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Soloists on the Rise: 6 Qualities of the Successful Solopreneur

This excellent piece by Minda Zetlin of Inc. resonated with me (9 Reasons There’s Never Been a Better Time for Solopreneurs). I’m a big fan of Zetlin’s columns and this one really struck a chord. It talks about the solopreneur (aka freelance) lifestyle and how our nation is moving in that direction.

“The self-employed will become a force to be reckoned with over the next few years, with our ranks swelling to 60 million by 2020 if Intuit’s famous prediction from 2010 holds true,” Zetlin says. Her article cites a book by Jacob Morgan, The Future of Work, which talks about how technology, marketplaces and economic trends are aligning to support the self-employed movement.

Here’s my question: Why wouldn’t EVERYONE want to be a solopreneur?

But, let’s back up. I’ve been on my own for more than 16 years now, so I may carry a bias. I wasn’t always self-employed. I held multiple “permanent” full-time jobs before I finally decided to make the leap. Some were OK, some were miserable. I knew there had to be something better.

I’d planned my escape from the corporate world in my head for years…just waiting for the right time. While I waited, I joined a group of freelancers who met monthly to discuss topics pertaining to running your own business. I talked to other soloists to find out how they handled finding clients, setting up accounting systems and organizing a home office. Most were encouraging and supportive.

When I actually launched my consulting business, I already had three clients in place, which helped immensely. From there, I never looked back. My business took off. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe I was doing what I’d always dreamed of—working with great clients on my terms.

Of course, for all solopreneurs, there are ups and downs, leaner times and busier periods. But, as Zetlin points out, there are no sure things anymore. Even for those with “permanent” positions, there’s no job security. Companies downsize and they’re out.

Even so, going it alone isn’t for everyone. So what does it take to make it as a solopreneuer? Is there a “magic” formula? What qualities do you need to succeed in the freelance lifestyle?

Here are some attributes vital to success:

1) Ability to focus: You have to be able to avoid outside distractions—or at least overlook them—to focus on client work. This can be particularly tough if you work at home. But, it can be done. I’ve worked from a home office for the entire length of my consulting career. Are there distractions? Sure. But, look at it this way: If you’re in the office, people drop by your desk to chat. Or you get pulled into meetings. Or there’s a birthday party or a baby shower or you name it…. So, I’d argue that the distractions are at least equal, if not greater, working in an office.

2) Self-motivation: If you’re not a self-motivated person, you may struggle with freelancing. You have to be able to get up in the morning and have a plan of what you’re going to accomplish that day. You have to be motivated by creating success for your business. I happen to find the idea of avoiding going back to a corporate job VERY motivating! But beyond that, I’m proud of my business and the fact that I’ve been doing it as long as I have. Are there times when soloists think about going back to the corporate world? Is it tempting when someone calls you about a full-time gig? Yes–for about an hour! Then, if you’re like me, you gut will say, “Don’t do it!” You’ll think about how much you don’t miss the commute, the meetings, the politics…. That makes it’s easy to come back to how motivating working for yourself is.

3) Ability to wear all the hats: When you’re a solopreneur, YOU do it all—you land the clients, you do the work, you bill for the work, you promote your business—you wear ALL the hats. Of course, you can hire help for some of these tasks, which I recommend, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. If you’re not OK with that, flying solo may not be a fit.

4) A strong network: When I started out, nearly all my clients came from personal referrals. That’s shifted over the years to be more of a mix of those who’ve found me online (for example, through LinkedIn or a Google search). Even so, building a strong network before you strike out on your own is incredibly important. Not only will you look to your connections for referrals, but there are times when you’ll need to refer work to others, i.e. when it falls outside your area of expertise or when you’re just too busy.

5) Appreciation for the benefits of working on your own: I’m grateful every day that I get to work on my own, and I appreciate that I set my schedule. Not having to report in to 10 bosses when you have a personal appointment is a definite upside. And, what if there’s an event at your child’s school? Well, you can just add that to your calendar. As a colleague and fellow consultant told me early on in my consulting life, “Clients don’t have to know you’re at the school play. You’re simply ‘in a meeting.’”

6) Ability to remain calm: Freelancing requires a sense of calm, even if you hit a rough patch. Don’t panic. The wise solopreneur knows there will be ups and downs…and plans for those times by socking away some reserves when the work is flowing. If you run into a snag, you can’t just walk away. Stay calm, go to your network to remind them you’re on the lookout for projects, and soon, the work will come. You have to believe in yourself and your ability to ride out the rocky times.

There’s no feeling of freedom or fulfillment like freelancing. Professionally, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Yes, you need all those work experiences that may have come before to prepare for being on your own and to help you appreciate the solopreneur lifestyle. But once you get a taste of freedom, trust me—you’ll never turn back.

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Celebrating My Independence…Five Ways Starting My Own Business Changed My Life

Happy Independence Day!

