On your mark, get set, go: The marathon that is solopreneurship

The marathon of solopreneurship

This coming Sunday, I’m running my second half marathon. My first one was nearly three years ago, and I vowed that since I had done it, I never had to do it again. Then, I realized how different my life + attitude were when I was training for that half: Despite having just gotten engaged and being in the midst of planning a wedding, buying a house, starting to freelance, and quitting my job, I managed to stick to a rigid training schedule that added up to 130 miles of running when I had previous done nothing more than a few 5Ks. I was less stressed. I slept better. I felt great. As much as I hate(d) to admit it, running made me an overall better person, and having something to train for was the only reason I ran steadily.

So when I was in a solid late-winter slump back in February, I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe I should sign up for another half.” We’d been having a mild winter, so I could actually get out and run without mounds of snow or ice, and to get in 10 weeks of training for an end-of-May race, I just needed to start the first week of March. I told myself if I actually DID the first week of training, THEN I would register. (After all, running is expensive. You have to pay to torture yourself, like that makes sense.)

Fast forward to March 7th and I had successfully completed my first week of training. With that in my back pocket, I was feeling particularly ballsy, so I registered. So began that rigid schedule, again. Except this time, naturally, my mind was very much on business the whole time — and I couldn’t help but draw innumerable parallels between running/training for a half marathon and the marathon that is solopreneurship. Which is what you’re here for. And what I’m about to give you. On your mark, get set, go (sorry, had to)…

1. Every day is different. Some days, it’s easy. It’s a 9-miler that I finish feeling like I could go for at least three more. Other days, it’s an uphill battle. It’s an “easy” 5-miler that has me on the verge of passing out/collapsing, wondering how I’m ever going to run 13.1. In business, there are days when I feel everything tests me — every email is one I dread responding to; every WordPress glitch that can happen does. Then there are days that I’m just absolutely in awe that I get to be a solopreneur; grateful for every moment. There are days that are filled with invoicing, bookkeeping, and responding to leads, while others are non-stop writing, and still others are call after call after call. Finding some sort of routine is essential, but structuring every day the same? Near impossible. Every day is different.

2. It looks absolutely different for everyone. Not only are no two days the same, but even the same thing can look different for everyone. Despite having identical schedules, my half training is very different from my husband, Pete’s. Despite being a copywriter, my business is very different from say, Ash Ambirge’s. (#girlcrush) The most important thing I can do, in both running and business, is to keep my eyes on my own paper and know that I’m going out to beat my own PR and no one else’s. Chris Brogan said it perfectly for this context: “You can’t run a race looking sideways.”

3. Prolonged slumps are normal. In the two weeks before this half, I got sick. I was already off my normal training schedule due to southern travel and extreme temperatures, and when I came home, a sinus infection made it clear that I wasn’t running anytime soon. This slump had me feeling like I’d never get back in the game, already writing excuses in my head for why I didn’t run the half. Business does that to me, too. It’s a constant journey through peaks and valleys — and sometimes the valleys are deep, taking more time to get out of. Sometimes it’s a singular task I get into a slump over, while other times it’s biz in general. Sometimes it’s easy to accept the valley, but most times it’s seriously scary. Yet somehow, I always come out of it. The important thing when going through both is remembering how good it feels once I do get back into it.

4. The right gear can be essential. Running with the wrong sneakers could mean blisters and shin splints. Running with the wrong shorts/pants could mean major chaffage. Running without music and/or a timekeeper can make or break it for some people. (I currently run with neither.) The same goes for solopreneurship: Not having the right file storage system can wreak havoc. (I <3 Google Drive.) Not having the right email platform can be a barrier to marketing. (I <3 ConvertKit.) Not having the right people surrounding you can mean a serious case of loneliness. (I <3 One Woman Shop. #biased) Catching my drift? It’s worth it to invest in the right gear — whether that’s an investment of time or money — because it can be essential to a more successful run and a more successful business.

