13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 2

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 2

This will take you about 20 minutes to read. So make sure it’s for you.

Here’s how you can tell:

  • You’re a solopreneur (or freelancer) overwhelmed with marketing yourself. Where does this writing frenzy end, you wonder. And will it actually bring you business?
  • You’re a mid-sized business with budgets out of agency range, in a market where CMO talent is rare to non-existent. You do the best you can with what’s available.
  • You’re a thought leader with lots of experience in the field but without the personal branding tool kit. You have results nobody can possibly contest. You want more spread for your magic.
  • You have precious assets that could sell internationally. If only you had marketing that doesn’t scream Eastern Europe.
  • You’re a productivity addict and sooo into crisp, punchy copy.

Have you checked any of the boxes?

Read on, I might just have good stuff for you.

Before we get to it, you know there’s a part 1, right? Read that first here.

You need a routine

Something you do every morning.

Do it for enough days (66 they say) until it’s a habit and you no longer spend a dime of willpower on it.

Here’s my sequence: drag out of bed, brush my teeth and my nose (a must if you’re the sinus infection-prone type, a savior, I promise), then off to yoga for 30. In the living room, that is.

I already know what I’m doing. I have a playlist on my subscription site. I don’t need to think. Just do.

Then put the kettle on and make cocoa. With it, I go to the laptop, straight to 750words.com. I pour my mind out there for 750 words. Hence the title. No thinking required.

Occasionally I catch a streak and I copy-paste stuff at the end in my writing docs.

But mostly, it’ll be ranting about something. Mantras like “I need to figure this out.” “I need to do this better.”

That sort of thing. Yes, it’s probably Favella (you know who she is, ’cause you’ve read Part 1, right?).

It needs to come out there, so it doesn’t pop out later.

– Bring it on, Favella, it’s your time to shine. Then go back to your box, will you?

Sometimes I also meditate for 15, right at the end of the yoga thing. Or after the words.

Which is when I go to breakfast and may binge on youtube.

Once I check that, I sit at my desk.

Want some extra points out of reading this? Take a pen and paper and list yours.

You need to track your day

No guilt-tripping. Just knowing.

You need to know, on average, when you actually start work.

For how long you focus. When you actually start having ideas. That kind of thing.

For years I used Chrome’s browsing history, estimating here and there.

One of my teachers recommended RescueTime.

I didn’t get much use of the free version, to be honest. On a spree, I got one year’s subscription at a discount. I’m beginning to see the light.

I have a goal for deep work for four hours per day.

Because, it turns out, we only have four hours of quality work per day in us anyway.

It’s all in this book I got as compulsory reading from a strategy masterclass. It’s completely worth your time. If you don’t have seven hours to give it, just go to the mattresses:

Don’t plan for more than four hours of quality work per day. You just don’t have it. Or you’ll be a zombie the next day.

I don’t always meet my number. But I see what I do by the hour and can update my turnaround times.

You’ll need those, too, by the way.

They’re numbers and come as answers to the question of “How long does it take me to do X?”.

Because you’ll need systems. You can’t reinvent the wheel over and over again.

Give each day a theme

Marketing is on Wednesdays for me. It’s the only day I deal with marketing stuff.

On Thursday, if I have a marketing idea, I put on the to-do list and I look at it next week. It gives me some structure.

Not much gets done without.

And even on marketing days, if I don’t do much because the task is vague and I can’t get it together, I still acknowledge it was a marketing day and I did not get things done.

It’s called holding space. Hello, creation jargon!

No names dropping, but big fancy CEOs have been doing it for years.

You need 3 to 5 recipes on heavy rotation

Because you’ll need to have meals taken care of. And unless you have a chef or a family-run restaurant around the corner, I strongly suggest meal prep.

I learned that from my health coach client and have been thanking her ever since. You do the cooking once a week, maybe Sunday. And you put everything in casseroles, ready to serve.

My go-to’s: roasted veggies. Eggplant, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, or pumpkin. Cut them in cubes, with oil, salt, and pepper at the minimum or more herbs if you’re a pro, and shove them into the oven.

Add a side of greens with seeds and vinaigrette and roasted meatloaf.

(Got me here, I love pork. I run on pork, chocolate, broccoli, roasted veggies, and lentils, actually.)

And grains. Rice, lentils, buckwheat, or you name it. And boiled eggs a bit runny in the yoke (you get that if you boil them for 4-5 minutes).

And apple galette.

