Tackling the Biggest Challenges of Being a Solo Entrepreneur with Robert Gerrish of FlyingSolo
In today’s lesson, I have a real treat for those of you who spend most of your working life alone as solo-entrepreneurs.
Over in the ProBlogger Podcast listeners facebook group this week I ran a little poll to see how many of you as listeners work alone vs work in teams. The results were as I suspected – 93% of you work alone on your blogs.
Of the other 7% – most had family members or readers volunteer their time to help out a little with some small aspect of their blog but it was largely a solo venture.
This is no surprise to me at all because in the regular surveys we do of ProBlogger readers and listeners we regularly get asked questions on some of the challenges that solo-entrepreneurs face.
As a result for today’s episode I asked Robert Gerrish to join me. Robert is a coach, teacher and community leader who has a passion for solo business owners. He’s the owner of an Australian site – FlyingSolo and has recently put together an excellent resource for solo-business owners called Soloism.
I chatted with Robert earlier today, and I asked him about some of the biggest challenges I see in our community of solo-entrepreneurs. We talk about productivity, focus, loneliness, personal development, motivation, feeling overwhelmed and how to get through times when things don’t seem to work. He also gives us some tools and apps that solo business owners will find useful.
If you’re a solo-entrepreneur (or want to be) you’re going to relate to a lot of what we talk about in this episode. I came away from this chat feeling motivated and inspired for my own business and hope you enjoy it to.
Listen to this interview in the player above or here on iTunes.
Further Resources on How to Overcome the Challenges of Being a Solo Entrepreneur
‘Note: we are an affiliate and earn a small commission if you purchase Soloism but we offer our genuine recommendation for it and the teaching of Robert.’
- 2x Your Blog Writing Productivity and Reduce Your Stress by Single-Tasking
- The biggest lesson I learned about Blogging (episode 38)
- A primer on the Pomodoro Technique
Darren: Hi there and welcome to Episode 181 of the ProBlogger Podcast!
My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com, a blog, a podcast, event, job board and a series of ebooks all designed to help you as a blogger to start an amazing blog, beautifully designed and to create amazing content for it and to grow that audience that you’ve been dreaming of and to hopefully make some money from your blog as well. You can learn more about ProBlogger at problogger.com.
In today’s episode, I have a real treat for those of you who, if you’re like me, spend most of your time working alone as a solo entrepreneur. I do have a small team who works with me but I spend most of my day by myself and I’m not the only one. I’ve ran the ProBlogger Podcast listeners Facebook group this week, I ran a little poll to see how many of you as a listeners work alone versus working in teams.
The result was as I suspected, 93% of you work alone on your blog. You don’t employ anyone, you don’t have anyone volunteering to help you in your blogging. Of the other 7%, most of you said that you had a family member or a reader volunteer their time or someone virtually offering their time in another part of the world. Of that 7%, most of you say you do spend most of your time alone as a solo entrepreneur even though you do have other people involved in the business.
This figure of 93% or it’s probably 100% really is no surprise to me at all because every time we survey our readers, we find the same thing and we get a lot of questions from you as readers and listeners of the podcast asking us about your biggest challenges as a blogger. Most of the challenges that we see are less about blogging and more about being a solo entrepreneur. We get a lot of questions about productivity and how to stay focused and how to do with being overwhelmed and how to know what to spend your time on. These are challenges that many of us face because we’re working alone.
As a result, for today’s episode I asked Robert Gerrish to join me. Robert is a coach, he’s a teacher, he’s a community leader who has a passion for solo business owners. He’s the owner of an amazing site her in Australia called Flying Solo. You can find it at flyingsolo.com.au, it’s got over 100,000 members and they’re almost all solo business owners. He’s been doing that for many years now. And he’s also recently launched a really great cause for people around the world called Soloism. We’ll talk about that later in the episode.
I chatted with Robert earlier today and I asked him about some of those big challenges that I see you as our community having as a solo entrepreneurs. We talked about productivity, we talked about focus, we talked about loneliness, about personal development, how to stay motivated, how to deal with feeling overwhelmed and how to get through those times where there’s rejection or a failure. I also get some really useful tools and apps that solo business owners will find useful.
If you are a solo entrepreneur, or you want to be, you’re making a transition to be, you’re going to relate to a lot of what we talk about in this episode. I personally came away from this chat feeling very motivated and inspired and I hope you do, too.
You can find today’s show notes over at problogger.com/podcast/181 where there’s a full transcript of today’s show. You’ll also find on the show notes today a link that Robert has given us that gives you 20% off his Soloism course. We’ll talk a little bit more about that at the end of the show. But you’re going to get a lot of value whether you look at that or not because this episode is packed with value. I hope you enjoy this interview with Robert.
Hello Robert, how are you today?
Robert: I’m very well, Darren, great to be talking with you.
Darren: That’s great to be chatting with you, as well. Sometimes when I think about interviewing you, I don’t know quite where to go with this because there’s so much we can talk about. You’ve got a great story and your site Flying Solo is one that I would love to interview you about, but today I want to talk about Soloism and being a solo entrepreneur. I want to just give our audience a bit of context into who you are and why you are talking to us on this topic today, whether you can talk to us a little bit about why you’re passionate about Solo Entrepreneurs and maybe give us a two minute back story of getting into that industry yourself.
