What To Expect When Going From Corporate Employee To Self-Employed Solopreneur

A friend recently asked me to meet up over lunch to talk about his thoughts of making a career change. Not happy with the degree of autonomy or flexibility he Question mark under corporate business suithas in his corporate management position, he said he thinks the route to go is self-employment. He wanted to know more about how and why I took that path. And he asked for any insight and advice I could offer to give him a better idea about what to expect from becoming a free agent.

An hour over lunch really doesn’t provide enough time to really get into the nitty gritty of going from corporate employee to self-employed professional. It’s a decision not to take lightly. And since talking with my friend, I’ve felt impelled to write about some of the considerations potential solopreneurs should keep in mind as they explore the feasibility of making that significant transformation.

In my situation, the regional company I worked for (for 17 years) was purchased by a national organization. My position and many others (about 60% of the total workforce in our area) were eliminated. Thankfully, the company gave us plenty of advance notice. I had nearly six months to explore my options and figure out what I wanted to do during the next phase of my career. Even though my hand was forced to make a transition, I was fortunate to have time to assess my situation and determine if self-employment was a good bet for my family.

If you’re gainfully employed and considering leaving your present job behind to pursue starting your own business, you’ve got the advantage of time, too. Don’t act in haste by jumping in before you’ve thought it through and considered how the change will affect you and your loved ones.

With the flexibility of becoming your own boss come challenges.

The things you need to prepare for when going from corporate to self-employed include:

Unpredictable Income

It takes time to build a network of connections and a client base. When you’re starting out, you’ll likely experience cycles of feast and famine revenue. That can make it difficult to keep up with expenses both professionally and personally. I know several small business owners who haven’t taken a paycheck for themselves after being in business for several years, BUT they have spouses who work and can cover their personal financial obligations. I was fortunate to be able to jump right into freelancing because my husband had a good job, and we knew we could make ends meet until things ramped up for me. Even then, it took some adapting. Having been the one who always brought home the larger paycheck, I felt guilty about not pulling my weight financially as much as before.

Moral of the story: Expect to make less than you did in your corporate position and assess your income needs before you decide to ditch the day job. Don’t make a hasty decision that lands you in the poor house.

Cutting Back On Life’s Luxuries

Get ready to make some personal sacrifices when you enter the realm of self-employment. If you’re accustomed to starting each day with a Starbucks caramel latte, going out for expensive dinners each week, and spending money with abandon on leisure and entertainment, prepare to alter your lifestyle a bit. As I mentioned earlier, your pay scale as a solopreneur probably won’t match what you earned before. That means you’ll need to get more selective about which “non-essentials” you’ll spend your hard-earned money on.

Adjusting To Working From Home

When you work from a home office, you face a whole new set of distractions that threaten your productivity. Some people are able to tune out all the personal to-dos (cleaning, laundry, home repairs, a drive to the grocery store to restock the fridge, TV, etc.) and others aren’t. It helps to have a dedicated office space within your home so personal obligations won’t be in your face and lure you from staying on task. I rarely work from anywhere other than the spare bedroom we’ve converted to my office.

Another thing to keep in mind: you’ll work alone a lot. Even if your new career path involves consulting or coaching, you’ll spend a lot of time by yourself. Lack of social interaction can leave solopreneurs feeling isolated. You can get past that by seeking networking and professional development opportunities that take you out of your home office. But be careful not to overbook your schedule with those types of engagements; you might find yourself without enough time to get your work done.

Developing A Heightened Level of Discipline and Determination

Working independently requires self-motivation and project management skills. Without someone to lay out your work for you, you are fully responsible for planning your efforts so you can meet deadlines. Your organizational skills—or lack thereof—will largely affect your ability to succeed as a self-employed professional.

Working hard. Really hard.

I can’t emphasize this enough. If you’re serious about making self-employment lucrative for you and your family, you will eat, drink, sleep, and breathe your business. Solopreneurs typically handle all aspects of their businesses—especially when they start out. You’ll be your all-in-one Sales, Marketing, Accounting, Operations, and Customer Service department. One of the biggest challenges will be “clocking out” as a solopreneur and giving yourself the much needed breaks you’ll need so you don’t suffer from burnout.

Health Insurance – What Now?

Health insurance is a biggie, especially if your spouse and children are covered under your policy at work. If you leave your job, you leave your medical insurance behind as well. Review your options before you cut the cord. If your spouse works, can you get coverage through his/her workplace? If not, can you afford the premiums and deductibles of policies from other insurers?

