Over the last year or so, it seems like the number of emails I get from people wanting to talk about making the jump to going solo has increased. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like more people are making this transition–or, at the very least, giving it a try.
I’ll talk with just about anyone about this because so many solos gave freely of their time to help me out 10 years ago when I was making the move (maybe not always in-person, but I will share my advice somehow!).
The discussion during these conversations usually revolves around the same four issues. These are all issues worth serious consideration before you make the solo leap. Here’s my advice and four questions you definitely want to ask yourself before taking the plunge:
How will you get your “people time”?
Maybe the number-one challenge no one will tell you about when you make the solo leap is this: It’s an awfully lonely existence. I usually ask people: “How many people did you see and talk to today? Typically, the answer is somewhere between 10-20 (at least). You know what the answer is for me most days? 1-2 (outside of my wife and kids). Don’t underestimate how isolating the solo world can be. Account for it. Especially if you’re an extrovert. You need to figure out how you’ll get your “people time.” For me, I try to schedule at least two coffee meetings each week. I also have two mastermind groups I run. So, I’ve learned to be purposeful about how I get my “people time.”
How will you keep your name top of mind?
Because that’s the name of the game. Awareness. So, when a client has a need, they call you. Being a solo is all about referrals. That’s really the chief way we get work. So, you have to figure out how you’re going to get your name out there, and keep it in front of the people who matter. For me, that’s meant a mix of: blogging, podcasting, enewsletter-making, coffee meet-ups and daily networking. If that sounds like a lot of work–it definitely is. This solo thing isn’t for people who are lazy and want to watch Ellen at 2:30 every day. The hustle is real. You’re either up for it, or you’re not.
How will you handle success?
Everyone worries about what they’ll do if they don’t find work. I was always much more worried about what happens if I’m successful! As in: What do you do when you have TOO MUCH work? It’s a good problem to have, for sure. But, it’s still a problem–and one I’ve faced a number of times over the last 10 years. You have to plan for success the same way you plan for failure. Along those same lines: I would also answer this question: Do you want to be a solo, or do you want to build something bigger? Those are two completely different camps that require much different thinking. I think about people like Amy Spencer, who is killing it with her Evo Communications. But, Amy isn’t a solo. She’s building a virtual agency. That’s something completely different than being a solo consultant. She has different needs. She’s facing different issues. She’s trying to overcome different hurdles. Make sure you decide what you want to do before you make the jump. Doesn’t mean you can’t change at some point down the road. But, I’ve found the most successful people know what they want and then go after it with 100 percent effort.
What’s your niche (spoiler alert: you need a niche)?
And please don’t say “strategic communications.” Just my opinion, mind you, but I believe you need to identify your niche before you jump. And no, “PR and comms” is not a niche. Change management communications for Fortune 500 brands–now, that’s a niche. For me, it’s social media marketing consulting and content development for Fortune 500 and midsized companies. That’s a niche. Resist the urge to go broad when you’re thinking about what you want to do. Really focus. The benefits are many, including truly getting to know your prospects. Early on, I wasn’t very good at this. I positioned myself as a PR and digital marketing consultant. Way too broad. As a result, I really didn’t know my customers all that well. Fast forward a few years: I started honing in on social media marketing a whole lot more. As a result, I made it my mission to know as many social media marketers at big companies in Minneapolis/St. Paul. And today, I feel like I know a lot of those people! See the difference?