How do you grow your business as a solopreneur? Is it really possible to wear multiple hats and manage your time effectively as a single-person business owner? Or is this really just another recipe for disillusionment and burnout down the road?
The answer to the question is – yes! You can grow and scale your business without having to manage a team or full-time group of employees. How you do this, however, will depend on three things. I’m talking about your personal preferences, your experience, and your budget.
Look, we’ve all taken at least a handful of classes from the school of hard knocks. Some things, for whatever reason, you just have to learn the hard way. Myself included. The important thing is that you learn and don’t repeat the same stupid mistakes over and over again.
Solopreneurs don’t exactly have a storied history when it comes to success. Quite the opposite, actually. For years the average solopreneur fit the classic definition of the over-worked, underpaid business owner.
The past decade has changed everything. Today, we see more rags-to-riches stories with this group of businesspeople than perhaps any other. I’m talking about individuals, working from home, quietly (or in some cases – not-so-quietly) building their fortunes.
So, let’s get into this topic. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help you see a clear path forward for your own situation by the conclusion of this article.
Recognize Your Personality Type
Some of you are do-it-yourselfers. This can work for or against you at any given time. For example, if you don’t have the budget to do something, a DIY’er can still get the job done.
Other times, doing things yourself will cause you to lose momentum.
I want you to try and recall, just for a minute, a failed project where you were trying to do too many things yourself. Isn’t it true that you didn’t have the time you thought you’d have once you got into the project?
Will you repeat this mistake the next time? Will you continue to think you’ll have time to do something when in reality you won’t? I know people who seem to have the time, but instead of using it to complete a project, they need that time to recover from all their other activities.
Recognize the pattern. That’s the first step in breaking it. Next, stop trying to convince yourself next time will be different. You may have 101 good reasons why certain things just aren’t getting done. I’m right there with you when it comes to good excuses.
So why not outsource one or two things and put those things behind you once and for all?
Done For You
If you’re not a DIY’er, then you’re already familiar with the “done for you” approach. You realize you need some help, so it’s just a matter of what kind of budget you have to work with.
During the early years of my business, I made several mistakes during the hiring process. First, I didn’t always take the time to explain myself clearly to the individuals I hired.
As a result, we weren’t always on the page. My solution to this was to record videos explaining what I wanted, why I wanted it, and what my expectations were. Then, I would upload the video as unlisted to YouTube so the outsourcer could watch it as well as refer back to it.
I also included several examples of what I liked and why.
This simple approach solved 99% of all the communication problems I’d previously been experiencing.
There were also times when, quite honestly, money was tight, and I just didn’t want to part ways with the cash! Don’t pretend like you can’t relate – you know you can 😊!
During those times I went ahead and purchased templates to help get the job done. You can purchase design templates, copywriting templates, sales process templates, etc.
There are templates available for just about anything you can think of. A template acts as sort of a – half-done-for-you, half-do-it-yourself type of solution.
Start By Identifying Time-Consuming Tasks
During the early days of my business, I found most of my tasks to be time-consuming. Keep in mind, I’m talking about the mid to late 1990s. My very first invoice was created in a design program. From there, I created client folders and put a copy of each invoice into the corresponding folders.
The problem was, I wanted to create a sharp, custom invoice. The problem was, none of the early invoicing software programs allowed me to create exactly what I wanted. On top of that, I couldn’t find bookkeeping or accounting software that I was comfortable with.
Each month, I manually created invoices, printed them out (along with the envelopes), and mailed them to my customers.
Today, all of those issues are things of the past. Everything can be automated inexpensively. You can automate recurring invoices, and sell subscriptions that are automatically billed. You can even have a client portal.
Most companies today have client portals for their customers. You can log in and pay your bill, see your billing history, and more.
Two of the client portal solutions that I like are SuiteDash and Perfex. SuiteDash is a SaaS and Perfex is a script you install and host on your own server. You can practically run the entire backend of your business using either product. These are just two of many options.
I’m personally familiar with both of these options which is why I’m mentioning them here.
For many, budget is the x-factor when it comes to choices. With time, I expect there will be quite a few solutions on the market to choose from.
OK, let’s talk about the growing pains you’ll experience as a solo-business owner. I started my business in the late 1990s. As my industry changed, I hired people to expand and manage all the various pieces. Eventually, I discovered tools and tech that could replace employees. I had mixed feelings about that, but ultimately it became a matter of staying profitable.
When the economy crashed (2008), that, coupled with other challenges led me to reexamine how I could scale my business. This time, however, the goal was to avoid having to manage people or significantly increase my overhead.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, I experimented.
I started by asking questions like, “What time-consuming tasks can be semi or completely automated? I began documenting my processes. Documentation makes it much easier to teach someone how to do whatever needs to be done.
I’m talking about the basics. It doesn’t have to be in-depth. You can create a Word Doc or Google Doc and turn it into a PDF.
