The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.20

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Design your business, design your life

One of the luxuries we solopreneurs have is that we can design our businesses to suit the kind of life we want to lead. But it’s not easy - there are many barriers and challenges you will have to deal with before all the stars align. In this article, we’re going to look at what it means to design your business, how you can make the journey a little easier, and the challenges we will have to overcome.

What is “business design”?

I first came across Business Model Generation in 2012. Originally published in 2010, the book was the first to popularize the idea of “designing” a business. Using the Business Model Canvas as a visual tool means you don’t need to have an MBA to design a business, and it democratized what was previously the domain of 3-piece suits.

The Business Model Canvas is mainly targeted at larger businesses, but I used it successfully with smaller businesses. There were even versions developed for individuals.

How does this relate to the kind of life you want to lead?

The Business Model Canvas is tremendously useful in designing a business. But as a solopreneur, there was one key thing I missed:

As a solopreneur, what implications does your business design have for the kind of life you want to lead?

Fundamentally, it boils down to two things:

  • Where do you need to spend your time? If your products and services require you (personally) to be in front of your clients all the time, you will spend a large portion of your life doing just that.
  • Price: The lower you price your products and services, the more you have to sell (and work) to make the level of income you want.

This is one of the reasons just about everyone wants to build an online course. In theory, an online course means you don’t have to be in front of your clients at all. And as long as you can sell enough of them, your prices don’t have to be stratospheric.

Start with designing your lifestyle

Before you can design your business to suit your lifestyle, you have to know what kind of lifestyle you really, really want. Most of us are so trapped in the lives we lead right now, we just accept that this is how things are. But we can do a little better.

The very first thing is to take out some time to be honest with yourself. Write down:

  • What gives you joy?
  • What can you spend hours on?
  • Do you love being with people, or do you prefer to be on your own?
  • What kinds of things would you rather say “no” to?
  • What kinds of things do you avoid like the plague?

It takes effort, but I would encourage you to write a detailed description of what your ideal life looks like. Where do you live? How do you spend your time? How much of your time is spent working, versus how much time on leisure?

What does this mean for designing your business?

With a good idea of what your ideal life looks like, you are better equipped to design your business.

Photo by LexScope on Unsplash

Here’s how your lifestyle design will affect your business design.

What kinds of products or services will you need to offer?

If you love being around people, and you get joy from helping them, you will want to lean towards consulting services, coaching or workshops. All of these require that you spend time directly with your clients. If you truly get joy from this kind of contact, design your products and services so that you get to spend time with people.

Conversely, if you prefer being on your own, lean towards services that don’t require you to be in front of people all time. Creative services, like websites or graphic design, require that you spend the majority of your time on your own. Online courses are another option.

The key thing to remember is that you can turn your expertise into almost any type of product or service.

Take website design, for example. You can do it for your clients (spending a lot of time on your own), or you can teach people how to do it in workshops (where you spend most of your time with people).

Where do you need to price your services?

The worst thing you can do is to try and be the cheapest option out there. The only things that will happen is that you end up in a race to the bottom, and you have to sell more (and work more) to get the kind of money you need.

But you still need to decide:

  • Am I going to charge a top-tier price?
  • Am I going to be affordable (but not cheap)?

Charging a top-tier price means you have to deliver a top-tier product or service. Almost inevitably, this means you’re going to have to spend more time with people. Depending on the kind of life you want to have, this can be a good (or bad) thing.

Going the “affordable (but not cheap)” route means you can get away with less direct contact. But be warned: there is almost no business out there that can get away with never speaking to its clients.

What challenges will you have to overcome?

If you’re already leading your ideal life, congratulations — you’ve literally made it. But most of us are in a situation where we would like to lead a (slightly) better life. Here are the main challenges you will have to overcome.

Challenge 1: Inertia

Change is difficult at the best of times. If your business is already up and running, you already have routines, ways of doing things and products and services. Breaking out of this mold is difficult.

If you want to lead a different (better) kind of life, you will have to change how you do things (or even what you do). The best advice I can give is to start small. If you want to get away from too much time with people, start with a small offering that requires less personal contact.

Challenge 2: New skills

Changing how you do things (or what you do) almost always means you’re going to have to learn new skills. You may have to learn about email marketing, or new facilitation skills (which allows you to spend more time with people).

Take joy in this: learning a new skill can be a lot of fun. If you do decide that you need to learn new things, make it fun — otherwise you’re making it just another battle to fight.

Challenge 3: Perseverance

And finally, things take time. It takes time to change, and it takes even more time to get good at something new. Understand that it can take months or even years — and focus on the small things you have to do every day to get there.

In a nutshell

If you want to design your business to help you lead the kind of life you’re dreaming of, you first need to get clear on what that lifestyle looks like. Then, design your products and services to move you towards those goals. And finally, persevere and take joy in the journey. Life is too short to spend your time on things you don’t like doing.