Four Must-Haves Solopreneurs Need But Don’t Know It

Now That Makes A Difference text on purple and white background

When you start out as a solopreneur, you know you need the usual business essentials to operate professionally: computer, phone, printer, Internet, paper, and so on and so forth. Now in my eighth year of self-employment, I’ve discovered other assets I originally didn’t realize could be so important. Slightly obscure, they might have fallen below your radar, too.

 

Four Business Essentials You Might Not Realize You Need

 

  • A really good umbrella

By all accounts, I’m blessed. Our family has the good fortune to be financially secure; we have what we need and can (within reason) get what we want. BUT we have the most pathetic umbrellas at our house. There’s only one that I’m not mortified to use in public. The others are obnoxious red and white umbrellas the telecom company I once worked for offered as promotional freebies for its now non-existent Internet service provider division. After a recent rainy spell here in eastern Pennsylvania (during which my 9th-grade daughter forgot our only respectable umbrella in her locker at school), I realized I should invest in several more decent umbrellas. It’s a matter of pride—and professional appearance. Own umbrellas that won’t make you look and feel like a panhandler.

 

  • Kick-@s$ closet hangers

Upon launching my freelance business in 2010, I quickly learned being organized personally helps keep all professional endeavors in order, too. What I didn’t realize, however, is how much of a difference a well-designed hanger can make. Fortunately, a colleague recently introduced me to Joy Mangano Huggable Hangers. No more jungle of jumbled wire and bulky plastic hangers that crowd our limited space and let my outfits slip to the floor. I’ve replaced all hangers in our bedroom walk-in closet and my daughter’s closet with these gems, and I’m in the process of swapping out every last hanger in our entire house with them.

 

I’m obsessed.

With more free space in my closet, I can find what I want to wear more easily, and my clothes don’t get wrinkly while hanging. These hangers have saved me time and made it much easier to get out the door on time for meetings. If you have a closet that needs a revamp, definitely check them out.

 

  • A spritz of confidence

Nobody wants to think about this, and I can hardly believe I’m writing about it, but here it “goes.” When you’re on the go and have to go, Poo-Pourri lets you do it in stealth mode. I bought a bottle and intended it as a gag gift for a family Christmas gift swap a few years ago. Intrigued by the concept, I tried it first. The s%@t works (pun intended). Why would anyone ever want to leave home without it? The company sells 2-ounce bottles that you can easily fit into laptop bags or handbags.

 

  • Wiggle room

Despite how well you plan your project schedule, some tasks will require more time than you anticipate they will, and unexpected phone calls, tech issues, etc. will occasionally happen. If you jam-pack your day down to the minute, you’ll never have a buffer zone to address those sorts of surprises. The solution, add some wiggle room (empty slots of time) into your calendar every day. It’s a sanity saver!

 

Nothing fancy above—just practical items that I’ve found can make a difference professionally.

 

What underappreciated must-haves would you add to the list?

 

Five Reasons To Stop Complaining Right Now

Nobody said running a solopreneur business (or any business) would be easy.

 

There will be times when you’ll feel defeated. There will be other times when you’ll feel under-appreciated. There will be times when you’ll feel cheated, or No-Complainingmisunderstood, or taken for granted.

 

We all get raw deals sometimes. We all get less than what we believe we deserve.

 

Complaining doesn’t help. It never has. It never will.

 

Here’s why you need to quit complaining NOW:

 

  • Complaining takes time.
  • Complaining takes energy.
  • Complaining makes you sound like a crybaby.
  • Complaining is unprofessional.
  • Complaining—especially if you call people out or infer that you’re talking about them—makes really good prospects think twice about doing business with you.

 

Complaining is the easy way out. Quietly and gracefully taking action to overcome whatever challenge you’re facing is what shows your fortitude and determination.

 

Don’t waste your time complaining. Spend it instead on perfecting your craft, demonstrating your value, and proving yourself.

 

If you know people who spend way too much complaining and not enough doing what it takes to forge their own paths to success, please share this with abandon.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Right Way To Earn Small Business Bragging Rights

Leadership expert Steve Gutzler wrote a post that made me pause to think about the qualities of being self-employed that I tend to Bragging guyemphasize when talking with other professionals.

 

Upon reflection, I realize I too often share about my packed project schedule or the fact that there never seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. It’s as if being overworked or overwhelmed are valid markers on the path to success.

 

They’re not. There’s no glory in excessive stress and leading a professional life that seems to control us rather than the other way around. What’s the point of being your own boss if your business is the boss of  you?