Life Insurance – Giving Up Peace of Mind?

If your life insurance coverage is through a group policy via your company, you’ll relinquish that peace of mind as well when stepping out on your own. Do your homework before leaving your job, and consider talking with a financial planner about your options.

Paying Your Taxes

Without your employer taking money out of your weekly or biweekly paychecks to cover your federal, state, and local taxes, you’ll need to estimate your revenue and expenses and make tax payments quarterly based on your estimated net income. And note that as an employee working for someone else, your employer pays half of your Social Security and Medicare tax. As a self-employed person, you’re obligated to pay the entire 15.3%. “Ick,” I know. I don’t know any solopreneurs who enjoy this part of self-employment, but it goes with the territory.

Putting Yourself Out There – Social Media Is A MUST

If you don’t actively use social media as a tool for building professional connections, you’ll put yourself at a severe disadvantage. You’ll still need to work on nurturing relationships face to face, but online networking platforms amplify and extend your ability to stay top of mind. Don’t wait until you’ve left your day job to start working on your online presence. Although you might not be in a position to promote yourself yet, you can start following leaders in your industry and connecting with people/businesses in your target market. You can also begin demonstrating your interest and expertise in your field by sharing relevant content and providing thoughtful commentary on it. Do it now rather than later.

Not Everyone Will Support Your Decision

Sadly, not all of your family and friends will understand or encourage you when you start your own business. You’ll meet skepticism and even animosity from some people. As a solopreneur, you’ll need a thick skin.

And Last, But Certainly Not Least, Expect To Doubt Yourself From Time To Time

Self-employment has its ups and its downs. You’ll have moments when you feel fully confident in your decision to go out on your own and others when you wonder, “What the #@*% was I thinking?”

That’s normal.

When you experience self-doubt, stay focused on moving forward by accomplishing something—no matter how small—to reinstate your momentum and self-confidence. The path to success as a solopreneur has some jagged twists and turns. Stay flexible and resilient as you make your journey.

My final words of advice for you—and anyone you know who is thinking about going from corporate employee to self-employed—is: Talk to others who have made the change! You can only benefit from hearing about their first-hand experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And consider using a resource like SCORE, where you can get free mentoring and guidance as you start and build your solo business.

Again, the move to self-employment should not be taken lightly. It’s a rewarding career path, but it’s not right for everyone. And even if it is right for you, it may not be the right time. Think about it carefully, assess your situation, and make an informed decision before you jump in.

If you’ve gone from corporate to solo pro, what would you add to my list? Know anyone who’s considering making the same change? Please share this post with them!

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pay Attention. Did You Learn Something Lately?

As you’re keeping up with your social media presence and taking care of business, you really can’t help taking away some new knowledge, tips, and insightSolopreneur learning from the people and brands you follow and interact with.

It often comes in dribs and drabs rather than in big momentous sweeps. So if you’re like me, much of what you learn gets inadvertently lost in the shuffle. Useful, yet unacknowledged and unappreciated.

Sigh. Such a waste.

That’s why I’ve decided to start taking inventory of and sharing some of the bite-sized bits and pieces of wisdom I glean. Why not give those nuggets of practical know-how the cred they deserve?

My twofold purpose:

1. To give you a few useful takeaways. I figure there’s a chance what I share will be new to you, too.
2. To become more aware of what I learn in the course of doing business from day to day so I’m more apt to apply it.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Let’s give it a try.

Tidbits, Tips and Lessons Learned

There are G+ plugins for WordPress that add Google+ comments to your blog posts.

Thanks to Denise Wakeman for talking about these plugins in a recent post. As a big fan of Google+, I dig this. With such a plugin, when someone comments on your post, it posts to that person’s G+ profile and provides a link back to your blog post.

Denise shares that it has expanded her blog’s visibility and increased the comments and shares she gets. Sweet!

The term “Dark Social Media”

Brooke Ballard of B Squared Media sheds light on Dark Social Media in a recent article on her blog. Where have I been? I hadn’t heard that term before.

According to Buffer’s Kevan Lee in his article on the topic, “It’s a term that describes the sharing that happens outside the traditional bounds of social media. For instance, people may share via email or via IM, and these interactions are seldom included in traditional share numbers.”

Good news is more people than you think see your content. Bad news is you’ve got an invisible audience you don’t know anything about.

