How To Talk To Family About Being a Solopreneur

“So you’re between jobs?”

“Don’t worry, something solid will come up.”

“Having a 9-to-5 is the only way to get a mortgage, you know.”

“Don’t you want job security?”

“I guess you’re on a journey of ‘self-discovery’, right?”

If these quotes sound like your last family gathering, then you’re not alone.

Explaining your solopreneur venture to your family can be like trying to explain algebra to a trilobite. (That’s an extinct marine arthropod, FYI.) The idea of talking work at Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or whatever it happens to be can fill solopreneurs with dread.

You haven’t got a “normal” answer. You can’t answer with a one word job title because you’re a saleswoman, a marketer, an accountant, a visionary, and an investor…all in one.

At best, being a solopreneur is brave, and at worst, it’s career suicide — according to family.

Explaining your vocation to your family will be different for everyone; no one family is the same. Levels of support vary and mindsets change.

First thing’s first: Take a deep breath. You aren’t alone.

Upsetting the apple cart

I know the struggle.

I moved to a place where there were no starter jobs. It was a place populated with the semi-retired. Moving again wasn’t an option and I spent months trying to land jobs that weren’t quite right for me. I had hundreds of rejections.

It was soul-destroying.

I knew in my gut that my writing ability was exceptional. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t got a mathematical bone in my body, but words? I can do that. I was also well-educated and published in several newspapers.

But I was never the right fit. Not enough years behind a desk. Not enough willingness to subscribe to the outdated keyword-stuffing SEO ideas that still run this city.

Despite this, my personal blogs were getting shared and commented on. I was the go-to for friends who needed something written, so why was the corporate world so dead set against me?

One day, I snapped. They didn’t want me, so I didn’t want them.

I discovered the world of copywriting, an industry I — somehow — never knew existed.

I realized this was my gig. I could rock this.

I hit the ground running and got my first few clients in the first month.

My family’s response?

“At least you’ve got something until a proper job comes up.”

I felt the confidence bubble deflate like a cartoon balloon. You could almost hear the sad whizzing noise.

It took me a while to realise they weren’t being mean. Of course they weren’t, they’re my family.

Understand their mindset

They wanted what was best for me and could only express that by chiding me, trying to nudge me in the direction of a safe, secure 9-to-5.

Remember…a lot of these naysayers — parents, grandparents, extended family — spent their working lives as small cogs in big machines. They could only achieve success by joining a company young and staying there until they retired, slowly climbing the rank ladder.

There was little room for career moves, and entrepreneurship belonged only to those who could afford to be idle. In other words…it only happened to other people.

They don’t get it. They’re not being malicious, they’re just confused and worried.

Be confident

The best way to assuage their fears is to be confident.

Know exactly what you’re doing and be proud of it. If you’re unflappable, they’re more likely to realize they don’t need to fret.

You never know. A cousin might be belittling your work because they’re envious of your bravery and wish they could do what you do.

Be honest

One of the biggest stigmas associated with entrepreneurship is the risk factor.

There’s no point tiptoeing around it. Working for yourself has pitfalls a normal office job doesn’t.

You write your own paychecks and that can either be the best thing ever — or the worst.

Don’t deny it. Acknowledge the risk and explain that you are confident in what you do; you’re thriving despite the fear factor. If you make it clear that you aren’t blind to the risks, or simply ignoring them, you’ll seem far more competent.

Be encouraging

Explaining your business in a single breath and then changing the subject can give off a vibe of uncertainty. You might sound threatened or hostile.

Be open! If someone has questions, answer them.

Channel a little of that saleswoman flair and sell your work.

Your Uncle Jim’s questions that were meant to cut you down might change to genuine curiosity. How wonderful would that be?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Reaching out for support from family might seem like you’re admitting defeat.

Remember being a solopreneur is just that — solo. It can be very lonely and you don’t have colleagues to cheer you up on a bad day.

There is no shame in soliciting support from your family. Tell them how amazing your work is, but acknowledge that you sometimes go for days without connecting to the outside world. Admit that being your only advocate can be tiring.

When they realize how much you’re willing to sacrifice for your dream, they’ll be far more likely to offer a helping hand or a hug — without the whisper of, “I told you so.”

You’re in control, but you could use a sympathetic ear. That’s no different from someone in an office job suffering from burnout.

The uncertainty and quips about “real work” mostly stem from misinformation. If you break down that barrier in a calm, friendly way, you’ll never have to worry about awkward, talking-to-a-brick-wall moments at family gatherings ever again.

(Yes, they’ll still worry. They’re your family.)

