Why We Created The Road to Solopreneur Success Ebook

Road to Solopreneur Success ebook

Back in September of 2015, we launched the Solopreneur Success Bundle. You’ve heard us talk a lot about it (it was pretty freakin’ awesome), so we won’t dive too far into in this post. (You can see our behind-the-scenes insights here.)

One thing, though: As part of the Bundle, we hosted a blog tour. We invited those in our community to respond to one or both of the following prompts:

What area(s) of your business do you struggle with most and what do you plan on changing?
and/or
What area(s) of your business are you excelling at most and how did you get there?

And what we ended up with was, in one word, epic.

That brings us to this month: the launch of the free 47-page Road to Solopreneur Success ebook. If you want to dive into the ebook right now, head over here to download it now.

But, if you’re interested in hearing more about our thought process behind the ebook, stick around right here. (And hey -- they’re not mutually exclusive. Go download the ebook and then come back here. We’ll wait.)

Why compile these stories into an ebook?

Our first and foremost intention with the ebook was to create a resource to shorten the learning curves of solo business owners. Think of it as mentorship, in readable form. Here are some of our other considerations:

Create different forms of content

We know that our community likes to absorb content in different ways -- while some prefer to watch videos, others want short-form blog posts. Still others prefer an in-depth ebook (of, say, 47 pages!).

Because we love our community and wouldn’t get the privilege of working on One Woman Shop day-in-and-day-out without all of you, we’re accommodating a variety of learning styles by doing things like hosting The Hot Seat over on Blab, posting snippets of our thoughts in the form of our new Shop Talk column, and now, creating the Road to Solopreneur Success ebook.

Repurpose existing content

And why create content from scratch when we have 18 incredibly honest, open, already-written stories to share with you? That’s why we’re practicing what we preach about repurposing content into different forms. We’ve taken 18 blog posts that feature very distinct voices and takeaways and woven them into one cohesive message: that (cheesy alert!) the road to solopreneur success is winding but the journey is worth it.

Offer a new, multiple contributor opt-in

And speaking of walking our talk, we talk ad nauseum in the Building Your Online Community e-course about the benefit of providing a valuable opt-in to your community -- and how creating a roundup opt-in that features advice and wisdom from multiple people can dramatically increase the reach of your opt-in. In short: You give others a platform to showcase themselves as experts; they in turn share your opt-in with their communities. Win-win, baby!

Over to you!

How can you think outside the box with your content creation today? If you’re a loyal OWS reader, you may remember that we asked you the same question when we launched The Solopreneur Sanity Handbook, but we think it’s important enough to ask again!

And in case you need it one last time, here’s where you can grab The Road to Solopreneur Success ebook (for free!).

Is It Time to Outsource a Task? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

outsourcing for your solo business

outsourcing for your solo biz

Editor’s note: We’re kicking off outsourcing month here at OWS! This post serves as a primer for deciding what tasks you might want to hire a pro to take on.

For many of us, we start our businesses out in bootstrapping mode.

You Google search. You consume blog post after blog post. You ask for advice in Facebook groups. Basically, you biz hack.

And even though this is more time consuming (and can be more frustrating) than turning to an expert, the DIY method does have some tangible benefits for a new business.

For one, it gives you as the biz owner a clear picture of what it takes to complete a task. (This is helpful intel to have when you do eventually hire support.) DIY-ing can also save you some cash in the short-term, something that is usually crucial for new business owners.

Let’s be honest, though. No matter how much of a well-oiled machine your one woman shop is, you’ll eventually need to call in reinforcements.

As your income streams diversify, you may no longer want to do your own bookkeeping. Maybe you'd like to hire a copywriter to really get that sales page converting. Or you might need a VA to get your newsletter off your plate and on a regular schedule.

Everyone will need support at some point. But how do you know when it’s the right time? How can you tell if your biz has hit that magic tipping point where your energy is better spent on other parts of your business? When I’m trying to make that call, I do a mini biz audit.

Here are the three questions I ask myself that help me know when it’s time to outsource a task:

1. Is it out of my zone of genius?

Does copywriting or web design stump you? Is it stopping you from expanding your biz? Could your time be better spent elsewhere?

No need to fret if you’re not great at a particular task. You’re good at what you do, so don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about the things that keep getting pushed to the bottom of your to-do list. While yes, there’s a case for learning some skills (read more about how to evaluate where you invest in your education here), unloading the tasks you’re not suited for will free you up to better serve your clients.

2. Is it a have to and not a want to?

Are you capable of completing this task, but you simply don’t want to? Is it simple, but too time consuming? Does it light you up, or inspire an “ugh?”

If you don’t want to do it, then don’t! It’s important to build a business you love. Naturally, there are going to be tasks that you aren’t enamored with as a business owner, and it’s normal not to love every minute, but there’s no sense escaping the 9-5 and bravely launching into self-employment just to feel like every day is still a drag, right? So go ahead -- outsource that stuff, girl.

3. Is it necessary?

In other words, should you even be going after this at all? Or is it a dead end? A shiny object project? Should it be on a stop doing list?

In Good to Great, Jim Collins says that successful businesses should not just have to-do lists but stop doing lists. Some things just distract you from doing what you do best and they need to be cut out for your business to meet its goals and grow. IF it’s a “stop doing,” it might not even be worth outsourcing -- but you won’t know until you evaluate all of your tasks and activities by these parameters.

How did you answer the three questions above?

If you’ve found a task that’s out of your zone of genius, is a “have to” and not a “want to” and is absolutely necessary to your success, don’t be afraid to don the boss lady pants and consider outsourcing.

Get your mini biz audit on, and get outsourcing

It can be a scary thing to bring another person into this business you've built with your own two hands. But taking the time to reflect will really make you more confident that you're making a smart move -- one that could propel your business forward.

One Woman Shops: What have you considered outsourcing -- and what’s holding you back?

PS -- Outsourcing isn’t limited to “business tasks.” Why not outsource some of your personal life, too?

How to Scale Your Service-Based Business and Reclaim Your Time

If you’re anything like me, you set up your solo venture motivated by one driving force: freedom.