How do you tap into the untethered potential your invisible audience brings if you have no idea what makes them tick?

I sure don’t have the answer, but check out Brooke’s post for more insight.

Macbook Pro Keyboard Shortcuts to cut and add hyperlinks

I made the move from a P.C. laptop to a Macbook Pro in early August. I love my Mac, but that doesn’t mean it has been a seamless transition. Never much a fan of keyboard shortcuts with my P.C., I’ve found they’re a necessity with a Mac.

Here are two I couldn’t live without:

1. Command + x lets you cut (to paste, use Command + v).
2. Command + k opens the “insert hyperlink” box (first Command + c to copy the URL of the page you want linked, the highlight the text you want hyperlinked, then Command + k, then Command + v to paste the URL).

What Did You Learn Lately?

Here ends my short list, but I’ve got more waiting in the wings for another day.

How about you? What tips and tricks have you learned lately? Comment here to tell us all about them.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

 

 

Watch Out For Foul Balls

You never know when the unexpected will happen. This past weekend, my husband and I joined a client and his staff at a nearby baseball stadium to see a Baseball gamelocal Atlantic League team play. Getting out to enjoy the all-American pastime and spend some leisure time with my client created an ideal start to the Labor Day weekend. Hot dogs, screaming “Charge” at the top of our lungs, and the mascot’s antics. All fun stuff. Then…

In the fourth inning, a player hit a foul ball (a line drive) straight into a woman’s head just one row behind and seven seats to the right of where we were seated.

It came fast. It came without time to react or shout a warning. It was one of those freak accidents that happens only when you’re in the right place at the wrong time.

We were all shaken up. We feared for her well-being. We realized that could have been one of us.

Risk is present every day.

In everything we do, everywhere we go, some element of risk goes with us. I don’t say that to cause panic or paranoia. Generally, the odds are in our favor. But as my experience at the ball field illustrates, s*%t happens.

Running your own business brings risks, too.

A few risks all solopreneurs face include:

  • The feast or famine cycle (periods of too much work all at once and periods of not nearly enough work).
  • Losing clients to competitors with broader capabilities.
  • Miscommunication with a client over a project’s scope of work or the amount of time spent on a project.
  • Technical difficulties with the tools you use to produce work for your clients.
  • Technical difficulties with the tools you use to promote your business.
  • Computer viruses that render your laptop or desktop useless for days at a time.
  • Getting stiffed by a client.
  • Unjustified or unscrupulous negative online reviews.
  • Missing out on a prospective client because his email landed, without you realizing it, in your spam folder.
  • Missing out on an opportunity because your email landed in a prospective client’s spam folder.

Fortunately, most of the risks above can be minimized to some degree by planning ahead and doing things like…

  • Getting signed agreements from clients.
  • Having a savings account to carry you through lean times.
  • Backing up your data.
  • Communicating clearly and often with clients during projects.
  • Monitoring your online reputation.
  • Developing working relationships with other solopreneurs who offer complementary services.

You never know when life—or business—will throw you a curve. Your best defense? Stay alert, aware, and prepared.

 

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

 

 

 

 

Sanity Saving Pre-Vacation Checklist for Solopreneurs

Ahhh. Vacation! Time to unwind, feel the sand between your toes, read a good book, escape your cares, and leave theSouth Padre Island, TX Beach pressures of work behind.

Those are the rewards that await you IF you survive the insanely stressful, tense days before you finally whisk yourself and your loved ones away.

When I started my own freelancing business five years ago, I suffered a number of pre-vacation symptoms – including short temper and scattered brain – prior to departing for our family get-aways. While those things afflicted me when I was on a corporate career path, they intensified after I became a solopreneur. The pressures of wrapping things up are a wee bit more demanding than when I had colleagues within a department to cover for me while I was gone.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With some thought and planning, you can make preparing to go away a less harrowing experience.

Solopreneurs’ Pre-vacation Survival Guide

Here are my ready-set-don’t-fret tips for getting your act together before you leave your office.

