What I Learned In A Year As A SolopreneurPublished January 15, 2021 by Sheila Anne Murray
I was sprawled out on the floor of a brightly lit space in Portland, Oregon, listening to the Master Coach at the front of the room share an anecdote from her deep vault of coaching expertise. A thick spiral notebook lay to my left, open to a page about “creating positive momentum” in a coaching client. Around me sat women and men from ages 20-something to 50-something, all with the aspiration of becoming a coach, in their own unique way. I felt at home.
Just three months before that moment, I had had my first call with the woman at the front of the room. I remember her easy laugh, the bright energy I could feel from across the line, and her attentiveness to my questions. At that moment I was both anxious and excited - I knew I was about to launch into the next chapter of my life, as both a coach and an entrepreneur. I had little to no experience in either field specifically, but I believed in myself. Often that’s the most vital piece, as the rest will come.
The days spent in that classroom launched me into a year of surprises (including a global pandemic), trying moments, an evolution of my business, a multitude of learning moments. That is what I’m here to write about.
Before writing this article, I thought I had “nothing to share” about my learnings from year one as a solopreneur. As I started writing I realized that I had SO MUCH to share about year one as a solopreneur. To keep this post digestible, I kept it to seven main learnings.
It’s not sustainable to be #doingallthethings
When you work for yourself, it’s easy to overestimate your own bandwidth. Without a job description of roles and responsibilities, I found myself #doingallthethings and getting down on myself when I couldn’t get 20 things done in a day.
As mentioned above, I began my journey into coach training at the start of 2020. I chose an intensive track that included two, week-long trainings, required mentor hours, over 100 hours of coaching hours logged on my own, and everything culminated in an exam. The whole process to earn my ICF Associate Coach Certification took until October of 2020, and I was pushing pretty hard to have it done that quickly! All of the training, coaching, and studying could have been a full-time job on it’s own… but I did it while launching my new career, keeping up with a business incubator, working on various side hustles, and trying to stay sane in the midst of a pandemic. Luckily, I had my own coaches, who helped me to see my blind spots - ways in which I was self sabotaging by putting too much on my own plate and not celebrating the success that I did have along the way.
As I’ve grown, I’ve learned to relate this into the structure of my business - it’s not necessary (or strategic) to be writing a book, running a podcast, building a blog, starting a YouTube channel all at once. Similarly, it’s not helpful to jumpstart a one-on-one coaching program, group program, membership subscription, and workshop series all at the same time. In order to perform at my best, deliver the most value to my clients, and lead the lifestyle I desire, I prefer to go deep in one or two areas, knowing that there will always be time and space for growth.
2020 was an important year of building the foundation of my coach training. Along with the critical tools I learned, I also developed the unique qualities and style that I bring to my coaching sessions. If I had skipped over this piece, I wouldn’t have been able to learn about who I am most capable of serving, nor who gives me the most energy to work with!
Not #doingallthethings is a life-long skill that I plan to hold onto as I grow my business, learn to let things go, delegate, and set myself up for entrepreneurial success.
Energy is my biggest asset
Soloprenuer life requires endurance! When running a business, it can be tempting to skip over self-care or use it as a reward. However, caring for yourself and your energy is an essential piece of business success and development.
2020 in general caused many people to wonder how they ever kept up with so many social commitments and professional events. Was this true for you? Whereas in my previous work life, I could have gone to a concert till 11 PM and still woken up to tackle a day’s work, that certainly wouldn’t have worked this past year even if it had been possible.
I currently take appointments as early as 7 AM and as late as 8 PM, so protecting my energy is vital. I’ve learned that if I don’t take care of myself properly, including proper rest, nourishing meals, exercise, and self-care, I can’t be present for my clients nor my work. It makes sense, when you think about it. I wouldn’t be able to serve my clients at my highest potential if I am trying to pour from an empty cup. To understand this, I needed to take a step back and establish new norms. In a society where it’s sexy or admirable to say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” as you run on the hamster wheel or grind on a 7 AM - 11 PM job, taking a pause can be an afterthought. I know that in order to be in a place where my business can grow, I can grow, and my clients can grow, my energy needs to be a top priority to protect and fuel.
