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?

The Ultimate Guide to a Successful Blog Tour

If you have a launch coming up, or simply want to get together with a few of your favorite bloggers to build your community, a blog tour might just be your new favorite way of collaborating.

Having hosted my own blog tour for my personal development site, Becoming Who You Are, and taken part in several as a blogger, I find them to be a win-win way to share my work with a wider audience, plus a super fun way of cross-promoting with other fab bloggers out there.

In this post, I’ll share the basics of what a blog tour is, plus a few best practices you can use to make your blog tour as successful as possible.

How does a blog tour work?

In its simplest form, a blog tour works as follows: you, the host, decide on a theme and time period for your blog tour, and reach out to fellow bloggers asking if they’d like to take part. On a pre-agreed date, they publish a post about that topic on their blog, including a small text snippet about the tour (plus any relevant links), and you share all posts on your site as they’re released.

Tips for hosting a successful blog tour

Blog tours are fairly simple to set up, but they do require organization and planning. Here are a few best practices you can use to ensure your blog tour runs as smoothly as possible:

1. Get clear on the details

There are two questions to ask yourself at the start:

1 - “What is the purpose of this blog tour?”
2 - “What is my metric for success?”

Do you have a product or service you want to promote? Who are your ideal clients for that product or service? What is your ideal outcome for the blog tour, and what metrics will you use to measure that? Your answers to these questions will influence the topic of your tour, who you invite to take part (you’ll want to invite people whose communities will be interested in what you’re offering), the call to action you provide, and where you link to on your website, so it’s important to get clear on these points from the beginning.

Once you have the foundation for your blog tour, it’s time to decide practical details like duration (most blog tours are a week or less, however some big launch-related tours can last as long as a month), how the bloggers will notify you of their posts, and how you’ll go about posting them on your site (individually; in a daily roundup, etc.).

2. Plan in advance

Many bloggers plan and schedule content weeks, sometimes months, in advance and won’t necessarily be able to accommodate an additional post at short notice.

Inviting people at least a month in advance will increase the likelihood that they’ll be able to take part without it being a last-minute stress. It also frees up more time for you to spend on sharing and promotion closer to the event.

3. Make it as easy as possible for participants to contribute and share

With your cadre of bloggers on board, the fun really begins.

As a blog tour host, you want to make it as a easy as possible for your participants to take part and share. This starts with giving them all the relevant information they need from the beginning. This might include:

  • The date you’d like them to publish (or a calendar where they can easily snag a date if they’re exclusive)
  • Any graphics or links you’d like to include (I created a text snippet bloggers could copy and paste, which you can see below)
  • Pre-written tweets they can use to share their post when it’s live

Here is the initial email I sent out to potential participants:

“Hi X,

I hope you're well! I've been a huge fan of your blog for a while and so appreciate all the goodness you've been putting out into the world. I run a site called Becoming Who You Are, where I teach people how to be kind to themselves, and I'm reaching out to invite you to take part in a blog tour I'm putting together later this month.

The Thriving Blog Tour will run from 24th to 31st March. The theme of the tour (as you might be able to tell... :)) is thriving. I'd be so honoured if you'd be willing to take part, share your insights around this topic, and help me spread the word about self-kindness as widely as possible.

The Blog Tour will be celebrating the start of my upcoming course, From Coping to Thriving, and, on a broader level, I hope it will get people thinking about where in their lives they might be settling for coping and could use a little more self-care.

I'll be posting a link to each post on my site and sharing them far and wide on social media. I'll also be compiling the posts into an ebook at the end of the blog tour (working title: The Little Book of Thriving) and you'll be free to distribute this to your audience as you wish.

I have some topic suggestions and pre-prepared tweets ready for you to share but I want to be respectful of your time so I'll keep this as brief as possible for now.

If you're interested in taking part in the tour, please send me a quick email back, and I'll get the relevant info to you ASAP. If it's not a good fit for you right now, no worries at all and thanks for taking the time to read this 🙂

Thank you for all the great work you do!”

Once a blogger responded in the affirmative, I sent them the following info:

“Here is some additional info about the tour:

1. Timing

Would you be willing to post on {insert specific date}? Let me know if this isn't going to work, otherwise I'll assume you're good to go on this date.

2. Topics

Here are some potential topics for you to choose from:

My story of shifting from coping to thriving
My biggest self-care mistake, and how I came back from it
What self-care means to me
How I changed [X] habit (and why I'm happier as a result)
5 lessons I've learned about thriving in life

And, of course, if you have a topic in mind, please feel free to go for it! 🙂

3. Decoration

To show you're part of the Thriving Blog Tour, please add the italicised text below to the top of your post and/or use one of the graphics I've attached to this email (feel free to adapt the text to fit your own voice).

