How to Fit Learning Into Every Day as a Solopreneur

fit learning into everyday

How to Fit Learning Into Every Day as a Solopreneur

Be honest: you know the value of learning new things but have been putting off learning said new skills because you never seem to have enough hours in the day.

I get it.

They don’t call you a One Woman Shop for no reason—not only are you running a business or side hustle, you’re trying to grow it, too. Add a couple kids to mix and there’s no doubt about it, you have little in the way of spare time.

But here’s the thing: In order to grow your business, you have to put effort into growing yourself (which is ultimately your most valuable business asset).

So, how do you fit learning into your already jam-packed day as a solopreneur?

Start here: Know what you need

For starters, it’s best to avoid information overload. We all know how much of a rabbit hole Google can turn into. When you set out on a mission to learn something new, make sure it’s relevant for your business and can be put to good use immediately.

Once you’ve gotten clear on what you want to learn, it’s easier to sort out the ‘when.’

How to fit learning in without stress

Getting into the habit of weaving learning into your day to day is the key to adding more to your knowledge bank, but you won’t be able to enjoy it if it’s just another thing that stresses you out.

Focus on this: When you make learning part of your daily routine, it means you don’t have to find an extended period of time to sit down and study — which means every day will the be right time to learn, and it’ll be hard to find an excuse not to.

Here are a few simple strategies to fit learning into your everyday, no matter how busy the schedule:

1. Don’t overcomplicate it

Learning doesn’t always have to be formal. Sometimes, learning can be done through experience. You gain knowledge with each daily task that you master, and you’re constantly storing those experiences away in your head.

In order to make the most of your on-the-job experience, why not:

  • Join a relevant Facebook group, where you can chat with your peers about what you’ve learned that day, discuss any challenges or even ask questions in real-time
  • Journal (in the method that works best for you) immediately after a success or failure, making notes on what you did that made it work or not

Not only are you making sure the lessons learned stick, but you’re also creating your own insider instruction manual based on your experiences, so it’s customized for you.

2. Approach your learning in small doses

Do you drink water? Of course you do.

Do you ever skip out on drinking water because you’re too busy? Probably not. You probably make a point to drink water throughout the day — in small doses.

Same thing can work for learning.

No one ever said you had to sit down and learn all the things, all at once.

Find spots in your daily routines that have downtime and can double up as learning sessions, like:

  • Listening to podcasts while making dinner (a personal favorite of mine)
  • Watching documentaries on topics you want to learn more about (educating and entertaining!)
  • Making your browser homepage that of your favorite learning resource, so you’re constantly reminded and it becomes habitual

When you link learning to repetitive, everyday tasks, you can turn the mundane into mini power sessions. The more you associate learning with your daily routine, the more learning becomes a habit.

3. Stop scrolling

You probably don’t want to admit just how addicted you are to scrolling on your smartphone. (We’re all in the same boat, I’m sure.)

But if you look at the fact that the average person checks their phone about 46 times a day, most of which happens during leisure time or meals, then there is more than enough time to squeeze in a few micro lessons every single day.

Think of giving up some of your scrolling time as you would the ‘latte factor’. When you spend money on little everyday things that don’t truly bring value to your life (like your daily latte, unless it does, of course) cutting those small expenses and redirecting the funds to something else can really add up.

Instead of scrolling through feeds on your downtime, try:

Smartphones are basically a pocket-sized computer. If you can manage certain aspects of your business and workload on the go while using your phone, then you can certainly harness the power of your smartphone for higher learning, too.

Off to you: will you use any of these strategies to weave learning into your solo business, every day? What other tips and tricks can you share that we missed?

P.S. It’s important to note, again: You are your most valuable business asset, solopreneur. With that in mind, know this: Rest does not equal rust.

The Most Underrated Educational Resource for Your Business

educational business resource

educational business resource

Let me guess: You have spent maybe a couple hundred (or thousands) of dollars on the shiniest, newest online course. Or perhaps you have put down close to a hundred bucks for a new workshop that promises to solve all your problems. Yet you are still in the same place that you were before you purchased these digital goodies. What’s the deal?

I have a strong suspicion that it all comes down to not truly implementing (or even consuming) the information from these resources — and I have an idea of why that is.

No, it is not that you are lazy or undisciplined. In fact, it’s pretty common for digital products to gather proverbial dust. In my opinion, it’s actually that you’re using the wrong resource.

The good news? The solution is more obvious than you think. It’s simple: Turn back to the printed book.

Here is a list of reasons why physical stands to beat digital:

1. The price can’t be beat

You absolutely cannot beat the price of a book. There are so many books that you can get for free at a local library. Even if you want your own copy, it rarely costs you more than $25 from a retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. (Talk about a huge relief after you’ve spent $2,000 on that last online course.)

2. They offer a break from the screen

If you are anything like me, you stare at screens all day. After I am done with client work, the last thing I want to do is look at the screen. Books are a relief for me; I am getting information without straining my eyes.