But you get bored of things. So you may need to shuffle up. That’s what zucchini bread is for. Oatmeal with cinnamon. Or sea bream in a salt crust.

You get the idea.

You need a power playlist

Or at least one song to play on repeat when you’re getting a wave off the ground. Like some mantra, it will rock your mind and flip that inner switch.

Before you know it, you’re flowing into deep work.

Here’s a few of my lucky bets: Sailing ships from White Snake, Pink’s Who knew, ACDC’s Are you ready, the intros of House of Cards and Westworld, almost anything James Taylor, and the soundtrack of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy.

And Mulan’s. (The cartoon from decades ago, that is.)

(Please don’t ask. I’ve been practicing a contemporary martial art for 18 years now. I can’t help it.)

Enough with the soft stuff, let’s go back to the main field:

Online courses market with best avatar results. Is that you?

After investing in them enough to pay off half of my remaining mortgage (I’ve just realized that OMG, I could have shaved how many years off my plan?) I have a thing or two to say:

No course gets you results if you don’t do the work.

You know that.

But also,

the course’s marketing is based on results from people who aced it. And they aced it for at least two reasons: they were the kind of person who benefit most from that kind of course, AND they did the work.

Not every business growth course is equal.

Some are for people or businesses who already have a hot Facebook community. If you’re not one of those, selling high tickets to a group of five, one of whom is your mother, might not work out.

Other courses are for people or businesses who have lists of emails they’ve groomed for years. At least 2,000 fans or so.

Don’t apply if you’re not there yet.

If the creator is for real, you’re not getting admitted anyway.

A word of caution about those dedicated Facebook communities.

Most people will look like they have it together big time. Few actually do.

They will post high flyer insights and outrageously priced offerings until you’ll read they have to live out of the car as of next month.

You can’t really blame them for wanting to look good to the course leader and to the community. Just don’t believe everything you read.

Stick to your guns and resist the temptation to doubt yourself.

Also,

Look up the success stories. Do they sound like you? Are they facing the same kind of to-dos you’re dealing with?

Then decide for yourself and save yourself the trouble. Fancy sales pages are there to lure you, of course. They’re written by professionals like me.

But save yourself the trouble and resist the bling thing.

Your WHY matters to you. Not necessarily to others.

I know there’s a huge crowd out there chanting to the Simon Sinek tune: start with your why.

And you do start with your why. It’s what sets you into motion.

But your clients might not be so interested. Not unless it’s deeply connected to what they want.

What do I mean by that?

Here’s what I want, as much as I can articulate it: I had the arrogant claim (that comes with these highly evolved times we live in) that I should love what I do every day.

So instead of working to make it till my next holiday, every day should feel like one.

Find what you love doing and you’ll never work a day in your life. Remember?

Well, kind of like that, but with real bills to pay.

We’re going to call that living the mission.

I want that.

And I have walked away from corporate scripts and titles to do that. Life has a way of rearranging itself so you do. And if you resist, it smacks you over the head. (I’m not reading this from the playbook, by the way.)

I’ll have my spirit awake and busy, FYI.

I want to live the mission and I want life to use me. It’s why I’m here.

Also, I have this outrageous itch to be able to connect and be great with whoever comes my way.

Not just my besties. Everyone. I guess I want to be able to walk into everyone’s world and talk to them like we’re equals. Maybe even jam.

Remember Al Pacino in The devil’s advocate? Street-smart like that, but on the bright side.

Also, not the kind that gets impressed with some pompous what’s-his-name because they’re flashing bling, wounds, or titles at me.

I’m here to be real and great with people.

And after 17 years or so as a corporate power dresser and marketing and sales wonder worker, I took a long hard look at what I can put out there into the world, rather than share other people’s pictures of cats.

It’s a mix of strategy, coaching, and copywriting. I call it positioning and copywriting for thought leaders.

Do you really care why I do it or do you want me to nail it for you and that’s enough? You tell me. For real, tell me in the comments. I actually really, really want to know.

Please don’t come to me with the usual suspects. You know them, the cardboard words. I don’t understand a thing.

Here’s how you know if you want to work with me.

Do you want aliveness?

Like, real-life conversation. People talking to people. With the occasional spice. I was going to say flamboyance. I say that. Sometimes. Not always.

So anyway, do you? If you do, we just might hit it off.

Oh, and don’t tangle up in The Force. Let if flow freely.

Which means all of what I’ve just said but also this: don’t hold up sh*t.

Go through it and clean your room.

