Survival as a Solopreneur: 7 Toughest Things About Working Alone — and How to Conquer Them

By: Laura Gayle

No more strict hours or stuffy business attire: You are your own boss and can adhere to any schedule and dress code you want. Creating your own company and working alone certainly has some enticing perks, but there are also some risks. Pay can fluctuate, and taxes become more complex. Often even the lack of company-backed benefits can seem too daunting for many women to strike out on their own. With careful planning and strict budgeting, though, many women are able to take on the solopreneur life and happily live out their dreams.

I Think I’m Alone Now…

It can be fun working alone for the first week, maybe even the first month, but eventually the loneliness may start to set in. Not having a co-worker to break up the monotony of the day can be difficult. It helps to have friends at work to discuss ideas, share successes, or even just commiserate about life. 

Working alone can be lonely at times, but there are ways to help keep you connected. Keep your existing friendships strong and rely on them to help keep your day moving. Branch out and meet new people, maybe even other women who work alone and understand what you’re going through. If it’s possible in your home, having a pet can help keep the loneliness at bay; a furry friend is still someone to pass the time with.

Fluctuating Income

When you first start out, it might seem that all of your money is going out, with very little return. But if you believe you have a good service or product and believe in what you are doing, this will eventually change.

When money does come in, though, it may not be steady, and your financial picture might look like feast or famine. Expect large sums to come all at once for a big order, and then a meager trickling of income at other times. It can be hard to maintain your normal lifestyle with an unpredictable paycheck. 

This is when your saving and budgeting savvy needs to go into overdrive. Always stick to a budget and make sure you have enough in savings to get you through the slower times. Early on in your company’s life, try to avoid large personal purchases, if possible, to maintain your savings safety net.

Missing Those Big Corporate Benefits

One of the perks of working for a big corporation is that the company helps to fund employee benefits. Whether it’s healthcare coverage, a short-term disability program, or company-funded retirement plan, benefits offered by big corporations can really add up. When you’re working as a solopreneur, suddenly you’re responsible for footing the bill — and costs can stack up quickly. 

Shop around for the best health insurance package that suits your needs. Healthcare companies are incredibly competitive and want to work with you in finding the right coverage. Start your own IRA or 401K to help set aside retirement funds on your own. You may not get the benefit of a company match, but at least you’ll have the beginnings of a nest egg for retirement.

Keeper of Secrets

Your entire business plan is at your own fingertips, which is both exciting and terrifying. Be sure to keep your company's secrets, documentation, and precious client information both safe and accessible. Utilizing cloud storage is the perfect way to have documents available at a moment's notice, but also keep them safe from prying eyes. Cloud storage can be accessed from almost anywhere in the world with just a simple internet connection.

Relocating Your Office

Working for yourself, you have the luxury of setting up your new office anywhere in the world. You are no longer tied to a corporate office that must stay within your 30-minute commute time. Select your new city carefully, as it could offer some major benefits to your company and your bottom line. Some up-and-coming cities, like Kansas City, for example, boast short commute times coupled with low monthly rent. This combination represents a desirable climate for many first-time business owners.

High Startup Costs

You've laid the groundwork and have a solid plan for executing your own startup. You know how much initial costs will be, down to the penny. Good for you! Unfortunately, starting and owning your company can come with some hidden expenses that can drive the cost of starting your own company even higher. 

Simple things like having a desk big enough to spread out your work or finding tech help when your computer crashes can cost you a hefty and surprising chunk. Be sure to maintain a cushion to pay for such unexpected expenses, and remember to keep all your receipts for possible tax deductions at the end of the year.

Self-Employment Taxes

Yes, starting a business is expensive, with hefty overhead costs. Luckily, a good portion of what you spend on your business may be tax-deductible. The federal tax code allows numerous deductions that people starting their own business or working from home are entitled to take. Furniture, office supplies, computers, or communication services, like the monthly costs of phone and internet, can ultimately be deducted. Calculating tax deductions for your end-of-year return can be complicated, though, so it’s best to use an online service to keep you organized. Tax calculators can help give you an idea of what is and isn’t deductible, and can help you predict what your year-end payment (or refund) might be.


