Solopreneur Business: Starting, Running, and Growing Your Company of One
Using the Solopreneur Success Cycle
Well-run companies share one thing in common - they all develop processes to run their business efficiently. Great companies also have a process to start smart and continuously improve. The Solopreneur Success Cycle is that process for solopreneurs.
Busy and on the go?
Download the checklist version of the Solopreneur Success Cycle and learn from anywhere!
By Joe Rando
Founder & CEO, LifeStarr
and Carly Ries
Director of Marketing, LifeStarr
Preface to The Solopreneur Success Cycle
Who's it for?
The Solopreneur Success Cycle is designed for any one-person business. Whether you call yourself a solopreneur, freelancer, consultant, coach, contractor, or something else, it can help you be more successful in your business and more satisfied in your work. Most importantly, it will help you avoid common mistakes by providing a time-tested framework to make any business run better.
Why do I need it?
Processes are crucial to successful businesses. But which processes to follow isn't always easy to determine. Also, for most of us, we tend to just start working and that often leads to missed opportunities for creating well-thought-out and efficient processes that will help you get more business and be more profitable.
What is a Solopreneur Anyway?
Depending on who you ask, you'll get different answers. Technically, it's a combination of "Solo" and "Entrepreneur." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is defined as "a person who sets up and runs a business on their own." They then go on to give an example sentence of "being a solopreneur has forced me to learn how to handle all aspects of business."
While I agree with the definition, I think the example is wrong. I believe that a solopreneur is simply an entrepreneur that has made the conscious decision not to hire any employees. That does not mean that they do everything. Smart solopreneurs work with contractors (often other solopreneurs) or other service providers to execute certain functions of the business.
The difference between an employee and a contractor is substantial. When you have an employee you are responsible for taxes and benefits and you can tell them when to work and how to work. With a contractor, you don't have to pay taxes on the monies you pay them but you cannot tell them when and how to work (lest you run afoul of IRS rules).
So being a solopreneur does not mean you do everything alone. It does mean that you don't have any employees and so offload job functions with contractors and service providers instead.
About the Authors
Joe Rando, the founder of LifeStarr, developed the Solopreneur Success Cycle to help people starting or running a one-person business be more successful while achieving their goals not only for their business but their life as well.
Joe has spent many years as a solopreneur in the real estate development business. He also started an enterprise software company with a partner and achieved a successful exit with a sale to a private equity firm. most importantly, he has failed a few times and there is no better teacher than that.
Carly Ries has been in the marketing world for over a decade and has consulted with businesses ranging from local mom and pop shops to global Fortune 500 companies.
LifeStarr has a bunch of resources just for solopreneurs designed to help you fix your problems, figure out the things that aren't working right and improve your perspective on the challenges of running a one-person business.
Solopreneur Events - LifeStarr hosts monthly virtual events where you can network with other solopreneurs and discuss your biggest challenges as well as help others with theirs.
The LifeStarr Community - A place to meet other solopreneurs to help each other as well ask questions to experts
The One-Person Business Podcast - Hosts talk to experts as well as other one-person business owners to help you expand your thinking about your business and your life
The Solopreneur Success Secrets Blog - Focused on issues of interest to solopreneurs, freelancers, coaches, consultants, contractors, and other one-person business owners
Unleash Your Inner Awesome e-book - Need some motivation or inspiration? This 100+ page ebook has it and it's free.
Spend Less Time Learning How to Run a One-Person Business and More Time Launching It
Regardless of if you’re just thinking about starting a one-person business or if you’ve already taken the leap, one thing is clear: there is a lot to consider. While you may believe you are thinking through the ins and outs of your company of one, the fact is, you don’t know what you don’t know. There may be aspects of running your own business that you are unaware of.
Many people learn this the hard way, through a lot of trial and error, wasted time, and, oftentimes, failure. While these may serve as good learning tools, wouldn’t you rather get some time back and follow a framework from people who have gone through the journey in the past?
As a business owner, you’ll still make mistakes, it’s just the name of the game, but you can definitely bypass a lot of them by following the Solopreneur Success Cycle.
The Solopreneur Success Cycle consists of 3 Phases as shown here:
These probably seem fairly obvious but it's important to distinguish these phases as your approach to your work will be different depending on which phase you are in. Starting and Doing are clear-cut, but the Improving phase is one that needs to be done very deliberately
Now, let's dig a little deeper. There are 7 Steps to the Solopreneur Success Cycle (plus an 8th step that helps insure that you will be happy in the business you create). You can see them in Figure 2:
This page, as well as the corresponding checklist (that you should definitely download!), will help guide you on your path to success as a one-person show.
We encourage you to check out the podcasts and blogs linked below to get some great advice on making your business the best it can be, regardless of the profession you’ve chosen. Enjoy!
It shouldn't be a surprise that how one starts off in business can have a lot to do with how successful they are or are not. Failing to lay out a plan can lead to businesses that perform poorly. But it can also lead to successful businesses that the owner does not enjoy running.
While both of these scenarios are unfortunate, the good news it that if you follow the right process in getting started, you can greatly increase your chances of being successful in a business that you want to run. And you you are someone that finds yourself running a business that isn't going the way you hoped, try going through this process to explore reinventing your business into something that works for you.
So here it is...
Step 0: Setting Your Goals
If you fail to define your goals for starting a solopreneur business, you have a good chance of spending a great deal of effort creating a business that you don't like running.
We call goal setting Step 0 because so many people neglect it when starting a one-person business. They start with the assumption that it's a simple process... I will do X and Y will happen.
That is almost never the case.
The truth is that there are so many variables to any business and how you start will drastically impact where you wind up. Plus there will be lots of decisions to make along the way and you need a framework for choosing which way to go. The likelihood of ending up where you want to without doing some careful thinking and planning is low. So what this means is DON'T SKIP THIS STEP!
Find Your Reason
Why do you want to own a one-person business? If it's ONLY to become a millionaire, rethink it. Many millionaires started their own businesses but not many people who start businesses become millionaires. You need more than this.
Ask yourself, "why do I want to start a one-person business?"
Then answer this.
Then ask why you gave that answer. Keep doing this until there is no way to dig deeper. This is your "why."
When creating a solopreneur business, start by finding your "Why."
Assess Your Current and Desired Status
Look at where you are now versus where you want to be. Make sure your "whys" are front and center to your thinking here. You can look at this in a number of different dimensions from income/net worth to free time to family life, or anything that makes sense for you.
Find the areas of your life that you want to change and write them down.
What Will You Do for the World (or at Least Your Customers)
It really helps to have a vision of why you exist for the people you serve or better yet, how you plan to have a positive impact on the world. This may sound grandiose but you don't need to be working to end world hunger. But when things get challenging, having this perspective can help you to remember why what you're doing is important and may give you the strength to power through the challenges.
Write Down Your Goals
Now, look at each area you've selected and write down your specific goals for reach. Being specific is good. For example, If you currently make $75K per year, specify what you want your new income to be. If a goal is more time with your family, specify how much time each week you want to have for them.
As you move forward, keep these goals top-of-mind as you make decisions. Which decision will most likely help you achieve your goals? As you move forward using this mindset, you will find yourself in a place that most closely matches what you want from your business and your life.
Content for Goal Setting
Podcast: Setting Your Goals
What you'll learn in this episode:
- Goal setting as a solopreneur and what success means to you
- Deciding if going solo in business is right for you
- Defining your reason for going solo
- How to get to the core of why you want to start a one-person business
And so much more!
"Goal setting is important because it helps you put a plan in place to achieve something and helps to motivate you to get it done. Proper goal setting also allows you to track progress along the way and helps you understand how well you’re doing at achieving a given goal..."
"Starting tomorrow. We’ve all muttered that phrase at one point or another, and while it’s seemingly harmless, those “tomorrows” can add up to months or even years. When this happens, people often feel discouraged. Even if they’re ready to finally take on the challenge they’ve been pushing off or have been too afraid to attempt, the inside voice can creep in informing them it’s too late. I’ve got news for you: It’s not too late..."
"I remember it like it was yesterday. I was playing in one of my 7th-grade basketball games with minutes to go until the final buzzer. The play was mid-court and I leaped for a heroic interception. Success! I ran as fast as I could towards the hoop and scored the winning basket and the crowd went wild. However, upon looking up, I realized it wasn’t my side of the crowd that was cheering, it was the other team’s...I shot the ball into the other team’s basket. Needless to say, I didn’t go pro, but the metaphor I took from that game has stuck with me throughout my life. Hard work only pays off if you point it in the right direction..."
Sarah Boxx, MA is CEO and Chief Vision Sherpa at Sarah Boxx, LLC as well as a Nonprofit-Corporate-Individual Success Strategist. She helps executives and middle managers who are overextended at work and home by showing them how to regain time, reduce stress, and lead strategically so they can live a life they love at work and at home.
Dream big. Many of us are told this often throughout our lives but few of us actually do it. Why is that? Why do we so often impose limits on ourselves? “When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut” is a lot easier than “I’m grown up, now how do I become an astronaut?” The reality is, dreaming big is easy. Actually going for that dream is scary. Really scary. But you know what’s even scarier? Waking up one day realizing that it’s too late..."
Step 1: Envision Your Solopreneur Business
Do you know what kind of solopreneur you want to be? If not, that's OK. Perhaps you know that you want to be a [Whatever] and know exactly the kind of work you do. Great! You can skip this. Or maybe not; it's a fun exercise.
Perhaps you know what field you want to work in, but not which aspect specifically. The following exercise can help. Or maybe you know you want to be a solopreneur, but are not sure what business to be in. In that case, this is a great exercise for you.
This is a step-by-step process to help you generate one-person business ideas that will really work for you.
What the heck is ikigai??? How do you even say it? Click 👂 to find out.
No, we're not describing an unbathed man. It's a Japanese word that the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "a motivating force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living". Sounds good, right?
So how do you achieve ikigai? It's the intersection of four dimensions:
- What you're good at
- What you love
- What the world needs
- What you can be paid for
You want to find a business that is at the intersection of all these dimensions - something that you're good at, you love, that the world needs, AND that people will pay you for. This makes a lot of sense and you should do your best to generate a number of ideas that match these.
Skills & Passions
Start by making a list of skills and then make a list of the topics you're passionate about. Then, combine them in every way possible and use this list for inspiration. Some of the combinations are wacky but some can inspire good ideas. Go through the combinations and see what interesting business ideas they inspire and put these ideas on a list.
Here's an example of Skills and Passions for a fictional aspiring solopreneur named Charlotte:
Some interesting combinations are:
- Writing - Throwing Pottery --> Content about making pottery on a wheel
- Writing - Green Energy --> Website featuring reviews of green products
- E-commerce -Dogs--> Sell a product for dogs online
What the World Needs (and What it Will Pay For)
Once you've generated a list of business ideas that you think you would be good at and passionate about, you can then score each idea for how much the world needs it and how willing it will be to pay you for this work. This is obviously important but you'd be shocked how many people don't pay attention to what the world needs and will pay money for. It doesn't matter how good or passionate you are about your business, if no one is buying it gets very unpleasant very quickly.
But Wait... There's More - Your GOALS!
There are two other very important components once you've identified business ideas using this framework. The first is asking how well it aligns with your goals. If one of your goals is to spend more time with your family, an idea that involves a lot of travel should be a non-starter for you. There are probably some great business ideas that you would be passionate about and successful doing but that you would be sorry you started because it didn't get you where you want to go. This is really important so don't skip this step.
Be careful that your resulting business idea will align with your GOALS. If not, you may be successful at a business you don't want to run.
Is This a Solopreneur Business?
Lastly, ask yourself, "Can this truly be a one-person business?" That's not to say that you won't bring on outside contractors. But some businesses require actual employees. Remember, there are legal limits to what you can require of a contractor and specific ways the relationship must be structured. If you run afoul of these, the IRS can deem them employees and you can get stuck with a big tax bill along with penalties and interest. I've seen this happen and it's ugly. So if your business is going to need actual employees to run, that's not a showstopper, but you're not talking about being a solopreneur anymore.
Check out this resource for more info on contractors vs employees.
Once you've come up with one or more ideas for a business that checks all the boxes, you are ready to start planning. Having more than one idea is good because ideas can die in the planning stage as you flesh them out. If you have a few, start with your favorite and see where it goes.
Content for Envisioning Your Solopreneur Business
Podcast: Envisioning Your One-Person Business
As part of this brainstorming session, you'll be able to properly:
- Define your skills
- Figure out your passions
- Generate business ideas
- Decide if your idea can actually become a business
- How to create a business by finding gaps in your industry
- How to come up with amazing ideas for your company
- Why it's important to know your strengths and what you bring to the table
- Why you don't have to expand beyond a one-person team
- Why there's so much value in saying "yes"
- Why you can't get too attached to one client
- Why you should think of work as a series of bursts
- Why it's important to only focus on one thing
Things to Consider Before Starting a One-Person Business:
- Are you self-motivated?
- Can you deal with the isolation of working alone?
- Are you good with prioritization and time management?
- Can you handle criticism?
As kids, we think we can do anything, whether it’s growing up to be a veterinarian or believing that we could fly. Whatever your belief was, the best part is that you truly believed it was possible. As we grow up, we seem to lose that unwavering confidence in ourselves. We experience failures, criticisms, and even negative self-talk when things don’t go our way. But what if we were able to get those childhood beliefs back? What if, as adults, we became our own biggest cheerleaders, despite any negativity and roadblocks that come our way?
Shake it off. Isn’t that just the worst thing to hear as you’re dealing with failure?
What’s even more infuriating is that some people do actually seem to have the ability to shake things off when circumstances don’t work out the way they planned. While some people just have the trait within them, others need to work at it. How do you go about developing resilience if it isn’t a natural part of your personality?
Luckily, just because you aren’t born with that part of your personality, it doesn’t mean you can’t develop those traits over time. Here are a few steps to take to make sure failure doesn’t hold you back from getting you what you want.
What a freeing question that is and one we don’t ask ourselves enough. But seriously, what would you do? Once you have that in mind, what is it that’s holding you back?
Chasing our dreams is scary. It’s actually terrifying. People often use this fear as a deterrent rather than a motivator. The idea of not pursuing something sounds greater than failing at it.
But what if you don’t fail? What if you actually succeed? How great would that be?
Step 2: Plan Your Solopreneur Business
Just because you know what you want to do, doesn't mean you know what you are doing.
So you've found the intersection of your skills and passions that you think you want to pursue. Awesome!
But you don’t have a business yet, you only have an idea. In this step, you will plan your business, and, be forewarned, you may find it doesn’t work and you need to rethink it. But that's OK; better to go back to the drawing board than to build a flawed business. So let's walk through how this process works. Write down all of your thoughts and ideas in this section so you can review and then memorialize them.
