April 1, 2009 I was laid off from my corporate marketing job. It was the height of the great recession and other employment options were non-existent. On that day I decided to follow my dream of self-employment and begin my creating my own career path that would not tie my future job status to someone else’s company.
Becoming a professional speaker and master of ceremonies was a long-time dream, and something I had planned to eventually pursue. With a young family to support, making such a leap had seemed too scary, but with no other employment options I began to build my own solopreneur existence, and I have never looked back.
As the job market continues to be awkward, there are more and more people who are making the move to becoming solopreneurs (some by choice, others by circumstance). This is not an easy existence, and while I have worked hard and had some great opportunities, each day I start over at the bottom of the hill.
I have learned a lot in seven years. Here a few important lessons I have discovered.
Eight Tips For Solopreneurs
1. You are in sales. No matter what your product or service, if you work for yourself you are responsible for revenue generation. Sales is the life-blood of every business, and to lose sight of this is a recipe for failure. Doing good work is not enough in our noisy world. Anyone can access social media and claim credibility in your industry, so thinking reputation alone will generate new business will limit your future. Invest the time to learn sales and marketing skills, and then take action. Selling is hard work (that is why sales professionals in the largest companies earn so much money), so be ready for the time and energy you will have to put in to generate results.
2. Most friends in your network will not help you. We are taught that all opportunities come from people, and thus we falsely believe the people in our networks will refer us business or hire us to serve their company’s needs once we launch. The reality is that most people you know are not thinking about you or your business. While people generally intend to help others, the reality is many of your friends are caught up in their own day-to-day lives and do not remember you are trying to build your company. Do not expect a huge line of people who will be active in supporting your efforts.
3. A few contacts are worth their weight in gold. While not everyone will be a recourse to help connect your business to success, there will be some people who will move mountains to see your find new customers. These rare souls who go out of their way to refer you, promote you via word-of-mouth and social media, and who buy your products (sometimes when they do not even have a need for your service). The people are to be cherished. The weirdest part is that the ones you think will be your supporters often will disappoint you, and the most random friend will become your champion.
4. Get involved in your industry association. Solopreneurs are busy and often feel they do not have the time or the money to participate in their industry trade groups. I found my involvement with the National Speakers Association to be the key to my success as a speaker. It is not that my membership in the association got me any direct business, but my activity exposed me to information and to other people who were living their lives in the business. Having friends who are successful in your area of expertise means you do not have to reinvent the wheel.
5. Watch your expenses closely. Too many who come out of corporate jobs are used to large budgets and not experienced at being the person who has to pay all the bills. I have seen too many solopreneurs who believed that investing a lot of money on websites, coaching, database programs, marketing videos, and other expensive services would bring about fast success. I spent as little as possible on everything when I was starting out, and would upgrade to higher levels as I could afford it. This meant that I did not always have the best of everything (and often used other providers who were just starting out), but my realistic attention to cash flow kept the expenses in check.
6. Say “Yes” to Networking. I find a lot of small business professionals and solopreneurs who are obsessed with protecting their time. They skip networking in one-on-one situations or at larger events with the rationalization that they committed to working on their business. They worry about their calendar activities to a level that they are missing out on opportunities. While most people you will encounter will not become valuable resources, some will have the ability to change your future. You cannot pre-judge events or people, so make it a habit of saying yes to being involved with others and over the long run it will pay off. And remember, networking is a long-term thing, nobody is going to help you the day they meet you!
7. Make sure your family is on board. Being a solopreneur often means you do not get to shut off work at home. The concerns of stability and money issues can be overwhelming, and if your spouse and children are not part of your journey, it will create problems. While some people have their significant other actively involved in their business, this wont be ideal for everyone. Regardless of if they work with you or not, you have to keep them in the loop as to how things are going. The more I communicate with my wife about how things are going in my business, the more she seems to understand what burdens I face on a daily basis.
8. Help others win. Be the person who is actively working to be a catalyst for success. Find small ways to serve other solopreneurs in their journey to build their businesses. Do more than “like” a post (that only shows “I saw this”), but instead re-post and promote things others are doing (this shows you are trying to help). While they wont all return the favor, never keep score. Find ways to promote the businesses of people you know (and some you don’t know) if you believe in them. Every action you take is a brick in the permanent wall of your reputation, and those who work for more than self-interests will find more people will do the same for them.
Studies have shown that 40% of the workforce will work “solo” at some point, doing project work, consulting, or building their own business. That is a big shift in the way we all will view careers. The long-term company job might become the exception. You may be a solopreneur, but you cannot really do it all alone. Build a community of people who will bring mutual support to all. Self-focus will limit your long term success.