I’m not a corporate girl. Spending hours and hours sitting behind someone else’s desk in someone else’s company, slaving away to drive up someone else’s profits was a soul-sucking experience I’m keen not to repeat (and I had my “dream” job in the exact industry I’d always wanted to work in).

Like all of us in this community, I love working for myself. I love the freedom, the creativity, the opportunities, and most of all the knowledge that even on my worst days in business, all my hard work is going into building something for myself, from the ground up. Every ounce of effort I put into my business is worth it, no matter how hard it gets (and it does) – talk about motivating!

Selling time for money eventually puts limits on both

But, a couple of years into my solo venture and with an amazing client list, I’m still selling my time for money. With this structure, as the profits go up, the freedom that I fought so hard to earn goes right back down. At the end of the day no matter how great your service is, you’re going to hit a revenue ceiling unless you can find a way to scale and reclaim some of those hours.

It’s completely possible to make a good living as a service provider – I’ve done it for two years now – but if you do decide you want to grow, I’ve found you have three main options.

You can raise your prices, which might allow you to take on fewer clients but will eventually have its own limits; you can hire and grow a team; or you can look at other ways to generate revenue alongside your services.

I didn’t want to hit my clients with ever-increasing prices, and managing a team feels like another big time commitment, so I focused on the third approach.

How productising your services can help you reach new people

Lots of highly successful entrepreneurs talk about standardising and packaging services, and avoiding custom work. I’m a copy editor, so my day-to-day work is highly specialised and tailored to each individual client. I thought about packaging and creating products out of my services, but for a long time I couldn’t see how to make this advice fit for me and my business. I thought I just didn’t fit the mould.

Until suddenly something clicked. I realised both me and my clients shared two problems:

  1. Some people can’t afford constant professional editing
  2. There are only so many hours in the day (and they were all filling up with my clients)

The concept for my product, Conquer Copy Editing, was born.

How creating a course has helped me grow

I didn’t want to write an e-book because as a consumer I’m guilty of starting them with the best of intentions and never making it to the end. Creating a course was the right choice for my business, because it’s allowed me to pack in far more value using videos, workbooks, cheat sheets, and quizzes.

I’ve been able to expand my audience (AKA my customer base) because I’ve designed my product for people who don’t want to work directly with an editor or outsource this step – they want to BE the editor and do it themselves to ramp up their own businesses and projects.

I’m productising in a way that doesn’t directly compete with the services I currently offer, but expands on them instead. My course complements my services and fits perfectly alongside the things I already do.

My business can now cater to a whole new target market, while still allowing me to do the fun 1-1 client work that was the reason I set up shop in the first place.

What’s the takeaway for your business?

If you’ve hit a wall in your service-based business and aren't quite sure how to make product creation fit into your business, give some thought to developing a course or programme to teach what you know.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there people who can’t afford you but still need what you offer?
  • Are there people who want to do what you do?
  • Can you teach what you do? (No excuses, of course you can!)
  • Are your experiences valuable? (Hint: You already know they are because your service clients love you.)

If you answered yes, creating a digital product could be the ideal way for you to grow. Daniel Priestley, entrepreneur and author of Key Person of Influence, says that a product has three benefits:

  • Establishes you as an expert
  • Allows you to scale
  • Frees up your time to focus elsewhere

I knew all of these things to be true (I was even watching other people grow by putting it into practice) but it took me a long time to figure out how to apply it to my own service business.

And don’t just take my word for it; you don’t have to look very far in the online business world to see entrepreneurs making these principles work with amazing and inspiring results.

Leah Kalamakis is a web designer and course creator who’s utilised her expertise to help her clients develop effective behind-the-scenes systems in their businesses through Stress Less & Impress.

Indigo Colton is a virtual assistant who created her signature course, Hire Your VA in 1 Week, when she found it hard to hire her own VA, and knew that her inside knowledge could simplify the process for others.

Like me, both Leah and Indigo still provide their core services and haven’t turned their businesses upside down, but by adding these digital products we’ve all successfully done one thing: scaled our service offerings and created more time to spend doing what we love – whether in our personal lives, our businesses, or both.

What product could you create to scale your service-based business, reach new audiences and provide high value to people who otherwise can’t afford you or want to do it themselves? Let me know in the comments!

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

How to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business (And Why You Might Want To)

solo business logistics

This year, I set some pretty lofty business goals for my solo social media business. One of them: Diversify my clientele by adding corporate clients.

For me, the challenge of creating community and engagement around big, faceless corporate giants is one of the most fulfilling parts of running a social media management company. But approaching them? Not so easy. When reaching out to potential corporate clients, I know I need to bring my best game.

What becoming a certified woman-owned business is all about

Becoming a certified Woman-Owned Business not only creates credibility, but also creates opportunities for female business owners that they may not otherwise have access to. For me, it was a huge step toward the confidence I need to approach my dream corporate clients.

Certification can be obtained through a variety of organizations, including the U.S. Small Business Administration, and a host of state and local government agencies. I chose to pursue certification through the national Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC). While the City of Chicago offers a Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) Certification as well, a more national scale was a better fit for me because of the clients I’m targeting. For your business, a local certification may be the tool you need to set yourself apart in your specific region.

Ideal participants in certification should:

  • Be part of a business that is at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by a woman or women
  • Have a target market that includes corporate America
  • Be U.S. citizens

The WBDC promotes Woman Business Enterprise Certification as a tool to help women-owned businesses “get in the door” of large corporations. While not a guarantee of business, the WBE Certification is recognized by over a thousand major corporations and government agencies in the U.S. This is ideal for my business where, although I appreciate the benefits of working with local clients (like randomly popping into their offices with coffee and donuts for staff), I also have the flexibility of working remotely with clients.

Approaching corporate giants with a certification shows that you’re invested and serious -- a perception that solopreneurs may struggle against.

Who certification isn’t for

Not all One Woman Shops will benefit from certification. Namely, business owners who prefer to work strictly with solopreneurs or small business clientele most likely won’t be able to realize the full benefits of obtaining certification.