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Laura Gayle is a full-time blogger who has ghostwritten more than 350 articles for major software companies, tech startups, and online retailers. Founder of the Business Woman Guide, she created her site to be a trusted resource for women trying to start or grow businesses on their own terms. She has written about everything from crowdfunding and inventory management to product launches, cybersecurity trends, web analytics, and innovations in digital marketing.

Even Introverts Can Excel at Networking by Following These Steps

By: Marguerita M. Cheng

The three C's of networking -- Conversation, Connection and Collaboration -- create a context that helps even those most reticent about networking.

Networking builds businesses. It brings in clients and partners and helps businesses grow, but networking can be intimidating and seem overwhelming. I understand that because I'm an introvert. Fortunately, that hasn't prevented me from creating my own network. You don't have to be an extrovert to use social sites, attend networking events or pursue professional opportunities to connect with others. Introverts don't have to be shy.

Debunking networking myths

Networking has a bad rap. People are hindered by awkward networking moments, misconceptions about networking and its benefits, as well as their own self-protective barriers. Here are five networking myths that need to be debunked before you can rewrite your own networking narrative:

1. Networking has not been effective. It's easy to dismiss its benefits when you don't see immediate results from networking. People become discouraged when they don't make any "useful" contacts at an event. What they don't understand is that one meaningful connection can translate into a valuable contact. There might be many people at an event, but the right connection, even if it's not the connection you had anticipated, might prevent you from making a wrong decision or help you accomplish a task that you couldn't have achieved otherwise. Networking might not appear how you expect, but that doesn't mean it's not effective.

2. Networking is only for salespeople. Early in my career, I noticed that people didn't like salespeople. Most everyone has a natural disdain for cold pitches and direct sales. As an introvert, I realized the value expanding my network. Years later, I understand that cold pitches and direct pitches do not constitute networking. You can make connections and conversations without selling anything.

3. Networking wastes time. Networking takes time. That doesn't mean it wastes it. It's an investment of time, and like any investment, it produces over time. Be wise and focused about how you allocate your networking resources, both time and money. Attend events where you're most likely to make the connections that will help your business. If you're a chef, choose events that focus on cooking. If you're a techie, concentrate on forums relevant to your niche. Think about the kind of connections you'd like to make and be strategic about finding the networking opportunities that will provide the most value for your time.

4. I cannot be a good networker. This is where most introverts bog themselves down. Networking doesn't feel natural. We shield ourselves from socially awkward situations by creating a protective barrier of dismissal. If networking is just "not your thing," you can justify retreating into your cocoon by dismissing it as over-rated and irrelevant. The problem is that networking is neither over-rated or irrelevant. Not even for introverts.

5. Networking is a dirty business. Some people associate networking with schmoozing and moving up the political or corporate ladder. They prefer to take the moral high ground and avoid networking for professional gain. In Networking Is a Dirty Business, Maryam Kouchaki, assistant professor of management and organization at Kellogg School of Management, uses research to show how people who associate networking with greed and selfish ambition tend to see it as a moral contaminate. They avoid it like the plague. The truth is that networking isn't schmoozing. Good business is reciprocal, and networking facilitates good business.

The "three C's" that change the networking narrative

The three C's of networking -- Conversation, Connection and Collaboration -- create a context that helps even those most reticent about networking move past these myths and into networking relationships that open opportunities and grow their business.

Conversation

Be ready to engage. Look professional, dress appropriately for the event and relax. You are not schmoozing. Smile and be approachable. A friendly, confident demeanor is attractive. Non-verbal communication is a pre-cursor to verbal communication so make sure you're not sitting in a dark corner or hiding behind your drink with your shoulders humped into your phone. Eye contact, a smile and a firm but warm handshake are all strong non-verbal cues that invite conversation.

