8 Things Every Solopreneur Should Know
Starting your own business may seem daunting, but it can also be one of the most rewarding endeavors of your career — and life in general. Research has shown that women are starting more businesses than ever. There are female-run VC firms that invest specifically in women-led companies, networks to encourage collaboration over competition, and entire movements about “leaning in.” If there were ever a time to start working for yourself, this is it.
Case in point: Over 5,000 people recently attended QuickBooks Connect, a conference designed to celebrate the dream of working for yourself, as well as help educate, inspire, and connect people to one another in order achieve it. Here are eight tips from the speakers at QB Connect— from media moguls to creatives to Shark Tank alums — who may inspire you to take the leap into self-employment yourself.
1. Know you belong in the room.Shonda Rhimes — storyteller, writer, producer, and breaker of all ceilings — says she doesn’t buy into the anxieties of imposter syndrome, or the overwhelming fear that people will think you’re a fraud. Even during her first television job on Grey’s Anatomy, she never let self-doubt get in the way of moving forward. Instead of worrying about what the executives in the room thought, Rhimes just started doing what she did best: telling stories. The same goes for any business situation — whether you’re first starting a company, speaking to customers, or finding new partners, the only thing that questioning yourself does is give other people the option to question you too. Says Rhimes, “You belong in every single room you’re in. You never wait for someone to tell you that you belong in a room. ‘Cause you’ll wait forever.”
2. Find the right audiences. Early on in Tyra Banks’ career, the supermodel-turned-entrepreneur admits she got “thicker” than the typical ultra-thin models at the time, and she started being passed over for jobs. Distraught, Banks called her mom, who took her out to eat pizza and told her to write down every magazine that would accept her for who she was, curves and all. And that’s who she went after. “Sometimes it’s not necessarily about tweaking your product or service. You might just be targeting the wrong damn people.” Banks went on to become the first African American woman to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated and GQ, a Victoria’s Secret Model, and the personality behind 23 (and counting) seasons of America’s Next Top Model, a show that’s helping expand the definition of beauty. Clearly, she found her audience.
Similarly, your right audience might also extend from what you originally planned for. Shark Tank alums and self-employed entrepreneurs Julie Goldman (The Original Runner Co.), Julie Busha (Slawsa), and Amy Baxter (MMJ Labs) all created their companies with one specific customer in mind and later recognized they could solve other problems too. Goldman, for example, designed a non-stick runner for wedding aisles and then found a secondary market in real estate, which needed runners in handling the foot traffic for open houses. Baxter created a device originally intended to block needle pain, and she realized that the same device could be modified for use on other body parts, including knees, elbows, and the lower back. Even if something sounds ridiculous at first, Goldman advises, keep your ears open to what people are asking you for.
3. Have the right systems in place. As a solopreneur, you have to wear a lot of hats. It’s important to focus what you’re good at and either delegate or automate the rest. Alaia Williams, owner of One Organized Business, has made it her job to help her clients (usually fellow entrepreneurs) strategically organize their operations.
On her short list of must-have resources: a CRM tool to manage contacts, a project tracker, a reliable calendar, a marketing management tool, and financial software such as QuickBooks Self Employed, which helps easily separate personal and professional expenses so you don’t have to do it manually, as well as assisting with compliance and quarterly tax obligations. Additionally, just announced at QuickBooks Connect was QuickBooks Assistant, a new virtual assistant chat service that answers questions using an entrepreneur’s business data, eliminating the need to run reports and analyze data manually.
4. Be authentic. As a solopreneur, a lot of what you’re selling is yourself. For Rhimes, that means every week she shows up with her “inner Beyonce and Rihanna” to deliver the best stories she can for her Thursday night primetime slots. “In any situation, you should consider the fact that everyone there should actually be getting you. The you that’s compelling, the you that’s worth staying for. Your voice, your views, your ideas, your character.”
Interior Designer and Best-Selling Author Nate Berkus, who has run a successful design company for more than 20 years and was a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, likes to quote Brené Brown: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” When people are able to see your vulnerability and fallibility, it brings people together and makes it easier to do business. Berkus believes authenticity is really important, and as a result, he’s the exact same person whether he’s in a boardroom with a Fortune 500 company or the Dairy Queen in his hometown.
