A Practical Guide to Starting Up in the Salesforce Ecosystem

By Nick Hamm, CEO 10K Advisors

Have you been considering going out on your own, becoming your own boss and embracing entrepreneurship in the Salesforce ecosystem? Whether it’s as an independent contractor or building your own big company, this post is for you. 

As someone who’s been in your current position, I understand how intimidating it can be with a level of uncertainty on where to start. This is why I, along with my colleague and 10K Chief Customer Officer Mike Martin, hosted a free webinar last week with practical advice for anyone thinking about starting or expanding a business in the Salesforce ecosystem, based on our own respective experiences navigating the complexities of entrepreneurship.

This post will recap most of what we went over but if you want to view a recording, check it out here. We’ve also compiled this downloadable checklist that walks you through the areas below. 

Why am I doing this?

It’s time to get honest with yourself, and asking yourself if being an entrepreneur is the right thing for you and if now is the right time. Many people want to be an entrepreneur because of the money or flexibility they believe it will offer them. While this can happen, it’s not always (or often) the case.

There has to be a deeper “Why?” involved with your desire as there will undoubtedly be times where there isn’t money and you are working 80+ hours a week. What’s that thing that will drive you when that happens? What’s your “Why?” What problem do you really want to solve? Why are you special and why will you be able to solve that problem better than anyone else?

When I started my entrepreneurial journey six years ago, after seven years entrenched in various roles within the Salesforce ecosystem, I saw a problem and thought I had a good solution. I recognized that it was hard for Salesforce customers to find good talent, and it still is. At the same time a lot of great consultants were going independent, which created a diverse network of top talent that was not easily accessible to customers. It’s from this “Why?” that 10K Advisors was born.

Regardless of the size of your pursuit, consider starting by building your own personal or company mission statement. Write it down. Revisit it. Rework it. And think long and introspectively about your “Why?” While you’re at it, I suggest reading a book that helped me on my own journey, called “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek.

Who are you?

Now that you’ve established why you want to do this, it’s important to look at your role in it all. When you work for a company, you have lots of roles — CEO, CFO, COO — and most likely teams that are responsible for various aspects of the business. As an entrepreneur, you get to be in charge of all of that. While this can be exciting, it can also be really daunting.

Realistically, only 50-75% of your time will be spent doing the work you thought you’d be doing. The rest of the time will be spent planning, handling collections, invoicing, setting up systems, selling customers, creating contracts, reviewing contracts, and so much more. As you’re thinking about your business/financial plan, plan to include at least 25% of your time on overhead of other additional tasks that are not billable.

You must also be well aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Look introspectively about what you’re good at and enjoy, and on the flip side, think about where you may need some help or lack experience. If you’ve never filed taxes as an entrepreneur or business entity, that’s why the world created CPAs. If you’ve never reviewed a SOW or don’t understand indemnification clauses, it might be advisable to find an attorney. Be honest with yourself and be humble. Finding these gaps and filling them will save you down the road, streamline inefficiencies and help you ultimately avoid burnout. 

I truly believe self awareness is one of the biggest keys to being a successful entrepreneur.

The Transition

If I haven’t scared you away by now and you’re ready to make the leap, let’s address what the transition looks like. Like all things in life, it helps (greatly) to have a support system. Which is why we recommend, if at all possible, trying to find the following types of advisors and mentors:

A general mentor: Maybe the most important, is finding someone you can check in with, run things by, and lean on throughout the entire process. Ideally, this is someone who’s been there before and knows the environment you’re entering.

A CPA: For the same reasons we’ve listed earlier. Taxes. Finances. LLC vs S Corp. This is someone who can help you navigate it all.

An insurance broker: Many customers have certain insurance requirements, and a broker can help you get the right coverage so you’re not at risk.

An attorney: Someone to review your contracts and someone you can trust is key to protecting yourself and your business. 

A banker: Having a trusted banker who can help you support your business in rough times, explain and access certain loans is always helpful.

Make it Official

Now that you have gone through the assessment process and have your mentors and support system in place, you should create a business entity. While some people will go out and start contracting as an individual, which there is nothing wrong with, there are a lot of benefits of making it official. First, it cements in your mind that this is a business. That it’s your job not something you’re just trying out. Second, large customers will require it. Many prefer not to work with independent contractors under their own social security number as they want a business entity that has insurance and more formality. It also signals to customers that you’re serious about this long-term.

From a financial and tax perspective, your advisors can walk you through which structure is right for you. It doesn’t cost a lot of money compared to how it can protect you in the future.

Have a Contingency Plan

Any good survivalist knows: always have a plan B. If the current state of our world and economy is any indication, it’s important to understand that sometimes things will go wrong, which is why you should be as prepared as possible. 

Finances first: Being on good financial standing should be Step 0. That’s right, not even Step 1. I typically recommend having 3-6 months worth of expenses covered as a safety net to help you weather the storm when there are ups and downs. Make sure you have financial reserves.

Be flexible: Things rarely go exactly the way you think they will so be flexible. Look back at the strengths you’ve outlined and pull from those in order to adapt to the realities you face.

Be humble: Know when to say when. Don’t get yourself into a worse situation by trying to save something that may not be worth saving. It’s ok to call it a day and it’s ok to go get a full time job. There is no shame in this and you have to do what’s right for you and your family. 

Focus on Growth

Growth should be an important focus for any entrepreneur – both business and personal. As the CEO of your own business, you can’t always be heads down delivering what you’re good at, you also have to be thinking about what’s next.

For example, say you’re a very good Sales and Service Cloud expert. Looking at CPQ or Mulesoft, or an adjacent skill to those Cloud, might open up a whole realm of opportunities. Things transition and evolve. Maybe Salesforce buys three new companies. How will you take advantage of such opportunities?

How will you grow as an individual consultant so you can add value to customers? How will you grow as an entrepreneur or a leader for employees on their own journeys? Read. Have mentors. Learn new skills. Be a sponge and take it all in as much as you can.

Expand your network

An important part of this growth is to expand your network and understand what your reach can be. Now that you’ve established yourself as a new entity, you want to make sure people know about it. You’re a new product. So get out there and market it.

There are so many great opportunities within the Salesforce ecosystem to connect with other people and support those efforts, from community groups and Salesforce-sponsored events to just being active on social media. Partners can also be a great source of business. Reach out to your existing network. People you’ve worked with in the past, from previous coworkers to any partners you’ve hired. Half of 10K’s business comes from other Salesforce partners.

Also think about what it means to be your own brand. All of the above opportunities are places to take advantage of building your personal brand and carve out a niche for your business.

Hopefully this post has given you some good steps to get started in your entrepreneurial journey. I am not a lawyer, or an accountant, or a professional small business advisor so this is by no means legal advice or a substitute for getting other advice. It is merely my experience.