The biggest challenge to your productivity as an entrepreneur is learning which activities to focus your time on. The name of the game is discipline and organizing what I call a “system” for success that helps you determine high value-add work and eliminates tasks that waste your time.
Easier said than done, right?
For most solopreneurs (entrepreneurs that are in business for themselves and have no employees), this is most often learned through trial and error. High value-add activities for one person may not be worthwhile endeavors for you. Everything is customized to the exact needs of what you do well and how you specifically intend to make money and grow your business.
It’s why I’m such a big proponent of defining success, having a plan, and setting clear goals that are in alignment with your values and purpose. When you are clear and specific – and motivated to get things done – you are infinitely more likely to use time to your advantage. The real secret from there is using that clarity and specificity to focus on a few things at a time.
Here’s a perfect example from my own life:
When I first started my coaching business, I was focused on helping any client. I wasn’t well defined. It wasn’t because I didn’t really have a niche. I just hadn’t gotten clear and prioritized around who I would best serve. Sound familiar?
It was what I did next that made a huge difference.
I went back to the drawing board and started to lean on my business experience of working with executives and helping them improve the way they lead key initiatives for their organization. I combined that with my natural talents and skills for coaching, as well as my research on emotional intelligence and leadership. Then, my coaching business really began to take off.
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Time, Money, and People
Most of the mistakes you’ll make early on as a solopreneur involve time and money. Spending too much time on a venture that doesn’t lead to much profit is a very common mistake. Not understanding the value of your time is something you can easily correct. Undervaluing your services is something you learn by connecting with respected professionals and having the guts to price your services in a way that demonstrates your true worth.
You’ll also want to avoid burning bridges. Some of the people that will make you the most money in your career are fellow entrepreneurs you may already know. They’re the freelancers that have your back in the beginning, supporting you through the lean times. They’re the first customers that become referrals and share the word of your product. This is about networking with fellow solopreneurs you can learn from and share skills with.
From relationships come opportunities to grow, learn, and even profit. I’ve gained clients that were previously friends who turned to me when they had a leadership need for themselves or their organization. Relationships I’ve built have led to referral business and also awareness, which has been shared with colleagues and friends in other organizations.
You want to be the top-of-mind service provider or product offering when people think of your niche, so maintaining relationships is extremely important.
You’re going to want to focus your energy on things that add value every day. But don’t forget to avoid the pitfalls that can sink your business. Here are five mistakes to avoid and steps you can take to solve the problem and improve your business in the process.
Whether you’re a deliberate thinker, an impulsive one, or somewhere in the middle, understand this: If you’re indecisive about your direction as an entrepreneur, you will struggle mightily. And the toll won’t just be lost (potential) dollars. It’s much more than that. Mentally, emotionally, even spiritually, after a while. When you won’t make decisions because of fear, insecurity, or doubt, you begin to lose hope. At its worst, indecision can lead to:
- Negative thinking both short- and long-term
- Closing yourself off to new opportunities
- Fear of new relationships and fear of commitment
- Hesitancy and lack of confidence in how you communicate
Think about the new venture you’re launching. You’re going to need to make decisions every day about strategy, technology, product, and customer. Small decisions, big decisions – you have to be prepared to take action. It’s essential for success.
Dr. Thomas H. Davenport writes about the importance of setting time limits on your decision-making in HBR:
“It determines whether you can employ data and analytics, whether you should involve more people, whether you can study the issues thoroughly, and even whether you can sleep on the decision overnight.”
Stop thinking you have to do it all at once. Which leads me to…
Jack of All Trades
Let’s get one thing clear right now: You will not succeed as a solopreneur if you try to be a jack of all trades. It’s not about what you think you can do and what you can’t. It’s about efficiency and quality. When you’re first starting out, the biggest impediment is money. Then, money becomes the be-all and end-all guide for your decision-making. What you learn as a solopreneur is there are so many ways to make money, even in a challenging economy. You can’t live in fear about making money to get by, even while acknowledging its importance.
Diversify the sources from which you earn your income. Leverage websites that source clients for you. Offer your services for free and ask for a referral in return. Leverage social media to offer content that shows your vast knowledge and expertise. Before long, you’ll be making money. Even knowing it’s a slow build, you can make money.
