3 Tips to Work Smarter for Solopreneurs from a Fellow Intrapreneur
Before I started my SEO blogging venture, actually years before that, I’d scour the web for articles like this.
Tips for entrepreneurship. How to start a business. How to turn your hobby into a growth startup.
The web is filled with articles like this and the stories are inspiring. Yet I feel that there’s something missing in all of this.
And that’s stories on intrapreneurship.
I’ve had the dream of starting and running my own business for years. There were plenty of nights in university, years ago, when I’d forgo reading my homework (and pretend I did the reading the next day) and spend those late hours reading biographies on entrepreneurs and books by business professors and journalists.
The idea of creating value and having that as my “job” (working smarter) appealed to me more than working harder for someone else.
Yet the stories told about entrepreneurship, at least the ones that had popular appeal and coverage, almost all said the same thing: this person or small group alone and all alone built a profitable business, eventually getting customers and/or raising venture capital. It didn’t seem that there were any alternatives to this story.
One story I want to share today is my story on intrapreneurship. And I want to tell you this story through three example tips for working smarter not harder that can be applied to starting any business, but particularly solopreneurship.
Tip 1 to Work Smarter Not Harder: Question Everything + Figure Things Out Before It Goes Downhill
My business, FoundCopy, was originally not a business but my work as the Head of Content Marketing at SalesPipe.
When I joined SalesPipe, which is an agency for hiring outbound sales reps, I was originally a sales rep working with one of their early customers.
While I was grateful for my job, what I really wanted to do was help SalesPipe as a business grow. Seeing that SalesPipe started after COVID-19 and somehow managed to grow its customer base and team, I knew that we were onto something.
However, SalesPipe was more or less growing because of referrals, some outbound sales and past relationships of the founders. There wasn’t anything happening on the web relating to the business. People either knew the business and did business with us through our founders’ connections or they got a cold email from us but never heard of us before then.
SalesPipe didn’t have a brand or a web presence and, as a digital native myself, I knew that our growth would eventually stall if we didn’t question how we grew our business.
I’m probably speaking for you when I say that I use Google for pretty much everything. I found my therapist, great restaurants I’ve eaten at, and my electric facial hair razor all from Googling around. I’m not alone when it comes to finding what they need on Google.
SalesPipe neither had a presence on Google nor on social media.
As a solopreneur, you need to regularly question yourself on pretty much everything you’re doing:
- Are you getting the majority of your customers through only one single channel?
- What if that channel failed? What are you going to do?
- And will you be able to create a new working channel to get customers before your current customers’ lifetime values expire?
You need to think about questioning everything, especially when things are working out for you, as a matter of survival. Your lifestyle’s existence very well depends on it.
Whether you like it or not, I have a lot of similarities to you as the solopreneur. If we didn’t create another channel for acquiring customers at SalesPipe, and our current channels failed, my lifestyle of working remotely from different countries would have been put into question. Not only that, but at the time (and today) I had a great working relationship with people at SalesPipe, especially the founder/CEO. I knew early on that this is a company I would want to work for for a very long time.
We are of the same kind, we just start businesses in a different way.
Could you imagine what it would be like to return to your life after you tried solopreneurship? You can make anything work, of course, but the point is that to secure the lifestyle you have right now you need to add an extra layer of security.
Your lifestyle can work if you keep on getting customers, and that means questioning yourself on ways to get them before it all goes downhill.
Tip 2 to Work Smarter Not Harder: Be Clueless and Go Fishing for What Works
Once I acknowledged that we had a problem at SalesPipe, I lobbied the founders repeatedly on the need to build out a content marketing strategy.
Did I know anything about content marketing?
The only thing I knew was from what I saw in the real world. There were businesses that acquired customers through LinkedIn posts and ranking for keywords on Google.
I barely knew what “SEO” stood for.
So I decided that I, a writer by hobby who knew nothing about content marketing, would go ahead and create a content marketing strategy for my employer.
It didn’t work right away.
I knew that I had the ambition, work ethic, and writing chops to write good copy, but there was one giant factor out of my control that we had to test for: platforms.
When making a content marketing strategy, we found that it could be divided into two different domains:
We knew that we could produce the latter both quickly and effectively. But the former we didn’t know anything about.
We spent almost half a year working hard to write content on LinkedIn before realizing that it wasn’t the lead generation channel that we thought it could pan out to be.
Half a year gone, like that.
There are positives out of this, such as that I learned how to be a better writer by putting more and more out there and adjusting the content based on audience reaction. Whenever there was an audience, at least.
But the best thing out of the experience was that I learned.
We learned that LinkedIn wasn’t exactly great for acquiring potential customers.
And that’s great.
Learning what doesn’t work is equally valuable as learning what does work. This was a key lesson that how you use what does work means you’re working smarter, not harder.