Robert: Yeah, sure. I started Flying Solo about 20 years ago now, which has just flown by. I can’t believe it’s that long. To give you a short version, my background part on that was on the other side of the world, in London. I was working for a small independent marketing consultancy, we sold our business in the late ‘80s and I then decided with a bit more caution, I knew what to do with, not sure what to do next, that I’d take a year off and travelled the world. Wasn’t I lucky? And I did.
Thank goodness, I ended up in Australia and thank goodness I met my now wife. We relocated to totally here now. The reason I’m telling you all that is when I came here, I decided that after reason based on the full on career, I really wanted to do my own thing and I totally saw these stories about some life in Australia. I decided, yes, okay, I was going to start a business, I was going to keep very under control, very manageable, we want to start a family. I knew I wanted a real sort of lifestyle business.
I set about doing that and ended up getting a little too busy, and one of the main reason I got too busy was that I started working with small creative groups. That was the background that I had, small creative companies, helping them with their positioning and marketing.
Through a delightful twist of fate, I was introduced to this whole world of coaching that was just starting. This was about 1998, 1999. I looked to that and I thought, this is a really good way to deliver my skills rather than consulting where you come back to your office and do all the work. Coaching is very much more you support the individual to find the solution themselves and you’d nudge them and guide them. I was really attracted to that, that suited my lifestyle business idea perfectly.
About that time, ABC Four Corners was doing a show on new work practices and delightfully they chose me as their guinea pig. I suddenly had an office which in fact was my garden shed with a TV crew in it, they followed some of my clients around and over a very short period of time, my businesses went nuts. I had this fantastic national TV profile, my phone was ringing off the hook. I was so busy. I suddenly found myself back on that situation where I was doing too much and that’s not what I wanted.
As I sat down one day with all the files of everyone I’ve ever talked to and worked out who are the people I really wanted to work with, who the people I really sensed I was doing good work with. Lo and behold, they were all people that were working totally by themselves. Just like me, trying to build a nice lifestyle business, something that allowed them to live and work the way they wanted to.
With my marketing brand, I wanted something here so I registered Flying Solo, I started writing just about solo businesses, working by yourself very quickly. Daily Telegraph asked me if I’d write a regular column, it all just took off. It’s always been since then and to this day is what drives me is wanting to support people who want to create that own business. If they want to scale and grow into something much larger, fine, but the hot land of our community, I will say those that want to work on their own terms want freedom, want fulfillment, want to do work that inspires them and does some good and that’s what we do now in Australia, the same as US and UK. Over 70% of small business these days are one person businesses and I think some of the challenges we have are very unique and that’s why we exist.
Darren: That’s great. It’s exactly why I wanted to focus on Soloism today because our audience, every time we survey them, and we survey them several times a year, the challenges in our community, seem to be less about how do I blog and more about how do I have a business and sustain it as single person or maybe someone who’s contracting out. It’s not a traditional business model in many ways, so many of the questions that we get are more around productivity and focus and feeling overwhelmed and lacking motivation and feeling lonely.
Today, I wonder if we could tap into some of those themes but before I get into those challenges, I wonder whether some people just aren’t cut out to be a solo operator and whether you can identify some characteristics that good solo operators might have for help to make that decision whether it’s right for them.
Robert: It pains me to say but I do agree. It does not suit everybody and particularly those that have maybe come from perhaps the big end of town from corporate, from an employed position where they’re used to having structure thrust upon them, they have reporting procedures and action this to determine why the people…
Sometimes, when you’re shifting from that to being the master of your own destiny, control of your own time and business, it doesn’t sit with everybody. But I do think that so many of the things that can bring about change and can help really enjoy a very learnable skill. This is not rocket science or else there wouldn’t be 70% of our business community working like this.
I think it’s something like one in three house in most residential streets in Australia and you got a home based business in them. A lot of people are doing it, but I think we need an ability to be able to juggle projects, we need to be able to have real clarity around where’s our priorities are and I think that’s a key one that we might pull apart a bit further. We need to be self-starters, we need to be disciplined, we need to be willing to learn, putting our own professional development at the top of our list which is often something that can be not on the top of the list. We got to be able to communicate well, we need to be able to market, we need to hold ourselves accountable, there’s a lot of stuff there.
We have a quiz, I’m very happy if anyone wants to have a look at it. It’s at flyingsolo.com.au/quiz where we pull this really apart and what are the skills that you need. I do think that we can certainly learn these things and we can take steps forward and start to bring some structure but it takes work. There’s no doubt about that.
Darren: Yeah. I think it takes time getting used to it as well. I actually had a conversation with someone recently that didn’t think they had what it took to be at home all day alone. I think you’re right, some of those skills and characteristics develop over time. But you don’t have to confront them all on day one either.
Robert: That’s for sure. Also, the way that we can run our businesses now has changed so dramatically even in the last 10 years. When you mentioned there about working alone, certainly working alone at home doesn’t work for everyone. You can’t bounce ideas off your household pets, you can get distracted when you work out of your office and see your dishwashing sitting there. There are things we can do about that, we can move around.
