6 Strategies to Keep Your Solopreneur Endeavor in the Black
When you're a one-man or one-woman show, you juggle multiple business roles throughout the day. Switching back and forth isn't fun or easy. You're the (only) one getting clients, handling questions, doing actual work for those clients, taking care of bookkeeping and accounting, paying the bills. ... It can be quite overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be.
1. Start with a plan. Actually, make that two.
A business plan helps you define where you are right now. It describes what you want to do, your available resources, and where you want to go. It's a strategic plan that varies greatly depending on your niche, products/services and even geographic location. It should include your goals and objectives as well as an analysis of the current market and competitors in your space (to make sure you'll have customers). Additionally, a business plan should outline your financial requirements -- items and services you need to purchase, everything required for startup and how you intend to secure the capital. This plan is essentially the roadmap for the future of your business, so it makes sense to revisit it regularly.
A marketing plan gives you a course of action to build brand awareness and target those customers who are most likely to be interested in what you have to offer. Don't rush through the writing. Your marketing plan will help you discover exactly what you need to do and when you're going to do it. With all that out of the way, the actual marketing part will seem easy in comparison.
2. Keep an eye on all expenses.
Look for free-software versions you can use until your business growth necessitates an upgrade to the paid edition. You'll have to invest time researching the solutions available to fit your needs, but plenty of free tools can make the most of your solopreneur effort. Among the options you can use for free or next-to-nothing: accounting, customer-relationship management, time tracking, productivity, office utilities, graphic design and more.
Running your business requires basic services such as an internet connection and a phone line. Find Broadband and Broadband Now can help you shop around to ensure your provider is giving you the best possible deal. You might be surprised to discover other providers whose packages provide what you need at a fraction of the cost.
Saving on expenses without sacrificing what you need to run your business frees up money to reinvest or put into savings as a safeguard against future slowdowns.
3. Hire help only when you need it.
Sometimes, the work will trickle in so slowly you'll wonder how you're going to pay the bills. Other times, you'll have so much work that hiring paid help is the only way to meet deadlines without shortchanging quality. Once you take on a full- or part-time employee, you're no longer a solopreneur. If your business brings in enough income to easily sustain an employee while keeping him or her busy, this might be your best course of action.
In the early stages, though, freelance contractors are your best bet. Because independent contractors work for themselves, you need only set up a way to manage their assignments, track their time and pay them for the job when it's done. Hiring employees is a much costlier endeavor.
Most of the time, I decline additional projects if I'm too busy to do it myself. But there have been times -- when I unexpectedly got sick, for example -- I've needed to reach out to friends in my network. I couldn't simply ask the client for an extension or lose the income altogether. Calling on a person I trust to get the job done put some of the money in my pocket, and I was able to pay my bills on time.
4. Don't quit your day job -- yet.
If you're maintaining a job while you launch and run your startup, expect to be tired until you're ready to take your business full-time. Make sure you get off on the right foot. Work on building your clientele before you quit your day job so you'll have somewhere to start when you take the plunge. It's also a good idea to keep working your day job until you can amass a bit of savings. You'll need that rainy-day fund if payments don't come in right when you expect them to.
Me? I had no paid day job. I was a stay-at-home mom, determined to give myself the best of both worlds: the ability to stay home and take care of my son while I earned an income. The luxury of my then-husband's income kept the bills paid, but working around my toddler's schedule was a challenge. I literally worked 365 days in a row my first year, even if I could fit in only an hour or two during naptimes.
By the time my husband was laid off from his job, I was making enough money to take a break on weekends and still pay our bills. Nine years after I started my business, I'm rocking it as a single mom and solopreneur. Growth takes time. With patience and dedication, you'll get there.
5. Rely on automation where you can.
When you're working alone, there's no shortage of things to get done. Automation can save you time (and maybe your sanity). You probably already know you can automate your social-media management, though I always suggest checking in live from time to time. Beyond that, the right tools enable you to automate invoicing, sorting your emails (I'm in love with Gmail's filters) and dozens of other tasks. To get an idea of what you can do, take a look at If This Then That and Zapier. It will take a while to set up the initial actions, but ridding yourself of the monotony will result in significant savings over time.
6. Keep building skills.
You start your business with an existing skill set. If you want to remain successful as a solopreneur, you'll need to expand that toolkit -- from accounting to marketing and everything in-between. Some of these skills may come to you naturally, but you must focus on building those that don't. In my case, what began as a web-design business and article-ghostwriting service has morphed into so much more. Over the years, I've learned a great deal about budgeting, marketing and customer service.
Whatever you do, remain flexible. I've had to do what I call the "freelance shuffle" many times. It's an intricate (yet improvised) series of dance steps. For example, I might need to move money I'd saved for rent to pay the power bill instead -- because the check I'd planned to use for utilities arrived too late for its due date but in time to pay my landlord. I've charged items on credit cards and temporarily carried the debt until payments came in. It drives me nuts that I have to make these trade-offs. Sometimes, though, you gotta do what you gotta do. If you're too rigid to change your plan of action, you'll struggle unnecessarily to best meet your needs.