Constantly reinventing ourselves

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.

Clone your most profitable clients

Look at your revenue from the last 12 months and identify your three most profitable clients—the ones who pay your full hourly rate without fussing and whose work you enjoy doing. These are the clients you want to multiply.

Have informational interviews with each of these clients. Find out what their biggest concerns are now, beyond the work you already work with them . Ask them to describe what prompts them to call you—what is their work flow context and where are they in their planning process? Then go back to your office, mull over what you learned, and think about what you could do for your other clients that increases your value to them enough to justify a higher budget.

Next, ask each of your best clients if they could introduce you to two of their peers. (Some client groups are better about this than others, IMO and IME.) Find out how they learn about professional services like yours. Learn where you can be active so that more of these profitable clients can find you.

Look for things to say “no” to

Every choice has consequences, and sometimes you have to say “no” to one request or activity in order to say “yes” to a better opportunity. Watch for times when you think to yourself I’d love to do that, but I just don’t have the time, and reflect on what you can stop doing in order to give yourself the time to follow your passion (and your market!).

Don’t sabotage your professional rate

Every solopreneur has periods of constricted cash flow, when there is no money coming in and no clients on the horizon. In addition to the 20 steps to kick-start your marketing, you may have to do something — anything! — to bring in enough money to pay the credit card bill and the rent. It’s tempting in those situations to offer low-priced services or products to your market, hoping to generate $20 here or $35 there. Those efforts are usually doomed to failure; unless you already have a mailing list in the tens of thousands, you aren’t going to generate sufficient revenue in the short term to cover the time and expense to sell products through an online store. Worse, you are seen by your prospective clients in the context of an inexpensive product rather than as a high-end professional service. In the hope of bringing in some quick money, you are driving away the very people who understand your value.

If you are at the point where you can’t pay the bills and your savings are exhausted, find a part-time job that isn’t on your client’s radar… and that could be anything from seasonal work at a book store to bartending or waiting tables, or working weekends and evenings at the public library, if you’re an infopreneur. And commit to putting in an hour strategically marketing to your key client base for every hour you work at a low-paying but necessary job.

See more of my tips on strategic planning.

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