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8 min read

The Solopreneur Success Cycle: Step 5 - Refine/Reimagine

This is the third on an overview of the Solopreneur Success Cycle. You can read the first post on Getting Started (which contains Steps 0 through 3) here. and the second one on Doing (which contains Step 4) here. This blog series is intended only as an overview of this process. there is much more content related to this on the LifeStarr website.

Phase 3 is about IMPROVING and there are 3 Steps to this Phase, Refine/Reimagine, Decide, and Adjust and this blog focuses on Step 5: Refine/Reimagine.

Attend The Next Solopreneur Brain Trust Event. Learn more now.

It may seem ridiculously obvious that we should be improving our businesses but, especially for solopreneurs, it's easy to get so busy that it never becomes a priority. But you need to step back on a regular basis, look at what's working and what isn't and then reflect and imagine what could and should change.

Keeping Notes

Hopefully you've been keeping notes on issues you've been facing. It's so much easier than trying to remember everything that's gone wrong or been sub-optimal. You can use a notebook, an app, or a word processor. but when something goes particularly badly (or well ) or you have an interesting idea for your business, put it in there. 

Schedule.This.In.

There are three big reasons to build Phase 3 into your schedule:

  1. You will need to lighten your workload for a week or more and this will need to be planned in
  2. You will never, ever, ever do it if you don't put it on your calendar
  3. If you think you'll do it even without scheduling it in, see item 2

Step 5. Refine/Reimagine Your Business

In this section you are going to refine and possible reimagine your one-person business. Write down all the idea that come from going through this process.

This is like a brainstorming session. You may want to include other people in this step- customers, contractors, supplier all may add value. The point is that in this Step, all ideas are welcome. In the next step of the Solopreneur Success Cycle, you'll decide what you actually want to do.

This is like a brainstorming session. All ideas are welcome. In the next step of the Solopreneur Success Cycle, you'll decide what change you actually want to make. So open your mind. No idea is too crazy.

Goals & Success

Start by looking at your definition of goals and success from the first step of the Solopreneur Success Cycle. I know I always come back to this but it's really core to everything else. You need to ask yourself, How am I doing compared to my goals and my definition of success? Is it working? Is it at least going in the right direction?"

If so, great! This Phase will help you to do even better. If not, then this Phase is a crucial next step in your one-person business journey.

There are obvious questions like "Am I making enough money? But there are also questions like:

  • Am I happy doing this?
  • How is my health?
  • How are my relationships?

These aren't typical boardroom questions but that's why you are a solopreneur. Being one gives you have every right to consider these aspects of your life in the context of your business.

Is This the the Right Business?

The first question you should ask is, "Am I (still) in the right business?" If this is a new business maybe your initial approach isn't working as you'd hoped. Or perhaps you've been at it for as while but the world has changed. Regardless, sometimes you need to do something different.

In startup culture, they call it "pivoting". You start out doing A and then determine that you would be better off doing B. Some of the most successful businesses are the result of a pivot - Slack was originally a game company - and while I hate the app for being so disruptive of my concentration, you cannot argue with its success.

Is Your Business Positioned Properly?

Market positioning is defining what you offer in a relatively narrow way so you can appeal to the people or companies you want as customers. It's defining what makes you special, what you do and don't do. It's also your pricing and the quality of your work product.

Examples of Market Position

Generic Description Market Position Example
Graphic Designer Brand Builder for Startups
Mobile App Developer iOs and Android Game Developer
Freelance Bookkeeper  Bookkeeper Priced for Solopreneurs
Dog Toys  Toys for Hyper Dogs


Is there not enough work? Then maybe you need to broaden your market position to include a larger addressable market. Sometimes a niche is too small to build a sustainable business on. You can expand your geographical market area, expand your offering to a wider swath of the market, or perhaps add additional products or services.

Improving Your Messaging?

Sometimes you are positioned properly but not conveying it effectively. Are you winning some the deals or is the competition getting the best of you? If you're losing too many deals to competitors, the question is then why? 

  1. Are they just better than you at what you do?
  2. Are they beating you on price?
  3. Or are they winning for no good reason?

If you are losing because of 1, do you need to up your game? If it's 2, are you priced too high?

Regardless of why you are losing deals and especially if it's number 3, you need to look at your messaging and whether it's working for you. I had a startup that was losing lots of deals that we shouldn't have lost to a competitor. The deals were mostly with mid-sized companies. We started asking why we lost the deal and eventually someone told us that the competitor would gush at how great we were but that we were really for big companies and that our product was too sophisticated for a smaller company like theirs. None of this was true. But it didn't matter. It was up to us to change our messaging to counter this.

Are you happy with the kind of work you're getting? Are some deals awesome and others the business equivalent of a root canal? If so, look at what the enjoyable deals have in common. Is there a way to adjust your messaging to improve your odds of getting these deals? For example, if you're a portrait photographer and you love doing new babies but don't enjoy doing family shots, position yourself as THE baby photographer for the market.

Is Your Marketing Doing Its Job?

Marketing is crucial to driving your business opportunities. Some attention here can pay big dividends.

Your Website

Start with your website. Is your website a meaningful source of leads for your business? If not, should it be?

Is it getting traffic? If you don't know, here is a course on using Google Analytics. It's free. If you aren't getting traffic, you need to find a way to drive traffic to your site, assuming your website is a source of leads. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Search Engine Optimization  - people find you on Google
  • Pay-Per-Click Advertising - people see your ads on Google as well as social media sites

One good way to get traffic to your site is by creating a quality blog on topics that interest your target customers. The idea is to provide useful information and then (1) Google will send searches to your site, and (2) people will subscribe to your blog, giving you the email addresses of prospects.