"From Coping to Thriving is a six-week journey that will teach you how to turn your coping strategies into self-caring behaviours, leaving behind struggle and learning to thrive. This post is part of the Thriving Blog Tour, which is spreading self-kindness to the masses. To learn more and join us, click here."

4. Sharing

As I mentioned in my first email, the aim of this Blog Tour is to spread the word about self-kindness to as many people as possible. Feel free to share your post widely around social media and I'll do the same.

Here are a few pre-written tweets to get you started:

I'm writing about self-kindness for the Thriving Blog Tour with @becomewhour [http://linktoyourbloghere.com]

Want to learn how to shift from coping to thriving? Check out my post for @becomewhour's Thriving Blog Tour[http://linktoyourbloghere.com]

Do you have habits you want to change? Read about what helped me in my post for @becomewhour's Thriving Blog Tour[http://linktoyourbloghere.com]

5. Thank you!

Thanks for participating in the Thriving Blog Tour! I know it's going to be a ton of fun and a way to spread a valuable message. I am running an affiliate program for the course so let me know if you'd like to join and I'll send you the details.

Please email the link to your post and your Twitter handle the day your post goes live so I can share it and add it to the Thriving Blog Tour webpage.

If you have any questions about any of the above, or anything else to do with the tour, feel free to get in touch :)”

I also sent a follow-up email a couple of days before their post was due to go live, reminding them to email me a link to their post so I could share it.

4. Provide clear CTAs

Just as you want to make it as easy as possible for the bloggers to take part, you also want to make it as easy as possible for their community to find and follow you, which means you need to create a clear call to action.

When you first started thinking about your blog tour, you’ll have identified your ideal outcome—the action you want people to take as a result of reading a blog tour post. This might be subscribing to your mailing list, signing up to hear more about a particular service or product, or even purchasing the service or product you’re promoting. Provide your bloggers with a snippet of text they can include with their post that asks people to do that as clearly as possible.

For example, when I hosted my blog tour, my aim was to encourage readers to visit the registration page for my course so they could learn more and, if it was a good fit, sign up. As you can see from the email above, I asked bloggers to include a specific snippet of text that encouraged people to do this.

5. Be a gracious host

This goes without saying, but coming out of a whirlwind blog tour and launch, it can fall by the wayside. Say thank you to everyone involved in the tour after it’s over. Share a couple of stats with them, like how many people were spreading the word and educating people about your chosen topic or any positive feedback you received so they can see the impact of the collective project.

6. Accommodate post-tour traffic

Just because the blog tour is officially over doesn’t mean that people aren’t still going to be finding your site through the different tour posts. Even if you were running a time-sensitive launch that ends shortly after your blog tour, include an opt-in form on the page where latecomers can register to hear more the next time you open for registration.

Blog Tours Done Right

As you’ll see from the examples above, blog tours come in all shapes and sizes so don’t be afraid to put your own stamp on your tour! Done right, blog tours are a fabulous way of spreading the word about a new book, course, or event and connecting with similar-minded bloggers and business owners in the process. Although they do take some organization, hosting your own blog tour is a great chance to build relationships, grow your audience and have fun in the process.

Have you run a blog tour, or contributed to one? What are your best practice tips? Leave a comment and let us know. And stay tuned for The Road to Solopreneur Success blog tour, starting Monday, September 14th to promote One Woman Shop’s limited-time Solopreneur Success Bundle!

building your online community e-course

How to Build Your Own Conference: A Guide for Solopreneurs

OWS goes back to school

How to Build Your Own Conference: A Guide for Solopreneurs

You already know the value of a good conference. Not only will you gain invaluable insights from expert speakers at your sessions, they’re also a great way to connect with other solopreneurs who could turn into lifelong friends (or business partners!). If you’re like most solopreneurs, you’re itching to go to the conference everyone in your industry is talking about.

Unfortunately, you might not have enough time or money to make it happen.

Travel and hotel expenses, the cost of closing up shop for a few days, and the tickets for the conference itself all add up to a hefty chunk of change. On top of that, most conferences only cover one or two topics. That leaves multi-passionate solopreneurs making tough decisions about which conference will be most worth their while.

Luckily there’s another option for those of us who are eager to learn: build your own conference.

