Whether you’re a new member of the independent professional workforce or a seasoned veteran, operating a successful solo business can be an ongoing challenge. In the beginning the challenge might be securing clients and generating revenues, while later down the line it might be adjusting your services to meet market changes, and, of course, securing more clients.
The strategic and tactical paths to independent success could (and do) fill books and web sites. Here are seven signposts—best practices—from experienced independent professionals that can help point you in the best direction.
1. Keep your sales pipeline full
At every point in your business and in every economic environment, it is important to keep a continuous flow of prospects at different stages of the customer journey. In the early days, a full pipeline can help keep revenues coming in. As you gain traction in your business, a full pipeline can also help you choose which prospects you want to work with. In either case, a full pipeline is a hedge against an unexpectedly long period from verbal agreement to signed contract—if one client is dragging their feet, you will have others to cultivate.
2. Network, network, and network
There is never a time in your business when networking is not important. The relationships you forge can help capture new business, form alliances with other business owners, and keep you motivated and energized. Fortunately, there are more networking opportunities for business owners than ever before. Between live and online events, conferences, classes, and social get-togethers, find the types of networking that suit your business and your personal style. Cultivate your network through frequent communication and connect its members with each other.
3. Position Yourself
Characterize yourself as a subject matter expert in a specific aspect of your skill area in all your communications. This can help you stand out from others in your field and also help attract projects that you are interested in. Pinpoint what you do well and enjoy doing, then lead with that expertise. If you’re not sure what your superpower is, consider your experiences in business and identify the work that delighted you and your client. Refine those insights into a clear expression of your specific subject matter expertise.
4. Vet Potential Clients
Even if you’re just starting out, saying “yes” to every opportunity is not highly effective. Acquiring the discipline to be selective about your engagement can help accelerate your business growth. Ensure you are clear about what features, characteristics, or terms are and are unacceptable to you. Identify things that would be deal breakers for you. Then, when you are considering a particular opportunity, take the time to research the company and the person or people you’d be working with before deciding whether to go forward. You can get a feel for organizational culture and the worker experience through sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn. LinkedIn can also offer insights about the individuals you’d be working with.
5. Have a Plan and Keep It Updated
Having a plan does not mean that you need to come up with a complex strategy right off the bat. It does mean beginning with clear goals, ways to measure progress against those goals, and a timeline in which to work toward them. As you get your footing and learn more about how you want to grow the business, continue to grow your plan. Hone your strategic thinking, refine your goals and metrics, and improve your ability to measure outcomes. Periodically—monthly, quarterly, biannually—review your plan, assess your results, and make adjustments based on what you’ve learned. Eventually, you will need to have more formal planning sessions and create a detailed business plan so that you can grow in the direction and at the pace you want.
6. Create and Use Standard Documents
You need to have an official agreement or contract for every client or project. Clearly state the exact scope of work, including any deliverables, the engagement timeframe, your pay rate, payment terms, and late fees if applicable. Also include standard sections such as assignment of intellectual property rights and indemnities. Research the web, locate a contract template document that fits your business, and tailor it as needed. In addition, create a document that spells out your business policies—office hours, communication protocols, and any other information that informs the client about what they can expect from you. Your policy document can help maintain a good client relationship while ensuring you work how you want.
7. Mentor and Be Mentored
Mentorship is always a good business practice, and it is especially important for solo business owners. Besides receiving insights and observations that focus on supporting you and your company, you can learn a lot about all aspects of business management from marketing to project management to technology. Look for opportunities to mentor others, and consider participating in two-way mentorship, with both of you contributing to each other’s success.
These practices can serve as a self-check as you purse the day-to-day tasks of moving your business forward. Review them from time to time to make sure you’re incorporating them into your activities.