This is The Solopreneur Life’s “Featured Soloist,” the purpose of which is to give all of us a glimpse at how other solopreneurs operate their small businesses. Today we meet Kathleen Moore. If you would like to be the “Featured Soloist,” please send me an e-mail, Larry@TheSolopreneurLife.com.
Name of solopreneur:
Name of business and city:
CastleView 3D, Rochester, New York
Blog: “Life Should Be 3D”
Type of business:
Architectural-rendering and home-visualization services
When did you officially go into business?
Why did you start your own business?
I’ve always loved both architecture and interior design, and long ago considered careers in both areas. But I ended up getting a Ph.D. in psychology and working for 20 years as a therapist, market researcher, and higher-ed administrator.
Then about five years ago, my husband gave me a basic 3D CAD architectural design program as a birthday gift. I loved it so much I spent hours learning architectural modeling and rendering, quickly upgrading to professional-level software. People started telling me I was good at it, that maybe I could make some extra money. That encouraged me to create a website and to register CastleView 3D as a sole proprietorship in 2007. Those people were right — projects started coming in! But my higher-ed job was demanding, so my 3D business was always a secondary, part-time thing in my life.
But last year I decided that what I really wanted at this stage of my life was to focus on my rendering business full-time. My husband and I reviewed our finances and decided we could swing it financially. I bid goodbye to my university colleagues and started spending every waking minute doing the thing that is endlessly fascinating to me.
What was the best thing you did when you were starting up your business?
Developing a virtual network of colleagues on the user forums for the software I use has been extremely helpful. They have been a wonderful resource for help on all kinds of business questions — not just software-related. We support and applaud each other’s efforts, and one of them has become a mentor and close friend. They are also a source of referrals for me.
What is a mistake that you made that you have learned from?
My biggest mistake so far is a common one for solopreneurs — attempting to do everything myself. Finances, marketing, graphic design, sales, SEO, blogging, web management — you name it, I was trying to do it all.
The lesson that finally hit me was that spending huge chunks of my time doing these things was stealing time away from what I really wanted to be doing, the reason I started my business in the first place, and I was losing the sense of joy and fun that keeps me going every day.
Just because you’re a one-person business doesn’t mean you can’t get people to help you. Choose things you’re not good at or don’t enjoy and make the decision to let them go, or else pay someone to do them — consider it an investment in your mental health.
What has been the biggest challenge in the business and what are you doing to try to solve it?
My biggest challenge has been marketing — how much money to spend and where to spend it. The “experts” all said I needed a marketing plan, but I had no idea how to create a marketing plan out of thin air! This was so daunting that it had me paralyzed for a while, until I decided it was better to do the wrong thing than to do nothing at all. Mistakes are fixable, but silence gets you nowhere.
A related challenge is that my service is a fairly new concept to be offered directly to homeowners (rather than to builders or architects), so there’s no commonly-understood name for what I do. People may not even know that such a service exists, or else they don’t know what to call it. In my marketing efforts, I’m trying to establish “home visualization” as the accepted term, and using the tagline “see it before you build it” to create an instant understanding of what I do.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
I believe there’s a pent-up demand for the kind of service I offer. I predict that with my increased marketing efforts, business will quickly pick up to the point where I won’t be able to handle it all myself. I’ve been creating a list of freelancers I can outsource to when the need arises and thinking about what my role will be and how I’ll manage a variety of projects at once without giving up the things I really love to do.
Where do you want to be with the business in five years?
I would like to see CastleView 3D become a leader in home-visualization services for homeowners. I hope to establish a bricks-and-mortar location once demand warrants it and will consider the possibility of expanding to other cities or franchising. Right now these feel like big dreams, but the next 12 months will give me a clearer picture of what the potential might be.
What are your main software programs?
Chief Architect X4
Photoshop and Adobe CS
What lifestyle choices have you had to make to stay in business?
In making the decision to leave my secure job in higher ed with its benefits and good salary, my husband and I agreed to dial our lifestyle back several notches. We set an entertainment budget of $50/month (yes, that’s per MONTH, for two people, including restaurant meals and movies), and have eliminated travel and vacations for the foreseeable future. Luckily he is very supportive and is willing to make these changes to give me the opportunity to pursue my dream. Without his support I’m not sure this would be possible.
What are your strategies for staying competitive?
Do awesome, jaw-dropping work for a reasonable price, while remaining super-responsive to customer needs.
Do you need a second household income to support your lifestyle? (Is the business primary, or supplemental to the household?)
At this point I could not survive on the income from my business, mainly because any profit is currently being reinvested into growing the business. My husband is retired, and so far we have been able to get by on his annuity, social security, and our savings. Luckily I get health coverage through his retiree program. My plan is that by this time next year, I’ll be able to pay myself a salary that covers basic living expenses, as well as paying freelance staff as needed to meet business demands.
If your business should fail, what is your fall back position?
Try to get another job in higher-ed administration.
If you could start your career all over again, what would you do differently? Why?
Since what I do now wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye back when I was starting my career, I’m not sure I could or would have done anything differently. I’ve had a pretty non-linear career and have enjoyed all its twists and turns.
What’s your advice for aspiring solopreneurs?
My advice is — don’t quit your day job! I would highly recommend easing into your venture gradually, if possible. Build up your savings so you have a cushion to reduce the pressure of daily living expenses once you begin your business. Try to have at least a year’s worth of living expenses in reserve, in addition to any money you plan to invest directly into your business. And give yourself a time limit and an exit strategy — decide up front that if your business isn’t profitable in X years, you will call it quits and find another direction.
Are you glad you became a solopreneur? Why or why not?
Absolutely! I believe wholeheartedly in the value of the service I offer, I love the creative work, and I’m enjoying the challenge of learning how to run a business. I also love being able to schedule my workday around my personal schedule and biological clock. I’m a true nightowl, so my typical work “day” runs from noon until 1 or 2 a.m.!
There are some challenges I didn’t anticipate, though. One thing I didn’t fully grasp about being a home- and Web-based solopreneur was how lonely it would be compared to a bustling workplace filled with colleagues and meetings. So I’m trying to find places to connect with others who are in a similar situation.
I also didn’t realize that the lack of structure to my day would make it hard to know when to STOP working. I’ve asked my husband to remind me to take breaks and to pull me away from the computer occasionally to do something besides work!