Building your own conference is the perfect option for solopreneurs who are limited by time, location, or money. Affordable online classes make it a snap for you to put together personalized sessions that will help you grow your solo biz.

Here’s your step-by-step guide to creating your own one-of-a-kind conference.

1. Set a conference budget and schedule

Your conference will never be a success if you don’t treat it like it’s a big deal. That means creating a budget and blocking off time in your schedule well in advance.

You’ll save a lot of money by building your own conference, but even a DIY conference comes with costs. Crunch the numbers and decide on your budget before you start signing up for classes.

Once your budget is in place, decide how many days you’ll need to spend away from client work so you can focus on attending your conference. Traditional conferences run from Thursday through Saturday, but maybe you’re at the top of your game on Mondays or you want to dedicate an entire week to your conference.

As soon as your dates are set, notify ongoing clients that you’ll be unavailable those days. Don’t forget to block off that time in your Google calendar or online scheduling software!

2. Choose a theme

Building your own conference allows you to focus on many facets of your multi-passionate business. You no longer have to worry about wasting money on a conference with a narrow focus. But that doesn’t mean you should sign up for any random class that catches your eye. A successful conference will always have a goal.

Decide what you want to accomplish with your conference. Once you know how it will impact your business, you can choose a theme to help you stay on track. For example, maybe your conference theme is to learn how to land more clients. The following classes would all help you achieve that goal:

  • Beyond Social Media: Meeting Your Ideal Client in Real Life
  • Copywriting 101: Connecting with Your Readers
  • Creating a Website that Sells
  • From Blog Reader to Paying Customer in 8 Simple Steps
  • How to Price Your Services (Without Giving Your Clients Sticker Shock)

3. Choose your classes

Now for the fun part! There are plenty of options for affordable classes taught by experienced instructors who know their stuff. Check out these platforms to find classes that match your conference theme and budget.

  • Udemy and CreativeLive each offer both paid and free courses for students at all levels of learning. With a vast catalogue of courses available on demand for each, you’re sure to find a few that fit your needs.
  • Skillshare is the perfect choice for solopreneurs on a budget. Choose from free online access, or take your learning offline with an $8/month premium membership.
  • TED and TEDx Talks live up to their motto “ideas worth spreading.” These educational videos from experts are short and free -- not to mention they cover every topic under the sun. Perfect for the solopreneur on a time crunch!
  • Podcasts are a great way to customize your learning. Podcasts like Being Boss, The Lively Show, Make It Happen, and She Did It Her Way are great starting points for all things solopreneur!
  • Online courses and ebooks designed by fellow creative entrepreneurs are sure to be chock-full of the actionable info you need to level up your solo biz. Check out A Course About Copy from Nikki Elledge Brown, Creative Coaching From Scratch from Regina Anaejionu, or One Woman Shop’s own Building Your Online Community e-course.

Remember to keep your conference theme in mind while browsing class options. If an interesting class or podcast episode doesn’t tie in, put it on the back burner for now. You’ll get more bang for your buck by focusing your energy on a single goal.

4. Build community

Conferences are a great way to connect with other solo biz owners. You don’t have to miss out on networking opportunities just because you’re DIY-ing your conference!

Send a quick email to other solopreneurs to see if anyone else wants to build their own conference alongside you. Even if you take different classes, you can plan to check in with each other on Twitter or Google Hangouts to share what you’re learning.

You can also create a hashtag to document your conference and invite your readers to follow along. (Editor's note: might we suggest #BYOConference?!) Your fans will love to see a blog post, video, or live Periscope recapping everything you learned!

What type of conference will you create to boost your biz? Share it with us in the comments!

[Yet another editor's note] The One Woman Shop Bundle is here! With four OWS-created courses and workbooks, you can create one heck of a conference. Check it out!

How to Master Working from Home as a Freelancer

Setting Up Shop

How to Master Working from Home as a Freelancer

Whether your One Woman Shop is one year or one day old, there’s a lot that goes into running your business. There are the behind-the scenes tasks that keep your business moving, there’s the client work that brings in the money, there’s the self-care that makes it all possible. And while no two solopreneurs’ days look the same and there are differing takes about what’s best, one thing’s for certain: working from home is a whole different ball game.

I used to be a cubicle dweller until recently, when I decided to take the leap and become a full-time freelancer. Going through the transition from office life to working from home, I’ve learned some things about how to succeed in your home office, and how to help streamline your One Woman Shop into a blossoming career.

1. Get organized

Working from home (or from wherever you have a WiFi signal) means you have an unconventional work space. But just because your new environment is unconventional doesn’t mean it should be messy...