If done correctly, the documentation becomes like a “How-To” manual for each part of your business. In theory, anyone could follow the step-by-step process you create to get the same result.
Like a checklist, things don’t have to be committed to memory. You just follow the steps and get the result.
Using Pre-Recorded Videos
Depending on what you’re selling, you may want to consider using pre-recorded videos to onboard new clients, share updates, information, and more.
Most of us repeat ourselves, sharing the same information which each and every client we have. Think of how much easier it would be to teach something once, record it, and then share the recording with everyone who needs the information.
You can use video, audio, or text documents to walk people through your process or to answer the most frequently asked questions.
Last year I set up a new Stripe account for a new business I’d registered. I recorded the entire process from start to finish. Now, when a new client asks me about Stripe, I’ll send them a link to the video.
I have hundreds of videos I’ve uploaded to YouTube over the years. There are probably close to a thousand by now. I upload them as unlisted
You can also send a link to a video someone else created. For example, sometimes sending someone a link to a YouTube video someone else created will save you the time of having to write a long email.
Choosing the Tools that Make Selling Easier
Now, when it comes to online sales, the tools you use often depend upon your budget.
Obviously, not everything in a business can be automated. Some things can be completely automated while others are semi-automated. In other words, certain things can be partially built, or partially laid out so that your starting point is no longer at the very beginning but at the midway point.
Copywriters and designers use swipe files that contain materials from past campaigns created by themselves and others.
Designers may use templates.
Time is money and this allows them to get projects done cheaper and faster than in the past.
A few friends of mine only build their websites from existing templates. Like a car showroom, they display all the templates they have available, and that’s what their clients choose from. In other words, they’ve productized their services and that’s how they’ve scaled their businesses.
Imagine owning a clothing store. All the clothing in your inventory would be displayed on racks, hangers, mannequins, etc. All the available sizes that you have would be in your inventory and that’s what your customers would choose from.
If you wanted to have custom options, you’d have to employ a tailor to get the job done.
Changing the Way You Look at Your Business
It’s easier for most people to look at their business from the standpoint of a worker than it is as a business owner. Once people start getting overwhelmed, however, everything changes. Deadlines, quality control, project management, it can all get overwhelming faster than you’d think.
Especially for solopreneurs and freelancers.
The whole draw behind Solopreneurship and Freelancing comes back to lifestyle. If you’re looking for a profitable, freedom-based lifestyle, you’re not going to find it managing people. Not by a long shot!
All of my business owner friends who manage teams of people say the same thing. The most stressful part of their business is managing people. It’s tough finding reliable people. It’s never-ending. In fact, the old-timers say it’s harder today than it was in the past.
My friends who manage these kinds of businesses can’t wait to retire! The rest are looking to sell their businesses and move on to something else. Something much easier to manage.
The ABCs of Scaling
Okay, in closing, let’s talk about the ABCs of scaling your business. By now you can see the advantage of having a business model where you do the work once, and then get paid for it over and over again.
If that’s not completely possible, then maybe you’ll do part of the work once… that way you won’t have to start at the very beginning every time.
Automation and Semi-Automation are your friends. The only time automation isn’t your friend, is if the software (for whatever reason) is too difficult to utilize for your use case. After years of testing various solutions, I’ve found that some learning curves aren’t worth the time and effort.
You can also sell products that other people make and maintain.
You can become an affiliate of whatever kind of products complement what you’re doing.
You can create information-based products (eBooks, courses, etc.)
Again, you do the work once, and then get paid over and over again.
Staying Small & Staying Profitable
The fewer people you have to employ, the straighter the path to profitability. During recessions and downturns of the economy, you’ll have a much easier time weathering the storms than most of your competitor’s will. You can stay small and be very profitable, but it won’t happen by accident.
You need, at the very least, some semblance of a plan to get started. That makes sense, right? For example, maybe you’ll choose a few affiliate products to get started. One advantage to selling a product someone else maintains is that all the risk is basically on them.
Six months from now, you may discover newer, better products to promote. The affiliate element in your business remains, but what you’re promoting changes.
I’ve experimented with creating multiple streams of online income under my overall business banner since the late 1990s. My experience has been that almost everything does better when you create “the next version of it.” In other words, 2.0 does better than 1.0 – regardless of the project.
The same holds true for promoting things that other people create. The initial efforts seem to be the toughest.
The point is, a bit of diversity can go a long way over time.
Freelancers and Solopreneurs, like everyone else, live in a world that’s filled with distractions. After twenty-plus years of doing business online, the only approach that’s worked for me with any kind of consistency is when I’ve made it a point to focus on fewer things.
To do that, you must pick a lane. Eventually, I chose the “personal brand” lane. I talk about and create solutions around problems I’m very familiar with and am comfortable fixing.
Next, I decided to automate as much as possible within my business.
And finally, I learn how to improve everything as I moved forward.
You can do the same. If there’s a secret, it’s this – don’t give up. Keep making adjustments and keep moving forward!