I think the important thing is to focus on what we can do, what we should do. If anyone is standing at home or sitting at home now feeling a little lost, the thing I would say is don’t sit around at home. Just get out, get out to the world. Don’t sit there laboring over something because ideas don’t come when you’re bashing your head on your monitor. It doesn’t work like that.
Darren: That’s right. It leads me to my next question, we hear a lot of our audience working off the kitchen table, if surrounded by the life of home or they’re working after work in a real job, lots of distractions. Are there tips you can give around the work environment and how to set up your work environment if you are struggling with all those distractions and other agendas?
Robert: Yes. I think you touched the very first point which is when someone is working at their kitchen table. If that works for you, fine. In my experience with these things, what we really need to do is we need to show ourselves that we’re taking our work seriously. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve spoken to over the years, and I’ve said who’s struggling a bit with concentration and focus on the business.
Describe for me where you’re working right now. What do you see around you? And it startles me how many people use the third bedroom, the one with the half assembled Ikea furniture and kid’s bikes and all this kind of stuff. They huddle themselves in the corner somewhere or they sit in the kitchen or they sit in the bedroom. Really this is sending, I think, fairly deep signals to our inner selves that this isn’t real business, this is just something I’m going to do in the kitchen table once I got a bit of time.
I would say give yourself the best space in your home. Many cases, the nicest room is their bedroom where they walk in every night, shut their eyes and go to sleep ten hours, eight hours, whatever. Give yourself the best possible space. Make it the most supportive space.
If it’s important to you that it looks like a proper office, well, paint it like a proper office, furnish it like a proper office. Anything that sends signals to you that okay, here I am, I’m going to work, that’s what we need to do. Whereas if we’re sitting down in our pj’s and we’re just doing it around normal daily family life, then I think we’re setting ourselves up for a bit of a tricky time.
Create the right space. Have your desk space. I would suggest you nice and clear the things that are on your desk are the things that are your priorities. Anything else, get it out of your vision, move it away from you. Have a decent chair, have a decent desk, have a decent light, get the best computer you can afford. Give yourselves the best chances. If you’re in employment and somebody says sit over there in that corner where there’s no light on that horrible old chair and that lanky old desk, you wouldn’t stay there for very long and yet we do it to ourselves, it’s crazy.
Darren: That’s true. I think a lot of it is mindset, really. I know one friend who wears a tie to his front room everyday just to help him to get into work zone and to focus professionally upon what he’s doing.
Robert: I have a similar story of a woman who leaves her house, walks around the block and comes back in again. That’s a great thing. There’s a lovely quote from the Dalai Lama which says, “I’ve got so much work to do today, I’m going to have to meditate twice as long.” I think this is the most wonderful thing. The sentiment of that is if you’re busy and you’re overwhelmed, often the best thing you can do is actually just take yourself away, give yourself a chance to clear your head, work out what your priorities are and then come back into your day with some vigor.
If we’re just walking getting something like the kids out to school, walking into an office and boom, immediately feeling overwhelmed with what you’ve got to do, that’s never going to work.
Darren: I think back to when I used to work in a shop selling stationery, I used to enjoy the commute and I think that commute gave me some separation from the rest of my life and helped me to get ready for work. I miss that commute today and often will go for a walk or grab a coffee and get to work after I’ve had a break.
Robert: The story I often told people, just imagine you’re going on holiday, you’re going on a two week holiday or something, what usually happens before you go on holiday is you clear everything up, you empty your inbox, you tidy your office, you tidy up loose ends and then you go off and you enjoy holiday. And then when you come back, that first day back, sometimes you might not want to be back. What you’ve got is a workplace that’s ready for you.
What we shouldn’t be doing is waiting for our annual holidays to do this kind of stuff. Ideally, we should do these rituals that you talk about when you end your day, make sure you’re leaving your space ready for your next day, give yourself the best chance to work at your best.
Darren: That’s great. We’re really getting in there to talk some of the rhythms of work and leaving your work so that you’re ready for the next days starts to speak to a system of time management, almost planning. Do you have any other tips around managing your time?
Robert: Look, there’s a few things. Just to sort of jump around a little bit and go back a step. When I was doing a lot of one on one coaching with people, I would meet people who are or were in a position where they were really struggling and overwhelmed and just feeling so anxious about their work.
One of the opening questions that I would ask is where do you get your energy from? In most cases, people would respond in that situation saying I haven’t gotten any energy, that’s why I’m talking to you. I’ll say okay, let’s have a look at when you did have good levels of energy, describe life then. If you do that exercise, you’ll find that what people are saying oh when I had energy I used to catch up with my mates twice a week, I play soccer at weekends, I go out with my partner once a fourth night, I go for a run every morning, I go to the gym twice a week. All these things, that little by little when the pressure is on, if we’re not careful, we let go of these things one by one because we have this crazy thought that because I’ve got so much work, I’ve got to stay here in front of my computer which is just lunacy. We’ve got to put ourselves first, put ourselves as a priority, treat ourselves like our best customer.
You mentioned going for a walk there, I love walking. If don’t go for a decent walk every day, I’m not a nice guy. When my son gets home from school, my wife gets home, I’m not the nicest person to be around, but if I go for a decent walk, I get clarity, I get some distance between my work and the rest of my life. It’s not really a tool but it’s something I think we need to do.
