Weekly Finds

Weekly Finds for the Solopreneur

Weekly Finds for the solopreneur

Welcome to One Woman Shop Weekly Finds - where we scour the web to bring you a curated list of posts, links, and resources that we think will help your business — and maybe even your life!

Did you know? In 1967, stockbroker Muriel Siebert became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, Ubiquity Retirement + Savings is proud to be the only 401(k) provider to have more women in leadership roles than men. (It's just one reason we love them and their SingleK retirement options for solopreneurs.) #FinancialFeminism

FEBRUARY. It's all too easy to lose the new-year motivation and fall into the winter slump (for us northern hemisphere-ers, anyway). That's why we love turning to classic reminders to stay motivated like this one from Marie Forleo. (Hint: Focus on what you’re doing, not what you’re trying to achieve.)

First reason we love this timeline of his business from Matt Giovansci: It's clean and fun to read through. Second: He's brutally honest about the "overnight success" his "mildly-successful" business achieved in just 14 years. Like everything Matt does, his transparency and humor always get the best of us.

If you're like me (Sara) and left Hidden Figures completely inspired and hankering for more crazy awesome stories like it, you'll love this list of must-reads from Brit & Co.

Adding products to our online businesses an appealing way to generate alternative revenue streams. Of course, it's easier said than done. That's why we were psyched to see our friends at ConvertKit curate an issue of articles on adding digital products to your biz last month -- with thorough posts on the many faces of online products, the complete guide to e-commerce platforms, and much more.

Do you struggle with pricing? (Let's be serious...who doesn't?) Well, stop and read this insight from Seth Godin -- and maybe you'll realize that price isn't the thing you want to be working on right now, anyway.

List-building is all the rage, and while we're all out studying the best welcome mats, content upgrades, and software providers, we're often overlooking the obvious: creating a dedicated opt-in page on our site that makes it easy for subscribers to find, and easy for us to link to. Alison Monday of tiny blue orange has us covered in her latest nerd alert column.

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.

Shop Talk: Looking Past Your Own Biases

d: biases

d: biases

Welcome to Shop Talk! While we love providing you with jam-packed, actionable posts, we also wanted to share quick, thought-provoking snippets here and there — from our brains to yours.

Here’s an important lesson that we seem to learn and relearn here at One Woman Shop: Just because we don’t behave in a certain way doesn’t mean others don’t.

(Did that sentence confuse you? Us too. Keep reading, it gets better.)

We’ve been working hard to run Facebook Ads more strategically lately -- which means running multiple versions of each ad to see which performs best. (This could mean mixing up the graphic, the copy, or the audience -- but only one at a time in order to have a control. Hello, #highschoolscience.)

We started by testing three different graphics for our Road to Solopreneur Success ebook. One explained what the ebook is, one used the term “free ebook,” and one said “free download.”

biases

biases

biases

 

This test stood out to us for a reason: We were both hesitant to include the word “free” on the graphics, because those aren’t the kinds of ads we tend to click on ourselves.

Of course, that’s why we experiment: The two ads with “free” on them far outperformed the other one.

Lightbulb moment: We never would have known this if we had only acted in accordance with our own biases. The lesson here? Just because you behave one way as a consumer doesn’t mean all other consumers behave the same way.

Case in point:

  • Just because we might not use the “Pin it” buttons on websites we hang out on doesn’t mean we shouldn’t install a Pinterest plugin and then optimize our images for maximum pinning -- because other people do use these buttons.
  • Just because we might not follow brands on Instagram doesn’t mean others don’t -- so we should consider actively updating our Instagram account and mentioning our latest product and service launches.
  • Just because we might not watch videos doesn’t mean others don’t love them. So we might host regular shows for those in our community who do love video.

We have found that this trap is especially tricky when you’re in the target market that you’re serving -- it’s easy to feel like you speak for your whole audience, but often you don’t.

As usual, a caveat: We’re not encouraging you to do anything that you feel uneasy or icky about. If you have a strong opposition to something, go with your gut. But if you have a sneaking suspicion that your personal preferences may be hindering your potential reach, it might be time to think outside of that box.

