So you’ve launched a company of one? You can truly call yourself a freelancer, a solopreneur, or an entrepreneur. Whatever label you choose, you are now a small business owner who is running the business solo.
While there’s no big bad boss hanging over you anymore, neither is there anyone to whom you can turn for advice, help, or even just a different perspective. In your lap alone sit sales, marketing, customer service, financial management, product delivery, and research and development.
Maybe you can empathize with President Harry Truman who famously put a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that read: The buck stops here. His sign served as a reminder that the president’s job is to make decisions and accept the consequences of those decisions. As a small business owner, that’s your job, too, which is enough to scare many would-be entrepreneurs back into the corporate rat race.
But not you.
You don’t have to stress about it. Researchers say that at least 18 million Americans are solopreneurs, and those numbers are growing. That means someone else has been exactly where you are now. They know what it’s like to be the overwhelmed owner of a struggling firm. They’ve figured a way out of the thorniest situations. And you can do that, too.
Here are 16 tips for running your small business solo and securing success.
1. Hire a coach or mentor.
Friends, before you do anything else, get yourself a mentor. Make sure to choose someone who knows your industry, understands your business, and can give you wisdom earned in the trenches. A good coach can improve your confidence, give you a different perspective, offer expert opinions, and help you expand your influence.
The market is flooded with “coaches” so make sure you get one that gives you a good ROI. Can they offer social proof that they know what they’re doing? (Case studies are great for this.) Do they spend more time asking questions or giving advice? (Questions = good; Advice = bad) Does their personality mesh with yours? Typically, you want an experienced leader who sees the world differently from you but has a personality you find enjoyable. So dig deep and hire the best you can afford.
2. Make friends.
The solopreneur life can be a lonely life. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in work, family, and other responsibilities that you neglect yourself. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it hard for us to see friends as much as we would like but even a group video chat can really lift your spirts. Taking a couple of hours a week to invest in one or more friendships can improve your mental health and give your brain the chance to refuel. You can return to your work ready to go at it again fresh and hard. This tip may sound fluffy; but ignore it, and you will imperil your business, your family, and your health. Yeah, it’s that important.
3. Focus on your mission with eagle-eyed intensity.
A clear mission keeps you working on the right things, avoiding the wrong things, and consistently making progress. Just because many corporations develop mission statements and company value policies then forget them doesn’t mean you should. In fact, as a solopreneur, you have a chance to create a mission statement you can actually achieve and to devise company values you truly believe in and live by. If you forget your mission, though, your small business will suffer. Mission creep will set in. Customers won’t know what you do. Your quality will decline. And your business will fold. But with an eagle-eyed focus on mission, you can keep advancing toward your goals.
4. Diversify your income streams.
This tip might seem like the polar opposite of #3, but it’s not. Your mission should be broad enough to include several income streams. That might mean expanding your client base, offering additional services, or even having a side hustle to your side hustle. If you have three clients who pay your bills, add a fourth. You can always outsource the extra work, and if you lose a client, you won’t go in the hole.
5. Invest in inbound marketing initiatives.
You do not have to spend a wad of cash on advertising, billboards, or print media. But you do have to market your business. Inbound marketing – which is basically attractional marketing – is widely regarded as less expensive and more effective than traditional advertising. Inbound marketing relies on strategies such as blogging, social media, video, podcasting, email, and influencer outreach.
You can hire a digital marketing agency to help you put together a plan for you. This approach works well if you have the money to pay for it. Alternatively, you can work with freelancers who do writing, design, videography, and podcast production for you. Or you can do all the marketing yourself. Your best choice depends on your budget, time, and talent.
6. Hire qualified freelancers because you can’t do it all yourself.
Most small business owners need help. You may wish you could handle public relations, marketing, sales, product development, financial management, administration, and more; but you can’t. If hiring a team isn’t in the budget yet, the answer is going to lie in building a stable stash of freelancers. A tax professional, a virtual assistant, and a digital marketing specialist are probably going to be your first three freelance hires.
Ask for referrals or snoop around on LinkedIn to start searching for the help you need, and as with the coach, bring on the best you can afford. You don’t want to end up with mistakes and missed opportunities because you failed to spend a little more cash to get the quality you deserve.
7. Stay on top of your finances.
Unless your business is finance, you probably don’t love counting money, recording it, checking it, reporting it, and reviewing it to discover what the numbers mean for the future. But someone has to do all that, or you’ll go broke. If you run a simple operation, a virtual assistant and a subscription to QuickBooks will do the job. If your business is more complex, you might think about hiring a firm to handle things. At some point, a fractional CFO could be the right answer for you. Just find a way to know how much money you have, where it’s coming from, where it’s going, and how you can make more and spend less.