5. It’s mental. In anything physical, our mind will shut down before our body does. Our mind’s natural inclination, in fact, is to talk us out of doing whatever is in front of us instead of talking us into it. We can break this pattern with mantras. My mantra during my first half training back in 2013 was this: “You are a runner.” I literally had to keep convincing myself, on repeat, that running was within my realm of skill. This time around? It’s this: “It doesn’t matter how fast you go, it only matters that you finish.” In business: My mind will tell me I can’t despite the fact that I can. That’s fear creeping in. Some days, my mantra is this: “I am a writer.” Other days, it’s this: “I am not attached to the outcome.” Our mental toughness is as important as any other skill we have, and it’s a constant training in both running and biz.

6. You can’t do it alone. Running, in and of itself, is a solo sport. But even for those with incredible self-discipline and stamina, running a half or full marathon often requires some sort of external support: a running group to train with; an accountability partner checking in to make sure you’re on schedule. Likewise, running a “solo” business requires individual strength but also comes with a firm reliance on others. Running a solo business truly isn’t solo — and any solo business owner who’s been in the game for a bit will tell you that attempting to run it in a silo is a death sentence. You can’t do it alone, and you don’t have to.

7. You can worry, procrastinate, and fear, but in the moment, you’ll make it happen. I can (and do) freak out for days and weeks before a race — even those 5Ks. This half is no different, especially as I fight this sinus infection. But the truth is, when that gun goes off at the start, I’ll be ready. I’ll put one foot in front of the other, and I’ll make it happen. In business, some decisions can be pondered over for days or weeks (and can seem like the Biggest Decision in the World). Some projects can seem like they’ll never get finished. Some interactions can feel leave me feeling like I have no idea what to do next. But when it comes down to it, my gut leads me, and it always gets done. It’s as simple (and as hard) as that.

8. You have to do you. When I’m running, I’m more conscious of what I eat, how much I sleep, how much I drink, how much I sit. I know that an extra beer is going to make tomorrow’s run a little bit harder, or that a string of nights with less than seven hours of sleep is going to leave my body in a state of exhaustion. Not only that — it will largely affect my mind and directly impact my productivity in business. Lack of nutrition = cranky Sara, who’s not proud of certain reactions. Lack of movement = lack of energy, which makes willpower on dreaded biz tasks hard to find. Lack of sleep = loss of words. (Kind of crucial as a copywriter.) Sleep, hydration, sustenance, and movement is important no matter which race you’re running.

9. The littlest steps add up. I have an itch to run faster. The faster I run, the sooner I’m done, right? Likewise, I have an itch to accomplish the next big thing yesterday as a biz owner. There’s no worse feeling than feeling like you’re behind the pack. Yet, it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees when you’re going for speed. Instead, knowing that it’s one foot in front of the other all the time, and that even the littlest steps add up to incredible leaps, is the only way to finish the race and make real progress in business. Celebrate those little wins — they add up to the big ones.

Set your own PRs

True story: The first time I trained for a half, I literally set a personal record every week. The first time I ran six miles felt like I was on top of the world. Then it was seven. Then it was eight. I couldn’t believe I could do it, and there was no better feeling than knowing that each week, I was literally doing something I’d never done before.

Solopreneurship is a lot like that feeling of consistently setting personal records; of consistently pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. With everything I do, I’m challenged in a way I haven’t been challenged before, whether it’s in building a website, or collaborating on a project, or answering to a disrespectful client. I am always learning.

But more than ever, I appreciate the training. Because the real truth is, if you can run a business, I firmly believe there’s little else that you can’t do.

And when it comes to both running and business, I leave you with this: It’s all about the journey. Soak it all in.

