I’ve mentioned the idea of right-sizing before. Even though you might not know for sure where you want to end up in your business, it’s still good to get in the habit of thinking that way, because it will inform any number of decisions, like:
- How big/fast/reliable does my webhost need to be?
- What will my metrics of success be?
- What kinds of projects get priority?
Most of all, knowing where you’re aiming will prevent diffusion of focus.
Focus Is All You’ve Got
You’re a one-person show. The buck stops with you. Unlike bigger companies, if shit isn’t happening, you can’t throw more money at it. You can’t throw more manpower at it. The only thing you can do is give it more of your focussed attention.
The other problem of being a solopreneur is that the world is full of intoxicating opportunities. Opportunities are EVERYWHERE. But unless you’ve got a plan in place to help you harness the opportunities that will further your goals, and ignore the opportunities that will diffuse your focus, you’ll end up with a pile of random accomplishments that didn’t take you anywhere you wanted to go.
Figuring Out Your Growth Strategy
There’s a ton of ways to do it, I’m sure. But the way I do it is to zoom out to a date that makes sense to me — usually between one and five years. I fix the date firmly in my head. August 17, 2014. I have taken steps to ensure that my copywriting business is served by a well-compensated stable of writers and ably overseen by my VA. My primary responsibilities are the acquisition of new clients, as well as with the morale of my sub-contractors.
What does this mean to my business? Well, first and foremost, it means that I need to think like a firm, not an individual. It means that I shouldn’t create a cult of personality around my writing like Erika Napoletano or Ashley Ambirge, because then people will want me and only me and that goes against my long term plan.
Now, I’m not sure what kind of numbers I can put to this yet, but it doesn’t matter. Numbers don’t matter to me in this instance. What I want to — intend to– create is all in that short paragraph.
I will give you another example that includes numbers. This is for my book business, and I’ve been running it for a year in September. By Summer 2013, the book business will have grown enough to pay all the household bills. We have consistent and reliable sources of inventory, and inventory levels will never drop below 3000 books. This will allow a cushion to develop so that by 2014, periods of travel of up to three weeks will be possible.
I can go into more detail because after a year, I have a lot more experience. I know, for instance, that an inventory of 3000 should guarantee me $5-6k in sales in even the slowest months of the year. I know that I have to replace 300-600 books every month, except in Q4, where I have to replace as much as half my inventory on a monthly basis. I could not have known that last year. Last year I hoped it would pay the bills, but I had no way of knowing. Then I discovered the difficulty of sourcing good used books, and resigned myself to it paying about half the bills. And then I stumbled on another avenue for used books that I hope will solve my inventory problem. If it doesn’t , then maybe I won’t meet my target. Or maybe I’ll find another way to do it; I do have all year to double my inventory, after all. You don’t know, but you have to plan.
The benefits of being small is that you can seize opportunity when you stumble upon it. You have to be flexible enough, though, to decide to discard your previous plan and start down a new path, with a new growth plan.
Plan By Working Backwards
Working backwards from your target is how you put your plan in place. What has to happen to create this? This is an art, not a science. You can’t expect to get everything the first time, or the tenth. Whenever you discover you missed something, just slot it in there. Adjust targets as necessary. Plan the work, work the plan. Add management cliches as necessary 🙂
I have a spreadsheet with targets by month. I used to use a big 4-month whiteboard calendar. It’s all good.