    • Let clients know you’ll be going out of town.
      Don’t only inform them about when you’ll be gone; also let them know on what date you’ll no longer be working on assignments. For example, if your plane leaves for Florida on Tuesday, August 5, you might decide you won’t work on client projects after Friday, August 1.I typically give myself at least one business day off before I leave because I always discover there are eleventh hour errands to run and personal tasks to tend to. You might also want to include the day after you return as an off-limits day so you can catch up on things at home or administrative tasks. Email the dates of your unavailability to your clients at least one month in advance. If you tell them by phone, email them a reminder.  They’re human after all, and they’re likely to forget exactly when you said you’ll be leaving and when you’ll be back.
    • Reschedule assignments that would be due during the week(s) you’re on vacation.
      You’ve got the responsibility to come through for your clients. Plan to get their work done before you leave for vacation. About one month before you depart, schedule assignments on your calendar throughout the week or two before you leave so you’ve reserved ample time to complete them. Your clients will appreciate your reliability – and you won’t have to play catch up when you return home.
    • Resist taking on new assignments the week before you leave.
      Yes, the money will look awfully attractive because you know you’ll probably be spending lots of it during your vacation. But if a prospect or client brings a new project your way just before you leave, ask if you can begin to work on it after you return. Remember, in adherence to the last bullet point, you’ve already scheduled client work for that week before vacation. And then there’s always the unexpected that can – and likely will – pop up just as you’re starting to have visions of palm trees and margaritas dancing in your head. Don’t load up your pre-vacation week too heavily, or you could find yourself scrambling.
      • Schedule your blog posts and social media updates.
        Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean your marketing efforts have to go on a hiatus, too. You can still keep your blog and social media accounts afloat by writing your posts and updates ahead of time and scheduling them to publish while you’re gone. If you have a WordPress blog, you can future-date posts. Tools like Hootsuite and Buffer make it easy to schedule social media updates, plus Facebook has built-in scheduling capabilities.

 

    • Pay your bills in advance.
      If you’re not set up for automatic payments, schedule time in advance to take care of any bills that will be due while you’re gone. This year, my Verizon Wireless and Visa payments will be due during my vacation, so I’ve created an appointment on my Google Calendar to remit them the week before I leave. That helps me in two ways: 1. They won’t slip my mind. 2. I won’t lose sleep over worrying about them slipping my mind.
    • Set up your automated email vacation response.
      Don’t haggle with this at the last minute. Do it at least a week or two in advance so you’re done with it. Set it so people know when you’ll be unavailable, which would include the time before and directly after vacation when you’ll be preparing to leave or catching up after you return.
      • Change your voice mail greeting on your office phone and mobile phone.
        Obviously, you wouldn’t want to do this too far in advance of your vacation, but take care of it the day before you’ll no longer be available to field client calls.

 

    • Create an instructions sheet for the person(s) who will be looking after your home while you’re gone.
      If you’ve got a house/pet sitter who takes care of your home and furry family members when you’re on vacation, you can avoid the worry of “Did I tell them everything they need to know?” by creating an instructions sheet. We’ve used one for the past several years, and we update it each time we go away if anything has changed. We include: our dog’s feeding and medication schedule, our plants’ watering schedule (I’ve got 40 outdoor potted plants in a variety of places, so yes, this is a necessity!), the combination for opening our garage door with the outdoor keypad, swimming pool care instructions, our mobile phone numbers, our home’s landline voice mail password, location of our vacuum cleaner, local emergency contacts, and most important – our Wi-Fi password!

I know. It sounds like a lot of work. But when you’ve got everything in order ahead of time, you can spare yourself the debilitating rush of cortisol that comes from frantically taking care of loose ends at the last minute.

Try it, and I think you’ll agree; you’ll relax more easily and enjoy that first vacation cocktail so much more by planning for your departure in advance.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

[Image is from one of our past vacations at South Padre Island TX]
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The Takeaway for Every Small Biz Owner from the Donald Sterling Fiasco

Most of us don’t have the mass media exposure (or capital at stake) like L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but his recent private racist rant that turned public holds a lesson for all of us as business owners.

No matter what we say or do and no matter to whom we say or do it, it can affect us professionally. blurred lines

Like it or not, we too, are public figures to some degree. We’re the face of our businesses and our words and actions – even those used in our personal lives – can either draw people to or push them away from our brands.

While the mass media won’t be focused on what we do, social media can just as effectively spread the word about anything we’ve done to offend, degrade, or otherwise infuriate people.

Some might argue we should be able to speak our minds and do what we want – free country, right?

True…However, if you want your business to thrive, the reality is you need to be careful and cognizant of the risks.

In this world where anything we say and do can be held against our businesses instantly, we need to:

  • Control our tempers.
  • Think before we speak or write.
  • Be in tune with the feelings of others.
  • Act respectfully even when we don’t agree with others.

