Five top tips to staying sane as a soloist
Life is tough for many small businesses at the moment, with figures out this week suggesting that trading conditions have hit a three-year low.
The myriad of challenges of running a start-up can be magnified when you’re a sole trader. Without anyone else to share the burden, the workload and stress can become overwhelming.
Robert d’Apice, founder of personal finance tool Prosple, says that remaining cool, calm and collected as a soloist requires work.
“A solo founder is a really hard job. It surprised me how difficult it is, because as a management consultant in my previous job I thrived with independent work,” he says.
“Your highs are really high, but your lows are incredibly low – and there is no one around to help lift your spirits. Plus, with no accountability, it’s often easy to give in to the voice telling you to give up.”
“It’s really important that you spend time on yourself to keep your head in the right place, otherwise your business will suffer.”
So how should you try to remain on top of things?
Here are five top tips on staying sane as a self-employed person:
1. Get a board
Managing your motivation is one of the hardest realities of a single-person business. Forming a board means you have a formal process for goal-setting and review, as well as providing external accountabilities.
“Motivation is often easy in your early days, while you're still on your honeymoon high, but when the going gets tough you've got no one around you to keep you strong," d’Apice advises.
"As soon as I founded Prosple, I built a board of experienced business people that I knew I could trust.”
“Whenever we meet, I set clear objectives that I plan to achieve for Prosple before we meet again, and we review those objectives at the next meeting.”
“Otherwise, when I’m in the thick of it, it’s often difficult to track where Prosple has exceeded expectation and where we are struggling."
"It's also just good discipline. As a one-person-show, you're trying to do a lot of different things at once. Having to prepare for a board meeting every few months is a good chance to stop, exhale, and set some medium-term goals."
2. Get out of the house
When your margins are slim, it seems sensible to save on rent and work from home. But this can often be a false economy.
“I found that after a few months working on Prosple from home, it was more difficult to maintain my productivity,” says d’Apice.
“Without a clear division of work and play, I’d end up getting distracted during the days, and often end up working into nights.”
“It’s bad for your work psychology and it’s bad for your loved ones. So I joined Sydney’s largest co-working space, Fishburners.”
“The benefit of a co-working space is two-fold. First, it’s really affordable compared to leasing actual office space. And second, I’m surrounded by like-minded start-ups who are both a great motivation and a great resource.”
3. Build your network
In the early days, it’s important to take every opportunity to meet with people who show some interest in your business or are somehow relevant to your work.
“If things go to plan, you’re not going to be going solo forever. For your business to be successful, you’re going to need employees, investors, customers, suppliers and partners,” d’Apice says.
“There’s always a lead time on building new relationships, so it’s important to focus on establishing these connections before it’s too late.”
“On top of that, you’ll be amazed how much support is out there for the start-up community in Australia.”
“Make sure you take full advantage of the workshops, information sessions and networking groups available to start-ups – there are many lessons to be learned from others that have trodden your path.”
“You’ll be surprised where the most unlikely meeting can take you.”
4. Get organised
As a solo founder, you’re going to be juggling a lot of different roles at once: That’s why it’s especially important to keep track of what you’re doing now, and what you need to do next.
“In the last 12 months, I’ve worked on design, programming, financial planning, community relations, customer relations, sales and marketing, accountant, and CEO,” says d’Apice.
“It’s tough to stay focused on the task at hand because I’m always thinking about other pressing tasks that require completely different skills.”
“The first thing that really helped was getting on top of my inbox. I’ve adopted the Inbox Zero policy – twice a day, I completely clear my inbox.”
“I’m using Gmail inbox tools like ActiveInbox and Boomerang, as well as setting up filter rules to remove inbox clutter that I never read. It’s amazing how much of a difference this makes to your focus.”
“Next, you need a system for keeping track of your to-do list. The path you choose will depend on how you work, but there a few key requirements: it needs to be adaptable to rapid change; and it needs to be able to accommodate the priority of tasks.”
“I’ve tried a lot of different packaged solutions; it may sound primitive but I’ve never found anything better than a blank text document.”
5. Celebrate your victories
Finally, it’s critically important to make sure you acknowledge when your business has made a step forward.
“When you’re doing it alone, it’s easy to shrug off each step of progress,” says d’Apice. “With no employees, there’s no-one to share the champagne – you just get on with the job.”
“It’s important to share your successes, however small, with your friends and family. The support and recognition you receive from them will be an extra kick that your motivation needs.”
“With Prosple, I avoided doing this initially, because I thought my loved ones wouldn’t be interested and I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’.”
“But when I eventually started striking up conversations, only then did I realise how far I had come with Prosple. Your friends are much more interested than you think!”