I’ve Completed a Massive Update to the ‘Tools That Work’ Page

After I launched TheSolopreneurLife.com, one of the first pages I created was the Tools That Work page. It’s a resource page for solopreneurs’ online-commerce and website needs.

This is a heads-up — I’ve completed a massive update to the Tools That Work page. Check it out.

A lot of trial and error goes into selecting the Tools That Work resources. The experimentation is ongoing, thus the need to update the page. For every Tools That Work product or service, I reject at least three others. These are the cream-of-the-crop tools for solopreneurs.

How to Keep Colds From Damaging Your Bottom Line

I’m nearly back to 100 percent health after a nasty cold that required 500 boxes of Kleenex. It’s amazing how good “normal” feels after being sick.

It was my first cold of the 2014 cold/flu season. I was hoping to get through winter unharmed, but no dice.

There’s an old saw about the length of colds that I think is very close to the truth, “three days coming, three days here, three days going.” I don’t think the first three or the last three days of colds affect my work productivity, but the middle three days are a struggle.

And then there’s the cold/infection combo. Colds are caused by a virus, so you can only treat the symptoms. However, I’ve had several instances where the virus has led to an infection. I remember two whoppers:

• Eleven years ago I endured a November cold that led to bronchitis and sapped my energy for several weeks.

• Five years ago I had a springtime cold that caused me to lose my voice completely for four weeks.

My latest cold was capped by an ear infection that’s being treated with good-old amoxicillan.

You Can Build It Into Your Plans

I asked my wife last night how many colds adults get per year. She said an average of two to four; I looked it up and she’s right.[1] Over the last 20 years of solopreneurship, I think I’ve averaged two colds per year that have affected my work hours.

There’s no way to avoid sickness, but building a realistic number of sick days into your annual budget can reduce the psychological trauma (I can’t be sick! I just can’t!) of being ill.

For example, if you’re a professional who bills on an hourly rate, subtract 10 days worth of time (roughly 40 billable hours) from your annual revenue projections.

If you have a year when you lose only five days of time, then you’re five days to the good. But know that you could have years when you lose more than 10 days worth of time.

When You Have to Work

There will be times when you have an upcoming, non-negotiable deadline and you have to work a normal number hours. In those cases I get plenty of extra rest, I treat my symptoms, and I use every available minute of strength to work on the project. In other words, personal/family/community time is sacrificed — no, you shouldn’t go to your kid’s out-of-town, all-weekend basketball tournament.

It’s a Reality

Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like a cold vaccine will be available anytime soon. The development of a vaccine that could prevent the common cold has reached an impasse because of the discovery of many different cold viruses, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Each virus carries its own specific antigens, substances that induce the formation of specific protective proteins produced by the body,” the NIH says. “Until ways are found to combine many viral antigens in one vaccine, or take advantage of the antigenic cross-relationships that exist, prospects for a vaccine are dim.”

Plan accordingly.

References

[1] Common Cold, WebMd.com.

A Short Review of TeuxDeux

If you’re like me, you’ve tried many to-do-list tools and you’ve never been satisfied.

A screenshot of TeuxDeux on my iPhone 4S

This past month I’ve been using one that might survive the free-trial period. It’s called TeuxDeux.

The developers of TeuxDeux, which is made in Brooklyn, New York, say their purpose with TeuxDeux was to create a to-do list that’s:

• Simple enough to compete with a piece of paper.

• Beautiful enough that you wouldn’t mind (and might even enjoy) looking at it all day.

In my opinion, the developers did what they set out teux deux to do.

TeuxDeux is web-based, and it comes with a free iPhone app (a native app isn’t available yet for non-iPhone users); I have an iPhone 4S, and the app has worked flawlessly so far. After a 30-day free trial, TeuxDeux is $3/month or $24/year.

One feature I really like is being able to create custom “Someday” lists, which are separate from the daily lists. Right now I’m using “Someday” lists primarily for capturing ideas for my business.