 

Sure, we need to work hard to build sustainable businesses, BUT that’s not what should earn us bragging rights as solopreneurs and small business owners.

 

What should give us something to gloat about?

  • We can choose the types of projects we want to work on.
  • We can choose the clients we want to work with.
  • We don’t have to ask anyone permission to leave work early on a beautiful summer afternoon.
  • We can plan our work schedule around our kids’ ball games and play rehearsals.
  • We can enroll in any professional development course we want without someone telling us it’s not relevant to our position.

 

Having lifestyle flexibility is nothing to feel guilty about. It’s OK to step away from work and enjoy other things.

 

And you shouldn’t feel like less of a business professional because you have the ability to do that when others don’t.

 

Isn’t it time we wore THAT as our small business badge of honor?

 

Of course, having the ability to do more than work all the time means finding the discipline and resources to plan better and work more efficiently.

 

Accomplish that and you’ve really got something to brag about!

 

Your turn! What do you find yourself quickest to communicate when talking with others about your experience in self-employment?

 

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Does [Client] Size Matter?

The bigger the client, the better?Ruler

 

That’s the mindset of some professional services solopreneurs and freelancers I’ve met.

 

And what’s not to love about landing that big-time corporate client with a limitless budget and an endless stream of exciting projects waiting for you?

 

When I first started my freelance writing business, I had my sights set on moving away from working with smaller businesses and marketing firms to getting signed on by larger companies. After all, they’re bigger so they have to be a better quality client, right?

 

Not necessarily.

 

After working full-time as a freelance writer these past five years, I’ve learned that the size of clients often has very little to do with how fulfilling—and lucrative—the working relationships will be.

 

What Really Matters

If your skills, expertise, and services are a match for a client’s needs, don’t discount them as a bad fit purely because their business is small.

 

Good clients come in all sizes. And so do the not-so-good clients.

 

Rather than using size as a way to qualify or disqualify prospective clients, consider other qualities and characteristics:

 

  • Can they/are they willing to pay you what you ask?

    You might be surprised to discover that the largest of businesses might claim to have the smallest of budgets when outsourcing work. I’ve already turned down work from a very large international company because they proposed to pay an amount so much lower than my billable rate that it was downright insulting. Conversely, I have solopreneur clients and business clients with two or three employees who give me no pushback on my pricing because they value what I do for them.

 

  • Do they pay on time?

    This might be difficult to assess until you’re actually working with a client, but you’ll want to know what to expect. I’ve heard and read horror stories from a few solopreneurs who have waited up to six months to get paid by large corporate clients. When you need that income to pay your bills—and pay yourself—waiting 180 days for a check can hurt. Smaller sized clients can be late payers, too, but there’s far less administrative red tape to get through to get paid. As you’re discussing an opportunity with a prospective client, ask them what their typical payment cycle is and identify what your payment terms are in your proposal. One of my large corporate clients shared that they pay in 45 days rather than in 30 days as my proposal requested. I was fine with that—and they have indeed paid all my invoices within 45 days.

    Tip: Some companies will shorten their accounts payable cycle if you accept payments electronically through PayPal or credit card.

 

  • Do they have their act together?

    Clients who are all over the place with their idea of what they need from you can suck up a lot of your time and energy. If they don’t have clear goals or vision of what they want to achieve, you could find yourself doing a lot of rework or completely scrapping what you’ve done to accommodate their whims. Note that good clients will often need your guidance and recommendations to fully shape their vision. As an expert in your field, you should expect that. But a client who is a “hot mess” will likely be high maintenance and give you more stress than the opportunity is worth.

 

  • How many layers of approval will your work need to go through?

    If you’re an impatient person, prepare for frustration if your work will need the seal of approval from multiple people within a company. Expect to wait longer for feedback and expect multiple change requests. This can happen with small clients, but it’s more typical of larger businesses with various departments and a corporate hierarchy in place.

 

What Really, Really Matters

Last, but not least, never underestimate your intuition. Are you feeling a connection with your prospect? Are you getting a good vibe from them?

 

This may sound superficial, but it can make or break how much you enjoy your work. AND it can affect your attitude and energy level overall. It’s tough enough to manage all aspects of your business. If you’re working with clients who are nasty to you, make unreasonable demands, or are otherwise difficult to deal with, you’ll find yourself mentally drained, unmotivated, and void of self-confidence.

 

You don’t have time for that and your business could suffer under those circumstances.

 

Size up your clients carefully. And remember, bigger may not be better.

 

Your turn! What qualities make clients a good fit for you?