Before you do, though…

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 1

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 1

This will take you about 20 minutes to read. So make sure it’s for you.

Here’s how you can tell:

  • You’re a solopreneur (or freelancer) overwhelmed with marketing yourself. Where does this writing frenzy end, you wonder. And will it actually bring you business?
  • You’re a mid sized business with budgets out of agency range, in a market where CMO talent is rare to non-existent. You do the best you can with what’s available.
  • You’re a thought leader with lots of experience in the field, but without the personal branding tool kit. You have results nobody can possibly contest. You want more spread for your magic.
  • You have precious assets that could sell internationally. If only you had marketing that doesn’t scream Eastern Europe.
  • You’re a productivity addict and sooo into crisp, punchy copy.

Have you checked any of the boxes?

Read on, I might just have good stuff for you.

Have you heard the story of the corporate high flyer turned entrepreneur?

That would be me.

After 17 years in marketing and selling an Eastern European film studio to Hollywood producers, public utility TV campaigns that won all the right prizes and fundraising for UNICEF, I decided to make the switch.

It seems a lifetime away now, five years and an intensive diet of entrepreneurial and online marketing courses later.

I wish someone told me what you’ll read below, from the “yes, mom” kind of tips to insider info on how to deal with The Force.

No, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan. But The Force is still The Force, whatever you call it.

(I know it sounds a bit on the edge. I promise you it isn’t. I’m a movie girl turned conversion copywriter. And nothing tells a story like the movies.)

Let’s get to it.

In your little corner of the world, you’re the ultimate maker.

Can you think of any envy rants about life as a freelancer? How about that one with the lazy mornings?

The chorus line goes a bit like “I can’t believe your freedom.” My clients say that to me. A lot.

Which is when I say:

“Actually, I’m a company of one.”

Yes, sometimes you can sleep in on grey mornings. And you’ll be up at midnight just as well. Here’s what doesn’t get said on the subject:

A job isn’t just a pay check. It’s a network of things wiring through your life.

And when you’re on your own, you’ll have to work hard not just at doing the things that give you the pay check.

You’ll need to build that invisible wire, too. The net. The container.

You don’t really see it, unless you reach out for what should be there and isn’t, because you didn’t make it. That’s when you feel the void and a new, vague to-do lands in.

It sound like this: “who is my ideal client, anyway?”, or “how will they hear about me?”, or “my marketing should be better.”

It can take months or years until you actually get what you should do for that. And you might know it in theory. It needs to land, though. And that takes time, I promise you.

You basically need two things: mindset and systems. And you’re in charge of both.

That includes the cheering up, the vision setting, all the boring meetings you dragged your feet to and checked your phone for most of the time.

Now you have to create the materials, set it up, attend and cheer in stride. Also, the procedures. Until further notice, you are in charge of operations. Also, marketing, sales, product and delivery.

You may not ace all of them. That would be really hard. But you can go for the essentials. For what moves the needle.

And welcome to your new jargon.

Moving the needle tops all the charts.

Before you go through the terra bytes you’ll find on the issue, let me give you the short version:

Have an idea, get it in front of your client and see if it works, then make it better.

Give them the best you’ve got.

And iterate till the cows come home.

Everything else is ancillary, social media plans included.

(Business models vary of course.)

So, social media will matter only if it’s an actual way of getting in front of your client. Otherwise it is what it is. Trap. Pacifier. Time killer. Digital cigarette. Etc.

Handle this well, and at the end you’ll have lists of actions booked in advance in your calendar and drills to go with them.

And when a new client comes along, or when you need to go for leads, you’ll have a better idea of what you actually need to do and how long it takes you and your team to actually do them.

As for operations, one of the most valuable things I’ve ever learned was in The 90 Day Year:

(full disclosure: I’m in to be an affiliate for that. Meaning if you buy it through me, I get a commission and you get my bonuses. I think the program is completely worth your time and money. And if you click this link and sign up, I’ll tell you more about it in private.)

 

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You’ll look for who’s got it. Or whatever can check you out.

Cats. Or dogs. Those always do the trick. (Which makes me think that even in 200 years time, they will still rule.)

You’ll actually compare yourself to others. I know you know you shouldn’t but you still do. Unless you’re a really lucky sort and we almost hate you for it.

I did compare myself endlessly to people in New York. Or to people who’ve been in business three times as long as I have. Nothing good came of it. My therapist was patient, though.

Chances are you’ll look for people who’ve made it before you.

You might actually have a crash on some.

And that’s fine.