Many time-management products start out being simple, but relentless demands/requests from users for new features lead to a bloated, cumbersome tool. The beauty of TeuxDeux is its simplicity, and I hope the developers are able to avoid feature-creep.

TeuDeux isn’t for everybody, but if you place value on excellent design and you want a to-do list that functions like a paper list, then TeuxDeux might be for you.

How to Find (and Utilize) the Best Virtual Assistant For Your Solo Business

Solopreneurs frequently ask me questions about virtual assistants. I turned to Amy Wright, CEO of AmyWright.biz for answers.

Amy Wright

Larry Keltto: What kinds of services do virtual assistants typically provide?
Amy Wright: Oh, it runs the gamut from basic calendar management, customer service and scheduling all the way up to super techie things like adding a shopping cart to a webpage or setting up applications like Infusionsoft and everything in between. I think the better question is what do you need in your business that will make you more efficient? That’s what VAs do.

Larry: Why do solopreneurs hire virtual assistants?
Amy: There comes a point in every startup business where the owner just can’t do it all, and that’s a good thing, it means you’re growing. Most of the time VA’s are hired to take the “mundane, administrative” or the “behind the scenes” off of the shoulders of the solopreneur so that they can do what they do best… create and market their products or services.

Larry: What services do solopreneurs typically purchase?
Amy: Again, I think it depends on what they need and sometimes they don’t know. They only know that they are overwhelmed and feel like their day is spent chasing their tail. It’s a great practice to spend 2-3 days logging their daily tasks, to see what’s eating the most time. If it turns out that they’re spending a ton of time answering email, in social media and in customer service…it’s probably a good time to consider outsourcing.

Larry: How much do virtual assistants cost?
Amy: You can hire a VA for as little as $15 per hour, but that would either be an inexperienced newbie or someone overseas typically. Not to say that, that’s a bad thing. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? I was a waitress when I was recruited as an assistant over 12 years ago. Someone took a chance on me and look at me, I’m amazing. (Laughter).

In all seriousness, VA’s make between $25- upwards of $65 per hour. Don’t let that scare you. Would you rather spend $30 per hour for someone to handle the details for you or spend your time doing it when you could be making your hourly rate doing what you are great at?

Larry: How many hours per week should I purchase from a virtual assistant?
Amy: Some VAs work on a weekly retainer and some just bill by the hour. It’s always recommended that you discuss your expectations ahead of time, start small and make sure that he/she has the ability and time to grow with you. If you track your time, like I recommended early, you should be able to see how much time daily you think you’ll need someone.

Larry: How realistic is it for a new solopreneur to hire a virtual assistant if there’s no revenue yet (or not much revenue)?
Amy: It’s not. You don’t want to hire someone just so you can say “I’ll have my assistant call you”. If you are just getting started and you can handle everything on your own, you should. There are tools to get you by until you can afford to have help, like Hootesuite for social media posts, Tungle or Timetrade for scheduling and canned responses in Gmail. Those are great timesavers for any business owner. Not to mention, you should always understand every working part of your business, down to the last detail. I believe that’s really important. How can you ask someone to help you if you aren’t clear on the details yourself?

Larry: Do virtual assistants go by any other names?
Amy: Oh God yes. Some people are really funny about it too. Almost cult-like (laughter). Sometimes it depends on the specialty of the VA, like someone specializing in paralegal work may refer to herself as a VLA (virtual legal assistant) or one specializing in SEO may call herself an SEO assistant, you may hear terms like Administrative Consultant , Virtual Office Manager, Business Consultant…I say, call it what you will, your bottom line is getting your client relief from their administrative (and sometimes even more than that) tasks. One of my clients called my his Right Hand Gal. Suited me fine.

