If you’ve gone the independent route, you know it’s a rollercoaster ride; a never-ending jamboree of elation, nerves, anxiety, and enthusiasm! Does the feast and famine cycle ever stress you out so much that you consider running back to the certainty of a boring 9–5? No matter where you are in your journey as an independent professional – whether you’re just opening the shutters or have been booking clients for years, your teachability index can often set you apart from the pack and you can always benefit from some nuggets of advice. So here are 5 tips for an independent professional looking for success and growth.
1. Find a Mentor (and quick!)
As a solopreneur, you wear many hats. From marketing maven to business strategist to everything in between, you’re in complete control of your business – it’s the dream, isn’t it? But it could feel isolating. It can sometimes feel like you’re stuck in the woods where you can’t see a path and you’re just trying to guess the next right move.
Here is where you could benefit from a sounding board to produce your best ideas. There is so much to gain if you connect deeply with someone who can share their experiences and wisdom with you to help your business. It’s never too early to reach out and find yourself a mentor who could help solve problems, refine your approach, connect you with trusted vendors and potentially even send a few leads your way! While you can connect with people within your network easily, engaging with industry leaders on platforms like Twitter & LinkedIn and establishing a personal rapport with them will go a long way. Happy mentor-hunting! May you find all the advice and energy you need.
2. Validate Your Idea
If you’re just planning to take the ‘independent’ plunge, ask yourself at least 3 questions and do yourself a favour – answer them honestly:
– Do you have the skills to offer your service for a price?
– Do you really have the motivation to get out of bed each day to do it?
– Is there a tangible market for what you are offering?
If you can answer “yes” to these 3 questions, you’re off to a flying start!
Spend some time talking to potential customers (video calls are best!), delve into secondary market research and develop a business strategy to secure your first 5 customers. Validation shouldn’t be an excuse to not get started quick. If you’re still working with an organization, maybe you can road-test your idea as a side-hustle to see where it takes you.
While it may be endlessly satisfying to pour over white-papers and create pivot tables to extract insights from customer surveys – the reality is: Time and resources are scarce.
There isn’t time to agonize over details that, in the end, may not matter. As a solopreneur, you may want to adhere to the 80% rule — get just enough (valid) information from customer interviews and other data sources. If the cards fall in your favour, get started!
If you’ve been a solopreneur for years, it’s always a good idea to re-validate your idea and see how you could potentially switch up your offering and pricing to close sales faster in a changing economy.
3. Automate or Delegate!
You’re one of the lucky few to have chosen to pursue their passion as a career, and can’t help but constantly seek forward movement. So it can be incredibly frustrating when you get bound up in the minutiae of an admin hold-up, tax deadline and the insurmountable paperwork that comes with running your own business. Invariably, the creativity and growth of the business get neglected. Train yourself to systemise, automate and delegate your business so that you can grow it faster, focus on doing what you love to do, and build the sustainable company of your dreams.
Email is the biggest time vampire when you’re going solo. You have to safeguard yourself from getting caught in the weeds from finicky, sometimes, angry customers. It will completely derail you and your productivity. In The 4 Hour Workweek, bestselling author & podcaster Tim Ferris describes how we built an enormous online supplement business while significantly decreasing his stress and anxiety – he only checked his email once a week. Set up a separate business email account and check it thrice a day. A 10 minute video call is exponentially more efficient in terms of cracking the brief and getting feedback than an endless email thread!
The point here is that you need to automate routine tasks so you can spend maximum time on your craft and the things that truly matter.
4. Get Ready to Adapt
Navigating COVID has been strange and challenging especially for independent professionals. It’s easy to get blindsided and remain stuck, but coming out on the other side of this will be a testament to the resilience of your business and leadership skills. Unprecedented challenges also present us with new opportunities for growth. After all, COVID-19 is a temporary problem, but our businesses are permanent. In an evolving situation, there will always be an element of thinking on your feet. Regardless, unusual situations provide entrepreneurs and their businesses with unique opportunities to push boundaries, innovate, and conceive new ways to work. Maybe use the down time to up-skill yourself and find a unique niche!
5. Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems: Gain Financial Clarity
Running out of cash is what ultimately kills 8 of 10 businesses within 18 months of opening, according to Bloomberg. That’s a stark statistic, but more relevant than ever in the wake of a global pandemic for independent professionals. First, build a war chest. Yes, you read that right. Just like you have a personal emergency fund to run your home for at least six months without income, build a war chest of funds for your business — be it cash, venture capital or lines of credit – to cover shortfalls. Your war chest gives you freedom to manoeuver.
Next, you must gain financial clarity. Fully understand where your revenue is coming from and which customers love to do business with you. This way you can focus on building rapport with those who are potentially repeat clients. Also, studying your monthly revenue breakdowns can be enlightening and can also help you be on top of the payments that are pending and scheduled. Chasing for payments is a chore experienced by most freelancers, you can start by avoiding awkward conversations on the phone with automated notification systems that allow you to shoot out emails or texts requesting pending payments from your clients.
The life of a solopreneur is equal parts rewarding and challenging. So the next time you see a solopreneur who is sipping mimosas by the beach, it’s because they’ve hustled like nobody’s business to get there or they are simply taking a quick break before they go running back to their next client call!