We are very strong advocates of Flying Solo and have been for a number of years over the Pomodoro Technique which I’m sure you and your listeners will have heard of, but this whole notion of working in 20 minute blocks of having, it’s called Pomodoro Technique, invented by this Italian guy. He runs his little Italian tomato kitchen timers. You work for 20 minutes on a topic and then you take a five minute break. That’s a little tool, if anybody Googles that, there’s a lot of guides, there’s apps on your phone as well.
I think the notion of working in blocks of time and being really clear on what you’re going to do for the next 20 minutes and looking at a project, okay, that project is going to take me three lots of Pomodoros, having it planned. This might sound quite structured to some people and a lot of creative people don’t actually love a lot of structure but I would just say to you, please, please try it because it opens up so much more possibility to what you can achieve in a day.
I would certainly have a look at blocking time, using blocks for key periods. Something that has always worked well for me is having daily themes. For a while in my coaching business, Wednesday was my Business Development Day. All I did on Wednesday were activities to do with attracting growing business through promotion and marketing. The result that had on the rest of my week is whenever I have any other ideas or anything that I observed or anything I thought of that, it would all go in my diary for Wednesday. That’s Wednesday, I’ll do that on Wednesday. Don’t worry about that now.
But again, what I think happens with a lot of us in solo businesses is there are so many things coming at us all the time that we feel we have to respond to them in real time and that just destroys any sense of focus. Using blocks have perhaps, blocking a whole day, giving a day a theme, those are some of the things that certainly work for me and I’ve seen them work for a lot of other people.
Darren: It’s fascinating you said that because regularly, the listeners of this would’ve heard me talk numerous times about my own weekly schedule. I have a template for my week where I block it half a day for creating content, half a day for different activities, and I find that particularly works well for me. And I try and leave some freedom in there and some impulse in the midst of the day because I think that’s important for my personality type but I do think blocks of time work well.
Robert: I totally agree with you. I think if we don’t allow some time to be impulsive then, really where is this freedom that we’re all after. We should do that. But freedom comes and you can enjoy freedom when you get a sense that you’ve actually achieved something.
For anyone who’s having one of these really cranky sort of days, where they’re just in and out of email or Facebook and not doing anything. If you say to that person, okay, now it’s your yoga class, the chances are they go I don’t feel like I deserve that, I haven’t done enough, I haven’t achieved enough.
But if you actually do these things in these blocks, then you feel that you’ve achieved and that’s the whole thing. There’s no one else coming along patting us on our back when we’re walking saying good job or bad job or anything like that. We got to do it ourselves.
I talk to my son a lot about this when he’s doing his homework now. His tendencies, he wants to go and skateboard or he wants to go and hit the ball against the wall and I’ll always say come on, just eat the frog first, do the Brian Tracy thing, do the work first and then celebrate by having a bit of fun. Doing that switch is okay, I think.
Darren: That’s right. One of the other things that we hear from a lot of our audience is the feeling of overwhelm. It comes from different races, sometimes it’s just that a lot of pressure on other times it’s someone’s choice. How do I know what to focus on? There are so many opportunities and particularly as bloggers in the social media space, do I focus on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or blogging itself or podcasting and it can be an overwhelming space to be involved in. Is there any tips you can give us on doing that because we do have to do it all ourselves. We are the only ones who can get it done, is there anyway to make smart choices around what to focus at time on and to deal with those feelings of overwhelm?
Robert: Gosh. That’s such a big one. We research our audience every couple of years and overwhelm is second to finding enough clients and having enough revenue, it’s always there. A large part of it, I think was it Paul Theroux who said that lovely quote, “The world moves a sign for the man who knows where he’s going.” I still think of that.
I think it comes back to we need to have real clarity of what we’re actually trying to achieve and where we’re trying to get to. That’s so basic. You’ve heard that a million times. I do think that the core of overwhelm is a lack of or a slight hesitation in is this the right thing? Should I be doing this? When you’re really clear on what you want to do and where you need to go and what your priorities are for your day, it’s much easier to go, well, maybe that is a nice bright shiny thing over there but is it going to take me where I’m trying to go, it probably isn’t, so I won’t look at it now.
It’s the part of it that’s doing that and that doesn’t really answer your question because the examples that you used there are always or the number them a ways that a blogger can market and of course any blogger is looking to grow their and again look at all sorts of opportunities. But the main thing there is it comes back to that blocking idea. If looking at new avenues is something to do, then how that being maybe one of your themes, that one day a week or one day a fourth night, where that’s all you do. You bury yourself into it, rather than being distracted at new shiny things that are popping up here and there and they’re always going to be popping up here and there is compartmentalizing, you put them down, that’s your day of research to look at those things, speak to a couple of people, get other people’s opinions.
No one needs to reinvent the wheel these days. Too many people worry about trying to be early adopters, trying to get on things fast, getting on things first. I’m more of a get rich slowly kind of person. It means you don’t have to get rich. There’s no hurry. The important things is to step back a bit and observe and listen and look.
Whether that’s a tangible enough response to your question is questionable but the other thing now I’d say is overwhelm can be eased dramatically when we get things down on paper. When we’re walking around with stuff in our heads, it’s a really busy place, it’s like starting a computer and launching every single piece of software and then expecting everything to move smoothly, it doesn’t.
