The Power of One: Taking Your Solo Business From Good to Great

Last Updated Oct 19, 2010 5:28 PM EDT

If you recently launched your own business, you're not alone.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration and as shared by SCORE, the country's estimated 29.6 million small businesses:

  • Employ just over half of the country's private-sector workforce
  • Include 52 percent home-based businesses
  • Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms
Many small businesses start off as solo enterprises, and being the chief cook and bottle washer is daunting. But "solopreneur" and "unsuccessful" aren't necessarily synonymous.

Here are five tips on harnessing your Power of One to take your solopreneur journey to bigger and better things.

1. Define "success" quantifiably
When you start out, you might be paralyzed by the fear that you won't make it. What does it take to "make it"? In business-speak, that means the amount of revenue you must generate to stay in business. Don't get distracted with your peers' tales of how busy they are. Focus on how much business you need to generate to stay viable.

Your homework: Take a long, hard look at your accounts. How much revenue do you need to generate to cover essential expenses (including essential equipment, software, insurance, taxes) and stay afloat? Work backwards from there and set your business goals.

This definition of success probably amounts to less than you dreamed of. But a practical goal, even a modest one, will set you up much better for long-term survival.

2. "Cash flow is God"
Leadership coach Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership says, "Cash flow is God. You can't have a successful business unless you can pay your bills. You can't pay your bills unless you have money."

As such, Bock says he bills right away and if his clients don't pay him on time, he fires them.

Your homework: Go through your accounts (yes, again). Look at what you're bringing in, and from where. Do the numbers add up or are you giving too much away?

If so, it might be time to gently cut some clients loose and bring in those who will be healthier for your business. Slash subscriptions and "stuff" you don't need. Cut back, without compromising on quality.

3. Streamline your communications
Today, we have more ways to communicate than ever before, and we whirl like dervishes between streams.

While Sara Theisen, founder of the design and print studio Sara Theisen Design, is active in social media, she swears by "old-school" communication when it comes to clients. And by old school, she means email. Because Theisen must frequently switch gears during the day -- she handles everything from sales to designing stationery -- she needs to keep all of her communication in one place. "It ensures that I have all bases covered, giving each one of my clients the individual attention they deserve."

Your homework: Figure out your business' optimum communication stream. If you participate in social networks, use a platform such as HootSuite or TweetDeck that allows you to post and engage on multiple platforms.

With incoming inquiries, direct them -- even if they come at you from multiple channels -- to one stream. For example, even if people approach me on Twitter, I ask them to use my Tungle profile to schedule initial consulting inquiries, calls and meetings. Works like a charm, and it cuts down on email back and forth, which can be a huge time-waster.

4. Widen your circle
This doesn't mean networking till you drop; rather, widen the circle of people you engage with.

Alexandra Williams, a writer, speaker and radio personality, says, "On Twitter I made one friend who uses a lot of pictures to illustrate her blog. Her popularity helped me realize how much I needed more pics [sic], fewer words."

Williams also connected with a software engineer who made some suggestions about her website that ended up saving her hours of bumbling about. "None of these friends know anything about my business," she says. "Yet they improved my business."

Your homework: Distance yourself from your business and build relationships with people who seem to know what they're talking about. Then ask them if your business is being positioned in the best light possible.

5. Be disciplined and set a routine
In Bock's case, his business wouldn't survive if he didn't set aside time to routinely send out query letters and respond to leads. "You have to have discipline for the routine things," he says. "It's like doing laundry, but no business succeeds without it."

Your homework: Write out your business' laundry list. This could include marketing, blogging, reconciling accounts, etc.

Then create a schedule for yourself and allot chunks of time to take care of the "laundry" every week. Track your time religiously -- I like Toggl, which is free at a certain level.

By tracking your tasks (and time) over time, you'll see where you're being efficient, and where you need to improve your efficiency. The laundry will get done, and your business won't be left hanging out to dry.

How do you successfully manage your solo business? How did you grow your solo business into an empire? Do share by leaving a comment below.
Image courtesy Flickr user Rick McCharles, CC 2.0