For some that comes naturally. For others, it’s a struggle.

The lines between what’s personal and professional are increasingly blurred. We can do what we want and say what we want, but we need to realize what we say and do personally could affect our businesses.

Your turn – What are your thoughts about the blurred lines between what’s “personal” and what’s “business”?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

 

 

Take Action Against Distraction in Your Small Business in 2014

“Bounce rate.” If you’ve got a website, you know less is best when talking about that particular metric. But the bounce Multi-tasking womanrate of your site isn’t the only bounce-related thing that can spell trouble for your business.

As soloprenrenurs and small biz owners, we take on every aspect of our businesses, so it’s easy to become unfocused and “bounce” from one uncompleted task to another, then back to the first one, and then move on to something else before bouncing back to the original task. That zaps productivity. And problems with productivity can quickly manifest themselves as an inability to fit in enough billable hours. And not enough billable hours means less revenue than you may have been banking on. Ouch! Bouncing can be painful!

But you already know that and saying it out loud doesn’t change the fact that you’re faced with needing to tend to not only the work you do for clients, but also to the day-to-day administrative responsibilities that come with the territory. So we multi-task, trying to get more done in less time. Unfortunately, while trying to take care of as many things as possible in a single bound sounds great in theory, in reality we’re only human and therefore incapable of doing it well.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article by Jonha Revesencio about multi-tasking and how digital stress affects the human brain.  According to the infographic within her post, some neuroscientists believe online multi-tasking (particularly email) can put our brains into overload and trigger a “fight or flight” reaction that causes us to lose focus and always aim for tackling what we perceive as immediate opportunities and threats.

And this post by Rachel Blom about interruptions from social media shares that parallel tasks (tasks done simultaneously) take us 30% more time to complete than if we’d do them independently (one after the other).

Multi-tasking might also do some damage to your gray matter, according to this article and infographic on Ragan’s Healthcare Communication News. A mere two percent of people can multi-task successfully, while the other 98 percent of us could lower our IQs by letting email, phone calls, and social media interrupt our work. Another astounding stat from that article: on average, people who use computers for work are interrupted every 10.5 minutes throughout the day.

Yikes!

So how can you get it together, get things done, and resist the urge to do everything at once. Take action to resist distractions!

Here are a few defense maneuvers to help you resist multi-tasking your days away…

  • Schedule time on your calendar daily for all tasks and responsibilities.

    By dedicating specific windows of time for email, social media, client work, accounting, etc., you won’t feel as impelled to bounce aimlessly from one to another.

  • Close your email and social media tabs on your computer when you’re supposed to be working on something else.

    Make them out of sight, out of mind. You’ll find they won’t lure you away nearly as easily from the task at hand if you don’t have them front and center.

  • Put your smart phone out of reach.

    Even a 1-minute phone call can throw you off course when it unexpectedly interrupts your work on a project. Plus, you might be tempted to check your incoming emails, texts, and social media interactions if you hear the notifications ding and your phone is within arm’s length. Better to put it across the room – or in another room – until you’re free to attend to it

  • Schedule some “wiggle room” into your day.

    While you might not always find it possible, try to block out a half hour once or twice each day for the unexpected. That way you won’t get completely behind on your work if you need to field an impromptu call from a prospect or discover a task is taking you a little more time than you anticipated. You can find more on my “wiggle room” suggestion in one of my earlier Insatiable Solopreneur posts this year.

When I stick to the plan above, I find I feel less stressed, feel more in control, and think more clearly. Most importantly, I get more done and have far less apprehension about what’s on my “to do” list, because I know I’ve got a plan in place to accomplish my outstanding projects and tasks. If you’ve found bouncing is sabotaging your productivity and not leaving you the time you need for focusing on billable work, it’s time to break the multi-tasking cycle. Take action against distraction and discover the difference it will make for your business in 2014.

 

Your turn! What tips and tricks do you use to avoid bouncing through your day?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

 

Image courtesy of Pong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So, You Want to be a Freelancer? Make Sure You Have This One Thing First.

According to a study by Intuit in 2010, an estimated over 40% of the American workforce will be “contingent workers” Confident professional woman showing thumbs up(i.e. independent professionals including freelancers, contractors, temps and part-time employees) by 2020. Where full-time employment with companies owned by someone else has always been the norm, the trend is shifting to make freelancing/solopreneurship far more common.