Initiate dialogue with simple, non-personal questions like "who catered the event?" to open the conversation space. Be open, show interest in those you're talking to and offer genuine compliments. Have your 30-second elevator speech ready but deliver it naturally and conversationally. You want to provide compelling information about what you do and be prepared to answer questions, but you also want to listen and engage in a way that facilitates establishing a real human connection.

Connections

Networking events aren't card collecting events. The goal is making personal connections. Developing one quality personal connection trumps collecting a short stack of business cards. In his book Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships, Andrew Sobel explains how quality connections always win over quantity. A good connection can translate into a good contact. It pays to be selective. Figure out what connections are most relevant to your passions and talents. Develop a list of a "significant few" professional contacts and nurture those relationships by contacting them regularly. Create a secondary list of those you might contact in the future. Then, add all of your connections to your social network and look for ways to engage them on an ongoing basis.

Make emotional connections. Ask questions that invoke thought. Mark Zuckerberg states that you should learn to start where you are. Whether imagined or real, believe that people like you and the world is ready to receive you. Part of making connections is helping people. When you meet people, pay attention to what they say to see if they have a problem you can help solve. Always be generous and willing to help.

Collaboration

Collaboration is a human dynamic that even introverts can take part in. Networking is collaborative. People need your help, and you need theirs. Don't be afraid to offer that help or shy about asking for a favor. You can help people, and they can help you. Leave your comfort zone. Be willing to mix and listen, and to introduce yourself and ask questions. Relationships and careers are built through collaboration.

Collaboration means working with people and organizations. Concentrate on building a network that adds value to your organization and enables you to improve and grow your reputation. Establish networks both with individuals and organizations, so you can maintain a connection with an organization even after individual connections leave a company. Collaboration expands your personal network.

Networking is human, and introvert or extrovert, we're all human. It allows us to help each other, work together and grow along the way by conversing and connecting and collaborating. An old African proverb says it best: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others." Networking helps us get where we need to go… together.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.


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Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Prior to co-founding Blue Ocean Global Wealth, she was a Financial Advisor at Ameriprise Financial and an Analyst and Editor at Towa Securities in Tokyo, Japan. She is a CFP® professional, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠, a Retirement Income Certified Professional® and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.

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Marguerita M. Cheng

Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Prior to co-founding Blue Ocean Global Wealth, she was a Financial Advisor at Ameriprise Financial and an Analyst and Editor at Towa Securities in Tokyo, Japan. Marguerita is a past spokesperson for the AARP Financial Freedom Campaign and a regular columnist for Investopedia & Kiplinger. She is a CFP® professional, a Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM, a Retirement Income Certified Professional® and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. As a Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) Ambassador, Marguerita helps educate the public, policy makers, and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning. She serves as a Women’s Initiative (WIN) Advocate and subject matter expert for CFP Board, contributing to the development of examination questions for the CFP® Certification Examination. Marguerita also volunteers for CFP Board Disciplinary and Ethics Commission (DEC) hearings. She served on the Financial Planning Association (FPA) National Board of Directors from 2013 – 2015 and is a past president of the Financial Planning Association of the National Capital Area (FPA NCA) 


Rita is a recipient of the Ameriprise Financial Presidential Award for Quality of Advice and the prestigious Japanese Monbukagakusho Scholarship. In 2017, she was named the #3 Most Influential Financial Advisor in the Investopedia Top 100, a Woman to Watch by InvestmentNews, and a Top 100 Minority Business Enterprise (MBE®) by the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council (CRMSDC).


Marguerita’s mantra is “So many people spend their health to gain wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health” (A.J. Reb Materi).

Secrets of Success: How I Learned to Make What I Was Really Worth

By: Jill Beirne Davi

When I launched a side business about five years ago coaching people about their finances, I enjoyed it so much that I barely charged -- if I charged at all -- for my services. Many of the people I was helping were in the hole -- and desperately trying to get out. Plus, I loved talking to them about their money, so it didn't feel like an even exchange. I felt ashamed asking them to pay me.