Larry: How are these services purchased — ala carte, packages, or something else?
Amy: Most of the time, there is an agreed upon hourly rate, the VA keeps track of hours and you pay her invoice. Some choose to work off of a retainer model, like an attorney and some have packages that you can choose from based on their scope of work for you. Obviously it’s completely up to the VA since she is a business owner herself. Just like you, Larry may charge hourly while a competitor has a package model.

Larry: When I hire a virtual assistant, am I hiring one specific person to serve my business?
Amy: Typically, yes. That’s a great question to ask while interviewing though. “Will you be doing all of my work yourself, or do you subcontract help?”

You’ve worked hard to get your business where it is. You don’t want to just hand passwords and trade secrets over to anyone. It’s kinda like taking your kids to daycare for the first time. You want to know who’s handling things, right? It can be nerve racking in the best of situations (both business and daycare). Be certain to get an NDA (Non disclosure agreement) signed before you hand over anything about your business.

Larry: There seem to be a LOT of virtual assistants. How do I know I am hiring someone I can trust, and someone who will do a good job?
Amy: There are a lot. It’s a growing field since the economy tanked. Anyone can throw up a website and call themselves whatever they want. Get referrals. Testimonials. Do your research. Any good VA should have clients who can vouch for them and give you first hand experience on what it’s like to work with that person. If they are new to the field (remember that’s not necessarily bad), check references for past employers.

Larry: Off topic slightly, but are the oDesks and eLances of the world hurting VAs and the rates they can charge?
Amy: Not off topic at all, Larry! It’s a very good question. It depends on what you are looking for AND who you hire. I don’t think they are hurting VAs. In fact, I know of many VA’s who get work from services like these as a starting point. Many “Admin workers” in Odesk are overseas workers that you can hire for $3-5/ hour. That’s great for small jobs that don’t require a relationship like transcription, logo design or little jobs like that.

Business owners that I’ve spoken to want a VA they they can build an ongoing relationship with. Someone who knows the intimate details of their business. A partner, if you will. That’s hard to do when there’s a language barrier or huge time difference. I’ve tried to work with overseas contractors in my business. I’ve had a few good ones and a few bad ones. So far my overall experience has been negative on more complex things.

Larry: What other comments do you have regarding virtual assistants?
Amy: Think through the process before you get started. This is not a shoot, ready, aim type A personality thing. You should prepare, which takes time. I do offer free 15-minute consults for anyone who is thinking that it might be time to duplicate themselves. Here to help.

Amy Wright is a business nerd who rocks out to 80’s music, loves the color purple (not the movie, but the actual color) and her lovely family.

Amy explains her business: “Sometimes you need to hire someone… just to hire someone. Ads, resumes, references, background checks, phone calls and emails trying to find that “perfect fit”… it’s a pain for a busy entrepreneur. I use my HR ninja, virtual-assistance magic, and administrative moxie to virtually duplicate you in a matter of days. Cool, huh?”

5 Tips for Solopreneurs for Successful Project Management

When you enter the self-employed, solopreneur life, one of the hardest obstacles you’ll need to overcome is project management. In the corporate world, there is often a chain of command and a list of policies and procedures to manage tasks. Structure often varies depending on the business — is it time, effort, cost, or quality that dictates the timeline for completion? As a solopreneur, you need to incorporate every aspect in order to successfully manage projects.

Here are five quick tips on project management as a part of your self-employed business plan.

1. Use a Calendar

Using Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, or iCal is one of the best things you can do to manage projects. You can set reminders, to-dos, and input every aspect of your schedule. If you’re using a smartphone, make sure your calendars sync wirelessly so whether you’re on the phone or on a desktop, your calendar is current. Adding long-term projects or projects with a lot of moving parts to your calendar can help you keep track of the timelines and progress.

2. Keep Budgets Up-to-Date

As technology improves, fewer people are using check-register booklets. As a solopreneur, being constantly aware of your account balances is a necessity. Even if a transaction is “pending,” you should be expecting and recording the incoming or outgoing cash flow. With hackers and identity thieves relentlessly working to access your information, closely manage your financial accounts to catch any discrepancies quickly.

