Hygge & Grit: How Nordic Principles Can Inspire Solopreneurs

Let’s hygge-fy your business. What exactly does that mean? Hygge is a Danish word and Nordic ethos that evokes a cozy, safe sense of home — and it’s a phrase taking the world by storm, for good reason.

In fact, this Nordic mentality might just be able to help you run a better business, solopreneur. Read on and prepare to be inspired.

How can you adopt the hygge mentality in business?

Hygge (pronounced “hooga”) translates most closely to “coziness” — but a cozy, safe sense of home doesn’t have to be taken literally. Hygge is an ethos that can apply to life, home, business, selling, and more.

Here are a few ways you might use the hygge concept to inspire your business:

  • Reach people where they are at their most genuine. How does your brand intersect with what people really believe? If you always appeal to people’s business side, rather than their personal beliefs, or vice versa, you might be missing out on some great customer relationships.
  • Build an honest sales and marketing strategy. Try to get people to feel empowered about using your product or services, rather than bully or persuade them into it.
  • Practice self-care. Knowing when to switch off and snuggle down brings hygge to our personal self. Your brand (and you) could probably do with doing this every now and then.

Sold on incorporating hygge into your business? Here are some other Nordic-inspired business mantras that might inspire you and your one woman shop:

Balance

The Nordic countries live very balanced lives. They advocate for local produce, natural products, and enjoy healthy lifestyles that allow plenty of space for personal growth and exercise.

This balance, both personal and professional, is crucial. Here’s how you might be inspired by it:

  • Balanced lives make for better business decisions. Being stuck on a hamster wheel of stress makes for uninspired entrepreneurs and uninspiring products. Learn how to disconnect to reconnect. Thanks to their short summers, Nordics embrace their summer to the max and go out into the wilderness to play and relax.
  • The Nordic aesthetic is all about harmony: balancing local materials with ergonomic design. Embrace this same simplicity in your product development – less is sometimes more. (Wasn’t it Coco Chanel herself who told us to get ready, and then remove one item?)
  • Bring a dialogue with the natural world into your business. What green values can you get behind? Do you fully understand the materials you work with? Be explicit and open with customers about your choices.

Confidence

Nordics know all about being a #girlboss.

Living in egalitarian societies, Nordic women are encouraged to stand up and speak confidently about their aspirations. Here’s how you might be inspired by it:

  • Remember that seeking confidence is often a lifelong journey. Don’t become disheartened when you find yourself doubting and questioning yourself. Focus on shifting your internal monologue so that you aren’t putting yourself down, and remember to be kind to yourself in your quest for confidence.

Minimalism

The famous Nordic aesthetic is all about muted tones and textures. (Think: natural shapes and colours on a white, light-filled background.)

This aesthetic goes beyond just style – minimalism is a habit you can adopt to keep your life clean and decluttered. Here’s how you might be inspired by it:

  • Keep your office and digital space clean and uncluttered. Being more minimalist will allow you to take back control of your life.
  • Selling online? Design a store that fits a minimalist aesthetic. Customers will appreciate a high-end, streamlined design that gives your products more space. Shopify has some awesome Nordic-style minimalist themes; or, you could get a freelancer to make one completely bespoke for you.

Sisu (grit)

No English equivalent exists for this Finnish word, but sisu is all about striving and succeeding against all odds.

Rooted in a stubborn and defiant mentality, embracing grit is something all entrepreneurs need from time to time. Here’s how you might be inspired by it:

  • Dig deep when the time calls for it.
      Don’t get snowed under by other people’s expectations. Persevere and move through the hard stuff with style and grace.
  • Sisu isn’t necessarily about being stoic. Sometimes it’s okay to admit that something is hard…but that you’re going to get through it, anyways.

Cooperation

Nordic communities know when it’s time to pool resources and knuckle down for the tough season ahead.

Embrace cooperation to make the most out of the people around you, and forge new collaborative relationships. Here’s how you might be inspired by it:

  • Don’t always see other suppliers as outright competition. There’s usually enough space in the market for everyone. Conferences and knowledge days are a great way to get together and discuss industry trends.
  • Share the love and you’ll get more back.Give back to the community around you with insightful emails, supportive membership groups (like One Woman Shop) and plenty of old-fashioned social media interaction.

Last, but not least: Quality

Quality over quantity is (sometimes) the way to go.

Nordics can’t compete on volume, so they tend to opt for quality instead. Here’s how you might be inspired by it:

  • Focus on what you do best, rather than trying to frantically run after growth or new ideas. By refining your current offering (and perhaps upgrading it), you’re going to develop new products and business ideas in a much more cost-effective way.
  • Build a VIP version of your product or service. Offering an exclusive version of what you do can encourage people to spend more with you.
  • Focus on stating clear value propositions. It’s okay to be more expensive that your rivals if you’re actually offering more. Just make it clear to customers why (and what) that is.

Embrace the hygge mentality in business

Nordics have learned how to carve out successful societies in harsh, unforgiving conditions. When you feel like life or business is getting you down, connect with your inner Nordic spirit.

These values are for everyone and can be endlessly adapted. It’s all about taking something you connect with and making it work for your business.

Tell us below: What Nordic principles are striking your chords?

P.S. As we love to preach…business isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Stop the Overwhelm: How to Get People to Email You Less

When you’re running your own gig, email is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s rapidly becoming the next voicemail — nobody wants to look at it, it’s clumsy to use, and for God’s sake, why don’t you just text? And in light of the 205 billion+ emails sent every day, it makes sense that Inbox Zero is a thing (that deserves caps).

But on the other hand, you need to be in contact with your clients, prospects, contractors, and anyone else who helps keep your business world spinning.

What most small business owners don’t realize is that you have so much more control over the amount of email you get than you think. In fact, if you’re getting overrun with emails, chances are it’s mostly your own fault.

So how can you get people to email you less, while still being able to keep up with everything you need to keep up with? It’s all about boundaries + clarity.

If you don’t want people to email you, don’t set up situations where they feel invited to do so.

For instance, if you’re routinely asking for responses in the emails you send out, you’re going to get emails back. If you’re really open and casual on your social channels, people are going to feel more comfortable getting in touch out of the blue. If you’re sharing vulnerable stuff in your blog posts, chances are you’re going to get people with that same flavor of vulnerability emailing you and sharing their experiences.