Time will make you see cracks through their postcard perfect posts. And with every disappointment, you will grain an ounce of courage to be your voice, come what may.

You may actually even unfollow some. And that’s how you know you’re on the right track.

You live the mission, and money for fill-in-the-blanks shows up.

I came to think that after years on stressing out about money.

Affectionate, mostly concerned about money, my 750words.com dashboard analysis said to me day in, day out, for months. (More on that in a bit, in the routine section.)

But, yes, I was obsessed about not having enough. Actually, about the possibility of not having enough.

It took years to figure out I had not missed a single payment, had been to Japan twice, invested almost as much as an MBA in my entrepreneurial education. And I was still freaked out.

Now, I do UX copy. Voice of customer. I take pride I don’t write a single word without seeing what the client actually thinks.

So I looked at my own data. Checked the vitals. My mind was all over the place. My finances were actually reasonably well.

Every time I needed something, it somehow came together. So I decided that was The Force holding me. And decided to give into it.

Rather than stress out about money, I would actually think about something else: how can I be useful? Is my work useful to anyone? How?

And when the freaked out voice was going for a solo on how I’d be on the streets, I decided to play the trump card: the big book says The Big Guy knows I need stuff and will provide. Let’s not criticise before He’s had a chance to do the job.

“People make it through hard times in two ways,” my therapist had said: “they believe in God or they believe in themselves. You have a faith crisis.” I did.

Getting past that is no small feat. It helps to have the eyes on the prize: the chance to be you.

To say what you actually want. Because you do, anyway. And otherwise it will siphon into dreams and Freudian slips. What the heck. Just do it.

The little voice inside your head (you know which one) will say you can’t.

I’m giving it to you straight. You can’t silence it. But you can name the effer. It’s a villain alright.

Now here’s another piece of final truth:

There’s no villain without a super hero. None.

So name the villain. And the hero.

Write the villain first. He or she will define your hero.

I got that from Dan Brown’s Masterclass. (Masterclass.com, by the way, is amazing.)

I actually want you to sit down and write what your villain and hero are like. What they say. Who that voice belongs to. What you think they look like. Do they smoke? Do they have a lisp?

My villain: Favella Belittle.

Since she always insists other people are better than me. I gave her a big ass. Felt better, too.

The superhero: Belinda Fragette.

No idea how I came up with these names. (Actually, I have a secret about that, too. I’ll write about it soon). She’s Frenchy French, has a huge mustard coat and detects BS by a mile.

Also, she’s totally game for books, manicures and steak tartare.

I googled Fargette. It turns out there was a French mafia dude with that name. No connection. My Fargette stays on the bright side.

You’ll actually feel The Force.

It’s not just some Maz Kanata sh*t. It is. But it isn’t.

If your work calls to you like the Jedi sword, then you are a hero on a journey. And on that journey, at some point, you will feel the Force.

“It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes. Feel it. It’s always been there. It will guide you.”

– Maz Kanata

Sooner or later, you will reach what will seem like rock bottom. And that’s when you might just feel around the edges of your will to live.

That would be, more precisely, your drive to be part of this big thing called life, whomever may be in yours.

You’ve seen it in so many movies, you’re probably sick of it already. Here’s the difference in real life.

There’s no score.

Most times you’ll be in bed at night, corpse posture, eyes on the ceiling, working out ways to breathe, your mind racing on fear scripts. What if clients don’t come out of nowhere? What if you won’t make the next mortgage payment? What if you just don’t have it?

Putting clothes on and going through the usual will feel like a victory. And it actually will be. Which is why you’ll need your routines in place. They’ll get you out of the darkest pit.

More on that later.

Back to the rock bottom.

If you’re alive, you’re a knot in a network that invested you with meaning: faith, feelings, use or simply habit. Meaning warm bodies who believe, love, need or got used to you.

At that rock bottom moment, whatever you do to climb out will be either for those other people, or for your deepest of selves.

You’ll get through one more day to not give them one more thing to worry about.

Or because if this were to be the end, you still have a fight or two inside you. And you’re not done quite yet.

That’s The Darkest Hour kind of moment.

I love the scene in the actual movie.

Churchill and King George sit on the sofa, shot from behind. Churchill is terrified.

But hear me out, that’s when there’s always a flicker of light. And for him it’s a stuttering king who extends a hand and says “I will work with you no matter what. I’ll stand by you.”

It’s what makes the actual difference. In your darkest hour, you are not alone. Fear not.

