Eighteen months I ago I made a radical turn away from my original career path. It was a planned change from nonprofit leadership to solopreneurship. One day I was working in a large organization with specialized accounting, development and communications functions, administrative support, web management, supervisors, peers and team members. The next, it was…just me. Now it’s up to me do everything it takes to bring in and allocate each dollar.
While of course there was and still is some struggle, I’ve been very much enjoying “being the boss of me.” A colleague who made a similar career change a couple of years earlier described the advantages of solopreneurship very well:
One of the really nice parts about working independently is how varied the work can be. I am really enjoying both the travel and my time at home. It’s fun and I’m making money. How much better can it get?!
She noted other things she likes about being her own boss. No office politics, and setting your own schedule.
But it’s not all sipping coffee and smelling the roses, is it? When I first made the shift to self-employment I found myself working longer hours than ever, not allowing myself breaks because there was so much to get done, and no one else to do it! Well there was, and there still is, but endlessly trying to keep up with ever-expanding to-do lists was not going to get me anywhere. Unless of course I was trying to get burned out.
It took me a while but I’ve figured out ten keys to being a good boss for myself. See if you think these work for you.
1. Find help.
- Check out some of the cloud-based software out there. As one example, Freshbooks is saving my life. I sobbed with relief when I found this inexpensive and incredibly useful cloud-based product that almost makes it fun to track expenses and generate invoices. HelloFax is another huge help.
- Hire experts to do the things you aren’t good at or don’t like. For me that’s an accountant, and terrific marketing and web-design professional, Susan Preston at Clearly Presentable.
- Caution: there’s no end to the software developers or the entrepreneurs out there who want to make money from you. Some of them aren’t what you need. Read reviews, ask others for advice, think carefully about what you really need and when you need it. And stay away from those who pressure you with a hard sell. If their service or product is good, it’s quality should speak for itself.
2. Find others to think with.
- One brain alone isn’t enough. You need others for the creative synergy that leads you to discoveries, ideas and opportunities you’d never find on your own. Seek out or create a Mastermind Group. Exchange ideas with colleagues, clients and peers.Thank you, Mastermind Group members, Michele Martin and Catherine Lombardozzi!
3. Collaborate. Sometimes it’s fun to work on your own. Sometimes it’s not.
- Others bring skills, strength, perspectives, resources and energy to the work that might not be there if you were working alone. I’ve initiated two collaborative projects in the past 18 months and am planning more. Carefully chosen collaborative partners will boost your energy and motivation. And you’ll have fun!
4. Network. Everyone says to do this and yes, it is a good idea.
- Find committees, community groups and professional groups that you feel drawn to. Or choose organizations that you think will help you get to know your target market and generate business leads. You’ll meet new people, get a chance to give to others and you might gain useful professional contacts too. Just be selective, and decide in advance how much of your time you can and want to give away.
5. Take care of yourself. You are your business, so you need to thrive!
- Create the workweek you want and stick to those hours as much as you can.
- Choose your clients carefully to keep your work rewarding and focused.
- Spend a good part of your time on tasks and projects that are fun for you.
- Take breaks and vacations. Let yourself enjoy them.
- Do whatever kind of exercise you enjoy. I’m defining exercise as anything that gets you moving more than when you’re sitting still.
6. Keep an open mind about your business. Let it evolve.
- Your ideas about what you want to do and your understanding of the market can change. Circumstances shift and suggest new directions for you to explore. You’re just one person, you can be flexible and position yourself to work effectively in the midst of change. Take advantage of that flexibility.
7. Say “no” sometimes.
- Turn down work when you’re too busy or when it’s outside your scope. If you can, refer that work to someone else. I realize some people think you should never turn down work, but I’ve been on the other side of that, hiring consultants who promised me everything I asked for then couldn’t deliver. Doing that will ruin your reputation. If you do say no, stay in touch so the client knows you are interested in future work with them.
- Say no to relentlessly busy days and 7-day workweeks when possible.
- Say no to working when you’re just too sick. I know, sometimes you just have to tough it out, but try not to do that to yourself.
8. Say “yes” sometimes.
You learn, grow and stay engaged when you stretch to do things you think you shouldn’t do or are afraid to do.
- Say yes to opportunities to try out new skills, develop new products, or work with people who are so well known you’re intimidated at the prospect of meeting them.
- Naps, invitations to collaborate, a day off during the week, lunch with a friend — all good things to say yes to.
- Say yes to spending money on getting someone to take care of tasks that are too time consuming, ones that you dislike or ones that you’re really not that good at.
9. Encourage yourself.
- Create a vision of yourself succeeding. What does “success” mean to you? What does it look like? What are you doing when you’re reaching success? That vision will inspire you.
- Mistakes happen. Don’t punish yourself for them, they happen to everyone. There’s always something to learn from a mistake. Allowing yourself to take risks and sometimes fail is key to eventually succeeding.
10. Find support.
- This might be the professional support you get from a mentor or consultant. It might be social support from friends, neighbors and family. Your work is demanding and the responsibility for it is yours alone. Support reduces stress, increases resilience and helps you do your best.
These are my ten tips. Solopreneurs, what would you add?