You know what you want to do but you don't yet know what you are doing. You need to define your product, your target customer, your competition, your market position, your brand, and your messaging.
Define Your Product/Service
The first thing you need to do is define your product or service. You may think you've done this in the Envision stage, and perhaps you have, but let's dig in and make sure it's truly defined in a way that will help you understand your business at a deep level. Let's imagine an aspiring solopreneur named Charlotte has decided to combine her skill in e-commerce with a passion for dogs. Specifically, she wanted to invent and sell a new kind of dog toy that would be totally engaging and give the dog a fantastic workout.
What Problems Are You Solving?
Once you've described your product or service, the next thing you'll want to do is to think very deeply about the problems it solves at a base level. Why do people need/want what you provide? In Charlotte's case, people often don't have the time to give their dog as much exercise and play time as the dog needs. Most of the dog gadgets targeted at this problem very quickly become boring to the dog. So the problems she wants to solve are:
- Many dogs are not getting enough play time and exercise
- Dogs get bored with most dog toys very quickly
What Do You Sell to Solve These Problems?
You need to then specify what your product is and how it will solve these problems in a way that the customer will understand. This will have the benefit of:
- Making sure you are targeting real problems with your product
- Giving you a solid perspective on how to sell your product to your customers
Charlotte's product idea is based on the fact that she has never seen a dog get bored of chasing squirrels. This has given her the inspiration to create a toy that will engage the dog in rigorous physical exercise so keep the dog happy and healthy by mimicking the interaction that dogs have with squirrels.
She will name the product "My Dog's Squirrel" because this will quickly describe how engaged the dog will be with this toy.
Define Your Target Customer
Once you know what problems you are solving and how, the next step is to define your customer. It is very tempting to target the whole world because that makes for the biggest market. It's also a terrible idea to do so. It becomes impossibly expensive to reach everyone. It's always best to niche down, especially in the beginning.
There are a number of reasons that it is crucial to define your target customer. Some of them are:
- It helps you message your product in the most powerful way
- It helps to focus your marketing efforts
The list goes on.
Who Are You Selling To?
Charlotte could decide that her customers are simply dog owners. But she knows a few things about her product and about dogs that will let her focus her target customer definition more precisely. This dog toy will be motorized and will need to be virtually indestructible because if and when the dog catches it, it most likely won't be looking for a cuddle. This implies that the toy is going to be expensive. Charlotte isn't sure how expensive but she's fleshing out the idea before she spends money designing the actual product, which is smart. So her customers are likely going to be higher income households.
Charlotte also knows that certain dog breeds require much more exercise than others. By targeting these breeds, she can focus in on dog owners most in need of her product. By looking at the most active breeds and cross referencing that list with the most common breeds, Charlotte can make a list of common dog breeds that will most need her product and target them online.
Lastly, her product will need a decent sized yard to be useful. So she can avoid city-dwellers and focus on suburban, ex-urban, and rural households.
Now she has a definition of her target customer - breeds A, B,C, D, and E who's owners make over $100,000 per year in income and do not live in an urban environment... BINGO!
Defining your customer carefully will make your marketing and messaging more effective.
One technique for making this definition concrete is called Buyer Personas. The idea is to create a semi-fictional representation of your customer. You may have more than one although try not to have more than four. There are also Negative Personas. These are people you want to avoid targeting.
You can check out this HubSpot content on defining buyer personas. Personas are a great way to help define your customers.
So do like Charlotte did and ask yourself questions about who really wants to buy and use your product.
- Who has the greatest pain points that you're solving?
- Who can afford your product?
- Who can use your product most effectively to solve their pain point?
- Who will see the value of your product most clearly?
- Plus all those relevant to your specific business
Note that when you start selling your product, you may find you were wrong about some of your assumptions. You can adjust from there. But it really helps to have some idea of whom you are targeting when you start.
Buyer Personas are an excellent way to define your customers in a useful and actionable way.
Where Are Your Customers?
Once you know whom you are targeting, you then have to determine where you can find them. This is crucial because if you don't know where they are, you can't target them. And in today's noisy environment, you can't afford to reach them by broadcasting your offering to the world.
So you need to figure out where they are. This could mean where they are online or where they go physically. If you have a physical store, a billboard may be the way to go. But if you are like most solopreneurs, you're more likely going to be looking online for your customers. This provides tons of opportunities but also many, many choices to be made.
Define Your Competition
Once you know what you are selling (or more importantly, what problems you are solving) and who your customer is, now you can determine whom you are competing with. Think through this carefully. Where else might your customers go to solve the problems that you solve?
You need to ask yourself, how are people solving this problem now? In Charlotte's case, the obvious answer is that they are buying dog toys that are not effective or they are spending inordinate amounts of time playing with their dog (and perhaps terrorizing the local squirrel population).
You can also probably figure out the companies that do what you do. But is that it? Are you sure there aren't other competitors? Charlotte's competition is other dog toy makers, particularly high-end ones. But those are only her direct competitors. What else might people do if their dog is constantly chasing things? They may hire a dog trainer or behaviorist. Or they may resort to tying the dog up on a rope. Charlotte needs to address these indirect competitors too. Indirect competitors include basically anything that can take attention away from your business as a solution to your customer's problems.
Someone that sells luxury cruises may also be competing with jewelers for that 25th anniversary big spend. A homemade pie baker may be competing with someone who bakes cookies as well as other pie bakers. This is called competing on budget and it's real. If someone else is going after the same dollars you are, they are a competitor, no matter what they do.
So make sure that you identify, understand, and compete with your indirect competitors too.
Make a List of Competitors
Too many times, entrepreneurs (including solopreneurs) say, "There is no competition for this product." There are two possibilities to explain this claim. The first is that the person is wrong. The second is that no one actually has the problem they are solving. Both are bad news. Usually, it's the former, though.
Compare Yourself to Your Competitors
Once you've listed your competition, ask yourself, are you average, better than average, or worse than average than the other options? If you don't have something that lets you shine above the competition in some way, try rethinking the plan to make you the best or at least above average. Use a table like the one below to compare yourself to your main competitors. Be sure in your Responses to Objections you don't ever tell them that they are wrong. Try to find a way to agree with them ("I can see how it may appear that..")
Their Comparative Strengths
Their Comparative Weaknesses
Objections and Responses Based on Strengths
Well financed mid-sized company with heavy sales and marketing.
Been around a long time.
Poor reputation due to not delivering what they promise compared to me.
O. They seem like a professional company, whereas you're only one person.
O. They've been doing this a long time
Has a good reputation.
Focuses on clients who want lower cost and lower quality. I focus on high-quality results.
O.Dave Jones price was significantly lower than your quote.
R. Dave is great but he'll tell you that the process he uses is cheaper and therefore the results are lower quality than my process. You strike me as someone who wants things done well.
Known for her creativity.
Sometimes clients feel that the creative superseded their requirements. I alway put requirements first.
Known to have cost overruns. I never do.
O. Glenda Barnes had a really interesting approach to this.
R. Glenda is brilliant. Has she agreed to a rigorous statement of work and a price cap?
Some Thoughts on Pricing
While being a low-price leader can be a huge competitive advantage, it can only be practical if you have some way of delivering the product at a lower price than your competitors. Otherwise, you will probably just wind up losing money. In some cases, pricing higher makes your product more attractive as it is perceived as having higher quality.
Position Yourself in the Market
Market positioning is really talking about deciding how you will define yourself to your customers. Customers need to understand your business in a way that makes it stand out to them compared to the competition. This is very important! You need to be able to easily explain what makes you special in the world. If you are a graphic designer, don't just say you're a graphic designer. Find something that makes you special. If you are really good at branding become a "Branding Expert" or as one of our podcast guests put it, a "Design Doctor". Then specify who you do it for. You could be a "Branding Expert for Startups" or a "Design Doctor for Memorable Restaurant Brands." You need to make it clear who you serve or no one will choose you.
For Charlotte, she is going to position her product as "Toys your dog will never get tired of."
Make yourself special in the eyes of your target customer and you'll win more deals at a higher price point.
This is an extremely powerful thing to do. And also one of the most counter-intuitive. Why limit your potential customer base when you're just getting started and desperately need business...any business?
The reason is simple, if you target everyone, you'll reach no one. Let's look at an example. Imagine that you need to hire a CPA firm for your business, which is a craft business being run as a solopreneur. You search for firms in your area and three firms show up.
- The first one’s tag line is “CPAs for the World
- The second is “Helping Small and Medium Businesses”
- The third is “Accounting Services for Solopreneurs.”
Which one do yo call first?
The key to attention is focus.
If I go to your website and see someone who is speaking to me, I'm putting you on the short list.
If it's generic "I do X for everyone," I'm not calling. Would you?
Ways to Position Yourself
There are a number of dimension that you can use to position your business. Which ones you choose depends on you and the nature of your business. Here are some general ones:
- Special Skills
- Industry Focus
Think about the options you may have for each of these in your particular field. Then start exploring which ones may be attractive to you. Come up with a few combination that make sense.
How to Decide on Your Market Position
The main ways to position yourself are as follows:
Look at What You Like to Do
Make a list of the things you like to do in each relevant dimension. Explore combinations that sound fulfilling.
Look at Demand
Do any of your combinations LACK enough demand to support your business.
Look at Your Competition
How many competitors are positioned similarly to your idea?
- A lot? Be careful. It's hard to compete with an established competitor without doing something different.
- None? Awesome. BUT is there enough demand to even support one business?
Market Positioning Example
Let’s use a freelance photographer as an example.
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Greater Boston
- Eastern, Massachusetts
- Eastern, Massachusetts and Rhode Island
- Portrait photography
- Event photography
- Real estate photography
- Product photography
- Aerial and drone photography
- High-speed photography
- Real estate
- Corporate events
So instead of starting out as a photographer and going against all the other photographers out there, you can break it down into something focused like:
- Macro photography for manufacturers in Eastern Massachusetts
- Event photographer for bar and bat mitzvahs in Greater Boston
Try putting a few of these together and see if any sound interesting to you and feasible as a business. If they seem too narrow, combine a few but don’t get crazy. For example:
- Standard, macro, and high-speed photography for business serving Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island
- Event photographer for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and parties in Greater Boston
But remember, even if the result is so focused it can’t sustain you, getting started this way will allow you to expand later with much more success because you’ll have a client base and a reputation. Sometimes it’s best to start overly focused with a plan for how to expand.
Define Your Business
There are a number of dimensions to defining your actual business. You can't really do it until you've defined your product, your customer, and your competition.
In defining your business, we like to look at it in this order:
- Defining tasks that need to be done to start your business
- Defining the jobs that need to be done to run your business
- Developing business processes
- Choosing a corporate structure
As you walk through this process, your business will truly begin to take shape in your head. And that's awesome because it makes it real. It also gives you a chance to look for flaws in your ideas.
Tasks that Need to Be Done to Start your Business
There are a number of things that will need to be done to get your business up and running. What these are depend on your business. Some general areas that you may need to consider, depending on your business, are:
- Decide what kind of corporate structure will you use
- Decide how will you source your product if it's a physical product
- Determine if you will need any permits to produce or sell your product
- Determine if you will need any equipment to run your business
- Determine how you will fulfill your orders/supply and deliver your product
- Determine how you will create your website
- Decide how you will market your business
- Decide what your selling process will be
- Determine if you will need any legal document forms for your business
- Open bank accounts
- Get business insurance
- ... Plus all those relevant to your specific business
Jobs that Need to Be Done to Run Your Business
The next thing to consider is all the different jobs that need to be done to run your business. A professional photographer needs to do a lot of other things besides taking pictures. Some jobs that apply to almost every business are:
- Marketing the business
- Filling the pipeline
- Closing sales
- Bookkeeping and accounting
- Order fulfillment (whatever this means to your business)
- Collecting money owed
- ... Plus all those relevant to your specific business
Then every business has numerous jobs that are specific to the nature of the business. Write all of these down.
Next, think about which of these you might want to outsource to a contractor or consultant. Remember, being a solopreneur does not mean you do everything in the business; it just means that you do not have any employees. One of my favorite tasks to outsource is Bookkeeping & Accounting. But think about what makes sense for you.
As unexciting as it seems, it's important to create a corporate structure that makes sense for your business. The laws vary from state to state so this is a good place to get some professional advice from either an accountant or an attorney. Being a sole proprietor is simple but it is NOT a good idea because you are personally exposed to any lawsuits or other liability. Generally S-corps and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) are the best approach but do check with an expert and decide which corporate structure makes sense for you.
Define Your Messaging
You already defined your target customer and competition, and used that to define your business and in particular, your market positioning. Now you need to decide what you will talk about to your customer and how you will (and won't) say it. Let's start with what you will talk about.
Talk About Them, Not You!
Other than directly insulting them, the worst mistake any business can make with respect to messaging is to talk about the business instead of the customer. Strangely, it's also the most common mistake people make by far. But the fact is that your prospects don't care about you or your business, they care about themselves, their business, and if you're lucky, what you can do to help them.
Focus On Their Pain Points
Back in Step 2, when you defined your product, you looked at what problems you are solving. These problems are your target customers' pain points. You need to talk about their pain points and you shouldn't be shy about eliciting some discomfort in your prospects by doing so. When people are uncomfortable they want it to end. If you are the solution to their pain, they want to hear what you have to say.
By pointing out their real pain and then presenting a solution, you make them pay attention. If you are honest and informative in the process, you make them want to buy from you.
I suggest doing the following:
- Write down all the pain points you address.
- Next to each of them write down how you solve them.
- Be very specific... speak to your target audience.
It's hard to convey how important messaging can be to your business. For many businesses, messaging is the differentiator. One could argue that T-Mobile has an inferior product to AT&T or Verizon. But they differentiate themselves by creating messaging that speaks directly to their target customers, young, urban dwellers.
Whether you have a unique product or are selling a commodity, getting your messaging right will be a big competitive advantage.
Write Their Story (not yours)
The best way to engage your potential customers is to make them the hero of a story and tell that story. Donald Miller describes it this way in his book Building a Story Brand.
- A Character
- Has a Problem
- And Meets a Guide
- Who Gives Them a Plan
- And Calls Them to Action
- That helps Them Avoid Failure
- And Ends in a Success
Define Your Brand
This is a step that many solopreneurs skip. There's good reason for this - it usually costs some money, it definitely takes time, and it doesn't feel important to most one-person business owners. But, as you've likely noticed, a small group of solopreneurs is vastly more successful than the majority. Strong branding is often an important aspect of that success.
- Visual design elements like your logo, colors, fonts, etc.
