I’ve been working online while travelling throughout South America for almost 3 months so far and I’ve had a lot of time to think about solopreneurship. After 5+ years as a sole trader, it’s now the right time to write my thoughts. I really hope to give you at least one idea, one tip you can take away.
I would love if you could spend some time to think about it, and leave your comment below to tell me what your thoughts are.
1. So, you wanted to escape 9-5
Working for yourself is great. You got there in the first place because you didn’t like your boss, didn’t like working in an office, had been let go, or simply because you were sick of the 9-5 routine (plus commuting).
But, let’s be honest; you now work longer than 8 hours a day – it’s more like 9am to midnight. And 7 days a week. You forgot what the difference is between a Monday and a Sunday. Your brain is constantly on and your thoughts, ideas, chats, dreams are all about your business.
At least, this was the case in my first 3 years of solopreneurship.
Your life is your business – and that’s understandable. You need to validate your idea, find your first clients/customers, retain them, make money and prove to yourself this is a profitable venture. And this requires more than 40 hours a week.
If you’re only starting now, don’t believe in anything people say. Working for yourself is going to make your life pretty stressful at the very beginning.
And the biggest suggestion I can give you is… quit fast: don’t procrastinate if things don’t go well. If nothing revealing happens in the first 12 months, don’t be scared or disappointed – be real, be honest to yourself and make a decision.
Takeaway: set your 12 months salary goal (no goal, no motivation) and assess your earnings at the end of the year. Think and have processes in place like a real company. This mindset has completely changed the way I work today.
2. Your business should never come first
Priority. What a tough word.
You’ve decided to work for yourself and this is amazing. You’ve gotten back that freedom that had been taken off you. You can seriously do whatever you like, when you like it, work with whoever you like and for how long you want.
Hence, make the most of it!
Set your priorities, and decide what’s most important to you besides your job: family, relationships, sport, travel, friends, eating well, and so on. Excellent, now pick one and put that on top of your priority list. Something that no matter what happens, your own business comes ALWAYS second.
Is your family what matters the most? Then your list features family first, and your own business second. Is sport super important to you? Then it’s #1 Sport, #2 Business. This is a vital, important thing you need to master and keep looking after. Once this is in place, every time there is a decision to make you know which one takes priority – don’t let your business drive your personal life.
Example: today was a sunny, mild day here in Argentina and I decided to go on a long hike. I work for myself therefore I should be free to work whenever I want. Today sport took priority over business. Nothing is going to happen if I don’t work today, but surely if tomorrow rains there’s no way I can hike. I can catch up with work another time.
Takeaway: you chose to work for yourself. Don’t forget to take advantage of it. Decide your main interest and always give it priority over your work.
3. You’re not a start-up
You’d have a co-founder. You’d chase investments. You’d do pitch fests. You’d work your back off day and night to achieve scalability and profitability.
Instead, remember: you work for yourself.
You’ve chosen freedom, but with it comes the con: you can’t make millions. Whether you sell your time or sell a product, either way you have a limited amount of time – hence a limited amount of revenue in most cases.
You tend to look after everything (from marketing to sales, from networking to meetings, from calls and emails to training) to save on expenses, and this reduces your billable time.
So, please stop thinking you will make millions on your own – this is quite rare in solopreneurship. Your goal is working less while earning more, where money is sufficient to keep you going with your current (or ideal) lifestyle.
We work to live. We definitely don’t live to work. We don’t work to make money we can’t use because we’re too busy.
Takeaway: if you work for the money, quit solopreneurship – instead, look for a high 5-figures job. If you work on your own for the lifestyle, then keep going, and make sure the money you make is enough to make you and your close ones happy/happier.
4. Emails are NOT urgent
If you have clients and you’ve instructed them to call you in case of an emergency, then emails are not urgent (in my case, I don’t use the phone and I communicate exclusively via email, so this is slightly different).
Stop replying to emails as soon as they get in. Chances are your clients are going to send you a second email within the hour saying “Sorry for my previous email, I didn’t realize my mistake…”.
I’m currently in the western area of the world – so by default when I turn on the laptop it’s already 1PM in Europe where most of my clients are. It’s very common to see a second email from the same sender that clarifies the first or that completely changes it around.
I feel very lucky and I will continue doing this when I get back to Europe, simply by not logging in to Gmail before 1PM.
Takeaway: Have an email cooling off period. Install a free Google Chrome extension like StayFocusd (or similar if you use another browser) to disable access to Gmail.com and all your webmails until 1PM, as well as disabling social media and news websites from 9-5 everyday.
5. You’re either a writer, a salesperson, a designer or a teacher
Take any 20-people office, and make a list of likely job positions/descriptions.
The thing no one has ever told you is that you can only be the best at ONE thing. On other tasks, you’re average. On others, you’re useless.
If you’re great at selling, you’re probably not very good at marketing. If you code, you’re probably not the best designer. If you’re a great speaker, you probably find writing difficult.
Well, this is normal – just so you know.
If there is anything I can suggest, don’t spend hours trying to learn a complementary skill or something you’re not familiar with – let the others do what they’re best at.
If you spend too much time learning, you don’t have sufficient time to provide for your own business, make money, and enjoy the lifestyle.
Plan, quantify and dedicate a specific amount of time to learning – as long as this is no more than 10% of your working schedule.
Takeaway: make sure you know what your BEST skill is. Spend 70-90% of your time doing exclusively that and getting better at it. Outsource the rest (even if this comes at a price. Remember that your revenue is generated by your best skill and definitely not by your worst ones).
6. Start cooking. Or keep enjoying it.
I remember back in the day when I started cooking. I could not believe I could make things so simple yet healthy and with an OK taste.
Then, my own business started.
