5 Lessons From A Successful 'Business-Of-One'

This post is part of the Professional Independence Project series. Even for those of us who know we’re happier working independently, it’s alluring to contemplate rejoining the conventional workforce. Benefits, insurance, and the good old “steady paycheck” are certainly good reasons to go back on someone else’s payroll. But whenever I’m tempted to “get a job,” I’m reminded of what a former CEO once said to me about Hollywood: that it’s “full of highly-paid temps.” Add to that the fact that there really isn’t anything such as “job security” these days, I’d much rather be in the camp of hunting what I eat.

5 Lessons From A Successful 'Business-Of-One'

I launched my business six years ago as “an agency-of-one.” Here’s some of what I’ve learned over the years, in case it helps you as you walk that same path.

1. Secure your web estate, even if you don’t plan to launch a business site just yet.

When I launched my business in 2008, I didn’t even have a website. I got my first project via LinkedIn, launched my blog shortly after, and it wasn’t until a year and a half later that my official website saw the light of day. However, what I did right off the bat was to register the domains I knew I’d want associated with my name (in my business’ case, also just… my name). Do this regardless of when you plan to launch your website. And don’t just register your desired domain; try to personalize your URLs across social networks, whether or not you’re active on them. For example, you’ll see that across most socnets, I’m @shonali; where I couldn’t secure @shonali, I chose @shonaliburke. Consistency in branding is important, even for a business-of-one.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for work.

One of the biggest fears we have is how we’ll generate income. This is extremely valid; there’s no dearth of competition, marketing is getting tougher, and many of us bootstrap our businesses. We forget that people can’t hire us if they don’t know we’re available. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your network – personal and professional – know what kind of business you’d like. You’d do this if you were looking for a job, right? So, why wouldn’t you do it for your own business? I used to do this in fits and starts until a friend told me how many referrals he gets this way. Now I do this two-to-three times a year (but not more). I also make sure that these are personal emails I send out, not a mass mail via an email service, as I have no desire to run afoul of CAN-SPAM.

3. Be very specific about how your network can help you.

When people ask how they can help you, it’s easy to embark on a stream of consciousness wish list. We’re so thrilled people want to help, we give them a laundry list that should be reserved only for Santa Claus. I know. I’ve done it. People do want to help. But they can help you best if you are very specific about what you are looking for. In a one-on-one conversation, that’s usually one, or maybe two, things. If it’s an email (as above), limit it to three core competencies. That’s more than enough to get the ball rolling.

4. Don’t compromise on pricing.

Especially in service-based businesses, it is very tempting to set a low hourly rate in the hopes that more people will hire you. You are doing yourself and your industry a huge disservice if you drastically slash your pricing, because:

a) If you don’t price your offerings correctly, you’ll find you’re working more time for less money, which is a definition of insanity; and


b) Your clients will undervalue your level of service, and tell their friends and business associates what services like yours cost. You can see how this sets off a chain reaction in your industry, right?

Please note: I am not recommending you artificially inflate your fees. Do your research and charge what you think is fair and commensurate with your level of experience. And stick to it.

5. Track your time.

I come out of the PR agency world, so I’m used to doing this. Even if you don’t, it’s a good practice to inculcate. There are several no- to low-cost online systems you can use (I use Harvest); I can’t imagine you won’t find one that suits you. If you’re new to this: as soon as you begin your workday, turn your time tracker on before embarking on any tasks. When you finish one “set” of work, turn it off and move on to the next. And so on. Chunk your time. This will show you where you’re spending the most time, and how much revenue is being generated accordingly. This, more than anything else, will show you where your efficiencies lie, and where you can step it up. And that’s one of the keys to building your business.

Want to take control of your career?

If you want to take control of your career, check out our fall series, the Professional Independence Project. Throughout the month of October, we will be sharing expert advice and insight on how you can build a successful career you love. Sign up now to get five FREE video tutorials that show you how to market yourself to anyone, anywhere. Start your path the professional independence. Sign up today!       Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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