3. They’re completely portable

I don’t know about you, but my back is always in pain after I lug my laptop anywhere. The best part about a book is that it’s completely portable. You can take it with you pretty much anywhere without risking a trip to the chiropractor. You also don’t have the stress of trying to find a plug to charge your equipment or a wifi network with a strong enough signal. The best part? You can multitask while reading a book. You can read it while you are on the treadmill or while you are waiting in line at the grocery store.

4. You can go your own pace

When I am watching a live class, I feel like I don’t have time to digest all the information, and I almost certainly feel that way when I am reading an ebook on my computer. Something about reading a physical book slows me down. I can look up from my book and think about what I read. If I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information I am reading, I can put my book down and mark my place with my bookmark. I can leave at any time and immediately pick up where I left off. No more waiting ten more minutes for the video to finish or trying to find where you left off in your ebook.

5. You can mark up those margins

I love writing in the margins of my books. It helps me engage with the information and remember it. There is also the added benefit of being able to just open your book and immediately find the most pertinent parts (because you underlined them). As an added bonus, you will have your notes all in one place! You will no longer have to flip through all your notebooks to find the notes or go through all the Post-Its on your desk.

6. Endless information

Of course, I must not forget the most important part of reading books: getting information. There is no point in reading if you are not learning something (whether it is about yourself or your business). If you are looking for information on a topic, I can guarantee there is a book out there about it. The sky’s the limit! Also, unlike Wikipedia, the odds are good that the book’s information will be correct (at least, if it has been traditionally published).

Recommended business reads

There you have it, a list of reasons to take a note from Belle and visit your local library. Who knows? You might have a happily ever after for your business fairytale.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few books that I recommend for solopreneurs:

  • Get Rich, Lucky Bitch! by Denise Duffield-Thomas: Are you struggling with money? Do you feel like you are constantly pinching pennies? This book will help you feel like you are rich, even if you bank account tells you otherwise.
  • Creative, Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho and Meg Mateo Ilasco: This was the first business book that I ever read, and it pretty much changed my life. If you are a freelancer, this book will give you everything you need to get your business off the ground.
  • Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon: Want to stand out from the crowd? This book gives great advice on how to be original and make a splash.

Keep learning

Learning is imperative as a solopreneur. But it doesn’t have to mean spending thousands of dollars or mastering tech. Go old school with the printed book and soak up all the new information that’s suddenly at your fingertips.

P.S. A quick note from the editor: We <3 books here at One Woman Shop. Check out some of our #OWSBookClub reads here.

Learn How to Code: The Why and the How

learn to code

Learn How To Code

Learning to code is more than just a passing trend right now. Because of that, there’s been a small explosion of startups teaching people essential digital skills; especially ones aimed at women. With options galore, where is it safe to start? As always, with the why.

Why would you want to learn how to code?

Technology is everywhere. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop. Soon, lots of people will be wearing smartwatches while driving their smart cars around their smart cities.

Lots of people’s jobs already depend on technology, and that number is only increasing. Even if yours doesn’t, it’s important for everyone to reclaim their right to have mastery over the technology that governs our lives.

How learning to code enabled me to become a solopreneur

Learning to code can open previously closed doors. This is especially helpful for those seeking to balance their work with family life, or others who are returning to the working world after time away.

For me, learning to code was one of the crucial milestones that enabled me to leave my 9-5 job and embark on my career as a freelance blogger in tech. Prior to this, I’d been working full-time in digital communications, and I was certainly never ‘techie.’

To build my professional confidence, I learned to code for free with a non-profit, UK-based organization called Code First: Girls. During these courses, I also gained experience in collaborating with others to build websites. Even when the work was very difficult, our shared goal motivated each of us to complete our project.

The new knowledge gained gave me a strong dose of confidence and helped me to understand the tech and startup industry for the first time. Because of that, I picked tech as my blogging niche, and have since been learning as much as I can about the industry. I was able take blogging, which I had been doing for free for years, and make a career out of it.

As a result, I recently quit my job to take the plunge as a full-time freelance tech blogger. So, let’s overcome one of society’s most ridiculous stereotypes, which is that only white male ‘nerds’ can understand computers, and all start learning to code!

Different types of coding skills you can learn — and the purpose each serves

“Learn how to code.” That’s a lofty goal, no doubt, and it can be overwhelming to consider all your different options – especially if you don’t know which language you want to learn.

Many people find it helpful to start with HTML and CSS, which are the front-end coding languages of websites. They are probably the simplest ones to pick up as they’re responsible for styling the visual elements of webpages, and require little-to-no understanding of programming.

As a solopreneur, learning HTML and CSS will give you a lot more confidence when you’re trying to set up your own website, because even if you use a website platform like WordPress or pay a developer to build your site, you’ll still be able to make small edits yourself.

You’ll also be empowered to understand what’s possible in terms of web design. This can be anything from the importance of responsive design (when a website resizes across different devices such smartphones or desktop computers), or when to use bits of code such as H2 tags (the subheadings that break up your page text on your website).

