You may have read the articles about lifestyle business that show a glamorous life of travel and laptops on the beach. Believe me, that’s not the reality for most solopreneurs! Being a solo business owner or solopreneur is not easy, it’s often lonely, and there’s no one else to make the hard decisions, hold accountable for mistakes, celebrate wins, or commiserate with about losses.
Despite the challenges, solopreneurship can be very satisfying (I should know – I’ve been a fulltime solopreneur for the past seven years).
I’ve worked with a lot of software and online companies over the past 25 years, from very small to very large and everything in between, mostly helping them with marketing or planning.
Over the years, sometimes I find all it takes is a different perspective or some questions answered to make all the difference in marketing results. That’s true for any company, whether a tech business or not.
If you need a little help with planning or marketing your solo business (software / lifestyle / services / online), but you’re not sure where to start, I make it easy to get started on your journey to more effective marketing and planning. I can help with marketing planning, strategy or project management, or just help give you the nudge you need to easily apply strong marketing principles to your small business.
With a strong inbound marketing strategy, your content and your website will pull in prospective customers, rather than you having to make cold calls or send mass emails to get buyers (outbound marketing).
Inbound marketing is increasingly important, since it’s more cost-effective and more targeted than traditional outbound techniques.
Traditional outbound marketing is increasingly challenged by higher costs, privacy regulations, ad “blindness” and ad blocking tech, and an inability to target your customer to the degree that buyers expect in today’s market.
On the other hand, inbound marketing allows you to establish more trust with your customers by sharing helpful content “for free”, providing information on their terms (when they are searching for it on Google, rather that interrupting them with a phone call), and an ability to target niche sub-markets with personalized messaging.
If you’re trying to get leads for your small business, do you focus on inbound or outbound marketing?
Outbound is traditional marketing: cold calling, sending blanket emails to email lists, direct mail and broad-based advertising like TV or radio.
Inbound marketing is all about finding ways to encourage customers to find you, via links to your website and other content.
As a small business, your focus should be on inbound marketing: it’s cheaper, establishes trust with your prospects, and automatically increases the visibility of your website in the search engines.
Inbound marketing is all about understanding your customer, and delivering them what they’re looking for and what they need (customer-centric). Outbound marketing is all about pushing your product features to get customers to sign up (product-centric).
Having a strong digital marketing strategy helps you to communicate your product benefits online to the potential customers that most need it, in language that resonates with them.
It’s critical to communicate those benefits over whichever digital channels your customers prefer. If you’re posting on LinkedIn, but all your prospects are in Facebook groups, then they won’t see your message. This is why strategy is so important.
Make sure you know what solutions your audience are looking for, and what problems they have, so you can deliver messaging that makes them want to click and buy from you!
My recent article on Seven Steps Marketing shows you how to apply these top five digital marketing strategies to your business:
Many business guides for the new or aspiring entrepreneur tell you to start with what you are “passionate” about.
But how important is “passion” really when starting a new business? Is the owner of the dry cleaners on the corner really passionate about clean clothes? Does the convenience store owner dream about stacking boxes of soda?
Passion (what you enjoy doing) is only one of the trifecta of ingredients for a successful startup. The other two are skills (what are you good at?) and financials (what will make money?).
So, yes, passion is important. As a solo business owner, there won’t be anyone to tell you to get back to work. You’ll need to be self-motivated, even when things are going badly and/or you don’t enjoy the specific task that needs doing. It’s much easier to be self-motivated when you are passionate about what your business stands for, or really enjoy the topic or focus of your business.
But passion certainly isn’t everything. I may be passionate about opera, but if I can’t sing and I can’t think of any way to monetize it, then it’s not going to make for a good business.
Ideally, a good lifestyle business idea should be a combination of:
activities that you really enjoy, or a mission that you’re passionate about,
skills that differentiate you from your competition (or that you can learn to do better), and
opportunities to earn money in a scaleable way.
The word “scaleable” is important in that last bullet, particularly for a solo business. I’ll be writing more about it in another post. “Scaleable” earnings mean that the business can grow even with a limited amount of resources (time, money) that you’re able to put into it. Non-scaleable earnings are things like one-on-one hourly consulting work (dollars per hour of your time) since there’s always going to be a cap on how much you can charge on an hourly basis, and how many hours you’re able to bill out on a weekly basis.
Some people may refer to “passive income”, but the truth is that growing a business is never passive, so I prefer to use the term “scaleable income”.
A startup is a small, recently-founded business that has a vision to grow to something much larger. Ultimately, startup founders want to grow the business as quickly as possible. The goal of a startup is to maximize valuation in order to attract investors and have a lucrative “exit” (an “exit” means the original investors get their money plus profits back, via selling the company, having an IPO, etc).
On the other hand, a lifestyle business is just that: a small business that supports the lifestyle goals of the owner(s). Certainly a lifestyle business will have financial goals (we all have bills to pay, after all). But the owner of a lifestyle business has other goals as well: flexibility, enjoying the work they do, following a passion, spending more time with family, spending time on hobbies or traveling, etc. They have a certain financial goal, but above that target their other goals are more important than continuing to grow the business.
Can’t a Business be Both a Startup and a Lifestyle Business?
Not really, unless the “lifestyle” you aspire to is to operate and run a large enterprise (lifestyle = work). That may be the case for some people (most self-made billionaires fall into this category, I think), but not for most of us.
This is why it’s so important to understand and acknowledge your personal needs before you start planning your business.
Deciding Between a Lifestyle Business or Startup
I often get asked “which one is better”? The answer is: Neither!
The type of business you start, and your personal goals, will determine whether you are running a startup or a solo/small lifestyle business.
Some types of business ideas can only be successful with the startup model: businesses that require large, ongoing investments in capital (beyond your personal means) and have a threshold before profitability, or businesses that depend on a network effect to succeed (eg, Facebook) are two types of business that cannot easily be run as small businesses that stay small.
Lifestyle businesses usually are built to serve a focused niche (a very targeted demographic with a specific need), have small up-front investments of time or money (such as a small e-commerce business), and/or are small, local businesses.
If a startup is your goal, it is important to know what you’re getting into: the excitement and opportunity for huge success, but also (more than likely) the possibility of a business that does not ultimately achieve your growth goals and either remains as a small business or fails. Founding a startup can be a fantastic learning experience, but you also need to be ready to put in the very long hours and hard work needed, possibly with little payoff.
There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to take on the stress of a startup, or grow your business into an enterprise with employees and investors. If you enjoy working on your business and just want to meet your financial needs doing something that you love, then a lifestyle business is probably your best choice.
Shawn Carolan has a post up on Steve Blank’s blog titled A Path to a Minimum Viable Product and it is easily the most insightful piece for entrepreneurs starting out that I’ve read this year. With all the excellent literature out there about Customer Discovery and Minimum Viable Product (MVP), there’s not enough how-to around […]