Finding the Sweet Spot Between Dreams vs. Reality in Business

“Never pretend to be a unicorn by sticking a plunger on your head.”

Sage advice from Martίn Espada in ‘Advice to Young Poets.’

Unicorns are iconic. Emblematic. They symbolize the effortless realization of dreams.

The thing is, dreams are real, but unicorns are not.

That seems like a despondent note to start on, but it’s actually kick-start positive.

Having dreams is healthy. It gives you goals and ambition -- a driving force for all that you do. It reassures you in the face of failure and encourages you when you’re out of ideas. Solopreneurs often have no one to rely on but themselves. We all need an inner unicorn.

But business success isn’t magic, no matter how much we might wish it to be. Reality has a nasty habit of making dreams slow and difficult to realize.

Here’s your first reality check: Nothing is impossible.

Not if you set realistic goals, work hard, and never falter in your self-belief.

Let’s say you want to offer a business coaching program: A six-figures-in-twelve-months sort of thing, with mindfulness and wellbeing to boot. (Not just another get-rich-quick gig.)

This program will cost in the realm of $10,000. You know people can and do pay that kind of money for great programs.

It is, however, unlikely you’ll get to that point overnight.

Don’t despair. Finding the balance is tricky, but plotting a realistic goal to success will make achieving that $10,000 dream much more achievable.

Because why shouldn’t you be earning that much per client if that’s your dream?

It’s just a matter of discerning dreams vs. reality in business, then taking it one step at a time.

Step 1: In five years’ time

Close your eyes and think about what you want to achieve in five years’ time.

See yourself bathed in success. Your program is a hit and you’ve got a waiting list. You’re living in your dream home, you’re loving life.

See the dream. (Your own, that is.) Fall in love with it.

Promise yourself you’ll make it.

Once you’ve got the dream down in Technicolor, you need to add some black and white realism.

How are you going to get there?

Step 2: Pen and paper

Get out your trusty moleskine, or your laptop, or phone.

I have a ‘Dreams For This Year’ list on the Wunderlist app, for instance, that I check every morning to remind myself why I do what I do.

Putting your dream to paper (or screen) makes it physical. It makes it something you can touch. It’s your accountability on dark days.

It makes it real.

Step 3: Go digital

Businesses are bedfellows with the Internet now. It’s almost impossible to launch a business without a website to match.

Getting your dream domain, setting down a design (either yourself or with a professional) and launching it makes it all official.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have your product ready to go yet -- having a mesmerising landing page and opt-in form is a great way to get the ball rolling.

Work on amassing a stellar email list. Spread the word about your product. Send your loyal subscribers some high-quality newsletters or mini e-books with actionable, unique takeaways. Write a blog to underpin the product.

Is this quick list a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? 100%.

Think of it as laying the groundwork for your main product. You wouldn’t leap into a marathon without any training. If you build up a solid audience then market your product well, the launch will be far more lucrative and you’ll see a positive ROI much quicker than delving into a cold market.

Ongoing: Love your stumbles

Learning from your mistakes is one of the best qualities in any business person, particularly a solopreneur.

As a one woman shop, you can’t handle everything all at once without occasionally slipping up. Take the falls on the chin, make a note, and work to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Likewise, figure out what does work and stick to it.

Ongoing: Pen Pencil and paper

People change as they grow. You might suddenly want a tattoo, or a cat. Your dream of a skyscraper studio apartment might morph into a cottage with land to keep miniature donkeys.

Dreams can change, too. They might shift into something bigger, something with a new end game, targeted to a different market.

That’s okay. That’s natural.

Don’t feel you’ve failed. Pencilled dreams can be rubbed out and altered, whereas dreams written in pen are final and can only be crossed out.

Keep an open mind. There’s more than one way to achieve success.

Ongoing: Value your critics

...what?

That might seem self-destructive, but your naysayers act as free consultants.

It might be difficult to see the faults in your program because you’ve invested so much of yourself into it. An outside opinion could actually be beneficial.

There’s a difference between someone trying to cut you down and someone trying to cut you a break.

Listen to them. Think of what your product will look like if you implement their changes. Don’t be too proud and reject outside help, whether in the form of assistance or criticism.

View critique as a free screening. If any glaring errors are found, you’ll be glad you listened to your cynical friend.

Ongoing: Embrace your inner unicorn

Be bold. Be brave. A unicorn is a mythical creature that has stood the test of time, despite being literally impossible.

You can do the same. Know the difference between dreams vs. reality in business, then be like a unicorn and never give up on that dream. It might take a little longer than a day but you’ll get there so long as you stick to your plan, maintain your work ethic, and learn as you progress.

Keep a clear head and a focused goal. Don’t be afraid of change and criticism.

And know that when -- not if -- when you get there, you deserve every bit of it.

P.S. On the other hand? Perhaps it doesn’t matter if you don’t deserve it.

Your days, back in your hands.

Get instant access to 5 Days to Reclaiming Your Time, a free email course with the mindset shifts + action steps you need to get started in reframing your relationship with time. Sign up below!

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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.