- Design of your product, if applicable
- How you interact with your customers (tone, personality, etc)
- And, of course, the name of your business
As tempting as it may be to do this yourself unless you are a talented graphic designer, this is best left to the pros. I remember going to an educational conference right after I started my first business. The session was on branding and he said it was important to think about what your brand says about you. Afterward, I ask him what my (self-designed) business cards said about my business. I'll never forget when he said, "they say you didn't care enough to hire a professional." Ouch!
There's probably some great local talent near you or you can find a lot of talent on Upwork or Fiverr. You want to get this right as it will impact people's perception of you more than you likely expect.
Naming Your Business
Some people go for a unique but meaningless name. This can be memorable and easy to Google (initially an effectively meaningless name, now a verb), which is important. Definitely try to avoid names that you wouldn't show up on the first page of Google for even if it's typed in word-for-word.
Though not always necessary, your business name can do a lot to help people understand your market position. The right name can tell people about who you are and what you do for your customers. You've done a lot of work defining your business so far. Can you think of a name that will convey this to to the world?
Come up with some ideas based on your Market Positioning and Brand Definition work. Run these by people who could be your target and see what they think.
Define Your Marketing Program
Now you should decide how you will market your products to your target customers based on knowing who they are and where you can find them. There are many different approaches and you may choose one or a few depending on your business. It can be difficult to figure this out on your own. The LifeStarr Community is a great place to get ideas and guidance on this from other solopreneurs, some of whom are marketing experts.
Let's look at some of the main types of marketing that you could employ for your business.
The Secret of Marketing
I learned the Secret of Marketing from a guy named Jay Acunzo. I never worked with him. In fact, I've never spoken to him. I've never read a book by him. I learned the secret of marketing from him in a LinkedIn post.
Is it possible that one could one learn the secret of marketing from a simple LinkedIn post?
Yes it is.
Why? Because it's that simple! The secret of marketing is:
- Earn Trust
- Inspire Action
In marketing, everything you do should either earn trust or inspire action. Everything else is either a waste of time or, worse yet, hurting you.
The most important thing to take away from this is the order. You cannot inspire meaningful action until you earn trust. If you try, you will fail.
Secret 1: Build Trust
Building trust isn't easy and it's not always a fast process, although some approaches are faster than others. But it is a necessary first step if you want to develop an ongoing relationship with your prospects and customers.
An important point here is that there is only one way to build true trust and that is to be trustworthy. There are no hacks or shortcuts to building trust. It comes down to truly helping people without demanding much, if anything, in return. And once you build the trust over along period of time, know that you can lose it in an instant if you act in an untrustworthy way.
HubSpot built up my trust in them over the course of years by providing incredibly useful and educational content as well as amazing product support. I was so fully on the HubSpot bus I probably would have given them my social security number if they had asked (ok, kidding). Then one day I attended a webinar that hosted that was represented as educational. Instead, it was a product pitch to get me to upgrade to a more expensive version. I was very disappointed and let them know. They apologized but I was much less inclined to attend their webinars for a many months after. If I hadn't built such a strong affinity to their brand, I may have bailed on them altogether. They have long since re-earned my trust.
Secret 2: Inspire Action
Once people trust you, it becomes much easier to inspire them to take action. Having someone trust you gives you power over them. And with power comes responsibility. You need to always be sure you are looking out for their best interests or you will find that you've lost their trust and so your power. Yes, their are exceptions to this rule. They are typically referred to as cults. But you don't want to be a cult leader, do you?
Marketing Activities that Built Trust (if done right)
Content marketing involves creating content that helps your target customers in a way that - directly or indirectly - relates to what you do. The goal of content marketing is to help your customer sand prospect solve their problems. This in turn builds trust so they want to do business with you. It does this because, assuming your content is good, people start to view you as a thought leader in your industry.
The content you create may not be related to what you do specifically but it should be helpful to the people who you target and it should be "on topic", that is, it should NOT be completely unrelated to your industry. So. for example, someone who makes videos for companies may do a piece of content on effective storytelling since storytelling relates to making effective videos. But they wouldn't make content talking about the best ways to clean your kitchen which, as useful as this might be to many target customers, does not relate to what you do.
That said, I do think it's OK to have a specific side topic to keep it fun. You could occasionally bring in a a topic about dogs if you're a dog lover. It can give your brand some personality, but don't overdo it.
The medium you use is important for what your are trying to do. To gain attention, you need to produce content consistently. As a solopreneur, it's hard to devote a lot of time to creating content. you should start one and stick with it. Your options are:
- Blog posts
- Social Media (sometimes used to promote one of the other media, other times this is the platform)
Set a schedule for releasing new content and stick to it. And focus on being helpful, not promoting your product or making yourself look smart at the expense of your audience.
You can also create more one-off content as well - things like:
- Guides and how-tos
- Case studies
- Testimonials and reviews
Make sure people can subscribe to your content by giving you their email address. Also, by "gating" some of your best content, you can get people to supply their email that way. This lets you communicate directly with them, which is usually critical in growing your customer base.
Content marketing is not a the fastest way to build trust. But, if done well, it is one of the best.
A fast way to earn trust is via testimonials. If existing customers will give you a blurb that you can put on your website, it will help prospects to trust you more. And the more authentic the testimonial appears, them more effective it will be. So, a testimonial from Sarah G. will be less effective than one from Sarah Grayson. And an authentic picture of the testimonial giver will help even more.
Case studies are an excellent way to build trust. Stories about real (non-anonymous) people and their experiences with your product or service
Public Relations (PR) Marketing
PR marketing when you engage a news source to publish an article about your business. This is typically done through a PR agency because they have relationships with the various publishers. You're story should be newsworthy.
Influencer marketing involves getting content creators to talk about your product. They may be famous or not and their number of followers will determine the cost to engage them. The attraction of influencer marketing is that it can improve brand awareness and increase increase traffic to your website.
Search Engine Marketing / Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine marketing or search engine optimization is an approach where you find ways to show up on the first page of search engines for searches relevant to what you do. This is distinct from pay-per-click advertising that I discuss below. One of the best ways to show up in searches is to have a lot of high-quality, relevant content on your website. Also pay attention to the tags on your website as well as the meta data. All this is explained in this Meta Tags for SEO article.
The beauty of SEO and Content Marketing is that it doesn't cost a lot of money and it can be very effective over the long term. The downside is that it takes awhile to become effective and it takes discipline to continually create high quality content for your target customer.
These techniques can be used in concert to grow your business to great effect.
It's important to note that you almost never want to rely on other platforms to connect with your customers exclusively. You need to get their email address and engage them via email. You don't want to be the company that failed because they lost access to their customer based on some arbitrary decision by a social media titan that doesn't answer the phone so you can clear it up.
Marketing Activities that Can Build Trust or Inspire Action (depending on how they are executed)
In-person events have taken a hit recently but they are still a thing. and virtual meetings are everywhere. For the right business. this can be a very effective way of marketing your business.
Not shockingly, email marketing means sending marketing messaging to your target and existing customer via email. This is a great strategy for marketing but you first need to gather email addresses and usually that means building some level of trust first. Content marketing is a great way to do this. Then you need to get your emails opened. No one knows more about this than Jay Schwedelson.
There is probably no business that doesn't need to do email marketing. And to do it, you really need to have an email marketing tool. Mailchimp is the big name here but there a lots of others. It's no secret that I am a fan of (and we are resellers of) HubSpot's CRM Suite Starter, which includes email marketing as one tool of many.
Organic Social Media Marketing
Organic social media marketing means using posts (as opposed to ads) to market yourself. This has the benefit of being basically free and people have built up huge followings by being clever and relevant. But the downside is you don't "own" you connections, the social media company does. And if you get banned for some reason (and people get banned for no reason all the time), you can find yourself at square one. So if you use social media as your primary marketing tool, find a way to engage them such that you get their email address.
Referral Marketing (Word-of-Mouth)
Referral marketing only works well in specific situations. Specifically, your current and target customers need to exchange information with each other. If they don't, it doesn't matter what your current customers say about you, no one of consequence will hear it (try testimonials instead). But when it works, it's fantastic. You start with high credibility and it costs nothing. You can offer various incentives to customers to refer people to you.
Needless to say, you need happy customers for this to work.
Marketing Activities that Can Inspire Action
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising
There are two main ways to reach people online - find them or help them find you. There are lots of places where people with specific interests hang out online. Companies like Google and Facebook know what kinds of things interest certain people. You can use this to reach them via advertising.
Pay-per-click advertising is just like it sounds - when someone clicks on your ad, you pay. There are two main type of pay-per-click advertising - search and social media. Those search results at the top of Google that say "Ad" next to them are search-based pay-per-click. The effectiveness of search-based PPC depends on your ability to target keywords that your target audience will search for and you ability to afford to win the auction that Google uses to decide which ads get placed.
In Facebook, for example, when you see a post that says "Sponsored", that is a pay-per-click ad in social media. The effectiveness of social media PPC depends on the platforms ability to let you specify your target customer precisely enough to primarily reach them so you're not paying for a bunch of clicks that don't convert to customers.
You can do PPC advertising on:
Direct mail mean sending snail mail to a person to advertise your business. It is totally passé and because of that is actually becoming effective again. If you can afford it, it's best to send something that can't go straight to recycling. I suggest some type a swag in addition to you informational piece. My favorite was always the laser-pointer pen.
In affiliate marketing you pay a commission other people for sales that are generated by links from their website you yours that result in a sale. This is great because you only pay when you get a sale. The idea here is that you build off other people’s trust to allow them/you to inspire action.
Marketing Activities to be Used Carefully
Telemarketing is when you cold-call you prospects on the phone. This is often annoying and I strongly discourage it... particularly if you're calling me.
Warm calling is a different story. Get an introduction before you call someone. This can makes the process much more effective. "Hi Sandy, Robin Jones suggested I call you as you may be interesting in what we are doing." can be quite effective (assuming Sandy actually knows Robin). If not, it's just weird so do your homework and actually arrange for the introduction. "I see we're both connected to Robin jones on LinkedIn..." might work or they might say "Robin who???"
This is when you hire some third-party to make cold calls for you. This is almost never a good idea unless the third-party is superb at executing on this. If you do this, you need to have fully vetted the person making the calls. Any service that randomly assigns your cold-calling to whoever they have available will not be effective.
Define Your Sales Process
High-Touch / Low-Touch / No-Touch
For some businesses, the selling process may involve multiple in-person meetings. This is a very "high-touch" sale. For others, the customer may simply fill out a form online. This is define as a "No touch sale". There is a continuum of touch in the selling process.
High-Touch <-----> Low-Touch <-----> No-Touch
Places in the middle may range from an email exchange to a phone call.
Obviously, the recurring costs of a High-Touch sales process are much than that of a No-Touch sales process, at least in terms of time, which is effectively dollars for many one-person businesses since time spend selling is taken away from time spend producing.
But, depending on your product, the startup costs of a No-Touch sales process can be high although this is becoming less likely to be an issue with tools like Shopify and Udemy.
The amount of "Touch" you can afford to have in your sales process is related to how much money you make on a sale as well as the percentage of sales you actually close. If you are are an architect selling custom home designs, you can send some time with prospects because you'll likely make a large profit on a sale and by multiple meetings you'll increase your odds of actually closing the sale. If you are selling plastic garden gnomes for $12.99, you can't spend a lot of time on individual sales.
There is no magic formula to this. Too much touch and you cut your profit margin excessively, too little and you lose a lot of sales. One trick is to look at how the competition does it. It may be best to copy them OR you might want to see if this could be a differentiator. If they are all high-touch, perhaps you could go low-touch at a lower price point. Or if they are all low-touch, you could go high-touch at a higher price point.
Write down what your process should ideally look like. Answering these questions will help:
|How will I get prospects into the pipeline?||
|How will I qualify leads, that is, how will I ask the questions to determine if they are really my customer and so a potential buyer?||
|How will I keep track of my deals?||
|How will close my deals?||
Review Your Plan
Now it's time to look at what you've laid out and make sure it all makes sense together.
Back to Goals & Vision
Now is a good time to review what your laid out here and make sure it aligns with your initial goals and vision. This is important! you're doing this for some very specific reasons and if you plan doesn't line up with your goals, it's impossible to be successful. Of course, none of this is crystal clear. You are guessing at what this business will look like and you will most definitely not be accurate. But there are some show stoppers that you can see even at this early point. For example, if your business seems like it will require a fair amount of travel and one of your goals is more family time, the business is probably never going to be what you hoped.
Here are some other examples of things to look for:
Possible Solutions if Goals Not Being Met
|Time Commitment: Does the time required to run the business match the time you want to spend running the business?||Look at outsourcing some of the jobs you defined|
|Profit: Does the business still look like it can make a fair profit now that you've spec'd it out in more detail?||Explore cost cutting measures / Look at reducing your offering initially|
|Solopreneur: Does it still look like a one-person business?||Look at reducing/simplifying your offering / Become a small business instead|
|Type of work: Does the business still look like fun to you?||Redefine the business and start this process over|
Whatever you do, don't move forward with a business that doesn't match your goals. There's no way to succeed when you do that.
Can You Make Money?
It's now time to put pen-to-paper (or fingers to keyboard) and determine if the business you've imagined can make an acceptable profit. Realistically project your revenues and expenses and look at the resulting profit over time. This is always a guess, so don't get stymied. Just make sure that you are not overly optimistic and that, given realistic assumptions about
How Will you Fund Startup Expenses?
You need to calculate what it will cost to get started. Do your research and then add up those costs. If you're quitting your job to do this, don't forget to add living expenses until you start making money. Be a little pessimist here. It's almost always more difficult than you expect so be conservative.
Next, do you have enough funds to pull this off? If not, either find more funds or find a way to reduce startup costs.
Talk to Potential Customers
If the business still looks attractive to you, then it's time to talk to potential customers and see what they think. Is it attractive to them. What do they like and not like about it. Do they have any good ideas that can make it even better?
It's important to think about how you will assess the responses. People don't always know what they need. And some people are just naysayers. When you get a response, positive or negative, try to ask yourself, "Does this resonate with me? Does it make sense to me?" You need to be careful because you're likely to have a bias toward favoring your idea. But if you take a criticism and imagine having to defend it to other people, how easy is it to do that? If you find it's not hard, you should take it seriously. If it's difficult to defend the critique, then it may not be real.
This process can feel scary because after all the work you've done, the last thing you want to hear is "I don't like it." But, and I's saying this from experience, it's not nearly as painful as being in a business that no one wants to buy from. Everything you've done so far can be reimagined for almost no cost except time. You will never have this chance again in the business. So please, do your research and think critically about the results.