In order to master working from home, you’ll need to get organized and keep your things in order. That means everything: from your appointments and meetings to emails and documents, as well as the office supplies in your work space. Here are a few tips:

  • Make folders on your computer for each and every client, project or publication. Even better: keep these folders in Google Drive or Dropbox so you can access them from anywhere if you’re a frequent user of multiple devices.
  • Get in the habit of renaming all documents and photos specifically, and saving them in the correct folders.
  • Buy yourself a good planner and keep track of due dates, meetings and tasks.
  • If you deal heavily with social media, invest in a good scheduling system like Buffer, Hootsuite, or Edgar.
  • Although everything today is predominantly digital, you might benefit from having binders or physical folders to keep your contracts, agreements, or research in one place.
  • Keep your workspace clear, with only the essentials on your desk. Less distraction = greater focus.

There is nothing more unprofessional than having an unorganized space. It’s entirely possible that no one will ever see your home workspace, but the clutter there will show up in your attitude and work.

2. Make a schedule

This might be the most important tip I can give you. Create a set schedule for yourself for each and every week.* This might vary depending on the type of work you do, but each day should follow a similar pattern. Perhaps it’s emails and social media in the morning, writing your articles after lunch, graphic design work in the afternoon, and so forth. Break up your work into types and assign them to different parts of the day. (Editor’s note: batching works wonders here!) Don’t save your day design for the morning: you’ll spend far too much time scrambling to organize your tasks, and most likely feel overwhelmed at when you’re going to possibly fit everything in.

If your brain processes that Task 1 is to be done in the morning and Task 2 & 3 is for the early afternoon, then you’ll have a better approach to tackling your day.

*This doesn’t apply to only your work-related tasks. Since you work from home, it’s easy to lose a normal routine. Figure out everything from when you want to take lunch; when to workout; when to just enjoy the nice weather. You don’t work a normal 9-5, so you have the liberty to make a custom schedule.

3. Stick to it!

If you don’t stick to your schedule, you’ll never have a grasp on time management and you certainly won’t have a healthy work/life balance. And you’ll have just wasted your time making it!

It’s easy to forget about a lunch break or stay in your pajamas until 12 noon every day. There have been days where I’m so consumed with my work that I look up and it’s already 3:00pm and I haven’t ate since 7:00am. It’s not healthy to sit at your dining room table desk for hours on a laptop. Yes, you’re working from home. But that doesn’t mean you have to work the entire time you’re home.

Stick to your new schedule. Or, at the very least, assign the tasks that you’ll do each day, and then delegate them based on your energy.

4. Rally your team

Since you work from home and you’re not in an office each day with coworkers and employees, you have to make sure you effectively manage everyone on your “team.” Whether it’s multiple clients, interns, accountability partners or even just your pets, whoever you interact with on a daily basis becomes part of that team.

How can you rally them around you? First, make your schedule known. If you only answer emails in the afternoons, let your clients know that. Keep in mind that your clients might not see or speak to you every day, so, where applicable, send “weekly update” emails or remind them of the timeline you’re working on. Your clients are running around on their own schedules, and you can’t assume they’ll remember what their freelancer needs. Friendly reminders can help keep everyone in check, and show that you’re organized and on top of your game.

Celebrate the flexibility

You can only truly enjoy the flexibility earned and master working from home when you get organized, make a schedule (stick to it!) and keep track of your team. Go get ‘em, ladies!

What else do you incorporate into your work-from-home life that sets you up for success as a freelancer?

Workflow Automation 101: Saving Time with IFTTT and Zapier

Setting Up Shop

You know what can suck? That as solopreneurs, we don’t have a staff to delegate to.

You’re responsible for everything. You don’t have a rockstar marketer to spend their days writing social content. You don’t have account managers to communicate with clients for you. And you’re not quite at the level of having a personal assistant for all the tedious, repetitive admin tasks.

And how much of our time do those little things take up? That’s time you could’ve spent bringing in money.

Luckily, technology is awesome. With it, we can pretty much build our own personal assistants; our own team to pass work off to. Only it’s a team of apps, integrations, and hacks that work together to GSD for you. And it’s called workflow automation.

I like to think that by using automation, we’re delegating work to robots. The Jetsons had Rosie; we have applications.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is a way to connect apps and websites to each other and automatically perform actions that you would’ve had to set aside time for. It’s kind of like creating your own APIs and integrations (without being a total tech wizard).

