While some people like to download the latest romance novel, science fiction book, mystery, or humor-filled writing, I’ve always been a nonfiction kind of girl. Yep, look on my Kindle and all you’ll find is books about how to create a stronger business and live a better life.
That said, one of the things I consistently notice is that a variety of the business-based books are geared toward entrepreneurs interested in creating and growing a company that has staff. Very few actually provide insight dedicated to the solopreneur.
So, if you’re like me and would love to get business advice from those who began as—and choose to remain—solopreneurs, I reached out to a few of them to see what they had to say. Here’s what they told me.
Dip Your Toes Before Diving In
“The best business advice I can offer as a solopreneur, now two years in, is to test the waters before diving in,” says Kailey Clymer, owner of Clymer PR. In other words, instead of making the leap into solopreneurship full-time, offer your services on a part-time basis first.
Clymer shares that this is how she started, doing freelance media relations for about a year-and-a-half on the side, while also working full-time in communications. This provided her a number of benefits.
“Working part-time allowed me to research and learn a lot, make mistakes that weren’t detrimental, network for potential clients, create a website, speak with mentors who have experience in what I wanted to do, and come up with a business plan,” shares Clymer.
How do you know when you’re ready to transition to full-time solopreneur? “Once my part-time work started to infringe upon my 9-5 job, I knew it was time to gain confidence and take the leap,” Clymer says, adding that it also helps to remember that you don’t need to know everything about running a business at the beginning as you will learn a lot as you go.
Aim to Connect
“In order to grow, thrive, and flourish, we must reach beyond the simply transactional; we must transcend and connect,” says solopreneur Aryeh Blum, LMHC, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in helping individuals achieve freedom from trauma, addiction, illness, and crisis at his South-Florida business Freedom Mind & Body Counseling. How do you do this?
“Care deeply and take a particular interest in each client, customer, and business partner,” says Blum. “Convey to them that they are personally important to you.”
This could be by asking questions about their life and experiences, and truly paying attention to the answer. Or maybe it involves going above and beyond to help them solve one of their biggest problems, even if it’s not in your area of expertise.
“When this perspective becomes the bedrock of your business, you will be able to effectively communicate your values, and your business relationships will feel supported, safe, and ready to grow with you,” Says Blum.
Engage with Your Audience
A similar, yet slightly different piece of advice provided by Alicia Hyatte, LCSW, family wellness expert, and founder of Whole Family Solutions is to “engage in activities and discussions that can help you gain insight into the needs of your audience. Be proactive about seeking out opportunities to get in front of them.”
Hyatte shares that the reason she recommends taking this approach is because “the longevity of your business depends on the connections that you form with your community, both online and offline.” But what suggestions does she have for creating this type of business-boosting engagement?
“Hosting workshops and webinars are a great way to do this,” shares Hyatte. “Start conversations and make contacts that ultimately help you to reach more people and grow a business that makes an impact.”
Don’t Rush Your Website
The next piece of advice tackles the one thing that many solopreneurs struggle with to some extent: their website.
“While it is tempting to want to create a website in the initial launch of your business, my experience with clients has proven the importance of waiting 3-6 months,” says Karen S. Dennis, healthcare publicist and owner of KSD Public and Media Relations. “This waiting period allows you the time to really develop your brand before you invest a large sum into your website.”
I can definitely see the value of this advice because I experienced this firsthand after changing my brand repeatedly in my initial days as a freelance writer. This meant that I was constantly stopping what I was doing to update my site.
Admittedly, sometimes you need a website from day one, so what are you to do then? “If your business model needs a website immediately, start with a landing page and use your social media pages to back-up your brand,” says Dennis. This will give you an online presence while you work to hone what your company will look like to the outer world.
Develop Necessary Systems
“My biggest challenge with the solopreneur life is creating balance with the work that I love to do supporting my clients and the work that it takes to grow my business,” says Juli Lassow, founder and principal of JHL Solutions in Minneapolis, a retail business consultant, solutions, and management firm. To help with this, she has created a variety of systems designed to keep her on track.
“When I began my own business, I needed to think critically about the skills that I had and what I lacked,” says Lassow. “Reviewing the skills that I needed, I then prioritized what I wanted to learn how to do. I next tackled what would best serve my clients and my own business.”
Lassow also set up a system for setting, tracking, and achieving goals. “I needed to be clear on what I wanted to accomplish for myself and my business in the next 30, 90, and 120 days,” she says. “Using these goals, I created key metrics that I use to track my progress.”
This helps Lassow prioritize her to-do list and ensures that she remains focused on high-impact activities. “This goals system also helps me focus on skill development and how I allocate time and resources to building or outsourcing new skills,” she says.
Give Up A Few of Your Hats
“While many burgeoning contractors and business owners try to wear each hat they find themselves interacting with each day, the reality is that many of those are distractions for your revenue-generating activities and offers,” says Nadav Hazaz, owner of Milwaukee Lockstar LLC, a full-service emergency locksmith. That’s why his number one tip is to hire outside help.
“Take my locksmith company as an example,” says Hazaz. “I only make money by getting clients into their homes, businesses, and cars. If I’m fielding every single call that comes into my business daily, I’m not out there popping locks and earning revenue. It’s because of this that I personally use a dispatch service to field and organize my calls.”
Hazaz takes this same approach with other areas of his business as well, such as marketing and any other tasks he can assign to someone else. “I learned that my own customer service is so much better if I don’t try to handle everything, but focus on the one thing I can do which they can’t: popping locks.”
If you struggle with delegating duties, Hazaz recommends that you do your research, enabling you to find help that is both useful and within budget. While this approach may cost you some cash, Hazaz reminds solopreneurs that “a new expense is not bad if it costs less than your product and allows you to sell more.”
Develop a Solid Referral Process
“When individuals are in need of service, they tend to want a recommendation from friends, family, or coworkers,” says Alexander Pencer of TFC Title Loans. “Because of this, I encourage all solopreneurs to improve their referral process!”
One way to do this is with social media, as options like Facebook enable you to ask your network for geo-specific recommendations. Another alternative is to simply ask your satisfied customers to refer you to others who can benefit from your services.
“When asking for referrals, explain or share your goal with the referrer,” suggests Pencer, “whether that’s how many referrals you’re striving for and why, who is your ideal client and why, or similar. Offer to help them brainstorm names.”
Additionally, if they resist providing referrals before receiving permission to share their name and contact information, Pencer recommends indicating that you appreciate why they feel the way they do and reassuring them that you won’t make contact with their referrals until they’ve had a chance to let them know to expect your email or call.
“By providing a solution, being persistent that you need the contact information now, and establishing a deadline, it guarantees a lead,” says Pencer.
And One Extra…
I know I’ve already provided the seven pieces of business advice I promised at the beginning of this article, but I want to share mine too. And that advice is, above all, to not be afraid to do things your way.
When I first started out, I spent a lot of time learning how others set up their businesses. Lured by their stories of success, I tried with all my might to perfectly imitate their paths. However, at times, those steps left me feeling like I was going down the wrong path.
Sure, doing something new is always going to feel a bit strange. But if it feels downright wrong, you need to pay attention. And remember that just because someone got where it is you want to go by taking a certain set of steps, that doesn’t mean that they’re the right steps for you.
Instead, find a path that is most suited for you and your individual likes, dislikes, and quirks. When you do this, rest assured that in due time, others will be trying to imitate you. You’ll become the business professional that they strive to learn from.