5 First Steps to Becoming a Solopreneur

SolopreneurWell here we are. That time of year when, for many, the bright glow of optimism and resolutions is dimmed by the reality of the day-to-day grind. But isn’t your desire to escape that day-to-day grind at least part of what fueled those resolutions in the first place?

Don’t be a slave to the calendar. If you resolved that this will be the year that you finally escape from the 9-to-5 monotony, and start working on your own dreams rather than busting your ass for someone else, you still have more than 11 months to make that a reality. That’s plenty of time to get some traction.

Break it down into actionable steps

Looking at the whole picture of what you want to accomplish can be intimidating. That’s why it’s important to break it down into steps.

Keep it practical, and simple. Start with defining what you are as a solopreneur. For example, I’m a project management solopreneur. I offer a buffet of services and products under that umbrella, but that’s the heart of what I am. It doesn’t matter whether I’m working with a client as a project management coach, or assisting a client with some of the more technical aspects of scheduling and managing their projects, my business revolves around project management. The reason for this is simple – knowledge, skill, and experience in that subject matter. I have plenty of all three, and I like the work that I do, so it was an easy leap for me to develop my business along this path. What about you? What are you good at? What do you love? What do have experience with?

Sometimes the answers to those questions don’t align the way you wish that they would. Maybe you have the passion and the aptitude, but lack the experience. Maybe you have the experience and the skill, but lack the passion. This is where you need to dig a little deeper. If you’re going to make the transition from employee to solopreneur, you’ll want to follow your passion. But maybe you need to start selling what you know, while you’re gaining more experience in what you love. A journey isn’t accomplished in a single step.

Begin before you’re ready

This is the one that holds most people back. The never-ending wait for that perfect moment. And it is absolutely never-ending. Some people are waiting “for the right time”. But does such a moment actually exist? If you’re waiting until you have 6 or 8 or 12 months of living expenses saved before you spectacularly quit your job and start your own business, then invariably the day after that moment crystalizes, some unforeseen event will occur which changes your situation or your budget. Life is riddled with surprises. You can’t plan for all of them. Waiting doesn’t guarantee success. It just runs the clock.

Why wait at all? Why not start your solopreneur path now, while you still have a day job and a steady income? Yes, it is absolutely more difficult to try and squeeze extra time out of your already busy days. But if it’s important to you, and if it can be a life-changing experience (yes!), then isn’t it worth sacrificing a few hours of television every week to work on your dream?

Once you’ve made the decision to turn your dream into reality, you’ll also need to avoid getting bogged down in the weeds that will undoubtedly surround you. You can’t write a perfect business plan, create the perfect website, have the perfect Facebook page, and perfectly hit all of your sales targets, all at the same time. You need to do the best you can, adapt as you go, and keep moving forward. Understand your business goals, create a simple landing page, let your social networks know about your exciting new business, and then focus everything you have on making sales and delivering value.

Make your first sale

The best time to make your first sale as a solopreneur is when you already have an income from another job. It means working evenings, working weekends, and agressively managing your time. But this is your dream, and your life-changing plan that you’re working on, so that won’t be a problem.

It’s one thing to lie to your friends, but don’t lie to yourself. Not every failure is due to “not having enough time”. If you can’t make a sale now, what makes you think you can make a sale after you quit your day job? And remember, all sales count. It doesn’t matter whether your first customer is a friend, a colleague, or even your current employer (though I’ve only seen this happen in very few situations).

A paying customer is a paying customer. It’s a critical first step to validating your business idea. And making a sale, securing income, for a business that you own and that you started and that you’re delivering all by yourself? It’s an indescribable feeling.

Keep up the momentum

Have you ever heard that expression, that it’s easier to find a job when you have a job? Sales aren’t dissimilar. That’s one of the reasons that making your first sale is so critical. Sales lead to other sales. As long as you capitalize on the moment, and nurture them correctly.

Customer feedback, word of mouth, marketing your existing sales to gain more sales all help your business develop and grow. Take on as much work as you can handle. “As much as you can handle” means as much as you can confidently deliver successfully, even if it means overloading your schedule for a period of time.

Monitor, measure and move

There’s no point to putting in the work unless you have the courage to reap the reward. This means that once you’ve made a few sales and have some momentum, that’s the point in time when you have to make the hard decisions. Is now the time to leave your job and devote all of your time to your business? Can you continue to do double duty, and perform well at both your day job and your solopreneur side business, for a little bit longer?

Once again, you need to be completely honest with yourself. The reality is that it’s highly unlikely (though not impossible) that you’ll earn enough business income on the side, in those evening and weekend hours, to actually match or surpass your regular paycheck. In a perfect world, yes, this is what would happen. You would continue to work on your side business until its earnings were the equivalent of 120%-150% of your paycheck. Then you would quit your day job, reclaim all that extra time, and not miss a beat in the income department. But now we’re back to waiting for perfection, and other things that never happen.

So, no, you likely won’t replace your day job income by working on your solopreneur business evenings and weekends. And no, it’s not reasonable to think that you can work 12-14 hours a day, every day, for a lengthy period of time without completing burning out. And that’s a hard way for a dream to die.

The question is whether you have sufficient success with your side business that the time is now right to go all in. Evaluate your performance with a critical eye, but don’t succumb to pessimism and cynicism. It’s important to be honest and objective. Reviewing performance and trying to project future sales is a risk-based game that every solopreneur, freelancer, and self-employed person needs to play.

Look at your performance in terms of percentages. What is your percentage growth over the period you’re reviewing? What percentage of your time did you spend on making those sales and delivering those results? What capacity constraints do you have now? How will this change if you quit your day job? How many months and how much money will you burn before your business income will confidently cover all of your expences? These are numbers that can help you make informed decisions and mitigate your risk. They’re also numbers you’ll never have until you make that first sale.

One last question to consider. What will you be doing on January 1st, 2017?

Will you be making the same resolutions as this year, hoping once again to start working on your dream?

Or will you be toasting your own success and reflecting in wonder on what an amazing and life-changing year it’s been?

“How did it get so late so soon?” ~ Dr. Seuss

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