Automation can do things like:

  • Add starred emails or emails with a certain label to a “To Reply” list in your task management app.
  • Send confirmation emails to clients or partners the day before a Skype call or meeting.
  • Post a certain message to Facebook at the same time every week (great for weekly features!).

IFTTT and Zapier are the two most popular services for workflow automation. They’re both really great: powerful and easy to use. If you’ve never been introduced, here’s an intro to how they work and what you can do with them. As a bonus, I’ve also included some automated workflows you can use to get started!

IFTTT 101

Price: free
Platforms: web, iOS, Android
Integrations: Over 200 channels (services to connect to).

IFTTT - funny name, huge lifesaver. It stands for “if this, then that,” and is pronounced like “gift” without the “g.” The basis of IFTTT is recipes - sets of steps making up the workflow. They’re made up of triggers and actions. Whenever a trigger event occurs, IFTTT initiates an action.

Here’s are two examples:

gmail_ifttt_recipe

and

ifttt_productivity_recipe

As you can see, IFTTT doesn’t need to be all serious. With channels like BuzzFeed, ESPN, Craigslist, FitBit, and The New York Times, it’s great for personal use, too. Shaving time off both work and personal tasks is a double productivity boost!

IFTTT Recipes for Solopreneurs

Here are a few to get you started:

Even more: 38 IFTTT Recipes for Small Business Owners

Since IFTTT is free, it’s always the first place I go to try to create a workflow. If the integrations or triggers aren’t available to do what I have in mind, I’ll turn to Zapier.

Zapier 101

Price: free for up to 5 zaps and 100 tasks/month, paid plans starting at $15/month
Platforms: web
Integrations: Over 400 apps

zapier_zap

I like to think of Zapier as the professional IFTTT. A lot of work tasks can be automated using IFTTT with apps like email, your to-do list app, social networks etc. But Zapier is much more focused on business apps, so you can connect to things like your accounting software, landing page creator, and your CRM.

However, Zapier’s pricing is based on how many workflows (called zaps) are set up, and how frequently they’re triggered. So I usually turn to IFTTT first to keep myself on a lower pricing plan. Zapier also might cost more depending on what apps you want to connect. There are certain premium apps you can’t connect to on the free plan, and some apps themselves charge you a fee to connect.

But between Zapier’s focus on business apps, its more powerful editor, and the new ability to create multi-step workflows, the cost is completely worth it if you can spare it.

mailchimp_zapier_zap

Zapier Zaps for Solopreneurs

Here are a few to get you started:

Automation just got a whole lot more friendly

When we can’t delegate work to people, we can delegate to apps. Small tasks may not seem like a big time waster, but the 5-minute to-dos tend to be the ones we also end up doing several times per day, and the minutes add up.

Technology is only a distraction when it’s not doing your work for you. By using workflow automation, you’ll free up enough time to scroll down a little further in Feedly during your next break.

Create Extra Hours in Your Day With This Simple 3-Step Process

Setting Up Shop

It’s been said (quite often, in fact) that there are two things we could all use more of: time and money. So we all go around blocking social media, hustling our services and products to our email lists, and crowdsourcing our decision making so we can come to a conclusion thatmuch more quickly.

But I have a secret for you: finding more time (and money) isn’t in the big picture. It’s in the details. Creating processes (sometimes called workflows or systems) can streamline your business operations and save you hours each week. The magic in it all is that when you create processes to save time, you can use those magical minutes to go out and make money!

Look, I know that you’re here at One Woman Shop and you’re thinking “That’s fine, Val. But I don’t have a company or a team. It’s just me. I’m one woman. I can keep it all in my head and I’m pretty clear on how it all works anyways.”

That’s true -- and I’ve had that exact same thought. But what happens when you want to take a week off (like I did with my honeymoon)? Or you have a major life event that forces you to step away for an extended period of time (like when I had my baby)?

There’s no better time to set up process docs than today

Setting up your process documentation now, as you go, saves you from having to hustle and set it all up when you want or need to step away. Better yet, there may come a day when you want to hire some support in your business. Imagine handing over those process docs in your onboarding process and never wasting a minute (or dollar) with your new team member. Now that’s efficient!

Here’s what you need to know: your processes already exist -- they’re the things you do every day/week/month in your business (typically behind-the-scenes) that make it run. It’s those CEO tasks that really make your business a business; not just a hobby. And since they are things you already do, it takes (almost) zero extra effort to craft your ideal process documentation and start to streamline the way you run things.

Want a simple hack to nailing down your processes in no time at all?

