How to Fit Learning Into Every Day as a Solopreneur

fit learning into everyday

How to Fit Learning Into Every Day as a Solopreneur

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

I get it.

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

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

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

Start here: Know what you need

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

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

How to fit learning in without stress

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

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

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

1. Don’t overcomplicate it

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

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

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

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

2. Approach your learning in small doses

Do you drink water? Of course you do.

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

Same thing can work for learning.

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

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

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

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

3. Stop scrolling

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

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

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

Instead of scrolling through feeds on your downtime, try:

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

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

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

The Most Underrated Educational Resource for Your Business

educational business resource

educational business resource

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

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

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

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

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

1. The price can’t be beat

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

2. They offer a break from the screen

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

3. They’re completely portable

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

4. You can go your own pace

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

5. You can mark up those margins

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

6. Endless information

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

Recommended business reads

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

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

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

Keep learning

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

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

Learn How to Code: The Why and the How

learn to code

Learn How To Code

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

Why would you want to learn how to code?

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

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

How learning to code enabled me to become a solopreneur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The different ways to learn coding

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

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

Paid courses

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

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

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

Free options

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

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

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

A note on bootcamps

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

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

How to pick the right course for you

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

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

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

Overcoming obstacles and moving forward

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

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

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

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

 

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

If You Want to Master Your Passion, Teach It

How to Master your passion

How to Master your passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had to start over.

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

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

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

Think of it your course/opus topic this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But most of all, just do it.

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

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

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

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

measure ROI and record tax deductions on educational material

measure ROI and record tax deductions on educational material

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Measuring the ROI of business development content purchases

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

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

Here are the questions I ask myself before purchasing:

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

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

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

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

Accounting for educational material purchases

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

So how do you account for these types of expenses?

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

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

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

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

Get your books in order

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase Effectively

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase

How to Choose Your Next Course Purchase

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

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

We’ve all heard both sides of this issue.

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

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

What if I told you both sides are right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to evaluate the ‘why’ in your course decisions

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

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

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

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

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

Bonuuuuus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Up a Business: 5 Plans + Systems to Have in Place

We have a problem in the online business community: too much planning and not enough doing.

In an attempt to avoid being another wantrepreneur dreamer with big ideas and little action, many new business owners are diving head first into their work without taking the time to put together some thoughtful strategy.

While the advice to “start before you’re ready” is on point, you can get started in a smart way that allows you to set yourself up for success from the start.

A combination of planning and systems implementation will save you hours of heartache in the long run.

1. Get clear on your business model

The first, big-picture thing you should do, before planning out any systems or tools, is to get clarity on what kind of business you want to have.

Short-term, you may be focusing on 1-on-1 freelance work, and nothing else, which is fine.

But if you’re wanting to evolve quickly from a 1-on-1 model to an agency model or a products and courses model, you need to plan accordingly.

Map out your one-year plan, then set up the following systems with the long-term goal in mind. It will minimize the number of changes you’ll need to make as your business evolves.

2. Map out your project workflows

The next thing you should do is put together a rough outline of what tasks you’ll be doing, and in what order, to complete your work. For example, if you’re a copywriter, you may have the following workflow:

1. New client intake
2. Create first drafts
3. 30-minute client feedback call
4. Create second drafts
5. Final client approval
6. Finalize drafts
7. Copy delivery
8. Client offboarding

Now your initial reaction may be, “but why? I know I have to do that anyway.” And it does seem like something that’s easy to handle…at first. But as you get deeper into projects, it will be easy to forget exactly which stage you are in for each client.

In an interesting research study, a checklist system, inspired by the one pilots use before each flight, was introduced to hospital surgeons. Many surgeons were against the idea of being forced to use a checklist to do something they were experts at. The results, however, surprised them, and the researchers found that being forced to use the checklist brought the hospital consistently better surgery results.

When the 20% of surgeons who remained opposed to using a checklist by the end of the study were asked if they would like a doctor to use a checklist when operating on them, 94% responded yes.

So even if you don’t believe the checklist will help you, outlining your workflow for the client can give them peace of mind that you have a process they can rely on to get their deliverable. It’s a win-win.

(More: Step-by-step instructions for creating an effective workflow.)

