Stowe Boyd, a good pal of ours, after indulging in a bit of rambling is offering some tips for solo workers on the FreshBooks blog. He breaks down a solo, or a virtual worker’s work flow into three parts
1. Doing The Work.
2. Marketing and Networking, which he thinks can be done well through blogging. He offers himself as an example. I can think of a few others.
3. Prospecting, Contracts and Cash Flow
By breaking down your available time into three equal chunks to focus on all three parts of the workflow can enhance a virtual worker/consultant/soloist’s life a lot more organized, Boyd says. But can you get by on making a third of your time billable?
Yes, and you will have to jigger your billing rate to make that work. I plan to only work 10 days per month, so that has to make all the ends meet. I know that 10 days will go to marketing and networking, and 10 days to prospecting, negotiating, contracts, and getting the money. I no longer fool myself that these things will happen by themselves.
I think it is the third part, that is the most important. Following up on leads, closing contracts and billing are tedious and time consuming part of our day. We normally don’t like to do these things because they are not part of our core competency, but still it is something that keeps the home fires burning. Stowe is spot on when he writes…
I know a lot of folks that find it hard — even with people they know well — to ask for a project, an engagement, whatever, and to demand payment later on. It may seem obvious but many consultants only get involved with this as a necessary evil, but it’s not. It’s just as central as delivering the goods and networking.
What is your workflow?
14 thoughts on “A Soloist's Workflow”
Hmmm… 10 days working + 10 days networking + 10 days contracts/administrivia = 30 working days a month! My goodness–what do you do in February?
I suspect that this breakdown varies immensely among virtual workers–I’m a software developer myself and tend to get into time and materials projects that last a few weeks, if not more. I can’t imagine charging three times my current rate. My workflow in that case is spend about 15 min a day recording time spent on the project, bill once every two weeks, which is about an hour of time generating the invoice, and about two weeks before the project ends, I’ll start looking for new work (typically emails to folks I’ve worked with in the past or know are looking for developers). As for networking, there’s no way I spend 1/3 of my time doing that–I think I spend an average of three hours a week blogging.
As I said, I suspect the workflow varies on the type of work you end up doing.
A very useful time-management “trick” I learned while working at Cisco (after facing many long days in which all I did was participate in other people’s meetings back-to-back from 8am to 6pm) is to formally schedule meetings with yourself using Outlook or any scheduling tool.
No more than an hour or two long, but give each meeting a real topic or action item.
In addition to making your calendar full so others can’t automatically add you to their meetings (you get phone calls, I’d like you to join us for a meeting about X but your calendar says you don’t have any free time in the next few weeks….) creating events to accomplish specific activities formalizes them, even for yourself, and the computerized reminders help keep you back on track.
I think there is a real opportunity for someone to develop a web or software solution that makes the contract management and administrative side of the business easier.
It is my least favorite part of the job. I let out a large sigh and take a big drink of coffee when my boss reminds me to submit my hours on Monday morning.
Maybe we need another 37 signals application. :-p
@Justin: It’s not done yet, but something like you’re looking for is coming soon courtesy of Mark Boulton. See his blog post or go right to the, (currently minimal), site.
As for my workflow I try to get as much actual work done as possible all of the time. I am finding I have too much work to do so I don’t spend too much time prospecting, (I should probably raise my rates). As for networking & blogging? I write when I have a good idea and try to keep in touch with friends and contacts when I can.
I agree,organization and follow through are key to succeeding on your own or as part of a small business. This should be one key competitive advantage in your 1-person arsenal. Time allocation is key and I always like seeing what tips and tricks people come up with. I have also heard of the Cisco trick mentioned by Robert S. used in order to make sure you find time to work out in the day – as most solo/small ventures are long days clocking in at 10+ hours.
PipelineDeals.com and Freshbooks are working together to solve the 1/3 of time spent doing the admin grunt work – thus letting you decrease time spent on these vital but “not the reason I went out on my own” functions and spending more time on the “fun stuff”. We invite you to take a look.
I admire all of you that are on your own and solo! I want to so badly do this, but never can seem to get the hang of it. I currently am writing a more serious blog – http://rexdixon.wordpress.com – due to seeing blogs actually being full time professions such as the guy over at – http://techcrunch.com — even today, just released my first podcast – http://rexdixon.wordpress.com/2006/09/11/20-questions-with-scot-duke/ – if you want to bypass the blog permalink, here is my podcast hosting service – http://clickcaster.com/rex-dixon — an interview I did with Scot Duke who has his own book out which you can find on his web site – http://www.innovativebusinessgolf.com/ — anyways…
So I have allot of talent, but still work a regular job? What advice to you give those of us who have yet to break free? Go Solo???
I find the balance shifts depending on the type of projects I have at any one time. When I’m involved in a longer project, the ratio definitely shifts more towards “doing the work.” Being able to shift your mindset and focus back to the other (equally important) parts of the business is a crucial skill for soloists.
Great discussion. Personally, I try and split time up into larger chunks – a month doing each of thinking/writing/talking/working. I find it’s almost impossible for me to just do a few days of each, because I lose momentum too suddenly.
Also, I could *definitely* use better tools to manage all this stuff…I can’t believe the size of the market gap here…
My advice to anyone thinking of going out on their own, is: however hard you think it will be, it will be twice as hard.
Nothing seems worth thinking about. Today was a total loss. I just don’t have much to say lately. I can’t be bothered with anything.
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