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How to go From Solopreneur to Entrepreneur

Mar 3, 2017
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“Pride is a master of deception: when you think you're occupied in the weightiest business, that's when he has you in his spell.” - Marcus Aurelius

I started my business back in 2009 but it wasn't until 2015 that I went all in. Although I had grown my revenue over 100% in the first year and officially turned my side gig into a real business, I still was not satisfied. I knew I had so much more in me, but that I was not going to be able to accomplish it alone. This month marks one year from transitioning from a Solopreneur into an Entrepreneur.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned when taking my agency on full-time was the power of maintaining the posture of a student. I was becoming obsessed with learning. This is one of the major reasons I believe I was able to grow so much in my first year as an inbound agency. I never assumed I knew the answers and used every interaction as an opportunity to learn. This sparked new ideas and pushed me further than I ever allowed myself to go before. I knew that to continue to grow, I had to remain committed to learning.

Going “Back to School"

I started 2016 off by taking Seth Godin’s altMBA program. The altMBA is an intensive, 4-week online workshop designed by Seth Godin for high-performing individuals who want to level up and lead. This course stretched me and my thinking further than ever before. I never set out to start a business. I just had some skills that other people were willing to pay me for. This crash course in business and thought leadership was just the training I needed for the new year. The relationships I built as a result of this program continue to add value to my life today. Some of the priceless lessons I learned were to understand sunk costs, how to use constraints to push me forward, and the importance of good structure in any organization. I also learned that if I was going to hit my 2016 goals, I couldn’t do it as a one-man show.

As the altMBA wrapped up I looked forward to making the goals I set there a reality. The first step was to sign up my first inbound retainer. One of my current clients was looking for a way to expand his business. As I listened to his needs and goals I realized he was a great fit for inbound. I made the recommendation of taking a leap with me and to my surprise, he was all in. Just like that, I had my first inbound retainer. Once I had closed the deal it was like the floodgates opened up. All my hard work was finally paying off. Two weeks after my first deal was signed I got another and had a very qualified lead in the pipeline. New business was coming in, but I now had a new problem, I needed help delivering.

Being a team of one has its advantages, but it has many more limitations. I wanted to grow my agency substantially, but to do so, I needed help. The first place I looked was to HubSpot. These guys have been doing it a while so I figured they would have some ideas. Through them, I found some help getting content created for my clients. While this was great, I still had to manage all the writers as well as the inbound campaigns, SEO retainers, website projects and maintain my own marketing. As you can imagine, this was not scalable.

The Virtual Solution

After reading Chris Ducker's book Virtual Freedom, I set off to build my team virtually. My business need was organization. While I am pretty good at the creative side of things, organization is not my strength. I had never hired anyone before. I did have a friend who I trained in SEO and he was helping on the side. However, I had never actually hired anyone. I decided to use eaHelp to find a Virtual Assistant (VA). They made the process easy and stress-free and found the perfect person for my team. While I originally thought Rhonda would be filtering emails, running my calendar and doing research, I soon realized she had much more potential.

Handing over parts of your business is not easy. While I knew I needed help, there was part of me that liked the control. As more and more work was coming in, the weight of growing was forcing me to let go. Part of my issue was that I had never had anyone to help organize my work life. I didn’t know what or how to give things away. Thankfully Rhonda did and she helped create a system that made sense for both of us. Before long she was not just organizing my inbox and schedule, she was helping me organize the business.

Shortly after Rhonda came on board we landed another new retainer. It was one I had been working on for a while and was pumped to finally close. We were on our way toward becoming a tier HubSpot partner while helping businesses create authentic personal connections online. With the addition of a new client, it was time to once again hand more tasks off. Rhonda stepped up in a big way and took over the content process for all clients. She also started writing for our company blog and was crushing it. Every one of her posts was driving double the traffic of mine!

Today Rhonda has moved up the ladder in the agency and is now a critical player in helping me grow and develop the business. She handles the day-to-day content operations and is moving into the role of account executive, where she will oversee all of the projects we are working on.

Letting go and empowering others have helped me focus on what I do best. Giving up a few things opened the door to the realization that I can let go of even more. As Rhonda moved into her new role, I've added a new assistant Beth, who picked right up where Rhonda left off and is crushing it.

Knowing that I could relax about the content issue, I started to look for help on the developer side. Many of new clients needed redesigns and I had become stretched too thin.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

This time I used Chris Ducker's company, Virtual Staff Finder, to look for a developer. Again the process was easy and straight forward, the only difference was I had to choose between three candidates. After doing the interviews I decided to go against my gut and choose the applicant that looked best on paper. While the arrangement started off ok, it quickly went south and work was not getting done on time.

Expectations are funny. You see I expected this arrangement to go well simply because the one with Rhonda went well. Boy was I wrong. As my frustrations and missing deadlines grew I knew something had to change. I needed help, but this wasn’t working. Out of the blue, the applicant my gut had told me to hire emailed me and asked if I had any part-time work. After talking a bit I gave him a shot on a smaller project. He blew me away. I let go of my first developer, not an easy thing to do, and brought Lyndon onto the team.

Having to fire someone sucks. In the past, I would have strung out the arrangement and tried to force it to work. But in all reality that would not have helped anyone. The fairest thing to do for both parties was to separate. Before I added anyone else to the SMA team, I asked Jordan, my HubSpot CAM, if he could connect me with other HubSpotters who were further down the road. Bob Ruffolo of Impact Branding was one of them. His advice was to hire slow and fire fast. Little did I know that I would have to learn this valuable lesson so soon.

With the mishaps behind us, the team and I pushed forward. In just the first quarter we matched our previous year's revenue. By the end of the second quarter, we were on pace to not only hit my goals for 2016 but crush them. One of the things that helped push our growth faster was focusing on a niche. In the HubSpot partner training, they emphasize this a lot. By narrowing your focus, you can create more personalized content and increase your thought leadership in that industry. This is exactly what Geoffrey Moore explains so brilliantly in his book "Crossing the Chasm.” If we were going to make the leap, we needed to focus.

Expanding the Team

The more you give away, the more you realize you need to give away. It's easy to think and fall into the lie that "you are the only one that can do it." For most businesses, the real bottleneck for growth is the owner. If you are the only one of your team that knows how to do something, you're in real trouble. To grow, you need others to help you. Letting go of control over everything can be hard, but it's the best thing you can do. It frees you up to do what you do best. Over the past year I have brought on and trained people to help me with SEO, Design, WordPress maintenance and security, content writing, research and more.

Again, I find myself at a pressure point. But this time, instead of charging through blindly, I am working with my team to find solutions and create more space for growth.

Going For Gold ; Inbound Marketing

Recap, Resources & Tips

  1. You can’t do it all on your own.
  2. Commit to learning and look for others who can challenge you to stretch yourself.
  3. When looking for help, try using a VA. Building a virtual team allows you to scale without a lot of overhead.
  4. Find someone who has strengths in areas where you fall short.
  5. Learn to let go of tasks that aren’t income producing. Then, empower your team members to grow. Trying to do it all leads to poor work and eventual burnout.
  6. Hire slow, fire fast.
  7. Check out Virtual Freedom by Chris Ducker.
  8. Here is the company I used to find my VA: https://eahelp.com/
  9. Here is the company I used to find my developer: http://www.virtualstafffinder.com/
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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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