This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.
One of the best things about longevity is that you have already made all the mistakes possible in your business or have seen them among your network. Some years ago I even teemed with a young entrepreneur to speak about our biggest mistakes at a conference. What can you learn from my mistakes? From those of other solopreneurs you know? Lots! Ask your network.
Well, of course, I did not need a business plan. I was not going to build the next Google, I was just going to consult. And so I did. The early years were often rough. I tried a lot of approaches. But I did not do a business plan. Mind you I have taught them to entrepreneurs, studied them as part of my MBA, and so on. But I never thought one might help me.
But doing a short, even a simple one-page version, business plan can help you flesh out a lot of ideas and information that will speed your success. Your basics are
- What do you really want to do, what is the market, what do you offer?
- Who is your target market specifically and how will you reach them?
- What is your ‘hook’ to attract business -why are you better/faster/whatever?
- How will you sell your services or product?
Early on, I met and hired an experienced marketing manager who was starting a solo marketing business. We had a chat or two and she proposed a huge scheme, far outside my budget or needs. I gave up, assuming I could not afford a more experienced marketer or company, and went on with trying but nothing really worked well.
Marketing can be done on your own if you are really ready to invest the time and energy in learning its many aspects, what works in your business arena, how to test your ideas, and so on. But reading an article on the different audiences between Twitter and Facebook is not cutting it. Start certainly with the education aspect. Attend some of the marketing seminars and round-table discussions at the SBDC. Do some online research. But do not limit yourself. Ask your network for recommendations and talk with some experts to find someone you can work with. Build a budget and try some of their recommendations. Smart marketing support not only helps bring in the business but it also reduces your burden in trying to do everything
Doing It All
Like far too many consultants, coaches, and freelancers, I started out ready to do almost anything in HR a client might want. And thought I could run my small business entirely on my own too. But there are aspects of HR which I do not enjoy. And there are needs which clients have but which would require expensive investments in software and survey data for me to do.
Don’t ask how long it took me to start referring potential clients to others for affirmative action plans or survey intensive work.
Plus surely I could learn all I needed to run my business with all the modern software, systems, and such – presentation graphics, IT, book-keeping, etc. It was only when I wanted a website that I really hired help. Don’t ask me how many virtual assistants I knew/met before I actually hired one myself.
Take a clear look at your value. You and only you can sell yourself and do the actual work you want to build your business on. In the beginning it is hard to convince yourself to spend money on others’ services. It is easy when you are not busy with clients to think you can fit in all the other aspects of your business that need to be done. Then you get busy and it all stops. Or you hit a problem you cannot fix and it is always at the wrong time. No computer ever fails on a ‘good day’, they all fail on deadline or at the start of a big engagement when you are already slammed.
You need to make investments in your business, just as any company does. Yours may be on a different scale but some services and systems are really worth spending on. A great logo, someone to properly set up the book-keeping software and process, some basic marketing advice are just a few examples of good investments in your success. Look very carefully at what you need and how you will fill each need. Consider all your options, do not just assume you cannot afford assistance. If you really cannot invest in your business, are you actually in business or are you just trying to keep going while you look for another job or is it really a hobby?
We want them, we need them, but how do we manage them? Some freelancers and consultants start their businesses when they are laid off but offered a consulting gig or are converted to independents by their employers. This can provide great support and income in the beginning. But you must diversify if you want to build a longer term business. Significant dangers exist for any solopreneur when one client is the mainstay of the business – what happens when that client suddenly moves in a different direction?
Other clients are so time-consuming that the revenue they produce is far less value than the effort they require. These are clients you need to fire or, at least, to transition over to others whose work styles are more likely to match. Wow, is that hard the first time! But it is a skill you need to learn. Developing and managing a range of clients requires constant effort and management on your part. Learning to let go is difficult but vital to your business success.
TIP of the month
“The best tip I received was learning how to play to my strengths instead of doing what text books told me about building a business. A coach did help me sort through some of this, too- so asking for advice and doing some self assessment would be part of the tip.
For me, has meant being involved as a volunteer with organizations I like and care about, which in turn lets people see how I work; also going to events and program that I find interesting rather than going to simply network and sharing information and strategies and news about the field.” Jennifer Ayers, www.jlayersconsulting.com