Ideally what we should do is get the stuff out of our heads. Get it down on paper, just write it down. If you’re getting overwhelmed by something, write down your thoughts. What is it you’re getting overwhelmed about? Is it right that you should be thinking about this now? Just go through that process, almost like sort of morning pages, you’ll be familiar with the artist way. Getting stuff out of your head and down on paper is such a strong way of clearing some of that overwhelm.
Another good way is to buddy up with someone, speak to a friend or a colleague. Speaking to people, we don’t do enough of that. Talk to somebody. Somebody who’s maybe on a similar situation, maybe catch up with them once or twice a week, talk on a forum. Forums are full of people that are sharing the things that are overwhelming them. You would know, your listeners would know the joy you feel, the ease you feel when you share a situation, a problem with somebody else. Even if you share it with someone who doesn’t even speak in your language, you’ll come away feeling a bit better.
Darren: Words really are powerful. Because often when we have those thoughts locked in our minds, they become bigger, they don’t need to become as big as we build them up in our minds. Sometimes, just speaking them or writing them down as you suggest can put you back in control again and give you perspective.
Robert: Totally. If you’ve done any of the studies of cognitive behavior therapy, it sounds very technical but is basically, in my understanding of it, I’ve done this a short course and it’s a means by which you write down what’s on your mind, you then write in the column next to it what am I really worried about? What are the issues that really concern me? And then in the third column, what’s the alternative, how might things actually play out? Just by pulling something apart like that, particularly for anyone that has recurring concerns, they’re forever waking up at two in the morning with the same sort of problems in their mind and two o’clock in the morning or thereabouts is never a good time to get clear.
But if you got a sheet of paper and I did this for a while, when we have some pressures on our business a few years ago. I wrote down, I did this three column thing. Okay, this is what I’m worrying about, this thing needs to be explained a little bit further but this is actually what it really counts, this is what could have really happened, this is an alternative way of looking at it. I just kept that by my bedside. My goodness, it was helpful. Just knowing it; you wake up, you can see it, you can worry, you can look at it and go, you know what, that doesn’t deserve worrying about, that’s just crazy.
Darren: Yeah, that’s right. It sounds like you did that like I do with my wife, with Vanessa. Often she doesn’t understand the complexities of what I’m worried about but simply by putting them out there, she’ll ask a couple of questions and you suddenly, yeah, okay, I don’t need to be worried about that anymore.
Robert: I agree. I think our wives are similar. It’s incredible, it doesn’t need to be somebody who has a deep insight into these machinations of your business. It’s the process of talking, verbalizing it, actually will help the individual to see often the absurdity of the worry but also start to see a hint of some of the solutions and the alternative ways of looking. There are always different ways of looking at things. When we’re on our own, hemmed in a bit, we often just fail to remember that.
Darren: Yeah. I guess one of the things that we’re talking about here is how you worry if things don’t go well. Many times, things do go well and we don’t need to worry about those things but what about when things don’t go well? Do you have any suggestions? Sometimes things rock our world, we might go through a ton of rejection, or something just doesn’t work and it can be really hard, as a solo entrepreneur, get over those hurdles because we don’t have someone alongside of us going, let’s keep going. Often when you are working in a team environment, one person’s up while the other person’s down. But if you’re all down and you’ve had some sort of rejection, how do you get back up on the whole and keep going?
Robert: That’s a great point. And yes, of course it happens. If we think of our kids, when they’re starting to walk, when they’re starting to talk, what do they do? They just fall over but they don’t just sit there and heap, they get up and they do it again. That’s nowhere near enough of that kind of solution but it’s worth remembering that as human beings, this is how we’re built, this is innate, this is within us, things are going to fail, but we do have the skill within us, we have the resolve and the drive within us to get up and try it again.
But the thing, I think, that often we don’t do enough of is just recognizing the real kind of learning and the wins even within failure. What I mean by that is if you think of those poor people who, maybe it’s hard to sympathize with them. Those people who ring up your family home at six o’clock at night, cold calling, canvassing, trying to plug you something. That’s a really grueling job to do, it’s a horrible job and most of the time they match with failure and they’re usually a lot worse that just failure, they get abused and everything else.
How on earth do they skip there and dial the next number? The reason I think that they do that, and there has been some research into this, is that the measurement of success is very much taking in very small steps. The fact that you pick the phone up in the first place is a win. The next thing that you actually say something even if it’s smartly abusive, is a win. They take the wins along the way and I think as business centers, we don’t do enough of that. We look at something and it’s too easy to say, well that didn’t work. Thomas Edison said, he doesn’t think he’s failed, he just found 10,000 ways it didn’t work.”
I think the same is true in business, we used to look at what we’re doing, going okay, that didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. However, what have I learned about that? What can I take as of it that I can reapply? If we start to use that sort of mindset, my goodness! It’s going to open up new possibilities and new levels of strength within us. Because if we do just fall over and heap every time, it’s not going to work. We’re not going to be able to come and carry on doing that.