 

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc. at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Asked To Tackle A Project That Uncharted Territory? Keep These Things In Mind!

Even professionals in creative fields can sometimes feel the grind of working on the same types of projects over and over again. So, atypical (even off-the-wall Yoga stretchprojects) may look appealing.

Taking on projects that are new, different, uncharted territory can help you breathe fresh air and generate new mojo when you’re feeling uninspired—but they can also leave you feeling inadequate and defeated if they don’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped they would.

I recently worked on a project that was a far cry from the type of writing I typically do. It came to me as opposed to me looking for it, but I thought it sounded like fun and interesting, so I decided to accept the opportunity.

Wow, it was hard! Dang hard. But I learned a lot from the experience and I’m going to share some of what I discovered with you.

When you venture outside of your “project comfort zone,” I suggest keeping these things in mind:

You don’t know what you don’t know.

When taking on a project you’ve never done before, you won’t truly know what you’re in for until you get started. It might demand a whole new way of thinking or executing your work.

Expect to spend more time on it than you anticipate.

Because you haven’t worked on the type of project before, it will probably demand more of your time than you anticipate to get it right. In the case of my recent project, “getting it right” was subjective and dependent on my client’s perspective and preferences. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it does up the level of challenge.

Expect to spend more mental energy on it than you expected.

You might find that the project pervades your thoughts in all your waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours. That’s exhausting and can draw your focus and attention from your other responsibilities.

Put on your thick skin.

You may need it. Even if you’re used to hitting a home run with your other projects, you might flounder in producing what your client wants with this one. Requests for re-dos are never fun, and they can hit the ego hard. Don’t take it personally. It’s part of the process.

All things considered, I’m glad I made the stretch to try something different. It was hard work that brought a healthy does of humility, but it’s made me appreciate how effortlessly other projects proceed for me.

Have you taken on any unique, out-of-the-norm projects lately? What have you learned from the experience?

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Better Is The Enemy Of Good”—Fortune Cookie Friday Small Biz Wisdom

Complacency to remain “status quo” as a solopreneur or freelancer can mean a shorter shelf life for your small business.Fortune Cookie Friday

 

This week’s fortune cookie reading, “Better is the enemy of good,” reminds us of that.

 

Good is…well…good. But only by getting better can our businesses achieve respect and create greater demand for our services.

 

Good might get the contract, but better is the key to keeping a client for life.

 

Lots of other businesses are good. What are you going to do to be better—to give clients a reason to work with you rather than your competition?

 

Fortunately, striving for better doesn’t always require significant effort. Tweaking minor aspects of your M.O. can make a big difference in the perceived value of your services.

 

Doing business better and adding value can mean:

 

  • Reading one article a day that can strengthen your knowledge in your field or help you hone your skills.
  • Returning emails and phone calls more quickly.
  • Responding to inquiries from your website contact form within 8 business hours.
  • Never forgetting the personal touch when communicating with clients. Show you care by starting with sentiments like, “How was your weekend?” or “I hope all is well with you.” End on a note of, “Have a wonderful day,” and “Thanks again for the opportunity to work with you.”
  • Sending customers links to blog posts and articles relevant to a particular challenge they’re facing or a topic you’ve recently discussed with them.
  • Showing clients some love on social media by connecting with them on the channels you share and liking or sharing their content regularly.
  • Proactively suggesting projects that can either save them time, money, or make them more money.

 

Now the question: If better is the enemy of good, is best the enemy of better?

 

Endeavoring to be your best (not to be confused with the unattainable goal of perfection) will always take you farther on the road to success. But take care not to thwart your efforts to better yourself by comparing yourself too closely to your competition. Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, but focus on developing your own unique value.

 

Good. Better. Best. Raising the bar is the enemy of ordinary.

 

Over to you! What do you do to continually better your business and raise its value to your clients?

Why Being A “Solopreneur” Is B.S.

I can already see the angry mob of freelancers and one-person business owners with pitchforks and flaming torches rounding the corner in protest. Solopreneur

 

But before you stick it to me, I hope you’ll stick with me and read on.

 

How Do You Define “Solopreneur”?

Surprisingly, Urban Dictionary has a straightforward, no-nonsense description:

 

“An entrepreneur who works alone, ‘solo,’ running their business single-handedly. They might have contractors for hire, yet have full responsibility for the running of their business.”

 

It’s that second part of the definition and its contrariness to the first part that has me thinking we might sometimes apply the wrong mindset to our solo businesses.

 

We Do Very Little “Solo” as Solopreneurs

The phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” applies in some way to us as solopreneurs, too. We’re adults, of course, but our businesses are constantly evolving. They have to or they won’t survive.