After all, I had been deep in debt once, too, so I knew what it felt like to struggle to keep costs down. In fact, it was my own experiences that led me to become a money coach. As I began to share my success story, friends and friends of friends asked me to hold workshops, and pulled me aside for private advice.

I realized that there was a demand for money coaching, so I began doing it during my free time, while keeping my day job in market research. But when I first set out to offer my services, I charged nothing. I was caught up in the classic belief that if you loved what you did, you didn't have to get paid for it.

Work, by nature, had to be hard -- or so I thought. And if it wasn't hard, then you were pulling the wool over someone's eyes. So I did a lot of free sessions, irrationally hoping that someone would be so thrilled with what they were getting that they'd donate some money. Of course, that's not how things work.

Wait ... I Can Actually Get Paid to Do This?

As I started helping more people with their budgets, I realized that I could do it all day. I enjoyed problem-solving, crunching numbers and helping folks find creative solutions to sticky financial problems without having to declare bankruptcy or ruin their credit scores.

I decided that I eventually wanted to do this as a career -- which meant that I had to figure out how I was going to, you know, make money. I was working with a life coach at the time, so I shared my aspirations with her, as well as my fear of coming off as greedy if I asked for money. Her advice was simple: Start small. Just charge a little something to gain the experience of someone paying you to do what you love.

I realized that what I offered was valuable in ways that even I didn't expect. That first private client gave me the courage to take on more paying clients. So I did. A week later I charged my first paying client $25 for an hour-long session. He laughed and said, "That's it?" I stopped offering free sessions after that.


A few months in, this client was getting great results, so I considered asking him to write a testimonial -- but I was nervous for fear of coming off as selfish. I knew that it would help me build my future business, so I bit the bullet and asked him anyway. To my relief, he agreed.

His testimonial blew me away. I knew something had shifted, but after reading it I realized there was a real ripple effect happening in him. Not only had he started watching his finances better, but his smarter decisions and newfound discipline were also having a positive effect on his personal relationships and health. When I read it, something shifted inside me too.

I realized for the first time that what I offered was valuable to people in ways that even I didn't expect. That first private client gave me the courage to take on more paying clients.

The Inner Critic Comes Out

Still, it seemed that no matter how many people I worked with, I always had the same nervousness in the beginning. The same inner monologue would loop over and over: "You're not good at this. They're going to demand their money back and tell everyone how awful you are."

Oh, yes, my inner critic is a full-on monster, and she's the reason I kept my rates ridiculously, laughably low, just so no one would get mad at me if they weren't happy with my services.

This charging low fees thing went on for a few months with a handful of clients. Then I was contacted by a woman who'd heard about me through a mutual friend. She was a woman I admired, an entrepreneur who'd started a business a few years prior.

We sat down, and I asked her about her financial situation. I felt that I could help her, and she was nearly ready to say yes -- until I shared my rates with her. Her mood changed immediately. Suddenly, she wasn't so eager.

At first I thought my rates were too high -- but it was the exact opposite. She told me that the reason she didn't want to work with me was because they were too low. "I can tell by your rates that you're not confident in your abilities," she said. "So I'm not sure this is going to work out."

After the initial shock wore off, I realized she was right. To this day, I'm grateful for her brutal honesty because it made a lightbulb go off. After that, I looked through my testimonials and interviewed past clients about what they got out of working with me. Most clients started to see results around the two-month mark, and the best clients stayed with me for three or four months. The people who didn't get great results only came to me for one or two sessions.

At the time, I was billing on an hourly basis. So I started lumping sessions together and charging a bundled price to make sure people stayed long enough to see results. Each bundle was several hundred dollars -- way more than I was charging before.
 