If you want to get a bit more techie, you can learn programming languages such as JavaScript, PHP, Ruby or Python.

These are languages used to program the backend of websites (although JavaScript is used for both frontend and backend). They provide extra functionality such as a website database, or enable you to sell things on your website.

There are a huge variety of languages used to build different types of websites. To start, Google the purpose of each language to see which might be most applicable for you.

The different ways to learn coding

Most people who want to get really serious about learning to code end up paying for a service. This is really useful as it enables you to have that contact with experienced professional developers who can advance your learning and kickstart your career.

This is really useful as it enables you to have that contact with experienced professional developers who can advance your learning and kickstart your career.

Paid courses

Skillcrush is one such resource where you can join a thriving community of like-minded individuals and target your learning with tailored Blueprints. All courses are taken online and they offer a free introductory bootcamp. Amanda has chronicled her Skillcrush journey on the OWS blog in several parts, starting here.

Likewise, you can take singular courses like Sarah Eggers’ HTML & CSS Crash Course.

Many, many other groups exist, like Decoded, which teaches you to code in a day in HTML, or Mums in Technology, which specifically caters to women with children who are looking to advance their careers.

Free options

If you don’t have much money to play around with, or just want to dip your toe in the water, there are some free options available. I’ve created a fully comprehensive list of free UK coding groups on my website.

Groups like Rails Girls offer free day coding bootcamps to teach any women the coding language Ruby on Rails. Another great group aimed at university students and recent graduates is Code First: Girls, which I took part in, myself.

In addition, there are lots and lots of online resources available, including CodeAcademy, General Assembly, and Coursera, to name a few.

A note on bootcamps

A stigma has sprung up in the web development community among some hiring managers against coding bootcamps. This term refers to full-time intensive courses that you pay for. This option is typically for aspiring web developers, rather than the amateur coder.

If you want to become a web developer and are considering a bootcamp, remember they will vary in quality, so do your research and always make sure you have a genuine enthusiasm for building your own portfolio. Maker’s Academy is a good place to start looking at bootcamps.

How to pick the right course for you

Unless you want to become a professional web developer, you don’t need to invest large amounts of time and money in learning to code.

Think about key factors like financial cost, difficulty level, distance to travel, comprehensiveness of the course, contact with experienced developers, and fitting it in around commitments like work and childcare.

Aim for a basic understanding of and curiosity about the nature of technology. Learning to code helps push you past the fear and mystery around technology and empowers you to make the most of it.

Overcoming obstacles and moving forward

Learning to code opens the door to taking control over the digital aspects of your business, and often comes with unintended side benefits, like being able to build your own digital products, launch a startup, become a better designer, or take the plunge as a full-time blogger specializing in tech (like me!), among other things.

If nothing else, dipping your toe into the coding world may help you realize how beneficial hiring a professional developer can be. One Woman Shop published this super handy post about what to ask as you interview a professional developer before you jump into a relationship with them.

I hope this post has shown you some of the ways you can dive in and learn to code — no matter your situation.

Don’t let negative self beliefs hold you back. Just like learning to write, anyone can learn to code. The aim is not necessarily to become a professional programmer or developer, but simply to enter a whole new world of opportunities.

 

We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of courses mentioned above. As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from.

If You Want to Master Your Passion, Teach It

How to Master your passion

How to Master your passion

During the summer of 2015, I gave into my weakness for whims — a bad habit I have long given up fighting against. The whim in question was to complete the Skillshare Teach Challenge — a competition to create and publish a Skillshare class in one month.

I’d never taught anything before (besides driving to my younger brother, which may have put me off teaching for the following years) but I was excited for the challenge. I had a topic that I’d been talking about endlessly on my Livejournal (yes, people still use it) to my friends there for over a year, and I wanted to tell more people about it.

I thought teaching my passion would be an easy, fun goal for the month that I could also, maybe, add to my resume. I didn’t really have anything else going at the end of May, and I’d been setting and achieving monthly goals for over four years by that point. It felt like a perfect challenge.

It turns out that it was more of a challenge than I was expecting.

The hardest part of teaching something you love is that you know too much about it.

The topic for my course: How to create your signature style, so that women could dump their overburdened closets and look chic every day without having to think about it.

The first struggle came when I was outlining the course for Skillshare. As I tried to put some hard-earned understanding into a teachable format, I found that I had no idea how to do that.

My “first time” with this skill was two years prior. I couldn’t remember all of the thoughts and questions I’d had then. I couldn’t remember how I finally got certain concepts to click for me. I’d forgotten what it was like to be a beginner.

I had to start over.

I sat down with pen and paper and rifled through memories, scratching down quick thoughts in uneven handwriting until the whole page was filled with enigmatic and confusing phrases like “silhouette most imp.” and “how to find yours?” and “colors really hard.”

This was how I came to my first realization about teaching something I loved:

You can’t know how much you know until you look at it objectively.

