One of the standard jokes of solopreneurs is “If you hear me talking to myself, don’t worry—I’m just holding a staff meeting.” While there’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of being a one-person operation, we sometimes get complacent in how we run our business. This year, I decided to give my business a voice in setting my New Year’s resolutions, as a way to think more expansively about what I need to add, drop or change in 2020. Here are a few of the pieces of advice my business is showing me:
I’ve seen a lot of myths about consulting, all of them as hoary and false as the idea that if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. Following are the infopreneur myths I’ve found to be most prevalent… and wrong.
#1. Consulting is what people do when they’re between jobs
In my experience, you can’t both start a business and look for a job; either you are focused on finding what your clients need most and how you can meet those needs, or you’re focused on finding who will hire you for your skills.
#2. The services I provided as an employee will be valued by consulting clients
Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, advocated the principle that it takes 10,000 hours of what he called “deliberate practice” to become an expert in your field, whether it’s programming, performing music, or playing basketball. Subsequent studies have called his premise into question and, in any event, not all of us aspire to become the next Bill Gates, Yo-Yo Ma, or Michael Jordan of our field.
However, I believe that a version of this metric applies to infopreneurs, both those just starting their business and those who are pivoting to a new market or providing a new service. Based on hundreds of conversations I’ve had with fellow infopreneurs, I believe that it takes 400 hours of work to get a business to its first paying client or its first client in a new field.
Having seen Hidden Figures and read the book it was based on, I can’t stop thinking about Dorothy Vaughan, one of the African-American “computers” (mostly female mathematicians skilled in complex calculations) at NASA. When she was faced with the prospect of being replaced by a newly installed IBM computer, she taught herself and her staff how to program in FORTRAN. Rather than bemoan this disruptive technology, she gained the skills she needed and made her whole team more valuable to NASA.
While most of us aren’t responsible for getting astronauts into space and back home safely, solopreneurs also have to adjust when something new and unexpected enters the picture. If we don’t, we may sit up one day and realize that we don’t have the kind of schedule that lets us enjoy our family, or we never seem to have enough money, or our usual clients just aren’t sending us as much work as they used to.
These situations usually arise because we are no longer aligned with what our clients most need, value and will pay for… we are focusing on the HOW of what we do rather than the WHY. Here are some prompts to help you start thinking differently about yourself and your business.
No one likes to think about worst-case scenarios; we all imagine that we will live an accident-free life and our business will run smoothly until we retire. However, just as we buy insurance while hoping we never need it, we should look at our business operations and imagine what would happen if we suddenly became incapacitated by injury or illness or if you got hit by the proverbial bus. Who would notify your clients, pay your bills, and put your business on pause? Does that person know who your clients are or how to log into your email account?
In addition to estate planning, we solopreneurs need to plan for the unlikely situation in which someone who isn’t familiar with our needs to step into our shoes. The following are thoughts on how to write up instructions for where a family member, trusted friend or colleague could find everything needed to put your business on pause or, in the worst case, close it down for you.
Fill out this checklist (click here for an unannotated version) and give a copy to two people who might be called upon to help in an emergency, keeping in mind that a trusted colleague or good friend may be more familiar with your business – and the issues of a solopreneur in general – than a family member.
I just got back from my annual trip to solopreneur summer camp, otherwise known as the AIIP Annual Conference. I always come away inspired and challenged, ready to try out new ideas and approaches.
This year’s conference focused on pivoting as a strategic approach—something that we solopreneurs do continually as we adjust to our clients’ changing needs and pain points. We were lucky enough to have Jenny Blake, author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, as our keynote speaker and Anne Caputo as the Roger Summit Award speaker. Their talks sparked rich hallway and mealtime conversations about how we can remain nimble and responsive while staying grounded to what our clients value the most. Here are some of the insights I brought home with me.
One of the most common questions I’ve heard from solopreneurs is “should I specialize in a niche or be a generalist?” My advice, almost to a one, is to find an area in which you can focus and become known as the go-to person for that niche.
I just read a nice summary of what it takes to start a service-based business, over at The $100 MBA. Omar Zenhom’s Ultimate Guide to Starting a Service Based Business walks you through the mental shifts you need to make in order to turn yourself into a successful business. (Yeah, he thinks of them as action steps, but each step requires an attitude, a mind-set, as much as an understanding of what needs to be done.)
This post covers issues like knowing where your value lies and believing that you offer value, re-thinking your web site, setting rates (gulp), and dealing effectively with clients.
Over the past 18 years, I have had six books published by three different publishers. When I decided that I had another book inside me, I considered pitching it to my usual publishing contacts. After serious thought, I decided to self-publish The Reluctant Entrepreneur: Making a Living Doing What You Love through Amazon.com’s print and e-book services. While it usually takes a publisher nine months or a year from receipt of a manuscript to shipment of a book, my turnaround time was just four months—a significant factor with a book that covers social media and other rapidly changing fields.