And that can all be good, as long as it’s in line with your branding and your business goals.

But to keep it from becoming overwhelming, you need to have some solid boundaries in place, and you need to give people a way to connect with you without getting all up in your inbox.

The first thing to do is to implicitly and explicitly state your boundaries. Take a look at the way you’re connecting with people. Are you being a little too open? Do you need to dial it back a little bit, become a little less accessible?

Think about ways that you can (nicely) discourage people from sending you emails. For instance, putting something as simple as “We love design. We hate long emails. Keep it short and sweet and we’ll love you, too!” can make a world of difference.

Finally, think ahead about how people are going to want to connect with you, and give them an outlet to do so that doesn’t involve email. This means making sure your social media pages are up and active, your blog’s comments section is working, etc., and directing them to those places with a pre-written email. (More on that in a sec.)

When it comes to clients…

Clients who get email-clingy typically do so because you haven’t shown them that they can trust you to lead this process. The way to avoid this is to set expectations up front, to watch your language, and to make yourself explicitly clear in every single email. (Sensing a theme here?)

When people first start working with you, make it clear what your hours are and your policies for responding to emails. It doesn’t have to come across as rude or standoff-ish — you can easily keep this in line with your branding. For instance, in my client onboarding guide, I have a section about email that says:

“We don’t spend all day watching the inbox because quite frankly, we’ve got better things to do. (Like writing your copy.) So don’t freak out if we don’t get back to you in seconds — you’ll always get a reply within 24 hours on weekdays.”

When you do have email correspondence with clients, keep up that leadership tone by avoiding hesitance, jargon, and uncertainty. Watch out for phrases like “I just…”, “Sorry to bother you…”, or “I think I might…” — all of which imply that you’re uncertain, which makes them feel like they have to lead. If you really struggle with this, here’s a great free app to help you out.

Finally, use the last sentence of your email to explicitly state what you’re going to do, what’s going to happen next, or what you want them to do. This way there’s a clear structure, you can easily refer back to it if they still manage to get confused, and they’re not left wondering whether they need to check in with you.

When it comes to contractors + coworkers…

The same thing applies in terms of setting expectations and watching your language, but the issue of clarity becomes even more important. Nobody wants to get caught up in a long email chain, so clarify your expectations up front — everything from expected response times to CC etiquette to what to do in an emergency — and then stick with it.

When you do sit down to write an email, pause for just a second before you start typing and make sure you’re clear on why you’re actually sending the email. Do you need information, and if so, what specifically? Are you looking for a decision, and if so, does the person on the other end have all the info they need to give it to you? Does this actually need a response at all? You’d be surprised at how many emails you can adequately respond to with a simple “Got it — thanks! EOM” in the subject line.

Finally, you can avoid loads of back and forth with some simple, pre-written emails.

To avoid getting sucked into endless email chains, have a think about the types of questions prospects, clients, and contractors tend to email you about repeatedly. Then, pre-write emails in response to them, leaving blanks for the name and the specifics, and save them in drafts or load them into a tool like Gmail’s Canned Responses.

This includes things like answers to common questions about what you do, “I’ll get back to you with a quote in 24 hours” emails, emails with your scheduling link, emails encouraging people to share on your social media or comments sections instead of via email, and responses both accepting and declining guest posting/product reviews/speaking opportunities. Then, when you do get inquiries, just mad-lib your way through your templates and you’re good to go.

Remember: boundaries + clarity = happier clients + contractors + way fewer emails for you. (And that means way more time to actually run your business.) Win, win, and win.

Streamline more. Stress less.

Drop your email below to get even more great content on productivity, automation, and streamlining your solo business!

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5 Ways to Make More Money Using On-Brand Affiliate Marketing

You have a creative business, which means, most days, you feel like you’re on top of the world. You can work when you want to, with whom you choose, and take vacations on a whim because hey, you are boss like that, right?

Unless, of course, you’re not feeling confident with your income. That changes things a bit.

As glamorous as being a solopreneur seems, we all know that working with clients can often times be unpredictable and stressful.

The feast-or-famine mindset is real, and can leave you convinced that searching job boards may be a better choice than trying to keep at this ‘“own-my-own-business” thing. We get these feelings in months where we have way less clients, our course sales dip or our Creative Market income has been dryer than Schweppes ginger ale.

Yet many service-based businesses are leaving a ton of money on the table, solely focusing on services, courses and product creation that they ignore affiliate marketing and how it can complement their small biz income.

But wait, affiliate marketing is dead…right?

You probably already know what affiliate marketing is (if you’re shaking your head no, start here), and may have even explored it a bit and earned a couple of bucks.

But, I’m seeing two things:

1 – Some solopreneurs I’ve spoke with tell me the earnings don’t amount to enough to spend their time on it.

2 – Other say that affiliate marketing is dead.

Oh contraire!

Neither of these could be further from the truth. Think about all of the products and services you use every single day while running your business. Now, consider all of the frequent purchases and investments (the online courses, ebooks, business tools). And how about that one “thing” you always recommend for every single one of your clients to help them get from ABC to XYZ?

If you do the math, you’ll probably feel a bit queasy at how much money you could have been making, just by simply adding an affiliate link to the products and services you love and trust to people who already love and trust you.

#facepalm

Where to start with affiliate marketing

The next greatest hesitation I hear is that people simply don’t know where to start without feeling like a car salesman. Fret not; there are so many great ways to not be cheesy OR greasy.

Without further ado, here are five authentic ways to add a bit of padding to your service-based business by using on-brand affiliate marketing…minus the ick factor.

1. Create a resources page

A resources, or tools, page is an effective way to help your visitors help themselves to the tools, courses and services you rely on to run your business. Get creative by adding images and banners, or simply use shortcodes and columns to create categories and embed your affiliate link into each resource.

Link to your resources page from your blog posts, include it in your email footers, and write social posts highlighting each resource on the page.

2. Make recommendations to your clients

You may be a web designer, virtual assistant or accountant who’s always getting asked what you recommend for solving your clients’ problems. You may also have certain things your client must purchase before you can start working with them (such as a theme or hosting, if you are a web designer).