Here are the three simple steps to get it done:

  1. Record a video of you doing the task and talking out the steps while you do it (here’s a list of some of my favorite video recording tools to make it easy)
  2. Hand that video over to your VA or a contractor and ask them to make the checklist from the video. If contracting this out isn’t possible, have a friend or colleague do it for you and offer to trade them the same favor -- you’ll both get your processes nailed down together!
  3. Review the final checklist for gaps or missing pieces and complete the documentation in your favorite project management tool (like Asana)

Boom! Not only do you have a set of process documentation done, you are on your way to building out a Company Operating System. (Well, aren’t you fancy!)

The best part? In just a few extra minutes each week, you can complete 1-2 process doc recordings and have your documentation for your entire business up and running in a few short weeks. Be careful, though. Making process videos gets addictive so you might find yourself with documentation sooner than you thought!

Start streamlining to get those lost hours back

Questions? Let me know in the comments below -- and tell me which process you are headed off to document this week. (A great place to start is with your blog posting or social media scheduling!)

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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Solopreneurs Need Vacation, Too! Here’s How to Prepare

Setting Up Shop

I don’t know about you, but when I took the leap to full-time freelance, one thing I was most looking forward to was having a flexible schedule and unlimited vacation. No more needing to count my vacation days or compromise my time off to “save” some more of those days for later in the year.

(In fact, even now, I’m cringing just thinking about all of that…)

Now, as a full-time solopreneur, I have the freedom to be a digital nomad and work from wherever I am. That said, it’s both a blessing and a curse when all you need is a laptop and reliable wifi to work. Because sometimes, even when we love our work, we still want to disconnect and take an honest vacation.

The key to being able to fully disconnect when you’re a one woman shop? Preparation. In this post, I’m going to share the steps I took to prepare my business for my absence as I embarked upon my first vacation as a full-time freelancer this summer.

1. Clients & Projects

I had many ongoing projects on deck, and communicated with each of my clients about my vacation and the fact that I would be entirely unreachable. I started doing this about two weeks ahead of time, but especially the week before. I told them we could finish beforehand if they didn’t want to wait, but many opted to just pause the project while I was gone. This worked better for both of us, because it didn’t cause us to rush their project.

On one larger project that started a month before, I made sure to tell them in our initial conversation that we would need to wrap up by a certain date.

I have just a few clients that I do monthly projects for -- blog post images, social media scheduling, etc. Knowing that they usually send me content during the time of the month that I would be on vacation, I contacted them ahead of time and informed them. Where I could, I worked ahead.

Pro tip: I use Wave for invoicing, which allows for recurring invoices. I don’t have to remember to send those monthly clients an invoice, which saved me a task before vacation!

2. Don’t Go Completely Dark

Although you will be disconnected, you don’t have to go dark online. Set up a simple auto responder in your inbox, so that those who email you won’t think you’re just ignoring them. If you plan to check in while you’re away, note the terms of that. (Ex: If you’re available for emergency situations, tell clients to put “Urgent” in the subject line.) For leads that might not visit your inbox and will only see your website, consider editing your contact page with a note that you’re out of town.

Your social channels don’t need to be neglected, either. Schedule out some social media posts, even if it’s less often than usual. Of course, a big part of social media is actually being social, and interacting with your audience. So, how do you handle that, if you’re disconnected? Well, that leads to me to Step 3…  

Pro tip: I use Edgar to schedule most of my social media posts, so it constantly recycles evergreen content. Saved me another task before vacation, because it’s always running!

3. Work with a VA

When I think about virtual assistants, I think about long-term projects, like scheduling social media every week. But, just like people can hire me (a designer) for one-off projects, you can hire a VA to monitor your inbox while you’re away. That’s exactly what I did. I prepped a VA (in my case, Jordan of Practically Magic VA) to “watch” my inbox for any critical emails.

You could also have your VA watch your social media channels. I didn’t do that this time around, but I most certainly will next time. I had scheduled social media posts for the few days I was going to be gone. What I didn’t realize is that one link I tweeted was broken (the person’s site was 100% down), and someone replied to my tweet to tell me it wasn’t going anywhere. The tweet went unanswered for two days -- not good!

Pro tip: I didn’t just tell my VA to copy and paste my auto responder message to any new contact form submissions. I drafted a more detailed response, and sent her my welcome package that she could send along with it to new inquiries.

Now… take that vacation!