Content for Planning Your Solopreneur Business
Podcast: Planning Your One-Person Business
As part of this exercise, you'll be able to properly:
- Define your product
- Define your customer
- Define your competition
- Define your business
What you'll learn in this episode:
- What one-person businesses need to think about with market positioning
- Why everybody needs to niche down
- Why freelancers need to think of themselves as solopreneurs
- How supply and demand plays into product positioning
- How to approach market positioning
- Mistakes people make with market positioning
What you'll learn in this episode:
- Benefits solopreneurs can receive by working with a financial advisor
- How financial advice for solopreneurs may differ from other types of work setups
- When to start looking for a financial advisor
- What to look for in a financial advisor
- The top three questions Hunter Boyd gets from solopreneurs in regards to finances
What you'll learn in this episode:
- What is influencer marketing?
- Why influencer marketing is so great for solopreneurs
- How to reach out to brands and select the influencers to work with
- How brands can attract influencers they want to work with
- Do people need an existing audience to work with influencers?
- What's the ONE thing solopreneurs need to know about influencer marketing?
Alan Beckley is an entrepreneur, inventor, and podcaster. In 2002, he invented a thin, flexible wallet that carried twice as many cards, but was half as thick as most wallets and flexed for comfort. He vowed to do whatever it took to achieve success with his. For him, the journey to success was long and arduous.
Finally, in 2015, after 5 years of persistence, he licensed his invention, now called the Wonder Wallet to Allstar Products - a large As Seen on TV distributor. The Wonder Wallet was a huge TV sales success story, selling in over 10,000 retail stores accruing over $30 million in sales.
What you'll learn in this episode:
- Things Alan wished he would have known before becoming an inventor that he knows now
- The very first thing a person should do when they have an idea for an invention
- How to navigate the fine line of protecting your IP vs making sure your invention is viable
- Common mistakes inventors make and how to avoid them
- What the V-E-M Marketing Process is and how it helps inventors succeed
Podcast: Defining Your Business Strategy
What you'll learn in this episode:
- Things to keep in mind when defining your audience
- Why your competition may not be as straightforward as you think
- What to consider to position yourself effectively in the market
- How to talk about your business with prospects
What you'll learn in this episode:
- Why business models are important
- A walkthrough of various business models to consider for your business
- Examples of companies that fall under each category
Step 3. Setup Your Business
You know all that stuff you planned in step 2? Well now it's time to make all all that into reality. Planning and then setting up your one-person business can be an extensive process but by putting planning before doing, you greatly increase your chances of being happy with the final result. The important thing is to take it in pieces and use the LifeStarr Community as well as our content as a resource when you get stuck.
Start With Show Stoppers
Now look at the list of Tasks that Need to be Done to Start Your Business from Step 2: Plan You Solopreneur Business above and do the following:
- Identify the ones that are potential show stoppers in terms of getting started. These could include:
- Attach an approximate cost to each.
- Assess the risk level. How likely is it that you are unable to get this item?
- Now start working on the ones that are the high-risk, starting with the least expensive ones. You can work multiple tasks in parallel if it makes sense and doesn't risk too many dollars.
The idea here is to fail fast and cheap. If something isn't going to work, you'll quickly know with the minimal amount of money and effort spent. This will give you a chance to rethink your business or pivot.
Get these done and then move on to the rest.
Incorporate Your Business
A lot of the things you do in setting up your business will likely require having your corporate structure established. The idea here is that when you sign contracts and agreements, you are signing as the company and not as you personally. This is important because if things go badly for any reason, the company is on the hook and not you. This means that they can come after business assets but not personal ones like your house or car.
There are services that do this for you or you can use an attorney. Be sure to use one that specializes in this and check their reviews.
That said, watch out for "personal guarantees" in contracts as these will put you on the hook anyway. Personal guarantees will usually require another signature and be labeled as "guarantee" or something similar. Sometimes these are unavoidable, particularly with bank loans. But avoiding them as much as possible reduces your risk if something goes wrong. If you ignored our advice in the previous section and decided on a sole proprietorship, then everything is personally guaranteed. Bad idea!
Set Up Your Banking
The most important thing to know about business banking is that you need business banking. There's only one group pf people who mix business and personal finances... unprofessional people.
Don't do it.
Beyond that, when you have enough capital, it's a good idea to have both a business checking and a money market.
Finding a bank you can develop a personal relationship with seems to be passé. But it can still be a good strategy. Once your business is established, things like revolving lines of credit can make running your business easier. Having a relationship at the bank can sometimes make a difference.
Set Up Your Accounting Process
You can hire a bookkeeper to do your accounting for you. But you can easily do it yourself if you want and you'll be saving money. Top accounting packages for solopreneurs are:
You may also consider:
- Sage Accounting
- Zoho Books
- Wave Accounting
You CAN do your taxes all by yourself. I recommend this if:
- You like overpaying on taxes
- You feel that legitimate tex deductions are still cheating
- You want to spend half you waking hours studying the latest changes to the tax laws
What I am saying is that - at least as soon as you have meaningful income but probably before - find a tax pro that focuses on solopreneur (or a least home-based businesses) and engage them. This will save you all kinds of money.
Create Your Website
OK, OK, I know you've been dying to do this. Now you can create your website because, by doing all that planning, you know exactly what it should say.
You Need a Website
What's that you say? You don't need a website? You're just going to use a Facebook page. I don't know what your specific business is but unless it involves Luddites or a Cave Man Days Re-enactment club, you need a website. Here are some reasons why:
- You need to be able to control and adjust how customers experience your messaging. This is very difficult to do on Facebook.
- You need to collect email addresses of you prospects and customers. If Facebook bans you for no good reason (which they often do), you'll have better chance of getting an audience with the Pope than speaking to a human at Facebook to clear it up. I have seen disasters happen to people that relied on Mark Zuckerberg to power their business. Don't do it!
- Your competition has a website so you should too. If they don't, all the more reason to have one.
- Having a Facebook page does effectively nothing to help you rank on Google. You want to rank in Google.
- When prospects determine that you don't have a website, they will ask, "Why don't they have a website?" They will likely decide that it's because you aren't serious.
Decide What You Need Your Website to Do
What jobs does your website need to have?
Perhaps you just need an online brochure. This is typical for businesses like restaurants. People understand restaurants and they want to eat. You just need to let people know what kind of restaurant you are, where you're located, and give them a link to see your menu and perhaps a way to make a reservation or order takeout.
But for many businesses, the offering is not as obvious as a restaurant and prospect is on a Buyer's Journey (you should read this HubSpot blog on the topic). In this case, you need to guide them through the process from Awareness to Consideration to Decision. Your website can help with this if it's designed correctly. In this case, your websites jobs could include:
- Show up in searches for the problems you solve
- Educate your prospects in ways that they find valuable
- Clearly explain your product (via your product position)
- Show them how to contact you
- Capture their email addresses
- Perhaps sell your products
- Allow for social sharing
- Allow them to easily connect to you on social
Additionally, all websites need the following:
- Easy navigation
- Work on all devices (desktop, tablet and mobile). This called a "responsive" website. Make sure yours is.
- Have clear "calls to action". This means give the person the opportunity to do easily what you want them to do.
It's still important to message in such a way that you convey what makes you special. Maybe your pizza is no better or worse than the other pizza places in the area, but you have the friendliest service. Make sure your website conveys that.
Build Your Website
The first decision you need to make when building a website is who's going to build it? There are 2 options, you or someone else. George B. Thomas discusses this and other issues related to website development in this episode of The One Person Business Podcast.
If you plan on doing it yourself, then you'll need to decide which platform to build it on. The options that I would suggest considering:
Pros / Cons
Pros: Easy-to-use so great for non-technical people
Cons: Limited design flexibility. No CRM included.
Pros: Lots of options for plugins and hosting
Cons: Must use a secure hosting service as WordPress is the target of many hackers. Support is non-existent. Must keep plug-ins up-to-date yourself. No CRM included.
Pros: Lots of free website themes plus ones you can buy. HubSpot security team behind you. Built in blogging, fantastic technical support.
Cons: Only a basic CRM included. Big jump in price from Starter to Professional.
|HubSpot CRM Suite
Pros: Amazingly affordable and powerful. Seamlessly integrated with all HubSpot products. Secure. No plug-in worries. Fantastic technical support.
Cons: Big jump in price from Starter to Professional.
If you plan on hiring a professional, they will likely decide how the site will get built. Make sure that the platform they plan to use gives you all of the functionality that you want. Things like blogs, integrations to a CMS, etc.
Set Up Your Marketing Program
In the Planning Step, you decided how you were going to reach you customers. Now you need to set this up. There are endless possibilities here so I can’t speak to specifics. But whatever you decided to do, get it ready to go. This is a place where the LifeStarr Community can be really helpful. There are lots of smart people to ask for best practices. You can also hire contractors or agencies to help you with this, depending on your budget. If you do decide to go the agency route, Clutch.co is a great resource.
There's not much more I can tell you here because it's fully dependent on your Marketing Plan from Step 2.
Set Up Your Sales Process
In the Planning Step, you defined your sales process. Now you need to set it up.
Define How to Qualify Leads
You will need to define how you qualify your leads, that is, determine if the lead is a real opportunity:
- Define what a qualified lead is
- Create a script to qualify them
- Create a form to qualify them
Then you need to get leads. Things you may need to do for this include:
- Create a list of prospects to start with. These can be from your marketing efforts or your personal connections
- Create a list of referrals / references
You need some way to keep track of your prospects and customers. These tools are called CRMs, which stands for Customer Relationship Management. There are lots of great tools out there.
- Choose a CRM. there are hundreds of them. There are general ones and some specific to particular businesses.
- Then set it up to match your sales process
- The goal is to make it so the CRM guides you through the sales process as much as possible so tracking lead status and automating things that can be automated can really help.
Here are some to consider that have a price tier appropriate for most solopreneurs:
What happens when you close a sale? You then need to follow through and deliver whatever it is that you've promised. If you're selling access to a pre-recorded online course, than this may be a simple process that you automate. But if you are delivering some kind of personalized service or a physical product, this part of your business can be quite involved and require a great deal of thought to make it efficient.
Every business is different but there are some good ideas that almost anyone can use to do a better job of setting up your fulfillment process. Here are some:
Create a Checklist
Map out your fulfillment process in the form of a checklist. Let's say you sell products online but you drop ship them (you don't stock the product, someone else does). Then your checklist might look something like:
- Receive the order
- Review order and check for issues
- Notify wholesaler
- Mark as processed
Try to make this process as efficient as possible. The more time you can spend generating revenue, the more successful your business will be.
This is a place where the LifeStarr App can be invaluable. It's designed to help solopreneurs mange any type of task or project while working with anyone, even people that don't use the app. It automatically organized emails, files, meetings and notes so you can spend more time working and less time organizing and it's flexibile enough to deal with any kind of special case that may arise.
Look for Opportunities to Automate
Time is literally money when you are a one-person business. Automating certain processes via tools can have a huge return on investment. Here are some ideas but there may be others specific to your business.
Meeting Setup Automation
Calendly takes away the pain of finding meeting times. It integrates with you calendar and let's people find a time that you are available that works for them and then sets up the meeting for you.
There is a free version but you will likely want the $8 or $12 per month version.
Sending out marketing emails can be very time consuming. Here are some tools that can help a lot:
- Mailchimp can save you a lot of time. It will likely cost you $11 or $17 per month to meet your needs.
- HubSpot is a great choice if you have a high touch sales process. The CRM Suite Starter cost $30 per month but has a ton of features to automate marketing, sales, and service communications.
Automating Invoicing and Payment
Invoicing and getting paid are crucial activities but can eat a lot of time. Using an automation tool and can both save you time and get you paid faster. Some good options include:
- Quickbooks - cloud accounting software with integrated invoicing and payment
- Freshbooks - is a competitor of Quickbooks and targets solopreneurs
- HubSpot - Includes payment in the CRM Suite Starter
Social Media Automation
If you use social media in your marketing, you know how time consuming it can be. Tools like Hootsuite can save you a lot of time by letting you schedule social media posts in the future.
Just because you are a one-person business does not mean that you have to do everything. There are huge differences between having an employee and working with a contractor or an outside service. and with very few exceptions, you are hurting your business by trying to do everything yourself. The reality is that being a solopreneur and outsourcing is not cheating... it's smart business.
Reasons to Outsource
There are a number of reasons that you should outsource certain processes, specifically processes that aren't directly generating revenue for your business. Some of them are:
You Can Be More Efficient
Changing focus costs time. And changing the kinds of things you're doing costs even more time. If you can offload some aspect of your business that doesn't need you to get it done, you can be more focused on the things that do require you... especially the things that generate revenue.
Your Work Can Be More Enjoyable
There are many aspects to running nay business and, as a one-person business, all of these will often fall on you. But I'll bet there are some jobs that you are going to not like doing. Outsourcing these can make running our business much more enjoyable. When I first started my solo real estate development business, I did my own bookkeeping. This was a bad idea. I hated it, and despite 3 accounting classes during my college career, I wasn't very good at it. The day I outsourced my bookkeeping was a fine day for me and got me more focused on doing things that made money like finding sites for retail development.
It Can Be More Cost Effective
If you can use the time you save to make more money than you spend on outsourcing the job, you bring more to the bottom line. Who doesn't want that?
Outsourcing Core Considerations
There are 4 dimensions to consider when deciding whether to outsource any particular function. they are:
- How important is the function?
Importance means how important is the function to the core of your business. If a process is important to your business, the most competent person should do it. This can be based on how much revenue the process generates, if any. But it can also relate to critical things like tax returns where messing it up can be a big deal. If it's important and you're the best, you should do it. If you can hire someone better without breaking the bank, that's the way to go.
- How skilled are you relative to a professional?
You need to consider your skill versus a professional. Are you better at it than them? Are they better than you? Are you the same? Whether or not to outsource something that you are best at will be a function of how important it is. If it's important, you need to do it. If it's not, then a pro makes more sense. If the pro is better at it, then if it's important, it's probably best to outsource.
- What is the time commitment required to do the function?
For processes that aren't directly generating revenue, the decision to outsource can be a function of how much time the process requires. If it doesn't take much time, it is more likely to be worth doing yourself. If it is time consuming and not important, then outsourcing makes a lot of sense since your time is better spent generating revenue.
- What is the cost of a professional versus you?
The last consideration is the cost of a pro versus your "opportunity cost". Opportunity cost is how much revenue you won't be able to generate because you are spending time doing this instead. If the pro is cheaper than your time, then that is in favor of hiring the pro. If not, then it leans toward you doing it.
Unless you're Einstein, working in 4 dimensions is hard on the brain. I've put together an Excel spreadsheet that can help you decide which functions to outsource. We've created an Excel spreadsheet to hep with the decision making. Click to button to download it.
Sometimes there are other considerations when making the decision to outsource. This is particularly true in the early days.