When you onboard your clients, include a list of your favorite tools with your affiliate links in your welcome packet. Alternatively, if you send your clients a goodbye package, include a list of resources that will be helpful on an ongoing basis.

More than anything, they will appreciate that they can trust your recommendations and that they aren’t stuck having to Google for answers.

3. Build affiliate mentions into your editorial calendar

If you have a blog that complements your business, I imagine you are already sharing high-quality posts that position you as an expert in your niche, so why not turn these posts into money-generating machines?

Some of my best performing blog posts that have affiliate links are resource roundups and tutorials on how to do something that others often struggle with. Review posts of products you have tried and compared are also a good way to introduce your audience to amazing assets while helping you earn more money.

Pro tip: Content is key, but don’t ignore your images. Include high quality, pinnable images for people to share. Add keyword-rich descriptions in your images’ alt text if you want to tap into Pinterest for referral traffic.

4. Complement your newsletters

Dedicated emails about products you love can make you feel like you’re always trying to sell your audience something.

To avoid that, try sharing your experience with them. For example, if you took a totally ah-mazing course that skyrocketed your website traffic and you’re now an affiliate of, share the story of how your stats increased.

You can also write your newsletter content as usual and include links to some of your most recent affiliate-rich posts. Likewise, if you know your affiliates are having a sale and you genuinely don’t want your peeps to miss out, use a PS note at the bottom of the newsletter or within the content itself if it’s relevant.

An example: If you’re writing to your audience about how they can choose the best theme for their business and you happen to know that Bluchic* is having a sale, share it. Don’t be random. Weave it naturally into what your readers know you for.

5. Enhance your infoproducts

You may already have some great infoproducts (ebooks; worksheets; email courses) in place that help you grow your list or populate your shop. What if I told you that there is a way to monetize your free goodies and help you earn more with your paid offerings? Hold the phone, sista!

With on-brand affiliate marketing, it’s totally possible. When crafting your offering, you’re likely linking to tools and resources that are helpful for those who are downloading or signing up for your product.

By using affiliate links, you can make more money while continuing to deliver your high-quality content for free or increase your earnings with your paid products. For example, I have an email course that helps new bloggers or businesses set up their very first blog on WordPress. Even though it took a ton of hours and energy, I was able to justify giving it away for free because there were so many opportunities to earn money from the free course by mentioning amazing affiliates for WordPress hosting, themes, styled-stock memberships, and more.

But FIRST, here’s what else you need to know about doing affiliate marketing right

When adding a slew of affiliate links to your site, you can consider adding “no follow” links in place so that you aren’t oops-ed by Google (though there is a debate on whether it’s necessary or not). You also want to make your links cleaner with a plugin like Pretty Link Lite, or bit.ly.

Most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough: DO IT LEGALLY. (Caps + bold, necessary.)

You have to have disclaimers on your site that let your visitors know that they may be clicking on affiliate links. You have to share in your newsletter that links are indeed, affiliate links. You have to give a heads up about affiliate links even if you are just recommending a product to someone in a Facebook Group. Recommending something to a client? Gently let them know that they are clicking on an affiliate link.

When in doubt, remember this: Any time you drop a link, drop a hint!

Your turn

Evaluate your current affiliate strategy and choose one of these methods to start or improve upon today. Need more of a nudge? Sign up for Affiliate Crush, my free, 5-day email course that helps you get started in choosing the right affiliates and helps you create a strategy, track your earnings and lots more.

*Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links. (See what we did there?) As always, we only promote products and services we trust and believe in.

Questions For An Attorney…

Thinking about hiring an attorney? Three lawyer's weigh in on what to ask before you do...

Thinking about hiring an attorney? Three lawyer's weigh in on what to ask before you do...

One Woman Shops can’t always do it all. But when it’s time to turn to an outside pro — and be certain we’re choosing the right one — we’re often at a loss as to what to ask to get the info we need. Welcome to Questions For A… a series where we interview the pros themselves on the questions you need to ask before hiring them.

In this month’s edition, we bring you Questions for an….Attorney with contributions from attorneys Annette Stepanian, Patrice Perkins, and Tamsen Horton. Here’s what they suggest you ask:

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and should not be used as such.

Q: What kind of experience do you have working with businesses like mine?

Annette’s why: Just like you wouldn’t go to a cardiologist if you were suffering from a broken foot, you shouldn’t seek out and hire attorneys who don’t have the experience or expertise in the legal issue you’d like resolved. Remember to interview and research the attorney prior to retaining them. They are an extension of your business team and you should hire someone who you not only feel comfortable with, but who has the experience to understand your business and your legal needs.

Patrice’s why: There are a lot of good (and capable) attorneys out there, but not all of them are going to be a fit for you and the work you do. You want to feel out the attorney’s experience working with entrepreneurs like you because as with most relationships, there’s often more than meets the eye. For instance, because I’ve worked consistently with creative entrepreneurs, I think to ask questions that a business attorney who works with more traditional small business clients might not think to ask. Another example: I’ve seen my fair share of brand-blogger agreements so I know a good agreement from a mediocre one and when my client should be asking for more money.

Q: When should I consult a lawyer for my business?

Annette’s why: Here’s my philosophy: As is true with other things in life, it’s much cheaper to pay for preventative maintenance than to pay for expensive repairs that would not have been needed if the initial maintenance had been done in the first place. It’s the same with the law and your business. Early on in your business, make that investment to consult with a lawyer to make sure that you’re laying a proper foundation. It can save you lots of tears, headaches, and money in the long run.

Q: In which state(s) are you authorized to practice law?

Annette’s why: In the United States, lawyers must be licensed by a specific state to give legal advice about that particular state’s laws. A lawyer who is licensed to practice law in one state is not automatically authorized to practice law in another. Double check their credentials to make sure they are authorized to practice law in the state in which you’re doing business.

Q: Would I work with you online or in person?

Tamsen’s why: If meeting with your attorney in person is important to you, then you’d want to make sure that they work with clients in a face-to-face type of meeting. Likewise, if you prefer the flexibility to meet with your attorney on a laptop when it’s convenient, then you want to make sure that they are comfortable meeting with you online.

Q: What are your fees and what other expenses can I expect to incur? (Am I billed for emails and telephone calls?)