3. Make your client management effortless

In addition to delivering a good product in a timely manner, making your client feel taken care of from the minute they apply for a discovery call is a surefire way to ensure a smooth experience that results in testimonials and referrals.

Have you ever started work with someone only to have them forget to send you all the things they said they would -- notes from your intake call, a contract, your invoice, information about how to schedule another call…?

It’s both maddening and disconcerting, because you’re not quite sure if this person knows what they’re doing.

Be certain you have processes in place for client onboarding that includes a welcome pack with:

  • A contract
  • An invoice
  • Information about how to schedule calls/office hours/etc.
  • Project timelines and/or deliverables

Once you’ve wrapped up your project, it’s also great to have an offboarding packet that includes:

  • A summary of your work together
  • Any relevant deliverables in one easy-to-find location
  • Maintenance information, if relevant
  • Ways you could continue working together
  • A request for a testimonial if they had a good experience
  • A request for at least one referral to replace the client’s spot

If you’re really wanting to improve the experience, be sure to get their address during the onboarding process so you can send them a gift during the offboarding process!

4. Put social media on autopilot

You don’t need a full sales or marketing funnel when you’re first starting out, but it is great to make yourself more visible every day just by planning your social media in advance.

If you’re willing to invest some money in tools that will do it all for you, Edgar or TweetJukebox are good options that allow you to simply upload content that they will recycle for you.

If you’re wanting to bootstrap at the start, have no fear! Batching your work is wonderful for many aspects of your business, especially social media.

Set aside a few hours in one block at the beginning or end of the month to create and schedule your social media, either natively within the platform (like Facebook) or with the free version of a tool like Hootsuite.

Now, instead of getting bogged down in an endless cycle of daily social media, you take care of it in one day and just check in and respond to messages throughout the month!

If engaging in Facebook groups is on your marketing to-do list, set aside one to three 1-hour long blocks each week to check in and offer advice or feedback to others. Put it on your schedule so that it’s an appointment, not just something to get around to when you’re bored, and you’ll treat it like a real marketing task instead of a time suck.

5. Schedule time away from your business

That’s right, the best system you can implement in your business at the start is one for self-care and balance. The 80-hour weeks can be necessary at times, but time to recharge is always necessary.

Your turn: What do you think you need to make your business successful from the start?

Saving for Retirement as a Solo Business Owner

Congratulations! You decided to leave your 9-to-5 job to open your one woman shop. But, unlike a corporate job, solopreneurship doesn’t include a formal orientation with Human Resources. (Which were pretty boring anyway, right?)

So today, I’m going to answer your questions about solopreneur retirement options -- because being on your own means shouldering the weight of setting up your retirement options. Even so, it doesn’t have to be draining. To make it more enticing? Take my view and think of it in terms of your “financial independence.”

The best definition I’ve read of financial independence comes from Matt Becker of Mom and Dad Money (he’s also a fee-only financial planner). He defines financial independence as “The freedom to make decisions based on what makes you happy instead of what makes you money.”

When you’re financially independent, you can choose to spend more time with your family, travel, or volunteer. You can choose when to work, and how you work. Unlike your 9-to-5, it’s all up to you. But unlike your 9-to-5, you’ve got some decisions to make. Let’s begin.

What do I do with an old 401(k) or 403(b)?

One of the first questions I get from solo business owners, or anyone who’s changed jobs for that matter, is what to do with their old 401(k) or other company-sponsored retirement plan. As tempting as it may be to cash out and use the funds to grow your new business, I wouldn’t go that route. Yes, investing in your business is a good idea, but there are additional taxes and penalties for tapping into your 401(k) before age 59½. An early distribution will generally be subject to both ordinary income taxes and a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Plus, you lose future tax-advantaged growth.

You have three good options when it comes to your old 401(k), 403(b), or other company-sponsored retirement plan: do nothing, roll the funds over to a Traditional IRA, or roll the funds into a solo retirement account. Let’s explore those options:

1. Do nothing and keep the funds in your prior employer’s retirement plan

  • Pros: This is the easiest option, but if your account balance is less than $5,000, you might be forced into taking action. Additionally, you may have access to certain investments (think institutional funds with potentially lower expenses) that might not be available outside of this retirement account.
  • Cons: You’re limited to the investment options chosen by your employer. Additionally, you’ll be unable to make additional contributions. If you can still make contributions, they’ll be restricted.