The Need to Conserve Funds
If there isn't enough cash flow to afford outsourcing, then you need to do it, at least until the cash flow situation improves.
Not Enough Work
Related to this is not having enough work. If you have time that you've allocated to your business available, then using it to run your business makes sense until you can better use that time.
Sometimes you love doing something in your business that on paper should be outsourced. But you're running a one-person business to live the life you want to live. So if you love doing something and you won't screw it up - do it. For example, if you love doing taxes and you can do them correctly, by all means do your own taxes. And perhaps get some counseling 😉.
Lastly, there are times, particularly early in your business, where you won't know the answers to the questions we've posed here. In this case, it's probably best to try doing it yourself until you have a better understanding of the nature of the process.
Getting It Done
It Sounds Overwhelming
This sounds like a lot and, in some ways it is. But it's way better the cover all the bases as opposed to finding you missed something crucial.
Break it Down
Just break it into steps and focus on a few at a time. It's amazing how things become do-able when you break them into little pieces
What are you waiting for?
Content for Setting Up Your One-Person Business
Podcast: Setting Up Your One-Person Business
This step of the solopreneur success cycle is extensive, so be sure to take it in pieces and know that we are continually working hard to bring you all the content you need about these topics! If you have any questions about them, be sure to visit the LifeStarr Community where you can ask experts and other solopreneurs.
In this episode, we give an overview on:
- Incorporating your business
- Taking care of show stoppers
- Developing your messaging strategy
- Creating your website
- Setting up your marketing program and sales process
- Managing fulfillment
George B. Thomas is an Inbound Marketer, HubSpot Certified Trainer and Video Jedi (he's created thousands of marketing and sales videos) at Impulse Creative with more than 30 years of sales and marketing experience. He is a HubSpot Certified Trainer and HubSpot Onboarding Specialist with a record-breaking thirty HubSpot Academy certifications. He has spoken at events with thousands of attendees and trained corporations who have gone on to earn millions of dollars.
In this episode, George talks everything from which platform to use for your website, to how to approach content, to website security, and where to find helpful resources...plus so much more!
What you'll learn in this episode
- What solopreneurs need to think about when building and hosting their website
- Where to spend money on your website and where to hold back
- What your website should be doing for you
- Why A/B testing is so important for your website
- What common mistakes people make with their websites
- What you need to think about when it comes to website copy
- What's the most important thing you need to know for your website
- What platforms a one-person business should consider for their website
Best selling Author, International Speaker, and host of both the Award-winning eCommerce MasterPlan AND Keep Optimising Podcasts. Chloë is one of the Top 30 eCommerce Influencers 2021 (Scurri), and her podcasts are regularly included in lists of the top eCommerce & marketing podcasts in the world.
Chloë Thomas has been in eCommerce since 2003, she’s worked client-side, agency-side, and adviser-side. Over the years she’s helped retailers and brands large and small, and there’s barely a part of the eCommerce landscape she’s not got involved with. One thing she’s always done is solve eCommerce Marketing Problems.
What you'll learn in this episode
- The most important things a solopreneur needs to think about when starting an eCommerce business
- Whether or not one-person business owners need to be approaching eCommerce differently than larger businesses
- Where the majority of mistakes happen for solopreneurs running an eCommerce business
- What solopreneurs can do to stand out from the crowd
- How eCommerce brands can strive for Net Zero
In this episode, we had the privilege of interviewing J.P. Medved. Not only has Carly known him for 30 years, but he’s also insanely qualified to talk about content marketing.
J.P. was a content marketing director in the software space with Capterra, (who was acquired by Gartner) and is now following his entrepreneurial side as the co-founder of Longevity Advice, where he’s building a business around radical life extension, something he has been passionate about since he was a teenager, and he’s basically building that company through content marketing efforts.
What you'll learn in this episode
- Where solopreneurs should start if they're new to content marketing
- Benefits of content marketing for solopreneurs
- Effective forms of content for solopreneurs to create
- Mistakes people make with content marketing and how to avoid them
- What solopreneurs should do if they don’t have a lot of time or experience in this area but want to be a player
- How solopreneurs can get their content in front of the right audience
- The best way to measure success with your content marketing efforts
Dr. Keegan Caldwell is a patent attorney and the founder and managing member of Caldwell Intellectual Property Law. He founded the firm in 2016 and last year it was the fastest- growing law firm in the United States and has offices in Boston, MA, Santa Monica, CA, and London, UK. Keegan served in the US Marine Corps right after high school. He holds a BS in Biomedical Science and a PhD in Physical Chemistry.
Keegan has extensive and diverse experience with advising clients from innovation conception to 9 and 10 figure monetization events. Keegan works with start-ups and established entities to both develop patent portfolios and to monetize them. He emphasizes the interaction between intellectual property and sound business practices to help his clients leverage their IP and create shareholder value. He has assisted clients with a broad spectrum of patent issues for a wide array of technology and takes pride in curating and enforcing high-value patent portfolios
What you'll learn in this episode
- What is and isn't intellectual property
- The difference between patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets
- What solopreneurs need to think about when addressing intellectual property
In the Doing/Learning Phase, there are a lot of things that are very specific to your business. But there are things that almost all businesses have in common. While we can't tell you exactly what you should be doing in your particular business. But we can help you with those basics that are common to most businesses. And this can often be half the battle.
Note that the Doing/Learning Phase has only one Step, which is Execute and Learn. However, you can define your own Steps based on your business and use this as your own personalized version of the Solopreneur Success Cycle.
Step 4: Execute / Learn
You've built out a plan and set up your business. Now it's time to execute! There is a lot to do and lots of it begs to be done now! But to keep sane, you're going to want to prioritize getting things rolling.
Executing Your Marketing Plan
In most cases, marketing is a good place to start. There's not much to do if you don't have customers so executing on your marketing plan makes sense. That said, if you happen to know some of your prospects personally and can reach out on the phone, sales may bring business in the door quicker. But don't neglect the marketing for long or your pipeline will likely dry up.
You developed your marketing plan in the last Phase so I'll just assume that you executing against that plan. But let's cover a few things about executing on your marketing plan.
Be Consistent in Your Content Creation
One key to marketing is to execute on a consistent basis. This means that your blog comes out on the same day at the same time. This could be daily, twice a week, weekly, monthly, etc. but set expectations for your audience and stick to them. The same goes for a podcast.
Focus on Quality Content
The days of "get something/anything out there" are over. Quality is key if your want people to consume your content. If something comes up and you don't have time to produce a piece of quality content for that week, find an old piece and rework it slightly. Don't post garbage as it will hurt you.
If you post any date-sensitive information on your site, keep it up-to-date. It's sad to see a website talking about an upcoming event that happened 2 months ago. Seeing a blog section who's latest post is from 2 years ago just tell people "nobody's home." If you are serious, do not let this happen. If you need down time from content creation, use the concept of Seasons. You can have Season 1 of you podcast, take some time away and then start Season 2. This is less common in blogs but beats just fading away.
Always Add Value on Social Media
Your social media posts should always add value to your target audience. Being cute or snarky can be fun, but it won't usually get you followers relevant to your business.
Review Pay-Per-Click Marketing Regularly
With Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing, it's important to review what working and what isn't. Dump the ads that don't work and riff of the ones that do to find even more effective ads.
Measure Your Progress
You need some way to determine how effective your marketing is. Obviously, if your getting more customers, something is working but knowing what is and isn't producing results can make you a lot more efficient. Google Analytics is free and can provide lots of insight. There are also lots of tools that you can buy to help with this. Here are soem priced appropriately for most solopreneurs:
Remember that growing your business using these techniques takes time. As long as things are moving in the right direction, you should stick with it. It's only if you are not seeing any traction that you should reinvent at this point. Usually, the next Phase of the Solopreneur Success Cycle will be a time consider new approaches.
Build a Referral Engine
For some businesses, referrals can be an amazing source of business. If you customers and potential customer communicate with each other on a regular basis, then building a referral engine can be a fantastic source of new business. listen to Sarah Montani talk about her business that has literally no marketing other than referrals.
Executing Your Sales Plan
Unless you have a no-touch sale, you will find yourself acting as your salesperson to close deals. Selling does not have to be miserable.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to talk about them, not you. Rules 1, 2 and 3 are to talk about their problems and how you can solve them. As the old saying goes, people hate to be sold to but they love to buy. By talking about their problems, making them feel uncomfortable and then providing a solution, you get to help them buy.
You need to check yourself on a regular basis. People tend to drift away from what they should be doing. Review and refresh your sales approach regularly.
When selling, it's important to meet the prospect where they are.
- Try to match their energy level, that is, don't be excited if they're mellow, etc.
- Discuss your offer at a high level and go deeper into details as they desire
Dealing with Competition
You will probably be vying with competitors for any given deal. There are some dos and don'ts that will serve you well.
- Focus on the problem that you will solve
- Be willing to send them to a competitor if the competitor is better suited for their needs. This builds trust makes you look strong and confident. If your competitors are honorable, they will return the favor. If they don't, try referring different competitors.
- "Trash talk" the competition
- Try to compete on price unless that's your core strategy. It weakens their perception of the value you add and kills your margins if you get the deal.
Use test closes. As they describe their problem ask questions like "If I could make that problem never happen again, would you be willing to hire me?" The idea is to get them saying "Yes." This also lets you see whether the problem they have is something you can solve and whether you are conveying your value clearly.
In the end, when you ask for the deal, they have said yes so many times it's hard to say no.
Dealing with Objections
Everyone hates objections. But you should welcome objections. Do NOT argue or fight with the prospect. Always respect their feelings. Never say "but" as it negates their feelings.
One cool tactic is that if there is an obvious objection, bring it up first. Then address it.
Use objections to help them tell you how to close the deal. The buyer is telling you how they want to buy. When you get an objection, ask questions. "Why do you say that?" or " Why is that important to you?"
Closing the Deal
Ask for the deal and get them to "sign" on the spot, if possible. Sometimes that's impossible but get some kind of a commitment from them If you cannot close then, ALWAYS schedule the next meeting before you leave.
Review Your CRM
During the setup phase, you made you best guess as to how your CRM should work for you. As you actually use it, take notes on things that need to be changed. Things that are really problematic or relatively easy to fix you should do ASAP. The bigger lifts should wait until the Improve Phase of the Solopreneur Success Cycle.
While every business is unique, they all have a few things in common. Let's cover those.
The first is bookkeeping and accounting. EVERY business needs this and not just for tax returns. You need to understand how your business is doing health-wise. Good financial statements are the key.
One of the great ironies of the universe is that a lot of businesses get destroyed by being too successful. This happens because as they grow rapidly, they run out of working capital.
Working capital is the money available to you to run your business. It's a lot like blood is to a body. Imagine a creature with 5 pint of blood suddenly grows to 3 times it's size. If it still only had 5 pints of blood, it's going to die for lack of oxygen and nutrients reaching its cells. There's just nor enough blood to do the job any more.
Working capital does for a business what blood does or a body. It pays the bills that need paying and hires the contractors that need to be hired. If the business grows to fast without working capital increasing commensurately, people don’t get paid and stop providing goods and services and the business dies. Watch out for this.
- Revolving Lines of Credit: This is when a bank agrees to let you borrow money as you need it. So on a lean month you may draw cash against the line and pay interest on it. Later you may have cash to pay it down.
- Standard Loans: These are loans where you receive a certain amount of money from the lender and pay it back over time. You can get these from a bank, working capital lenders, or perhaps the Small business Administration. Be careful for some scammy lenders. Google is your friend here. Do your due diligence.
- Equity Investment: If an investor believes in your business, they may buy a portion of your business in return for a share of the profits. This is unusual for one-person businesses.
It's important to note that lenders will almost always require a personal guarantee on the loan. This means that even though you've set up your business as a corporation or LLC, you will still be personally liable for the loan.
The bank will do their best to be sure that they are made whole regardless, but they will not analyze your business to the point where you can rely of them for validation of your use of funds. They'll just be sure you have enough equity in your home. So be careful.
Speaking of working capital, one of the best ways to maintain adequate working capital is to get paid on time by your customers. To do this you need to be proactive. This means not waiting until a payment is late before reaching out.
Something as simple as a polite reminder phone call or email a week BEFORE it is due and work miracles. Then obviously, following up again after the due date. Try to be diligent but pleasant in this process so as not to alienate customers.
If you can manage to get paid on retainer (that is, in advance), you can pretty much avoid a working capital issue, assuming that your business is actually profitable, You can't always get away with this, but if you can, it's awesome.
In Get Started Phase of the Solopreneur Success Cycle, you decided which jobs were going to be done by outsourced service providers. Now you need to develop a process for working with them. We can lump service providers into two broad categories, Occasional and Regular.
- Occasional Service Providers: If the service provider is only used occasionally on an ad hoc basis, then you can work with them as needed. Let's say you've hired a company to update your website. Just do what makes sense for that current project.
- Regular Service Providers: If the service provider is a regular part of the operation of the business, you need to create a framework or routine for how to work together for the long haul. Let's say its bookkeeping and accounting services. You should decide on a regular date for sending over info as well as a standing meeting to discuss and review. Treating a core function of your business as though it were ad hoc is asking for that function to break down.
Managing Your Time
Obviously, the specifics of this will be determined by the nature of your business. But there some best practices that you may want to adhere to.
One of the keys yo being productive and organized is be able to focus on the work at hand. in recent years, we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars developing technologies who's sole purpose is to prevent this from happening. It's up to you to take charge and make sure you have an environment that lets you focus. Here are some things you should probably do.
Turn off distractions!
Professor Cal Newport calls our plugged-in, beeping and buzzing work style the "hyperactive hive mind", which is even worse for people who work remotely. Email, text messages, Slack messages, and dozens of other technologies are constantly interrupting us. Plus people expect instant responses.
I'm guilty of letting myself be disrupted by this too. And it's crazy. Here's what I've done:
- Tell people you will only be checking messages and emails at certain times of the day. Explain that you are doing this so you can focus on doing the best work possible. Most people will respect it and understand.
- Set apps to Do Not Disturb
- Get rid of browser notifications that you don't need. Here's how to do it in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.
- Quiet down your phone. Get rid of unnecessary notifications. Here's how to do it on iPhone and Android.
- Set times to check email and tell people that what you do. They'll get used to not getting immediate responses.
Get a system to manage tasks. If you have one that works great. If not, check out David Allen's Getting Things Done method. In my opinion, this is the best task management process ever conceived. We based the LifeStarr App on it and then designed it for solopreneurs.
Always follow through on your commitments. This is the only way to be perceived as trustworthy. If you can't meet a commitment for some reason, get ahead of it. Let the client know BEFORE it's late and give them a good, HONEST reason why. This massively mitigates the amount of trust lost between you and the client.
