, their good work leads to newspaper features and word-of-mouth recommendations. John also writes about the cases they solve on his blog (warning: spoilers!), which increases interest in the consulting detective and brings them business.
It’s a simple notion: If you don’t market yourself, you won’t attract customers. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to publicize your company — networking, placing ads, maintaining social media pages, updating your website and blog, etc. — in addition to actually doing your job.
… But focus on customer service, too.
Sherlock yells at, insults, and patronizes his potential clients. John can usually diffuse the situation when things get tense, but Sherlock’s dismal customer service is definitely not good for business.
If you know your people skills are lacking and you have the money, you might consider hiring your own Watson — someone who can answer phones, address concerns and complaints, and handle whatever else you’re not comfortable with.
With or without an assistant, though, you will always have to interact with customers in some capacity. Therefore, be sure to treat your clients with kindness and respect and deliver excellent service at all times. You never know what leads even the most unpleasant clients could bring you!
Surround yourself with people you trust …
Martin Freeman (John Watson)
Though he says he has no friends, Sherlock relies on a core group of supporters. This includes Detective Inspector Lestrade, who consults Sherlock regularly; Mrs. Hudson, the motherly landlady; and Molly Hooper, who works in the morgue and lets Sherlock use the hospital’s equipment (and body parts) for experiments. And then of course there’s John, the heart to Sherlock’s head and his partner in crime-solving.
Even if you don’t hire anyone, build a network of friends, colleagues, and mentors. Connect with fellow entrepreneurs who can offer advice and recommend your work. Establish relationships with your repeat customers. Call on loved ones outside of work who can cheer you up during rough patches.
… But watch out for saboteurs.
Though Lestrade respects him, Sherlock faces friction from others in Scotland Yard who want to see him fail, such as Sergeant Donovan and Anderson from forensics. Understandably, criminals don’t like Sherlock either, especially evildoers like Jim Moriarty.
Obviously you’ll have competitors to contend with, but also be aware of the Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys in life who just don’t like seeing other people succeed. Furthermore, put policies in place to protect yourself from clients who try to take advantage of you or who don’t follow through on payment.
Starting your own business is a huge undertaking. But if you’re enthusiastic, determined, and willing to work hard, you can do it!
Do you own your own business? If so, what other tips can you share? Is there anything else we can learn about business from Sherlock Holmes?
When not writing for the blog, Rachel is a data entry specialist at QLP. She spends most of her free time consuming a variety of geeky TV shows, movies, and books, as well as funny cat videos and other Internet oddities. Otherwise, she moonlights as an editor for a literary magazine and tries to spend as much quality time as she can with friends and family. You can also connect with Rachel on Google+.