One of the most common problems I see among soloists:
A failure to think strategically about their businesses.
“My niche will find me,” I’ve heard some say. Or, “Things will take care of themselves.” Or, “I’m too busy with the ‘doing’ to do any planning.”
I advocate a more intentional approach. The health of your business is at stake. “Winging it” is not the move.
When we don’t approach our businesses strategically, other problems emerge:
- We become reactive instead of proactive.
- We can chase goals that aren’t even ours.
- We waste time – our most valuable asset – on initiatives that are poor fits.
You’re a Business, So You Need a Strategy
No business survives for long without smart strategy.
You’d select a different set of tactics for a start-up tech firm than you would for an established packaged-goods brand – and different tactics still for our one-person businesses. But the underlying principles and frameworks would remain.
Strategy is often presented as a complicated, almost mystical thing. But strategy is simply a credible and cohesive plan for winning.
You need to consider:
- Where you are
- Where you’re going
- How you’ll get there
- Why that matters
When those answers are clear, this solo thing gets a lot easier:
- Higher income
- Fewer wasted hours
- A greater sense of control
- More of the clients you love to work with
So today I’m sharing some of the strategic questions I’ve recommended to other soloists (and that I regularly ask myself). I hope they’ll help you to think about your business in a new light.
Seven Favorite Strategic Questions for Soloists
1. What does winning look like for me?
Don’t just identify an income goal. This can be useful, but it’s only achievable to the extent that you have a credible plan to realize it.
What are you working toward? Capture everything that forms the texture of your vision of winning:
- The clients you want to serve
- The transformations those clients enjoy
- Location independence
Number of hours worked per week
- Time off per year
- Anything else that matters to you
Pro-tip: Once you’ve captured your vision of winning, revisit it often. I review mine every morning.
2. How would my business change if I became an expert in one or two things?
On the extreme worst end of the spectrum, I’ve seen a website for a soloist that listed 57 “specialties.”
People won’t believe that you’re great at 57 things. But they might see you as an expert at one or two things.
And if you’re seen as an expert, you’re much more likely to win quality gigs.
What are the areas in which you want to build real expertise? How can you make that happen?
3. What would my business be like if I did fewer, larger projects?
Admittedly, I have a bias here. “Fewer, larger projects” has long been my default mode.
Why? It means:
- Fewer leads required to meet my goals.
- Less time selling and more time doing.
- Working with clients who are ready to invest.
- Deeper relationships of greater value.
What would change if you did half as many projects per year, but at twice the price point? What are higher-value offers, packages or engagements you could provide?
4. How can I bypass the sales process?
Most of us hate cold-pitching, in large part because it often means trying to persuade someone who’s not particularly interested in what we’re selling.
So I’ve never done it. Instead, I like to focus on bringing warm leads to me.
Ultimately, this is about demonstrating authority, expertise and credibility. The list of ways to do this is nearly endless.
But the core question is: How can you show up, consistently and with value, in the places where your prospects are?
5. What if I focused on fewer tactics?
There’s a strategic exercise I use called “Takeaway.” It’s a simple head-check on a plan before it goes final.
It works like this: If you have 10 initiatives, list them in declining order of expected impact. Then ask: What would happen if we eliminated number 10? Number 9? Keep moving up the list until you’ve trimmed any excess fat from your plan.
Most soloists try to do too many things. What if you doubled down on just a couple of things? (Networking, LinkedIn, video content, whatever.) What if you did fewer things and did them better?
6. How can I think in terms of small actions, not large initiatives?
Another common problem I see with soloists: Overwhelm.
This is often a function of trying to do too large a thing too quickly, or too many things at once.
Allow me to suggest two principles: First, break big projects down into their smallest possible pieces. Second, whenever possible, create daily or weekly habits.
For the former, I use the following standard: Can I complete this step in one sitting? If I know I can check that box in 90 minutes or less, I’m much more likely to make progress. If not, I need to break it into smaller steps
For the latter, think in terms of weekly targets. “Keep my network warm” is too vague to be useful. “Initiate 150 outreaches this year” sounds too big to get your arms around. But “initiate three outreaches per week” is entirely within your grasp, and it could completely transform your business.
7. What would this look like if it were easy?
This is a question that works on every level of your business: From the top level (how you conceive of your business), to the strategic level (the few things you’ll focus on to be successful), to the ground level (any given tactic).
Where are you making yourself work harder than you need to? Where will 20% of the effort get you 80% of the results?
These seven beyond-the-basics strategic questions can make your solo business healthier & easier to manage. Put them to use, and do let me know how they worked for you.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to help as many freelancers as possible.
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