Knowing your balance at each buying moment also means you’re aware of the budget available and what you can realistically buy without exceeding your spending limit. This helps keep your credit in check.

3. Keep Communications Open

Just because you’re self-employed doesn’t mean you aren’t working with others. Keeping your communication lines open can help immensely with project management.

Clear, honest conversations can help you resolve any issues that may arise. Stay in touch with key partners and make sure any joint efforts are laid out explicitly. Status reports are also a good idea when you’re working with others. Being updated in a timely manner can help you adjust any schedule conflicts or redefine the scope of the work being done.

4. Consider the Scope

Remember, change is inevitable. Pay attention the scope of your project as new elements are added to a project that’s already been approved. Make sure consideration is given to the budget, schedule and resources that are going to be needed for the revised project. All the proper documentation regarding any changes needs to be set-in-stone and signed before you move forward with changes of the originally agreed upon project scope.

5. Manage Risks and Milestones

Project management is more than scheduling and budgeting. Project management is planning for setbacks and successes.

Some things may take longer than anticipated and other things may be risks to your self-employment status. Risks can occur at any time and it’s up to you to make sure you’re aware of the potential risks and how to handle them for recovery. Evaluate the project’s progress and setbacks at the end of each phase so you can adapt for a more successful future. As various aspects of the project are completed, make sure each sector is up to your standards.

Solopreneurs have a lot to consider when it comes to project management. One of the best places to start is a blank piece of paper with a list of to-dos. As your projects become more complex, incorporating these tips into your plans for project management can make you more efficient.

Erica Bell is a small business writer who focuses on topics such as business plans and social media trends. She is a web content writer for Business.com.

The Extremely Profitable Work That New Solopreneurs Overlook

In The Solopreneur Life: 42 Solo-Business Owners Speak the Truth on Dreaming Big, Failing Forward, and Calling Your Own Shots the solopreneurs talk about mistakes they’ve made with their businesses.

One of the solopreneurs, Ted Prodromu, says, “[My mistake was that] my business was project-based, with little recurring income…Recurring income is a must.”

So, what is recurring income?

Recurring income is revenue that comes in to your business over and over again — it repeats, it reoccurs. Recurring income is like a river — a money river that keeps flowing day after day, month after month. Compare it to one-time income, which is like a puddle of water: it’s here today, gone tomorrow, and the puddle won’t return until you make it rain again.

Examples of Recurring Income

For me and my business, the production of newsletters and magazines has been an important source of recurring income.

Here are other examples, both online and offline:

• Producing an agreed-upon number of SEO-optimized press releases every month (or quarter)

• Offering maintenance packages to clients for whom you’ve built sites

• Managing the online presence for clients on the various platforms

• Cloud services for which customers pay an annual, monthly, or weekly fee — some well-known examples are Freshbooks, e-junkie, PayPal, and Highrise

• Online passive income — Web-site revenue that comes from AdSense or affiliate programs

• Royalties from the sale of products — books, training materials, and music are examples

• Landscaping and yard care

• Housecleaning

• Window washing

• Accounting

• Pet grooming

• Auto maintenance

The list could go on and on, but I trust you get the idea of what recurring income looks like.

The Benefits of Recurring Income

Recurring income provides multiple benefits:

Return on investment (ROI). Recurring work provides a big return on your marketing investment. For example, I have a newsletter client who’s been with me for 15 years, and my total revenue from that client is more than $100,000. In contrast, I have clients for whom I have done one-time projects, which typically bill out at $1,000 to $5,000.

I have to work just as hard to land the one-time job as I do the recurring one, so the marketing ROI for the recurring job is at least 100 times greater than my one-time projects.

A corollary to marketing ROI is that recurring income allows you to spend more time doing work for which you’ll be paid, less time on sales and marketing.

Budgeting. Recurring work builds stability into your budget. You begin each month, or each year, with a base of business that’s already booked.

