When the stakes are this high, you have to focus on what matters most. But not only that--you have to focus on what matters most, when it matters most.
Here are three of the chief subjects that sole proprietors (those hardy souls) would do well to keep constantly in mind.
1. Prioritize your customers.
This one seems obvious, but sometimes it's the obvious stuff that proves the hardest to face. When I started my first business, for example, I was terrified of sales.
I couldn't stand making cold calls, but it was my main method for drumming up business. After forcing myself through hundreds of sweaty, torturous conversations, I began to improve.
But here was my fundamental takeaway. As a sole proprietor, I wore lots of hats. I wore all of them, in fact. I was the bookkeeper and the marketer and the secretary--I was in charge of everything.
It was tempting to avoid telephoning new prospects based on the excuse that I just had to get my bookkeeping done for the month. But that was a cop out.
My main responsibility was to pour every bit of my energy into my customers while they were available. In that case, that meant the hours 9am to 5pm.
Bookkeeping could wait. Redesigning my company logo could be put on hold. As long as there was someone, somewhere whom I could dial and deliver my sales pitch to, that was all that mattered.
Develop that discipline. Take care of sales, customer service and executing the jobs you're being paid to do during the hours your customers are awake. Reserve other tasks for burning the midnight oil.
2. Don't procrastinate your bookkeeping.
This is another duty that most of us aren't in love with, but that will make or break us as sole proprietors. Don't wait until the end of the year to do your bookkeeping.
It's a huge mistake. I made it on plenty of occasions. It's the "keeping a shoebox full of receipts" error. You think, "Oh, this is fine, I'll just throw another receipt in there and tally everything up when I have time."
Guess what? You'll never have time. You have to keep track of those expenses in the moment. If you put it off, if you wait until the last minute, you'll be facing a mountain of numbers it'll be difficult--if not overwhelming--to try to make heads or tail of.
Take care of your bookkeeping every month. Ideally, tackle it every week. Remember always that the devil is in the details. Attack those details as they come up, and you'll keep the devil at bay. Staying up to date on business bookkeeping has a major benefit--you know exactly where your business's health stands at all times. It can keep cash flowing and help you qualify for business financing too.
3. Keep your revenues pipeline flowing.
If you're a sole proprietor, it generally means that your business isn't scaled yet. In other words, you're not making loads of cash. You're vulnerable on the revenue and customer side, because you're unable to accommodate a ton of clients.
Stay all over your revenue and sales pipelines to keep them full. If you're a contractor, and can handle three customers, it'll crush you to lose even one for a month.
If you were 30 times bigger as a company, losing a single customer wouldn't sting so bad. You might not even feel it. But for a sole proprietor, squandering one of three customers can mean the difference keeping your job and closing up shop.
Stay ahead of the game and maximize whatever customer capacity you have. Keep that pipeline full--don't relax for an instant.
You've got three customers, it's the most you can handle, but you're afraid that one of them is growing shaky and might leave you? Today, right now, begin looking for that fourth.
Create capacity for a fourth. Life might be really tough for a while, but it's worth it to play it safe. Never be overly optimistic about your customer pipeline. Maintain a healthy cynicism. When things come down to the wire, you'll thank yourself.
Running a business all on your lonesome is a lonely task. But it's also an exciting one. If you can pull if off, and scale that baby, and see some growth, it'll thrill you like nothing else in life.
To do so, you have to manage your time like a champ. Focus without fail on the three areas above, and you'll achieve success faster than you think.