Annette’s why: There are a few ways that lawyers will charge for their services. You’ll most likely come across lawyers charging either on an hourly basis or on a flat-fee basis. The former is self-explanatory – a lawyer will invoice you based on the number of hours worked. In this instance, the lawyer might also ask for a retainer (an advance payment) prior to starting the work. If the work to be performed exceeds the retainer amount, then you may have to pay above-and-beyond the retainer at the lawyer’s hourly rate. On the other hand, if work is done on a flat-fee basis, then the lawyer charges you a fixed, total fee regardless of the number of hours it takes for the lawyer to do the work. You should also find out what other expenses you’re expected to pay. For example, costs like filing and application fees will likely be your responsibility.

Patrice’s why: It’s important to make sure you’re on the same page with your attorney in terms of what to expect of their billing practices. You may find that an attorney who offers flat-fee services is a better fit for you versus one who bills hourly. There is no better way, but you want to make sure you know what to expect so you can focus on the work at hand and avoid stress over a bill you weren’t expecting.

Q: How can we work together long term? If I purchase this product or service from you, what does that look like?

Patrice’s why: With any service provider, the goal should be to develop a long-term relationship. You’ll get the most value out of working with people who have come to know your business instead of starting over at every turn.

Tamsen’s why: When it comes to issues surrounding the legal impact of your business decisions, you want to know what your investment includes. Even when your issue requires more of a traditional hourly-rate service, with the ease of technology, you should expect that your attorney can provide you guides, downloads, videos, audios, and more that complement the product or service they are providing. Be on the lookout for ways that they are using resources outside of simply talking to you or billing you for work because that means that you’ve found someone who is concerned about saving you money by giving you access to their knowledge in different ways.

Q: Will there be anyone else handling my work?

Annette’s why: If you’re hiring a firm with multiple lawyers and paralegals, then get clear on exactly who is going to be working on your matter and what their rates are (as necessary). Don’t assume the attorney who is your primary point of contact is the one actually doing the work.

Q: If I decide to purchase this _____ today, when would you start working with me?

Tamsen’s why: When it comes to legal issues in your business, there are emergency room issues (need to be dealt with immediately) and those that can be scheduled out. As you’re talking with the attorney, they’ll let you know which you’re dealing with. Don’t be startled or surprised if the attorney (in non-emergency cases) says that they can work with you in a few weeks to a few months. You will run into that when you are hiring an attorney who has a thriving business (that’s a good thing for you!). If you do need to wait, then they will likely have resources for you to use in the meantime.

Ready to grill (in the best way possible) your potential lawyer? Print these questions for an attorney out + have them at the ready when you’re looking to hire!

P.S.: Want more information from attorneys on what to know before you hire them? Get the (free) Prior to the Hire ebook now!


Disclaimer: This information is for educational and informational purposes only; it is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author. You should not act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of information provided here without first consulting legal counsel in your jurisdiction.

Storytelling for Business: 5 Unique Stories Solopreneurs Can Tell

We live in a world where our days are filled with email newsletters, social media updates, how-to blog posts and Facebook groups. And as a business owner, you’re probably using many of these channels — if not all of them — to get the word out about your product or service.

But what if there was an even more effective way to use these channels to build awareness of your brand?

There is, and it’s called storytelling.

Storytelling is at the heart of every successful public relations and communications strategy. And when it’s done well, you can cut through the clutter using channels like blogging, social media and press releases to tell your story and make a connection with your audience.

So now you’re probably wondering, “What kind of story do I tell?” Well, I have you covered! Here are five unique story angles to tell about your business in your next blog post, press release, or social media update:

1. Share your journey to entrepreneurship

One of the best, most interesting stories you can tell about your business is how you got started. Everyone’s entrepreneurship journey is unique, which is why it presents a great opportunity to tell the story of how your business came to be.

The best part of telling your entrepreneurship journey is that it doesn’t matter where you’re at in your business. Whether it’s talking about how your started an apparel brand in your basement or left your comfy corporate job to freelance full-time, your entrepreneurship story is an opportunity to share with the world what inspires you most, your mission, and the lessons learned along the way.

2. Talk about a unique partnership or collaboration

Have you recently partnered with another brand or company to launch an exciting project, such as a Facebook group or e-course? This is a great opportunity to share a story about the power of collaboration.

Give your audience a behind-the-scenes look at this partnership by writing a blog post or creating a video describing the process behind your collaboration. In your story, talk about why the partnership was successful or what brought the two of you together. This is a fun way to show your audience how you successfully work with other brands. And who knows, maybe it can spark more opportunities for future collaborations and partnerships!

3. Explain how you give back to your community

Stories about philanthropy or social responsibility can help you tug on your audience’s heartstrings and make an emotional connection. From volunteering to charitable giving to different ways your business is good for the environment and your employees, tell a story about how you’re making an impact in your community or touching the lives of others.

For example, did you donate a percentage of your profits to a nonprofit organization during the last holiday season? Share how much you raised in a recap blog post and explain what the funding will do. This is a great way to look back on the holiday season while showing your audience that you care deeply about your community.

4. Tell a story about overcoming a challenge

Did you ever go a Christmas without a paycheck because you had to pay your employees first? Was there a time when your product didn’t ship on time? While these aren’t the most glamorous stories to share with your audience, these are stories that will help you connect with your audience on an intimate level.

Sharing a lesson learned is a powerful way to highlight the ups and downs of running a business. They can illustrate how you’ve transformed your business into the success it is today, how you’ve grown as an entrepreneur and ultimately, make your brand more “human.” Plus, you will build more trust with your audience by being open and transparent and even inspire others to share their stories of success and failure.

5. Highlight a unique or quirky client project

Want to make your audience feel good? Make a list of your recent projects and determine which ones seem a little quirky or stand out from the norm. For example, if you just completed a branding project for a new unicorn-inspired cafe, you could turn this quirky project into an entertaining and interesting case study or press release. This is an opportunity to make people connect with your brand in a lighthearted way while also illustrating the success of your work.

When a story is emotional and authentic, it’s much easier to make a connection with your audience. By taking your own unique approach to these story ideas and staying true to your brand’s voice, you will have no problem cutting through the clutter and getting your story heard, no matter the channel you choose.

What type of stories have you shared about your business? Share your stories in the comments below!

P.S. Need inspiration? Here are stories from the road to solopreneur success, told by your fellow solo biz owners.