Creativity cannot be forced
Ah, the number of times that I’ve tried to muscle my way through creativity… only to find myself shaken to the core in a spiral of feeling incapable, directionless, and stressed. But of course! Have you ever tried to force yourself to create brilliant, aligned work when you were running on empty? Creativity cannot be forced and can certainly not be attempted on a Saturday, after burning the candle at both ends all week long.
What I do instead - I know that I personally get inspired when I am out on a walk with my dog, after a long drive, or in the kitchen baking. Since I know this, I try to have a notebook on hand or my phone nearby during those times. I prefer using my phone because I use voice to text on the Notes application. This way, I can just speak what’s coming to me without trying to grammatically get everything to make sense. I just let the thoughts flow and later when I feel like I’m in a good head space to sit down and write, I’ll pull out the notes and start connecting the dots. This strategy has inspired some of my best blogs, initiatives, and business strategies.
Another great strategy I’ve played with is working on creative projects at a specific time of day. I’m a morning person, so that’s when I feel at my best and more productive. That said, I’ve also had a few nights where I get inspired at 8 PM and work until after 11 PM on a creative project. I’ve learned the hard way that, in that scenario, it’s not easy to wake up and get moving quite as quickly. This connects back to protecting my energy and acknowledging when it’s time to take a rest.
I am a tough manager!
There is so much I could say about my time in the corporate world, but talking about terrible managers is not one of them. Ever since my entry-level position I took out of college, my managers have always been supportive, hands off, and let me drive our 1:1’s and my daily work. I used to say I don’t know how I’d ever handle a micro-manager… but now I can say I have, in fact, handled it after spending a few months micro-managing myself.
Micro-managing myself has looked like poking holes in my progress when I’d barely begun, doubting my decisions and abilities, hyper-focusing on areas of improvement, and failing to look at the big picture. While a sprinkle of micro-management has its place, it can quickly evolve into an obstacle - inhibiting success and well-being. On top of the micro-managing, I had a hard time celebrating my own success as well as giving myself time off.
I broke the cycle of terrible self-management by reflecting on what kind of entrepreneur I wanted to be and why I wanted to do it at all. Think about it - why do most people decide to become their own boss? Is it because they want to be chained to their desks, stressed about deadlines, and have zero vacation? No! More often than not, entrepreneurship offers a chance at a flexible schedule, more time with family, unlimited earning potential, and working on your own terms. In my first year as a solopreneur, I experienced guilt for going for a walk midday, taking one day off for the holidays while others took two weeks, and for not getting “enough” done in a single hour.
Once I shifted my perspective and came back to my why, I made a commitment to be a better boss for myself! This will need to be its own blog… keep an eye out 😏
Work life balance does not come naturally
Turns out that working myself, and for a cause I’m passionate about makes it near impossible to shut business down at the end of the night. As work is blended into the fabric of my physical home and daily lifestyle, sometimes I don’t even notice when I’m still on the clock. On multiple occasions I’ll be trying to fall asleep but my brain is busy creating content, or I’ll be attempting to read a book and one moment later I’m deep into editing emails.
Most of my working life has taken place on the East Coast, where grinding day-in-day out at a desk job is normal. If this is the norm, how could I have expected to magically create boundaries when I was working for myself? This was not the first time that I underestimated my own attachment to the working grind. When I went from working at a corporate office to a startup fitness studio in Boston, I expected to work shorter hours and experience less stress but it transpired into (way) more hours and zero boundaries. One weekend, James booked us a “Getaway” at a tiny house in New Hampshire. While I could have turned off my phone and been totally in the moment, I found myself on Slack responding to messages. That was a wake-up call. I had to remember that a business could survive even when I wasn’t available 24/7, and my business can too.
