Sarah Young runs the leadership development company Zing Collaborative. She is an expert in leadership and solopreneurship and recently sat down to discuss business, leadership, and becoming a solopreneur.
Here are a few of her invaluable tips:
- How to Deal with Transitions: Changing from an executive to a solopreneur is a huge transition. It will create challenges that just weren’t there before. If the printer breaks, you don’t have an IT Department who can fix it for you. If you need a marketing campaign, there isn’t an in-house creative team to do all the work. You’ll need to step in and step up, and that means either doing the work yourself or finding someone else who can.
- Looking at a Mirror and Not a Window: Stop looking at what everyone else is doing and focus more on yourself. In Young’s words, it’s about looking into mirrors and not out of windows. Self-awareness is key to success in solopreneurship, and yet it’s something that many lacks. In the social media age, we tend to get lost in likes and shares and seek validation from people we have never met, will never meet, and shouldn’t really care about.
- The Trusted Few and Not the Ambiguous Many: Get your advice from a few trusted friends, family members, and acquaintances, not from people you don’t know and don’t respect. Stop worrying what others will think and feel and concentrate more on people’s opinions that matter.
- Selling the Pen: Don’t waste time trying to sell something to someone who isn’t ready to buy. This is something that all solopreneurs need to consider, as they tend to waste time chasing big clients that have no interest. If you find people who actually want to buy, you’ll waste less time, secure more clients, and make more money. It doesn’t matter what you do or how big you are, that’s a formula that you can’t argue with.
Solopreneurship With Sarah Young
Sarah Young is the founder of Zing Collaborative, a leadership development company that has helped executives across multiple industries to have more of an impact. She is a coach, a leader, a business owner, and a solopreneur.
Young’s story, experiences, and words of wisdom could prove invaluable to fellow entrepreneurs, and so I was delighted when she agreed to appear on the first episode of This Week With Sabir Season 3.
Here are some of the key lessons that Sarah Young learned.
How Do You Know When It’s Time To Become A Solopreneur?
How often have you told yourself that you will write a book “someday”? How many business ideas have you had, only to give up on them and let life take over?
We all do it.
The excuse we give ourselves is that we will “definitely” do it someday, and so we’re not really procrastinating or wasting a good opportunity.
But that day never arrives. The idea never comes to fruition. And we often live to regret it.
If you want to start a new business venture, do it. Forget about “someday.” Today is a good day.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that have or had great ideas but didn’t have the confidence, time, or desire to make them a reality.
I recently spoke with an old friend who told me about their dream of running a creative agency. They freelance for a living and have made very good money working for freelancing agencies.
“I’ll make more money when I start my own agency,” they told me. “I’ve have more control.”
When I asked them when that would happen, they told me that they would “probably” do it next year when they had some free time.
But they said the same thing three years ago, and six years before that. In fact, the first time I heard this idea of theirs was when a mutual friend started an agency over 12 years ago!
Don’t waste time daydreaming.
As Sarah Young noted during our conversation, if you really want to do something, you’ll find the time to do it.
If you have the ideas and the dreams; if you feel unsatisfied with the way that things are right now, it’s time to make a move.
Young describes this realization as when the clouds part and the light shines through. But it wasn’t something that happened from one day to the next for her. She had been discontent for some time.
One of the things that holds us back and prevents us from making this decision is that we fear getting it wrong and losing money and job security. We worry that we won’t ever have the same stability that we have now.
But if you’re waiting for a time when life is more stable and you have more free time, you will never do anything. Nothing except winning the lottery will provide that security, and if you’ve won the lottery, who cares about a new business?
If you’re moving from an executive position to the role of a solopreneur, you’ll face some challenges that will seem utterly alien to you. How you deal with these challenges will determine your early success.
One of the most significant transitional challenges for Young and people like her, is the idea that you don’t have IT departments, HR departments, and other professionals to deal with your problems.
If you’re working in a big office and the printer stops working, you can just contact the IT department and ask them to send someone. If you need something designed, written, or developed, there’s a department to deal with it.
When you’re a solopreneur, you’re the IT department, designer, developer, writer, secretary, and everything else.
Of course, you don’t have the time to deal with all of these things, and you probably don’t have the skillset, either.
That’s why it’s important to delegate the most demanding jobs to qualified freelancers or employees.
You don’t need a salaried IT professional just to fix a printer or laptop every time it breaks, but you may want to invest in a freelancer developer who can build/upgrade your website as needed.
You don’t have existing infrastructure in place to ensure that everything moves smoothly, and so you’ll need to start building it brick by brick.
Oftentimes, successful entrepreneurs begin their journey by working with a trusted assistant who can do a bit of everything. They may also find a co-owner or investor who has the skills or resources they lack.
When you can’t afford any full-time staff members, work with freelancers instead and allocate your time to the tasks that you can complete yourself.
Time Is Money
Solopreneurs are basically freelancers who own a business. Time is money, so use it wisely.
You may find that companies insist on protracted meetings involving multiple people, ones that don’t really go anywhere and take forever to organize. It’s okay for those employees as they’re going to get paid regardless.
They are salaried, and so they likely don’t mind spending a few hours in a meeting to discuss something that could be covered in an email. But as a solopreneur, that’s time that you could be used to secure new clients, work on major projects, and otherwise grow your company.
The same applies if you perform tasks that you know little about.
If it takes you several hours to write a single blog post and you’re not much of a writer, why are you doing it?
Hire a freelance writer to knock it out in less than an hour and spend your time doing something more productive. If not, you’re going to pay twice as much for something that’s half as good.
Stop saying yes to everything. Manage your time more effectively and your income will improve.