Build a financial foundation and learn to delegate to experts who cover things you don’t. Marketing is an expense that every solopreneur needs to dedicate resources to. Paying for someone to design a website (storefront) that tells your story in a way that leads to new clients is critical for success. In some instances, hiring an assistant or team to handle administrative duties is important.
The worst crutch you can lean on is feeling because you have limited financial resources, you need to do everything yourself. You can’t do everything yourself and do it at a level of quality that attracts future business. Thinking you can is myopic and it will hold you back from opportunity. Get clear on what you can do yourself and what you’re best delegating to specialists that will help grow your business.
So, what did I mean earlier about having a “system”? I define this as an overall approach to the management and mastery of your time and work process:
- Schedule and task management
- Motivation mindset
- Do the work
You need the discipline to actually sit down and begin your focus. Never underestimate this step! Carve this time onto your calendar and keep it sacred. Next, the planning phase takes over where you focus on the most important activities that will move your business forward. Then, you plan these activities onto your calendar and determine how you will manage your schedule and tasks. Rank these tasks and get greedy with your time. It’s your most valuable asset.
Next, you build a motivation mindset that feeds you the fuel you need to move into the execution phase of doing the work. How you rally yourself to focus on the results you desire is what will separate success from failure. Then, it’s about doing the work and focusing without distraction on how you solve problems for your customers. All of these attributes comprise the system you need to form the habits you need to succeed.
Take this from James Clear:
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there. Spend less time focusing on outcomes and more time focusing on the habits that precede the results.”
All Work and No Creative Imagination Makes You an Unsuccessful Solopreneur
A vitally important part of the life cycle of every successful entrepreneur is using your creative imagination to build the future you want for your business.
Mike Peña writes in the eCorner publication for Stanford University:
“Dr. Tina Seelig of Stanford University, an expert on entrepreneurship, talks about the “invention cycle” in her book, Insight Out: How to Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World. Based on 16 years of teaching as well as hundreds of interviews with entrepreneurs and innovators, her Invention Cycle comprises: imagination, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Turning back to the system, I will tell you that some of my very best planning time overlaps with creative strategy. This is both a blessing and a curse! When I’m planning out my week and getting laser-focused on what’s most important and what I can eliminate, I often find myself gravitating toward creative imagination time. This is when powerful ideas take flight and I begin to plan around those ideas and turn them into reality. Here’s what I mean:
My first book, The Value of You, was born from planning for new articles that I would write for the week. I realized how much having a foundation of values meant to me in my business and entrepreneurial career. The more I was planning to write a blog post on this, the more I realized I had a lot more thoughts and words on this subject. So, I stopped what I was doing and began to imagine the structure for a book I truly wanted to write. I got lost in the moment.
A few years later, that creative imagination time led to furthering my coaching and speaking career and the development of new learning materials for leadership development. When your creative imagination takes over, passion begins to form. Don’t suppress it – let it ride and see where it leads you.
You Keep Too Much To Yourself
This last one may seem a bit counter-intuitive but hear me out: Your dreams begin to take flight when you stop living on your own island, and you bring others along for the ride. Share your ideas with others and get things out of your headspace. Put your dreams into words and goals and begin to take a chance on the things you’ve been thinking about.
Keeping too much to yourself looks like this:
- Not setting goals
- Not communicating your big ideas to people you trust
- Not practicing positive self-talk and talk to others
- Not speaking and declaring your dreams and beliefs to the world
- Not creating content (of any variety)
- Not sharing your gifts with the world
We’re social creatures meant to share the light we have with others. Take this to heart. Put yourself out there and you’ll realize you have a bigger audience of supporters who want to see you succeed than you may think. The only way to find out is to give it a shot.
Every great entrepreneur makes mistakes, learns from them, and moves on. My hope is you profit from the lessons learned in this article and they empower you to move forward in the direction of your entrepreneurial venture. Being a successful solopreneur requires incredible resolve, dedication, and a willingness to risk. As you think about your next step, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just know, there are many you can avoid on your path to building a business on your terms.