If you're site is getting visitors, are they "converting", that is, are they doing what you want them to do? This may be supplying an email address, buying your products, or something else.

If they are not converting, then you need to look at how they are interacting with your site. Tools like Smartlook and HotJar let you do this and they both have free options. You can watch people interact with your website and see where you're losing them. Your website should make it obvious what you want them to do.

Referrals

Referrals are one of the most powerful and affordable ways to get new customers. Maybe you should be reaching out to your (happy) existing and previous customers and ask for referrals.

How Are Your Selling Chops?

Unless you have a "no-touch" sales model, you are going to be communicating with your prospect before they buy from you. You want to think hard about how you sell you goods or services. All is for naught if you fail at this point.

Are you closing a large portion of the deals that you get in front of? If not, do your selling skills need some work? There are lots of books and courses you can take on this but, make no mistake, selling is a skill and the better you are at it, the more sales you will close. As I mentioned before, the Tony Robbins Mastering Influence Course is my favorite, though it is pricey. Decide if this is a place to consider some changes.

Are Your Finances Healthy?

For most people, finances are less exciting than other aspects of their business; but they are crucial. You will need to be able to fund your business and make good decisions and without solid financial reporting and working capital, this stuff can become a showstopper.

Bookkeeping & Accounting

How is your bookkeeping and accounting going? Did you hire someone or are you doing it yourself? If you are doing it yourself, how's it working out? Is it time to hire pro? Think about whether you are able to understand your business from the financial statements you are generating. Note that a balanced checkbook is not sufficient. You need to have financial statements that tell you the health of your business. does this make a list as a place to consider changes?

Accounts Receivable

How is you accounts receivable looking? Are you getting paid in a timely manner? If not, you may want to think about ways to get paid faster. The first question is - are you invoicing in a timely manner. Invoicing should be a regular part of your routine and they should go out ASAP. You many want to think about ways to improve and speed up this process.

Once you are invoicing on time, there are other things you can consider:

  • Ask for a Deposit. This will get you some money early.
  • Switch to Digital Invoices
  • Accept Multiple Forms of Payments like credit cards and ACH
  • Incentivize Early Payments with a small discount
  • Discount Monthly Subscriptions
  • Send Clear Reminders starting before the invoice is late
Do You Need a Credit Line?

If your business is solid, you may be able to get a revolving line of credit from a bank. This will give you easy access to cash when revenue is uneven as it is in many businesses. Decide if this is something that might be helpful in financing your operations.

Business Model

What type of business model are you using? Sometimes your business model needs rethinking.

Before we look at this, I want to say something about the concept of business models. I thought I had a clear idea on what "business model" meant. But I did a little digging and what I found really surprised me. Even with reliable sources of business information like Harvard Business Review, I found a hodgepodge of mixed concepts all being called a "business model". These were concepts that were not "either/or" so picking a business model could mean picking two, three or even four of these concepts.

I found 4 dimensions to define a business model, three required and one optional. Full disclosure, this categorization is my own work… and it's definitely not perfect. You may disagree with me or have ideas to extend this further. And if you find someone that's done this before, please point it out. Plagiarism - even unintentional - is not my thing.

It looks like this:

Production/Sourcing model (Required)
How will you produce your product?
Required
Model Example
Creator/Manufacturer model Samsung
App developer
Brokerage AirBnB
Real estate broker
User community model Smart Passive Income
Facebook
LinkedIn
Crowd-sourcing model Tik Tok
YouTube
Wikipedia
Product to Service model Zipcar

 

Market model (Required)
How will your product be sold?
 
Model Example
Retailer model  Target
Best Buy
D2C (Direct to Consumer) Dell
App makers
Distribution model ABC Supply Co.
Franchise model  McDonald's
Executive communities

 

Pricing/Payment model (Required)
How will you be paid for you product?
 
Model Example
Purchase model Car purchases
Retail stores
Subscription model Netflix
Office 365
Pay-as-you-go Utilities
Auction model Ebay
Reverse auction model Elance.com
Leasing model  Car leases
Equipment leases
Razor blades model  Razor blades
Printers & Ink
Reverse razor blades model  Kindle
Fractionalization model NetJets

 

Enticement model (optional)
Will you entice people to buy your product, how?
Optional
Model Example
Freemium model HubSpot
Bundling model Adobe Creative Suite
Pay in advance Amazon
Hotels.com
One-for-one model  Bombas
Warby Parker
 

What is your current business model? Is there a better one to consider?

Is Your Revenue Growing

My dad used to say, "growing revenue forgives a lot of sins." "What he meant was that if you are growing revenue, you can afford to make mistakes as you figure it out. Of course, this does not include working capital, which can be the opposite as we discussed in the last blog.

Ask yourself, what is one thing I could do to grow my revenue. It may be raising prices, a great strategy if you have too much work. It may be getting more clients, or expanding your offering.

How's Your Time Management?

What are you spending your time doing? How much of it is spent doing things that directly produce revenue? Are you working efficiently or spending a lot of time "fighting fires", that is, dealing with emergencies and things that didn’t go well. If so, plan to spend some time brainstorming ideas that might fix these problems.

Do You Need Help?

In terms of use of your time, outsourcing is a great way to get more time to generate revenue. Whether to outsource a particular function depends on a lot of factors such as its importance, your skill relative to a pro, the amount of time its currently taking you to do it and the cost for a pro versus the cost of your time at your billable rate. 

I also think that if the decision is iffy, people should consider whether they like doing that function or not. Sometime you need something different to do to keep from burning out.

Conclusion

You really need to sit down and work through this process with focus keeping in mind that you are not making any decisions yet. If you do it right, you'll have a bunch of interesting ideas to review in the next Step.


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