The process + timeline of getting certified

I gave myself three weeks to make this happen. There’s not a ton of information readily available about certifications and so I had to conduct a fair amount of research on my own. Over the span of those three weeks, it took about five hours of research to grasp the different types of certifications, which organizations offered them, and what the benefits of each were. The WBDC doesn’t offer application assistance services, but they do have a help line for application questions. I also reached out to various entrepreneurs for feedback and advice.

The WBE application is two-fold. In addition to gathering required documents, you must also register for and complete an online application. The online application is only good for 90 days, so make sure you have your documents before registering online!

Getting organized was my most time consuming feat. I didn’t feel comfortable just throwing documents into an envelope and sending them off. I wanted to present my application in a way that reflected my business as professional and thorough. It took about a week and a half for me to gather the required documents. I had to request copies of prior year tax forms through the IRS, hire an accountant to write an opening balance sheet and get my Sworn Affidavit notarized.

The WBE Certification contains six categories of required documentation:

  • General Information
  • Owner Eligibility
  • Financial Structure
  • Personnel
  • Management Information
  • Governance Information

I made title pages for each category, and behind each title page were the corresponding documents. I then nestled my entire application into a sliding bar report cover. The way I organized my application information is not a requirement, but I thought it would be convenient for the personnel reviewing my application.

Once submitted, it can take up to 90 days for your application to process. Keep this in mind if you’re seeking certification within a certain timeframe. Be sure to go through the documentation requirements with a fine-tooth comb. If you’re missing something, you run the risk of pushing your application to the end of the line, prolonging the certification process.

Tips to make the process smoother

When I first began researching WBE Certifications, I scared myself to death. I was overwhelmed with the six-page list of documentation I needed and ended up putting the project off for another week. When I finally worked up the nerve to tackle it again, I started small. I had no idea what an opening balance sheet was, but I knew I could print off my resume, make a copy of my state-issued driver's license, birth certificate, and DBA license, and in about 15 minutes I checked off four required items needed to complete my application. Start with what you know.

Here are a few other tips for making the process run smoother:

  1. Most organizations that offer certification will likely provide you with a list of required documents and/or another form of checklist. Print them off. I went through the doc requirements with a colored Sharpie to make note of what I had and what I needed. I then created a separate checklist of what I needed and a labeled file folder to keep all of my required documents in.
  2. You may need to solicit the service of an accountant or lawyer to help you with some documentation. Make a note of that as soon as you go through the requirements, and reach out to them in advance. It may take them time to fulfill the service you need for your application.
  3. Other documents you may be asked to provide are your business history and resume. In some cases, your biography does not suffice as business history, so you may have to write one from scratch. Keep in mind that a resume should cover related professional experience — so leave out the dog walking hustle you had during summer breaks, unless of course it relates to your business.
  4. Find an accountability partner. The depth of documentation required is highly dependent on how complex your business is -- based on factors like employees, partnerships, incorporation, and more. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. I knew committing to document my experience to share with other women in business via One Woman Shop (what you’re reading now) would keep me accountable and committed to my deadline.
  5. Most organizations that offer WBE Certifications do not offer application assistance. For business owners in the Chicagoland area, The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce offers application help through their Procurement Technical Assistance Center. Reach out to business assistance centers in your area for help (think Small Business Association). If they don’t offer the service, they’re likely to direct you to one that does.

Is it worth it?

A tedious application process and walking away $350 poorer must come with real benefits, right? Indeed, it does. Aside from the confidence it gives and the proof to your potential clients that you are a legitimate organization, certified Woman-Owned Businesses have exclusive access to a database of corporate partners, and those partners have access to your business information.

When I turned to a business group for advice on becoming a Women Business Enterprise, Jameeda McCoy, CEO of Belle Up Maternity weighed in on the benefits of certification: “The purpose of certification is that certain contracts (especially government ones) require a specified level of WBE participation, so large companies looking to bid on projects will often partner with smaller companies that are WBE-certified to do a particular job on the project.”

Christy Echols, President and CEO of Paragon Development Group, also added: "Reach out to organizations with a supplier diversity program (business programs that encourage the use of historically underutilized businesses as supply vendors) and target those companies with your WBE. For service-based businesses, WBE's love doing business with other WBE's!"

At the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Director Alex Alcantar reviewed my application with me. Although Alex assured me that my application was solid, he did explain to me that certification is only a first step in securing contracts. “You’ll have to work hard, market yourself and chase opportunities even after certification. Opportunities won’t just fall in your lap because of it.”

How to get started today

If you think a Woman-Owned Business certification is right for your business, start with a Google Search for Woman-Owned Business Certification + your city and state. A quick search will bring up city and state certification programs, and their associated costs.

One Woman Shops: Have you thought about applying for Woman-Owned Business certification? What’s holding you back? Tell me in the comments below.

5 Must-Dos In Your First Week of Solopreneurship

solo business logistics

Congratulations! You’ve made the leap to full-time solopreneurship.

The first few days out on your own are exciting, scary, freeing and anxiety-inducing all at the same time.

I would know. I’m currently in the midst of week three of running my own solo business after six years in a stable 9-5 corporate job. Over the last few years, I was building my business as a side hustle around those corporate hours.

During my first week of full-time solopreneurship, I experienced a million different types of emotions, ranging from “This is the BEST! Why did I wait so long to quit my job?” to “Oh My God, WHAT am I doing with my life?!”

Feeling that way, too? Take a deep breath and relax. What you’re experiencing is completely normal.

Plan ahead for those jitters with these five must-dos for your first week of solopreneurship.

1. Stick to your “normal” routine. While one of the major perks of solopreneurship is the ability to create your own flexible schedule, for the purposes of an easier transition, stick to your normal routine as closely as possible in your first week. For me, that meant continuing to set my alarm for 5 a.m. and starting my day with a workout even though I didn’t necessarily have somewhere to be at a certain time. Similarly, don’t forget to eat and hydrate! On my first day of solopreneurship, all of a sudden it was 2 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten lunch and was wondering why I was starting to feel so cranky and anxious. It’s the simple things that can fall by the wayside when you run your own business. Over time, begin to experiment with your schedule, but to keep yourself sane (at least in week one), stick to a schedule that creates a little bit of normalcy in your life.