Surviving and Thriving After Loss

thriving after loss

thriving after loss

My content marketing business is in a rapid state of growth. I’ve taken on several new clients, doubled my workload, and seen every blog and social-media metric surge beyond my goals. I’m recently married and had my first child six months ago, plus I’m forging new personal and professional relationships in my hometown where I returned three years ago after a 12-year absence.

Basically, my life is on a pretty kick-ass trajectory and I feel darn optimistic about the future.

I couldn’t say the same thing, however, six years ago or even two years ago. That’s because at each of those points, I experienced crippling grief from which I thought I might never recover.

Losing a sibling

The first and most shocking setback of my life came nearly six years ago, on July 4, 2010. That morning, my dad called to tell me he had some “upsetting news.” My younger brother had died a few hours earlier from a heroin overdose. (“Upsetting” was understating things a bit.)

I’ll never forget a moment of that day, which played out like a blur of frantic activity around me as my own brain seemed to move in slow motion.

Driving around until I could find someone to comfort me (a friend’s mom finally answered her door). Falling to my knees in a pile of tears as I said the words aloud for the first time. Waiting while my friends packed my bags and asked me to pick a funeral outfit. Seeing the world whiz by while my friend drove me six hours to my hometown. Hugging my mom and feeling her immeasurable pain. Hearing the gut-wrenching wail of a 10-year-old girl learning her daddy was dead. Then hearing my mom say she had no reason left to live (um, what about me?!).

At the time, I was 35 and my freelance writing business was five years old. I had recently hit a professional slump due to the changing economic landscape (I was doing mostly magazine writing at that time and magazines were a dying breed). In the months and years following my brother’s death, however, things went from bad to worse.

I stopped looking for new assignments and began missing deadlines for what little work I still had. I didn’t even bother to tell many of my editors why, burning every bridge imaginable. I was simultaneously going through a divorce (I suffered death, divorce, and losing my home all in less than a year) and began making really self-destructive decisions about men. I was drinking too much, sleeping too little, and burning through my savings account with reckless abandon.

Two months after my brother’s death, I was out of money and took a sales job that was absolutely not a fit for my skills nor in line with my passions. It paid the rent until I found another gig as an office manager that, again, made no sense for my career path.

I still did some freelance work, but treated it like a hobby at best, not a serious business.

After two years of acting out and scraping by, I finally reached my breaking point. I realized something had to change, so I packed up my belongings and moved back home with my mom — a humbling experience for a 37-year-old woman.

For the next year, I spent time writing about my grief, exploring a healthy relationship, and repairing the bridges I’d burned with former clients. By 2015, I had found love, moved out of my mom’s house, and started making a living wage as a business owner.

It took a long time to claw my way out of the nearly bottomless pit of grief, but I finally found my way back to the sun and felt so good about life that I was ready to create a new life. We decided to have a baby.

Losing a child

In March of 2015, we learned I was pregnant. On Mother’s Day, we excitedly told our families the amazing news. Two days later, during a routine visit to my OB/GYN, I learned the baby no longer had a heartbeat.

The entire episode lasted 10 weeks, but the loss was no less real. Once again, my grief sent me spiraling. Facing hefty medical bills from the experience, I panicked and took a full-time editorial job. It was a better match than my previous attempts at day jobs, but I knew in my gut I was meant to be my own boss.

This time, I quickly decided not to let grief consume my life. I allowed myself to cry when I needed to, and reached out to friends and family for emotional support. I was honest with the freelance clients I still had and asked for extended deadlines. I started a weekly mastermind group and got serious about building my business so I could quit the full-time job.

Four months after starting, I gave notice at the 9-to-5 gig and focused all my efforts on growing my content marketing company. I clarified my marketing message, rebuilt my website, and bumped up my social media presence.

Now, one year later, I’ve never been busier or more profitable. Oh, and I got pregnant again and had my baby boy last May!

What I learned from surviving and thriving after loss

  • Death and loss affects everyone at some point. Grief feels exceptionally lonely, but it’s actually our most common bond. Whatever you’re experiencing, take some comfort in knowing someone else has already gone through it. You’re not alone.
  • Seek out a community. Whether it’s friends or an organized support group, seek out a group you can talk about your situation with and find those who can be truly empathetic. Sharing with others who’ve had miscarriages, and later writing a blog about my experience, helped me get through this experience in a faster and healthier manner than after my brother’s death.
  • Allow yourself to feel your pain. Take the time — however much you need — to experience the very real feelings of grief. Running away from the emotions only delays the inevitable.
  • Treat yourself with grace. During our darkest hours, it’s likely we will make some mistakes, drop some balls, and say some stupid things. Forgive yourself for these moments.
  • Be vulnerable. When you do fall down and upset or disappoint a client or friend, be honest and tell them why. You may be surprised by the outpouring of love and understanding you receive.
  • Ask for help. It’s okay to admit you are overwhelmed with your situation. You may need to ask your friends and family for emotional (and even financial) support. This doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human. Be grateful you have people in your life who love you and thank them for helping.

My hope is that everyone will have a perfect 2017. Unfortunately, the reality is many of us will suffer a loss or otherwise experience grief in the coming year. While we can’t control what happens to us, we can be responsible for how we respond. If you fall on tough times, I hope my tips will help ease the pain, even if only a bit. And if you need support or advice, my (email) door is always open.

Why I Dropped my Legal Career to Start my One Woman Shop

starting a solo business

starting a solo business

Grab your pen and paper and get ready to think.

Here’s your challenge: Describe your ideal professional life in five words or fewer.

Seriously, think about it.

Where do you want to be in five to ten years?

Are you doing everything you can today to get closer to your goals for tomorrow?

I pose these questions not because I get enjoyment out of seeing people struggle to picture their future, but rather because I sorely wish someone had asked me the same questions, sooner.

Why?

Here’s the backstory

About seven months ago I traveled to Budapest, Hungary for my brother’s wedding. It was a bittersweet trip, as I knew it would be the last time I’d enjoy a trip overseas for quite some time.

My impending law school stint was set to start in August (2016) and the combined soul-crushing costs of living in a New York City apartment and attending a horribly expensive school caused my wallet to shudder at the very thought alone of purchasing another set of international plane tickets.