 

We’re faced with ever-changing…

  • Technology for communicating, collaborating, and executing administrative tasks.
  • Client needs.
  • Competitive pressures.
  • Economic conditions.
  • Tax and accounting laws.
  • Business regulations.
  • Personal and professional highs and lows.

 

I guess if you’re a super solopreneur you can leap tall buildings and keep up with all of it on your own, but the rest of us need help from a variety of other people and businesses.

 

We learn to do business better with the help of…

 

  • Tax specialists – You might not need a CPA, but a professional tax preparer can ensure you’re following the rules and not missing out on any deduction opportunities.
  •  

  • Lawyers – Tip: I have membership to LegalShield Pre-Paid Legal Services which, for a low monthly fee, gives me access to an attorney whenever I have legal questions. You might want to check it out.
  •  

  • Bookkeeping specialists – While I retain my own books in Quickbooks Online, I had an expert help me set up my company accounts and every few months I schedule time with her for a checkup. She usually finds one or two things I should have entered differently. If you’re keeping your own books, how confident are you that all is correct?
  •  

  • Business advisors – You can save yourself from going down a wrong path by simply tapping into the honesty and experience of other professionals. Whether through a formal mentoring program, mastermind group, or by simply turning to someone you respect and trust, you can get affirmation and avoid pitfalls by sharing your challenges and asking for advice.
  •  

  • Competitors – You heard me correctly. None of us can serve everyone. Not all clients or projects are the right fit for us. I value my relationships with other writers for many reasons. Among them, the ability to refer prospects to someone else who has the capabilities and capacity to take on projects that I cannot.
  •  

  • Project partners – As a freelance writer, I alone can’t always serve a client’s needs. Sometimes they need website design or print design work in addition to the content I produce. You’ve probably encountered similar situations in your business. We sometimes need professionals in complementary fields to fill voids in projects.
  •  

  • An Assistant – I realize not all solopreneurs will either be able to afford one or absolutely need one, but a helping hand can alleviate some administrative pressures. When your amount of billable work for clients has expanded and you find it difficult to keep up with other business tasks, you might consider an independent virtual assistant to help you. My assistant, Rose, has been helping me since March of this year with research, proofreading, and other odds and ends. I don’t know how I managed without her. With her help, I don’t feel pulled in as many directions,  and I’m better able to focus.

 

Striving For Success as a Solopreneur: Don’t Go It Alone

So while you and I call ourselves “solopreneurs,” we depend an awful lot on others. I don’t really believe being a solopreneur is B.S., but we should never lose sight of how much easier we can achieve success if we get help from others.

 

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

 

Fortune Cookie Friday Small Biz Wisdom: A Perfect Statue Never Comes From a Bad Mold

This week’s nugget of “takeout” wisdom…

A perfect statue never comes from a bad mould.*Fortune Cookie Friday Business Wisdom

How does this apply to you in your small business?

Well, it stands to reason that your business will have its faults if you model it after another that’s significantly flawed. Everyone knows that, so I need not say more on that point.

But beware of trying to outright copy another business. Period. While you might find it tempting to create yourself in the image of a successful competitor who seems to be doing EVERYTHING right, you’ll lose.

Who is your small business brand anyway?
Trying to mold yourself into the exact likeness of a competitor will leave you frustrated—and a phony. You can’t be someone you’re not. Without your own brand persona and distinctive ways of doing things, you’re a copy. And copies are never as good as the original. You and your brand need to find your own voice and your own unique value proposition.

But know there’s nothing wrong with examining what others are doing well and incorporating those qualities and approaches into your own business. Don’t copy, but rather use what you’ve observed and learned to improve your ability to serve and connect with your customers.

A few examples:

• Craft your own unique referral rewards program.
• Consider actively using an online social media platform you’ve seen that your competitors are using with success.
• Refresh your website content (with your own unique content, of course).
• Start blogging.
• Pursue partnerships with complementary businesses (different than those whom your competition works with) that can help you expand your offerings.

It’s OK to emulate best practices, but it’s absolutely critical to make them your own.

Watch, learn, and apply them in your business in your own unique way so you’ll never be seen as a copy.

Chime in! How would you interpret this week’s fortune?

*Apparently the fortune cookie bakers are British.

Fortune Cookie Friday Small Business Wisdom: Do It With a Determined Heart

Another Fortune Cookie Friday, another opportunity to make practical use of those readily discarded nuggets of wisdom served as a side dish to shrimp loFortune Cookie Friday-Determined mein.

