The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 24.15

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Image courtesy of DALL-E via ChatGPT

Build a solopreneur business - Part 5: Start your engines

This is part 5 of a 5-part series about building a business. In this series:

  1. Define your niche
  1. Craft your offer
  1. Price it right
  1. Design your marketing
  1. Start your engines (this article)

This is the last instalment in the Build a Business series. If you’ve been following along, thank you! And if you’re joining the party late, it’s probably best to start from the beginning (links at the top) and work your way through to here.

Where are we?

We’ve gone through the 4 big parts of building a business:

1. You’ve defined your niche

You know exactly who you help, and the problem you can help them solve. You’re good at solving this problem, you know they want and need it to be solved, and hopefully it’s an expensive problem (for them, to justify a premium price).

2. You’ve crafted your offer

You have one offer which is preferably wrapped up and presented as a productized service. You can deliver it in small, medium and large versions to suit different budgets and needs. There’s a fixed price (for each size), fixed scope and fixed deliverables. You present it in terms of outcomes your clients want - not how or what you will be doing it.

3. You’ve set your price

You know what your baseline is (the minimum you need to earn per billable hour), you’ve checked the market, and you’ve anchored your price against the value your clients will get. You also know that pricing is primarily a mindset thing.

4. You’ve designed your marketing

You know where to find your clients (your channels to market). You also know that you are going to become known as the expert in solving a specific set of problems, and you know what collateral you need to create so you can do your marketing.

It’s time to “start your engines.” What could possibly go wrong? 😑

Start your engines

Each of us fall into one of two categories:

  • We really are starting out, and we have followed (or can follow) the recipe perfectly.
  • We’re already some way down the road, but things are not quite working the way they should.

In either case, what we need to do next is the same.

Step 1: Fill in the gaps

There are some gaps we need to fill in, so here we go.

Your brand is, quite simply, what you look and sound like. If you have a bit of money to spend, I highly recommend engaging a brand specialist to design your brand for you.

If you’re bootstrapping and need to do it yourself, you will need a (business) name, a logo or word mark, a small collection of colours to use on all your public-facing material, and some fonts. Keep it simple.

No matter how big or small you are, you will need a website. At the very least, your website will serve as a digital business card, and it’s the very first thing potential clients will look at. Make it look professional.

There are many good options for building your own website. I recommend SquareSpace, but you can use almost anything that looks promising. Be aware that building a website may seem easy, but there’s a science and an art to making it really work for you. Get help if you’re not confident you can do a good job.

Social media profiles
Make sure all your social media profiles are consistent and branded. There are many good, free guidelines that will help you do this on your chosen platforms, so follow the guides there.

Step 2: Create or check your marketing collateral

In the previous article you designed your marketing. Now it’s time to create the marketing collateral (all the material and content). If you already have material collateral, make sure it’s correctly branded and looks professional.

You don’t need to create all your presentations and hand-outs up front, but I recommend you at least have outlines and things like a bio ready. Having to do things last-minute almost always results in lower quality.

Some marketing material, like daily LinkedIn posts, you just can’t create all at once, up front. Schedule time in your calendar every week for your marketing to do this (and time to engage with people every day).

Step 3: Check your customer journey (the most important step)

Now it’s time to look exactly what your (potential) customers are going to experience when they see your marketing, visit your website, make an enquiry, and eventually buy your products or services.

This is by far the most important step in starting a business or figuring out why things are not working the way you want it to.

Walk through the exact journey that a potential client will experience from the time they first see you. Identify the places where their experience needs to be improved.

For example, if you have an online booking system, do they get a “thanks for booking time with me” kind of email? If they download a lead magnet from your website, do you follow up to say thanks - and even give them something more?

Step 4: Start (or ramp up) your marketing

Everything should now be in place for you to focus on your marketing. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

Marketing just gets them to notice you - it’s what happens after marketing that determines whether they buy.

Therefore my insistence in the previous step to check your customer journey. You will be putting a lot of effort into your marketing - make sure people feel welcome when they show up for your party!