But they’ll also be happy for you, and when you work for yourself, that counts for a lot.

P.S. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, our family plays a huge factor in our solopreneur sanity.

4 Simple SEO Tips to Optimize Your Content and Attract Your Ideal Client

Using SEO effectively can seem like a headache. Keywords? Links? Content marketing? I’ve been there. If you’re a small business owner, you have enough on your plate, and learning about SEO can seem like more trouble than it’s worth.

But SEO is so much more than a marketing strategy. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is simply helping Google understand your site so that you can easily connect with people who are already seeking the solutions you offer. It’s a necessary foundation for your brand or business, not an online “trick” that requires endless research.

In fact, according to Search Engine Land, SEO is considered one of the most cost-effective digital marketing practices to grow your business. And, let’s face it — you’ve likely invested hundreds to thousands of dollars on designing your brand and developing your website, but is it worth the investment if no one can find it?

Here are four quick ways you can utilize SEO to find your dream clients and elevate your business in an authentic, non-salesy way.

1. Keep a list of Frequently Asked Questions from your target audience.

Keep an ongoing list of questions that continuously pop up among your target audience. You could find these questions in Facebook Groups, past client consultations, in replies to your email newsletter, or even while taking a class at the gym.

Use these questions for content inspiration. Answer them on an easy-to-access landing page or turn them into blog posts. Pay attention to the specific language your potential clients use and the way the questions are asked. Word questions and your answers in a way that you could see your clients Googling them. If you have Google Analytics set up on your website, you can see which Google searches have led people to your website, and form questions out of those phrases.

2. Take time to use categories and tags effectively.

When it comes to that “tags” box you see when creating a blog post in WordPress, do you fill it with related terms you think of on the fly? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. But it’s time to get organized! Think of categories as the top level, main topics of your blog. Then think of tags as supporting keywords. Choose 5-6 main categories and only a handful of tags for each category. For example, a main category could be “Fitness” and supporting tags could be “muscle recovery,” “at home workout,” and “activewear.”

3. Use Yoast and fill in your metadata.

Metadata is mostly behind-the-scenes data that helps a search engine understand and rank your site. The preview text that appears in search engine results when someone sees your site link is comprised of metadata. Take a few extra minutes to fill in the title tag, meta description and alt tags of your posts. The Yoast SEO plugin makes these updates, and therefore upping your SEO game, much easier.

4. Audit and update your old content.

If you’ve had a blog for more than a few months, chances are you already have a ton of content. In order to make sure your website is working for you, and not the other way around, go through your old content and see which posts and pages could be improved.

Find which posts are your best and make sure they’re properly tagged and categorized. Edit any content that is outdated or no longer relevant. Auditing your content will make sure your site is full of high-quality, valuable content for your readers. For more ideas, check out my post on 50 ways to give an old post new life.

SEO doesn’t have to be so hard

For many solopreneurs, SEO remains an elusive concept that’s just out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be. The four quick tips above are just a few examples of how you can optimize your site for search engines and make it easier for more of your ideal clients to find you.

Content might be king…

but it doesn’t have to rule your world. Drop your email below to get even more great tips on content as a solo business owner!

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How to Write the Perfect Guest Post Pitch

Guest posting is one of those things that everybody thinks they probably should be doing more of…but the whole process of putting a guest post pitch together can seem daunting. And the truth is, you can spend a lot of time and energy pitching guest posts that never pan out if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Good news: You can make the process much, much easier if you know how to write a decent cold pitch — and once you do start landing those posts, you can leverage those posts into a serious asset for your business.

It starts with knowing whether you should be pitching at all.

As you may have noticed, the Internet has become a much busier place these past couple of years. Which means that people don’t have a whole hell of a lot of mental bandwidth to spare.

You need to get a really good sense of whether a blog is even accepting pitches and guest posts before you take the time to write your pitch. There’s no particular secret to know here; most places that are accepting posts will have a page explicitly stating that.

If you can’t find it on their site, do a quick Google search along the lines of “[Site you want to guest post for] guest posting” and see if something comes up. Otherwise, check out their archives and social media feeds to see if they have any guest posts featured. If there’s nothing to let you know either way, then go ahead and pitch, if you really think that your idea is a fit. Just go into the process knowing that it’s a toss up.

OK, so you’ve decided it’s a go. Now what?

Now you write an email that gives them just enough information about you to know whether you’re a fit for their audience, piques their interest and shows off your expertise in the topic, and tells them that you’re not going to be a pain to work with.