A person with a determined heart frightens problems away.

Determined, as defined my Merriam-Webster, means “having a strong feeling that you are going to do something and that you will not allow anyone or anything to stop you.”

Without a doubt, determination stands as a must-have trait for solopreneurs and small business owners.

But does it frighten problems away?

Problems don’t exactly have feelings or the capacity to think for themselves, so no; having a determined heart won’t scare them.

It won’t ward off unreasonable clients. It won’t take you from the seventh page to the first on a Google search. It won’t add more hours to the day when you don’t have enough time to get everything done. It won’t expand the reach of your Facebook page posts.

Staying determined, however, does make problems less intimidating and immobilizing.

A determined heart enables you to stand up to the many challenges you’ll face when starting, running, and growing a business. It drives you to think creatively and find ways around obstacles.

When determined, you have purpose. When you have purpose, you have your eye on the prize and won’t back down in the face of adversity.

No. Determination won’t frighten your problems away, but it will make you less afraid as you knock them out of your way.
Stay determined!

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By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

How Making Ends Meet Could Confuse (and Lose) Customers

The road to making a livable wage as a solopreneur can be longer than ideal. Starting out presents the challenges ofDollar-in-pocket building awareness, growing a base of clients who provide ongoing business, and earning a reputation that helps answer any push back you might get when you propose rates to prospects.

It’s no wonder startup solopreneurs sometimes look for ways to supplement their income as they grow their businesses.

But could that hinder your business success?

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed more than a few solopreneurs putting forth multiple professional personas at once or changing their professional direction every few months. I get that. Might it not pay off  to cast the net wide in hopes of catching as many customers as possible or to shift focus as soon as one thing isn’t quite taking off?

Possibly.

But beware.

Prospects and clients might interpret your diversity as a sign that you’re indecisive, not fully committed to your business, unsure of your own professional strengths, or otherwise pulled in too many directions.

I’ve been there.
Although I never took on another for pay opportunity after starting my freelance writing business, soon after I began, I started volunteering with a local chapter of SCORE (a wonderful nonprofit organization, offering free mentoring to entrepreneurs and small business owners). About a year after serving as a volunteer mentor, I accepted the V.P. of Marketing position on their executive committee. Also a volunteer position.

While working as the chapter’s VP of Marketing helped me hone my skills and gain new knowledge, it cost me as well.

  • I discovered people perceived me as a sort of professional volunteer who was doing freelance writing on the side.
  • I couldn’t spend as much time on prospecting and generating business because I was so busy doing free work.
  • I wasn’t meeting my revenue goals.

After seeing the light, I exited from my volunteerism at the chapter. The next year, I quadrupled my number of clients and revenue.

Thinking about doing something on the side?
If you’re thinking about dividing your efforts and attention across multiple income streams, ask yourself these questions:

  • How disparate are the professional endeavors? Are they complementary to each other or are they completely unrelated? If they’re not in any way connected, you might look like a wanna be jack of all trades in the eyes of prospects.
  • Which professional endeavor do I most want to be known for? Are you first and foremost “Dawn Mentzer Freelance Writer” or “Dawn Mentzer [insert, Avon, Tupperware, or other here] Lady”?
  • How much time do you have? With your existing professional and personal commitments and workload, can you handle taking on a side opportunity?
  • Is the income potential or exposure worth sacrificing the time and attention you could be spending on your core business?

If you’re projecting diverse professional personas with no clear prioritization across your online channels and when talking to people face to face, you’re inviting confusion.

Clients and prospects might wonder:

  • Are you really serious about your business and the services you’re providing?
  • Are you not dedicated enough to your customers?
  • Will you be around next week, next month, or next year to serve them?

Here we go again…Almost.
Just recently, an attractive part-time business opportunity crossed my path. At first it seemed like a natural fit. I would apply the communication and networking skills I use in my own business, only in a different scenario. I would work with an impressive team of professionals who I respect.

But then I took stock of the amount of recurring work I have from clients, the project-by-project work that regularly comes my way, and my severe lack of  capacity to take on anything above and beyond all that. I also considered how adding another professional title to my LinkedIn profile might send mixed signals to prospects and my existing clients.

I turned it down.

Proceed with caution
You need to do what you can to make ends meet as a solopreneur, but always think through how anything you do on the side will impact the business you ultimately want to grow and see through to success. Take time to explain your intentions with prospects and clients so they feel secure in your commitment to them.

Identity confusion is your enemy; Clarity of focus and communication of your priorities is your friend.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

 

Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net