2. Roll the funds over to a Traditional IRA

  • Pros: You typically have access to a wider range of investment options, including mutual funds and ETFs (exchange-traded funds) as well as individual stocks, CDs (certificates of deposit), and bonds. Additional contributions are allowed and you have the option to move assets to a future employer's plan. In addition, if you already have a Traditional IRA, all of your retirement assets will be in one place.
  • Cons: You can’t take a loan, but I wouldn’t recommend a 401(k) loan even if you had the ability to take it. Also, certain 401(k) investments may not be available.

3. Roll the funds into a solo retirement account like a solo 401(k) or SEP IRA

  • Pros: You can make contributions -- and employer contributions are considered business expenses. Loans may be allowed.
  • Cons: Potentially limited investment options. This isn’t so much of a con, but a consideration. Depending on your solo retirement account type and size, you’ll need to file forms with the IRS.
    • Another consideration to make note of: If you rollover to a SEP IRA and hire employees in the future, you’ll have to contribute to the SEP IRA on their behalf if you also contribute for yourself.

Whichever route you take, pay attention to the fees and expenses associated with your old and new retirement accounts. Sometimes it makes sense to keep your money in your old retirement plan if the fees and expenses are much lower than a new retirement account.

Additionally, if you plan on rolling over your old retirement plan into another plan, make sure the new plan is set up first. Consider requesting a direct rollover, right to your financial institution. This is also referred to as a trustee-to-trustee rollover, and it can help ensure that you don’t miss any deadlines.

Where should I save if I’m starting from scratch?

Maybe you’re not coming from a former employer with a company-sponsored retirement plan. No problem -- there’s no better time to start investing (and saving) than now! Here are a few options for you, solo biz owner:

1. Traditional or Roth IRA

One way an individual with earned income can start saving for retirement is by contributing to a Traditional or Roth IRA. Individuals have until April 15, 2017 to make a contribution for the 2016 tax year. For 2016, individuals can contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older) or their taxable compensation for the year, if their compensation was less than this dollar limit. However, a Roth IRA contribution might be limited based on tax filing status and income.

Roth IRAs are great because you can withdraw your money tax-free when you’re in retirement. Contributing to a traditional IRA, on the other hand, earns you an income tax deduction. However, that deduction may be limited if you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work and your income exceeds certain levels. Review the IRS guidelines for more details.

Also, if you’re a new business owner, you may find yourself in a lower tax bracket than when you were at your corporate job. (Not for long, I hope!) That means it might be a good time to convert an old 401(k) or traditional IRA into a Roth, where you can capture lower taxes today and withdraw that money tax-free when you’re in retirement.

If you have more money to contribute to retirement than $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older), then you may want to invest in one of the following retirement accounts.

2. The Solo 401(k)

The Solo 401(k) is a traditional 401(k) plan covering a business owner with no employees, or that person and his or her spouse. A business owner can make the following contributions:

  • Elective deferrals of up to 100% of earned income up to a maximum annual contribution of $18,000 in 2016, or $24,000 in 2016 if age 50 or over; plus
  • Employer non-elective contributions up to 25% of compensation, with total contributions not to exceed $53,000 for 2016.

Note that these elective deferral limits apply per person, not per plan. So if you’re also participating in another employer’s 401(k), say if you’re starting your business while still employed at a corporate job and making 401(k) contributions to take advantage of an employer match, these will count against the limit for employee contributions to an individual 401(k) or IRA.

Also: A Solo 401(k) plan is generally required to file an annual report on Form 5500-SF if it has $250,000 or more in assets at the end of the year. A solo 401(k) with fewer assets may be exempt from the annual filing requirement. If you choose to go this route, your solo 401(k) must be set up by December 31st and funded by your tax return due date in order for contributions to apply for that year.

3. Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP IRA)

A SEP IRA is like a traditional IRA, but it is funded solely by employer contributions. A business owner sets up an IRA for each qualifying employee and can contribute up to 25% of each employee’s pay (and 25% of net self-employment income). Annual contributions are limited to the smaller of $53,000 or 25% of compensation for 2016. There are no “catch-up” contributions like the solo 401(k).