Think of it your course/opus topic this way:

If you’ve loved something, done something, or practiced something for a long time, you probably know a lot about it. It’s impossible to work with something for any length of time without learning something, even if you aren’t really trying. (I apologize to my 9th grade guitar teacher, who I routinely ignored but somehow still managed to learn to play Wonderwall.)

That’s good because it means you’re probably better at this one thing than all the other people who didn’t study or practice it, but it comes with a downside:

The longer you study something, the less you know about learning it.

It’s easy to forget what it was like to be a beginner when you’re an intermediate or an expert.

When you’re new to something, you flounder. You don’t even know how little you know.

What are those metal bar thingies on a guitar? Why do you use picks when you already have fingers? How can you tell if it’s in tune?

Then you do it for awhile and things start coming more naturally. The metal bar thingies are frets and you don’t fret so much about which ones make which chords anymore, but maybe you do still fret about getting your fingers stretched in the right way.

After a while, you’re a pro (not a true story for me) and you don’t think twice about tuning your guitar. You just know when it needs to be done and when it doesn’t.

But now you don’t remember everything that you didn’t know when you first started.

You might remember that beginners need to know how to tune a guitar, but you don’t remember that beginners wouldn’t automatically know when the guitar is out of tune. You might remember that beginners don’t know chords, but you might not remember that they probably also don’t know scales.

Teaching changes that. When you do it right, you’re forced to examine the process from the mindset of the beginner again.

The second hardest part of teaching something you love is that you don’t know as much about it as you thought you did.

As you begin to outline how you’ll teach your passion, you might soon come to the jarring and unsettling realization that you don’t know as much as you thought.

And let me tell you, that’s a nauseating feeling.

Our guitar player can tune a guitar by ear because she has perfect pitch, but she has no freaking idea how to explain how to tune a guitar. She doesn’t know what tools are available (if any) to help people without perfect pitch. She doesn’t know any tips and tricks for beginners who may not have perfect pitch. But she’s still got to teach all these baby guitar players without perfect pitch how to tune their guitars.

Which brings us to the real question: How do you teach your passion to a beginner?

The truth is that you’re going to have to learn more about it. And that shouldn’t be a daunting prospect! The stuff you’ll be learning is the basics, and you’ll only need a quick refresher. Most of the time, you can do this by following this process:

Start from the very beginning.
…Or the beginning relative to where your students are starting. Break down the process into themed or linear segments (create an outline). Work backward to force yourself to think about the skill or knowledge as a whole.

Have a non-expert friend read over your outline and tell you where they get lost.

Create the lesson plan you needed [then].
Creating a lesson plan is difficult. It makes you think in an unnatural way because instead of intuitively doing your passion as you normally do, you have to think about the knowledge itself. What did you need when you were just starting off?

Don’t forget the parts that were super easy for you.
For me, I intuitively know how to put an outfit together, but it took some trial and error to get that knowledge out in a way that made sense. Early feedback on the project told me I’d left out key elements to the lesson – things I took for granted and, therefore, forgot to add to the syllabus.

But most of all, just do it.

The hardest part is starting. You’re fretting over how to make a lesson plan, what to include, what you must be forgetting, and so on. But you have to start because you’ll only get better by teaching. Commit to getting a draft down.

Even if you never show your lesson plan to anyone (although I hope you do!), forcing yourself to think about your passion as if you’re teaching it will make you better at it.

This is how you become a master of your craft — not by practicing and studying forever, but by practicing, studying, and then teaching someone else.

How to Measure ROI and Record Tax Deductions on Educational Material as a Solopreneur

measure ROI and record tax deductions on educational material

measure ROI and record tax deductions on educational material

As freelancers and solo business owners, we know the importance of investing in what I like to call “YOU, Inc.”

For our business to grow, we have to continually educate ourselves on all the things we have to do, both in and on our company. In fact, when I quit my job to work full time for myself, I quickly learned that my accounting degree wouldn’t be enough.

I knew I had to invest in nontraditional education beyond the blog posts I was reading and the podcasts I was listening to. It was time to look at paid webinars, courses, classes, and books to help fill in any gaps my formal business degree left.

At some point, however, I became a “content consumer.” Similar to a “professional student,” I was taking every course and attending every workshop I thought would help make my business better.

I love learning new things but I was forgetting the most valuable piece of the puzzle: the actual implementation.

Since then, I’ve learned that I need to measure the return on investment (ROI) before I make a purchase on any new educational material that I come across, taking some time to work out the numbers and evaluate how quickly I can earn my costs back. (Yes, your purchase will be tax deductible — we’ll talk about that in a minute — but spending money you don’t need to is not good for your cash flow, either.)

Here’s how I do it, and how you can do the same.

Measuring the ROI of business development content purchases

Good news: You don’t have to be a mathematician to calculate a rough ROI on your course purchases.

Here’s what’s important: Having a roadmap to know where you’re headed no matter what concepts you’re studying. Nothing is random, and everything has a purpose. Creating ROI goals and meticulously tracking them gives you some accountability to yourself and helps you understand what it would take to recoup the cost of the purchase.