8. Think influence before income.
You’ve probably thought about your INCOME GOALS. Make $100,000 the first year? Ramp up to $500,000 in year two? Earning a million by the end of year three? Whatever they are, income goals are helpful motivators and markers for growing a business. Ultimately, though, income goals are about you not your customer. In that way, they are a little selfish. So flip your thinking. Set an influence goal first.
Ask questions such as: How many people can I share great ideas with this year? Who can I coach in the solopreneur life? Where can I publish my thoughts and stories that help others? In general, income follows influence. So prioritize growing your influence.
9. Monitor, measure, and evaluate everything important.
Leave nothing to chance, and don’t assume anything. Instead, track crazy amounts of data, especially your first year. Look beyond inventory and revenue. Try to tie results back to initiatives. See what worked for you. Do more of that. See what didn’t work for you. Either tweak what didn’t work or toss it. You only improve if you are working with facts. Unsupported opinions don’t hold their value. Data does. Track it. Follow it. Love it. And let it lead you.
10. Look for the right clients, not just any clients.
In the early days of running a solo business, it’s tempting to take any client with dollars clutched in their outstretched hand. You may need to do that for a while to eat, but as soon as you can, focus on getting the right clients for you. Now some clients are obviously bad for everybody. These are the ones that don’t pay their bills. They demand ridiculous standards. They’re rude. And so on. Everyone should avoid those clients. But other clients might be a great fit for your friend, just not for you. How do you know when a client is right for you? You start by creating an ideal client profile. Then ask yourself how closely your client prospect aligns with the profile you created.
11. Take the easy way whenever possible.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. You pick up speed faster on an interstate than on a back road. The shortest, fastest, easiest way is the best way to do most activities. Sound wrong? Here’s why. We confuse “hard things” with “complicated things.” Something can be hard because it takes thought, creativity, and preparation to do well. But something that’s complicated often just means you took a simple process and tangled it.
If a task is requiring a lot of your time and energy, ask yourself why. Most of the time, it won’t be because the task itself is hard and therefore demanding. It will be because your process is overly complicated. Simplify everything you can so you’ll have the time and brain power to invest in the truly hard parts.
12. Find complementary businesses. Partner with them.
Are you a writer? Partner with a designer or a videographer and pitch prospective clients together by offering complete packages. Are you a finance person? Join up with an office administrator and a fractional HR exec. Together, you can pitch clients, deliver better products, and have more fun. Basically, you form an ad hoc agency, which gives more services to the clients, increases your reach, and lets you make new friends (see tip #2).
13. Only promise what you can deliver.
It’s tempting to snag clients by making big promises of all that you can do for them. That’s cool if you can deliver on those promises or if you can hire a team to help you bring the project home, but if you can’t do the job, don’t say you can. No one wants to do business with someone who fails to deliver. In fact, overpromising on a regular basis is really just lying, and you don’t want to do that.
14. Innovate. Iterate. Improve. Repeat.
Keep growing. Make your products and services better. Offer something new. Try a new strategy. Basically, never stop learning and growing. Books, courses, podcasts, mentors, and meetup groups can all help you grow personally. Warren Buffett, for example, spends 80% of his time reading. Sundar Pichai reads a physical paper every morning. And Sara Blakely takes off one whole day each week to do nothing but think. If those billionaire executives can do it, so can you.
Your personal growth will translate into business development. And as your business develops, you’ll discover new ways to grow personally. Eventually, growth becomes a flywheel and you improve faster and faster.
15. Charge what you’re worth.
Are you good at what you do? Then set your prices like you’re good at what you do. In the early days, that’s hard to do. You might feel a bit of imposter syndrome asking for money to do something like write an article, manage social media, or sell your special blend of cat food. But you are not an imposter. You are a qualified professional. Find out what the average rate is for your product or service, consider the quality of what you offer, and look at the clients you are pursuing. Put all that into a blender. What comes out should be your rate.
Once you have established your rate, do not undercut yourself. Do not offer discounts to friends or family. Do not work for free because a non-profit asked you to. And for the love, never provide a free product or service in exchange for “exposure.” People die from exposure. Now, if a major influencer in your sector wants something for free to love you online, that’s different. That’s standard practice. But if the person asking for the results of your hard labor isn’t an influencer, then just say, “No.”
16. Cultivate gratitude.
No matter how you feel right this minute, you really are fortunate to be an entrepreneur. Millions of people stuck in the gray cubicles of the corporate world would gladly trade their 401(k) matches and cheap insurance plans for a chance to have what you have. So practice being grateful even during the tough times.
“Gratitude,” writes author Ann Voskamp, “for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle.”