Start out with a very clear subject line — something along the lines of “Guest post proposal — [your specific topic]”

Then (after you double extra check that you’ve spelled the person’s name right in your greeting), write a short intro paragraph where you talk about who you are and what your business is, as well as your particular reasons for being attracted to their business/blog/this chance to guest post.

Now that you’ve got their attention, add in a very short paragraph about why you’re a good fit for their audience. Here’s where you get to show off how great you are, plus how well you know their business and their audience.

Then introduce your idea. While it’s fine to pitch with just one idea, I usually like to include two or more and let them choose. This ups your chances of getting a yes and lets you highlight a couple different areas of expertise.

End by offering to provide alternative ideas just in case those don’t work, and give them clear next steps.

It’s all about making it as easy as possible for them to say yes.

You’ve got the pieces — now what does that look like, all put together?

Here’s an anonymized example of an email I pitched a while back that landed me a guest post within a few hours:

Subject: Guest post proposal — copy and content

Email:

Hi NAME,

I’m Rachel Allen, and I run the creative agency Bolt from the Blue Copywriting. I’ve had the biggest business crush on BIZ NAME ever since the first round of COOL THING YOU DID — the mix of lifting people up to be their best + the firmly grounded anti-bullshit stance really does it for me.

I write about voice, branding, copy, and content from a similar stance, and was wondering if you’re currently accepting guest posts? If so, I’d love to do one for you.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

A rallying cry for being a better human as you write (that also skewers the whole cottage industry that’s developed around quickie, template-based content).

or

A post about how access to other people’s brainspace is a privilege, with the main focus being on how you’re spam until you prove otherwise.

If neither of those ring your bell, I’m happy to come up with alternative ideas. If one or both does sound good to you, I can also send over outlines (or a completed article) if you want to move forward. I could have the article to you next week or an outline tomorrow.

Let me know what you think, and of course, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.

Thanks!
Rachel

So…what do you do if you don’t hear back?

Give it a little time. Like I said, people are busy. If it’s been a week and you haven’t heard a word, then it’s time to follow up. Keep it short and low pressure, just checking in like the responsible guest poster you are. Something along the lines of,

Hi [Name],

Hope you’ve had a great start to your week! I wanted to follow up on my guest post proposal from last week. Did you have any questions or need any more information from me?

Thanks!
[Your Name]

What do you do if you do hear back and it’s a no?

It’s always disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world. If you do hear back and it’s a no, it’s totally fine to email back thanking them for their time and either giving a short alternative pitch or asking them if there’s a similar idea they’d like you to post on.

This does not mean that you ask them for feedback on your pitch, get upset and say weird things to them, or badger them to reconsider. Remember, people are busy, and nothing will get you mentally blacklisted faster than coming into this process with a sense of entitlement.

A few final do’s and don’ts:

  • Do triple check that you’re sending it to the right person and you’ve spelled their name right. If they have pitching guidelines posted somewhere, follow them. You’d be amazed at how many people ignore them entirely, so if you can get this simple thing right, you’ll have already made yourself stand out.
  • Don’t use hesitant language — anything along the lines of “just”, “I think”, “sorry”, etc. If you struggle with this, this is the plugin for you. And it goes without saying, but don’t have typos in your pitch, don’t pitch something you can’t follow through on, and don’t be a jerk if the answer is no.

So remember:

When hoping to land a guest post on a dream site, start off by figuring out whether you should be pitching at all. Follow any and all guidelines they give you to the letter. Write a concise, convincing email that makes it as easy as possible for them to say yes. Check in if you need to, and don’t take it personally if the answer’s a no — because it might not be a no forever.

P.S. Did you know that One Woman Shop accepts guest posts? It’s just one of the ways you can be featured on the site.

Launch Like a Pro: 8 Steps to Beta Test Your Online Course Idea

Online courses: The possibility (and profitability) that comes with creating one can have a huge impact on how you run your solopreneur business.

In fact, most entrepreneurs and professional bloggers today agree that online courses are an important element for any solopreneur who wants more time to innovate, wants to be seen as an expert in their field, and who wants to shatter the revenue ceiling by creating a product once that can be sold many times over.

As an instructional designer that worked for over a decade at universities and corporations and more recently with entrepreneurs, I’ve launched hundreds of online courses and educational programs in a wide range of topics. Throughout these diverse launches, I’ve found that one of the single most effective steps in having a successful online course launch that brings many of the aforementioned possibilities (and profits) is to beta test your online course first.

