We solopreneurs are CEOs of our business, but that stands for Chief Everything Officer. We are responsible for everything from strategic planning to marketing to sales to accounting to – oh, yeah – whatever it is that we charge our clients for.
I recently gave two presentations on key survival skills of solopreneurs and intrapreneurs. While both were from the perspective of information professionals, many of the concepts I covered apply to any solopreneur.
Have you ever struggled to describe what you do so your prospective clients really hear you? Do they look at your web site and say “Oh, that’s nice” or do they immediately recognize you as the person who can help solve their most important problem?
One way to talk about your services memorably is by telling a story. My 10-Vignettes Exercise, which takes no more than an hour or two to complete, helps clarify how you describe who you are and what you do for your clients. And if you don’t have any clients yet, use this as an exercise to picture your prospective clients.
Every business experiences lulls, times when it seems that you barely have the energy to drag yourself into your office, and you can’t stand the thought of having to go out and generate business. This happens to everyone, and it often happens at the end of the year and during the middle of the year, as people are out of the office or in vacation mode and not doing a lot. Here are some of the actions I add to my marketing plan when I need to rev my marketing efforts up a notch.
When someone asks you what you do, do you freeze up or start stammering? You need a concise, memorable response prepared for all the times when you’re asked about your work. This is sometimes called your “elevator speech.” Why? Imagine stepping into an elevator with your biggest prospect. She turns to you and asks, “So, what exactly do you do?” You have 30 seconds—the time it takes for the elevator to get to her destination on the 25th floor—to describe yourself in such a way that she immediately understands why you are the solution to her problems.
“Well, what you do sounds interesting, but could you send me a sample project?”
This is one of the most-feared questions a solopreneur encounters. You might freeze, not having a portfolio of the best, sufficiently-anonymized examples of what you do. A much better approach is to turn the question around and find out what your prospective client is most concerned about. What is he really worried about — that you can’t do the work? that your deliverable will be a piece of junk? something else?
One of the critical characteristics of a successful solopreneur is the willingness to hold what Zen Buddhists call shoshin, or “beginner’s mind,” in every situation. Beginner’s mind looks with wonder and without preconceptions, assuming that you do not understand or see all aspects of the situation or all the possibilities present. Even (especially!) when you considers yourself an expert, you look at it as if seeing it for the first time. This willingness to let go of the ego-attachment of being an expert lets you see things in a different and fuller way.
In my experience, this means constantly living slightly outside my comfort zone, to acknowledge that each situation is new and what was true in other situations may not be true in this one. Being an expert, even being the expert in a field, isn’t sufficient to build a successful business. While I always feel a bit stretched, it is a good and healthy thing to be reminded frequently that I need to look at situations from a fresh perspective.
I recently wrote a white paper and gave a webinar on behalf of Factiva on The Accidental Intrapreneur: Becoming the Knowledge Center CEO. They both look at the different approaches necessary for those of us who are running our own enterprises, whether within or outside a larger organization. (You can get a copy of the white paper here and you can download the slide deck for my webinar here.)
Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. I have had two experiences recently that reminded me of how effective a small gesture is in conveying customer appreciation.
I often write about how to create a business that supports you financially and that you love. But I’m feeling contrary today, because I’m inspired to offer my best advice for solopreneurs who aren’t interested in succeeding. If you want a business that doesn’t attract new clients, clients who are overly price-sensitive, or if all your marketing efforts are failing and if you want more of the same, then here are some tips for you, with tongue held firmly in cheek.