It's important to track how things are going relative to the way you hoped your company would work versus the way it is actually working. This may be som small operational glitch or a complete miss on one of your Goals you defined in Phase 1 of the Solopreneur Success Cycle. Take some time regularly to review where things are not going as hoped and note them in a list. In the next phase you will use this to focus your efforts on improving your business.
It should look something like this:
Issue, Cause, Ideas to Solve
Ideas to Solve
Example: Cash gets tight in certain months
Booking are slow in the 4th quarter
Get a bank line of credit,
Offer a subscription service
Example: website takes too long to update
Contractor is slow to respond
Get a new contractor.
Move website to platform I can update myself.
Content for Executing
You're past the setup and planning phase and now it's time to actually do the work and release your business to the world. Woohoo! Congratulations!
During this execution phase, there are some things that will be specific to your business, but there are other things that are general to many types of one-person businesses, which is what we cover in this episode.
In this episode, we walk through what you should be thinking about during the execution phase in relation to:
- Managing time
- Managing fulfillment
If you're looking to find somebody who truly understands sales to the core, look no further than Greg Rutan. Greg began his career in sales coaching before moving on to roles as Director of Sales and Marketing at NICA and Director of Strategic Partnerships at EF College Study Tours.
Greg is now a member of the Board of Directors for the Yale Alumni Association and for the past decade, has been VP of Sales and Marketing at Trade Area Systems.
In this episode, Greg does not talk traditional sales like ABC (always be closing) tactics. Instead, he teaches you how to understand people and how to get them to come to the conclusion that your solution is the one that will solve their problems.
In this episode, you'll learn:
- What one-person businesses need to think about with selling and the sales process
- What one-person businesses should first focus on when beginning the sales process with a prospect
- How to deal with people as individuals, with their various personalities and beliefs
- Whether people buy more based off emotions or logic
- What do to do when a prospect says "no"
- Why you "have to kiss a lot of frogs" in sales
- Why you should consider your customers your partners
- Why you should keep friendly relationships with your competition
- What some common mistakes are that one-person businesses make in sales
- What the single greatest tool is for repeat business and referrals
- What the one thing is people flying solo in business should take away from this episode
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker, and author of Duct Tape Marketing, The Referral Engine, The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur, and The Ultimate Marketing Engine. He is also the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network, which trains and licenses independent consultants and agencies to use the Duct Tape Methodology.
With The Ultimate Marketing Engine, John has taken the past decade of working with and collaborating with thousands of businesses and presents the latest evolution and innovation in the world of marketing.
What you'll learn in this episode
- Why successful customers are the key to successful marketing
- How the marketing hourglass differs from the marketing funnel
- What the customer success track is and why it's important to understand it
- Why you shouldn't promote your products and services and what you should do instead
- How to scale your business while staying a company of one
- Mistakes people make when scaling their businesses
- How to increase referrals
Jess is a speaker, author, and founder and proud Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management. She literally wrote the book on how building a successful relationship with a virtual assistant can make all the difference in helping business owners get to the next level.
Her life is often a whirlwind of wrangling her toddler, speaking at conferences (virtual and beyond!), researching productivity hacks, and meticulously making matches between overworked entrepreneurs and focused virtual assistants. You can find her on Instagram at @dontpanicjess, listen to her podcast at panicproofradio.com, and buy her book at panicproofbook.com.
What you'll learn in this episode
- What types of services a virtual assistant can provide
- Common misconceptions about virtual assistants
- How to determine if you should bring on a virtual assistant
- What to look for in a virtual assistant
- Red flags to look out for when vetting a virtual assistant
- How solopreneurs can best prepare for hiring a virtual assistant to make it a smooth transition
- How to find a virtual assistant
In this episode, we walk through content mapping, content and promotion calendars, helpful tools to stay organized, and all that jazz. As a solopreneur, your schedule can get pretty overwhelming, and even though this planning part of your content takes a little bit of time upfront, it saves you tons of time in the long run and provides a lot of additional benefits.
Planning, scheduling, and organizing your content marketing efforts:
- Gives you direction
- Helps prevent panic mode of what content to work on next
- Helps you monitor your efforts and channels and keeps track of the type of content your audience responds to and what they don’t
- Helps you figure out the sweet spot of your posting frequency and times
- Allows you to identify inefficiencies you can’t afford to have as a company of one
And it truly helps to keep you focused, productive, and avoid distractions
On this episode of The One-Person Business podcast, we have on registered dietitian, entrepreneur, fat loss expert, speaker, and pancake addict, Garrett Serd. Garrett is the founder and owner of the online women’s fat loss company – Tandem Nutrition. Despite Garrett’s love for one-on-one nutrition coaching, he now travels the country speaking at events educating the common consumer and the busy professional on how to lose fat, gain muscle and improve their health in a simple, realistic and sustainable way.
What You'll Learn In This Episode
Time-saving hacks solopreneurs can implement to make sure they’re still prioritizing health
Takeout tips for solopreneurs who still want to be on a wellness journey
Tips for setting your mindset to take back control of your time
The importance of sleep and why it’s necessary for a healthy body, and in turn, a successful business
As a solopreneur, you're going to be wearing a lot more hats than someone who starts a company with employees. You need to be ready. You need a system that won't let you down. We've discovered one that allows anyone to function efficiently and effectively. In fact, if you set it up and follow it, nothing will fall through the cracks, you'll work faster and you will literally sleep better at night.
It's called Getting Things Done also known as GTD, and the concept and book were created by David Allen. In this episode, we describe it but this isn't going to be a tutorial. If it sounds good, we suggest buying the book. In fact, this methodology inspired the creation of the LifeStarr App!
The concept includes five steps: Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage. We dive into each of these phases as well as possible "gotchas" with the methodology. Tune in to see how solopreneurs can become their most organized and productive selves!
We all have 24 hours in a day, so why are some people so much more productive with that time than others? Sure, some people are just innately efficient (good for them!), but honestly, what it comes down to is that the most successful people only focus on a few things at a time...
No matter how ambitious you are, distractions are everywhere. It’s nearly impossible to fully escape them. Even the highest performers in any given field encounter and fall victim to them.
Achieving your goals is a marathon, not a sprint, and as any marathon runner would tell you, at some point during the race, it no longer becomes a physical game, but a mental one.
You have to be able to keep your mind focused on what you’re doing and not let it look for a way out...
Even on your road to greatness, there will be stops along the way that you won’t enjoy. It just is what it is. You’re not going to love what you’re doing 100% of the time. However, these stops don’t have to be complete detours. You can continue your journey rather quickly if you just keep the meaning and purpose of what you’re doing in mind.
If you truly want to build a solopreneur business that will become and stay everything that you want, you need to allocate time on a regular basis to review your business and find ways to improve it. This is obvious if things are not going the way you want them to, but there are a number of reasons it is important to do this even if things seem great. They are:
- The world is changing and this could affect our business
- Your needs may be evolving
- There may be new opportunities to grow into
Improving doesn't necessarily mean making it more profitable. It may instead mean making it less stressful, more fulfilling, working fewer hours and so on. But even if you end up changing nothing, this is an exercise worth doing.
How often you do this depends on you and your business. But I recommend at least annually. If you industry is in transition, you may want to do it more frequently.
Step 5: Refine/Reimagine
At this point, you've built your business with your goals front and center and have executed it for a time. Unless you are extremely lucky, not everything has gone the way you have hoped and there id room for improvement to help you better align your business and your goals.
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, but if you haven't you'll need to do that now. In this section you are going to refine and possible reimagine your one-person business. It's a time to reflect and think deeply about where you are versus where you want to be.
Write down all the ideas that come from going through this process. This is like a brainstorming session. All ideas are welcome because it's not until the next step of the Solopreneur Success Cycle, you'll decide what you actually want to do. If you need some people to bounce ideas off of, the LifeStarr Community is a great place to find people that can help.
This is a time to reflect. You should plan this time so that you can carve out a few hours a day for a week or so. Yes, this will likely impact your revenue but it is well worth it if you want to grow your business into something that fits your life. and your goals.
Your business is unique to you so I can't give specific advice about all aspects of it. But I can cover things that virtually all businesses have in common. But be sure to apply this thinking to the aspects of you business.
Review Goals & Success
Start by looking at your definition of Goals & Success from the first step of the Solopreneur Success Cycle. How are you doing compared to your goals and your definition of success? Is it working? Is it at least going in the right direction? If so, great! This section will help you to do even better. If not, then this section is a crucial next step in your one-person business journey. Either way, take careful notes on each section so you can have a solid list to work from when you decide what to change.
Some places to focus on here are:
The most important question - are you happy that you are doing what you're doing? Is it just OK? Or is it a living nightmare? Of course, you're not going to be happy all the time in your business. But is it what you hoped to be doing?
If you aren't happy, this section is crucial to finding a way to improve your situation.
Are you taking care of your health or is running your business causing you to neglect it? If you're too busy, use this process to find a way to make time. If you just hate exercise, try to find something that works for you. Walking is a fantastic form of exercise and frees you to think about your business while you do it.
A lot of solopreneurs lack social interaction just because they're in a solo business. How are you doing with your relationships? Do you have time to spend with the people you car about. If not, use this process to find the time. One of the biggest factors in long-term health is having social interaction. Find a way to do it.
Refining or Rethinking the Basics
When reviewing your business, I think it's best to start at the "forest" level and work your way down to the "trees". If the big picture is off, there's no need to sweat the details of your current business as these will change as you adjust the overall strategy.
Has the World Changed?
Sometimes you've gotten it all right and then something changes that affects your business. It may be technology-based or a change in tax laws, a new fad or fashion, or a shift in cultural norms. It could be lots of things. But the point is, if it affects your business, you need to consider how you should adjust your business to address the changes.
One of the biggest questions you can ask yourself is, am I in the right business? In startup culture, they call it "pivoting". You start out doing A and then realize 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 it personally, you cannot argue with its success. In fact, Twitter, PayPal, Groupon, Starbucks, Instagram, and Pinterest are all the result of pivots.
If you are getting beat by competitors even when you're the best option, you probably have a messaging problem. You may want to review how you explain who you are and what you do.
One key aspect of you market position strategy is pricing. Perhaps you aren't priced in line with market expectations and that's why your losing sales. But make sure that pricing is really the issue before you cut your prices.
With respect to your market position, did you define a it as we spoke about in the Planning episode of SSC? If so, you may want to refine it now. If not, now if a great time to do it as this is another reason that competitors may be beating you where they shouldn't. Refining it may help you to get the deals you want.
And as a reminder, 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. For example, the idea is not to be a "graphic designer" but instead a "Brand Builder for Startups". This will appeal much more to founders of startup companies than the generic graphic designer description.
But there are other reasons to refine or reimagine your market position.
- Are you happy with the kind of work you're getting? If not, perhaps narrowing you market position would help you get more of the work you like.
- Is there not enough work? Then maybe you need to broaden your market position to include a larger addressable market.
- Or maybe you've discovered some aspect of what you do that you really just want to focus on. That's a fantastic reason to adjust your market position.
What about your business model? Is it working the way you hoped? Are you making a real profit - that is - is cash flow positive after taxes? Talk to your accountant if you have one. Note that net income on paper is very different than cash flow if you are using accrual accounting. You can show a profit in your financial statements and yet be losing cash - or vice-versa. You should also look at a cash flow statement to truly see how you are doing from a cash perspective.
I co-founded a company that lost money every year on paper and yet produced a positive cash flow year-after-year. Things like depreciation, amortization, and revenue recognition approaches can cause this. Why would someone do this? By continually re-investing in the business, we were able to grow it with money that would have otherwise go to paying taxes. The business grew to become very valuable and, when we sold it, the taxes were paid.
Marketing is no longer a guessing game when it comes how effective it is. There are a plethora of tools at your disposal that you can use to measure the majority of your marketing efforts, specifically when it comes to digital marketing.
For your website, Google Analytics and Google Search Console can give you tons of information on pages that are performing best, clicks, words that rank in search, etc. Social media platforms provide valuable analytics, as do email platforms as well.
Take a look at your numbers compared to industry averages as well as the original goals you set for yourself and see how you compare. For the areas that aren't performing as well as you'd like, tweak them. However, don't change too many things at once because it will be difficult to know which of the things improved your metrics.
For things that are performing well, see how you can double down on these efforts to achieve even more of a good thing.
Plan to review your metrics quarterly. If you review more frequently it's difficult to find patterns. If you wait longer, you may be missing opportunities to adjust more quickly.
Marketing is ever evolving. You're never actually done with these efforts, so use the tools available to you to optimize for the best results.
How are you doing against the competition? Are they beating you just because they're better than you? If so, improve you skills ASAP or find some other niche where your skills are sufficient.
Are you losing opportunities to competitors because they are better at selling than you are? If so, level up those sales skills. I found Tony Robbins' Mastering Influence course to be amazing.
Scaling Up - Growing Revenue and/or Profit
One of the questions I hear constantly from many solopreneurs is "How can I increase revenue and profit without working even more hours." This is especially challenging for people who trade money for time like freelancers, coaches, and consultants.
In this section I am assuming that you you are working as many hours as you want to in the business. What I mean is that you are not lacking for work, just trying to find a way to increase revenue and profit and to work more efficiently and effectively.
Do you have to grow? The old adage is, "You're either growing or dying." But you became a solopreneur to meet YOUR goals, not some investor or shareholder. And if your current revenue and profits are achieving that, then growing may not be a good option for you. But do do be sure to keep pace with inflation.
So why should you grow revenue and profit? The obvious reason is to make more money and have a better lifestyle. But there's another possible reason. My dad used to say, "revenue growth forgives a lot of sins." What he meant was that if you are growing revenue, you can afford to make mistakes as you figure out your business. Of course, this does not include working capital, which can be the opposite as we discussed in the Do Phase.
There’s lots of advice on how to scale your business but it tends to be very cookie-cutter. Every solopreneur business is unique, and to me it helps to break the challenges into their root components so that you can determine which strategies will help you.
Start this process by analyzing your current processes; determine what's working and what isn't and focus on the things that aren't working well or are taking a lot of time.
Breaking Down Scaling Up
Scaling up a business involves one or more of the following:
- Get more customers
- Sell more to your existing customers
But scaling as a solopreneur is different from scaling as a regular business. If a regular business gets more customers or sells more products, they can hire more employees to deliver the products and services.
But it’s not so simple for solopreneurs, who have limited time and fewer options for expanding capacity. Therefore, there is a third step that needs to be factored in:
- Deliver more efficiently to your customers
Improvements in any one of these categories can help you scale up. Improvements in all three can be amazing.
Getting More Customers
How you get customers can be looked at on a continuum from what I call Hunting to Zero Touch. This relates to the level of effort involved in getting a new customer. I’ve laid it out here in what I call the Customer Acquisition Effort Scale.