2. Stay organized. Your first week as a solopreneur is your chance to start strong. As a business owner, there’s A LOT to keep track of. Put processes in place now to track your income, expenses, emails, client list, etc. One thing that has really helped me is creating a “master networking spreadsheet.” This is a list of every single person I reached out to (or who reached out to me) upon announcing my new business venture. In the spreadsheet, I track who the person is, the date we chatted, what we talked about and I tag the person as either a client, potential client or simply a good person to network with. This spreadsheet makes me feel in control of my relationships, connections and conversations, and will serve as a useful tool to remind me to stay in touch and follow up with my network. As business owners, we don’t always feel in control of what’s going on around us, but putting processes and organizational tools into place can help us gain back a little bit of control.

3. Leave yourself blocks of time to get work done. When you announce to your community that you’re starting your own business, naturally, your network will be excited for you. Many will want to set up coffee dates, breakfasts, lunches or Skype calls. I recommend you take the time to network and chat with these connections, but be sure to leave yourself significant blocks of time to actually get work done. In my first week of self-employment, I participated in 18 different meetings, many of them back-to-back, leaving me no chunks of time to write and complete proposals. By the end of the week, I felt completely panicked and realized I had committed the #1 major mistake of self employment: I seriously overbooked myself. Consider blocking your time in a way that works for you -- moving forward, I plan to leave my mornings open for writing/work and keep my afternoons clear for meetings/calls.

4. Do something that makes you feel like a solopreneur. In my first week of self-employment, I did two things that truly made me feel like a solopreneur. The first was meeting a friend for lunch and coworking at our favorite cafe in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. The second was teaching a 9:30 a.m. yoga class on a Friday morning. Both of these activities made me feel like I was “playing hooky” from work until I realized, “This IS my job now.” While simple and not so out of the ordinary, these two events allowed me the opportunity to really feel like a business owner calling the shots and running my own business. What type of activity makes YOU feel like a solopreneur? Allow yourself to indulge and take advantage of your new schedule and life by doing something that makes you feel good and excited about the future ahead.

5. Start and end your week with inspiring conversations. My first day of self-employment kicked off with a phone call with my mentor/biggest cheerleader, Jason Mollica. The week ended with a Friday afternoon call with a super inspiring fellow business owner, Ben Butler. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to kickstart and bookend my first week of solopreneurship. Think of two of the most inspiring and encouraging people in your life and ask them to be part of your all-important first week of self-employment! These two conversations gave me the motivation I needed to start my week right and ease into the weekend, mentally prepared to take on my second week of solopreneurship.

Fellow solopreneurs: Have anything else to add to this list? What are some must-dos you’d recommend to new business owners in their first week of self-employment?

Sales & Use Tax 101 for the Solopreneur

solo business logistics
Sales and use tax: words to make even the bravest entrepreneurs quiver in their boots -- once they know about it. If this is you, that’s totally OK, it’s less a tell-tale sign of your ability as an entrepreneur and more a case of under-education on the government’s part.

In fact, I’m willing to bet 75% or more of you don’t even know what use tax is and yet you could be responsible for paying it. (Again, not your fault.) Another large portion of you probably believe sales tax is something only those in retail have to worry about, but you would be wrong. Listen up infopreneurs and service providers: You might be required to collect sales tax!

If you weren’t quivering before, you might be now. Take a deep breath, because I’ve got the keys to the beginner kingdom of sales and use tax. What you’re about to read, however, is just the foundation. With these basics in mind, you’ll have to do some research on your own, because each and every state has its own laws when it comes to taxes.

But, let’s start from the beginning.

Sales tax...Do I collect it for every state?

Thankfully, no. You only collect sales tax for states in which you have nexus. Nexus is having a presence in a state in such a way that you come under jurisdiction of that state and are responsible for taxes if your sales apply. What exactly does that mean?

You likely have nexus in a state where:

  • You live
  • You have an employee
  • You have a contractor who creates or maintains a market (This one can be confusing. I suggest calling your state’s revenue department just to be sure.)
  • You have inventory housed (A lot of sellers get burnt on this one. If you use Fulfillment by Amazon, you could be responsible for collecting sales tax in many states!)

Your next best step here is to look up the states in which you think you may have nexus and research their particular criteria. A good starting point is my Sales Tax Resource Guide; it has links to states’ nexus requirements.

In addition, there is now “click-through nexus,” which might affect you if you have affiliates marketing your products. I’ll leave it to the experts over at TaxJar to explain this one. (Note: For many states, it depends on dollar amounts of affiliate sales, and most thresholds are relatively high.) Keep your eyes open here: I would expect this idea to spread as affiliate marketing becomes a more popular trend.

So this is only for businesses selling a physical product, right?

The days of only physical products being taxed have passed with the progression of technology. Sales tax is a huge part of state revenue and they want to keep it that way!

What this means for infopreneurs selling digital goods and service providers is that you might also be responsible for collecting sales tax. I know: Crazy!

The best way to find out if your state requires you to collect sales tax is to call your state’s revenue department and ask directly. States have made an attempt to create resources to help you determine if your sales should have taxes applied, but I tend to find that these pages are vague and are often not much help.

Some digital goods you might be responsible for taxing:

  • ebooks
  • virtual magazines
  • reports
  • e-courses (falling under audiovisual works or publications)
  • audio works
  • apps or software

But again, check with your state. For example North Carolina, where I live, does tax digital goods. New York however, does not.

As for services, this really depends on your state. (Are you seeing a trend here?) Here are a few examples to show you just how deep this runs:

  • Web design is taxable in Texas, but the first 20% of the total is exempt. Updates to an existing design may not require sales tax. Graphic design is also taxable. Consulting is not taxable; it’s the realization of the idea that is taxed.
  • In some states, an entire photography package may be taxable if a physical copy of photos is delivered.
  • Hawaii doesn’t have sales tax, but does have a general excise tax for all products and services.

The truth is, there are too many oddities in the laws to list. I would suggest doing a quick Google search for ‘your service + your state + sales tax.’

What the heck is “use tax,” anyway?

Now that we have the basics of sales tax squared away, let’s discuss use tax. The two go hand-in-hand. In fact, the registration and filing is done at the same time, but they are quite different in nature.

