NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
"Waiting can be an active state," says Terri Lonier, head of WorkingSolo.com. "It's time to invest in yourself."
1. Scour your finances.
You want to be certain you will be attractive to future lenders and investors, so now's the time to pay down credit-card debt and shore up your credit rating. Once you're on your own and no longer drawing a salary, banks or investors will scrutinize your numbers more closely.
So line up financing before you need it. Says Lonier, "Self-employment is a red flag for most financial institutions. If you think you'll need a line of credit, take one out while you still have a W-2."
2. Wring the most out of your current employer.
Hidden in many corporate benefits packages are valuable perks that can help you reach your goals. Think workshops, training, networking forums and tuition reimbursement.
"Focus on filling specific knowledge gaps or making contacts who can help you," advises Lonier
3. Hitch your wagon to another star.
Finding an enthusiastic mentor can be difficult. But many people never find one because they never bother to ask. Choose experienced people you admire and ask them to show you the ropes or make themselves available for questions or feedback.
There's no reason to limit your appeal to one person. Depending on the relationship, you may get only a few lunches' worth of face time a year, or an express ticket to your future profession.
Several organizations will hook you up with mentors who can help with everything from writing a business plan to marketing your ideas. Try the local chamber of commerce and Score.org, the Web site of the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
4. Go out with style.
Stay committed to the task at hand while you're on the job. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it's particularly smart if you expect to do business with the same company or in the same industry. Ideally, you'll find your first customers where people already know you.
5. Line up a support team.
The day-to-day aspects of running a fledgling enterprise are commonly overlooked by new business owners. As a solo player, everything from billing and bookkeeping to taxes and legal concerns is now your problem.
"Most people do this very poorly," says career consultant Andrea Kay. "Assemble your professional team before you need them."
6. Give yourself away...
Building a client base? Consider freebies, discounts and barter to pad your portfolio with evidence of your ability -- especially while you're still earning a paycheck.
In addition to providing material for marketing yourself, it can also be a way to build a paying client base from scratch. See the next step.
7. ...and then get paid what you're worth.
Learning to value yourself in the marketplace is a tough skill to master.
"Most people are weird about charging for their services," says Kay.
Start by talking to other people in your industry -- providers and customers. What's the going rate? Are there new services or trends? Are certain skills and credentials more valuable than others?
"Understand where you fit in the market and sell yourself accordingly," adds Kay.
Next: Save your way to freedom
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Your job: Signs you've stayed too long