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Business + Productivity

7 lessons learned in my first year as a full-time solopreneur

In this post, I’m sharing solopreneur tips and inspiration for new or aspiring girlbosses based on the lessons I learned in my first year as a full time solopreneur. Hopefully this helps make your first year of business easier and less stressful!

Last Saturday was my one-year anniversary of quitting my full-time job and becoming a full-time solopreneur!

It was a big milestone and a really special day for me, because it took me so long to get to that point of quitting my job, and there were times I never thought it would happen. So it was a big day!

There was definitely champagne involved.

But there was also a lot of reflection about this past year. It was so awesome, but it was also really hard. Way harder than I thought it would be. But 100% worth it.

I’ve learned so much over the past year about being a solopreneur and running a business. This post easily could have been titled 100+ lessons I learned in my first year as a full-time solopreneur.

But I thought that might be a little overwhelming for both of us, so I decided to narrow it down to seven of the things I thought might be most helpful and relevant to new solopreneurs.

Always one to learn things the hard way (apparently that’s my preferred way of learning?), these lessons didn’t come easily.

So I’m sharing them in the hopes of making your first year of business as a solopreneur a little easier.

7 lessons i learned in my first year of business as a solopreneur

1) Set up systems before you need them

This one is huge. As a solopreneur, systems and automation are your best friends. They’re critical to getting everything done and protecting your time and sanity.

If you wait to set up systems in your business until you actually need them, then you’ve waited too late (take it from someone who knows!).

Then you’ll find yourself struggling to stay on top of everything, and you won’t have time to thoughtfully put together a smart system for yourself, because you’ll be too busy just trying to keep your head above water.

So in the early stages of your business when you (probably) aren’t as busy, take some time to really think about what things will be like when you ARE really busy . . . when your client load is full, or you’re fully booked with speaking gigs or writing gigs or fulfilling orders or whatever it is you do.

Then do some reverse engineering and think through what systems you’ll need to help you keep everything organized, efficient, and running smoothly.

I know it can be hard to figure this out before you get to that point, especially if this is a new venture for you and very different from what you did in your job. If you’re having trouble, I suggest talking to other solopreneurs who have businesses similar to yours and finding out what systems they’ve found most helpful in their businesses.

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2) Raise your prices or rates sooner

It’s pretty common when you’re getting started with a new venture to price your services or products really low, just so you can get experience, client/customer feedback, and testimonials and referrals.

This is especially true, again, if your new business is very different from what you did in your day job.

I did this and I credit it with helping me get my Pinterest Management business started. It was totally the right strategy for me.

But what wasn’t the right strategy was leaving my rates that low for so long.

I bumped them up in small increments with each two or three new clients, but I should have raised my rates to be more in line with the going rate (at least the low end of it) MUCH sooner than I did.

Looking back, it makes me cringe to think of the revenue I lost because I didn’t have the confidence to raise my rates sooner.

Not everyone will need to price their services super low in the beginning, but if you do, I suggest you (a) start with a goal rate/price in mind and (b) create a concrete plan for how you’re going to get there.

I didn’t have a plan, so it was very random as to when I would raise my rates. If I could do it over again, I think I’d have a plan to raise my rates by 25% with each new client till I got to my goal rate. Or maybe even 50% at first since I really did start with a crazy low rate to help me build credibility, and then maybe drop it to 25 percent.

Only you can know what the right plan is for you, but I definitely recommend having a plan before you get started. And then stick to it — don’t let self-doubt, lack of confidence, or impostor syndrome (the triple nemesis of solopreneurs near and far!) make you question your plan. I mean, obviously you may need to make adjustments, but if so, just make sure you’re doing it objectively and not letting fear be the guiding factor.

3) niche down early

We’ve all heard “the riches are in the niches.”

But what’s also in the niches (assuming you pick the right one) is that you’ll enjoy your work so much more and be more effective at it, too.

As a solopreneur, there won’t be anyone to help you with your clients, so it’ll be YOU who’s working directly with all of your clients and doing all the work for each one. Therefore, you really want to feel like they’re a good fit for you in terms of personality, values and interests — and vice versa.

In the beginning, you might feel like you need to work with anyone who has a pulse and wants to work with you. I know I did. And that’s okay because we all have to start somewhere, and it’s a great way to figure out your niche by determining who you do and do NOT want to work with.

One example is a really terrific client I had early on in my Pinterest management business. She was such a great person and wonderful to work with. But, her content centered largely around very high-end fashion and parenting.

Now you may not know me that well, but if you did, you’d know that I should not be trusted with curating content around high-end fashion or parenting! Because I know nothing about either of those things (unless it’s cat parenting, which it wasn’t). And I’d like to keep it that way.

So even though I really liked HER, I always dreaded working on her account because it meant spending hours looking through fashion and parenting content (read: torture).

And when you find yourself in that situation, you’re not really serving you or your client.

I also figured out that I really enjoy working with women much more than men. So my niching down process for my Pinterest management business looked something like this (pretend that it’s shaped like a funnel). . .

  • women only
  • women bloggers
  • Bloggers whose content falls into one of these categories: wellness, personal development, healthy food, spirituality/astrology/numerology, online entrepreneurship, or travel (because these are all areas I have expertise in, experience with, or a strong interest in)
  • Women bloggers in the above categories whose content is positive, classy, geared toward supporting and empowering other women, and feels aligned with my values

By determining my niche, it makes me so much happier in my work, and I know I’m bringing added value to my clients because of my experience with their niche.

