I set up my private career counselling practice because being a solo-entrepreneur suits me in many ways and suits the vision of what I want to offer and accomplish. Here are some things that I have learned in 10 years as a “solopreneur”
1. Remember that “solo” and sole proprietor don’t mean “alone.” You will need some good supports for inspiration, advice, and to avoid turning into a solitary hermit. Those needs for interaction, ideas, mentorship, and expertise will fluctuate over time, and it really can be great to be CEO, Creative Director, Receptionist, and Chief Bottle Washer, and wait for no one, but don’t kid yourself into thinking you can get going and keep going without support.
2. Find your local business development centre. They have a wealth of resources and expertise and, here in Ontario, run all kinds of free workshops and seminars for small business month/week in October. You can talk over your ideas, have someone review a draft business plan, get marketing tips, learn about local networking opportunities, and more. These centres are a good resource at any stage of your idea development, but particularly when your plans are still taking shape.
3. Start gradually, if you can. Why not experiment with a side project or a part-time business? Take your time to develop your plans and test them before giving up your day job or dipping too far into savings. There’s nothing like urgent cash flow problems to kill a good idea that needs time to take shape and build visibility or put too much pressure on a new identity as you’re just warming up to it.
4. Use the right size tools. Yes, if you want a bank loan to start your business, you will need a very detailed business plan, but if you want to start with a side project you don’t need all kinds of details and documentation to get going. Maybe a one-page business plan [link] will be enough or something in between. Beware of procrastinating by investing lots of time and energy into planning steps that really don’t apply to a small, low-risk project if that’s how you’re starting.
5. Focus on why you are starting your own solo venture. As you launch into entrepreneurship, try to make your idea development, implementation, and your way of running the business meet your needs and goals for being a solo-entrepreneur. Yes, some things will need more energy at the beginning and then require less attention as you go along, but if you are choosing solo entrepreneurship not just to have more control over your time but to also have more non-work time (as many of us desire), then make sure that goal informs your plans from the outset and stays front and centre as a goal, even if it might not be a reality until things get established.
6. Don’t get discouraged if things take longer than you thought they would. You can build that into your plan (see #3) and usually new ideas take a few unexpected turns along the way that are really enlightening. Sometimes you don’t know what you can do until you do it! Other times you discover something else is possible that is even more exciting and appealing! Keep focused on the higher levels of what you want to do, why you want to do that, how those are shifting, and what you’re learning.
7. Make your business development a priority. It doesn’t have to be an all-consuming priority that crowds out too many other things that you need or want to do in your week, but priorities don’t sit on the back burner waiting for a “clear day” either. Put some dedicated blocks of time in your calendar for experimenting with your ideas, implementing them, and for reaching your clients/customers. Even just 15 minutes a day [link] or a couple of hours each week — if honoured consistently — will prove to yourself you are serious and that fuels drive and momentum. (So don’t wait for drive and inspiration to get going. Get going, bit by bit, and you will find drive and inspiration!)
8. Do everything with integrity and as much authenticity as you can muster. Even if you have a business name that’s not your personal name and you will describe your operations with “we” on your website, you, individually, are the heart of the business and the business relationships. It can be tempting to cater to what others seem to want to see and hear, straying from your core of integrity and who you want to be in the world usually leads to disappointment, if not pain and despair, in time. Sometimes it seems to take a lifetime to get comfortable in your own skin, but there is so much strength in the vulnerability of being yourself.
9. Remember that doing your best doesn’t mean doing everything “perfectly” or with so much effort and intensity that you burn out. Missteps really do help you learn and if you try to be perfect all the time you will shortchange that learning, slow your progress, and exhaust yourself. Don’t try to be an expert at the beginning. Do your best in the circumstances with what you know through a reasonable amount of conscientious preparation for the stage you are at in your development as an entrepreneur. Don’t let some idea of “perfect” become a procrastination strategy for not moving ahead with “good enough.”
10. Revisit #5 and nurture your needs and goals with regular doses of inspiration and celebration. Cultivate hope, tenacity, and learn to take notice of all small achievements, all your strengths, and all the learning you put into practice. If you can show yourself that you can grow as a person and a business person while you deepen and develop skills, you will see that you can work up to doing things you didn’t think you could do. That builds faith in your abilities and then others will see your confidence that you can get the job done.
These are a few things I believe to be true from my 10 years as a solopreneur and I try to follow them to this day … though not at all perfectly. (See #9.)
2017-18 marks 10 years since I took the leap into entrepreneurship and started working with career counselling clients as a private practice business! To celebrate, I am sharing some “top 10 lists” and other 10-themed resources. (You can find links to all the 10-year resource posts here.)