Top 8 Shortcuts for Creating a Sustainable Freelance or Solo Pro Business

Ha. Ha. Shortcuts in business.

They are shortcuts, actually. And if you’re a writer, author, creator, freelancer, or solo pro, you do have a business, whether it’s part-time or full-time, and whether or not you currently approach it as a business.

They are shortcuts because they:

  • prevent or counterbalance many missteps,

  • account for the big picture and the long term in the day-to-day showing up and details,

  • build something sustainable, enduring, and supportive as they go, and

  • get you where you want to go sooner than later.

Start with the end in mind Before you build something, before you create a marketing campaign, before you make a decision, it helps to know what you want to achieve. What the purpose of the thing is, what you want to achieve, what you want it to look like. Same for the big picture of your one-person business. Plan it and build it from the ground up — or wherever it is at this point in time — with your vision in mind, including its sustainability. A sustainable business is a system that can be easily maintained over time to comfortably provide you the living you need, working as you wish, while practicing your craft and serving your customers.

Savings Almost nothing can replace the importance of a financial cushion for a sustainable enterprise. If you don’t currently have savings, don’t worry. But start now.

  • Begin the habit of setting aside 10%–30%+ of every payment that comes in for building a cushion for yourself until you have a comfortable amount in both your personal and business checking accounts.

  • Use credit cards only for the convenience and the points if you can pay them off every month. Do everything you can to avoid going into debt/further debt.

  • Think in terms of investing in yourself and your business and begin investing your extra money.

Time cushions There’s no business like slow business. A “slow” business is sustainable.

  • Just as speeding in your car apparently saves only a few minutes of time every hour, there is no reason to rush through business. It decreases quality and enjoyment and increases errors, frustrations, and communication problems.

  • Slow down and take a few extra seconds, minutes, for everything. Breathe easily, center yourself, check in with your body, think about what you’re doing and what you need to do in any given situation. Salvage a relationship? Knock a proposal out of the park? Simply get through the day?

  • Always work ahead and eliminate the pressure of deadlines.

  • Right now, work on building your ideal daily schedule. Maybe that’s 4–6 hours a day, with 3–4 hours for deep work and 1–3 hours for business development and administrative tasks.

  • A firm and limited daily schedule can keep you focused on the most productive use of your time, quality work, and top clients. It also helps you say no when you need to and schedule surplus work for down the road. This keeps your pipeline full and your anxiety level down.

  • Create a work schedule that gives you the kind of time off we all deserve: for sick days, personal days, holidays, and at least a couple vacations a year.

Grow and maintain a network Develop and cultivate layers and networks of different types of relationships.

  • Get yourself a support squad, an inner circle of personal cheerleaders who are on your side.

  • Reach out daily to a couple people in your contacts lists just to say hi and see what’s new.

  • Make sure your social media efforts are social. Have meaningful interactions, to the extent possible on a platform, with those you encounter.

  • Use every email, phone call, conversation to further desired connections. Ask about others, their plans, their goals, their pain points, their struggles. Respond with empathy, curiosity, support, suggestions.

  • Offer help and ask for help. Give more than you take. Give without expectation of reciprocity.

  • Need more ideas from the pros? Here are two of my favorite networking books: Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success One Relationship at a Time, by Keith Ferrazzi, and Networking in the 21st Century: Why Your Network Sucks and What to Do About It by David J. P. Fisher.

Get good at sales and making proposals Get comfortable and get good at sales, pitching, and proposing and you will always be able to fuel your sustainable enterprise.

  • Warm up to marketing by customizing it so that aligns with who you are and your larger goals. Here are 8 areas to explore that I’ve identified in working with others: your personal strengths; how others see you; your interests and skills (those you have and those you want to develop); the needs of your projects, products, and customers; your values and priorities/what matters to you; your short- and long-term goals and the desired benefits of those goals; your connections and how other people can help you; and your current life and schedule and your desired life an d dreams.

  • Check out Steve Chandler’s books one at a time from your local library to keep you inspired and primed for selling. They are brimming with positivity, tough love, solid how-to advice, and creative suggestions.

  • Learn how to make proposals on the fly. A template for what I call service marketing, one way to build a 100% referral business, goes something like this: 1) “Yes, I can help you with that.” 2) “This is how…” 3) Make a proposal: I can do x in y time for z compensation, and a, b, c, is the process. D, e, and f are some variations you may also want to consider.

  • If you need a challenge to kickstart your enterprise or a go-to Hail Mary plan for tough times, this is it.

Show up, show up, show up

“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.” — Isabel Allende

There may be moments, hours, days, and whole weeks when your mettle flags and your vision gets murky. All you have to do at those times is show up. Being there and doing what you can with what you have from where you are. Making your appearance consistently and persisting regardless reflect a commitment to yourself and your business. “Just” showing up is a sustainability superpower.

It’s a job! Your job. This is simply another perspective on showing up. Your work, your business, is your job. So, show up as you’re scheduled and do the best you can, just as you would with a job. It’s how the money comes in a reliable fashion and it’s an honest view of the ups and downs that come with a solo pro and freelance life. Just as with a job, not all days are going to be great. Live with it and find ways to shine and improve as you go.

Yes, no, and it’s a business! It’s also not a job. Yay! You didn’t want a job anyway. It is a business. One-person undertakings that make an individual a living or a partial living are businesses, and the more you consider and treat your enterprise as such, the more sustainable it will be.

  • Treat every client/project like a long-term relationship and investment rather than a one-off moneymaker.

  • Create systems for everything: accounting, admin tasks, marketing, sales, client outreach, project management.

  • Hire someone — anyone — for something — anything, just to get the feel of it and get the wheels turning around the concept. Rachel Rodgers suggests in We Should All Be Millionaires to start with occasional help (dog walking, baby-sitting), then household help (routine cleaning, errands, or childcare), then a personal assistant (anything and everything), then an administrative helper, then a fellow income-generator (an employee or contractor that you make a bit of money off their work).

  • If the concept of a business is new to you, start by reading the classic: The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Fail and What to Do About It as well as the blog posts on EMyth site. You will soon understand what it means to think like a business owner.