You’re up and running

With all the other bits in place, you’re now up and running. You will need to work hard at your marketing to make people aware of you, what you have to sell, and over time build a reputation a the go-to person for the problems you can solve.

That’s the theory.

What to do when things don’t work

I’ve worked with enough solopreneurs (and larger businesses) to know there are 2 big problems most people struggle with:

  • We haven’t ticked all the boxes.
  • We don’t know if what we’ve done is “right”

Let me explain.

Problem 1: We haven’t ticked all the boxes

When someone comes to me saying “I need more leads” or “I need more clients”, I usually start looking at the problem like this:

  • Tell me about your niche. Who are they? What problem do you solve for them? How do you know this is a problem they want and need solved?
  • Show me your website. (This tells me everything I need to know about their brand.)
  • Show me your offers. Is it presented in terms of outcomes? Do you have a clear picture for them to understand what their brave new world is going to look like? Is it priced right?

These 3 questions tell me how good the building blocks of their business are.

In most cases, we discover something in the Building Blocks (niche, brand and offers) that is not as good as it should be. Until you solve those problems, your marketing won’t be as effective as it should be, and as a result, sales will suffer.

If everything there is perfect, we move on to the Revenue Engine (the sequence of marketing, lead nurturing, sales and delivery). I can usually wrap this up in two questions:

  • Show me your marketing. Do you focus on your niche? Are you in the right places? Are you there often enough?
  • Show me your customer journey. What is their experience?

Between these 5 questions, we’ve covered everything you need to have a successful business.

Solution 1: Tick all the boxes

If things are not working the way they should, go through the 5 questions above, and the 4 articles in this series (links at the top). Make sure:

  • You know your niche.
  • You look professional (branding).
  • You have compelling offers.
  • Your customer journey is stellar.
  • You market in the right places, talking about relevant problems, and you show up consistently. Bonus points for showing up frequently.

One day I will develop a business scorecard to make “checking the boxes” a little easier. Sign up for my newsletter to hear about it.

But sometimes we’ve checked all the boxes and things still aren’t working. That leads me to the second problem.

Problem 2: We don’t know if what we’ve done is “right”

One of the biggest challenges solopreneurs have to deal with is right in the name: we’re solo, alone. We have to listen to ourselves, believe that what we’ve done is right, and stick to our course.

Because we’re alone.

Here’s the truth:

It’s only when we see things through other people’s eyes that we really understand what we look like to the outside world. But getting that view is very hard.

So we have to get a view from the outside world, and I know of at least two ways to do that.

Solution 2: Understand what we look like to the outside world

There are two ways I recommend (and a third coming soon):

Recommendation 1: Start a Mastermind group
Here’s the Wikipedia definition of a mastermind group:

A mastermind group is a peer-to-peer mentoring concept used to help members solve their problems with input and advice from the other group members.  

And one point I need to mention:

I can trace almost every single breakthrough in my business back to my mastermind group.

This article looks at how you can start a Mastermind group in detail, so I will leave you to read about the details (and pitfalls) there.

Recommendation 2: Ask your clients
Who better to tell you what you can get better at than your clients? Or potential clients?

One of the things I’ve experienced is that there are always clients, potential clients or even just newsletter subscribers who are really engaged with what you do. These people are the first to respond when you ask, and I’ve always been humbled by how much they are willing to give.

Thanks to all of you - you know who you are.

So find the clients, potential clients and supporters who are engaged with you and what you do, and ask them if and how you’ve helped them, and what you can do to help them more. There;s only one thing you need to keep in mind:

Ask them about their experience with you. Make it about them, not about you.

You will be pleasantly surprised at what you get back.

Recommendation 3: Join The Boardroom (coming soon)
The Boardroom is my community for solopreneurs, where you are safe to ask questions, surrounded by a community of solopreneurs on the same journey as you are.

I’m putting the final touches on The Boardroom and will open it up in the next week or two. Join my newsletter to hear when it opens up.

Over to you

Thanks for following along in this series. Links to the other articles in this series are at the top of this one.

Building a business as a solopreneur is scary, hard and incredibly rewarding. I hope I’ve helped you in your journey.