There are now over 4 million 'solopreneurs' in the UK, as freelancers, the 'gig economy' and a raft of solo start-ups look for new and different ways of working. People are throwing off the shackles of the corporate world, the 9 to 5 and the daily commute, looking for a more flexible lifestyle; one where they're in charge and they make the rules.
Setting up on your own means flexibility, freedom, control and nobody to answer to. But of course, it's no walk in the park. As a lone wolf, you miss out on the support and camaraderie that comes with being part of a team, not to mention an extra pair of hands to share the workload. You need to be smart to make it work.
Luckily, there are tonnes of ways that you can use your solo status to your advantage, not to mention loads of clever tricks to get ahead. Here's our pick of some of the best:
Developing your business alone requires a serious amount of time, effort and commitment, so it pays to validate your idea before getting started. That means talking to your actual target audience, gathering genuine feedback about their interest and appetite, and even securing some pre-orders – or small client projects. If, at this stage, you don't get the response you're looking for, it could be back to the drawing board.
To minimise cash flow worries while you work out if your big idea has legs, why not start off small in your spare time. It's going to take a fair bit of research, brainstorming, and trial and error in the early days, so try to make headway in the evenings and weekends, without the pressure to deliver before the money runs out.
Without the support of a co-founder or team around you, your network is even more important to bounce ideas off, ask advice and get intros to the right people. So make an effort to nurture and maximise all your existing contacts, while also spending time finding new ones by attending events, groups and online forums. Even if somebody isn't immediately useful, you never know where they'll be in the future – plus you might be able to help them out in the meantime!
Look at your 'to do' list and be ruthless with your prioritising. If it isn't actually going to move your business forward or make you money then ditch it, or outsource. Your primary focus should be on customers and cash flow, so tasks relating to these two areas should always be paramount. Also, think about your tasks in terms of effort and impact – those activities that will have the most impact for the least amount of effort are no-brainers, so do them first!
Those time-consuming admin, low level or back-office tasks – find somebody else to do them! Whether that means your bookkeeping (find a good account) or your laundry and cleaning (invest in a housekeeper), in this day and age, it's easy to find people to pick up odd jobs for you. Try using sites such as Upwork, PeoplePerHour or Task Rabbit to find reliable local (or not so local) help.
Isolation is the biggest enemy of the solopreneur and while a strong network is a bonus, it's nice to have somebody who's dedicated to listening to your concerns and problems. Working with a business coach or mentor allows you to air the issues you're grappling with and work through a solution, giving you the confidence to make big decisions and move forwards. So have a think about whether anybody you know fits the bill, or consider looking on a site such as co.uk to get connected to the skills and experience you're looking for. For more info on the benefits of a mentor, check out our blog post here.
Lacking an important skill you need for your business? There's no need to invest in an expensive training course. Whatever it is, chances are you can find loads of free guides and advice online to get you started, whether through YouTube videos, articles or by asking around in relevant business forums. A few hours dedicated study time and you'll be an expert in no time, potentially saving your business a fortune, while adding new strings to your bow.
There are loads of online and smartphone tools designed for freelancers and solopreneurs, that can help you hack pretty much any area of your life. Some of our favourites include the online CRM system, Contactually, time management with Toggl, and remember the milk, the task manager which helps you stay on top of even the smallest tasks. So you can free up valuable brain space for more important stuff!
Co-working has revolutionised the lives of solopreneurs everywhere, giving you a ready-made network for support, collaboration and to win new business. Many co-working spaces also offer mentoring, training and events, plus there are loads of good value packages designed with solo workers in mind. Find out about some of London's best co-working options here.
One of the biggest bugbears for freelancers and solo workers is late payments from clients, an issue which impacts your cash flow and sucks up valuable time chasing payments. But don't despair, there are a number of clever ways to ensure this doesn't happen, including agreeing your terms in writing upfront, and invoicing on a consistent and timely basis. For more ideas, check out our tips for avoiding late payments here.
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