As a freelancer and solopreneur, I find that exciting! With more acceptance of freelancing as a viable career path will come more information, tools and resources geared toward making solo professionals more efficient and successful. Honestly, I think the time is ripe for exploring freelancing – provided you’ve got the one thing all freelancers need to get their businesses off the ground and to sustain them.

Confidence!

“A feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something” (as Merriam-Webster defines it), confidence needs to be at the root of your freelance endeavors. It’s the realization you have skills, knowledge and talents that will render you valuable to clients. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be considering a freelance career, right?

What’s equally important to having confidence in yourself and your abilities? Your attention to projecting that self-assuredness in all you do and to everyone you meet.

Be careful, however, not to confuse projecting confidence with bragging and appearing vain. When starting your freelance business, you’ll want to share about your capabilities and unique value without sounding like you have an over-inflated ego.

How to Project Confidence With Appropriate Confidence…

  • Be real.

    Share the facts.  Your real-life professional achievements, educational background, and examples of your work in your field will speak volumes without any embellishment.

  • Share what others have said about your capabilities.

    It can be a turn off if you pat yourself on the back and tell someone how great you are, but it’s much more acceptable and palatable to others when they hear the praises someone else has sung about you and your work.

  • Be gracious.

    As you’re sharing about yourself, your expertise, and your capabilities, don’t neglect the opportunity to generate goodwill by showing an interest in the people you’re talking with. Making others feel included and important demonstrates a collaborative nature – a quality that’s essential as a freelancer!

Confidence – expect yours to be tested.

Know it’s perfectly natural to find your confidence shaken at times. Whether your work on a project isn’t going as smoothly as you had hoped, or you’re dealing with an extra-demanding client, or some other force in the freelance universe rattles you, you’ll discover self-doubt may stalk you on occasion. When it does, revisit and reflect on the foundation of your confidence as a freelancer. Your knowledge, skills, experience and talents are with you always…and will only get stronger as you venture farther down the path of freelancing.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 “Un” Words to Remove from your Small Business Vocabulary

Words wield power. While we pay a lot of attention to them in our marketing efforts, it’s easy to forget the words weUnnecessary - Un words to remove from small biz vocabulary (and sometimes others) use in our thoughts and when we talk about our businesses have an impact, too. Some words lead us to self-defeat. Some lead us to grandiose expectations of our capabilities. Either situation can indirectly and subconsciously cause us to sabotage our own businesses.

 

Four “Un” Words to Undo in Your Small Business

Unable
Get over it – you can do this! Especially when you’re in the early stages of starting your business, you’ll encounter people who are a constant source of dark clouds. They’ll make you doubt yourself and your abilities. Ignore the naysayers who provide no constructive criticism or suggestions. Assuming you’ve done your due diligence before starting your business, focus on the strengths you have and the opportunities available to you. Forge forward and prove you are able through your progressive success.

Unaware
While you can’t believe everything you read online, the internet hosts credible resources on every aspect of business under the sun and moon. Seriously, there’s no reason not to have a working knowledge (or find out who does) of marketing, tax responsibilities, business bookkeeping, social media, sales, productivity tools, etc. Read reputable business blogs to boost your awareness on topics, and reach out for expert assistance if you don’t have the skills or know-how to take care of certain aspects of your business on your own. With so many local experts online, you don’t need to consult someone six states away if you’d rather have a sit-down face-to-face meeting with a professional your friends and neighbors know.

Unafraid
It’s OK to sometimes feel a degree of fearfulness in business. Not paralyzing fear, but a healthy sense of concern can help keep you on your toes. Note that motivation can’t come from fear alone, but it can serve to complement your efforts to build a successful business. It can drive you to put necessary checks and balances in place to ensure your business is doing things the right way. And it can  push you to be ever vigilant about making improvements to serve customers better. Fear can make you feel grateful, not cocky, when things are going your way.

Unbeatable
Speaking of cocky…never ever get too comfortable in your position over your competition. Inflated self-confidence is the key ingredient in complacency. Complacency breeds laziness and lack of caring. Your business needs you to care no matter how much success seems to be on auto pilot. Regardless of how well things are going, you need to constantly look for ways to improve and take the initiative to do business better. Why? Because your customers deserve it…and your competition is!

