Life as a solopreneur comes at you fast.
One minute, you might work at a big corporation with a regular paycheck and PTO. The next, you're a business owner with big dreams but limited resources to make the impossible happen.
That's my story, anyway. Before the Great Recession took hold in 2008, I had the bright idea to quit my job in human resources at Pfizer and begin a career as a writer and professional speaker. Ten years later, I've keynoted at conferences around the world and built a tech company called GlitchPath that has since failed.
But I'm still kicking as a solopreneur, spending my time writing, speaking, and podcasting. While a steady income and a benefits package are tempting, I can't go back to life as an employee. It would kill me to have a boss, a crappy workstation, and the requisite corporate politics that come along with a regular paycheck.
So, if you're like me and can't go back to Corporate America, I wanted to share lessons from my journey as a small business owner and solopreneur.
Everybody tells you to be kind, but it's framed in abstract language linked to spirituality or piousness. Nobody tells you why it's pragmatic. First, being kind is good for business. Reciprocity is currency, and if you have a reputation for kindness, you'll have advocates who go that extra mile when you need it most.
More importantly, being kind to others means you're more likely to be kind to yourself at those sober moments when things aren't going well for your company. If you don't cut yourself some slack when times are tough, you'll never make it past year one.
Far too many self-help gurus will advise you to hustle without ever having pushed themselves to the max. If they had, they’d know: Hustling is chaos. Hustling is anxiety. Hustling is energy wasted for the sake of appearances.
Instead of hustling, work at your own pace. Schedule your time, guard your calendar, and eliminate those tasks that bog you down. Instead of hustling, be efficient. Then use your extra time to do something other than work.
Take the Meeting
Everybody wants to have coffee and talk about their companies, and, as a solopreneur, you're right to be suspicious. You're not paid to drink coffee; you're paid to produce quality work. But if you have the time, take the meeting and drink that coffee.
Being a small business owner can be lonely work, and it's gratifying to meet people who think you can be helpful. Also, social interactions are opportunities to develop your unique value proposition.
Finally, meetings give you a chance to be kind and helpful. Block off dedicated time on your calendar for coffee meetings, and say yes to some of those invites. Meeting fellow entrepreneurs is an important and rewarding part of the journey.
Permit Yourself to Walk Away
Not every meeting is fabulous. Not every idea is a winner. Sometimes solopreneurs put all their eggs in one basket and can't walk away from prospects, projects, or clients when it's not a good fit. I like to ask myself three questions to determine whether an endeavor is worth pursuing.
- Would I be proud enough of the work/project/client to tell future clients?
- Will this engagement make me feel good about myself?
- Is this commitment important enough to take precedence over other things I want to do?
I'm not sure what your three questions look like, but if you can't answer them affirmatively, it's probably time to walk away.
Being a solopreneur is a rewarding journey, but it's not an easy one. Failure comes in a lot of forms. Why make the same mistakes that everybody else makes? Seek good advice, avoid common pitfalls, and set yourself up to make new and more interesting mistakes. That's what growth is all about.