There is a survey done, I think it was the Productivity Commission here in Australia spoke to a number of startup failures. To a woman and a man, every single person who failed, this is some time after they shut the door, considered the failure to have been a positive thing. Now that’s a very hard thing to get your head around when you’re in the middle of it, but they all look back in it saying, actually, if that hadn’t happened, then I wouldn’t have learned this, I wouldn’t have learned this, I wouldn’t have gone here, I wouldn’t have met that person. I think that’s an important thing just to remind ourselves that there are always lessons in here. You need to step back and go okay, well, that didn’t work, but what have I learned from it and how can I amend it and change it and transition and try again. Once we do lots of that, my goodness. It’s a tricky one, but once we do, we’ll never have that problem again.
Darren: That’s right. The rejections and the failures and the elimination of a course of action that you won’t take again narrows down the chance of victory. I was talking to one blogger the other day and she was like she’d been really quite depressed about her blog and have been dwelling on the fact that nobody’s reading and nobody’s commenting and nobody’s following and no one’s subscribing, then she managed to turn it around by focusing upon the fact that well, 30 paper read today, and I guess we start to look for the positives in that. 30 people are paying attention to something that I said, that doesn’t happen for me in my real life. That’s something to celebrate, she began to focus upon the 30 rather than the nobody. It completely changed her around and now has 30,000 because she actually realized they were the individuals, they’re interacting with what she was doing and it really changed things for her.
Robert: Isn’t that a wonderful example. You mentioned 30 people, it they turned up at your front door, that’s a lot of people. You wouldn’t fit them in most offices. That’s so valuable. When she talked to you, into the process of talking to you, she sounds like she got there. That’s just so important.
Darren: One of the other things that’s kind of come up in our conversation a little, bit there is about looking after yourself. When you’re working for a corporate or an employer, there are systems in place for the employee, that’s professional development. Often, there’s annual leave or sick leave or long service leave or maternity leave, all these things to help care for the employee. But when you’re working for yourself, that’s very easy to not have those systems in place, most of us probably don’t. Do you think there’s a case for us to think through things like sick leave and those professional development and those types of things, things that we can put in place to help us to be more sustainable in the long term within our business?
Robert: Yes, there definitely is. I think the good news is we don’t have to use terms like sick leave. We can put it in our language but I think it’s back to this kind of putting our self first. I would say that over the years that we’ve been existing, we’ve seen very, very positive changes in this regard.
I remember when we were starting out, so much of the talk where there’s sort of a battle of business. You got to work harder, mate. You got to push harder and I didn’t see so much of that around these day, thank goodness. I think a large percentage of people aren’t getting this right.
I think putting ourself first again is that energy thing, what is going to allow you to be the best possible you, is it going to yoga three times a week? Is it starting the day off with a walk? Is it catching up with a friend? These are the kinds of things that should be in our diaries before anything else, before any of those things. Putting the things that make you you, that’s the single most important thing I think, is giving yourself the chance to be your best self.
It’s that Dalai Lama quote again. That’s where it starts. With paid holiday leave, I certainly strongly advocate that we should always have something in our diaries that we can look forward to. Again, my darling wife Jane is very good at putting things in my diaries but we make sure that we’ve got some bit of fun always planned with us.
Lots of our availability is determined by school holidays, so every school holiday, we make sure we do something. We go away somewhere, we do something. But regardless of whether it’s school holidays or not, having something planned in your diary. Maybe it’s once a month, maybe it’s once a fourth night, maybe it’s once every three months, but what we shouldn’t do is get to the point where we get to end of year and go, oh, I didn’t have any holiday. I just don’t think that’s the right way to be.
The other thing is that perhaps it sounds like a bit of contradiction to that is that balance is not something that you do at the weekends. That’s not how it should be when you’re running your own business. Balance should be within every day. Doing something every day that is for you and that is for your mental and physical well being is just so important. I think it’s not work like a dog Monday to Friday and then lie on the sofa all weekend. Plan it in your day, make it a part of your day.
The professional development thing, I would say that again, we got so much access to tools. You go into Coursera or any of these places, anything that you want to upscale and my goodness you can just do it immediately. You can do it also at local universities and lots of organizations that exist doing very low cost professional development.
What I think we should do as solo business owners is give ourselves a professional development budget and spend it. Make sure we spend it because just going to something, when I was talking about that cognitive behavior therapy, the reason I did that was I did a four day course, part of Sydney Uni. It was brilliant. I didn’t know what I was really doing but it looked interesting and I did for three afternoons, met with a fabulously interesting group of people, cost me not much money. Give yourself a personal development budget and spend it. Don’t get to the end of the year without spending it.
Darren: That’s great. I love those tips of something to look forward to and that’s something we’re always obsessed by our holidays and spend way too much time thinking about our next holiday but I think that helps my mental health to know that there’s something coming and there’s something exciting. Like you’re saying, each day there needs to be something to look forward to as well. For me, that’s my walk, my podcast, listening in the middle of the day, I give myself 45 minutes just to listen to something fun. That drives me through the morning and then it’s probably watching something on Netflix in the evening.
Robert: I’ve set up a day recently. I’m based in Sydney and I’ve planned a wonderful day trip, I’ve done it a couple of times. I’m going to try and do it every 12 weeks, which is I get a train from the center of Sydney which goes to Kaima down on the South Coast. It’s about 2 1/2 hours, lovely journey. I walk from Kiama to Gerringong which is about 20kms there and back. Lovely coast line walk and I get the train home again.