Clearly, business took priority over life, cooking and eating healthily. A phone call at lunch time, another “I’m working late today” excuse, or a networking meeting at breakfast time.
Everything happens at the worst moment to disturb your routine when you run your own business, including your food habits.
If you don’t like to stop for lunch because it affects your working momentum, have something ready from the night before. It’s as simple as doubling your ingredient quantities for dinner – so that you have your next lunch ready as well.
Remember – cooking gives you the freedom to know what’s inside your food. No prepackaged foods. No preservatives. No rubbish.
And (at least in my case), it’s a great way to move my eyes away from the laptop and do some off-the-screen thinking.
Takeaway: in my next life I’ll write a 15-minutes recipes book (whoever tells you 5 minutes, trust me, that’s impossible)… but for now I need you to cook something simple at least once a day. Check Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute meal, BBC’s under 20 minutes recipes and the Nourished Cook’s one-pot recipes to get started.
7. Own only what’s necessary
Right now, I have my whole belongings enclosed in 1 suitcase and 1 laptop bag. And trust me – it feels so good.
There are people in the world that don’t even have a suitcase – so not only this feels good, I feel lucky and blessed that I can afford to buy anything and store as much stuff as I like wherever I live.
But owning more doesn’t mean having a better life. I’m sure this has been proven in some research already.
Let’s think together for a moment; we’re all solopreneurs after all.
Maybe we don’t have a definite residence. Definitely, we love travelling. And for sure we value access (to a subscription for example) above assets (ownership).
Trust me, keep it like that. Own less, love your life more.
Takeaway: you don’t need 3 laptops. Or 12 pairs of shoes. Or 50 shirts. You don’t really need much to live comfortably. Mark Zuckerberg wears the same t-shirt everyday, and this also contributes to increase his productivity (not that you should do the same, but you get the point, don’t you?).
8. Travel. Travel more.
It took me 5 years of solopreneurship to get this.
I’m free, I work from home, I don’t require an office, I don’t need to meet my clients in person (any longer).
So, travel as much as you can, given that you CAN.
9-5 employees have 3 weeks off during the whole year. They need to plan their only holiday in advance, pitch the dates to their boss, hope that the weather is going to be OK 6 months from then.
Solopreneurs have the freedom to go whenever and wherever they like, for short or long breaks, even last-minute.
Use Ryanair’s Fare Finder to get the cheapest flights based on your budget (as low as €20), get on AirBnB and use the filters “Wireless Internet” and “Laptop friendly workspace” so you can get some work done from wherever you go (never stayed in an AirBnB before? Here’s a €30 discount for your first booking), check Meetup.com to see if there are interesting events in town where you can meet like-minded entrepreneurs.
In Europe, we’ve got no excuse – in three hours you can get almost anywhere for cheap.
Takeaway: account for 1 short trip every 2 months and a long one per year at least, unless you can do and afford more! This will motivate you more and increase your productivity – in your time off you will be thinking of travelling as opposed to start another business.
9. Take a Tech Sabbath, every week
I only know of a solopreneur friend who is actively doing this.
But before explaining what I mean, next time you go to a restaurant put your smartphone away and and take a look at the other tables. Where are most people keeping their smartphones – on the table, beside their glass, is that right? Besides, how much time are they looking at the screen as opposed to actually talking to their friends/partners?
Well, I didn’t even get into the typical solopreneur’s scenario, where we basically work 24/7/365 as we have the “benefit” of checking our emails day and night.
I’m missing the time when I didn’t have a smartphone, and when the first thought of the weekend was usually sport/travel/friends related.
Internet availability and smartphones have completely changed the way we live and work, together with reducing our overall face-2-face conversation time.
More and more entrepreneurs are being forced to take a “digital detox”. Fast Company has a nice read on what happens to our brain during time off from tech, Telegraph gives you 11 tips to switch off this weekend and more and more tech detox retreats are opening.
This is real.
And here’s what I mean with Tech Sabbath: pick a day of the week, usually a Saturday or a Sunday, where you make sure not to work. Even better, when you plan not to use the internet at all. Even more extreme, when you plan not to use laptops, smartphones and tech devices. Test it for one month, just 4 weekends, and see how it goes. Write down the benefits (on paper, not on your smartphone!), and see if you feel like extending the test to a few months, or maybe years 🙂
Takeaway: make Tech Sabbath your New Year’s resolution. Benefits are unknown to you until you try it out. Block off one day per week and do something you used to love doing 20 years ago.
10. Teach all you know
When I started teaching (as opposed to selling), my business turned around.
Now, clients find me (as opposed to me having to seek jobs) as they believe I am the “WooCommerce expert” (WooCommerce is the ecommerce software I specialise in, for those who don’t know what it is and what I do).
I write free how-to tutorials, I run free video lessons, I reply to blog comments, Quora and Facebook questions. I get lots of traffic and convert readers into subscribers.
And then (and only then), I sell.
I know many solopreneurs who, unfortunately, take the wrong approach: they just sell. That’s it.
Their conversion rate is purely based on numbers – the more potential clients you meet the more sales you make. Or the lower their price, the more sales they convert.
On the other hand, my conversion rate is based on expertise and time-effectiveness. I invest time in teaching what I know, and by doing this I “pull” (as opposed to “push”) potential clients who are automatically attracted to my services or products (such as my premium online course or my by-the-hour WooCommerce support/coaching), are willing to pay premium and trust me even before hiring/purchasing.
If you get the “teaching” bit, your own content marketing strategy will completely change, as well as your lead-capture techniques and email auto-responders.
Takeaway: if you’re not creating contents, capturing email addresses and following up with automated emails then you don’t have an online business and cannot scale. Find out what your potential customers are struggling with, and help them learn your tricks. Magically, many will turn into customers sooner or later.