Clarity in Decision Making: Using Ranking Systems in Your Solopreneur Biz

We do our best to avoid business buzzwords (you know, like “authentic” or “attract”), but one that we feel still carries meaning is “clarity.” When you don’t have clarity, it’s easy to feel like you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

For us, clarity often comes from putting systems in place -- and one place we love having systems and clarity is in evaluating opportunities that come across our plates. It’s important, as we blend work and life (while maintaining our sanity), that we look at each opportunity as part of an overall strategic business, not as one-off, snap decisions.

Let’s say that you’re lucky enough you’ve worked hard to have client inquiries pop up in your inbox every day. It might be tempting to say yes to every potential project -- after all, you’re “lucky” enough to be inundated with amazing opportunities, so you should take advantage of all of them, right? Not so quick, friend. Not every opportunity is created equally.

Or let’s say that you publish guest posts or take sponsorships on your blog and aren’t sure which ones to accept and which ones to politely decline. (Because hey, they all mean more money that you can invest back in your beloved blog.)

Or you’re looking to boost your income from affiliate marketing but, as you dig in, you discover just how many programs are out there, and aren’t sure how to discern the good from the not-so-good.

The miracle ranking system

Enter: The ranking system. Consider it your new filter to run every decision through.

We like to use a simple 1-4 ranking based on our unique criteria for each situation. Here’s what each number means:

  • 1 - There’s no chance this will be a fit, no matter what you do
  • 2 - With some specific work and/or changes, this might be right for your business
  • 3 - You only need minor changes or thinking to make this a great fit
  • 4 - Hell yes, good to go!

A case study

Let’s use the example of sponsorship/affiliate opportunities. You run an incredible resource hub and community for female solo business owners called, hypothetically, One Woman Shop. Someone emails you (well, actually they email “Dear Sir/Madam”) and asks if you’d like to promote their men’s protein supplement.

Um...huh? The ranking for this one’s pretty obvious: 1.

Soon after, a woman who seems awesome emails you and asks if she can buy a sponsorship package to promote her new membership community for freelancers. While you would love to support her (#collaborationovercompetition), your (legitimate) fear is that accepting this sponsorship will take people away from your membership community and will cannibalize, rather than help, your biz.

We’d give that baby a 2. (As a reminder, 2 is “with some specific work and/or changes, this might be right for your business.”) If the woman pitching, for example, decides to take away paid membership and offer a paid course, instead, it could be a fit down the road. Consider it tabled.

Next: You recently found out that Fitbit has an affiliate program. At first glance, it doesn’t have a perfectly clear connection to women business owners -- but you do often talk about fitness as part of overall solopreneur sanity. And, you’re a diehard Fitbit user. (We’re with you.) With some gentle finessing, Fitbit references can be perfectly natural, without distracting from any of your offerings.

Sounds like a 3 to us.

Finally, you see that some of the online business owners you respect and admire have affiliate programs for their products -- like Stress Less & Impress or BluChic’s beautiful website templates (Yep -- those are our affiliate links. #shameless.) These products address specific needs of those within your community that you don’t serve, they’re created by business owners whose work you proudly promote, and they offer you a chance to grow your revenue streams without feeling sleazy.

Say it with us: 4! 4! 4! (Anyone else think of Monica on Friends saying “7! 7! 7! 7…”?)

Let’s get back to those client inquiries flooding your inbox

Back to receiving a high volume of client inquiries: You might decide that the top three criteria that matter to you when taking on new work include whether the work pushes you forward as a professional, the rate the potential client is willing to pay, and the number of hours they expect.

Time to apply your newfound ranking system to make a decision that fits your overall business strategy, so you don’t say yes to everything and later regret it when you’re working away at midnight for a PITA client.

Being flexible within the system

Depending on the ebbs and flows of your business, you might find yourself in periods where you have the freedom to be extremely picky, so you can’t or won’t take on any project or opportunity that’s not a 4.

However, during a slow period, you might find that you’re willing to accept projects that are a 2. A client that’s not “perfect”; a website project that’s not your #1 area of interest; a sponsorship that isn’t a complete slam dunk.

As long as you aren’t compromising your ethics or alienating your community, we advocate maintaining flexibility as your needs change within your solo biz.

Your turn: Where in your business can you implement a ranking system to make more effective decisions, save yourself time, and maintain your sanity?

Here’s to clarity!

12 Days of Solopreneur Sanity

A free email course with bite-sized practices for when you’re feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated .

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Energy Management, Your Time Management Supplement

As a busy solopreneur, you already know that there will never be enough hours in a day to check off every item on your never-ending to-do list.