Intangibles. Literally everything else you do in your business is easier and less stressful when you have recurring income.

A Word of Caution

It’s easy to become too dependent on recurring income.

This is how it happens. You do great work for a client, and they pay you on time. The client begins sending you more and more work. You’re happy to accept it! But as the amount of work from that client increases, you reach a point where saying “yes” puts your business at risk.

For example, about 10 years ago a client hired me to manage and edit a magazine. Over a period of time, the client sent me a lot more good-paying, recurring work, and the client grew to represent about 60 percent of my revenue. That’s a precarious position to be in, because if that work disappears (and it eventually will!), you are left with a huge hole in your budget that will require a significant amount of time and effort to replace.

A rule of thumb is to never let one client become more than 40 percent of your business. If you want to reduce your risk even further, set the ceiling at 20 percent.

How To Find Hidden Recurring-Income Opportunities

Some recurring-income streams are as obvious as the Mississippi River. But many are like underground streams — unseen, unknown, unidentified.

One way to discover those hidden opportunities is to ask clients what their challenges are. Listen closely and carefully to their answers. When they talk about work that doesn’t get done on time, work that’s unprofitable (for them), and tasks that they hate doing, it’s likely they’re discussing things that can become recurring income for you.

Recurring-Income Wisdom

What are other examples of recurring income? What are your thoughts on recurring income?

The Secret to Solopreneurial Peak Performance

When you’re putting together your calendar for the week or month, what do you schedule first? Is it client meetings? Marketing tasks? Back-of-the-house functions? Personal performance expert Dr. Shannon Reece, offers a surprising answer to the question of what must always come first for solopreneurs.

“When I talk about ordering your priorities, you have to be at the top of the list, no matter what,” she says.

So what does that mean? What does it look like to put yourself first?

Shannon calls it “me time,” and it has to meet three criteria:

1. It’s a period of time. It can be one hour, it can be 5 minutes. You decide. “You don’t have to jet off to Fiji for a week, although that would be lovely,” she says.

2. It has to be relaxing. For some people, exercise is very relaxing. But if exercising is torture for you, then it’s not “me time.”

3. It has to be something you enjoy.

And you have to work “me time” into your schedule first. Shannon says: “If you don’t, then you’re not going to find time for it otherwise. It has to be the top priority.”

“Me time” is essential because it makes it possible to perform at full physical, emotional, and mental capacity, she says.

For Shannon, “me time” is a simple activity: going for walks with her dog.

Shannon’s advice was a revelation to me, and I agree with her. Putting yourself first is the the secret to making your business sustainable.

What’s Your “Me Time?”

What do you do during your “me time?” What stops you from taking “me time?” Please share your thoughts in the comments.

The Valuable Lesson Ernest Hemingway Taught Solopreneurs

In his novels and short stories, Ernest Hemingway often wrote about time management, although he didn’t call it time management.

Hemingway’s routine was to wake at dawn every day and write for the entire morning.

In the afternoon he left his desk, filling his hours with adventure: fishing, swimming, big-game hunting, fighting in wars, womanizing, eating well, drinking plenty, laughing, debating, brawling.

He did not stay in one place. His home was the world: Havana, Paris, Pamplona, Key West, Ketchum.

From what I can remember of my Hemingway studies, his afternoons and evenings weren’t solitary. He surrounded himself with, or was surrounded by, people.

But Hemingway was famous! He had time and money to travel! If I had his time and money, I would fish for marlin, too.

Yes, but how did Hemingway become famous? He was not born into wealth; he attended public schools. That is true. It is also true that as a young man, he established an everyday pattern of work and rejuvenation, of writing and adventure.

Fame and fortune followed.

I suspect you and I have the work thing down pat. We go to the well and lean on that pump handle, hour after hour, late into the night.

But when we lack adventure, our pumping yields no water, only air.

Learn from Hemingway: recharge the well.

Are You Sabotaging Your Creative Energy?

