This last year as a full-time business owner has proven to be both challenging and rewarding. Understanding my strengths, what the market will bear and how to differentiate myself were consistently on my mind. When I heard about Fundera, a bias-free lender marketplace for small businesses that need to fund their dreams, I was inspired to share my perspective on the needs of a small business owner. I came up with solutions to my top five challenges and want to share them with budding business owners like you!

Difficulty #1: Limited to no interaction with colleagues on a daily basis

Solution: Get out into the community at least 1-2 times per week.

  • Join mastermind groups, attend free community events via your local Chamber of Commerce, find meet up groups for business owners and learn more about their challenges and successes in your area.
  • From these larger gatherings, you can orchestrate additional, informal and, yet, consistent gatherings or one-on-one meetings with mentors and colleagues who are also flying solo in business in any industry.
  • I am an extroverted person so I attend 2-3 events per week but one to start is perfectly fine as long as you can schedule a few one-on-one meetings per month. Being visible in the community whether at large networking events, small committee or volunteer meetings and educational events is critical to feel part of a community and to get the amount of socializing, both professional and personal you need to feel sane.

In addition, I’ve established an informal team of advisors. These are individuals in my network (e.g. friends, family members, mentors, former colleagues and others I admire) whom I can turn to about a business idea or with a concern. I would recommend that you have a conversation with most people you want on this “team” so they understand your needs and can vocalize their commitment.

Difficulty #2: Establishing viable revenue streams.

Solution: You know what kind of work you want to do but you have to spend time building others’ awareness of your area of expertise. Oftentimes that means that you need to consider other ways to make money as you get your products and services rolling. I have tried (and succeeded with most on) the following:

  • Leveraging my skills in forums such as Thumbtack, Freelancer and Upwork.
  • Monetizing my hobby – I started my #walkphotography Instagram experiment two years ago. I’ve always loved photography and this has given me a creative outlet, but along the way, I’ve received really positive feedback about my “eye.” One of my goals for early 2017 was to set up an e-commerce site where I could sell prints. It can’t hurt to see what happens, right?!
  • Retainer clients – Contact larger companies that are required to meet a certain criterion of contracted services for the year to understand what their needs are and how you might be able to assist. Local economic development groups, industry-specific professional associations or small business development centers may be a good place to start.
  • Take on part-time, mindless work. You can stay afloat monetarily doing something that pays the bills but lets you use your mind to “work” on your business. For example, Champion chess players often worked jobs such as putting caps on bottles to allow their minds to play several games during the day while doing this mindless manual labor. What kind of work might this be for you?
  • Partner on programming and community presentations. Doing so will allow you to cross promote services, gain exposure to new circles of influence and individuals as well as help you think about your skills and content differently than you might have previously. Volunteering for community organizations allow others to get to know you without the pressure of hiring you. This activity can go a long way in terms of building your credibility. I am working on a presentation with a financial advisor about how mid-career professionals can effectively invest in a career change, professionally and financially.

Difficulty #3: Managing my time, finding balance between my personal and professional life activities and learning when to power down technology.

Solution: I’ve found that the best strategies for me in this area have been about mindfulness.

  • Establish a routine (morning and evening). Go for a walk around the block or in your neighborhood in the morning as your commute and to signify to your brain that it is time to get to work.
  • Establish official “work” hours and stick to them. Communicate those hours with your clients, family members and whomever else would put a demand on your time during those hours. As an experiment in awareness, for 30 days starting in February, I am going to shut off my computer during weekday evenings at 8:30pm and drink a cup of chamomile tea. This will allow me to prioritize larger projects earlier in the day and give myself time to unwind before bed.
  • Set aside time for working out, even if it means doing a few exercises for 10 minutes in between calls or during breaks from working on projects. A healthy body encourages a healthy mind.
  • Spend time working at coffee shops. This will help you feel visible (above) and encourage productivity.
  • Take 20 minutes at the end of the day for 30 days to summarize the type of activities you spent time on, if they gave or took energy away from you and how you felt at the end of the day based on your behaviors. At the end of the that month, look back at your journal entries to identify patterns or opportunities for changes that can be made. For additional journal prompt ideas, check out this link.
  • Prioritize time for you. This could be enjoying time with friends and family or a solo activity; do what replenishes you. I take time to work out, listen to podcasts, read, travel and/or take pictures in an area of my hometown.

Difficulty #4: Marketing my services, managing my brand and finding my niche

Solution: This is something you must consider throughout your career no matter what your profession. However, as a business owner, you are your brand so make sure to think about how you’d like to be known digitally and in person. Are they consistent with one another?

  • Create a website or pay someone to do so and update it regularly.
  • Do targeted Facebook ads for products or services that are your bread and butter.
  • Create consistent colors, font and brand messaging across social media platforms. For example, my designer created customized banners for social media with my logo. Hubspot is a great resource for learning more about this area of business management.
  • Remember your ideal customer avatar and target your products and services to their needs, emotions and wants. You have the luxury of building true and genuine relationships with your clients because their interactions will be with you, the CEO, instead of a person down the chain.
  • Getting out in the community will also help you learn about the needs of your people. In the fall/early winter 2016, I conducted phone interviews with members of my target audience. This allowed me to test my ideas and hunches about their needs and helped them become more aware of who I am, especially outside of my normal circles. This is great for building my brand and expanding my circle of contacts.

Difficulty #5: Doing everything yourself from bookkeeping to selling your services and products, to doing the actual work that you love

Solution: Larger companies can divvy up the work of the organization. Small business owners or solopreneurs often do not have that luxury. It may be possible for you to do the following to offload some of these responsibilities that are not as enjoyable to complete:

  • Hire a virtual assistant or invite a friend/family member to help and pay them back in baked goods, etc. Be creative!
  • Set aside a day for an hour when you dig into your most unpleasant or dreaded tasks.
  • Revisit your strategic plan to ensure that the work that you are doing matches your priorities and goals.
  • Purchase QuickBooks or Freshbooks to manage your invoicing and other finances.

The bottom line is twofold in my opinion. First, you must become part of the fabric of your community whether that be local, regional, national, international, professional or a combination of a few of these networks in order to succeed as a small business. You need to be visible and engaged. Second, you must stay attuned with how you are showing up in your business and with the feelings you have related to your businesses activities.

It is hard to compare yourself with companies that are farther along in their years of operation. Therefore, I encourage you to pick one or two of the strategies above that resonate for you and give them a try this month. Show some self and business love in February! Talk to me about what you discover on Twitter, @MeghanGodorov.

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