The next channel we tried to build out for getting new customers was a blog optimized for SEO.
And that worked.
Today we rank number one for some of our most important keywords, including “SDR as a service”, which is literally what we do.
But it didn’t happen easily at first.
Initially, we wrote a small number of blogs without knowing much about search engine optimization. We wrote them based on our intuition, not necessarily on making certain optimization decisions.
This was our working harder phase.
The more we wrote, however, and the more we learned about SEO, the more we were able to make those certain optimizations. Things like word count, header tags, and infographics weren’t on our radar when we originally started the blog.
Half a year later we went from receiving barely any impressions a day to over two thousand impressions on Google a day for our keywords. We barely got clicks before as well and today we regularly receive more than ten clicks on our site and more than two demos a week from inbound marketing alone.
We’ve come a long way from having no inbound marketing.
In 2022 so far, inbound marketing leads via our much smarter SEO efforts make up for half of all demos that SalesPipe has had.
As of this writing, it’s been almost a year since I first started working on content marketing with SalesPipe. It took a lot of experimenting and fishing for what works and what doesn’t before realizing that SEO, for now, is a fruitful channel for us to get business from. We make approximately $50,000 annually from inbound marketing today, and we have plenty of leads that might make the purchase to increase that number by a lot more.
We didn’t think it would be this way. We were clueless about anything related to content marketing.
Rather than doubting ourselves for not knowing anything, we took the benefit of innocence and fished for different strategies until something stuck on the wall.
I never said that building a content and inbound marketing strategy was easy.
It wasn’t, but it was definitely worth the effort.
Solopreneurs need to fish for their own strategies before sticking to something.
While it sounds like I had a lot of help because I work with a company where intrapreneurship is cultivated rather than by myself, keep in mind that I had to teach myself almost everything. I had to learn how to use SEO platforms like Semrush for keyword research and I had to teach myself how to write for SEO and how to make technical SEO optimizations. I taught myself a few commands on HTML even though I don’t code!
And this is just for SEO, not considering the work I had to do for LinkedIn.
It would’ve been harder if I thought I knew everything, but I admitted to myself that I didn’t. I had to swallow my pride and ego and face the facts: I was clueless and needed to fish for tactics that worked.
Tip 3 to Work Smarter Not Harder: Resist the Allure of Vanity Metrics
The final tip I’ll write about is regarding vanity metrics.
These days, it’s easy to measure everything. There are literally numbers all around us.
If you have an iPhone, you get a notification once a week on how many hours you used your phone that week and which apps got what hours. You can see the percentage of the battery that’s left. On social networks, you see how many likes and comments there are per post.
There are numbers everywhere. It’s hard to escape them.
We also have a culture that has a lot of trust in the numbers. Although the word “data” may be associated with hackers and surveillance, that same word is also associated with people making observations and conclusions of those observations.
I’m here to tell you to stop valuing numbers so much as a solopreneur building your service business.
Once we learned that our inbound marketing machine at SalesPipe was working, we went ahead and started FoundCopy as a business associated with SalesPipe. I’m a co-founder and co-CEO. Part of my job at FoundCopy is to do the same thing I did at SalesPipe, which is to create an inbound marketing strategy using tactics like SEO.
When we made our inbound strategy for both companies, we knew that it wouldn’t be smart, tactically, to go for just any keyword.
In SEO, one of the most important metrics is “monthly volume”, or “MV”. MV is an estimate for the number of times a keyword is searched for on Google, either in one country or globally, in one month.
At SalesPipe and FoundCopy, we blogged for keywords that only had to do with what our businesses do regardless of monthly volume. There were plenty of keywords that had a lot of MV, but we decided to not blog for them.
But wait, weren’t we missing opportunities SEO-wise by not blogging for as many keywords as possible? (Hint: this would be working harder, not smarter.)
No, in fact, it’s the opposite.
We realized that knowing what our customers were searching for was more important than ranking for several keywords. That’s because we need to rank for the right keywords. Ranking for any keyword doesn’t help us if the people searching for that keyword aren’t going to book a demo. (Enter: working smarter, not harder)
You might make a business decision such as blogging for certain keywords because a lot of people search for them. Yet, as you saw without businesses, monthly volume can be treated as a vanity metric. Just because the numbers are high doesn’t mean that they are going to help us get the customers we want.
Vanity metrics are a setback, not an asset.
The Bottom Line
Starting a business as a solopreneur is tough because you’re wearing a ton of hats without the resources of a profitable company. Every decision you make, including how and what to spend your time on, is critical to your success.
In this blog, I didn’t want to tell you to work harder — as many others want you to think. You, the reader and solopreneur growing your business, are already working hard.
But I want you to work smarter. And I hope these tips can help you do just that.
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