To me, this holiday has a dual meaning. Yes, like many other Americans, I celebrate our country by attending a parade, having a picnic with my family and enjoying fireworks. But, this holiday is also a time to celebrate my independence as a businessperson.

More than 15 years ago, I “liberated” myself from the day-to-day grind of working for someone else…and started doing it MY way. When I launched my consulting practice, I believed I could:
• Find companies who needed my help
• Provide excellent counsel and execute to bring results
• Offer them services at a reasonable price
• And do it all on MY terms

What has this meant for me? Well, it’s changed my life in a number of ways:

• I now work on a schedule that fits not only my clients’ needs, but MY needs. Sometimes, that means getting up early, staying up late or working weekends. But it’s done on MY terms. I was doing this when I worked for someone else, but it no longer feels like a sacrifice, because it stems from my passion and commitment to my clients, to what I do and to making my business successful. It’s a completely different feeling when you’re so closely invested in the success (or failure) of not only your client’s businesses, but of your business.

• I also enjoy the collaboration with other independents. I love meeting and connecting with other consultants and then being able to offer my clients resources for the kinds of projects I don’t do (and no, I don’t try to do it all…there’s plenty of work to go around for all of us!).

• And, I believe I’m more productive on my own. Without the meetings, the commute and the office politics, I can actually get more done. I believe that doing the actual work to get results is more enjoyable—and really what serving clients is all about. I can work anytime, anywhere productively. The whole telecommuting movement is something I tried to get my bosses to agree to years ago…without much success. For some reason, they just didn’t believe that employees could work productively outside the office. After 15 years of working on my own from wherever I want, I beg to differ.

• Not to mention the wonderful clients I get to work with. I think I’m extremely lucky to get to work with smart, talented (did I mention very nice?!) people. It’s a pleasure to work with my clients because they truly trust me and are a joy to serve.

• Then, of course, there’s the personal pride I feel in helping my clients succeed. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting a media “hit” for a client or knowing they have new prospects or sales because of PR initiatives they undertook. It’s a true “high” that I still get whenever this happens.

So this 4th of July, I celebrate my freedom and the ability to do the work I love for clients I’m committed to serving. Happy Independence Day to all!

Happy anniversary to me!

This spring, I’m celebrating the 14th anniversary of my business, Garrett Public Relations.

As I celebrate another year of being self-employed, I look back on the years since I launched my business. Yes, the business climate has changed and PR is constantly changing, but I still get so excited whenever I remember that I work for myself!

I grew up in a household where neither parent went to work at an office or company every day. It never dawned on me how much this had affected my own view of the work world until the past few years. I started to wonder, where did my drive to work for myself come from?

My parents were both entrepreneurs, launching their own businesses. My father was well-known in our city for having his own produce business that he ran for 40+ years. Both my parents and all four of us kids worked there. That’s where my early lessons in customer service came from (and my ability to add without a calculator!). In addition to working at the market and taking of customers, I used to love to hang out with my parents in the evenings and help with the accounting side of things, counting money and adding up checks to be deposited. Later, my mother turned her love of antiques into a business, even opening a shop for a while, and she still buys and sells antiques all these years later.

This spirit of entrepreneurship was ingrained in me without me even realizing it. Even with all the headaches that come with being one’s own boss—the technology issues, the accounting challenges, the sales and marketing outreach, the stress of trying to take a vacation—there’s just something about hanging out your own shingle. The freedom that comes with that and the pride in knowing that you are controlling your own fate are priceless. I have to thank my mom and dad for teaching me these lessons. The interesting part is that I didn’t even know I was learning anything….it was just part of life at our house.

I wonder now what my kids will learn, as they watch their mom run her own business. I need to find ways to integrate them into the business so they get a sense of what it’s like. Maybe they’ll catch the entrepreneurial bug just like I did.

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Working From Home a Problem? Start Your Own Business

When I saw the recent comments from Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, about employees working from home, I must admit I was at a loss: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/business&id=9006273

This is a hot button issue for me.

For years early on in my career, I struggled in my attempts to get my employers to see the value in allowing me to work from home. I achieved minor victories here and there, but it was always a sticking point. In my mind, I knew I could be productive and do a great job working from home—without all the office distractions.

Finally, I decided I’d take matters into my own hands and work toward launching my own business. I gathered information by talking to others who’d successfully gone out on their own and did my research, putting all the pieces in place. Then I planned my escape…er, I mean exit, from the 8-6 office life.

I started my business to get the freedom to work when and where I wanted. Funny how this topic is still relevant all these years later. The data is now there to support the concept that those working from home can be as productive–if not more so–than those who work in the office. The idea still seems to be slow to catch on with employers, but the hope is there that someday they’ll get it!

To those who still fight this battle, you can always start your own business like I did nearly 14 years ago. I still love working for myself–and of course, I no longer have to ask for permission to work from home.