The SEP IRA is a great option for those who do not qualify for a solo 401(k), or who have employees and are looking for a retirement plan for their company. Business owners just need to file a form with the IRS (Form 5305-SEP) and open a SEP IRA at a bank or financial institution

How to choose your retirement account as a solo business owner

Which tax-advantaged retirement plan should you use? That depends on the nature and size of your business. (Do you plan on hiring employees in the future?) Additionally, you need to consider your tax filing status, age, and participation in other retirement plans. Since some plans require more administrative and fiduciary responsibilities, you may want to chose one retirement plan over another due to simplicity.

Pay yourself first!

Finally, in order to reach your financial goals, start by paying yourself first. This is important even if you aren’t a business owner! You can achieve this by setting up automatic transfers to your savings, retirement, and/or investment accounts. As an entrepreneur, your income may vary, so allocate your savings based on percentages instead of dollar amounts. For example, make it a goal to set aside 5% of every client payment. This will automatically help you save more dollars when your income is higher and keep you from overextending yourself during leaner months.

How to Create an Impressive (& Functional) Client Intake Process

The client intake process can be a bore for users and a pain for the service-based business owner to create because there are a lot of moving parts -- gathering pertinent client information, handling the legal documentation, collecting payment, and scheduling the actual client calls.

Yet the upfront time spent creating your client intake workflow can set you apart from everyone else, while also being beautifully branded and making the process easy for your clients. Your clients will thank you, and you will love having all client information in one document.

Set the tone from the beginning

Before building your client intake form, make a list of all of the information you need to gather from potential clients. Depending on your type of business, you might need:

  • client’s name and contact information
  • event date, time, and location
  • client’s website URL
  • who referred them to you
  • client’s expectations, struggles, or goals

Be sure to also consider anything that you will need from the client to begin your work with them. For example, you might want to create a contract for your client to sign, you might need to collect payment, and you might have pre-work for your client to do prior to your first meeting.

As soon as a client decides to hire you, be sure your initial email includes all vital information including:

  • link to intake form
  • a one-page FAQ or “what to know” info sheet
  • a link to schedule their initial call/consult

You want to alleviate a long email exchange and get right down to business, but you also want to make it clear to your potential client as to how you run your business.

Can one intake form do all this? Absolutely.

Building a comprehensive client intake form

The goal for your intake form is to gather all pertinent information from your client in one form. But keep in mind that this is the first professional interaction your client will have with your brand, so you want to leave a good impression.

For an all-inclusive and easy-to-use intake process, I recommend Typeform Pro. You may be familiar with Typeform as a way to survey to your readers or create pretty questionnaires, but there is so much more to Typeform.

You can easily create fields to gather basic information like your client’s name, contact information, and URL, but there are other fields within Typeform that will allow you to do more to really flesh out your client intake process. Here are a few examples:

Legal information: Use the “Legal” field to add your contract to the intake form. You can make it “required,” which means your client will have to agree to the contract prior to proceeding with the remainder of the form.

Be sure to include a note that lets them know that by agreeing to the contract in this form, they are essentially signing the contract. You can also include a copy in the “Files” section of Typeform, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Payment: Connect your Typeform account with your Stripe account and easily collect payment on your intake form.

Typeform also has a feature allowing you to set different prices based on your client’s selection of your products or services, calculating the total amount due at the end. Clients will be able to securely enter their credit card information directly in the Typeform and Stripe handles the payment.

File upload: Easily provide your clients with a PDF of your legal information, as well as any pre-work or other important documentation right there in the intake form.

This is also a great opportunity for you to include a copy of your FAQ sheet. As solopreneurs working with clients, we tend to get asked the same questions repeatedly. Encouraging our clients to read the FAQs ahead of time will help alleviate some of these questions, freeing up more of your time to devote to the actual client work.

Thank you page: Typeform’s thank you page allows you to give clients further instructions or notice of what to expect next. You might want to let them know to expect an email that confirms your receipt of their intake form, or provide them with a link to a specific website that allows them to schedule their initial meeting with you.

Respondent notifications: After building and designing your intake form in Typeform, you will need to configure the respondent notifications. Essentially, this is the email each client will receive after completing their intake form. Typeform allows you to add specific responses to this email, which I use to create an email receipt of their payment. It looks something like this:

Hello 1 - [Your name:]

Thank you for your submission! I'll be in touch with you very shortly with the next steps based on the service package you have selected. If you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, don't hesitate to hit "reply" on this email. I'm happy to help, and appreciate your business!