Do some market research. Ask your solopreneur friends about their experiences. Heck, ask your community what they like and dislike. Go forth, friend, and get creative.

You Are Not Alone…(Will You Say Yes?)

One Woman Shop membership

One Woman Shops:

We sent this letter out to people who've considering One Woman Shop membership, but after re-reading it (and re-reading it) ourselves, we decided it might just be a message all of us solopreneurs can use. Here it is:

We're about to get real for a second. (Okay, perhaps for a few minutes.)

We just finished reading Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes (talk about a powerhouse woman), and we stopped dead in our tracks when we got to her chapter entitled, Yes to People.

It was this excerpt from Ms. Rhimes, in particular, that made us pause:

"I don't know if anyone has noticed but I only write about one thing: being alone. The fear of being alone, the desire to not be alone, the attempts we make to find our person, to keep our person, to convince our person to not leave us alone, the joy of being with our person and thus no longer alone, the devastation of being left alone.

The need to hear the words: You are not alone.

The fundamental human need for one human being to hear another human being say to them: You are not alone. You are seen. I am with you. You are not alone."

Whew. (We told you we were getting real, right?)

Here's why this matters so much to us:

Because on days when your client is giving you the runaround on that invoice, it can feel like you're in this alone.

Because on mornings when the alarm's going off and you just can't make yourself get out of bed, it can feel like you're in this alone.

Because on evenings when you're working late into the night because you got an idea that you just can't wait to get started on, it can feel like you're in this alone.

Because when you land that first paying customer for the product you poured your heart and soul into, it can feel like you're in this alone.

Because when you haven't showered in three days and your hair is in a greasy knot on top of your head, but oh!, you finished watching the Gilmore Girls revival despite being in the middle of a launch...it can feel like you're in this alone.

The greatest fear in solopreneurship often isn't failure. It's loneliness. It's why, as leaders of One Woman Shop, we believe in community above all else.

Because no matter the curveballs clients, customers, colleagues, family, friends, random internet strangers, heck -- LIFE -- throws at you, you need people in your corner to tell you:

You are not alone. You are seen. I am with you. You are not alone.

Because it's the truth, fellow solopreneur. You're not alone. You're seen. We're with you.

And we've got a pretty stellar group of ladies who will tell you the same as a One Woman Shop member.

The doors are closing very soon, and we don't want you to miss it. Because it's time that you had the right people in your corner.

Learn more here.

Oh! And when it's one of those three-cups-of-coffee kinds of days, we just want you to know you are definitely not alone. You'll always have us in your corner.

Surviving and Thriving After Loss

thriving after loss

thriving after loss

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

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

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

Losing a sibling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing a child

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned from surviving and thriving after loss

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

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

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

starting a solo business

starting a solo business

Grab your pen and paper and get ready to think.

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

Seriously, think about it.

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

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

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

Why?

Here’s the backstory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Flexibility and freedom are invaluable assets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cue the laugh track.

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

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

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

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

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

Would law school really help me reach those goals?

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

Life is short, so do what you love.

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

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

Ask the tough questions

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

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

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

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

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

Business Myth: You Need a Client Avatar

client avatar

client avatar

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

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

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

Just one problem…

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

The truth is, most client avatars are absolutely useless.

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

It was never about the breakfast cereal.

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

Why client avatars don’t work

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

...and that’s why you need psychographics

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

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

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

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

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

Start with some empirical research

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

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

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

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

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

1. What is this really about?

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

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

2. Where does it come from?

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

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

3. What are the stakes?

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

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

It all comes down to this

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

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

How We Live the Solopreneur Sanity Handbook (Cristina’s Take)

Solopreneur Sanity

Solopreneur Sanity

As Sara and I were creating a 5-day mini-course based on the content in the Solopreneur Sanity Handbook, we kept (only half) jokingly saying “Man, this stuff is so good!” and “We are geniuses!” (Maybe we shouldn’t admit these things…?)