My brother, a very successful entrepreneur, made it his goal at his wedding to send slews of his friends in my direction to convince me out of law school and into solo business.

Needless to say, you wouldn’t be reading this right now if his slick tactics failed.

I don’t give him all the credit for my change of heart, but I do give him some. The legal profession wasn’t my calling and, if it weren’t for my brother, I’d have found myself miserable in a classroom listening to professors speak as I daydreamed about what my life could have been instead of out doing what I absolutely love (like I’m doing right now).

So here’s what this journey from law school debt and misery to solo business freedom and flexibility has taught me…and why I’m filled with anything but regret.

1. Your life is meant to be viewed through your eyes, not someone else’s

With the exception of my immediate family, many people didn’t respond well to my announcement that instead of law I was going to spend my time developing a freelance career and working on my blog. It was like I’d gone from “riches to rags” – law to unemployment; no one knew what to say, so many said nothing at all.

I dealt with whispers behind my back and sneers and snickers from my friends who hold 9-5 jobs with benefits and job security. Suddenly my unemployed, non-student self was cause for laughter, and in some instances, concern.

Though many people envisioned my life taking another path, or thought I’d do “better things” with my time, it’s my life to live, not theirs. If I’m enjoying the view from my perspective, it shouldn’t matter what the “neighbors” think.

2. Flexibility and freedom are invaluable assets

Changing my mind from law school to solopreneurship was monumental in many ways, but most notably, it meant my freedom no longer had an expiration date.

Starting a solo business — and solopreneurship, in general — is hard work, any way you slice it. The days are long, and the journey seems endless. But I can work from anywhere in the world and on any timeframe. If I need a vacation, I can take a vacation. If I need to close the computer and recollect myself for a while, I can take that time to breathe.

The journey is no less difficult, perhaps, than a legal career would be, it’s just very different in all the best ways.

3. A fancy degree and pile of debt won’t necessarily guarantee success

When I was a fresh 18-year-old entering college, I thought obtaining my bachelor’s would be the coolest, most “official” thing I could do to solidify my “success” as an adult.

When that failed, I thought I should pursue law school. Maybe then, jaded from three years of law school, buried in debt but decently educated, my JD would help me along professionally.

Cue the laugh track.

Despite my disillusionment, fancy degrees won’t necessarily guarantee success.

If you want success, you need to get up every day ready to put in the work and make your ideal reality happen for you. Your workload doesn’t lessen just because you have a fancy degree to back you, so you might as well be doing something you truly enjoy.

Thankfully I pulled my head out of the clouds just in time to figure this out before the time ran out and the debt started piling.

4. Long-term goals should be factors when making life-altering decisions

Though I’d already applied to 12 law schools, selected a school, paid my seat deposit and expensive down payment on a pricey New York City apartment, my brother’s wedding party challenged me to think about my goals, long term.

Would law school really help me reach those goals?

The cold hard truth was that law school was more of a distraction than a step in the right direction toward achieving my goals; it wasn’t in line with what I really wanted.

Life is short, so do what you love.

Act in accordance with what you want, what you love, and what you believe, and demand the sort of life you’ve always wanted to live. If you want to quit school, quit school. If you want to be a doctor, go be a doctor. If you want to start your business, start the business. If you want to be a better businessperson, start doing what you need to do to be better.

The first step is just to start doing something, anything…because no matter what you choose, you have to do the work.

Ask the tough questions

As solopreneurs, there are many things that can make us crazy and cause us to struggle, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind so that we continue heading in the right direction.

I very nearly derailed my entire life by forgetting to ask myself the tough questions. Thankfully, I corrected that error just in time to avoid the insanity of the legal industry. Now, I still struggle every now and again, but I’ve settled very nicely into my own adrenaline-filled life as a solopreneur.

So, ask yourself the questions that I failed to ask myself early on:

  • Where do you want to be in five to ten years?
  • Are you doing everything you can today to make your ideal tomorrow a reality?

And if you’re not, what can you do today to change that?

Business Myth: You Need a Client Avatar

client avatar

client avatar

Welcome to Business Myths. Here’s the deal: We often hear business “truths” and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We’re chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Rachel Allen shares her (expert) take on why your client avatar is useless, and what you need to know to really resonate with your readers, instead.

Every industry has its must-have tools. And while those change pretty frequently in the fast-paced, online, small business world — “Webinars are the future! No, Periscope! No, Facebook Live!” — one that’s held steady since the beginning is the client avatar.

You know how it works: You sit down, sketch a stick figure, and write out whether they’re a cat person or a dog person, what they like to do on the weekends, and of course, what their favorite breakfast cereal is.

Just one problem…

When it comes down to it, you still have no idea what to say or how to sell to this person. Funny enough, knowing someone’s cereal preferences doesn’t help you communicate with them in a way that really resonates. Because, just like you, your business, and your brand, your clients are complicated. Multi-layered. And very, very human.

The truth is, most client avatars are absolutely useless.

They’re intended to give you a clear idea of who you’re working for, but they almost always give you a sanitized, surface-level, pod-person version of your audience. And you’re not working with pod people, you’re working with people people, those contradictory, irrational, gloriously-difficult-to-pin-down beings.

It was never about the breakfast cereal.

Client avatar exercises ask you questions about the surface level things in a person’s life as a way of getting at the deeper things about them. But somewhere along the way, the search for that soul-level stuff became conflated with the surface-level stuff — and we started thinking that knowing whether someone owns a cat or a dog can somehow give you insight into what they want, when very often people don’t even really consciously know it themselves.

Why client avatars don’t work

When you do a classic client avatar exercise, you’re primarily focusing on demographics — those quantifiable, external things about a person. But when people fall in love with branding, become a fan of your business, or make a decision to buy, they’re doing that from a place of identity, not logic, and certainly not demographic indicators.

…and that’s why you need psychographics

If you really want to get someone’s attention, develop a relationship with them, and make them want to buy from you, you need to approach them in a way that confirms their perception of their identity. (Which is such a powerful force that people will actually act against their self-interests rather than do something that goes against their identity. Homo economicus, you’re out.)

And to tap into a person’s identity, you need to get a sense of their psychographics — their beliefs, feelings, and assumptions, and why they have them.

Sounds great! So how do I figure all that stuff out?