Mirror Vs Window
When building and running a business by yourself, it’s easy to focus on what everyone else is doing. Like a child grounded for the summer, you spend your days looking forlornly out of the window and wondering what everyone else is doing and why you’re not doing the same.
How are they running their business? Where are they finding their employees? What software programs do they use?
Sarah’s advice is to stop staring through windows and start looking into mirrors. Care less about what other people are doing and more about what you’re doing.
Self-awareness is one of the most important traits you can have as a solopreneur, but it’s one that so many people lack.
Of course, you should still seek to learn from others. If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t be reading this guide or watching the above video. But remember that you can only implement functional changes if you actually know what you’re doing wrong. That knowledge starts with self-reflection and self-awareness.
Selling The Pen
In the 2014 Scorsese film, The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) asks a group of aspiring salesmen to “sell” him a pen. The first one begins by saying, “It’s an amazing pen for professionals”. Belfort retrieves the pen before hearing more and hands it to the next person.
“It’s a nice pen. You can use the pen to write down thoughts from your life”.
Again, Belfort takes the pen and moves to the next man, who gives him more of this sales pattern. And then the cameras pan away, and the film ends.
Earlier in the film, when Belfort asks his friend the same question, he responds by saying, “Do me a favor. Write me your name on that napkin”. When Belfort informs him that he can’t as he doesn’t have a pen, his friend answers, “Exactly. Supply and demand, my friend”.
The real Jordon Belfort has spoken about this technique many times, noting that when asked to sell something, most people will start listing its benefits. In reality, they should be asking questions. And the main question is, “Do you need a pen?”
If the answer is “no,” then why are you wasting time trying to sell it to them? If they answer yes, they want a pen, but it’s a gift and needs to be unique, you should be selling them something better. If they are left-handed, they would be better off with a quick-drying pen. If they have arthritis, maybe they need something with better grip.
Don’t waste your time trying to sell to someone who isn’t buying.
This is very important as time is money when you run an agency.
You might think that a major media company would make the perfect client for your digital marketing agency, but they probably do all of that in-house. If not, they almost certainly have a team of trustworthy individuals or agencies that do it for them.
Find a different client rather than trying to break through that wall with requests that will inevitably appear as spam.
Think of it in the context of Google Ads/Facebook Ads, something most of you will have experience with.
Why waste your time focusing on a general keyword that costs $10 a click and never converts when you can spend $0.50 per click on highly-specific and generalized keywords that you know will work?
Sell to people who want to buy and don’t waste your time on anybody else.
The Trusted Few Vs The Ambiguous Many
Far too many people worry about what other people think, whether they are worried about their singing and dancing reactions or insist on following social media trends.
Stop caring about what “they” think. Who even are “they,” and why do they matter? Rather than worrying about what complete strangers think, start focusing on what your friends, family members, and acquaintances believe.
These are your “trusted few” while everyone else are the “ambiguous many”.
The older you get, the less you care about what other people think. You realize that opinions don’t really matter all that much, and no one cares as much as you think they do.
However, if you’re a young solopreneur, you may struggle to wrap your head around this.
Get advice from people you trust and worry more about their opinions than the opinions of people who don’t matter.
It’s not just about ideas, either. You can also adopt it when making changes to your business, getting opinions on things, and even appealing to new clients. Deal with the people that matter and stop worrying about the ones that don’t.
Eagle Vs Seagull
Try to be the eagle and not the seagull.
According to Sarah Young, a seagull is someone who drops scraps every now and then. They get an idea and drop it onto someone’s desk before flying away. That person is left wondering what just happens as they look up to see where this useless morsel came from.
Rather than dropping lots of little pieces of information and ideas on your team, soar high, assess everything, and make conscious decisions.
Focus on the bigger picture, adopt a strategic approach, and stop grabbing and scavenging the most minor pieces of information.
The $100,000 Question
At the end of my discussion with Sarah Young, I asked the question That I ask all of my guests: What is your best advice for people in your position?
Her advice was two-fold.
Firstly, no matter what is happening around you, there is always something that you can do.
Even if you feel stuck and frustrated, like you have nowhere to turn, there is always something that can be done.
Don’t sit back and let it happen. Make an impact. Make a change. Leave your mark. You might not make a huge difference, but you can always do something.
Being a leader is about stepping up to the plate when you’re needed and assuming an actual leadership role. Far too many solopreneurs sit in the background and take a passive role. But you’re a business owner—a leader. No one else will step up and do what needs to be done.
Young’s second piece of advice was to get up earlier in the day to give yourself more time to make a difference.
It doesn’t have to be an hour or more. In fact, considering the importance of sleep, you should never sacrifice it just to have an earlier start. You might have an extra couple of hours in the day, but at what cost?
But waking up ten minutes before the alarm clock gives you more time to check emails, deal with your social media posts, and even have a meeting with a client or investor.
In a busy workday, 10 minutes can make a huge difference.
My discussion with Sarah Young marks the start of season 3 of This Week With Sabir. There are many more episodes to come and a huge number of videos and blogs to look back on.
About Sarah Young
Sarah Young is the author of EXPANSIVE IMPACT & Founder of ZING COLLABORATIVE.
Sarah is the founder of Zing Collaborative, a boutique leadership development company that works with organizations, teams, and individuals to create Expansive Impact. Sarah is grateful to work with leaders spanning industries and roles: from executive leadership teams to construction and manufacturing companies, to high-growth start-ups. Sarah is a former corporate leader, a two-time Ironman finisher, and a certified professional coach through both the International Coach Federation and the Co-Active Training Institute. She has a deep appreciation for nature, travel, sunshine, warm weather, paddle boarding, leisurely bike rides with ample opportunity to enjoy the view, rescue dogs, cooking, coffee, and the precious hours of the early morning. Zing Collaborative is a proud member of 1% for the Planet.