There are countless benefits to beta testing, or piloting, your course, including:

  • Getting to know your students more intimately before launching to a bigger audience
  • Witnessing the transformation that your course content actually causes in other people
  • Collecting case studies or testimonials
  • Determining how much interaction will be needed from you during the Big Launch
  • Getting cash flow in order to make additional purchases for the Big Launch
  • Increasing your profit margin during the Big Launch

As I’ve begun working with entrepreneurs, however, I’ve noticed that a surprising few add this critical phase to their course creation process. By skipping this beta phase, you might find that you have devoted all of your energy for days, weeks, or months building a product that nobody actually wants. I’m going to guess you don’t have time for that. Am I right? Keep reading to find out how to beta test your online course to validate your idea and launch like a pro.

How to beta test your online course in 8 steps

While there are no hard and fast rules for establishing successful pilot courses, I’ve found these eight steps to be quite effective:

1. Define your goals.
I don’t know who said it first, but one key to business is to “fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often.” Your beta test period is your opportunity to do just that, but you will need to define goals before you can decide if your course idea succeeded or failed.

Determining goals for your beta launch will depend on what success looks like for you. Are you hoping to get a certain amount of people to purchase, to make a certain amount in revenue, or to collect a set amount of feedback or testimonials? Take a few minutes and write specific goals you can use these to determine whether your beta test succeeded — and if you should continue with the Big Launch.

2. Define and build your beta audience.
Since the beta phase is a time to check and validate your course idea without spending a whole lot of time or money, you may choose to select an audience that you already have access to.

For example, if you host a podcast, run a community, or have an email list, then reach out to this audience — or a subset of it — first. If you don’t have an audience, consider partnering with someone else and working with them to pilot your course.

3. Create your timeline and outline content.
Consider keeping a short timeline. From what I’ve seen in the corporate world, the average pilot course is about 30 days, but it’s good to stay flexible during a beta launch. A successful pilot course usually strikes a balance between structure and experimentation. Be prepared to cut it short or expand the test phase as you experiment with what works.

As you plan the timeline, prepare a brief outline of what content will be covered as the beta progresses.

4. Create course materials.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to create the course materials that you will use during the beta launch. Some creators choose to build out the entire course prior to piloting it, while others choose to meet live with their beta testers each week to get feedback before continuing creation.

Whichever you choose, this is also the time to create any Facebook Groups, Slack channels, presentations, pre-recorded videos, or anything else that will be used to teach — and collect feedback — during the pilot.

5. Price and soft launch your beta course.
This is probably the piece that most people worry about when it comes to pre-selling their courses: the actual soft launch.

This involves packaging up your course idea, your promised results, providing an outline of the content to be covered, pricing your course, and creating a sales page that people can use to pay for and enroll in your beta. (Yes, I do recommend that you sell your beta course, even at a discount. This adds value to the experience and is the only way to truly know if people will be open to paying for your Big Launch.)

Does the thought of selling your beta test scare you? Don’t let it: Make it clear to your audience that this is a pilot; a pre-launch; a test course. Although they will expect value, they will not expect perfection.

6. Collect feedback.
Feedback from your students can be extremely valuable during the pilot phase. It can be used to determine what people are willing to pay, the most feasible length, or the additional training videos or worksheets that you need to create before launching your course.

Of course, it’s virtually impossible to implement these suggestions unless you’ve captured this feedback in some way. Many course beta testers create Facebook Groups, or record webinars and video chats to capture this feedback. Be sure to prepare succinct questions to ask your betas to collect the information that will prove move valuable to you in your Big Launch.

7. Document results.
When purchasing a course, there are very few elements that are as convincing as seeing proof of the results promised. The pilot course is the perfect opportunity to gather these results.

Are you promising an increase in blog traffic; an increase in revenue; a faster, easier way to get the results they want? Have your pilot students document before and after pictures, graphs, screenshots…any proof points that show their results, and secure their permission to use them as testimonials and case studies for your Big Launch.

8. Evaluate your pilot.
Based on your original defined goals, you can determine if your pilot course was successful or not. If the beta is successful, prepare to relaunch the course with the new insights you received from the pilot. And even if the beta is not seen to be successful, there may be even more useful lessons on how to improve or refine your future initiatives.

Launch like a pro

Once you have completed these steps, or some version of this, you’ll be able to gain a good pulse on the type of student that’s best suited for your course, the amount of time an average dedicated student will need to complete the activities, and what results might be expected — all fantastic information for nailing your Big Launch.

The benefits that come when you beta test your online course don’t end there, though. With targeted feedback to improve your course, you’ll likely be able to raise your prices, launch with raving testimonials, and secure confidence that your course will have a real transformational impact on the lives of those who take it.

P.S. If you create it, will they pay for it? Get even more on beta testing here.

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.

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