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

unplugging

unplugging

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

This here is specifically about a different kind of disconnect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because...“reasons”, as Twitter would say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. Rest does not equal rust.

4 Ways For Introverted Solopreneurs To Safely Reconnect With Humanity

introverted solopreneur

introverted solopreneur

Do you feel a little like you live in a vacuum?

You're working your solopreneur socks off, getting stuff done, but in a big empty cave of introverted aloneness? Your mental space is big, echoing, empty, and you’re used to the silence of solitude.

It's not really fair -- you became a solopreneur to get out of the hubbub and love your life. But now you’ve overshot and fallen out of the social sphere completely. Your dedication has made you into the figurative gooseberry.

You might feel guilty for admitting loneliness, but there’s nothing to feel bad about. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most dedicated, introverted solopreneur imaginable -- we all crave connection on varying levels. Reaching out might feel like weakness, like admitting you can’t handle being a solopreneur.

It's not weakness. It’s a million miles away from weakness. It’s called being human. But if the only conversations you're having are in comment sections and emails, you're going to burn out. That’s going to impact your business, closing the vicious circle and leaving you feeling helpless.

Simply put, being alone 24/7 isn’t good for you, no matter your personality type.

There's no need to go cold turkey, switch off your computer and head out to find the nearest rave. You can flex your social muscles and find fulfilment in a group without betraying yourself and forcing yourself into situations you hate.

Being social, even if only for a few hours a week, is good for your health, good for your business, and good for your sanity. The best way to get started? Start small. Here are four safe ways for even the most introverted solopreneurs to step outside...

1. Go to the library

If the idea of walking into a bar frightens the keyboard-worshipping life out of you, then try somewhere famous for being quiet.

Reconnect with the physical world by getting a book -- a real one with paper and printed words -- and chilling out. You get to eyeball real humans and might even strike up a whispered conversation with a fellow bookworm. Being offline can catapult creativity. Your future self just might thank you.

The little old ladies who run libraries are always up for a little chinwag, and they're the least threatening people on the planet. They'll even do all the talking if you let them, so no need to worry about solitude-generated mumbling.

2. Go get the groceries the old-fashioned way

InstaCart and AmazonFresh are amazing, yes, but kick the online shop and go to the store in person. Get a trolley/cart. Make a list. Impulse buy some wine or iced pastries. All that human stuff.

The ladies and gentlemen manning the checkouts are always good conversation. Most of them will be elated someone's bothered to ask how their day's been and will be happy to chat. Or you could head to your shopping center and splash out on a little non-edible gift, like makeup or a new gadget.

3. Hit the gym

Yes, the gym! The gym's a little louder and more labor-intensive than the library, but everyone there will respect you for just turning up.

If you don’t fancy pitching into the open workout area, get into your social groove by joining a class: spinning, yoga, circuits, or get your moves on with Zumba and Bokwa. The pounding music will drown out your work-related thoughts, and you'll be too busy figuring out how to do the shoulder wiggle to worry about what everyone thinks of you.

It's a great way of bolstering confidence and realizing that everyone's okay with you being you, in all your shoulder-wiggling glory.

Maybe if you're lucky enough to live near some great trails and sweating it out in an enclosed space isn't your jam, join a running or walking club for the same social blast while soaking up birdsong and clean air.

4. Or even hit the bar

An oldie but a goodie.

Take a friend or two and work your way through your Bramble, or Singapore Sling, or sparkling water -- whatever floats your boat. Let the company flow through you and unwind.

Turn your phone off, shove it in your handbag and ignore it. Your phone won't combust if you don't check it every five seconds and your client won't evaporate if you're not there immediately over email. Just soak up the camaraderie, the ambience, the nibbles, and smile.

You never know -- you might meet a future client at a jazz bar or a cozy pub totally by accident. Wouldn't that be something?

The world is full of opportunity

Try the library and maybe join a reading club. Level up your grocery shopping and volunteer to do weekly shops for neighborhood seniors and make a lifelong friend. Try a wine-tasting evening to chat with your grape-minded compatriots.

Face-to-face conversations; dinners; the odd day out. These things are fun. You get to smile, laugh, unwind and take your mind off your Basecamp for a moment.

It gets you out of the house and talking to strangers in a safe place. It's also a habit that'll stand you in good stead for building working relationships. Networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

Businesspeople are human too, and you'll come across as a robot if you immediately launch into a sales pitch at your first meeting. Remember, people don't do business with robots. People do business with people.

Moreover, getting out more often will make you better at building relationships, which is the basis of being a solopreneur.

You'll also be happier, which will make the whole running a business thing much more fulfilling.

If you’re so inclined, you could incorporate your few hours of sociability into work. Co-working spaces are all the rage now, and you can be sure you'll be surrounded by like-minded people...maybe a fellow One Woman Shop!

The more your personal life improves, the happier you will be, and the better your business relationships will be. So, my fellow introverted solopreneur -- human connection doesn’t have to mean hitting up the latest, snazzy networking event in town. Getting human interaction on a personal level provides benefits to you and your treasured work -- it’s a win win.