It’s not as easy as going through a checklist, and there’s no foolproof, six-step template for it (see: “not pod people”).

But that doesn’t mean that you have to fly blind, trying out thing after thing until you finally hit on that magic combination of words and ideas that light your people up…because they’ll tell you, if you know how to listen.

Start with some empirical research

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in trying to figure your target market out is doing it in a vacuum — this guarantees that whatever you come up with is going to be biased towards your own perceptions. Instead of working from the inside out, starting with your own guesses about your clients and learning the hard way whether they’re right or not, start with some objectively verifiable data.

Find out where your people hang out, both online and offline, go there, and <em<listen

And by this, I mean where they actually spend their time. Not relatively general Facebook groups, not generic Twitter chats. Find places that are going to be incredibly specific to them because of their industry, their problems, or where their clients hang out — because chances are, you’ll find them there too, pitching.

Once you’re there, don’t fish for business, or post things like “Hey XYZ-type people, I’m doing some research on my client avatar, what are your problems?” Just listen to what’s being said both explicitly and implicitly, and track any topics you see coming up again and again. This is not a one afternoon thing — you want to do this for at least two weeks to gather enough data.

Once you have an idea of the lay of the land, analyze your repeat topics through three questions:

1. What is this really about?

Try to get below the surface and figure out what this topic is really about for your people. For instance, if you’re constantly seeing people post about wanting a VA, is it because they feel overwhelmed, or because all their business friends are getting one, or because they think they need a VA, when really they need an accountant? What’s the bottom line of both the reality and the belief behind this issue?

Knowing this will help you figure out the language you need to use to share your message and services with them, and makes a great starting point for an about page.

2. Where does it come from?

What beliefs, assumptions, and needs underlie these issues? Are they actually true? If so, where do those needs overlap with your message and your services?

This gives you insight into their beliefs, the chance to debunk false assumptions (and show off your expertise), and guidance on how to tap into your clients’ aspirations.

3. What are the stakes?

What happens to your people if they solve this issue? What happens if they don’t? What do their life and business look like next month if this issue persists? What about next year? And how do you fit into that equation?

Knowing this not only helps you focus on the things your people really need help with, it also gives you a starting point for talking about these issues in sales copy.

It all comes down to this

Genuinely effective business communication is a balancing act between your message and how your audience needs to hear it. To figure that out, you need to know your people inside and out.

It takes time. It’s not a simple process I can upsell you in a 45-minute webinar. But it’s worth it. Because ultimately, you don’t need a client avatar. You need a human-to-human relationship — and there’s just no way to get that from a stick-figure sketch.

How to Transition Your Entrepreneurial Brain “Off the Clock” When You Work From Home

turn your brain off

turn your brain off

Working from home, how I love thee! Let me count the ways: I can wear pajamas, I can work at the table, in bed, or on the couch, I can take breaks to walk or shower, I can sing along to music, I can even drink a glass of wine while writing a blog post!

The list goes on, and make no mistake, there are many great things about working from home. But the appeal of wearing what you want and working from your bedroom hides the fact that working from home presents unique challenges.

It’s incredibly easy to get distracted. It can feel lonely and isolating. But what’s especially tricky is this: Without coworkers beside you, it’s hard to tell when the work day starts and when it ends.

The personal is professional

When you are your business, the personal and professional are almost the same thing. When you spend so much time thinking, daydreaming, talking, and planning your business(es), being “off the clock” becomes a foreign concept.

This is especially true when you work from home (this may resonate with students as well as entrepreneurs). When your home is your office, you know that you could always be working. This can create the toxic habit of feeling like you’re never not working…and that treadmill always leads to exhaustion and burnout.

The separation of home and work

If you have trouble getting “off the clock”, I feel you. I spent months this past summer feeling the constant, low-level anxiety that I wasn’t done. Five o’clock would come and I’d go from typing an email on my bed to typing an email in my kitchen, while I tab-switched to a recipe and cooked dinner. There was no physical difference between being at work and being at home, and that made it hard for me to switch gears from professional time to personal time. As a result, all my time felt like a confusing and exhausting combination of both.

This is perhaps the most challenging thing about working from home: separating “work time” from “not work time” when both happen in the same place. When you work in an office, your brain and body understand that it’s a workplace where you get work done. When you leave the office and commute home, it signals to your brain and body that the work day is done and that it’s time to relax. Even if you take work home with you, it’s in your personal space and you’re choosing to do it.

But when The Office is wherever we happen to be sitting in the house, the brain and body receive no external cues that the workday is over and it’s time to relax. Even if we switch from professional tasks to personal ones, we give ourselves no chance to recalibrate. That’s why we might still feel like we’re working while we eat dinner or watch a movie. Without a clear transition, our energy never switches from “on the clock” to “off the clock.”

The solution: Create transitions for your brain and body

So what do we do? We must create other ways to transition from professional into personal time. Here are five effective ways I’ve found to do this:

1. Meditation: Ending my workday by listening to a meditation is a rejuvenating exercise that I always look forward to. The stillness I find in meditation has truly transformed how I feel during my evenings “off the clock.” It helps ease my mind and body from any tension I hold from the day, and signals very clearly that we’re going from one way of being (work) to another (not-work). Try ending your workday with a guided meditation from Insight Timer. My favorite is Guided Meditation and Deep Relaxation, because the meditation closes with an invitation to gently come out of the exercise. For more on meditation, read A Beginner’s Journey with Meditation and Becoming 10% Happier.

2. Walk: For many people, stillness is best found in movement. We spend a lot of time with our bodies sitting and our minds whirring. It’s energizing and healthy to flip that script and to let our minds settle by moving our bodies. Try ending your workday with a 30-minute walk around your neighborhood. Sometimes I listen to a podcast for my walk, but often I prefer to walk in silence and see where my mind goes. (Note: If your mind goes to work, that’s okay! Processing work thoughts while walking can be a great way to end your work day.)

3. Clothing: A simple but powerful signal to the mind and body is changing clothes. Try ending your workday by changing from your “work clothes” (even if they are sweatpants!) into a different set of clothes. If you were wearing pajamas, put on jeans before you go for your walk!