Hunting: You must find each prospect and convert them to a customer
Referrals: Something sends the prospect to you, and you convert them to a customer
Zero Touch: Prospects become customers with no direct effort to convert.
Customer Acquisition Effort Scale
This is the most time-intensive way to sell because you are out looking for and closing new customers. It involves things like:
- Finding new prospects
- Engaging the prospect
- Selling the prospect
- Closing the first sale
Often times this results in a "feast-or-famine" situation because you get busy producing work for customers, and you don't have time for prospecting. When you finish the work, there's not enough new work in the pipeline because you stopped prospecting. Then you go back to looking for business instead of producing revenue and the pattern repeats.
Here you've built some kind of system to deliver prospects to your doorstep. Traditionally this was thought of as word-of-mouth, but these days there are many other ways to drive opportunities to you with little effort. Affiliate marketing, influencer marketing, pay-per-click advertising, organic social media, or perhaps a lead-gen agency are all options today. But once the prospect comes to you, you need to close them. This reduces the feast-or-famine problem because you spend less time finding opportunities, though you still need to close them. This is a Medium Touch sale.
- Finding new prospects Done for you via referral
- Engaging the prospect They come to you
- Selling the prospect
- Closing the first sale
In this case, customers come to you and buy from you without you interacting with them. Online retail is an example of this kind of selling. Opportunities for selling this way are usually limited to lower-cost items or items that are well understood and trusted by the customer. However, by building a top-notch reputation, you can increase the price point of online sales.
- Finding new prospects Done for you via referral
- Engaging the prospect They come to you
- Selling the prospect They buy from you
- Closing the first sale
Where You Should Be On the Customer Acquisition Effort Scale
Where you target for Customer Acquisition Effort depends on the nature of your business. Unless you are selling a low-cost product like and app, a low-cost online course, or have an online retail store, many solopreneurs start on the Hunting end of the spectrum, often using relationships to generate leads.
If you are selling something like one-one coaching or a high-priced software product, it is unlikely that you will be able to achieve anything close to a No-Touch sale. In one case you're selling yourself, in the other, you’re asking for a big check and so should expect some up-front effort to make it happen.
If you are selling, say, dog toys online, it's fairly easy to imagine being on the No-Touch end of the scale from the start. People come to your website, see the dog toy, and order it online. Your website and associated marketing activities can refer the customer to you with little effort per customer, though there may be work in creating content, posting to social media and so on. But individual sales do not cost you much time to close. In fact, it wouldn't be feasible financially if they did.
Even if you have a very High-Touch Sale, there are things you can do here to move to the right in the Customer Acquisition Continuum:
- Finding new opportunities: Use affiliate marketing, content marketing, influencer marketing, social media, and so on to drive people to your site. This beats cold-calling from a time-investment perspective and is often more effective in the long run.
- Engaging the prospect: Find a virtual assistant to vet opportunities so you don't spend time on deals that don't make sense. Or use an online questionnaire to determine the viability of the deal.
- Selling the prospect: Put social proof on your website from satisfied customers. Produce some content or other material can help convey that you are the right fit for the job.
- Closing the sale: This may still involve you, but you could contract with an experienced salesperson to handle the closing process. This will likely be expensive but can be worthwhile is the time you gain back is more valuable than what you pay them or you are terrible at sales and need someone else to do it.
Sell More to Your Existing Customers
A Simple Way to Increase Sales - Raise Prices
Raising prices can be a great strategy, especially if you have too much work. You may lose customers but, if done carefully, you can make more money regardless.
means selling a new product to existing customers from scratch; it’s usually a lot of effort unless it's a low cost product.
means selling the same product gain to the customer. This is less effort but since they’ve bought once but still involves some work on your part and it requires that you sell a product that needs to be bought ore than once. While
means it happens by itself and there is no effort by you. I’ve laid it out here in what I call the Repeat Sales Effort Scale.
Re-selling: You have to engage customer and sell them something new.
Re-signing: You sell the customer the same thing over and over.
Recurring: The customer basically subscribes to your offering.
Repeat Sales Effort Scale
Doing a good job for the customer can make re-selling easier. But if you can find ways to move right on this continuum, you will be able to scale your business much more effectively.
Some strategies for moving to the right in the Repeat Sales Continuum are:
- Continue to engage your customers with valuable content after the sale so that re-engaging them is easier.
- Create new products that are consumable in some form so customers will purchase them again
- Develop subscription-based products that people pay for monthly or annually
Once you make a sale, you need to deliver something to the customer to actually earn the revenue. How revenue is earned is on a continuum from High Effort to No Effort. The Fulfillment Effort Scale is shown below.
High Effort: Fulfilling the sale involved a lot of work.
Medium Effort: Fulfilling the sale involves some level of effort. Customizing or updating a pre-existing product.
No Effort: Fulfilling the sale involves no effort. Pre-recorded videos, courses, e-books etc.
Fulfillment Effort Scale
The easier it is to deliver your product, the easier it is to scale up. If you are a coach and all your available coaching time is booked, getting more customers is pointless since you won’t be able to fulfill the sale as you have no more time to coach.
If you can reduce the effort to fulfill by offloading some of the work and/or creating an easier-to-deliver product, you can scale your business. There are several different approaches you can use to move or expand your business to the right on the Fulfillment Effort Scale.
For example, you could:
- Automate business processes
- Outsource some of the jobs that need to be done to fulfill
- “Deputize” outside contractors of partners to deliver their product and share revenues.
- Create a group session where several people are paying you for the same hour of time
- Create a paid online course that requires only a small amount of your time.
- Produce a paid online video series or e-book that requires no effort to deliver.
There are many automation tools available to solopreneurs, and some of the platforms are free! They can streamline processes, and some are surprisingly easy to use.
Here are some ideas, but the sky is the limit here:
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
CRMs are a tool that helps you manage your relationship with your prospects and customers. It can help you track interactions, reach out through different phases of the customer lifecycle, keep notes, track follow-ups, and ultimately increase sales.
DIY systems tend to fall apart when you get busy, and it can get challenging to keep track of customer communication. These tools will make you more efficient and will keep you organized and sane. HubSpot has a free as well as a low-cost CRM that could work for you.
Use a CRM to keep track of your prospects and customers
Accounting and Financial Tools
It is CRUCIAL that you keep track of your business finances professionally. Imagine you get audited by the IRS and pull out a shoebox full of receipts. The process is going to get very painful. But there is no way to manage your business effectively without financial statements.
For me, this was the first function that I offloaded to someone else. It took to much time and robbed too much joy from my life to continue doing it myself.
If you are going to do your own accounting, find a tool that works for you. Otherwise, find an accountant!
Task Management / Project Management Tools
These are tools you can use to keep track of tasks and projects you are working on. In general there are 2 types of tools, individual-focused like Todoist and team-focused like Asana or Trello. Neither
Personal Productivity Tools
People can mix up these types of tools with project management software, but where the latter keeps you organized, personal productivity tools keep you focused. These tools help to minimize distractions and help you get in the zone. A quick Google search will unveil a plethora of tools in this area. Do some research and find what works best for you. I personally use the Pomodoro Technique and Coffitivity to get in the zone. Finding the right music is another way to focus and increase productivity. Joe Rando uses this Hemi-Sync Concentration technology (available on Apple Music and Spotify) to focus when he works.
Ever write countless emails between you and another person simply to nail down a meeting time? So annoying! I personally use Calendly to solve this problem. With this tool, people can pick an open time that’s available on my calendar to schedule a call. I simply send them a link to see that availability. Such a time-saver!
Just because you’re a company of one, doesn’t mean you can’t delegate tasks to independent contractors or virtual assistants. Many solopreneurs do this. Sure, you may spend some money contracting with these people, but you need to look at it as an investment.
By passing off mundane, time-consuming, and tedious tasks to others, you can focus on other more important things that require your time and energy.
Come up with some possible jobs to outsource.
Fire Bad-Fit Clients
Nobody likes working with difficult clients, but many also don’t realize what a time-suck they can be and how they can be taking away from your bottom line. If they start to take away from other clients or get so bad that it’s hard to focus on your work, it’s time to let them go.
Sometimes the problem isn’t that the client is being difficult. Instead, they are awesome people but their needs are a bad fit for your business. This can be more difficult to address but you need to do so.
However, don’t make the relationship with them all for nothing.
Turn client problems into systemic solutions. Identify what went wrong and see where you can change things and prevent the same issues moving forward.
What Should You Do?
Moving your business to the right on any of these three scales will help you to increase revenue and profit. But it is important to be sure that when you do, you will have the capacity to deliver. This includes your ability to produce and the availability of the necessary working capital. But if you keep these factors in mind, this could start a new phase of growth for your business.
Refining/Reimagining Your Finances
Bookkeeping and Accounting
How are 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 a pro? Think about whether you can understand your business from the financial statements you are generating. Note that a balanced checkbook is not sufficient.
How are your 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 thing you want to examine 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:
- If possible, ask for a Payment Deposit or a retainer
- 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
Evaluate Business Risks
There a a number of areas where your business may be at risk. You should examine these and plan to make changes where appropriate.
Dependance on Too Few Customers
Now that you've been running for a while, there's a good bet that you've developed some risks that you need to consider. Some of these may be specific to your business but some are universal. One of the big ones early in the game is becoming to dependent on a too few customers.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What would happen if I lost this customer?
- Would my business survive?
- How would I react?
As a young man, I worked for a company that made costume jewelry components. They had gotten a huge contract with Avon and basically ignored their smaller customers completely to serve Avon. Then Avon dumped them. Then I didn't have a job - no one did. Ouch. But any size company can be done in if they are too dependent on just a few customers. Best to work hard to grow your customer-base.
If you are too dependent on a small number of customers, plan to grow your customer list as part of the Improve Phase of the Solopreneur Success Cycle.
Another risk is supplier issues. Are you beholden to a single supplier for your business to function. What would happen if they couldn't or wouldn't supply what you needed, or if they raised there prices unreasonably? Would you have an alternative? If not, you may want to pay some attention here.
If you are dependent on a single source for critical aspects of your business, plan to find alternatives.
Working Capital Shortfalls
Working capital can be a big risk, particularly if you are growing quickly. The good new is that you are growing. The bad news is that, as we've discussed, this can kill you. Unless you have a background in accounting or finance, it may be hard for you to develop a model to predict if or when this will be an issue. Engaging an accountant or consultant to help assess working capital challenges is a good idea.
Particularly if you are growing quickly, get an accountant or other consultant to help you analyze your finances and working capital needs.
If you find you will need cash, get to a bank early - before you need it. This looks better to the bank and it gives you the time to jump through their hoops. Getting loans is always harder than you think. The Small Business Administration is good place to go for info on business loans.
Apply for loans well before you need them. It looks better to the bank and it takes longer than you expect to get a loan.
Write Down the Ideas
Going through this process should have generated a lot of ideas. Make sure you have a list of them written down. Don't judge them yet; that's for the next step.
Content for Refining/Reimagining Your Solopreneur Business
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. In this section, you are going to refine and possibly reimagine your one-person business. This is like a brainstorming session. All ideas are welcome. In the next step of the Solopreneur Success Cycle that we'll discuss next week, you'll decide what you actually want to do about those ideas.
Amy Triandiflou, owner and principal at ATPR, has been a public relations strategist for more than 20 years. Previously the Director of Brand Communications at Colorado’s largest locally-owned advertising and public relations agency, Vladimir Jones. In this episode, Amy discusses how finding your niche and being picky with the business you choose to take on can be a challenge, but explains the benefits that make it all worth it.
At LifeStarr, we work with tons of solopreneurs, and one of the most common questions we get is, “how can I earn more money without working more hours?” There are a lot of different paths you can take to make this happen, but one way is to look at the inefficiencies in your business that are costing you both time and money. To put money back into your pocket, you don’t just have to look at ways to earn more, but ways to save more as well.
Scaling is something that many solopreneurs hope to achieve once they’ve figured out their base business. Successful scaling is a matter of breaking down the business into simple pieces and making decisions in small steps.
There’s lots of advice on how to scale your business but it tends to be very cookie-cutter. Every solopreneur business is unique, and to me, it helps to break the challenges into their root components so that you can determine which strategies will help you.
Inflation is here and it will be with us for a while. This means that the costs of almost everything you buy is going up, and that creates challenges. But the good news is that, unless your customers have you locked into long-term contracts with fixed prices, you can raise your prices too.
By mastering the art of saying “no,” you’ll ensure that you:
- Won’t overcommit
- Avoid burnout
- Prioritize what is essential to get done now, and what can wait
Before hiring a virtual assistant, I had a general idea of the benefits I would receive based on assumptions and stories from other people. I assumed I’d:
- Save time and money
- Feel less overwhelmed
- Get more done
And so on, however, I have to say, there were far more perks than I had anticipated.
A lot of solopreneurs struggle with the idea of delegating any aspect of their business. But I have a confession to make. I am a solopreneur that has never had any trouble delegating. I am happy to assign a job to someone else.
OK, full confession – I was always happy to delegate certain jobs, but I had a hard time actually letting go. I tended to continue doing a lot of the work that they were supposed to be doing. It was not helpful.
It’s tough for entrepreneurs, and especially solopreneurs, to “let someone else do it”. Yet it is crucial if you want to have the best of all worlds.
Did you know that when you surround yourself with positive people, you actually start being more positive (glass half full, anyone?). Your attitude on how you approach things actually changes for the better, allowing you to be more productive and accomplish the things that you set out to achieve.
When you surround yourself with negative people, it actually has the reverse impact and can take a huge toll on your path to success (and happiness in general).
Step 6: Decide
So now it's time to decide if you are going to make any changes to your business and if so, what you will change. In the last step we talked about refining and/or reimagining your business. In this step you are going to decide what you actually want to change about your business.
Because solopreneur businesses can be so varied, most of the Solopreneur Success Cycle is presented in general terms. But I think it's helpful to present this step in the context of a real-world example.
Imagine a business that buys and sells used vinyl records online started by a young woman who is a parent to a young child. Let's call her "Callie" and her company is called Vinyl Ventures. Vinyl Ventures sells used phonograph records on consignment. She takes possession of the product but only pays the owner when they sell.
In the previous step of the Solopreneur Success Cycle, Callie created a list of ideas to refine and reimagine her one-person business. Now it's time for her to evaluate those ideas and decide which ones to actually do. Not all of her ideas are good ones and it's also possible that they won't all play nice together. Plus, there is only so much you can do at one time while still running the business.