Hellooooo to boundaries! Don’t be sold on the idea that entrepreneurship is only for hard-core hustlers. You can 100% succeed as an entrepreneur by working smarter instead of harder; it’s just that I’ve yet to meet someone that didn’t go through some hustling and stress in their entrepreneurship journey. While creating a work-life balance is tough as a solopreneur, there are certainly ways to do it! I’ve found it helpful to look to more mentors and teachers that embody the work-life balance that I want to create. I’ve also learned that creating an individualized plan for work life balance is just as key as creating the business model.
My network is vital
Networking and building your relationship capital is a powerful tool to leverage in your career path. This is likely not new information for you. Networking has always come naturally to me because I love people so much. When I started my first job I would invite someone I didn’t know for coffee or lunch at least once a week. This was a glorious way to get to know people, learn different areas of the business, get in touch with employees’ needs and struggles, and keep a pulse on upcoming opportunities.
I thought that when I stepped into solopreneurship it would just be me “out there” on an island. I felt like I was leaving my network behind and would have to build a new one in my field. Especially with a pandemic, which has inhibited me from making any sort of local relationships, I was a little out of my element. Turns out everything is connected! I’ve found my network to be more important than ever. As a business owner I have a plethora of expertise to learn, and what better way to get the low-down than from trusted friends and old co-workers that specialize in those areas?
Asking for help forced me to let go of my ego. This may as well be a learning bucket of its own, but I stand by the claim that ego is your biggest overhead. I am fully embracing that I am a life-long student and pretending to know everything instead of asking questions and reading up on business teachings will only put me behind.
I believe that when we support each other, we all win. I am so grateful for those that have helped me along the way this past year and I’m inspired to continue to support and mentor others. Through networking I’ve also learned that the barter economy rocks! One of my favorite recent trades is coaching sessions in exchange for reiki sessions. So much amazing energy and wildly beneficial for each of us.
You can get stuck in a bubble
This was not a huge revelation but rather a red thread that I have seen pop up since my first job in sales. Often, a company culture can start to feel like the only culture, the company lingo becomes your lingo, the goals of those around you start to become your own aspirations. For example, StrengthsFinder was huge in my first company, so much so that at some networking events your top 5 strengths would be posted right alongside your name. Though this is a great tool to learn about yourself and how to work with others, I believe that paying too much attention to company norms can influence your own opinions about yourself and your abilities, make your world smaller, and make it harder to see the big picture of your present and future.
Being in your bubble can also influence the things that you create and how you choose to run your business, for better and for worse. I have a friend that sells beautiful items on social media that she found at consignment stores and estate sales. One day I saw her post a video about when she would do her next “drop” (for those of you unfamiliar, this is a term used for when someone releases and promotes items they’re selling). She mentioned in her video that many other people were also doing a “drop” that week, so she would wait. I was surprised … wait you mean there are other people that do this thing? Of course there are!
This occurrence didn’t say anything about her business so much as it informed me about my own. I became more reflective about my bubble that I had unknowingly entered when I started coaching and building my own brand — What is my reality, compared to what my audience sees? What lingo might I be using that my audience does or doesn’t connect with? Where am I judging myself or selling myself short because I’m seeing other’s do it another way? When you’re “in it,” you’re hyper-aware of what other people in your industry are doing, what’s trending, and how to compete. It’s the same for any industry you’re in — photography, artists, stylists, fitness, travel blogging etc.
What have I done to keep my world bigger? I keep the number of other coaches that I follow small and I don’t look to them for creative inspiration or for comparison. I realize that, though it can help me see what’s happening in my industry, it forces me into a bubble. Just as I only follow one person who sells consignment items online, only one photographer, only one needlepoint designer, I might be the only coach that people are looking at.
I could spend all day looking at other coaches social media feeds, websites, and videos, and think to myself *sigh* I’ll just never get there, the market is totally over-saturated. OR I could focus my energy toward the clients I’m already working with, the ways that I can call in those that need my work, and creating more resources to better serve my audience… while also feeling better and more empowered to make change. Which sounds better to you?
I thank you so much for taking the time to read about my journey and learnings from year one as a solopreneur! I had such a blast creating this list and I already know that there is so much more to share with you on these topics! I would love to hear if you related to any pieces of this or if it inspired any action. Continue the conversation by emailing me or sending me a direct message on Instagram!