What other “un” words do you think solopreneurs and small biz owners should unfasten from their business vocabulary?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Deck the Halls – and Your Small Biz: Add Sparkle With These 3 Professional Touches

As the holidays approach, we put an exorbitant amount of time and effort into making the season bright for all around us. It’s as it should be….but don’t forget to look ahead and think about how you can make things a little brighter for your small business in the New Year.

NOW is the time to focus on the things you can do to propel your business forward in 2014. Whether your past year was one that didn’t quite make its mark or one in which you exceeded expectations, you can always find ways to improve and add some professional polish.

Some ideas for brightening your small business in 2014

Refresh your website.

How long have you had your existing website? It might be time for a re-do. Does your site look dated? Does the navigation not serve visitors as well as it should? Is it difficult for you to change content? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you might consider an update. Tip: Unless you’re a web designer/developer, don’t attempt on your own. If you think your audience can’t tell the difference between a self-created Weebly site and one that’s professionally done, think again. This is your brand we’re talking about. Your website will be the one place all your other online spaces, marketing material,s and messaging point to, so it pays to have one that’s well done and shows you mean business.

Pose for some professional photos.

As easy it is to spot  an amateur website, it’s also easy to spot a “selfie” profile pic. I’ve found professional pics to be one of the best investments I’ve made for my business. They put that finishing touch on your website and the social networks you use professionally. And if you’re invited to speak at an event or guest blog, you won’t look like an amateur when they ask you for a high-res head shot. Not all photographers will cost you an arm and leg.  Ask around and do some research to find one who will bring out your best without costing you a bundle.

Start your blog – FINALLY!

I’m secretly laughing to myself because I know at least four people personally who at this moment are saying, “Does she mean me?” Hmmm….maybe I do. I’ll never tell! But what I will say is if you have any doubt about how important blogging is for your business, read this article by Stephanie Frasco. Twice.

No complaining or whining about not having anything of interest to write about! You have a business. Your business has customers. Your customers find some value in what you offer them, so expand on that through your blog. What breaking news in your industry will help them live healthier lives or do business better? Have you launched a new service or expanded an existing service to enable them to save time by outsourcing an annoying task? What tips can you give them to extend the life of your products? What questions do customers most frequently ask about your services? Creating and sharing your own content via a blog is a powerful way to build authority, gain trust, and turn leads into sales.

 

Go ahead; deck the halls, but don’t stop there.

As you’re hanging mistletoe and stringing lights this month, remember to think ahead about how you can make your business sparkle and shine next year. What steps big or small would sprinkle some professional pixie dust over your small business?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

 

 

The One Thing ALL Small Businesses Need to Communicate

As a small business owner or solopreneur, your communications skills – or lack of – can directly affect your bottom line.Lady using tablet Professionals with a flair for engaging people and getting their message across clearly have more success in building relationships and converting leads to clients. Some people seem to be born with those interpersonal gifts,  but what if they don’t come quite as naturally to you?

Don’t be discouraged! You don’t have to be an accomplished writer, polished speaker or master networker to communicate effectively.  By ensuring that one single element is at the foundation of all your business interactions, you can set the stage for people wanting to learn more about your brand – and put the odds in your favor of gaining and retaining loyal clients.

Respect!

Whether you’re interacting with prospects by phone, in person, through email, via your blog, or on social media, demonstrate respect for your audience.

Put respect at the center of all you do when interacting with your prospects, clients and colleagues…

  • Respect their time.
    Be prepared.  Think things through. Be organized and have purpose so you communicate what your audience needs to know without going on tangents that waste their precious time.
  • Respect their intellect.
    Although you might know more about something than they do, check your tone and approach so you’re not perceived as condescending. Also, ask them for their insight, opinions, and feedback whenever appropriate.
  • Respect their need to take things slow.
    Never ever be pushy about selling your wares! While hard-sell/now-or-never tactics may have worked in the past when all we knew was one-way, push marketing, they’re now annoying and a turn-off to most people. Especially as a professional services business owner, you’ll find it can take months or sometimes years to nurture relationships that turn prospects into clients. Sometimes it’s because they view your offerings as more of a luxury than a need. Sometimes it’s because they have budget constraints. Sometimes they’re just so busy running their businesses they don’t have time to really think about working with you. Be patient. And stay top of mind (social media makes this so very easy!) so when they are ready or need the services you provide, you’ll be the one they call without hesitation.

Communicate with respect…and you’ll gain respect for you as a professional and for your brand.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net