I leave at 7:30 in the morning, get home 7:30 at night and I walk and I sit and I listen, I take podcasts, I take notebooks. What a fantastic day. It’s a day and as I scurry off to the railway station and hop off at 7:00 in the morning, it just feels so wonderful. You can do so much when you’re staring out the window of a train or walking along a coast. It’s one day. It cost me next to nothing, it’s so cheap. It’s just a beautiful way to spend your day.
Darren: It’s interesting that you, as someone who worked alone a lot, spend that time alone when you’re not working as well. Are you an introvert?
Robert: No, not at all. Actually, no, I’m not in the slightest. But I love solitude. Actually, there’s a wonderful show on ABC recently about the distinction of solitude and loneliness. I love solitude and I just think it’s so important for me anyway and I know this happily from my wife. My wife’s an artist and she has time where she just wants to be by herself and paint and I know our teenage child has plenty of time and he wants to be on his own. I just think solitude is a wonderful thing. So yes, I do choose to be by myself and I make sure I have a good block of it each and every day, quite honestly, I spend the rest of the time surrounded by 100,000 Flying Solo members. I love communing as well.
Darren: I guess that brings me to my final question. It was around loneliness and I asked in our Facebook group the other day if anyone had any questions for you and there was a number of people who just reported feeling lonely and I can see them connecting with our community which is one way to tackle that. Do you have any other thoughts on those who do struggle with that aspect of being a solo entrepreneur?
Robert: Yeah. Look, it’s a very important one and I think learning this can really eat away at you and it just shouldn’t. I think there’s a distinction between working by yourself and just really feeling like you’re alone. You mentioned you’re in community of ProBlogger and clearly, we have a community at Flying Solo.
There are so many ways that we can connect and we should. I think that one of the key things is just having the courage to get away from your desk and going into the world. If you’re one of those people who tend to fall back a lot on online communication, maybe take a shift from that and actually arrange to go and meet people instead of just hooking up with them online. That might not sound like it’s so sensible in terms of time usage but what it gives you in terms of connection I just think is so much greater.
I personally love to go and work in a public library, I also have an office at home, I have an office in town but I still go and work in our public library, often if I’m writing. Having other people around me, that’s sort of studious with their head down really helps me. I think little tricks like that, just connecting by seeing other people living their lives, maybe going and doing work in a co-working space for a couple of hours, go and sit in a café. Really, libraries are just so wonderful. We can use those.
I think buddying up with people is very good if you just have two or three people, close colleagues perhaps in their little Facebook group and just check in with each other.
Since we use Slack as our communication tool in Flying Solo which works superbly for us, there’s eight of us all dotted around different parts of the country, all different time zones, working different days, working different hours but that’s one place where we just come together. Those little tools, if we make use of those, can really keep us connected.
Our forums at Flying Solo, lots of people pop in there. It never ceases to amaze me how supportive people are of other people, it’s a natural human instinct to offer support to other people. We should just use that. If you’ve got something on your mind, something you’re worrying about, something that you’re not sure about, then just ask. You’d be amazed what you get back.
Meetup groups, another great place to go just to stay connected with people. It’s connection that connection that connects, that’s the answer.
Darren: You’ve mentioned a couple of tools that you use, Slack being one. We use Slack as well. Do you have any other tools or apps that you use? Not just for connection with others but any aspect of being a solo operator.
Robert: I use one little one which you probably heard of called . A cool Coffitivity which is a little app. It’s available for Mac and Android. It’s just the noise of a café. It sounds a bit weird. It’s just a little app and if I play it, it just gives you the noise of a lovely café, you can’t hear any particular voices distinctly but it just gives you the impression that you’re in a bustling place.
Surprisingly, that really works. It really does. I personally use that. I use music a great deal. I have music playing around me all the time. I personally don’t have any vocals, I find those distracting but other music I certainly listen to. I make sure that regardless of whether it’s one of my walking periods or not that I’m outside quite regularly. I stay and see people around me as often as I can, I use podcasts and not just business podcasts. In fact, less and less do I listen to business podcasts, I listen to podcasts that entertain me, just humor or that lead me in areas that I maybe just don’t know anything about. I find those are good.
Another thing that I do that I know number one is a bit weird, whenever I travel anywhere, if I’m going to an airport, I’ll always buy a magazine about a topic that I know nothing about. The time before last, it was a whole thing on graffiti. It was a magazine about graffiti and street art. I just bought that, I didn’t really understand it, not before I read I wasn’t sure whether do I like graffiti or don’t I. When I go to Melbourne, I love it, but a lot of the stuff I see around here is just tagging and messy.
I buy magazines on topics that I don’t know, I read them, my gosh, that opens up just new ways of thinking. I’m not sure whether it necessarily helps me with the loneliness side of things but it gives me an understanding of people in different ways that I didn’t have before. I just think that’s a large part of it, being open to new ways of doing things, new ideas, getting out from our own little bubble.