4. Snack/drink: Another way to transition is to have a designated snack or drink. Make it something you look forward to: something tasty or special, that you don’t consume during the workday. This act signals to your brain that you’re done transitioning from one way of being to another. Try ending your workday by eating a cookie or making yourself a cocktail.

5. Say it: This transition is excruciatingly simple: When you’re finished working, say the word “done.” According to this research, this simple act can have a big impact by signaling to your brain that something is complete.

We are our keepers

It will take time to form the habit of closing your work day with a transition ritual. Repetition is what teaches our brains to associate walking or sweatpants with work being over. Try choosing one transition and trying it as often as you can for a month. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t immediately feel your mind settling down. Patience and self-kindness is key!

No one disputes the benefits of meditation or exercise, but it can still be hard to make them a priority. There are a lot of articles out there extolling the importance of working hard and hustling, and they can make it seem like any time spent resting is time wasted.

Thankfully, more and more research is coming out that that shows that rest, play, and time off are as important to our health as sleep, healthy food, and exercise. This is not really “news”: It is a central concept in athletic training that rest is critical for muscles to repair themselves. Similarly, giving ourselves dedicated time off work is critical for our success. It is in rest that our minds have the space to make connections and process ideas. We are our best when we put as much thought and dedication into rest and relaxation as we do into hard work.

Still, it takes courage and discipline to make “not work” as much of a priority as “work.” We must remind ourselves and each other that work is not better than rest and rest is not lazy. What we ambitious, motivated, creative solopreneurs must do is deliberately set aside time when we’re not working. There are many healthy reasons to do this (physical health, mental health, and more) but if nothing else, remember this: Scheduling rest is good for the health of our business.

Unplugging: Your Key to Disconnection as a 24/7 Businesswoman

unplugging

unplugging

You can see from the title that this is all about disconnect. Don’t take that the wrong way. I don’t mean disconnect between people — interpersonal connection makes the business world go round.

This here is specifically about a different kind of disconnect.

Disconnection: Turning your digital connection off. You know…unplugging.

(That means phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, emails, Tweets, Facebook, Trello, Slack, and anything digitally business-related.)

If this jars against every business particle of your being, don’t worry. Take a deep breath. It’s not so frightening.

Remember: Your solopreneur venture won’t go bust overnight if you take a time out and get a great night’s sleep.

It seems simple on paper, but we all know the lure of email and Trello; the power socket right next to your bedside table where you charge your phone; the promise of client interaction and the certainty of a future in business.

Is it possible to switch off and disconnect from the digital sphere for a while and not lose momentum? What harm can a quick email at midnight do?

Take my example. I’m blessed/cursed with a brain that never shuts off, particularly when I’m trying to go to sleep. (I suspect plenty of you have the same encumbrance.) Apparently the best time to come up with new blog ideas and social media campaign plans is when my head hits the pillow.

Because…“reasons”, as Twitter would say.

Typically, when these ideas would strike, I’d roll over, grab my phone and note them down in Wunderlist. During my hasty scribbling, I’d see my email ping.

“Maybe it’s a client. I should just check that out quick.”

I’d read the email and my overactive grey matter immediately constructed a response, so I’d reply there and then. While I was writing that, I’d start making a plan to resolve the issue. I’d think about who else I had to email to make it happen. I’d remember something else and fix that too.

You can see the trend here. I wasn’t losing hours on YouTube or scrolling through Pinterest — I was being productive. But I was still losing hours that my body and brain needed to disengage and heal.

Being a solopreneur can consume your life, pixel by pixel. All hours are working hours. It’s the downtime we struggle to fit in, not the hard grit.

My addiction to work nearly broke me. I was plagued by headaches at all hours of the day. Everything hurt and sometimes it would evolve into a full body shut down with violent nausea, photosensitivity, horrific pain and general incapacity. I’m predisposed to migraines anyway, but they were spiralling out of control.

My perma-headache also meant I never got any sleep, so I tossed and turned, checked my emails, suffered my headaches and wondered when the pain was going to end.

I’d read somewhere that blue light affects your circadian rhythms and had dismissed it as another bubble-wrap response to the human condition. It couldn’t have that much of an effect, surely?

Wrong.

Consider this: Disconnection isn’t a matter of personal habit. It’s a matter of health and wellbeing.

Eventually my 24/7 brain and crippling headaches brought me to my knees. Pain medication wasn’t taking the edge off and I didn’t want to get addicted.

At my wits end, I figured I’d try ditching my phone (and blue light) for just a little while. I wasn’t producing any worthwhile work in that condition so I wasn’t losing anything.

You might’ve guessed, but the cure was almost miraculous.

I still get headaches but they’re so infrequent that I forget them. I am falling asleep quickly when it used to take three hours. I am sleeping soundly and not waking through the night. I am powering through my work every day, all the way up to bedtime, but I have a golden rule:

Once I’m in bed, the phone turns off and I don’t touch it again until I rise the next day.

Everyone is different and electrical blue light will affect everyone to varying degrees. Some gadgets are designed to eliminate blue light, which is fantastic up to a point.

But that means you’ve still got your business brain on when you’re in bed, the one place in the world you need to relax entirely and recharge yourself (figuratively speaking).

Turn your phone off. And your computer. And your tablet. (I see you trying to squirrel it away.)

I’m not saying burn all your electricals, pack up, move to the forest and become an off-the-grid spoon whittler. We’re solopreneurs and every client is in some way digital now. We can’t work (for long) without social media and the internet.

However, we’re also human and we aren’t designed to function 24/7. Working for yourself is great, but you need to be able to enjoy it or you’ll lose motivation, determination, and heart.

Clients also deserve a little more credit. They understand the world is round and timezones don’t always sync up. If they really have a problem with you sleeping, maybe they aren’t a client worth keeping.

Your business truly won’t end if you don’t respond to emails immediately.

You also get the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes. When working on a blog, I’ll write a draft, abandon it for at least a few hours, and revisit it. Re-engaging with my work with a different mindset shows me where I can improve and what needs changing. This applies to any kind of work.

Getting sleep, even if only for a few hours, will condition you for the day ahead. You’ll be happier, healthier and more productive.

The better you feel, the better your work will be. The better your work is, the better you’ll feel.

The only missing component is getting some shut-eye, and if all it takes is switching your phone off for a few hours, it’s very much within reach.

P.S. Rest does not equal rust.

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