[Photo cred: Sebastien Marchand via Unsplash]

coffee + content [round up]

Well hey, there…grab your cuppa + cozy up! You’ve landed on coffee + content, a bi-weekly round up of great content I’ve stumbled upon that make for interesting reads/views over my Sunday morning coffee. Got a great piece of content you’d like shared? Throw it in the comments below — but be sure to also share others’! Cheers.

coffee + content: a roundup of reads on email marketing, solopreneur burn out, fulfillment, and more

When it comes to email marketing…

ConvertKit: I’m in love. Plain and simple. I had a serious mental block about building + nurturing my email list for my first two years in business. My discovery of ConvertKit back in March lit a serious fire under my ass, and now I can’t get enough. I riffed on it with Coach Jennie, and plan to do a few posts about how to make the most of it here on this blog. Warning: The minute you see ConvertKit in action, you’ll fall in love, too. (Oh, and if you’re not already on my email list, visit that gray box above and join in!)

When it comes to fulfillment…

Resign From Your Job Every Year: Finding happiness in your job is something I feel very passionate about — considering we spend a good amount of our lives working. That’s why I love this idea from Chris Guillebeau: “once a year, on the date of your choosing, commit to yourself that you will quit your job, unless staying put is the best possible choice for you at this time.” A good way to put things in perspective, wouldn’t you say? (And a great way to get out of your comfort zone…)

When it comes to food + eating…

I’m Spending Less Time in My Kitchen and Eating Better Than Ever: Here’s what my standard dinners look like, on repeat: chicken, pasta, tacos. Lunch = whatever I can scrape together from the fridge and cupboards. Meal planning + prep is just so overwhelming to me. Which is why I’ve bookmarked this article from One Woman Shop member Abigail Murrish over on Verily, in which she proposes designing “capsule recipes” and gives tips on how to prep to save time. I can’t wait to experiment.

When it comes to building a business…

13 Lessons in 3 Years of Growing a Business: I’m a mere six months away from my three-year anniversary as a solopreneur, so this article in Raspberry Magazine hits home. In it, Lauren, founder of Out & About Communications (who I’m fortunate to work with!) shares a whole lot of truths about the ups and downs of building a business, shortening the learning curve for others getting started.

When it comes to burn out…

Talks for when you feel totally burned out: This time last year, I was going through a major period of solopreneur burn out. This year, it’s a sinus infection that’s got me down. (No doubt stress-induced.) Naturally, there’s a TED Talk for that. In fact, there are several, and I love this curated playlist of 10 Ted Talks for those times when you can’t seem to focus or win, and you just aren’t feeling it. (They’re all fantastic, but I’m in love with Andy Puddicombe’s and how he uses juggling to illustrate his points on meditation.)

When it comes to reading…

Just started: The More of Less by Joshua Becker
Currently midway through: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Finished: StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath/Gallup
On deck, in the biz department: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

When it comes to inspiration…

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman

[Photo cred: Death to Stock]

Note: Links within the coffee + content series may or may not result in me receiving an affiliate commission. My promise to you: I’ll only include affiliate links for resources that I truly feel can help you + your biz.

How to produce consistent content (when you’re oh-so busy)

How to produce consistent content when you're busy

I have to be honest: There’s a lot of irony radiating through this post. Here’s why: I’m sitting up in bed right now, attempting to not feel like a fraud as I get 30 minutes of writing in to feel legit in my own #justwrite challenge. The gist? At the beginning of this month, I challenged myself and a bunch of (awesome) people to spend at least 30 minutes per day on the writing that typically gets put off. For me? That’s writing for my business — like this blog post.

The goal of this challenge was centered around one thing: Consistency. Because, as I’ve preached here recently, it’s the consistent content strategy that wins, every time. Well, it just so happens that the goal and the challenge happen to be the same, because producing consistent content isn’t easy.

Hence my laptop, in bed. Something I never do.