Part of the joy of a solo business is our little bubble but there’s a danger in there, also. A final thing I’ll just say is another quote that I often repeat in my head. It’s the one from the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell which is, “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” I use that as my excuse. I’ve got a bit of a thing about chairs, I buy and sell and collect particular chairs. That’s what I repeat to myself. The time I’m enjoying wasting is not wasted time. My wife calls it chair porn but it’s just me sitting there looking at a particular chair, models of chairs, and I love doing it. That to me just reminds me of gosh, aren’t I lucky to be working by myself, I can spend 10 minutes today doing something that I just love and no one’s going to tell me off.
Darren: That’s great. I love it. I feel like we’re just giving the surface today even though we have covered a lot of grounds. There’s so much that solo entrepreneurs face and I know that many in our audience would like to dig a little bit deeper with you and I guess they can check out Flying Solo but I love what you’ve launched in the last month, Soloism. I wonder whether you can give us a really brief introduction to Soloism because as I look at it, it is a perfect fit for so many ProBlogger readers.
Robert: Actually, it’s one point that I meant to mention before when you talked about being able to focus and concentrate on your priorities. The whole of last year, my password on my computer was the best work ever. I had to type that in laboriously, my computer is set to go to sleep every 10 minutes or something. For probably 10 times a day for everyday last year and a bit of the year before, I have decided to type in the best work ever. That is a wonderful way also to keep a theme going and keep you focused.
The purpose of that for last year was I was writing this course which we now have at soloism.com. The reason we’ve done it on this different domain is that Flying Solo is very much an Australian Business community. With Soloism, we’re taking what we’ve learned from nearly 20 years into the world and Soloism is basically a course of steps. I think we’ve got 82 videos that will go through every aspect of building, designing, growing, enjoying a solo business.
We’ve really pulled it apart, I’ve written it all, I’ve recorded all the videos. I do believe it’s the kind of thing I wish I had when I started. It’s all we know, we’ve observed a lot of solo businesses doing a lot of things and it’s everything we know in one spot and the idea is that if you got a query about how to charge more or how to work more productively or how to market with a little bit more powerhouse, use words more strongly, everything’s there. It’s lifetime access. That’s why we call it work your way which is very much the sentiment of a solo business. It’s totally made for people like you and me and you and your listeners. I really hope they will have a look at it and might like it.
Darren: I love it. Your tagline Complete Guide to Going Alone in Business, I always say the complete guide and think there’s nothing that’s complete. As I looked over the outline, you’ve got 26 sections and 106 modules covering pretty much anything I could think of that I’d want to know on this particular topic. You’ve very generously given 20% off for ProBlogger readers and we’ve got a link in our show notes at problogger.com/podcast/181 and we’ll have the link that automatically you’ll see that 20% off for the next two months from when this show goes live. Thank you very from my audience to you for doing that.
Robert: It’s a total pleasure. I really hope that I’ll get to meet anybody who’s got any questions for me about anything whatsoever. Just send me an email at [email protected] and I’m happy to talk to anybody about any issues of their solo business.
Darren: Excellent. Thanks so much for being so generous with your time. Is there anywhere else that our audience can connect with you further?
Robert: I think that’s about it. I would just say don’t spend any more time thinking about me, just go for a walk.
Darren: Yeah. Perfect, and another podcast or two while you do it.
Robert: Yes, that’s absolutely right.
Darren: That’s great. Thanks so much, I have enjoyed speaking with you today and thank you from the ProBlogger audience to you.
Robert: Thank you so much.
Darren: I hope you found that interview to be useful and hopefully a bit inspiring as well. Being a solo entrepreneur is something that I have loved for years. I really have loved it. It’s brought a lot of freedom to my life which I’m incredibly grateful for but it does come with some real challenges and some real cost at times as well and we have to work through those challenges that we talked about today.
I hope you found this interview to have come at a good time for your own journey. I’ve been amazed actually over the last few weeks, the amount of people who said, are you reading my mind? These episodes just keep coming at the right time. I hope today’s was one of those.
You can find the full transcript of today’s show notes as well as a little bit of further listening and reading over at problogger.com/podcast/181.
If you are listening for something else to listen to, a couple of suggestions for you, and the last couple of episodes have had some really good feedback. In 179 we talked about how to reduce your bounce rate, got some tactics to do that. I’ve really been pleased to see some of you reporting how you have implemented some of those tactics.
` In episode 180, we talked about using Facebook Live and again, in the Facebook group we have seen a number of you sharing some of those Facebook Lives that you’ve done. Well done for those of you who have.
And I’ve also, as you were listening today, if you were challenged by what Robert was talking about in terms of looking after yourself, because if you want your business to thrive, you need to look after you or else your business is not going to be sustainable.
You might want to check out Episode 38 in which I share about how I came to the same lesson myself. I realized that I had not been looking after me and as a result my business was suffering and so I talk in that episode about how I got my health back on track and actually give you the things that I did to get my diet and exercise back together, some of my mental health and some other areas in my life back on track, as well. That was my most commented upon episode ever. That’s episode 38, if you want to go back and listen to that you’ll find it in iTunes or over at problogger.com/podcast/38.
Okay, it was a long one today. Thanks for listening to the end. I do appreciate it and I really look forward to connecting with you.
Next weekend, episode 182. Have a great week!
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