Every budding freelancer or solo business owner starts out with big goals for their business. These are always tied to the results they hope to see: I want to make X amount of money each month. I want to enjoy my job. I want to work on my own terms.
Unfortunately, a few months or a few years in, a lot of these folks are still floundering. The money’s not there. They’re starting to hate their work. They’re wondering why on earth they left a steady paycheck.
What you’re missing
In the two years of running my own freelance copywriting business, I’ve come to a working theory of how personal businesses last: Success as a solo business owner comes down to falling in love with the daily actions that get you results—not just the results themselves.
And those actions fall into two simple categories: Delivering your product/service, and marketing your product/service.
Anyone who’s floundering is likely missing one of these two elements. So if you’ve been at it for a while and things aren’t taking off, it’s time to identify what’s going wrong.
If you love delivering, but hate marketing
Maybe you started your business because you loved your work. You loved web design or writing or knitting socks, and looked forward to doing it full-time, on your terms.
But you underestimated how hard it would be to get new customers. Maybe you thought it would grow “organically,” that the product was good enough to sell itself. Maybe there was so much initial interest when you brought the idea up to your friends, but then you launched to crickets, and it’s been a struggle to get eyes on your work ever since.
Your business is floundering because you don’t know how to promote it. If you want to keep your business going, you need to learn how to get your product in front of the right people, in the right way, at the right time.
How to fall in love with marketing
To put it simply: If you sell a product, learn how to use social media to your advantage. If you sell a service, learn how to reach out to potential clients (through cold emailing, etc.), and how to ask for referrals.
Marketing can be a huge mental barrier, but it’s mostly about finding a few techniques that show promise and trying them out. If they don’t work, you try something else. The bottom line is it’s a practice that requires regular designated time and resources.
A tip: A lot of people are tempted to outsource this part early. They want to hire a marketing specialist and be done with it. This is terribly risky. If you haven’t done it yourself, you don’t know enough to know if they’re making good decisions with your money.
If marketing isn’t your thing, learn at least enough to find a mix of marketing techniques that work for you. Then, you can hire someone to do some of the day-to-day marketing work.
If you love marketing, but hate delivering
This one was me. But it took me a long time to realize it.
When I started my business, I was focused on one thing: I wanted to make enough money to work from home. At the time, the method of making that money was secondary.
So I started offering what I had experience with: I offered copywriting and blog writing services. It made sense in my head. I loved building a business. I loved using content marketing to grow my email list and attract clients. I could easily use those skills for my clients, right?
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I actually didn’t like writing for other people. I had left my job because I was tired of writing blog posts for clients, and somehow it never clicked that doing it on my own wouldn’t make any difference. When someone said they wanted to work with me, I ended up with a pit in my stomach. Bad sign.
I struggled for a year before I finally made the same income in a month as I did when I was employed full-time. Then I realized that it wasn’t sustainable. I was burning out.
How to fall in love with delivering
You have two options here.
First, you can dive deeper into your offering. Passion is not innate—it’s the result of learned competence. You can develop a stronger passion for the work you deliver by learning more about it, developing stronger skills, and proving your value by getting results (or delivering a product your customers love).
Alternatively, you can change what you deliver. This is likely a lot more work—not because you need to change your marketing (that’s not as hard as it sounds), but because it takes a lot of internal work to discover something else you’d like to sell instead. I’ve written more about this in What to Do When You Discover You’re Building the Wrong Business.
You can do this
Rarely is someone naturally skilled at both of these elements of business. That’s why businesses usually have so many employees—specializing is more efficient.
But don’t let that hold you back. Learning the other half of business will take some work, but even small efforts can pay off in huge ways. Stay focused on your vision. Do the work. In a few months, you’ll be able to look back and see how much you — and your business — have grown.