Callie's list of ideas are:
- Add turntables and tube amps to her product offering
- Start selling new release vinyl in addition to the used product she's currently selling on consignment
- Create a section of her website where people can review products
- Move her website to a more robust platform where she can automate more processes and collect more data about her customers
- One-on-one equipment consultations for customers
Review Against Goals & Success
The first thing to do is to go through your list of ideas of how to change your business. Which of your changes do you think will best help align your business with your goals? I like to score them from 1 to 5.
1 = Very harmful effect on goal
2 = Harmful effect on goal
3 = No impact on goal
4 = Positive effect on goal
5 = Very positive effect on goal
Look hard at the 1 and 2s. Is the cost to the goal overcome by the ideas positive effect on other goals?
Example: For Callie's vinyl record business her goals are:
- To have the flexibility with her time to be a primary caregiver for her daughter
- Make enough money to be worth her time
- To do something she really enjoys
- Help people who love vinyl find what they need
For Callie, adding turntables and tube amps as well a new vinyl records has no long term effect on her goal of having time for her daughter because she can drop ship them from the supplier - it's effectively affiliate marketing. So this gets a 3, no impact. They have a positive impact on her goals of making enough money to be worth her time, doing something she really enjoys and helping people who love vinyl get what they need, so they get 5s. There'll be some work to set it up but it won’t cost her time later, she'll make more money and she really loves the old technology.
It's the same for the new release vinyl.
Adding the review section is a bit more nuanced. It could cost her some time to check the reviews to comment and for spam and inappropriate posts. So that gets a 2 for the "Time with her daughter goal." But it gets a 4, a 3, and a 4 for the remaining goals respectively. Plus there probably isn't a great way to sell hardware without reviews. And it will engage her customers more. So she's keeping this in spite of the 2 score?
Moving to a more robust platform for her website and marketing will cost some money. But it will save her time by allowing her to automate processes that are currently manual. She can use this found time to manage the review section and answer question about equipment.
The last idea, doing one-on-one consultations for equipment has such a negative effect on time with her daughter that she gives it a 1 and cans the idea. That's smart. Anytime you see a 1, you have to think hard whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
So Callie has ruled out one of her ideas and will explore 4 of them further.
Talk to Experts and Customers
At every step of this process, considering whether you should call on your experts and/or the network of people you trust. As you consider these ideas, feedback from customers, mentors and other solopreneurs, accountants and tax planning professionals, lawyers, and others who may see things you do not, can be very valuable. Also, if you know anyone who is doing what you are thinking about doing and won’t be directly hurt by your competition, reach out them, even if you don’t know them. Most people like to help. Check out the LifeStarr Community for feedback.
As you discuss your ideas with them, they will likely give you other ideas that may or may not be good. The process of getting ideas about your business is tricky. You want to be open-minded but you also need to be sure that:
- They truly understand your business and your goals well enough to evaluate your ideas as well as suggest practical and helpful ideas.
- The idea resonates with you so that you can be motivated to actually execute it. There are plenty of ideas that are good for someone but not for you.
- Any new ideas you like are vetted using the same process we used for your ideas above.
The bottom line is that you need to thread the needle between being locked in to the status quo and jumping at new ideas without making sure they fit your goals and your business.
Evaluate the Implications of Each New Idea
It's important to examine the implications of each change you are considering. These ideas for change may impact some of the aspects of your business. You never know for sure what the result of a change might be, but it's good to try to see the more obvious ones to make sure they are acceptable to you.
For Callie, the big picture is that she will need to expand her content to talk about equipment as well as vinyl. Also, she must make a commitment to a minimum quarterly sales level to the equipment distributor. This has some implications to her business that we will explore. This whole process can be very specific to your business and to the changes you're considering. But we can try to give some general guidance as to how to go about it and some examples using Callie.
First, let's look at how your ideas will impact your strategy. There are a number of dimensions to this that you should consider. This table gives you a format to work through the impacts of your changes on your business. Each row one of the changes you are making to your business. The items in the column headings are explained in detail below.
It's important to think about how your current customers will view your changes. If you're thinking that switching from phone support to email support will make you more efficient, you're probably right. But your customers may not feel the same way. Hopefully you spoke to them about these ideas already.
For Callie, there shouldn't be any negative feeling for what she is doing. The changes add options for the customers and as long as she maintains the quality of the current business, they shouldn't mind the additional offerings.
Is your competition going to be different. If so, you need to think about what this means to your business. Are you really going to be able to compete with theses new competitors?
If you think so, how specifically will you do it?
For Callie, she will now be competing with other companies that sell hardware related to vinyl as well as companies that sell vinyl records. She has a lot of customers currently that should be interested in her new products. She will be competing with the likes of Amazon. But she will definitely need to look at how her pricing compares to the competition.
You've positioned your business in a specific way in the eyes of your target market. Does this need to change now? For example, if you've positioned yourself as a concierge/bespoke type business and are now planning to provide standard products, then you've got some work to do here.
Callie has positioned Vinyl Ventures as the place for vinyl lovers to get records. She now needs to expand this to records and equipment. This isn't a huge stretch and a large potion of her customer-base is likely into equipment as well.
If your market positioning has changed, you will likely need to revamp your messaging. Even if it hasn't, this still may be a good idea.
Callie's messaging has been centered around being the place for lovers of hard-to-find vinyl records. This doesn't need to change drastically for Callie. But she needs to refine it to reflect the addition of equipment as well as new vinyl products.
Use tables like the ones below to analyze the impacts of your changes. It's OK to have blank cells. You can download an Excel version here.
Marketing & Sales
Will the changes you are making result in a need to modify your marketing? You will need to consider this and act accordingly. If your market position and messaging are changing, there a good chance your marketing will need a general makeover.
Changes to your market positioning and your messaging will result in the need to update your website to reflect these changes. Be sure to make sure you are taking the customer's perspective and being clear about how you help them.
Does you content strategy need to change based on the changes you are making to your business? Do you need to modify your topics or add additional media types (video, podcasts, etc.)?
Are there any impacts to your social media strategy? Are you targeting different people or conveying a different message?
Search Engine Optimization
Will your changes require you to target new keywords?
Will there be changes to your ad content or placement?
Sales "Touch" Level
Will there be any changes to your sales approach, especially how much interaction you will have with clients?
Use tables like the ones below to analyze the impacts of your changes. It's OK to have blank cells. You can download an Excel version here.
This is unlikely unless one of your changes is to prepare to sell your business. Then you should consider a Delaware C-corp. This is the preferred structure for most acquiring companies. You can typically do this most simply as a migratory merger. You should use an attorney for this.
It's important to determine if you will need additional permits for any of your changes?
If you will, determine the following:
- How much will they cost?
- How long will they take to get?
- Is there any risk that you won't get them?
Use tables like the ones below to analyze the impacts of your changes. It's OK to have blank cells. You can download an Excel version here.
Will your banking needs be impacted? For example, if you start taking credit cards, you'll need a merchant account with a bank or other company.
Will you need a revolving line of credit?
Will you insurance needs change? Will you have increased liability due to the changes in your business? Will you have additional property or inventory that needs to be insured? You don't want to mess this up. The story of businesses upping their exposure without increasing their insurance and then suffering a loss is all too common.
Will your changes impact your bookkeeping and accounting needs? If you are using a cash basis, might it be advantageous to switch to accrual accounting? An accounting professional can help with this.
Accounts Receivable / Account Payable
How will your accounts receivable and accounts payable be impacted by your changes? If you will be paying for inventory or some other expense before you receive payment, you will have in increased need for working capital. You will need to determine where these additional funds will come from.
Are there any potential impact on your taxes or any opportunities for tax savings? Increases in profit may require additional estimated tax payments. There may also be ways to expense things that you cannot expense currently.
You should talk to your tax advisor.
How will your working capital be affected? If you will need more, it's crucial you figure where where it will come from. A revolving line of credit can be a good solution if you can get a bank to give you one. The Small Business Administration has good info on ways to get working capital.
Is your business model changing? Are you producing differently, delivering differently, collecting money differently? Aspects to consider are:
- Production/Sourcing Model
- User Community
- Market Model
- D2C (Direct to Consumer)
- Pricing/Payment Model
- Reverse Auction
- Razor Blades
- Reverse Razor Blades
- Enticement model (optional)
Are there any other changes that you are proposing that will impact how you operate?
Will you need to make any changes to how you are managing your time? You may need to adjust your routine to accommodate your new business.
Will you be outsourcing any of the jobs you do? This is a great idea if you are upping your own workload. Check out Outsourcing Isn't Cheating - Why Solopreneurs Should Consider It
Will you need to acquire any new skills to execute these changes?
Pair Down the List of Changes If Needed
Now that you've laid this all out, look for any showstoppers. Showstoppers are:
- Things that you can't do
- Things you don't want to do
- Things that are are otherwise impractical.
Also, are you doing to much at once? If so, choose a short list of changes that have the most potential and table the rest for the next time you work through the Improve Phase of the Solopreneur Success Cycle.
Once you've eliminated the changes that don't make sense right now, it's time to commit to your decisions.
Definitely write these down and track your progress. You've decided on these so now just make it happen.
Remember that this is a process. It requires focus. So sit down with your computer or pen and paper and go through this process carefully, think it through, and make your business even better.
Content for Deciding on Changes to Your Business
It's time to decide if you are going to make any changes to your business and if so, what you will change. In the last step of the Solopreneur Success Cycle, we talked about refining and/or reimagining your business. It's helpful to continue this conversation in the context of a real-world example, which is where we take this episode today. We'll also discuss show stoppers and the importance of committing to the decisions you make, at least for now. Be sure to tune in!
This episode will help you decide the next steps to take as they relate to:
- Your original goals
- Legal and financials
- Sales and marketing
- Life skills
Zane Tarence, Partner and Managing Director of Founders Advisors Technology Practice, is an experienced investment banker, entrepreneur, and recognized expert on the growth and monetization of digital media, internet technology, and software companies. He is also the author of 17 Reasons Your Company Is Not Investment Grade & What To Do About It.
Over the past 20 years, Zane has led and completed more than 87 technology deals, including facilitating the sale of some of the largest lead generation internet businesses in the United States.
What you'll learn in this episode
- What solopreneurs need to think about when selling their businesses
- How to think about your business in order to sell it
- How to get your company in a position to sell
- Mistakes people make when trying to sell their business
- The three things that kill deals
- Why professional advice is so important
Step 7: Adjust
Now it's time to actually implement the changes you've decided to make. This part is very specific so I wan't be going into too much detail here. But there are some best practices and strategies that can help make you more successful.
Develop an Implementation Plan
Assuming you have more than one change, you will want to think carefully about the approach you take to making the changes. You're still running a business and you need to pace yourself while you do this so that you can still deliver your product and make these changes carefully. Certainly, making one or two changes-at-a-time is more prudent than trying to do everything at once. Assuming your business is doing OK, then this is definitely the best strategy. However, if you're really struggling or losing a lot of money, it may make sense to instead hit this process hard in order to turn the corner quickly.
Review Your Changes
Take a look at the changes you plan to make.
First, look for changes that are best grouped together.
Next, oftentimes, one change needs to come before another. Is there natural order to their implementation?
As an example of this kind of thinking, let's review Callie's list of ideas for her Vinyl Ventures business from the last section:
- Add turntables and tube amps to her product offering
- Start selling new release vinyl in addition to the used product she's currently selling on consignment
- Create a section of her website where people can review products
- Move her website to a more robust platform where she can automate more processes and collect more data about her customers
For Callie, Change #1 and Change #3 go together. Callie wants to have her review site up when she starts selling equipment. Therefore, these two changes should be done in parallel so that when she starts selling equipment, the review site is up and running. Doing these one after the other will waste time.
Setting an Order for Implementation
With respect to deciding the order of implementation, one trick is to identify changes that will save you time. Since making these changes is going to cost you time, implementing time-saving changes early in the process can make implementing the rest of the changes easier by giving you more time to implement them.
Another thing to think about is new sources of revenue. Doing these sooner is a good idea because you start earning more money sooner.
An Example of Grouping and Ordering Change Implementation
Let's use Callie's changes as an example. Change #4, moving her website to a more robust platform, is going to save here a lot of time, so she should do this first.
New vinyl records will provide a quick source of new revenue. so she should do this next.
The sale of turntables and tube amps goes hand-in-hand with creating the review section of the website, so she would group these together and work on them in parallel.
So Callie's to-do list would look like:
|Step 1||Move website to a more robust platform|
|Step 2||Start selling new release vinyl|
|Step 3||Add turntables and tube amps to her product offering
Create a section of her website where people can review products
Executing Your Changes
The old saying "a journey of 1,00 miles begins with a single step" is apt here. Some of these changes you are making may be a significant undertaking so this is the point where you may feel overwhelmed. Most of these changes are projects in the sense that there is more than one step involved in accomplishing them. Projects are made up of multiple steps that may themselves be projects (or sub-projects as I like to call them).
The best thing to do is to take the change that you are working on and break it into small, logical steps. Then, if the step itself is a project, break it into smaller steps. The goal is to do this until you have a list specific actions *that is, single steps) that you or someone else needs to take to move the change forward.
Let's use Callie's sale of new vinyl records as an example.
- First she needs to create an agreement with the distributor.
- Then she needs to define the workflow for how she will communicate sales to the distributor and how the distributor will inform her of new releases.
- Then she needs to populate the products on her website. She will need to revisit this regularly as new products are released.
None of these three items is a To Do list item. They are sub-projects.Break each of them into pieces as well.
For Callie, lets look at her first step "Create and agreement with the distributor. To do this, she will need to:
- Request a copy of their standard reseller agreement.
- Review the standard agreement with an attorney
- Send Comments to distributor
- Negotiate final draft
- Sign the reseller agreement
Some of these might even be broken onto even smaller steps. For example, reviewing the agreement with an attorney might involve actually finding an attorney and then reviewing the document.
So Callie's Project for selling vinyl records might look like:
Shameless plug, the LifeStarr App is great for this kind of project planning and implementation.
Back to Doing
As you wrap up, pick a date to start his process again. Depending on your business and your nature, it may be 6 months or a year in the future. But circling back to Improve Phase on a regular basis keeps your business healthy and serving your needs, not the other way around. That's why it's called the Solopreneur Success CYCLE. Because it's a continuous process of improvement and adaptation.
Now it's time to go back to the Do Phase of the Solopreneur Success Cycle. Remember to take notes on what's working and what's not.
I hope you find great success!
Content for Adjusting Your Solopreneur Business
Podcast: Making Adjustments To Your Business
Today we discuss the "final" (although, it is a cycle, so you aren't ever finished) step which discusses what to think about when making adjustments to your business for optimal results.
In this short episode, we discuss:
- Developing a systematic approach to making business adjustments
- How to thoughtfully execute the changes
- Moving on once the changes are made
- Planning ahead