It was fall 2014, and I was stuck. You may be able to relate. When you're building something – a business, a blog, a website – you're constantly learning and taking in information. And all of that information can easily become overwhelming. I wanted to research so many things and incorporate them into Unsettle and test different theories, but my brain was on overload. And what resulted? Nothing. I didn't do anything, except “research”. I didn't produce (though I told myself I was being productive) and I realized a few weeks before my launch date that I didn't have much prepared. When I realized this, I stopped myself from researching any further, and wrote down all of the principles I knew about creating a successful microbusiness. Thereafter, I referred to them when I'd get lost, overwhelmed, or demotivated. These became my guiding principles in creating this website, and they take the pressure off of my mind, by guiding it in the right direction. They keep the process of creation simple, and always work for me when I'm stuck. Maybe they'll help you, too:

1. Deadlines are Dead

Instead of telling myself that I must be proficient enough in a topic by a certain date, I create a schedule. If I want to learn how to do something, I schedule an hour each day to learn about it. Using the process in this post, I break down my learning into smaller tasks. For instance, if I'm trying to learn how to set up an auto-responder I would break it down as such:

  • Research best practices in auto-responders
  • Go through comments and email to find out what my audience needs and wants for the auto-responder copy
  • Learn how set up an auto-responder with my email service provider
  • Learn how to format each email.

As I come up with these learning tasks, I schedule them in so I don't get overwhelmed with where to start. This is similar to the process that I describe in the post 16 Painless Actions You Can Take to Start Your Business in 20 Minutes or Less (check out #1). The same can go for almost anything you need to do.

2. Don't Set Goals

Instead, build habits. Habits are sustainable and appropriate for activities you must do to grow or start something. For instance, I know that the most important thing for Unsettle's growth is creating useful content. Instead of setting a goal to write 20 pieces of content each month, I built a habit of writing at least 1,000 words each day. Not all of my writing is fit for human consumption, so I won't publish 30,000 words each month, but making a habit of writing every single day eliminates the moving target, makes writing a habit, and changes the way the important process is viewed. Instead of something to be conquered, like a goal, it's something to sustain. The importance of content creation isn't going away, so I ingrain it into my life. There is a time and a place for goals. You can't create a habit for something you need other people to do, like subscribe to your mailing list or purchase your product or service. But if it's something that you can control (ie how much you write) and it will remain important week after week and month after month, create a habit, not a goal.

3. Focus on the Essential Few

In the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (affiliate link), the author distinguishes between the nonessential many and the essential few. What nonessential activities are you spending precious time and energy on? How much better off would you be if you transferred that energy to the few essential things that you could do to grow your business faster?

This can easily be translated into Pareto's law, where he says 20% of your activities are producing 80% of your results. So I make it a priority to do an 80/20 analysis on my business every single month. As a blogger, I know that those few essential activities are:

  1. Writing
  2. Building and maintaining relationships.

I can work my tail off all day without doing anything important, so I try to focus on that 20% of activities that help me grow, move forward, and conquer the internet. This sometimes means that I have to let things go. Instead of obsessing over how my email opt-in form looks, I let it sit (unless I'm willing to hire somebody to make it prettier) and focus on the things that actually matter – the essential few.

4. A Cluttered Environment Means a Cluttered Mind

If I'm feeling scatterbrained or overwhelmed, it's usually because my environment is cluttered. Sometimes it's my physical environment that's cluttered. It's far easier to work in a clean, clutter-free room than it is to work in a room full of clutter and distractions. It can also mean my digital environment, or my internal environment. Right now, I'm writing in a program called Byword (one of the tools I recommend in my free report: 5 Tools to Help You Banish Procrastination (And Build Your Passion)).

I find it difficult to concentrate when writing in Wordpress or on Microsoft Word, as there is clutter in my periphery. If my brain is feeling too full – if I've learned a lot that day and am processing a lot of information – it can start to feel cluttered. I do a brain dump to de-clutter my mind in these cases, writing everything down – thoughts and all – to purge my mind of all of the flotsam. Paraphrasing from Cait's post, 3 Truths About Minimalism, always ask yourself: does this contribute to my business or take away from it? Simplify, simplify, simplify. A simple environment is an easy environment to focus in.