Here are the questions I ask myself before purchasing:

  • What does it cost?
  • What do I want to accomplish from this investment?
  • If I implement what I’ve learned from the material, can I create new paid content from it or increase my prices? If so, how much do I have the potential to make, based on my goals?
  • How does what I learn from this course or workshop enable me to build a more profitable, more efficient business?

Here are a few examples of how I consider the cost versus what I want to accomplish from learning:

  • If I have to decide on purchasing a $99 course on creating the best Instagram strategy, I set a follower goal for my Instagram account and then a revenue goal based on conversion rates.
  • If I purchase a $799 course on creating courses, I’d set a revenue goal to earn 3-5 times the cost before I buy it. This way, even if I fall short of the exact goal, I will have at least made my investment back.

Having a solid roadmap for how you’ll use the product/course to implement change in your business is key to knowing whether it will produce an ROI that makes it worth the investment.

Accounting for educational material purchases

Once you’ve decided to invest in a course, you don’t want to miss out on any tax deductions that you’re entitled to. Business development counts as deductible business expenses.

So how do you account for these types of expenses?

Create a category of expenses called Business Development. In this category, place purchases like:

  • E-books and physical books
  • Paid email courses and online courses
  • Online webinars, masterclasses, and workshops
  • College and university individual courses
  • Any online challenges you pay for
  • Community membership sites (Have you joined the OWS group? It’s well worth it!)
  • Bundles of educational material (like the Solopreneur Success Bundle)
  • In-person workshops and seminars
  • Conference ticket registration fees (separate from hotel, flights, and rental cars, which are categorized under travel)

….and any other training and development material you purchase. If you’re conflicted on whether it falls under Business Development or a different category, reach out to an accountant who can steer you in the right direction.

Advanced note: If you’re a sole proprietor or a single-member LLC using a Schedule C on your personal tax return, business development expenses will be listed under “other expenses.” (It’s line 27 in the latest IRS edition.)

Get your books in order

Set yourself up to record your next professional development purchase now:

  1. Open your favorite system you use to keep track of your expenses — a spreadsheet, Evernote, accounting software, etc.
  2. Create an account called Business Development. If you aren’t using anything currently to keep track of your expenses, try a simple program like Freshbooks to start.
  3. In this category will go any content you’ve purchased from the categories listed above. Locate your receipts and keep them together. Be sure to take all physical receipts, scanning them in for backup and safekeeping so that at the end of the year, you’re not scrambling to pull information together or organize the shoebox.

When tax time comes around, be sure to include these expenses to help reduce your taxable income.

Measure ROI and record tax deductions on educational material: a better approach to learning

With a solid estimate of ROI before you’ve purchased a course and an understanding of how to record that income to maximize your tax return, you’re much better equipped to avoid becoming a “content consumer” and instead using your learning to truly better your business.

P.S. — Here’s why there’s no such thing as a free course.

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase Effectively

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase

Hi. I’m Amanda, and I am a courseaholic.

I’m subscribed to multiple newsletters announcing when new courses will be coming out on sites I follow…and I’ve spent oodles of money on them.

We’ve all heard both sides of this issue.

We’ve been told that courses are a distraction, and we need to stay strong and believe we already know what we should do. (Now we just need to do it!)

However, we’ve also been told that the very best thing you can do is invest in your business by taking targeted courses.

What if I told you both sides are right?

Now, what if I told you both sides are wrong? *gasp*

Seriously though… If you’ve ever followed me on social media or my blog, you may have heard me harping on about happy mediums. I’m a huge fan of them. (For the record, my dad says he thinks of Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost when I say happy medium. My mom and I both think of the Happy Medium from A Wrinkle in Time.)

Courses are a fantastic way to invest in your business, especially if you’re just getting started, or are transitioning to a new niche. That said, there does come a point where you’re just beating a dead horse.

But there’s also a third option: taking a course to round out a creative skill, or for sheer pleasure.

The one word that helps me decide whether to buy that course

As an entrepreneur, I’m super guilty of trying to monetize everything I learn. (You, too?)
Lettering? I could add that to my site! Watercolor? I could mesh that with lettering, and learn to make paper by hand, and craft the most darling cards to welcome all of my new clients, complete with my watercolors and lettering skills!

Okay, so I haven’t gone quite that far…but close. One of my dear friends and mentors is constantly trying to remind me that I don’t have to sell everything I do. And yet I still ponder whether it can be integrated into my consulting business, or if I could sell it on Etsy. #thestruggleisreal

She’s starting to get through to me though, because I’m eyeballing courses with a keener eye now. And I’m learning to not just ask myself, “do I want to learn this” — but “do I want to learn this now.

That one word makes all the difference. There are so many things on my list of future learnings, but I don’t have the time (or funds) to learn everything right now.

How to evaluate the ‘why’ in your course decisions

When you’re deciding whether to buy another course or not, here are three great reasons that will validate your decision, two not-so-good reasons you might list, plus a bonus one that could go either way. (Happy mediums, like I said.)