We got to talking about how we use the concepts in the Handbook in our own lives -- both personal and professional -- on a daily basis. So, when we say we’re living the Handbook, we’re not blowing smoke.

Does it mean that we live it perfectly? Hell no. It means that we deal with all of the same stressors as you, but that we stop as often as possible in the midst of chaos to remind ourselves that we literally wrote the (Hand)book on this stuff. And that, if we want to live lives of integrity, we have to work our hardest to practice what we preach.

Enough speaking theoretically. Here are three ways that I’ve lived the Handbook recently, as I moved from Guatemala to Europe -- while working (mostly) my normal hours:

Getting comfortable with the chaos

In the beginning of the Handbook, we lay out 10 principles; we think of them as “general truths or ideas key to progress and success in achieving solopreneur sanity.” One of my favorites is “Get comfortable with the chaos.” (I love it so much that the wallpaper is plastered all over my desktop and computer background.) This is our phrase for acknowledging that life and business ownership are chaotic and basically, there’s nothing you can do about it except accept it.

As I dealt with the chaos of leaving my home in Guatemala, taking international flights, moving with almost all of my worldly possessions, being on a new continent with an unfamiliar language, and keeping up with work, I asked the One Woman Shop accountability group to hold me accountable for using “Get comfortable with the chaos” as my mantra. (Though these are all exciting, wonderful things, they are indeed chaotic.)

Remembering that chaos is par for the course gave me the perspective to stay just a bit calmer as I navigated the public transportation system, ordered my first latte, got yelled at in the grocery store, and accidentally cried in a coffee shop on my first day.

Non-negotiables -- the building blocks of solopreneur sanity

As we say in the Handbook, “Our personal and recommended non-negotiables are working out, eating healthy, sleeping enough, and disconnecting -- we’re not saying you must do them, but we will challenge you to find us someone who works out regularly or eats healthy or takes time to disconnect and doesn’t credit those things at least a teeny tiny bit with an increased sense of well-being. (If you find one, send them our way and we’ll interrogate them until they admit that they’re wrong.)” ← Still laugh every time I read this.

I know that working out, eating home-cooked food for most of my meals, taking time away from technology, and having a productive workspace are essential for my well-being and productivity. Instead of letting these things slide when I arrived in Hungary, I made them top priority, even though it meant taking time away from work to find a gym, grocery shop, and find a coworking space. The result? I was able to regain that lost work time five-fold* (*I don’t actually know what-fold) by not going out for every meal and increasing my energy through exercise.

Breaking it down and choosing the next best step

The Handbook is broken into scenarios and corresponding solutions. “Breaking it down and choosing the next best step” is the solution to “For when you...are stalling because you’re overwhelmed and aren’t sure where to start.” Um, couldn’t have said it better myself. (Get it? Though I can only take half credit for all phrasing.)

I’ve been looking into obtaining a long-stay visa in Europe and it’s not easy. I completely stalled out on the process because I had no idea what to do next. I channeled the Handbook and told myself, “forget about the end result (that big, looming outcome that you’re not exactly sure how to get to), and choose the next best step that will get you closer -- no matter how little that step might be.”

I thought the next best step was speaking to an immigration lawyer but I quickly realized there was a step in between: Finding a reliable immigration lawyer. I found an in-depth post from a blogger who ended up with a visa after working with a lawyer and emailed him asking for a recommendation. Bam -- things were suddenly in motion and the next steps suddenly felt significantly less overwhelming.

The point of all of this? The Handbook is 94 pages of our best practices for solopreneur sanity -- ones that we both use every day in our lives. It’s easy to stand by its value when we experience it day in and day out.

So, speaking of next best steps when it comes to increasing your sanity, here’s our recommendation: Drop your email below to sign up for our free, 5-day course on reclaiming your time. It’ll give you an awesome, albeit small, preview of the solutions we walk you through in the Solopreneur Sanity Handbook. Easy as that.

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

turn your brain off

turn your brain off

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

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

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

The personal is professional

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

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

The separation of home and work

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

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

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

The solution: Create transitions for your brain and body

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are our keepers

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

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

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

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