Have you ever bought something big online and were delighted to see that no sales tax was added? You were probably pretty excited to not have that extra charge tacked on, right?

Well, not so fast! Remember how I said sales tax is a big revenue stream for states? Even though you didn’t pay sales tax on that item, they still want their money. (Shocker.) And guess what? You are responsible for keeping up with your purchases made out-of-state that weren’t taxed and sending in taxes on that item to your state under use tax.

I know. This is a major bummer, and most people either have never heard of this or have and choose to turn a blind eye. BUT, this is important. States are starting to crack down more aggressively on people and businesses who don’t pay these taxes.

Okay, so now I know I should be collecting and sending in sales and use tax. What are the next steps?

  1. The first step is figuring out if you have back taxes to pay. Unfortunately, even if you didn’t collect taxes over the past year doesn’t mean you can just start now and pretend those sales don’t matter. You are still responsible for sending money that should have been collected to your nexus states. Check to see if your state has a Voluntary Disclosure Program to disclose unfiled taxes without penalty.
  2. Find a system to help you keep up with sales tax. You have a few options here:
    • Use a sales tax platform like TaxJar or Avalara’s TrustFile. Both connect with major ecommerce platforms or can have sales imported in. They will calculate your tax due for you and e-file in certain states, for a price.
    • Find a bookkeeper who can do it all for you. Keep in mind that not all bookkeepers do sales tax and it likely won’t be their cheapest service offering. Sales tax is a pain in the rear, regardless of who’s doing it.
  3. Register with your state for a sales and use tax certificate. Some states may call this something different. This takes a while to process so start ASAP! Be sure to check out my Sales Tax Resource Guide below with links to each state’s registration page.
  4. Take note of the filing frequency given to you when you register. This will tell you how often you have to file - annually, quarterly, or monthly.
  5. File and pay. (And wipe the sweat from your brow!)

That was a lot of information -- and that’s just the basics. Tax laws are like rabbit holes. They run deep and are quite complex. If you are the DIY type, give your state’s revenue department a call, and don’t be afraid to interrogate them; they will be able to answer any questions you have. If this is completely overwhelming, you have an out! Hire a bookkeeper who handles sales tax. You might have to work with them to register your business and get everything set up, but then it will be a mostly hands-off process.

Over to you: What experience do you have with sales and use tax? Share in the comments below!

Note: One Woman Shop is not a source for expert tax advice. The information provided here is shared with the understanding that the authors and publishers of this information are not intending to render legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.

Accounting Jargon, Decoded for the Solopreneur

solo business logistics
 
As solopreneurs, we wear many hats in our business: customer support, copywriter, salesperson, and CEO. As we bounce from field to field trying to get our tasks done, we’re often bogged down by industry jargon. And the worst part of jargon is this: We get sucked into a rabbit hole of research trying to understand how these complex terms relate to our business.

One of the industries that is chock-full of jargon is the accounting and finance industry. In my opinion (and I think you might agree), it sometimes feels as though they’re just trying to overcomplicate things. Here’s looking at you, IRS.

This became especially apparent recently, as I was working with my friend Jenny on the launch of a new service, adding in-home cooking classes to her current catering business. As she was trying to work through the financial side of things, she kept running into over-complex formulas and explanations that didn’t relate to her solopreneur business.

We worked through her questions and I gave her basic explanations of some of the most important accounting terms, how to use them in her business, and why she should be sure to look at these items. I thought maybe an explanation could help you, as well.

Here are the main accounting topics we worked through and examples of how these relate to her new service launch:

Fixed costs

  • What it is: Costs that will not change, regardless of how much you sell (rent, website hosting, utilities, salaries, etc).
  • Why it’s important: Fixed costs are often overlooked but they can creep up and quickly take a big bite out of your profits.
  • When you should review it: Monthly, to make sure your costs aren’t creeping up

As this is a home-based business and an extension of an existing business, Jenny’s fixed costs aren’t too high. They include things like her website hosting, her advertising budget, and her own salary. We were able to estimate that her fixed costs would be approximately $2,500/month.

Variable costs

  • What it is: The cost you have when you actually sell a product (materials, hourly wages, shipping, etc).
  • Why it’s important: Without knowing your complete variable cost, it can be very difficult to price a product or service appropriately.
  • When you should review it: Also monthly, to make sure your costs aren’t creeping up

For Jenny, included in her variable costs is the food she buys for each cooking class as well as payment to the assistant she hires on an hourly basis to help with each class. We concluded that her variable costs total for each student is $20.

Contribution margin

  • What it is: Sales (income) from each product or service sold minus variable costs.
  • Why it’s important: This will tell you how much money from each item that you’ve sold can be used to cover other costs (like fixed costs). I use this as my first test to see if I’ve priced things high enough.
  • When you should review it: When reviewing your pricing or launching a new product/service

Jenny charges $60 per student and her variable cost per student is $20, leaving her with a contribution margin of $40 per student ($60 - $20). That means that for every student she has in class, $40 can go toward covering her fixed costs and hopefully making a profit!

Breakeven

  • What it is: The point where you have sold enough you are no longer losing money. To get this, you’ll take your fixed expenses each month and divide by your contribution margin.
  • Why this matters: This one is seriously a big deal. This is the point where you will either have a business that makes money each month, or loses money each month.
  • When you should review it: Also when reviewing your pricing or launching a new product/service

Jenny has pretty low fixed costs since she’s running a home-based business. Her breakeven point each month is $2,500 fixed costs / $40 contribution margin = 62.5 students each month. This means that in order for her business to not lose money, she needs to have approximately 63 students in her classes each month. If she sees more than 63 students in a month, she’ll have a profitable business.

Return on investment (ROI)

  • What it is: When you spend money, or invest, in a business you want to be sure that you’re making that money back, and then some. How you measure that is by using the return on investment. It is the sales you received from an investment minus the cost to fulfill those sales, divided by the cost of the investment.
  • Why it’s important: Use this calculation to make sure that the money that you’re spending on your business is working for you.
  • When you should review it: Before making an investment in your business such as new equipment or a marketing campaign

To advertise her new classes, Jenny is doing a sponsored post with a local food blogger that has a significant following in her city. The cost of the sponsored post is $750 and Jenny hoped that she could bring in 40 new customers from it. With that estimation her return on investment would be:

40 customers * $60 income per customer = $2,400
40 customers * $20 cost per customer = $800
($2,400 - $800)/$750 = 2.13

In other words, for every $1 that she spends on the advertising campaign she expects to get $2.13 dollars back. A pretty solid investment.