Good reasons for buying that next course (all three of these need to be in place to make it a solid investment):

  1. This course is something I’ve wanted to learn for my business, recreation, or family, and can put to use almost immediately.
  2. I can afford to take it! (And by afford, I don’t mean “If I take on a second mortgage.”)
  3. I am excited to learn from this course instructor, in particular. (There are dozens of teachers for any particular topic. The subject of the course may be perfect, but the teacher may not be to your taste. Both subject and “teacher” need to align for you to get your maximum benefit.)

Not-so-good reasons you might come up with:

  1. All the cool kids are taking this course, and I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out. (FOMO is real, but it’s a terrible reason for spending money.)
  2. So-and-so said I should take it. (So-and-so may not know what’s best for your business, or what you’ve already taken courses on.)

Bonuuuuus!

  1. Buying a course because you’re a huge fan of the creator.

As mentioned, that bonus reason can truly go either way. If it’s something you’re stoked to learn, and you love the teacher, that’s the best. If you’d just like to be a good friend and support them, that’s where it gets sticky.

I’ve had friends buy courses of mine, because they wanted to show support. I appreciated the thought (really), but if the course wasn’t a solid fit for them, they struggled to give me helpful feedback on how to improve it. Additionally, this meant that if the course flopped, it was hard for me to tell where the failure was.

I’ve also been on the other side of this, and paid for courses that I really couldn’t technically afford, but I wanted to show support. So, I ponied it up anyway. I didn’t fault them for this, but I did feel personally guilty when I saw my budget.

So how can you show support for a friend who’s made courses without breaking the bank or ignoring your solid criteria for taking a course? Here are a few ways:

  • If they’re local, buy them coffee (or send them a digital Starbucks card as congratulations)
  • Send them a quick letter/postcard/card in the mail to congratulate them on their launch…everyone loves real mail!
  • Tweet/FB/Pin/IG/whatever their latest-greatest, if it’s a fit for your followers.

Courses we need + courses we don’t: Why we need to effectively discern the difference

As solopreneurs, it’s up to ourselves to invest in professional development to sharpen our skills and keep growing, but it’s all too easy to fall into the shiny object trap with each new course that comes out. Effectively discerning what you can use, afford, and are excited by is key to keeping that budget in tact.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments…what’s the big question you ask yourself before taking on a new course?

P.S. — Here are four sites for easy access to online learning. Plus, four more.

Get Schooled: 4 Free & Affordable Ways to Learn More

OWS goes back to school

Get Schooled: 4 Free & Affordable Ways to Learn More

backtoschool_pinterest

Whether you have just begun your solopreneur business or are a seasoned professional, there is always room to grow professionally and personally. One of my favorite ways to do this is through online learning. That’s because there are a plethora of online learning resources available that are free or affordable, can be done independently at your own pace, and are packed with information from business management to personal development. That’s a win-win for any One Woman Shop!

Ready to get your study on? Try out these free and affordable ways to learn more:

1. Coursera

The beauty of Coursera is that it has a catalog of scheduled sessions in various areas of study. Each course comes with lots of structure, including a syllabus, audio and visual lectures, quizzes and tests, along with an online instructor from a qualified institution.

Before you join a course, Coursera provides you with: available sessions (current and future), the length of the course (in weeks), hours of study suggested per week, and a brief overview. Taking classes through Coursera gives you the opportunity to earn a course certificate with valuable credentials from the best universities. In addition, they also offer a Specialization program which includes select courses in a given topic, a capstone project and a specialization certificate.

Personally, Coursera is one of my favorite online learning resources because it marries lectures, self-study and resource reading in a way that best suits me. I like to be at a desk with my Coursera class on my laptop and a notebook to take notes.

Cost: Free to Variable

2. iTunes U

I was overwhelmed (in a good way) when I was first introduced to iTunes U a few years ago. Available via the iTunes Store, iTunes U allows you to subscribe to classes and curriculum from some of the top universities. Primarily used as an extension for instructors to bring their curriculum together on iPad, the app is complete with an index of areas to learn from, lectures, notes, quizzes, tests, webinars, documents, books and resources. When you see the structure of the courses and the subjects available, you will certainly understand why much of the younger generation is provided with iPads over traditional textbooks.

Because the iTunes U App is from Apple, the design is similar to the iTunes Store App and Podcasts App, making it easy to use for any one familiar. Many of the iTunes U classes I have taken are provided as lecture videos while others emulate a condensed ebook with assignments. Due to this format of online learning through the app, it is much easier to take the course(s) while on an iPad.

Cost: Free

3. Khan Academy

Khan Academy has self-paced videos to learn, interact and assess your knowledge in different areas. The site has over 4,300 videos to learn from and skills to practice for students, parents, teachers and the lifelong learner. Topics they tackle range from math and science to history, and the Academy’s resources are being translated into more than 36 languages. A fun feature Khan Academy provides is a way to track your progress on what and how you have been learning.