Elisabeth Young (ElisaAnne Calligraphy) always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur and have her own business. (It must run in the family; Young’s father is also an entrepreneur.) Knowing that she “doesn’t play well with others” and wouldn’t consider herself a good employee, Young stuck to her guns, started a calligraphy side hustle, and then transitioned it to a full-time pursuit. A year later, her custom wedding invitation business is going strong, and she has managed to stay true to her strengths and self.
5. Be passionate. This is a bit of a given, but creating a company is not an easy path. And there has to be more of a driving force than just money. Julie Rice knew it was time to start SoulCycle because she had a passionate idea for a company, and that idea wouldn’t go away. It even woke her up in the middle of the night, so for her, building a business and continuing to fuel that passion was a given. “Sort of being passionate about something isn’t going to get you to the finish line.”
For example, even though Goldman of The Original Runner Co., was featured on TV, she says most Shark Tank entrepreneurs are not rich because real business takes real effort. “If you can reinvent that passion for that business and continually drive yourself forward, that’s what makes you successful.”
Berkus measures success as “doing what you love to do most of the time.” For him, that’s always been design. His advice: “If you can figure out what to do with your life, and it’s close as what you would do by your own choice on a Sunday afternoon with nobody asking you to turn anything in and nobody saying you have to do it — if you can get those as close as possible and make money, then you’ll be great.”
6. Mistakes are inevitable — and surmountable. It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when cycling behemoth SoulCycle was once a fledgling startup. Co-founder Rice admits they had more than their fair share of hiccups: In the beginning, they incorrectly soundproofed their studios, and the resulting noise complaints led to the police repeatedly threatening to shut down their business. And when they decided to set up their first “proper” website, it completely took down their previous reservation system, and the company had to set up call centers just to resolve the situation. But after every mistake, Rice and her partner picked themselves up to keep on keeping on. Says Rice, “There is no mistake you can’t recover from if you can just pull yourself together and keep going.”
For socially conscious eyewear company Warby Parker, their first big mistake became integral to their company ethos. When the company was featured on the cover of GQ magazine and dubbed “the Netflix of eyewear,” co-founder Dave Gilboa and his two partners rushed to launch their website before the magazine hit stands. In their haste, they didn’t include a “sold out” function, and the surge of traffic from the PR buzz resulted in them taking in more orders than they had inventory. The company reached out to customers in an authentic and honest way to explain what happened, reassure them, and ensure an overall good buying experience. That customer-first philosophy has since carried over in their operations, even as they’ve scaled to a $1 billion business.
7. Don’t undervalue yourself. An expensive lesson that many independent workers have faced is how to price their services. Jenna Crucitti, the owner of Jenna Caitlin Designs, confesses she has underpriced or undervalued herself before. Fellow entrepreneur Caroline McAbee, owner of Faith Financial Consulting, admits she would do a lot of things for free, which sounds nice on paper but then leads clients to start expecting pro bono work, which leads to your services being devalued. She says believing in and valuing yourself can make you comfortable with the rates you’re charging clients.
In all his years of owning a business, Berkus attributes always demanding what he’s worth to advice he received from his father: Never be afraid of money. He says people who are afraid of money don’t have any. They live in fear of spending, making, and asking for money. The trickle-down effect is that when you’re afraid to ask for money, people don’t believe you deserve it. Even in his 20s, Berkus was comfortable stating his rates. “I’m not going to be intimidated by the fact that you have to pay me for the service I’m going to provide for you. And I’m not going to undervalue myself as a result.”
8. Have a plan. There’s never the perfect time to start a business, but when you do make the leap, it’s important to have a (flexible) plan. That can be anything from taking over the world through television (a la Shonda Rhimes) or just making sure you get through year one. “Having a plan is as important as understanding the industry you’re going into,” encourages Williams. “Cut down the unknowns as much as you can.” And while you can’t plan for everything, you can at least set some practical goals, like making sure you survive by tracking your expenses through software like QuickBooks Self-Employed. Take it from Randi Sorenson (CPA and President of Sorenson Business Consulting): “You have to be able to survive when you start your own business. You’re not going to make a dollar the first day out.”
What are your best tips for starting a business? Share them with us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Alison Yin/AP Images for Intuit QuickBooks)