Understanding accounting jargon

At first overwhelming, these accounting numbers can be used pretty easily to evaluate your revenue and costs, and help make pricing decisions for your solo business. While accounting certainly isn’t the most fun aspect of the solopreneur lifestyle, having a foundational grasp on things like fixed versus variable costs, break even and contribution margins, and return on investment can help make sure you’re growing a healthy business that is paying you what you deserve.

Streamline Your Systems + Set Up Processes with Stress Less & Impress (Review)

Stress Less Impress ecourse review

When I first started Jess Creatives, I was naive about freelancing. I didn't think that people my age were actually quitting their jobs and making a living as full-time freelancers, and I was learning the ropes as my business slowly grew. This resulted in major chaos within my business – forgetting to send contracts and invoices, a disorganized inbox, and a complete lack of project workflow.

Luckily, in my second year of business, Stress Less & Impress came into my life. It was the first big (and it wasn't even that big) investment I made as a solopreneur.

What Stress Less & Impress is all about

In Stress Less & Impress, creator Leah Kalamakis covers the entire client workflow for service-based entrepreneurs. She goes in-depth on what she uses and how she handles clients while working with them. Even if you don't want to use all the same tools that Leah does, you will learn the strategy and the "why" behind her practices, and be able to apply those principles to your own business.

After implementing what I learned from Stress Less & Impress, my whole business was changed around. (Seriously.) Streamlining the systems in my business helped me be less overwhelmed, but also greatly improved the experience for my clients. I've recommended Stress Less and Impress to dozens of people because it's had a huge impact on my business.

How Stress Less & Impress specifically helped my business:

Fewer emails:  Like all people, I had a contact form on my website. But, the problem with most contact forms is that they don't collect much information. I typically got emails with a name, email address, and a vague message that said something along the lines of, "I need a brochure. Maybe a business card."

In SL&I, one of the very first things Leah teaches you to implement is a "Hire Me" form, where you can collect more details about the potential client and project. In one email, I know the client's name and business, what services they need, budget and timeline, and some other miscellaneous details about the project. No more back and forth as I remember questions I need answered.

Client process: Before SL&I, I fumbled through projects with clients. After a dozen back-and-forth emails, we would finally agree to start the project. I didn't have much in place in terms of a contract, there were no set expectations that were communicated, and the project workflow itself was chaotic.

In SL&I, Leah walks you through choosing a project management system, setting up client boundaries, and creating a welcome and goodbye package to send your clients. Everyone has a different process, but this helped me set up a solid foundation for my client workflow. Once I put my system in place, the questions from clients on “what’s next?” were few and far between. Having a system in place for my workflow helped me to really wow clients and improve the overall client experience.

These aren’t the only two things that are covered in Stress Less & Impress. Leah also goes over:

  • Scheduling consult calls
  • Contracts and invoicing
  • Client questionnaires
  • Getting feedback from clients
  • Streamlining your website
  • Processes for blogging and social media

Each module has a video that walks through what Leah is talking about, as well as downloadable PDFs for reference. This was the first ever business course that I signed up for, and the course’s format made it incredibly easy to implement the strategies that Leah taught us.

And because I did, I’ve gained a better grasp on how to communicate with clients before and during projects, and how to handle a project from inquiry to launch.

Is this a good fit for me?

This course is great for those who are new to solopreneurship, and are looking for a streamlined process to incorporate into their business. One caveat: you will have to actually take time to implement the forms and workflows into your business – setting up new accounts, possibly buying software, and more. Plan on setting aside 1-2 hours each week to watch the videos, and take action on the tasks Leah outlines in each module. Of course, you can always sit and do the entire course at once, but I’ve found that implementing new systems is easier to adjust to when done one piece at a time.

This course could also be helpful to those who have been in business for a few years, but haven’t officially implemented any sound systems yet. As solopreneurs, our businesses evolve, and while maybe we didn’t need systems at the beginning – now we do. When I took Stress Less & Impress, my business was still young, but things were starting to build up. Having the systems in place that Leah taught us really helped me stay on track and scale sustainably.

Who isn’t this course for? This course probably isn’t great for those who have been in business for many years and have a few systems in place. Because of its foundational nature, SL&I most likely isn’t going to help you refine existing systems, unless you want to start from scratch. Also, as I mentioned: if you’re not willing to (or don’t have the time to) set aside a few hours to implement new practices into your business, this is not the course for you.

It’s all in the name

Stress Less & Impress is an investment in your business at the start leads to smoother sailing down the line -- streamlining your systems for better client relationships and workflow. The more you are able to showcase your professionalism through your workflow, the faster you’ll turn clients into raving fans (which, appropriately, is the tagline of Stress Less & Impress)!

Why You Need a “Goodbye” Package For Your Clients

Why You Need a Goodbye Package for Your Clients from Leah Kalamakis

If you’re a service-based one woman shop, you likely run into the problem of a project never feeling complete. You’ve been working long and hard, communicating back and forth with your client over days or weeks and then all of a sudden, it’s done.

Just sending your client the final invoice with note that says “Thanks!” feels really abrupt.

You’ve created a relationship (hopefully) with your client, and ending it with an invoice feels icky.
You want them to feel supported, appreciated, and like more than just a paycheck for you. You want them to know that just because the project is complete, you aren’t just taking their money and moving on to the next client on your roster.

To create a smooth project transition between working together and well, no longer working together, (or better, working together again on a NEW project) I recommend providing clients with what I like to call a “Goodbye” Package.

This is so important to a full client process it has it’s own full lesson in my course, Stress Less & Impress.

Now, you don’t need to call it a “Goodbye” Package to your client. Depending on what you include and what service you provide, you can change up the wording as you wish. For my web design clients I like to call it a “Launch Package.” If you’re a copywriter, you could call it “Final Documents” (or something more creative because you’re clearly better than me with words).