Now, the beauty of this challenge is that it’s showed me how realistic it really is to get 30 minutes of writing in per day (if you’re prepared — more on that, below), even on days when you feel you don’t have a minute free. At the same time, there are days like today where I actually had a bit of leeway and now I’m delaying my bed time to make it happen. (Call me grandma. It’s 9:30 here.)

Let’s face it: Consistency isn’t easy. Especially when we’re busy. Or tired. Or feeling particularly overwhelmed.

That’s why, when consistency seems impossible, I turn to the following to help me out:

1. Build a process.

While I fly by the seat of my pants on many things (it’s somewhat impossible to avoid as a solo business owner), content creation is something I know works infinitely better when there’s a process around it. That process will look different for everyone. For me, it starts by capturing initial ideas in Evernote, then moving through a 13-step process from defining a mission to uploading and scheduling a post. (I detail out that process in Kickstart Your Content.) Building a process takes some upfront work, but once it’s in place, it enables consistency even for the busiest of people.

2. Batch it.

Batching is my productivity go-to when smaller chunks of time just aren’t cutting it and I want full immersion. With batching, I set aside a few hours to hammer out a bunch of content, from a set of 3-4 blog posts to an email sequence to a workbook. While batching doesn’t necessarily equate to consistency in the sense of a routine, it fosters consistency by helping you get ahead on content. I find batching most productive when I go in with a plan of what I want/need to create, eliminate all distractions, and get it while it’s hot. (Translation: Batch when you’re “in the mood” and could keep going for hours.)

3. Enlist accountability.

Like most goals and challenges, external accountability can be the push you need when your only client is yourself. It’s why I made #justwrite a public challenge. It’s also why I have an accountabilibuddy and a business coach. All three help me maintain consistency in different ways — #justwrite on a daily basis, my accountability buddy on a weekly basis, and my business coach on a bi-weekly basis.

4. Hire help.

You do not have to go it alone. Take a look at that process you built in step one and determine which parts need your expertise (maybe ideation, outlining, and writing) and which can be outsourced (maybe proofing, uploading/formatting, and promoting). Then, seek out the person to do it. Hiring help comes in all shapes and sizes: I recently hired a VA to help me kickstart my email marketing. She took care of the behind-the-scenes set up as I transitioned from MailChimp to ConvertKit, while I created all of the content. One of our One Woman Shop members recently outsourced the social promotion of her content to her son, who’s social media savvy.

5. Do the work.

Sometimes, consistency really is that simple. You have to put your butt in the chair and make it happen. (Or, you have to bring your laptop to bed and realize you’re not going to get your coveted 8 hours of sleep before your 5:30am workout.) Sometimes it really is a hustle, and forcing yourself to focus is the only way to get it done — and that’s okay. If you take any of the four steps above, this will be the exception rather than the rule.

Consistency requires a bit of preparation

As mentioned, it’s actually pretty realistic (most days) to get 30 minutes of writing in — if you’re prepared. For me, that means having a solid idea of what I need/want to create — blog posts, emails, landing pages, workshop content — and having those ideas at the ready for when I sit down to start writing. From within that pool of content, I grab whatever is lighting me up at that moment, or sometimes I set that timer, grit my teeth, and get done the thing I’ve been procrastinating on. (Which typically ends up being easier than I ever thought it would be.)

One of my all-time favorite things to remember in business, and in content marketing specifically, is that structure enables flexibility. Maintaining consistency on a regular basis, no matter how busy I am, requires being proactive now. Only with the proactive set up of a process and a pool of content I know needs to be written can I make the most of my consistency goal of writing for at least 30 minutes per day for my business. With that prep, I can be flexible within that time each and every day.

What’s holding you back from consistency in your content marketing? Tell me more.

And if you’re looking for a little help generating content ideas or getting started, plop your email address in that handy box below to get actionable tips to make content creation easier from here on out.

[Photo cred: Death to Stock]

Quick note: The link to ConvertKit included in this post is an affiliate link. Why? Because I’m in love with the platform for email marketing and want the world to know about it!

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