You might start out knowing your niche, which is great. And you might make adjustments as you go. But if you’re not sure of your niche in the beginning, take some time to experiment if you need to, and then decide on your niche as expediently as you can.

4) Don’t upload .png files to your website

This is a small but mighty lesson I learned, because it created huge headaches with my website.

So in case you don’t know, I’m not exactly what you’d call tech savvy, which is ironic considering I run an online business.

Therefore, I had no idea that .png files would overload your website and slow it down to a crawl (which is super annoying for your visitors and bad for SEO).

I make all my graphics in Canva, which always recommends downloading your graphics as a .png, so that’s what I did!

Thankfully I found my website fairy godmother, who figured out the problem and fixed it for me. But it was a headache and not a cheap fix.

Instead of .png files, use .jpg files. There might be some exceptions when you need to use .png, but definitely use .jpg for your blog feature images and any Pinterest graphics you upload.

Please learn from my mistake, because as a solopreneur, that’s an extra headache and expense you don’t need!

5) start preparing for tax season now

Thankfully I’ve worked as a contractor before and was running a side business for a long time, so I knew to set money aside to pay my taxes. Make sure you do this!

But what I didn’t do was keep up with all the things I needed to keep up with throughout the year, so when tax time rolled around it was a real drag, and kind of stressful.

I highly recommend having a system (like in lesson #1!) to keep track of your financial records and everything you’ll need for your tax preparation.

If you don’t already have one, I also recommend hiring a CPA (preferably someone who has experience working with bloggers and/or online entrepreneurs) to prepare your taxes for you. In my opinion, this is not one of the things to DIY as a solopreneur.

I’d hire your CPA as soon as you start your business (or before), and meet with them at the very beginning to find out the types of records you need to save, expenses you might be able to deduct, etc. This way you’ll know what you need to be doing throughout the year, nothing will fall through the cracks, and preparing for tax day won’t be a nightmare.

6) don’t work without taking breaks – no matter how busy you are!

As a new solopreneur, it can be really easy to get overwhelmed by your business.

When that happens, it’s tempting to think you don’t have time for breaks and the only way you’ll be able to get it all done is to stay chained to your chair all day.

Even though it seems logical, I promise you this doesn’t work.

Your body needs movement throughout the day, your brain needs a break, and your eyes need a rest.

There was a period of about six months where I was completely overwhelmed by my business. I basically felt like I was drowning in my work.

And even though I know better (I’m a wellness coach, after all!), I still thought I just needed to work harder, stay focused, and keep pushing through, and then I’d be able to get on top of things. And that once I did, then I would go back to taking breaks throughout the day and having better work-life balance.

Silly rabbit . . . of course, I NEVER got on top of things that way! If anything, it just got worse.

Eventually it got to the point where it was either create better balance for myself, or completely burn out.

Once I restructured my day to be more balanced, I actually became more productive, efficient, and effective. I felt less overwhelmed and more calm and grounded.

Truthfully, this is a work in progress and there are still some days I still struggle with this. I have to remind myself of how much better I feel and how much more productive I am when I take breaks throughout the day, and that helps motivate me.

If there’s only one thing you take away from this post, I hope it’s this lesson. As a solopreneur, YOU are your business’s most important asset, so care for yourself accordingly!

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7) Always remember your why

Your why is the reason you decided to quit your job and branch out on your own as a solopreneur. It’s what motivated you to take a huge leap of faith and change your life. It’s everything you’re gaining by creating this new business and life for yourself.

As a solopreneur, you’re gonna have some tough days, especially in your first year (I sure did). There’ll be days when you doubt yourself, something goes sideways with a client, or an unexpected expense throws a wrench in your cash flow.

When those days happen, always remember your why. Remember what it was like working in your day job (especially if, like me, you were unhappy in your job). And then take a deep breath and feel gratitude for the fact that you don’t have to do that anymore and you get to be your own boss. It isn’t always easy, but I can honestly say my worst day as a solopreneur is still better than my best day working in a job for someone else.

Your why is what will get you through the hard days, so cling to it! And know that the hard days pass. As a solopreneur, you control your destiny and there are always good days ahead.

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final thoughts

As a quick recap, my top 7 lessons for new solopreneurs are . . .

  1. Set up systems before you need them.
  2. Raise your prices or rates before you’re ready to.
  3. Niche down early.
  4. Don’t upload .png files to your website
  5. Start preparing for next year’s taxes now.
  6. Don’t work without taking breaks, no matter how busy you are.
  7. Always remember your WHY.

My final piece of advice for new solopreneurs is not to be too hard on yourself when you make a mistake. It’s how you learn and become better. So treat yourself with patience and understanding when mistakes happen (aka treat yourself the way would treat your best friend in that situation).

I still have tons to learn and I’m sure at the end of my second year, I’ll have 100+ more lessons to share. But that’s part of the fun of the solopreneur journey.

If you’re a new or aspiring solopreneur, I hope you found these tips helpful! If you did, please share the love by pinning it.

What were some of your lessons learned as a new solopreneurs? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below!

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