This was written by Jen Waak, who pens a monthly health column for The Solopreneur Life.

Jen Waak

I’ve never been much of a 9-to-5’er. My perfect workday would be 10-3 with a two-hour lunch. You think I’m joking–I’m not.

But, as a solopreneur, a three-hour workday is a total joke. Even Tim Ferris knows that isn’t possible.

Our workdays are more like 13 hours, not three. During those 13 hours, our days are typically some mix of client meetings, working on the business (marketing, accounting, sales, and admin), and working in the business (proposals and other deliverables). Many time-management and productivity gurus would say, “Get the important stuff out of the way first to make sure it gets done.” While conceptually I like the idea, I disagree.

You should structure your day to fit how your brain works.

I’m not a morning person. Anything before about 10 a.m. really doesn’t exist for me. I start out my mornings with coffee and all of the trivial, admin, no-thinking-required work that I possibly can.

My afternoons are great for sending e-mails and doing overall project planning and scheduling.

But the evenings–those sacred evenings–are when I’m my creative best. My best writing comes out after 10 p.m. I don’t know why, and I really wish that wasn’t the case. But, after years of fighting it, I’ve come to realize that when I really need to write something brilliant, there is no point in even sitting down to the computer until at least 9 p.m. On the other hand, my friend Liz is her creative best before 8 a.m. Go figure.

How do I make that work? On the days when I know I have a writing project ahead of me, I knock off a bit earlier during the day, take some time for myself, and simply schedule my week to ensure I’m home those nights. A bit unconventional, sure, but there is also something very self-indulgent about knocking off work mid-afternoon and going for a long walk or meeting a friend for coffee. It’s all about how you look at it.

Managing the Unconventional Schedule

Don’t work through. If evenings are a prime time for you, trade those hours with free time elsewhere in the day.

Enlist your spouse/significant other. This might mean that your spouse has to put the kids to bed by his or herself. Offer your kids and/or spouse some one-on-one time at a different time in the week to make up for it.

Don’t fight it. This solopreneur thing is hard enough without forcing yourself to work contrary to your natural style. Forcing things wastes time, creates frustration, and ultimately leads to longer work hours.

Tell me in the comments below what you have done as a solopreneur to optimize your work schedule.

Solopreneurs Will Save Time, Make Money With New Copywriting Book

This is a review of Amy Harrison’s new e-book, “Copywriting Phrase-Book: 501 Shortcuts to Compelling Content.”

Why did Amy Harrison create a copywriting product that’s going to put herself out of business? I don’t understand.

Amy is a copywriter based in England. She’s a brilliant writer—the kind of brilliant that tells me I’m in the wrong line of work. Her Web site is one of two that I recommend for copywriting.

Amy has done me and the rest of the copywriting world an enormous favor; she has revealed some of her secrets in a pearl of an e-book titled “Copywriting Phrase-Book: 501 Shortcuts to Compelling Content.” (Affiliate link, read my policy regarding affiliates.)

Amy, who was a “Featured Soloist” here in June, says the book is for bloggers and business owners, and I agree with that. Anyone who writes copy can benefit from “Phrase-Book.” She divides it into eight sections, including: “104 Phrases to Keep It Conversational,” “75 Phrases for Adding POW,” and “Phrases to Show Them How They’ll Feel.”

My favorite is two pages of genius titled “30 Ways to a Killer Headline.” In it Amy provides 30 headline templates. Simply fill in the blanks, and you have a headline. I tried it with a landing page I am working on, and the templates work really well. In fact, I am laughing because I won’t have to bleed over a headline ever again.

Amy’s “Phrase-Book” is short—only 13 pages. I applaud her for that, because way too many e-books are twice or even three times longer than they need to be. Amy shows respect for her readers by not making them dig for the good stuff. In “Phrase-Book,” it’s all good.

“Phrase-Book” sells for $12 USD and can be purchased by clicking here (affiliate link).