One of the best things about Khan Academy is they have no ads and no subscriptions because they believe in a free forever world-class education for everyone!

Cost: Free

4. TED

TED began as a Technology, Entertainment and Design conference. The purpose of a TED Talk? To share ideas worth spreading. TED Talks are driven, concise and inspiring from the most renowned leaders, movers, and shakers in the world. Today, TED covers almost all topics in powerful talks of 18 minutes or less. Topics range from consumerism to activism and productivity. These talks will instantly inspire you to engage in conversation or take action.

TED provides TED Talks and Playlists for free. You can also attend TED Conferences, TEDx Events or TED Live at additional costs.

Because of the length of time given to do a Talk, it breeds more passion and intensity from the speaker and in turn, has the listener more engaged and in tune with what is said.

Cost: Free to Variable

What are some of your favorite ways to engage in lifelong learning, fellow solopreneur?

PS: Looking for more great sites to learn from? Check out past posts here and here.

Our September Solopreneur Playlist: Back to School

Oh, music — what would we do without you? You’re our companion while we’re at our desks typing away; while we’re on the move to a cafe; while we’re sweatin’ it out when we finally make it to that spin/yoga/salsa class.

Music is a huge part of the solopreneur life. It keeps us company; it pumps us up; it provides the ambient noise we need to focus. Here at One Woman Shop, dance breaks are frequent during our half-day jam sessions, and music is constantly playing as we each hunker down to get shit done. (Pardon our French — we told you, music pumps us up!)

In September, OWS went back to school. After all, the learning never ends for a solopreneur. And everyone knows that learning requires a playlist, right?

So, without further ado: your Back to School playlist. Grab a listen via Spotify, get a little boost of gratitude that you get to do this whole solopreneurship thing at all, and get ready for a productive day of getting shit done.

Hold On We’re Going Home — ASTR

Bright Whites — Kishi Bashi

School’s Out for the Summer — Dust Legacy

Lunchlady Land — Adam Sandler

ABC — The Jackson 5

Hot for Teacher — Van Halen

Kids — MGMT

We Are Young — Fun.

Proud Mary — Tina Turner

School — Calvin Harris

Campus — Vampire Weekend

Education — Pearl Jam

Have a Nice Day — Stereophonics

A big thanks to Laura Palmer for curating a portion of this list! Have songs you’d like to add? Leave them in the comments below!

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Course: Steps for Choosing How to Invest Your Time Wisely

OWS goes back to school

There's No Such Thing as a Free Course: Steps for Choosing How to Invest Your Time Wisely

With the prevalence of online learning options and the abundance of MOOCs (not an alien species in Dr. Who, but the acronym for Massive Open Online Courses), there are more and more free and low-cost ways to learn just about anything you need to know as a solopreneur.

But even a free course requires an investment of your time and attention, meaning investing in learning isn’t always a no-brainer. Your first move is to decide whether it’s time to learn a new skill. (Read this to help you make that decision.) Once you’ve settled on a “yes”, it’s up to you to choose the right course from the dazzling, and sometimes overwhelming, range of choices out there. Here’s how:

Set clear goals for your learning

The best starting point is to decide exactly what you want to learn or what skills you need to develop. In the early stages of business it can feel like you need to know everything, all at once. If this is you, create a brain dump of all those ideas (web development? sales? copywriting? accounting?) and ask yourself which is most important right now in order to help you take your next step.

Once you’ve decided what you want to learn you can turn to Google or one of the MOOC directories like MOOC List or Class Central to search for courses on your topic. Note that the directories do not cover all providers so if you use them it is a good idea to do a Google search as well.

After you’ve identified some course options there are a number of ways to decide which one is right for you:

1. Try before you buy

If the course you’re considering is free you can have a good look at it before you dig in:

  • Scroll through the syllabus and check that it covers everything you want to know – and not too much else;
  • Check whether the mode of delivery (e.g. PDF; video; audio) suits you;
  • Try a lesson or two to see whether you like the style of the presentation.

Some platforms, particularly those where you buy a monthly subscription to access all of their courses like Lynda or Skillshare, offer a free trial period. The trial period is usually quite short so be savvy and check out any of the courses you might be interested in while you’ve got the chance.

On other platforms you might be able to view a preview lesson or two. CreativeLive and Udemy offer this option on many of their paid courses.

2. Choose your instructor

You might find that you already know of the instructor. For example, CreativeLive attracts very high-caliber instructors that are often big names in their niche. MOOCs first came out of the universities so the more traditional ones like FutureLearn are usually delivered by people who teach at academic institutions. Others, like Udemy, exercise less control over the courses they offer and have a more diverse range of instructors.

Whatever the credentials of the instructor, you also need to gel with their style. Unless you already know them, it’s a good idea to do some research. The majority of course instructors will have some sort of web presence. Search them out and have a look at what they’ve got to say:

  • Have they published any books?
  • Do they have a website or a presence on social media?
  • Have they created any free resources that you can download?
  • Can you watch them on YouTube to get a feel for their presentation style?
  • What are other people saying about them?