No matter how many emails you reply to, no matter how many blog posts you write, no matter how many projects you complete…there will ALWAYS be more to do. And there will never be enough time to get it all done.

You’ve also probably tried every productivity and time management trick in the book: maybe you’ve experimented with the Pomodoro Technique, perhaps you’ve tried tracking your time with a tool like RescueTime or maybe you’ve even downloaded every productivity app in the iTunes store.

But I bet there’s one thing you haven’t tried yet. One thing that might change the way you work forever.

It’s called energy management.

Energy management means maximizing your energy and the times of the day you're most alert and creative to get your most pressing work done. It means prioritizing your day based on when your body and mind work best.

The key here is to experiment; it may take a couple of weeks or even months to truly discover how you can make energy management work for you. You'll need to figure out how you feel doing certain tasks at certain times of day. However, I promise that when you figure out when you work best, you'll be amazed at the quality of work you can produce and how much closer you can get to your goal in the process.

Three Quick Tips For Making Energy Management Work For You

  • Accept that you only have so much energy in a given day. Just like there are only so many hours in the day, we also only have so much energy we can expend each day. Find the zones in your day when you can be most productive, but also recognize that you still will not be able to achieve everything in the span of 24 hours. Life is about give and take; energy management also means knowing when to take a break and knowing that another day, another week or another month are always around the corner.
  • Learn to say no. Saying no is never easy whether it’s to a new project or a social outing. Since I’ve discovered the times that I’m most productive, I have learned to be very strict with my calendar to protect those times. Of course, when it comes to your job or other obligations, sometimes you obviously can’t say no and that’s fine, but the areas you do have control over? Be strict about them.
  • Experiment to discover the times you’re most productive. If you told me four years ago that I’d be an extreme early bird, setting my alarm for 4:45 a.m. each day to get 2-3 hours of work done before heading to my full-time job, I’d tell you that you are seriously crazy. But I experimented and learned that I could actually be pretty productive first thing in the morning. That’s when I tried setting my alarm a little earlier and slowly began to develop it into a habit. Play around with different times of day and note how your body and mind feel. Don’t be afraid to try a time completely out of your comfort zone.

Have you experimented with energy management? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Want more? Read more about energy management and how it has completely revolutionized the way I get work done here.

Batching: Your Productivity Sidekick

How many “productivity hacks” have you encountered or read about lately? They’re prevalent for a reason: every solopreneur is out to do the same -- get more done with less, and make the most of our (seemingly limited) time.

The truth is, there are truly great methods out there -- the Pomodoro Technique, unplugging, taking breaks, you name it. And different things work for different people. But there’s one trick I’ve witnessed that has worked time and time again for countless solopreneurs.

The key: batching

I'm sure you've heard of it before: batching. But what exactly does it mean?

The term "batching" simply means focused blocks of time spent on one task.

Multi-tasking is no longer the be-all, end-all for productivity that it was once thought to be. In fact, multi-tasking is actually a costly habit to form. Instead, adopting a batching process promotes getting your mind into a state of flow, where a singular focus leads to increased productivity.

When batching works best

While batching can be used for any to-do list in your personal or business life, I find that batching works best for me when I have a pretty hefty list full of either diverse tasks or clients.

As a copywriter and editor, I find it particularly helpful when it comes to adopting voices. Singularly focusing on one client means I can adopt their voice through-and-through for a set amount of time. Making a rule that I won't check email or write social posts during that time keeps me from attempting to switch between the client's voice and my own.

Even just hopping over to email to respond to something "real quick" means a mindset shift, and a break in your state of flow. Getting back into the groove of that client's work takes at least 15 minutes. Those quarter hours add up quick!

How you can apply batching to your day

Batching can be applied in a slew of different ways. Here are a few ideas:

- Client tasks and projects
- Content creation for your own business (blog posts, newsletters, etc.)
- Collaborative projects
- Writing and scheduling social media posts
- Reading and responding to emails (Tim Ferriss has been doing this for years.)
- Setting up and improving the logistical processes for your business

You can batch your list out either by the actual type of task (i.e, writing), or by the client. In my case, it certainly works better to batch by client, then further batch by the type of work. So with clients for whom I write blogs posts, newsletters, and social posts, I first batch out a block of time to work specifically on that one client, then within that time, I batch the blog posts, then the newsletters, then the social posts.

Make your list, check it twice... then attack it by batching!

Take a look at your list and divide it out by either task or client. Then get out your calendar and batch out blocks of time.

Stick with it, not matter how hard it gets, for three weeks -- after all, a new habit takes a minimum of 21 days to adopt, on average. Keep track of what you get done with an app like iDoneThis. Watch your productivity skyrocket.