5. Stop Digging Shallow Graves

When we're doing something, whether we're writing a blog post, defining the scope of a project or preparing a presentation, our default tends to be wide and shallow. We're always told that bigger is better. For instance, we're pushed to have many acquaintances and a huge network instead of a narrow amount of deep and meaningful relationships. But the wide and shallow just ends up becoming a grave for our ideas, and projects. Focusing on the narrow and deep rather than the wide and shallow applies to so many things in solopreneurship:

  • Your target audience
  • The niche you are in
  • The content or products you produce
  • The value you add
  • Your focus.

If I'm struggling to think of a topic to write about, it's probably because I'm thinking too broadly. I am thinking : “What are all of the lessons that I've ever learned in solopreneurship and how can I communicate them to Unsettlers?”. What I really should be thinking is this: “What is one lesson I've learned and how can I dig deep on the topic so I can help my audience really understand and implement the lesson into their lives?” Remember: being excellent at one thing is better than being mediocre at many things.

6. Everything Should Link Back to Why

When I was stuck in the fall, one of my mentees reversed my own advice back onto me, and asked me one question which really helped me unstick: “What was the purpose when you started?” It's so easy to get away from that with the information overload that we are constantly experiencing, but that question helped me align myself. My purpose was always to help people start something, and remove the barriers (mental, informational, or otherwise) to build a lifestyle business. The underlying “why” is because it makes me seriously sad that there are people out there, in this day and age, who are not happy with their jobs and careers (read more here). Everything that I am doing needs to link back to that why. If it doesn't link back to the “why” and help me achieve my purpose, it's not worth doing.

7. Always Act with Integrity

Whenever you're faced with a decision, before settling on one option, always ask yourself: “Would I be proud to tell my loved ones that I made this decision?” If the answer is not a clear and immediate “YES!”, then chances are you shouldn't do it. Your relationship with your customers, clients, market, or audience depends on your integrity and trust. Don't let that become compromised.

8. More Should Never Be at the Expense of Better

It is easy to get stuck in quantity based metrics. How many email subscribers you have, how many words you wrote, how many visitors your website has seen. Sometimes, quantity matters (how many dollars your business is bringing in), but quality wins out almost every time. Quality is the winner with subscribers and traffic. Who cares if you have 100,000 unique visitors each day if they all leave your website before reading a sentence? Do those words that you wrote matter if they didn't convert your visitors into clients, subscribers, or fans? Instead of chasing quantity, chase quality. If you spend an hour making meaningful connections with people and you convert four people into subscribers to your site, you are far ahead of the person who spends an hour enticing thousands of people to his site through a giveaway, but converts none of them. It's sometimes hard to get my head out of the clouds to remember these principles, but when I do, they provide clarity, a stronger sense of focus, and they center me to my cause.

10 thoughts on “8 Guiding Principles for Succeeding in Solopreneurship

  1. CharlesMakesCents says:

    Thanks for the tips, Sarah. I feel you on the goals vs habits issue–I’ve got dozens of ideas (goals) that I think, “oh, I have to start this series because the content will be killer,” but before I get to it I end up adding more ideas to be ‘soon-to-be-written’ list, and nothing ever gets written.
    It’s hard to transition from that to a habit of instead knocking out a single post every two-three days and THEN allowing my mind to wander to ‘things that would be nice to post about in the future.’

  2. Anthony Metivier says:

    Great post!
    I’ve been digging Dan Sullivan’s WinStreak app lately for finding the essential few things to work on at a time.
    And ever since I learned about the Zeigarnick effect, I’ve been time-tracking instead of having to-do lists. It has had a stunning effect on 1) how much I get done, 2) the ability to see where all the time has gone.

  3. Sally says:

    You’re doing great work here! I like the reminder to focus on quality instead of quantity. It’s easy to focus on metrics in blogging, but I know the best work happens when it’s something that comes out of a genuine interest to create, and not just the need to “push something out on the site”.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes! I totally agree with your comment about the best work happening when you have the desire to create.

  4. Chris @ThriveWP.com says:

    Great stuff! I too have suffered from the information overload. I now use something called “Just in time learning”. Basically if I see something cool, or something i want to implement I file it away in evernote till I need it for my current task. The information is there, I just don’t consume it till the time is right. Has been working great so far!

  5. Stuart says:

    Good stuff. Whether it’s a goal or a habit you are trying to achieve, the important thing is commitment to that goal or habit.

  6. Aaron Billings says:

    It caught my eye, Sarah, that you point out that you are sharing an affiliate link. Is that to help you gain readers trust, and out of respect for them? Else, why do that?
    I know that I already shared this with you personally, Sarah, but some of your readers may also be interested in my post for solopreneurs:
    Have a great day everyone.

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