This can be a PDF, a Google folder with multiple files, or a video. The options depend only on your imagination.

Here are a few reasons providing a Goodbye Package will help you and your clients:

1. Make it clear the project is over

No matter how much work and revisions you’ve put into a project, and how clear your contract is, there always seems to be one last thing a client needs from you.

A “Goodbye” Package helps make it clear to your client that this project is complete, and that anything further will be considered a separate project.

Not only does the concept of a “Goodbye” Package, in general, make it clear, but you can also mention what that means exactly in the package itself. For example, in my “Goodbye” Package, I tell the client what is included in my 30 days of post-website-launch support and I also clearly state that any additional training, tweaks or work will be billed at my hourly rate, or on a per-project basis depending on the type of work needed.

No more feeling guilty not making one more tweak, or feeling resentful because you accept the additional work and don’t charge for it in order to please your client.

2. Entice them to work with you again

Why put so much effort into bringing in new clients when you can get more business from the ones you’ve already got?

Your current clients have already fallen in love with you. You’ve done great work and they trust that you can give them the results they need. This means you’ve already got them past the hardest part of getting someone to hire you: trusting you can deliver on their needs.

When you’ve wrapped up one project, you can use your “Goodbye” Package to introduce them to other things you can help them with.

For example, when I complete a new website for a client, they are excited about their new brand and online presence. This gives them the inspiration and motivation to go pro in every aspect of their business.

If they create videos for their blog, I’ll tell them about how we can bring their new brand into their videos with a custom video intro. If they have an outdated opt-in lead magnet, I’ll tell share with them my PDF design service so we can make their lead magnets match their new brand. This all goes in my “Goodbye” package PDF, which is a non-salesy way to show them that our work together doesn’t have to end with this one website project.

3. Give them resources that will help them go forward without you

Referral business is the best business. Having great testimonials on your website makes potential new clients much more willing to hire you.

The best way to get referral business and great testimonials is to delight your clients beyond the actual project deliverables.

The “Goodbye” Package is a great place to give your clients extra help and support, even after your work is complete.

A few ideas for resources you can add:

  • Links to past blog posts you’ve published to help your client implement what you’ve created for them
  • Links to other people’s content that will help them improve on your work in a related way
  • A tutorial video on how to use what you’ve created (ex: as a web designer, I provide a custom video tutorial on how to use their website)
  • A list of people you recommend for related services they might need that you don’t provide
  • A bonus worksheet or guide (ex: a sales page copywriter could give a PDF on creating personality-filled social media posts)

Take action

Do you have a “Goodbye” Package? If not, it’s time to get to work! Remember, this can be an ever-changing and evolving document. I have a template I use for my main PDF, that I customize because all my clients are different. If you can use the same one, without customizing for every client, even better. But it can be something you create as a base, and update and change as your business and services evolve.

If you do have a “Goodbye” Package, does it address all the areas I mentioned above? If not, maybe it’s time to revisit and add to it!

And if you're looking for even more guidance, I cover this -- and other ways to streamline your business to make more money in less time -- in my course, Stress Less & Impress.

We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of Stress Less & Impress. As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from!

7 Steps to Creating a Consistent Solopreneur Brand

Personal + Professional Branding

Sometimes it feels like you're doing everything right and still no one comes to your blog. You spend days writing useful content, hours promoting it on social media and.... crickets. It's enough to make you want to throw in the towel on this whole blogging thing.

But don’t do that just yet. We've all been there at some point or another. The problem might be that your followers may just not remember or recognize you because you're blending into the rest of the noise on social media. That’s something we can fix.

So, how do you stand out from the crowd?

By having a consistent branding strategy. A good brand involves careful thought and design but consistency is what many are missing from their branding experiences. Consistency is key to building a brand that people know and recognize.

That consistency is what makes you memorable -- and credible.

A consistent presence everywhere will help people recognize that they're engaging with the same person and brand whether they’re on your blog, reading comments on another blog, or on social media. They’ll begin to associate your content with you and your brand.

So how do you know if your brand is consistent?

Do an audit of your visual assets

Start by doing an audit of all your visual assets. Create a document in Photoshop, Illustrator or Word and start copying and pasting all the visual elements from your blog:

  • Logo
  • Brand colors
  • Fonts
  • Blog graphics (blog header graphic, background images, blog post images, buttons, favicon, eBook covers, worksheets, etc.)
  • Social media graphics (profile photos, cover images, post graphics, etc.)

Now that you've gathered it all up, step back and take a look.

  1. Do the design styles follow a similar pattern or trend?
  2. Are the colors consistent and do they go well together?
  3. Are your fonts consistent with the design style? (Fun and quirky fonts for a fun blog, traditional fonts for a blog on a more serious topic, etc.)

If you answered no to two or more of these questions, there’s work to be done -- but don't fret. After today, you'll be on your way to a more cohesive brand that people will instantly recognize when they see you around the web! Here are seven action steps you can take right now.

1. Define your mood and focus

This is #1 because before you can solidify your brand, we need to have a clear definition of who you serve. How else will you know how to present yourself to your target audience?

Download the worksheet at the bottom of this post. I recommend you fill it out electronically versus printing it out so you can easily edit it. Just save it to your computer and type right into the boxes. Start by filling in section one:

  1. Who is your blog for?
  2. Why do you write what you write?
  3. What pains or problems are you solving for your readers?
  4. What makes you different?
  5. How do you want your brand to be perceived?
  6. How should people feel when they visit your blog? Choose three words that best describe your brand. These are your “brand words.”

With those questions answered, you’ll have a better idea of who you are speaking to.

Go back to your blog elements. Is your content consistent with your audience? Is the design consistent with your content?

The trick is to get into the mind of your typical reader and ask yourself what type of experience they would want while reading your content. Always keep your brand words in mind when making decisions regarding your brand.

2. Use consistent colors

From your logo to your social media profiles, make your colors synonymous with your brand so that when someone sees those colors, they think of you. Here's how you can do that:

  1. Think about how your brand words will translate into colors.
  2. Identify the mood you want to convey to your audience. Do you want calm, soothing colors or bold, dark colors or bright, playful colors?
  3. Study colors and their meanings. Colors have different effects on gender, age and type of audience.
  4. Pay attention to color schemes used by competitors in your niche.
  5. Use color tools like Kuler to help find a final color scheme.

