"The happiest soloists succeed because they have the knack for putting work in its proper place alongside the rest of their lives."
Working from a beach chair and earning enough to support that lifestyle may be the dream of many corporate office workers, but what does it take to venture out on your own? How does one manage the multiple moving parts of a business, align them in exactly the right directions, harness sufficient momentum to take off, and stay airborne at a comfortable cruising altitude?
The book Flying Solo is written specifically for people who, either by circumstance or by choice, wish to transform their work lives from the typical 9 to 5 routine to a work anywhere, anytime arrangement.
In the context of this book, a soloist is either an independent professional who sells his expertise for a fee (a consultant, freelancer) or one who owns a small business of less than five employees (a franchise holder, café owner, tradesperson). Of all businesses in operation in Australia, the US and UK today, an incredible two-thirds are micro business ventures.
We live in an unprecedented era of flexible work opportunities made possible by internet technologies. However, without the right mindset and skills, the soloist will not thrive.
The authors, Robert Gerrish, Sam Leader, and Peter Crocker, put together an actionable guide filled with insightful tips and thought-provoking worksheets that, when honestly and diligently employed, will greatly enhance the success of anyone flying solo.
Profile of a successful soloist
"Cultivating a mindset which mirrors that of the successful soloist is a crucial step toward growing the wings you need to fly solo."
Here are some major traits of happy soloists:
Mental and emotional
- A healthy level of self-confidence and courage to embrace uncertainties and take necessary actions.
- Reject traditional benchmarks of success, like material wealth and social status, in favor of the freedom to work their own hours and express themselves through their work.
- Constantly learning and discovering what works for themselves and others.
- Able to work in the absence of a formal structure.
- Savvy with marketing principles.
- Responsive to customers’ needs.
- Open to collaboration with ‘competitors’.
- Offers value for clients while remaining profitable.
These traits are often aligned with an inspiring vision which soloists depend on to focus their energies.
A vision is a mental projection of your future which can be used to guide your actions and determine your decisions.
Even if there are gaps in your vision, you can still make progress. Where clarity is missing, concentrate instead on substituting details with feelings, sensations and thoughts.
For example, a vision could be “to make use of your creative talents,” although the specific activities are not yet clear. Continue to explore in this direction so that you can recognize the right opportunities when they arise.
Prompts like “Twelve months from now, I see the following appointment and commitments in my diary” help to craft a mental picture of a clear vision.
Spread the word
"Your company can't thrive just by fulfilling basic needs. You must somehow connect with passionate early adopters and get those adopters to spread the word."
For businesses to grow, soloists need to proactively present themselves to their target audiences. This means attending events in person and getting involved in conversations. Networking online is not enough.
The ideal outcome of every introductory conversation is to be heard and understood. Craft an introduction that is free of jargon, straight-forward and which elicits a genuine reaction of “That sounds interesting, tell me more.” For example, instead of saying “I am an accountant,” say “I help businesses pay less tax and retain more profit.”
Do not assume that what you want to say is the same as what others want to hear. To learn what your perfect clients want to hear, imagine listening in on their conversation. What are their pains and needs? Then design your pitch for their benefit.
Here’s an example of a pitch stating a feature in demand and the outcome: “I create software that troubleshoots accurately. As a result, call center managers are better equipped to solve their customers’ problems.”
When the message is well understood, it is easier for others to spread the word.
Word-of-mouth referral is the best source of new business for 85% of businesses.
To make a referral, people need to be able to testify what you are like both personally and professionally. It takes time and effort to nurture this relationship, which typically progresses in this order:
- Strangers – people you have yet to meet.
- Nodders – nodding acquaintance.
- Smilers – you know each other a fair bit and smile when you meet.
- Huggers – really get what you are about.
- Raving fans – actively refer for us.
Huggers may need a little prompting to become raving fans. Every time you nudge someone into the raving fan spot, you open the door to a potential stream of referrals.
To get referrals, be a referrer.
Create an operations manual
"The aim is to get the 'recipes' so precise and easy to follow that anyone can pick up your operations manual, follow its instructions and expect a predictable outcome."
Business processes generally live in the head of the soloist, and no one else can take over the running of the business.
An operations manual is a written guide that explains how the business operates. Business owners need to recognize the benefits of the operations manual:
- It makes businesses easier to run, and ultimately, sell.
- The structured approach keeps the business on track. The discipline and consistency gives an impression of authority.
- It helps to identify areas of inconsistencies or for improvement (e.g. the tag lines in email signatures should match that in brochures).
- It helps with business growth (e.g. opening of new locations or franchises).
- It helps to secure repeat business by ensuring consistent customer experiences (e.g. mints and magazines in reception areas, special gifts with purchases).
- It helps with creativity, as repetitive tasks can be outsourced, leaving more time to strategize, consult or develop new ideas.
- It provides a competitive edge as competitors often do not have one.
Sections of the operations manual include:
- The basics
- Operational information
- Response time
- Products and equipment
- Scheduled actions
- Trade secrets
- Customer policy
- Financial basics
- Who is responsible
Financial basics deserve a special mention since cash flow is the lifeblood of a business. This section will include: Bank and accountant details, third party mark ups, quoting templates, pricing formulas, and invoicing policy.
Start with the more complex procedures as they are the ones that are most valuable, followed by the simpler, everyday tasks. Continue to adjust as the business evolves.
Flying solo does not mean working in isolation. Online communities like Flying Solo exist to provide soloists with a platform to support each other.
Is flying solo a feasible option for your profession?