3. Read the reviews

Most platforms, including Udemy and CreativeLive, and the MOOC directories mentioned above have a rating and review system so you can find out what previous students thought about the course. If you’re looking at a course that doesn’t have reviews or you just want to do some extra due diligence, search for the course name and platform on Google. As long as it isn’t brand new, there’s a good chance you’ll find somebody talking about it somewhere on the web.

Balance your investment of time versus money

It always feels good to get something for free, but sometimes it’s worth investing some money if it means saving yourself time. For example, this might allow you to get a course more tightly focused on exactly what you want to learn.

On the flipside, if the pennies are tight then you may be able to get something for free by being more flexible with your time. For example, CreativeLive courses are recorded in front of a studio audience — during recording, you can watch the live stream for free.

It’s amazing just how much knowledge we now have access to as online entrepreneurs. Choose the topic that will help you where you are right now and research the course to make sure it’s the right fit — then, go and make the most out of it. Remember — for almost any learning opportunity: you only get out what you put in.

Business Myth: Investing In Yourself Is Always a Good Idea

One Woman Shop business myths

Business Myth: Investing In Your Business is Always a Good Idea

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, Ashley shares her take on why “investing in yourself” isn’t always a no-brainer.

It’s commonly stated, and widely believed, that “investing in yourself” (aka buying a course, program, membership, etc.) is the best thing you can do for your business.

There’s a lot of wisdom in that advice. After all, you are your business, and the more you improve your skills and abilities, the better you’ll be able to run the show and the better your bottom line will look.

While I do agree that the right training can allow you to leapfrog ahead of where you’d be if you figured everything out on your own, I don’t necessarily agree that plinking down money for the program or course dancing in front of you is a no-brainer.

The value of learning

I don’t for one second want to give the impression that there isn’t value in identifying an area of weakness (or finding a new entrepreneurial front to move into) and then strengthening your skills in that area. In fact, there’s a lot of value in courses, coaching and programs, and I’ve taken advantage of quite a few myself.

Here’s the beef: “investing in yourself” this way is only going to pay off (making it a successful “investment”) if it’s the right education at the right time:

  • when you’ve hit a roadblock and this will get you through it;
  • when you need a new skill and taking a course will enable you to leap-frog;
  • when you’re just starting out and totally green and lost;
  • when it makes strategic sense and you can afford it.

Basically, investments need to pay off. That’s pretty much the definition of a good investment. And when you sign up for every new opportunity without really looking at how it supports your long-term strategy, you aren’t necessarily making good investments.

A justified distraction?

Often, a new course or program can be a dressed-up form of distraction, also known as procrastination.

As an entrepreneur, there comes a time when you need to stop learning and start doing. When you don’t feel confident landing new clients, for example, it’s easier to take a course on landing new clients than it is to start digging, marketing, pitching, and bracing for rejection. So instead of doing the hard and scary work that leads to actual dollars in your pocket, you sign up for one more webinar, join one more program, or study one more blogger’s advice.

In my experience? Not a winning strategy. You’d likely be better served by pitching and asking for peer reviews.

Pretend-productive procrastination?

Fear — of failure, of rejection, of success. Boredom. Intimidation or inadequacy. Shiny Object Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome. Habit. Envy. Lack of vision or strategy. These are just some of the reasons so many of us reach for our wallets when a new opportunity to learn something comes up.

If you’re considering a new personal development program, take a hard look at why you want it in the first place. If it’s to fill an actual knowledge gap you’ve identified, have at it. It’s another thing entirely if you’re telling yourself this is “the thing” that will “get you there” — wherever “there” is.

Know what your goals are, be clear on exactly how this new investment will serve you and your business, and commit to following through. That’s the only way it’s going to pay off. (See definition of investment, above.) Anything less is just procrastination… potentially expensive procrastination.

Rationalized overspending?

There’s also the case where you may sign up for the next big thing without really considering the financial impact. Tune into your business for a minute, first.

Taking advantage of these opportunities indicates that we expect them to lead to a lot more money down the road. But before we get to the “down the road” part, they cost money now.

Money going out has a direct impact on profitability. Too much money going out could mean that you lose your profitability, and that’s obviously not good for business.

Learning how to run your business well and level up in your craft is important, yes, but so is operating without burying your financial future under the crushing weight of your friends Visa and MasterCard. Staying right-side-up matters! Possibly more than that $997 membership with $4,000 in bonuses! Know your business, and whether or not you can handle it.

Just be smart

There are many times when paying for personal development products is exactly what you need for your business — but with so many of these opportunities cropping up all the time, it’s easy to get swept away. Pay attention to how you’re putting these investments to work, keep an eye on your bottom line, and don’t let the idea of “investing in yourself” become such a no-brainer that it ends up getting in the way of real growth and development.

Ultimately, when you’re the boss you’ve got to manage all your resources — including money, time, strategy, and yes, your personal and business growth and development.

Tell me: how do you make the decision on what to invest in for your biz?

1 2