It takes a little prep work, and a lot of communication with your clients, to get your biz in a good place while the CEO takes some vacation -- but when you can fully disconnect without worrying about what’s going on in your biz, it’s entirely worth it.

Tell me, One Woman Shops, what else do you do to prepare for vacation?

4 Tips for Revamping Your Contracts and Protecting Your Business as a Solopreneur

Setting Up Shop

I despise the me-versus-you mindset that colors some client relationships. This mentality creates an unhealthy situation where the creative is just trying to get paid, and the client is grasping for the most bang for their buck. Of course, clients can be forgiven for wanting the best possible product for their lives and businesses, and creatives gotta eat. We’re all human. But still, this dynamic isn’t pleasant and I strive to avoid it wherever possible.

I’ve found that a clear, concise and no-nonsense contract is one of the best ways to keep a working relationship on the rails and über-friendly. It removes the stress of wondering what’s included or expected, reduces the possibility of anyone taking advantage, and provides a third-party enforcer of the terms so no one has to be the bad guy. It’s a nonpartisan ally we can all call to our aid, but only if we’re careful in its design and construction.

The beauty of a client-based business is that it evolves as time goes on -- and so must your contracts. Here are some of the crucial tips I’ve learned over the years about crafting a contract, that you can take into account when creating yours:

1. Make financial commitments and timeframes clear

I’ve never actually had a problem getting paid, but I have had to wait longer than I’d like. And you hear about fellow solopreneurs getting stiffed all the time. Truthfully, there’s no iron-clad way to prevent this, because no creative worth her salt is going to demand full payment before beginning a project. It’s unprofessional, it’s mistrustful and it’s just not done.

I do, however, take steps to try and streamline the payment process and increase the chances of getting that final check. For one thing, I always include in my contract the number of revisions I provide for the stated price. That way, if a client asks for more (than two, in my case), I can point to the contract. I also include what additional revisions cost, so that we have an already-agreed-upon way to proceed if necessary.

Furthermore, I clarify timeframes for various steps of the process -- i.e. deposits due at the beginning and final delivery of materials. Some clients are impatient, or will “forget” what you agreed to, so it’s great to have this in writing. Plus, it covers your derriere. While I’ve never gotten litigious with a client, you best believe I want the ability if I need it.

2. Remember that contracts are not intuitive to clients

With the explosion of the digital age, we sign contracts all the time. Every time you check that little box for another app or website sign up, it’s a contract. Because of this, many of us are used to breezing through and signing on the dotted line. Don’t let your clients do that, or you might be sorry.

I’ve learned the hard way that a contract is only as clear as the words you put right up top. For instance, I sometimes do design work, and once worked with one client while I was still in launch stage and working at quarter-priced rates in order to fill out my portfolio. Despite this, she thought she was getting top-quality pro work, the kind she’d receive from a 10-year veteran. When I requested understanding for my newbie status, she did not grant it.

In this case, it needed to be in my contract that I was starting my business, streamlining my process and not promising the same quality she would have gotten from an established creative charging four times as much (if not more). And once you put the terms in your contract, be sure to discuss them verbally.

3. Limit scope creep like a boss

Scope creep happens. All the time. Recently, another one of my clients sent me a job for 1,000 words. When I returned it to them, they told me they were happy with my work, and went on to insert it into a larger piece they were working on. They then emailed me all 11,000 words of their full project and asked me to edit for consistency… you know, since I’d been the one to write a small piece of it.

Um, no.

Even if you dutifully note the number of revisions you offer, as suggested above, clients will still try to take advantage by asking for “small fixes” or “just one more thing,” forgetting to include vital information up front and wanting you to include it later on. Or -- as my client did -- just wildly overestimating your willingness to help for free.

This is why it’s important to have a line in your contract stating how much you charge for continuation of work. Something along the lines of, “for revisions past two rounds, or additional work beyond the scope of the project, I charge $XYZ.”

4. Clarify incentives up front

Let’s be real about incentives: they’re not necessarily that great for you. If they bring in more business? Well, awesome. But sometimes all they are is a discount for work you would have gotten anyway, without benefiting you or your business in any real way. So... be careful.

If you offer incentives, stick to the terms. Honor them if a client is really buying two things for a 2-for-1 deal, and tell them to stick it if they ask for half-off one thing. Don’t play ball with old clients who want the new client sign-up discounts; it’s not for them. If you really like someone, you can consider it, but respectfully request that they don’t tell others. This goes for working at reduced rates for friends and family, who need to understand that as a businesswoman your goal is to charge much more than that when you work for others.

