Running your own business is a lot of work, and it can be hard to step back and actually roadmap when you’re knee-deep in emails, projects, and tasks. However, the end of the year is a great time to take a moment to meditate on your business and or work practice. I personally have been making a list of what did and didn’t work for me in 2019, especially since this was the year I launched my visual design studio.
Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve created a checklist of solopreneur and entrepreneur ideas that you might be able to use as you enter 2020.
1. Review Finances and Set Specific Financial Goals
I know for a fact that when I started my design business, I had no idea how much “business” I would have to learn. It’s important to make good work in whatever field your focus is, but if you want that work to be profitable, it’s crucial to learn the methods and means of actually making money and handling your finances.
For 2020, take the time to set realistic financial goals and monitor them to make sure that your business reaches its potential. Maybe it’s specifically deciding to increase your overall income with specific revenue goals, decrease your costs or interest payments, or plan a cash flow budget that lets you see the exact amount of money you might take in and owe each month. Planning your expenses deliberately can help you avoid missing a payment and not being able to pay your bills on time.
Some budgeting apps include Mint, EveryDollar, and YNAB. Need an online invoicing app? Try Stripe or Wave.
2. Work Smarter, Not Harder with Passive Income
Many people, especially in the creative fields, think they have to constantly be working to be making money. However, with today’s technology and marketplace, there are ways to make an income that you can earn on a product or service with little or no maintenance. Even though it can take more initial work upfront, these passive incomes can be an amazing source of revenue if you have a light month.
Many passive income streams include e-books, website themes, online courses, affiliate link marketing plans, online stores, workshops, and subscriptions. Even better, by offering free content to those who sign up for your emails, you can gain new leads and build your email network. For 2020, consider what passive income stream you might be interested in pursuing — it could pay off in the long run.
3. Automate & Delegate Admin Tasks
When you’re the only person running your own business, managing not only your actual projects but also your administrative work can be overwhelming. Worse, you can think you’re being productive, but entirely miss your marketing plan goals if you get too caught up in tiny email tasks.
Are you still doing all your accounting, lead generation, relationship management and project management by hand? Now that we have technology that can do these tasks for us, it’s time to begin actually using it to help us manage our time and money better. Remember that cash flow statement from #1? You can automate that! Here are some sites that you can use to start your automation process:
RescueTime Audit how you’re spending time on your computer to figure out your productive and most time-intensive tasks of the day.
Dubsado Helps manage your clients and projects in one place. Has automated workflows, scheduling, and accounting. I’ve just started using it for my business and am really excited to try out more of the features.
IFTTT.com (If This, Then That) A site where you can create custom automated triggers to do anything from automatically posting to social media or converting files, backing up photos, or logging finished to-do list items on your calendar.
Buffer.com Makes content management easy for your business–schedule your social media and integrate with Facebook and Instagram
Todoist.com Sync your To-Do list with your calendar — helps me schedule and know where all my big deadlines are
The big thing with automation is to figure out WHY you want to automate before anything else. What is causing you the most pain task-wise? Consider what will be the most beneficial for that and allow for your goals to adapt and change as your business grows.
4. Worry Less about Brand Focus, and More About Brand Consistency
“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
Designers (and many other types of solopreneurs out there) tend to take on a variety of projects in order to pay the bills. Unfortunately, doing too many types of projects can lead to general burnout and existential confusion as we wonder, “WHAT AM I GOOD AT!?” It can be hard to find a niche when the world is changing so fast and requiring so many new skills, and even harder to make consistent work that “fits your brand” cohesively.
For example, I do brand identity design for two law firm clients, but also have been working on projects for two authors needing thriller book covers. Those two aesthetics hardly match, so which ones do I actually put in my portfolio? Many people argue to focus on one of those two types of work so that similar work will come your way, but I think there’s something to be said for being able to adapt your work style for at least a small range of projects. It means you’ll be able to continue sharpening your skills, learning new technology, and keeping up to date with industry trends.
Now that I have had a range of projects, I am slowly narrowing my focus on brand identity design, storytelling, and sustainability. However, my biggest takeaway of 2019 is: do work that matters and do it well. Making good work consistently IS your brand consistency. Your potential clients will know what they’re expecting when you’re creating awesome work, even if you might not have that exact type of deliverable in your current portfolio. For 2020, think about how can you push yourself to make the best work possible and use that time to explore many types of work to learn what you do and don’t like to do.
5. Learn more about your industry and synthesize it.
As an entrepreneur, it’s critical to understand and be proactive within your current industry. The world is competitive today, and it’s up to you to keep up to date with the trends and experts in your trade.
Use the days before 2020’s beginning to make sure you’re following interesting blogs, content creators, inspiration, online courses, and other social networks. Are there any conferences or events in your area? Attending these sorts of gatherings will help you increase your knowledge about your subject area, as well as meet new connections that could be sources of support or further information.
Once you’ve reviewed your sources of inspiration, how do you understand and remember the information? Are you just saving articles to Pocket without reading them? Are you just passively skimming over industry reports? Make a goal of how you best can synthesize what you’re learning to help you effectively put these steps into practice. I personally use Notion to jot down the biggest takeaways of an article and organize my list of “reading” and “to read.” Medium’s highlight feature is awesome since you can take notes directly on the article. Feedly can help you condense feeds of information from all your favorite sites and you can clip and organize your collections however you like. Take time to write down and actually implement the important takeaways — your business will be stronger for it.
6. Meet with Mentor(s)
Regardless of how old you or your business is, a mentor is an incredible wealth of information. Talking with someone in your trade who has been in similar situations can help you maneuver your career with more information and preparation.
After I joined my local chapter of AIGA, a professional association for design, I was paired up to join a pilot mentee program with local designers in the area. My mentor and I met once a month at a coffee shop before work and I cannot describe how incredibly helpful his advice was in the summer as I launched my studio. Just being able to talk to someone in the same field who has gone through the same struggles I was currently having was instrumental in my personal and professional growth. I am eternally grateful for Jeremy’s support and willingness to mentor (and listen to me freak out about freelancing this summer — oops) me with his incredibly busy schedule.
Mentors in every field can offer objective business advice, anecdotal stories, and connections to others. As 2020 approaches, consider reaching out to someone who can guide your navigation through the coming year and in the future!
Looking for a mentor? Check your workplace, LinkedIn Career Help (you get matched with actual people in your industry that are open to giving career advice!), online groups (see: Mentoring.org) and other professional organizations in your specific field.
I hope this checklist can help you create a thoughtful plan for your 2020 year ahead. No matter what topics you choose to use, as long as you are able to study your previous year and think about the future of your endeavors while learning from the past, you’ll be on the right track to growing yourself and your business.