For receipt purposes:

You signed up for the following service(s): [name of service package…]
For your records, you paid [price]

Thank you & have a nice day!

Typeform fills in the name, service package, and price based on the responses in the intake form.

You may also want to include links to your FAQ sheet and scheduling tool in this email as well, just in case your client skipped over the thank you page in your Typeform.

Building a helpful FAQ document

As I mentioned earlier, an FAQ sheet is a great resource for your clients and helps you alleviate the back-and-forth email exchange that tends to happen. It’s also a great way for you to set expectations and guidelines for your client interaction. In addition to the questions you frequently get asked, consider including:

  • Your work hours: Let clients know upfront that you will only be available via email/phone during specific office hours. If they contact you outside of these office hours, let them know the average time it takes for you to get back to them.
  • Your email policy: Be very clear about how many emails are included in their service package with you. Advise them to send one comprehensive email each week, rather than a series of short emails throughout the week.
  • How meetings take place: If you meet with clients via Skype, Google Hangouts, or over the phone, let them know this upfront and provide a bit of direction in case they aren’t familiar with the platform you use.
  • Reminder of pre-work: If you provided any pre-work, remind your client that this needs to be done prior to your first meeting.

If the work you are doing for this client is dependent upon the client completing certain tasks, be sure to mention that, as well. For example, if you are designing a website and need images from the client of their products, be sure to let them know that you can only complete your work on time if they follow through with specific tasks based on the timeline of your project.

Streamlining your scheduling

If your client work involves working 1:1 with the client in a meeting, whether that’s online, over the phone, or in person, you will need to provide a way for your client to schedule their time with you.

Calendly is a simple scheduling tool that syncs with your Google, Office 365, or Outlook calendar. Create one type of event for each of your service plans and allow clients to book based on your availability. They can select which date and time works best for them, and the event is added to your calendar. You will be notified of this event when the client schedules with you.

Acuity Scheduling is another powerful scheduling tool that operates in a similar way as Calendly, allowing you to sync your calendar and create multiple types of events. Acuity, however, also allows you to accept payment from clients. This might come in handy if you accept a deposit via Typeform, and need to collect payments each time your client books another event with you.

Acuity also integrates with email service providers like ConvertKit and MailChimp, dropping your clients into your email list automatically, and allows you to schedule group events like webinars or workshops. If you use Quickbooks or Freshbooks for business accounting, payments received through Acuity can be automatically added to your ledger.

What a streamlined client intake process gives you

Eliminate the back and forth, so you have less headaches. Streamline the intake process, so your client knows exactly what to expect. Despite it taking more time to set up, it’s a win-win that you won’t believe you lived without before, service-based biz owner.

Now that your client intake process is streamlined, you have more time to actually work with clients, helping your business continue to grow.

We are affiliates for a few of the services mentioned above. As always, we only promote products and services we truly believe can benefit your business.

The Often Overlooked Client-Getting Strategy: Setting Up Successful Referral Relationships

You have something powerful to offer – I just know it. And you want to more people to know about you and purchase your products and programs.

You’ve probably done a lot to get the word out about your business, but how can you market yourself more quickly and easily?

If you were to focus on one high-impact strategy, I would recommend creating relationships with referral partners.

What exactly is a referral partner?

A referral partner is simply someone who refers clients or customers to you.

For example, if you’re a health coach, you might form a connection with an acupuncturist who’s eager to refer her patients to you, so they can get support on improving their diet.

To give you another example, let’s say you own a yoga studio and you want to get more people into your classes. You might partner with a local juice bar that’s excited to email their list of customers a special offer for a free yoga class or a discounted offer.

Referral partners are like GOLD

Word of mouth recommendations hold significant weight.

When I was a health coach, and then again in my current business, I’ve noticed that whenever a potential client was personally referred to me by a colleague, the potential client almost always signed up.

More than that, they came to me ”pre-sold” and were eager to start working together. Nice, right?

Who do you want as a referral partner?

Now that we’ve established why you want referral partners, let’s discuss who would make a good referral partner.