That’s one of the times you will actually see The Force.

Breathe It in.

And get in line with It.

Now, about the routines…

There will be days you will rule the world. Wake up clear in the head, go straight to the laptop and pour that proposal out of you. You may even focus for over 4 hours.

That’s rare for me. But I’ve done it with brain.fm. It works for me that way.

And there will be others when your day will not amount to much. Chain youtubing, maybe, and dog videos on Facebook.

Five years of traps later, I boiled it down to this wisdom…

… which is when Scheherazade would strategically break for intended suspense.

As do I.

I’ll be back soon. Just keep your eyes peeled to my blog.

Before you go, though…

Who are you for your clients?

Who are you for your clients?

Autodidacts out there, hear the swoosh of my virtual bow. I taught myself to read many, many years ago, but on days like these it looks like there’s not much else I’ll do for myself.

Figuring out other people’s main message is piece of cake compared to writing your own editorial plan. Your own anything, actually.

It’s not that there’s any dark art about it, by the way. We all drop clues, walk around with a cloud over our head, our message on the rainbow. It takes a reader to look and serve it back to us on a silver platter.

The reading, of course, has its method. The right questions to open the way.

But the actual looking for it, curiously engaged with a message extractor by your side does most of the job.

Because we all want to be known and gotten for who we are.

You want your tribe to know what you’re about. You want them to look at your work and say it has your name all over it. A classic you, they’ll say and smile.

Which is why when the website is nowhere near there, you’d rather not speak about it.

Let’s put an end to this Boogie man, though. I’ll say it for you.

Other than your actual place of business, your website is your main shop window. Where people come in to see what you’re about. Actually they come in for what they want you to do for them. Sometimes, something about you will get them in the door even when that message’s not clear. They’ll be intrigued. Or charmed. Either way, if there’re in, it’s on you to get the conversation started.

What do you say? If you skip the awkward hellos, they’ll want to know what you can do for them.

It rarely goes beyond a few lines. It could be even one. And it’s the mightiest of copy. Your hero copy.

Hero, because that’s where you put it, on the first window of your website. And the name says it all. It’s there to save the day.

Good hero copy is what has your clients at hello. It’s the recipe for love at first sight.

But here’s the thing about good hero copy. It doesn’t just happen.

Good hero copy is a sign the house is in order. Meaning your messaging, what you want to say to your clients, is neatly stacked, colour coded and cherished, like DVDs in the ‘90s. Like Star Wars action figures on your teen dorm mantelpiece.

And that only happens when who you are is crystal clear.

You know yourself as a business down to your DNA.

Do you know what that’s like? To just know?

Yes, you do.

You meet someone and know in the first seconds you’ll get along. And you sure know how it feels when this really isn’t going to work. Those Manolos may be gorgeous. But they’re not for you. You’d rather be in Birkenstocks all summer. You say “it’s just not me,” and you walk.

That’s what I do for you, by the way.

I spare you the search. Actually, I spare your clients the doubts.

I write your DNA.

I tell you who you are for your clients.

Call me an oracle. Or a nose. Or, my favourite, the un-tangler.

If your hero copy is nowhere near where you want it to be, it just might be you need some DNA work.

What do I mean?

Say why you think you’re in business is to empower entrepreneurs. It’s who you think you are. Empowering entrepreneurs is a universe. Noble, but vague.

Are you an online platform for personal development dedicated to entrepreneurs? Are you a tech company that offers accounting software for start-ups? Are you a start-up fund?

But if who you are is someone who plants the seeds of entrepreneurship, that’s empowerment in a very specific way. A filter that calls forth a different kind of reality.

And you keep at it until you have it. Maybe it is that you’re a hub for entrepreneurial resilience.

If your unique value proposition is vague, that’s where you need to look. That’s where the work needs to happen. Not in the copy. Copy comes easy when the house is in order.

That’s why good copy can only happen if you have strategy handled first. Here’s a secret good copywriters share: copy is walking strategy.

And a good copywriter is always a good strategist. Which is actually what you need your copywriter to be. Someone who can read your game and power it up with words.

I see brilliant entrepreneurs with websites that breathe who they are, the cloud and rainbow over their head, but no real hero copy. It’s fixable.

Somewhere in that cloud of emotion, the message is sitting tight like a needle in the haystack, waiting patiently.

You could do it on your own. If you’re an autodidact. I put together a guideline that will walk you through it. Get it here and use it to bits. It’s why it’s there for. Then drop me a line. I’d love to know who you are.

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