Put it into action: if you write about how to be calm and peaceful in life, your blog should reflect that with light, soothing colors and simple, easy-to-read fonts.

3. Use consistent fonts

Just like your color scheme, your font palette has a mood, too. You can choose fun and flirty fonts or traditional and serious fonts. You can choose swirly, girly fonts or you can choose bold and sturdy fonts. It all depends on who you are targeting. Don't forget to reference your brand words when selecting your font palette.

If you're new to choosing fonts, I recommend picking just two to start with. These two fonts should be easy to read and used for your body copy and headings.

If you're feeling brave, you could add a third, accent font to your palette. This accent font would only be used in small doses to pepper your design with flavor. Read more about choosing a great font palette here.

4. Create a style guide

Now that you have your ideal colors and fonts, you can make sure that these are being used throughout the different blog elements that we talked about earlier:

  • your logo
  • your header
  • your profile photo
  • your sidebar items and headings
  • your favicon
  • post images
  • the buttons throughout your blog

Not sure how to lay your guide out? Jamie's Style Guide template from SpruceRd.com is perfect for this.

5. Use consistency within your profile images

Take a look at the profile photo of you in your blog. Is the background consistent with your brand colors? I hope so. Are you posing indoors for your outdoor-lifestyle blog? I hope not.

What about your clothing? Is it consistent with your colors and your messaging? Hopefully. Are you wearing frumpy dumpy clothing in your confidence-building blog? Hopefully not!

Put as much attention into your profile photo as you do with everything else. Be intentional about the background you select and the clothing you wear, especially the colors. Remember your brand words! Your expression should match the mood of your blog. More than likely it should exude confidence and/or joy. Above everything, make sure that it is a high quality photograph.

Once you have a profile photo that fits with your branding, you'll need to use that photo (or a similar one from the photoshoot) throughout all of your social media profiles. Use the same photo for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, Pinterest, and each of your other platforms. Instant recognition can be a game changer.

Do the same for your social media cover photos. Use the same backgrounds, imagery, colors and fonts from your blog in your Facebook and Twitter covers.

Take this a little further: add the profile photo to your comments

If you regularly comment on blogs in your niche or industry, you will want your profile photo to appear next to your comments. This makes you recognizable in the blogging community, which helps when you are trying to build up your audience.

To ensure the right profile photo shows up in the various comment providers, upload your photo to the following websites:

  • Your Google account: Uploading your profile photo to Google will update it across all of your Google accounts: Gmail, Google+, YouTube, Blogger, etc.
  • WordPress.com: Blogs hosted on WordPress.com require you to sign in to your WordPress.com account to leave a comment. Make sure your profile photo appears with your comment by uploading it to your free account.
  • Gravatar: Many WordPress blogs use Gravatar to automatically add your profile photo next to your comment. Upload your photo to a free Gravatar account to ensure that it appears next to your comments.
  • Disqus: Blogs that use Disqus, a blog commenting plugin, require you to sign in using a social media account or your Disqus account. Again, you'll want to make sure that your photo is uploaded here so that it appears by your comments.

6. Use consistent naming for your social profiles

Ideally, you would have your brand name be part of your social media handles (i.e. twitter.com/brandname), so what do you do if your brand name has been taken already?

Include your brand name in your profile names. For example, the Twitter account I opened up years ago is @marianney and does not include my brand's name. So I include it in my profile name like this: Marianne // DYOB. This way when people see my tweets in their feed, they can quickly associate my name (and photo) with my blog.

7. Be consistent in your messaging

Brand consistency doesn't only exist visually. It exists in your content and messaging, too. Your brand needs a tagline and a bio that explain what your brand does and the messaging needs to be consistent throughout all of your profiles.

A good tagline is quick, to the point, and doesn’t make people guess what it is that you do. People should instantly know what your brand is about when they read your tagline. A good bio (usually in your sidebar) goes into further detail about what you do for your audience.

Take out your worksheet again and fill in section two by copying and pasting what you currently have out there:

  • My about page
  • My tagline
  • My sidebar bio
  • My Twitter bio (160 characters)
  • My Facebook page description
  • My Google Plus page description
  • My Pinterest profile description (160 characters)
  • My Instagram profile description (150 characters)
  • Other

Look at them all side-by-side. Is the message the same throughout each one? Are you using some of the same phrasing and keywords throughout?

Pay attention to tone: this is one element that people tend to forget. Your brand's tone and voice should be consistent with your brand words. For example, if your brand is playful, keep the tone of your social media postings playful and light.

Above all, keep it authentic.

Rewrite your profile bios: Edit your bios now while you can see them side-by-side and keep them consistent with each other. Don't forget to keep your brand words in mind when writing these bios and also while word-smithing your social media updates!

The bios should convey your blog's focus, the audience you serve and the solutions you offer them.

They don't all have to match exactly. Some profiles need to be tailored to the platform to make sense and attract different types of people there. For example, in my Twitter and Instagram bios, I use hashtags and some personal info that helps me connect with others. I have a slightly longer bio in Facebook and a slightly different bio for Pinterest.

Bonus tip: don't forget to include your blog's URL in all your profiles! It blows my mind how many people don't do this. Usually you can include the URL separately from your bio which saves on characters.

Consistency is crucial

I'll say it again: consistency is key to building a brand that people know and recognize. By doing this, you’ll be helping people to recognize you in Twitter chats, on live scopes, in blog comments and in Facebook groups. It also helps visitors to your profiles to quickly identify what your brand represents.

Forgoing consistency can mean sacrificing potential connections with future and ongoing readers. It’s time to make it a priority for your brand today.

If you'd like more tips on creating a consistent look and feel for your blog and your brand with beautiful examples and step-by-step instructions, check out my ebook, Blog Beautiful: 50 Tips + Fixes to Make Your Blog Glow. You can complete each tip in one day or less with your existing design skills. Really!

Editor's note: This post contains affiliate links. As always, we only promote products and services we truly feel can benefit your solo business!