This will obviously depend on your business, but the important thing is that it’s someone who serves a similar audience as you, but does not compete with you because they offer different services, products, or programs.

For example, if you’re a nutritionist specializing in working with new moms, potential referral partners could be OB/GYNs, midwives, doulas, and fitness program providers targeting new moms such as Baby Boot Camp.

But it’s not just about the type of business they’re in. They should have a strong client/customer base, which will help to ensure that they can actually refer people to you! (Editor’s note: What makes a strong base? It’s not just about the numbers -- sometimes, a smaller, but more engaged audience is worth more than list sizes of triple digits.)

4 easy ways to find referral partners

#1 Start with who you know

You might think that you don’t know anyone who could be a good referral partner. But, if you start to pay attention to the places (in person or online) you frequent, other business owners you interact with, and your friends/contacts, I promise that very quickly you’ll be able to identify 3-5 potential referral sources (if not more!).

#2 Network (with a twist)

Most people use networking groups to meet potential clients. This can work well, but what I’ve found more effective is to use these groups to connect with potential referral partners.

When I was a health coach, I was looking to meet other wellness practitioners and people in the fitness world who also worked with women in their 30s–50s. At one of the first networking groups I attended, I was thrilled when I met Toby, the owner of a large acupuncture clinic. We hit it off and she became a good friend and a great referral partner.

#3 Ask for a connection

Know the type of person or business you want to form a relationship with, but don’t have a personal connection to them? Ask people you know to connect you.

This means tapping into the connections of your friends, family, and colleagues. Don’t forget about reaching out in any online groups you’re a part of (such as Facebook groups or other online networking groups).

For example, if you want to connect with a personal trainer, ask your friends, contacts, and the people you’ve met through networking, "Do you know of any personal trainers in the area?" If you’re more focused online, you can ask “Do you know any online fitness gurus?”

#4 Search online

Let’s say that you have a really good idea of the type of business you want to connect with. For example, you’re a copywriter for women entrepreneurs and you want to connect with website developers because you know that your ideal clients desperately want help writing their website copy.

You might search for “web developer WordPress women entrepreneurs.”

When you find someone who looks like a good fit, turn them into a warm lead by…

  • following them on social media and sharing/retweeting their stuff
  • opting in to their list
  • reading their blog and commenting
  • connecting with them directly via email

How to approach potential referral partners

Now that you’ve identified or been introduced to potential referral partners, how should you approach them (without sounding selfish or overeager)?

The goal is send them an email that gets them to reply.

I often find that people send introductory emails that are too long – including all the details about their offerings and their lengthy story. People don’t have the attention span to read through a long email, so make it easy for them by sending short and sweet email with a simple request.

In the email, be sure to focus on them -- what you admire or like about them and your desire to support them.

Sample email template – feel free to steal this!

Hi xx,
I've been following your work for a while and I love what you're up to. I love how you [insert something you love about what they do/their approach, etc.].

It looks like we serve a similar audience. I'm a [insert what you do] and I specialize in [insert your specialty]. My clients are often looking for support with [insert their profession or what they specialize in – example “My clients are often looking for a chiropractor they can trust”] so I’m excited to have found you!

I'd love to find a time to connect for a few minutes about how we can support each other. Do you have any time in the next couple of weeks?

Warmly,
[your name]

[Your name]
[Your title]
[Your website]
[Your email]
[Your phone #]

How to show reciprocity

Let’s say that you have a referral partner and they’ve started sending you clients. How can you show reciprocity?

You have a few options. What you choose will depend on the nature of the relationship.

A wonderful way to show reciprocity is to promote your referral partner to your tribe. This may mean hosting them on a webinar, emailing your list about their programs/services, and/or individually referring your clients to them (when you feel it’s a good fit).

In most cases, you’ll want to pay the partner a commission for any sales they send your way. This can be a flat fee or a percentage. If your referral partner isn’t looking for a commission, send them a thoughtful gift or, if they’re local, take them out for a meal to thank them and build the relationship.

Developing relationships with referral partners can be fun and rewarding. Especially in the online world, it’s easy to feel isolated. (It’s what groups like One Woman Shop are for.) Creating relationships with supportive like-minded colleagues is not only great for your bottom line, but it’s also wonderful for your spirit.

Building Your Online Community