The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.40

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Which skills do solopreneurs really need?

You already know there’s a ton of stuff that goes into building a business. On the face of it, this means you need a wide variety of skills – from marketing to sales to website design, copywriting, email marketing and more.

There’s no way we can be expert at everything, of course. So how do we decide which skills are really worth learning, and what should we do with the other stuff that we need to do anyway?

We first need to look at what a skill is worth.

What is a skill worth?

There’s one skill which you already have and you need to continue to hone: your craft. If you’re a web designer, you need to be good at it, and you need to keep up with the latest trends. Similarly for consulting, branding – whatever you’re selling, you need to be on top of it.

That bit is easy.

But what about everything else that goes into building and running a solopreneur business?

Every skill you learn has a lifetime value

In some cases, like marketing, the lifetime value of the skill is high – you will be marketing for as long as your business exists. So it makes sense to learn marketing as a skill (and get really good at it).

In other cases, it may not be worth investing in learning a skill.

Take websites, for example. When you start a business, you need to build a website. Typically, you build it and it’s done. You tweak your website a little every now and then, and go through a major revamp every year or two.

In this case, the lifetime value of learning web development skills is low, because you only use the skill occasionally.

And we need to remember that skills aren’t forever.

Skills are perishable

There are a few skills that stay with us for a lifetime. Riding a bicycle, swimming, driving a car – these are all motor skills we can pick up quickly even if we haven’t been doing it for months or years.

But most cognitive skills are perishable – if you don’t do it, you lose it.

Take website development again. There are multiple skills that go into building a website, from visual design to copywriting to learning the tools you need to do the job.

You can learn all of these skills, but if you don’t keep using them, you’re going to lose the skill. When you want to give your website a makeover, you have to relearn a lot of the skills that have perished.

These two pieces of knowledge gives us a strategy for deciding which skills are worth learning.

A strategy for deciding which skills to learn

The strategy is simple:

If you will be using a skill for a long time, and you will be using it frequently, it is worth learning.

The most obvious example of a skill worth learning is marketing. You will be marketing for the life of your business, and you will be using it almost every day. This makes it an essential skill for solopreneurs, so invest the time to learn to do it really well.

On the other hand, something like website development is probably not worth learning. We only develop a website once, revamp it every couple of years, and tweak it maybe once or twice in between. The learning (and re-learning) curves are prohibitive for the value we get.

When to learn “short lifetime” skills

The great thing about living in an era of no-code tools is that the tools are just so capable. Gone are the days of having to learn HTML and CSS to code a website. Just head on over to Squarespace or Strikingly (or a dozen more), pick a template and start crafting a website. There’s still a learning curve, but you can build  a pretty respectable website pretty fast without having to learn too much.

Similarly, there are a ton of tools out there that make bookkeeping easy. You can do it yourself, but you will reach a stage where the small fee for competent bookkeeping services is well worth the time (and learning curve) you will save by outsourcing it.

Bottom line: if there are lots of tools out there, and you don’t need to go through a huge learning curve, go the DIY route until it makes sense to outsource it.

When to outsource

Fiverr and Upwork are two places where you can get pretty decent work done for reasonable prices. But, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for, so be careful of going on price alone.

There are two big challenges with outsourcing work:

  • Communicating what you want. If you’re not an expert at the subject (for example, websites), you’re dependent on whomever is doing the work to guide you. If they aren’t already expert (the cheaper ones rarely are), this can lead to unexpected results.
  • Maintenance. You will have to agree with your provider to build and maintain whatever they’re doing for you, or ensure you get full ownership and edit rights after the fact.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t outsource – just be careful.

The absolutely must-have skills for solopreneurs

Here are the skills I believe you absolutely have to have to build and run a successful solopreneur business.

1. Your craft

I mentioned at the start of this article that you have to have, and maintain, your craft skills. If you’re a consultant, stay on top of the latest consulting trends, techniques and thought leaders. Similar for branding, coaching – whatever you do, always be on top of your game.

2. Productivity and Time Management

Productivity and time management is a mix of skills, habits and self-discipline. Your progress as a solopreneur is directly dependent on output (not effort), so learn the skills, practice the habits and always be improving your productivity and time management.

This is a lifetime investment.

3. Marketing

The most common reason we don’t like marketing is because when we start, we suck at it. And because it “doesn’t work”, we tend to associate it with failure, so we tend to shy away from it.

This is temporary. Just like any other skill, marketing can be learnt, and the better you get at it, the more you will like it, and the more successful your business will be.

The key is this: marketing is an essential function of your business with a lifetime as long as your business. It’s probably the most essential skill you have to learn.

And then there’s everything else

There are only a small number of things in your business you have to keep doing every day, week, month and year:

  1. Marketing to generate leads and clients
  1. Delivering your products or services to generate revenue
  1. Admin to keep everything in order

Most of the rest is stuff you can build once and then only pay attention to occasionally. Product or service development, websites, lead nurturing sequences (if you’re using email marketing) – none of these require your attention all the time. Outsource them if you can, learn short-lifetime skills if you need to, but focus on the things that deliver value for the life of your business.

I’m curious to hear what you think. Let me know!