The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.47

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Original photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

5 Essential (but not obvious) skills for solopreneurs

During your journey as a solopreneur, you will learn many skills. (You will need to, because you’re solo, right?) Some of these skills are obvious (like marketing and time management) - but some are not. Here are the 5 essential (but not obvious) skills for solopreneurs I wish I had known when I started out.

The “common” skills we all have to learn

These days, my go-to (especially when I’m lazy) is ChatGPT. I asked ChatGPT exactly this question (the most common skills all solopreneurs have to learn), and it didn’t even blink before it listed the top 10:

  1. Time Management
  1. Financial Literacy
  1. Marketing and Branding
  1. Sales and Networking
  1. Communication Skills
  1. Strategic Planning
  1. Customer Service
  1. Digital Literacy
  1. Problem-Solving
  1. Self-Motivation and Discipline

As you may know, ChatGPT is trained to predict the statistically most likely next word from a prompt — and it was trained on a vast library of public material from the Internet. So in effect, ChatGPT gave me the consensus of all the knowledge it was trained on.

In other words, this is what most people agree on.

The list, of course, is not far off what I would recommend (with some caveats). But from what I’ve learnt in my own journey, and from helping hundreds of solopreneurs and startups, I have a completely different list.

5 Essential (but not obvious) skills for solopreneurs

The good news about all these skills is that the learning curve is more of a mindset adjustment than actually learning a skill. Nevertheless, they are all skills, we can develop and hone them, and they’re indispensable for every solopreneur.

Here they are.

1. Focus

I like to summarize this one as (bad grammar and all):

All the time in the world ain’t worth nothing if you can’t focus on what needs to get done now.

If you live with ADHD, this may not sound like good news. But even being able to focus on one thing for 20 minutes is way better than focusing on four things for 5 minutes each.

So you need to learn to focus, so you can use your time effectively. If you’re interested in more about this, I highly recommend Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

2. Empathy

It used to be true (especially during the dot-com years) that most businesses fail because they build stuff people don’t want.

Those days are mostly gone (we learned the lessons), but in my work with solopreneurs and startups I gained a different insight:

Most businesses fail because they don’t express their value proposition in terms their target market can identify with.

Effective marketing and sales requires that we understand our target market. Not just the demographics, like, dislikes and so on — we need to know and understand the words they use to express the problem we can solve for them.

Here’s a 10-minute exercise that will reveal whether you have the kind of empathy I’m talking about:

  • Write down all the features and benefits of your main product or service.
  • For each feature or benefit, list the problems it solves for your clients.
  • For each problem, write down the words your clients use to express the problem. Don’t guess — if you don’t know, just leave it empty.

If you can confidently list all the words they use, you have empathy. If you don’t, you need to develop your empathy.

Try this next time you need to build a landing page or sales page.

3. Mind the gap

Every business (solopreneur or larger) is in the business of transformation: our product or service will transform their world from an undesirable place to some version of heaven. We help them cross the gap.

We need build the skill to understand this:

They can’t cross the gap between where they are and where they want to be in one step.

Think of it this way:

  • We know how to cross the gap (and often already closed the gap ourselves).
  • They still need to take the first step.
  • Your job is to help them cross the gap — but you can only do that one step at a time.

So don’t throw them in the deep end. They may believe in the vision, but you can only help them take the next step. And then the one after that.

This is true whether you’re a branding expert, a coach or develop websites. Or anything else.

And if you’re wondering — yes, this is a reference to the London Underground.

4. Yo-Yo Thinking

Imagine you’re a yo-yo. Except your string is 30,000 feet or (approximately) 10,000 meters long. And you can go from 30,000 feet to ground level in 2 seconds.

As this particular kind of yo-yo, you have an amazing ability:

You can switch between the proverbial 30,000 foot view (the big picture) and ground level (the details) in seconds.

Every entrepreneur (solo or not) needs to develop this skill. It’s way too easy to:

  • get swamped by the details and forget the big picture
  • fall so in love with the big picture we forget the details that matter.

When you’re down at ground level, make a conscious effort to make the connection between what you’re doing now (the details) and the big picture. Does it still fit? Is it still the right thing?

And similarly, when you’re looking at the big picture: which details are important? Which not?

5. Systems Thinking

My superpower (and Achilles heel) is that I think in systems. That’s just the way I’m wired.

But it’s still true:

You can’t afford to keep everything in your head. You have to build systems to help you do things right, fast and without having to wonder what you have to do next.

The simplest system in the world is a checklist. Make them and use them — and then use the checklist to automate or outsource the work.

No one shows up at a client with no plan. You have a system for helping them cross the gap. Showing them you have a system (or a plan) to cross the gap shows them you’re a pro (and makes selling a whole lot easier).

Systems are how you get to do things faster, with fewer mistakes. Less time to deliver the same work (without losing money).

How many of these skills do you have?

The greatest thing about these skills is that, once you’ve learnt them, they become second nature. A bit like riding a bicycle — you can get back on and ride with confidence even after years of driving a car.

But they still require that you learn them. The learning curves aren’t that steep — and the investment pays back for as long as you care to employ them.

I’m curious — do you have these skills? And are there any I missed?