Next Step: Overcoming My Fears

When I first started offering bundled pricing, I was terrified. I kept playing with the numbers to make them "seem" lower, doing things like adding more sessions to justify the price.

When people would question my fees, I'd explain that most clients didn't see results unless they were willing to invest some time, and the price reflected that. But I wasn't confident enough to charge more -- and potential clients picked up on that. They'd ask if I could just do one session or try to negotiate the price. Sometimes I caved, other times I didn't out of fear that they'd run to the 11 o'clock news with their complaints.

None of my fears ever came to pass. They were and still are completely irrational.

But after landing a few clients at my new, higher rate, history repeated itself. Clients were happy. They were getting good results, writing testimonials and referring friends. I could breathe a bit easier. I felt like I had scaled a small mountain and found a spot at the top where I could rest.

A year later, I raised my rates again after calculating how much I would need to earn in order to leave my corporate job. By this point, I was devoting 20 hours a week to my "side" job, and I knew I wanted to do it full time. I remember the first, four-figure proposal I sent out to a potential client. She didn't respond for a few days, and I chewed nearly all of my nails off waiting to see if she'd say yes.

Finally, the email came: "Let's do this." I was excited (for her) and terrified (for me). The inner critic, again looking for trouble, told me the other shoe was about to drop. I held my breath for a few weeks while I worked with the client, but after we both saw that she was getting great results, I let myself relax. And the higher rate became the new normal.
 

Accepting My Real Worth

I wish I could say that realizing my worth was a one-time event, but it wasn't. It's a journey. The fear never really goes away, but I'm learning how to manage it better. Whenever I offer a new service or raise my rates, that inner critic goes berserk trying to get me to revert to what is comfortable and safe.

Realizing my worth is like climbing a mountain with many peaks. You climb a small peak, and rest for a bit. Eventually, you have to get to the next one, so you keep going -- but you're terrified the whole way. Then you reach the next peak, and the journey starts again. With every peak, however, the urge to continue gets stronger.

I didn't start off with a ton of self-worth when it came to the services I was providing -- even if I felt plenty in other areas of my life! In the beginning, I attached my value to the dollar amount I was charging. But then I focused on whether my clients were really getting results. Then I made a promise to myself that if I couldn't help them, I'd quit entirely. But as long as I was, I'd stay in the game.

It's easy to stay stuck at a lower rate in order to avoid rocking the boat. Every time I've raised my fees, it's usually been followed by a week or two of panic attacks, fearing that this time I've asked for too much. But eventually the awkward phase passes, and my rates feel like a cozy sweater again.

My hope is that, one day, I'll be able to silence that inner critic who wants to devalue my professional self. But I know I'm not that enlightened yet. Still, one of the best things about going through this experience was finally realizing my self-worth. Here are some of my top tips:

Start small. Charging something nominal is still better than charging nothing at all. Don't give your gifts away for free, which could breed resentment later.

Find encouragement. Get a coach or mentor to help you stay the course when you're feeling uncomfortable about raising your rates or asking for a higher salary.

Focus on your results. When I get into panic mode, I read the testimonials of my clients. Seeing progress in their own words takes the spotlight off myself and shines it back on my clients.

Stay attuned to your emotions. This one is more of an art. If you are starting to feel a little resentful or burned out, it may be time to up your rates or ask for a raise. The increase can help get your sanity back -- especially if you offer a client-based service.

Let your rates work their way up. You don't have to triple your rates overnight to prove a point. That may backfire. Raise them incrementally and keep close watch on the results that gives you -- and your clients. Eventually, you'll be charging what you're truly worth!

This article originally appeared on https://www.aol.com/article/finance/2014/03/07/earning-wages-really-worth-entrepreneur/20844439/


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Jill Beirne Davi is the founder of Abundant Finances, a service that helps you get yourself out of debt and start amassing abundant savings in record time (without deprivation or eating cat food for dinner). For more helpful money strategies to turn your finances around, visit abundantfinances.com.