The 5 Phases of Solopreneurship
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Every successful business grows in phases.
That’s pretty obvious when you consider the restaurant in your neighborhood that opened another location across town. Or a startup that hired 300 people last year.
Of course, businesses grow in phases.
But growth phases can be harder to consider when you’re in the middle of your own story, operating as a solopreneur.
It’s too easy to get lost in the details, trying to do everything all by yourself.
And before you know it, you’re working yourself to death, doing the wrong things for the phase your business is in.
But it’s especially important for a solopreneur to spend your limited time and energy on the appropriate tasks for your phase.
And if you can do that, you increase your chances of success exponentially.
The 5 Phases of Solopreneurship
There are basically five phases or “stages” of solopreneurship.
And each phase comes with its own unique challenges and requirements.
Today, I want you to understand these different phases so you can zoom out, recognize where you are, and take the appropriate action.
Phase 1: Stay Alive
The beginning of solopreneurship is about survival.
You're the new kid on the block, and you're just trying to stay alive. To keep your internet “doors open and lights on.”
It’s scary as hell, but exciting at the same time.
You learn so much about yourself and your business at this stage. And I’d argue this phase is where 95% of people fail.
So here are two simple tips for surviving:
Keep your expenses low: Free or cheap website builders and email software should be enough to get started. You don’t need expensive software or fancy logos and brand systems in this phase.
Leverage social media: Social media is basically free. Use platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to share your knowledge and expertise. The only investment here is your time. Stay away from ads and expensive marketing campaigns.
Phase 2: Build Systems
When you get some traction (i.e. you’re making some predictable money), you enter phase two, where you start building systems.
Think of systems as processes that you can follow to produce a predictable outcome.
- Idea systems
- Content systems
- Email & newsletter systems
- Customer support systems
Here's where the structure of your Solopreneur business begins to form.
Document your systems: Every task you find yourself doing repeatedly can potentially be systematized.
Start by outlining your tasks in a document.
When it’s time to action (or delegate) one of those tasks, you’ll have clear instructions to follow or hand off to a helper. No more forgetting how or when to do things.
My content system: For example, I have a system for creating my newsletter and turning it into 6-12 pieces of short-form social media content. I’ll never forget how to do it, because it’s documented in my internal business playbook.
Phase 3: Growth Focused
Once you have systems in place, it’s much easier to put some “additional weight” on the foundation of your business. Your foundation is much less likely to crack with strong systems.
My next recommendation is to start investing in growth. By this point, you should intimately know your customers and how to acquire more of them.
If you’ve been active on one social media platform up until this point, it could be a great time to expand to another platform.
Starting a newsletter, weekly video series or podcast might bring in new customers from untapped channels.
Or you could look for strategic partnerships with other creators, solopreneurs, or business owners. Collaborations can help you extend your reach and bring in new customers without incurring significant costs.
For the first 2.5 years of my Solopreneur journey, I created content exclusively on LinkedIn. Then I started writing on Twitter and eventually started publishing the weekly newsletter you’re reading right now. Recently, I got serious about Instagram.
This was all part of my growth-focused phase three.
Phase 4: Invest in Defense
If you start to build a successful one-person business, you’ll notice something pretty scary - there will be a lot of copycats. Content stealers, product copiers, and worse.
That noise makes it even harder to compete in the busy and crowded social media space.
How will you protect your business from being eaten away by competitors?
This is where playing defense comes in.
I’m currently in phase four, and here are some examples of how I’m playing defense right now:
- A professionalized brand system: I’m finally working on improvements to my brand systems, messaging, and website. I want to set the standard for Solopreneur brands.
- Implementing an SEO strategy: Since social media is so crowded, I’m creating a 60-asset SEO campaign to generate more traffic to my website from organic sources.
- Email automation: I’ve never used email automation before. But now I’m working on a plan to offer a more customized journey for my followers, subscribers, and customers.
Instead of relying so heavily on social media, I’ll be playing defense by actively investing in things that give me more of a “moat”.
Phase 5: Automate the Business
The last phase is all about automation. Doing things that make your business operations and revenue more efficient and predictable.
I haven’t reached this phase yet, so I can’t speak on it as intelligently as the first four phases. But here’s how I might think about it:
Paid advertisements: If your systems are in place, your branding looks great, and your landing pages are converting at a high level, paid ads might be a great fit. Ultimately, you want to get to a place where you’re spending $1 to generate $2.
This is basically an automated cash machine.
You could also consider contracting a part-time project manager. Someone who can do a few things for you:
Organize your assets: With thousands of social media posts, hundreds of newsletters and articles, and tons of questions from followers, you have a massive portfolio of information at your disposal. Consider having someone organize everything for easy access.
Create a weekly plan: My ultimate goal is to own the creative parts of my business, but to basically be given a weekly plan by a taskmaster. I want to wake up Monday morning and be told exactly what to do and why. Your part-time project manager can keep you focused on the most important priorities and tasks.
Ultimately, I’ll learn more about this phase when I get there someday. And, of course, you’ll be hearing about that when I get there too.
I think about my business in terms of years instead of days.
Keep in mind that each of these phases takes time, typically a year or two.
Yes, my business has moved faster than I anticipated. But that doesn't mean yours will (or should). And that's okay.
Success (in anything) is all about playing the long game.
It takes planning on various levels: setting long-term goals, strategizing on a yearly basis, planning tactics quarterly, and putting in the effort daily.
And the biggest differentiator?
Patience. A willingness and determination to outlast most people.
Remember, the ultimate goal of time freedom takes time.
Are you ready to play the long game?
I hope you are.
→ Today's action step: Read back through this issue and figure out where you’re at. Find the relevant suggestions I laid out and choose just one to move forward with next week.
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