Tuesday, June 09 2009
The Solopreneur (one-person business such as a consultant) is a breed within a breed. Fiercely independent, unconventional, non-traditional, and growing in numbers due to the economy and production-enhancing technology, we're a huge presence in the small business arena.
Unlike our counterparts at traditional companies who are governed by an employee handbook, we operate at our own risk with little in the way of protection and guidelines for our business and our personal well-being.
After years of working on our own, we've come up with what we feel are an important set of rights that all solopreneurs can recognize and appreciate. Surprisingly enough, we've found that many of our peers didn't realize what we as solopreneurs have the right to do, such as:
- Name our businesses. While our business names can't infringe on anyone else's copyright or identity, there is no reason we can't name our companies some highfalutin name that makes it sound like an international powerhouse instead of just little old us in our robes and slippers.
- Determine our own rates. There is no rule that says we have to charge a specific rate, and there are several great resources for determining rates. Of course, our clients have a choice of vendors so we want to be competitive as far as pricing is concerned, but ultimately we have the right to find rates that works for our businesses.
- Set our own hours. One of the best things about working alone is the freedom to work when we're at our best, even if that means working outside traditional business hours. One caveat: Your clients will need to know when they can reach you, and if your hours are consistently in conflict with the times they want to work with you, you may have difficulty retaining that business due to your lack of availability.
- Work where we choose. Only the needs of our work and clients mandate where we work. If we can, why not work by the pool, from our vacation homes, or the coffee shop on the corner? Nobody is suggesting that we conduct our business in a manner or place that's inappropriate or impinges on the rights of others, but anything goes within reason. Many sales professionals work out of their cars and coffee shops, so if that works for you, do so without apology or guilt.
- Dress as we please. Naturally, if we're going to be meeting a client or vendors, it is in our best interests to dress appropriately. But if we're working alone in the privacy of our own homes and nobody will see us except the mail carrier, we can wear that raggedy old college sweatshirt and those scuffed up old slippers, if that's how we work best.
- Pitch our business. We can go after the biggest companies in the world, if we desire, or the small company next door. Just because we're working alone doesn't mean that we're restricted to pitching business to a certain size company. All it takes is a little nerve and some great ideas.
- Create multiple income streams. Having more than one income stream is a great idea for the solopreneurs, especially if our regular work is subject to fluctuating seasonal or market cycles. Alternative revenue streams might include teaching at the local community college, giving seminars, or selling an e-book through your web site.
- Barter our services, time and/or products. Bartering can be an excellent way to market our product and/or service without exchanging cash, as long as both parties are happy. The flexibility of bartering is something that's particularly well suited for solopreneurs since we can negotiate on our own behalf.
- Negotiate in our own best interests. Nowhere is it written that we have to give up what we need to get business. We are responsible for protecting our business interests, so we need to know where we can draw the line in terms of what we are (and are not) willing to do.
- Refuse business and/or release a client. With only ourselves to please, we can let our instincts guide decisions about prospects and clients. If we feel uncomfortable, distrusting or uneasy, we need not worry about stockholders, the boss, or anything other than our own gut feelings before we let an opportunity go.
- Establish and enforce our payment policies. There aren't many things more uncomfortable than calling clients for overdue invoices, so if you want to be treated as a professional, act professionally. Put your policies in writing, and make sure that your clients abide by them, or it will be you that pays.
- Work as a subcontractor for someone else. Just keep in mind that when we subcontract, we represent someone else (our employer). This does not give us the right to try to steal that business from whoever hired us (and in most cases, we will probably have to sign a form stating our understanding of that).
- Expand or contract our product lines and/or service offerings. Cutting low performing products or services is just as valid as creating new products or services for our clients when the demand is there. Doing everything the same way forever is pointless if it doesn't serve us as well as our clients.
- Ask for referrals. Asking for a referral is a way of reinforcing your relationships with your clients. It says, "our relationship is important and I trust your judgment about others you know who may need my services." Of course, you'll want to thank the client for the referral and keep your client in the loop about what you're doing for the referred prospect when appropriate.
- Look globally for clients. In today's business environment, it may not make sense confine your business to your own backyard, and since the Internet has made the world your neighborhood, there is no reason not to look for clients where they are, even if that is very far away.
- Run our businesses our way. For better or for worse, we choose all the policies, procedures, standards and practices (within the confines of the law) under which our businesses operate. If the last day of the week at your office is casual Friday (or Thursday, or Wednesday), so be it.
- Form alliances with other organizations. We choose our clients, so why not choose our professional alliance partners? Working with complementary non-competing businesses enhances the service we offer to our clients in that we have access to more expertise and resources through our alliance partners.
- Participate in our professional community. Since 40% of the businesses in the country are run by solopreneurs, we're not alone, so don't let that keep you cowering in your home office. Get out there and participate. You'll probably meet congenial colleagues, and possibly find some more business.
- Get the best financial, legal, and other professional services that we can afford. Even if we're all one-person organizations, we can have whatever we want in terms of professional services, as long as we can pay for it.
- Limit our personal exposure. We're certainly not suggesting anything illegal here, but we can (and should) limit personal liability and protect ourselves from nuisance lawsuits.
- To receive the same level of service and support from our vendors as any other customer. If you're unhappy about the quality of service from one vendor and you suspect it is because your business is too small, find a vendor who will appreciate you.
- Ask for what we want. And the people or organizations we ask for something have the right to refuse to honor our requests, but that does not mean that we should not ask. After all, we might get exactly what we want if we just ask.
- Take as many vacations as we can afford. Why not? Vacations are good for you and your clients because you return to work refreshed and rested. Especially if your business is very demanding and there is little room for mistakes, regular vacations are a great idea. We know a dentist who closes her office one week a month for vacations, and her clients are delighted with her work, her service, and her great attitude. (And FYI, she makes a great living!)
- Close our business. We are in control of whether or not our businesses stay open or close, and nobody else. Our clients might miss us, but if for any reason we decide that we want out, that is our decision.
These are our basic rights as solopreneurs. You'll notice that we do not have the right to things we might want, such as respect, clients, easy money, or the property (intellectual or otherwise) of other businesses. Those are things we must earn or negotiate for, but they are not ours by right.
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Veronika (Ronnie) Noize, the Marketing Coach, is a successful Vancouver, WA-based entrepreneur, author, speaker, and Certified Professional Coach. Through coaching, classes and workshops, Ronnie helps small businesses attract more clients. For free marketing resources including articles and valuable marketing tools, visit her web site at www.VeronikaNoize.com, or email her at Ronnie@VeronikaNoize.com.
Jack Rubinger focuses on helping small businesses with public relations. He is a winner of the Small Business Administration Home-Based Business Advocate of the Year. For background, visit www.isocom2000.com or email email@example.com.