A couple of weeks ago, I headed to the glitz and glamour of the Hamptons with R and his work family. They too were working on a start-up, and the boss invited the key leadership and their fams to his beach house in North Haven. As I watched them seamlessly blend work and play, I realized that my independence – the very reason I had quit my job – was contributing to my start-up slump.
The toughest part of being a solopreneur is the lack of accountability. Of course client-work has deadlines, but not all of your tasks will be client-centered. In fact, most will not. What about your pitch decks, business plans, networking, proposals, and professional development? How do you keep on track when there’s no one to report to?
It’s still a work in progress, but here are some of the lessons I’m learning:
- Schedule at least one phone call or meeting a day. Especially if you’re working from home, freelancing, or have a lot of solo work, meeting another human being provides a much-needed reprieve from your self – as well as a hard deadline. Meetings often start with “How have you been?” or “How was your day?” and even that tiny bit of updating is powerful.
- Find an “accountability buddy”. Look for someone that also needs some pushing to accomplish their goal, and schedule regular check-ups to keep each other accountable. Justin Koufopolous, for example, is my write-accountability buddy. We send each other friendly (usually) reminders when one of us hasn’t written for a while, and ask for honest, critical feedback on new pieces.
- Figure out what kind of support you most need, and build that support system. While it’s always good to have dissenting voices and hard critics, understand the personalities that you best mesh with and the type of feedback you need. Sometimes, well-meaning friends and family that think they’re helping are actually toxic. You don’t need to cut anyone out (unless it’s really gotten that bad), but be clear about your needs. It’s perfectly fine to say, “I’m not looking for advice right now, I just really need you to listen.”
- Work in group settings and on group projects whenever possible. Whether in a co-working space, on a client project, or just an ideas-sharing session with friends, the energy and dynamics of the group are inevitably going to be different from your own – and sometimes can lend you that extra burst of motivation when you need it.
- Consider – or reconsider – whether you should be doing it alone. There are ways of bringing people on board without giving up coveted equity or spending a lot of money on monthly salaries. Interns, for example, are a great way to start – though managing an internship program and getting maximum productivity out of your interns is not an easy task either. Another option is hiring commission-only, to start.
Of course, you are ultimately responsible for yourself, and to yourself. Building a business takes a HUGE amount of discipline and commitment (so much so that sometimes, I’m afraid that I don’t have what it takes.)
But for those of us that are only human, don’t start a business in a vacuum.