Batching leads to greater productivity, which leads to happier clients, and a One Woman Shop with more time to read, play, relax, or hey, take on more clients. Not bad, eh?

Introducing: Productivity E-Course

Note: this e-course is now being offered to our members as one of five yearly e-courses included in membership (along with tons of other perks!). For details and to apply, visit our membership page!

This Productivity E-Course is brought to you by Cristina Roman, founder of One Woman Shop and CMR Strategies

You're busy- you don't have time to find and test-drive new digital tools and come up with time-saving strategies. But we all know that having streamlined, tailored systems for your life and your business is important for being productive and efficient.

Luckily, I'm doing the work for you. For $50, you'll get a weekly email from me over the course of 16 weeks detailing a strategy or tool that will save you time, get the answers you need, and help you maintain your sanity in your life, career, and business. Sounds good, right?

productivity e-course

Here's a sample of the things you'll learn in this e-course:

    • Simplify your process for booking client meetings, coffee dates, coaching calls, and even friend get togethers
    • Streamline your work and notes across all your devices so you never wonder "Where did I write that down?!"
    • Ensure that you are effectively using your email inbox- not avoiding it or overusing it
    • Save time by incorporating small tricks that make your Google searching more effective
    • Easily find awesome people to collaborate with online to amp up your business or career
    • Save a few minutes here and a few minutes there (it adds up!) with some simple strategies

And here's what people have been saying about it:

Cristina shares great tips. I thought I knew a lot of productivity tools already, but her emails always introduce me to at least 1-2 new things each week. This might include a new tool or advanced ways to use existing tools more effectively.

Karl Sakas, Owner, Agency Firebox 

Cristina has an exceptional knack for working smart. She is acutely in tune with emerging technologies, and puts them to great use in her daily work. The tools and tips she shares here are essential for any professional on the go, who is looking to increase the efficiency of their work output!

Pete Radloff, Talent Acquisition Consultant, NPR 

I'm so glad I signed up for Cristina's productivity & efficiency tips. I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to productivity tools, but Cristina shared tons of new information and strategies each week that I'd never heard about. I'm already noticing an increase in my work output each week and I can't wait to see how much these tools improve my business!

Ashley Wilhite, Life Coach, Your Super Awesome Life 

I think that this productivity email series is perfect for individuals just starting up who are trying to figure out "best practices" for maximizing their time. It is also great for people who have been doing this for a while and may be stuck in their ways of doing things. Always great to hear what is working for other people and try it out in your own business!

Corey Woodard, Executive Director, Change the Triangle

productivity e-course

If the price is a concern for you, think of it like this: let's say your hourly rate is $20. Over the course of the entire course (and afterwards, when you're still using the awesome tips and tools), you'll only need to save 2.5 hours to pay off your investment. That's less than a minute per day to make the investment worthwhile.

Since I believe so strongly in these tips, tools, and strategies, I'm offering a money back guarantee- find out more about my return policy here.

Questions? See some FAQs or email me!

productivity e-course

Tools We Love: FollowerWonk

Welcome to Tools We Love, where we highlight some of the tools that make us more efficient, productive, and effective in our businesses. Have a tool that you want to share with the community? Email us!

FollowerWonk is a tool from Moz (formerly SEOMoz) that allows you to search Twitter bios. For those of you who are social media averse, don't close your window yet- you can still make use of the tool.

We use FollowerWonk for a variety of reasons: to find bloggers to work with, to build the One Woman Shop community (by searching for "solopreneurs," "female entrepreneur," and "freelancer" for example), to find local service providers, to find sources for our Prior to the Hire features, to do competitor research for clients, and more.

Wondering how the tool might be useful for you? Use it to find interesting individuals in your industry to form partnerships with, profile on your site (like Rachel does in her PRo PRofile series, pitch about guest blog posts, and get inspired by. You can also seek out relevant individuals to send product samples to or use it get on the radar of corporate PR folks or local media (tweet this)!

Let's say you want to know who in your area is already offering professional organizing services- if you're in Philly, you could run the following search:

example of followerwonk search

You may notice that there are a bunch of near-duplicate accounts- sort by Social Authority to separate the legitimate accounts from the spam accounts:

followerwonk searching

Likewise, if you wanted to find multipassionates to chat with (like we do!), you could search for "multipassionate" and "multipotentialites" on FollowerWonk.

In our opinion, it's great to use FollowerWonk to connect with individuals directly on Twitter, but we like to take it a step further by searching Twitter bios, following the links in people's bios, perusing their websites, and contacting them via email for a more personal connection.

P.S. Want an more in-depth look at FollowerWonk's features, functionality, and uses? Check out this guide from State of Digital!