Use your contract as your new best friend

Working with clients can be a challenge. We’re all set in our own ways, opinionated, and looking out for Number One. A good contract, though, can create a team out of what might in other scenarios become two opposed parties. I believe strongly in its power to bind and build a bond through mutual understanding, and I hope you can one day feel the same.

What other situations have come up that have taught you important lessons about what to include in your contracts, fellow solopreneurs?

P.S. Want more information on effective contracts? Check out Small Business Bodyguard for the legal perspective and Stress Less & Impress for the process/workflow side of things!

How To Stay Fit on the Road as a Location-Independent Solopreneur

It's Location Independence Month on One Woman Shop!

I am not one of those people who loves working out. You know the type, right? They get off on endorphins and sweating or whatever. They talk about “runner’s highs” and “pushing through the burn” and, honestly, I kind of want to smack them because while I’m not someone who loves working out, I am someone who loves eating. A lot. Like, I would pretty much eat everything all the time if that was a life option.

But, unfortunately, with the onset of my mid-twenties and the perfectly natural slowing down of my metabolism, eating all of the things all of the time without working out is a no-go. Let me be clear: I am all about body positivity. I’m not here to tell anyone what they “should” be doing when it comes to exercise, no matter if they’re a size 2 or 22. If you love your body and are happy with it, that’s all that matters! I, however, was not loving my body anymore and decided to do something about it.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m a digital nomad. That means that I work online and move around a lot. I’ve lived in six different countries on three continents in the past two years and don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. What that means, then, is that building up a workout habit is a bit harder. Joining a gym gets complicated when your location constantly changes.

Not a nomad? Getting into a workout routine can still be really hard. To help you through it, here are a few tips on staying fit and staying healthy, no matter where you are:

1. Don’t rely on gyms.

My boyfriend has a great list of things that help him keep a sense of normalcy when we land in a new country, whether we’re in Ubud or Buenos Aires. On that list is “find a gym,” which he does within two days of us landing.

I, however, am much more of a procrastinator than he is and therefore gyms aren’t a great option for me. Instead, I focus on doing workouts that don’t require me to go anywhere other than the front room of wherever we’re staying. Which leads me to…

2. Pick a routine you can do anywhere.

Not relying on gyms means that I can get in a workout even if we’re somewhere short term, which is exactly what I did on a recent 10-day trip to Japan. I woke up, rolled off the futon, put on my workout gear, and did a slightly modified version of the same routine I’d been doing back in Guatemala. Traveling can easily become an excuse to fall behind on your workouts but it doesn’t have to be, if you don’t let it.

3. Stay away from routines that involve equipment.

For the past year or so, I’ve mostly been doing body-weight exercises. That means that all I need to work out are apps on my phone (7 Minute Workout is a great one if you’re just getting started), sometimes a chair, and the occasional wall. Considering most places have all of those things (except, funny enough, that apartment in Japan: no chair!), I can never use lack of equipment as an excuse to not workout.

Other great “possible anywhere” routines include: going for a run, sprinting, and simply walking around to explore whatever new place you’re in!

Editor's note: Here's a solid roundup of ways to get your sweat on that don't require equipment.

4. Do it at the same time every day, even if you’re in a different timezone.

As any pro freelancer will tell you, routine is the most important thing if you’re trying to stay productive without an office and a boss. It’s also super important when you’re trying to make a habit of working out. Choosing a certain time of day that you always work out makes it easier to transfer your workout from one country to the next.

Personally, I work out first thing in the morning. On my workout days, I immediately put on my workout clothes and head straight into my routine. I know myself well enough to know that it’s too easy to get distracted by other things (read: delicious food and beer) in the afternoon, which means that when I say I’ll “do it later,” what I’m really saying is “I’m not doing it today.” Figure out what time of day works best for you and stick to it.

5. Don’t beat yourself up — too much.

And, finally, if you miss a few days of working out because you’re getting into the routine of a new place or you’re staying, for example, in a traditional tatami-mat room in a tiny, tiny guesthouse in Kyoto, don’t freak out. Yes, not working out will set you back a bit but you know what will set you back even more? Letting it keep you from getting started again. So if you miss a day or two — or even a week or two — count it as water under the bridge and get going again. You got it, girl.

How do you stay fit as a solopreneur, at home or on the road? Let's cheer each other on in the comments below.

Note: I never worked out until a little over a year ago and my boyfriend has been an amazing support/personal trainer throughout all of this. Everything I know (and therefore basically everything in this article) is thanks to his help.

Digital nomad and location independence resources