My Plan to Run a Solo Professional Business
I discovered a truth as a creative professional: I have a marketable skill, but that is separate from running a business well. The fact that I’m skilled at a trade or profession, whether it’s carpentry or internal medicine, doesn’t mean that I know how to run a business.
Solo professionals in any industry can be great at their primary skill whether it’s health care, management consulting, or landscaping. Understanding specializations like taxes, marketing, and having the discipline to track expenses and pay bills on time is different than one’s skill.
I’ve been writing my entire career ranging from a radio host and journalist to managing the program of a and writing marketing materials to guide volunteers. I received my master’s degree in communication management to further develop my creative bent with an understanding of how corporations set goals.
But for the past several months, I’ve grown aware how I’m not running a business as a writer. Instead, I’m reacting and responding to requests as I’m able.
The reason may be because I evolved into using my skills as a business instead of starting one deliberately. Here are key lessons I’ve learned and how I’m improving my approach.
What happened in my family’s life for more than a decade had a major impact on me, creating an amazing amount of chaos that threw my career in the nonprofit world off track. I was employed in an organization working with foster and adoptive children for several years and helped expand it until we parted ways over differences of keeping the operations centralized or decentralizing the efforts.
I left and launched a marketing consultancy with two people I met at networking functions. We weren’t a good match although we did well enough during our first year in business to grab several paychecks.
My home life was unstable with people moving in and out and kids growing through the traumatic pains of leaving teenage years and transitioning into early adulthood. I saw myself as more of an executive-type and consultant than I did as a writer.
Our marketing agency floundered since we didn’t have the personality mix to work closely together and I left.
I took my first in-home sales position with that Big Box retail outlet with the orange aprons, then handled admin duties for a fledgling digital marketing agency that didn’t pay its people. Gone after being owed $18,000 and lots of empty promises.
I ended up in business development in 2009 for another online marketing agency that had a good track record. But in 2009 to 2010, I would pitch people one week and then they were gone the next. I left emotionally exhausted and started a journey to re-group.
During that time, I was blogging and writing online for a few different content mills. I was interviewing executives and entrepreneurs and continued that pursuit, making some decent pocket change from the endeavor. But I wasn’t making enough as an actual income and I didn’t have a plan to achieve one.
Defining Who I Am and What I Do
By 2013, I was still adjusting to major changes at home and joined a business networking group to get back in the networking groove. People asked what I did and I replied, “I’m a writer.”
I had trouble defining who I was and what I did. I had written a variety of what we now call “content” in my years. But that’s why I went back into the business networking world — to hone my pitch and to learn how to define myself once again.
I confused myself. I was a journalist with a website focused on Southern California and saw the potential for sponsorships. I also saw it as a platform to help clients gain greater exposure. I wrote blog posts and a steady client for three years was an automation firm. And I wrote, and write, fiction. So, yes, I was and am a writer. But that didn’t help the people who wanted to know what I did and how I could help them.
It’s taken longer than what I care to admit but I have written blogs and books for professionals and started seeing my niche develop.
Clearly defining what I offered was mission critical.
The Courage to Re-Assess My Situation
Around 2016, I wondered why I didn’t have enough time in my week or month to accomplish what was on my mind. I had some clients but I still had a full house with 10 people living in it, including two high school students from China who we were hosting.
I sat with a counselor and realized I had about 25 hours a week to achieve my goals that demanded more than 40 hours weekly. I was off-kilter. However, I did have occasional clients.
Several months later, I decided to clear the deck and go back to my roots and what I had learned in my career. What was my skill?
While I’m skilled at writing, what did that really mean?
Deciding What I Offered to Clients
My first job was in radio news in central Pennsylvania. I would take a county commissioner’s meeting and write about it in several segments that ran about one minute each.
I became good at communicating complex ideas. I was now skilled at writing long-form blog posts and articles. Thus, I started to brand myself as a brand journalist who informed, inspired and entertained readers.
That’s what I could help my clients do.
Successes included writing ebooks for a cosmetic dentist and a chiropractor specialist and writing a book for a dental specialist who treats oral cancer patients.
I was able to break down the complex nature of their work in a readable format.
Pitching Clients Vs. Reacting to Assignments
A marketing consultant I met through a mastermind group sent me a message on Facebook. He hired me to write blog posts for his dental client in 2016 and had another assignment with an office furniture company.
Another marketing consultant also contacted me to write social media posts and then it occurred to me. A successful business has key metrics in place and though I was busy writing, I didn’t have any of those metrics in operation.
I reacted to client assignments but had no strategy for obtaining clients.
Business Names and Plans Vs My Names and Off-the-Cuff Ideas
What struck me with the work I had done all my life was starting a media business with three “legs” to it: Content Marketing for Professionals and Growing Companies; Sponsored Content for So Cal Brands; and Entertainment.
I had used a business name in the past and am now deciding to use one again.
Since my time was limited, I saw where each of the legs mention needed a brief business plan. I honed down the content marketing and refined it for writing books and blogs.
A business plan guides an operation and includes financials as well as marketing strategies. At the heart is also the mission and vision — what drives me now and what do I envision for the future?
Starting simply is key and I set a goal of getting one assignment to ghostwrite a book by the end of July 2019. It would give me a platform to work from, fit with my lifestyle and allow me to keep writing fiction.
Wrapping it Up
Having a business versus just feeling scattered requires a mindset and framework.
The mindset is meeting a need in the marketplace for offering a specific service, making a profit, obtaining clients and tracking income and expenses.
Without those metrics, I’ve realized I’m not going to have a business that I can grow or understand. I’ll always be in a reactive mode and I’d rather be operating from a position of strength.
So I’m setting targets, creating simple plans to act as a road map, and getting input.
Having a strategy and deliberate plan of action goes a long way toward creating lasting success.
Don Simkovich, MA, writes long-form marketing content while writing novels for the Tom Stone Detective Stories. Visit www.donsimkovich.com.