Avoid Commodity Work

I’m going to ask you to stop doing commodity work as a solopreneur, it will kill your business.

What Is Commodity Work

It is products or services with a very low barrier to entry that can be created or offered very easily by lots of people.

If you make a flugelbinder in western Europe, it can be made much more cheaply in China, that is commodity work.

If you offer php coding in the states, it can be done for $5 per hour from India.

If you offer website logo design, you can whip up on your own from sites such as logomaker.com that’s a commodity.

They may not be the best products or services, but commodities are offered cheaply.

If you offer commodity services you will attract the bargain basement customers and clients, these are the types of people who will make you life hell.  Bargain hunters tend to be cheap, undervalue your offering and are always looking to drive down your prices through incessant bargaining, scope creep and other “business” methods.  They will pay late and give you an admin nightmare.

Just because everyone else is offering a commodity, doesn;t mean you need to join that market, yes the market is there, but it is already saturated.

Race To The Bottom

You are on a race to the bottom if the only thing that differentiates your business from another is price.

You need to offer valuable;e products or services that are not judged on price alone.  In other words de-commoditise.

There will always be someone cheaper than you, the college kid, the offshore contractor.  You will drive your business into the ground competing on price.

You Are Competing On A Global Market

I hate to use the term developing countries, India and China are not developing countries, they are global players now.  These countries can and do compete with Europe and North America.  You cannot compete with the cost of living in these countries if you are in Western Europe, the US or Canada, they can kick your arse every time on price and still make a good profit.

Compete on quality, on uniqueness or on service.  Be excellent rather than cheap.  Not only does that drive up your rates but it makes you

Build A Moat

In the excellent book Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, John Warrillow quotes Warren Buffet when he says:

“Warren Buffett talks about the depth and breadth of the moat around a business he invests in”

What he was saying is make it difficult for other people to copy you and thereby make your work a commodity.

How To Be Unique

This should be a gradual process, I don’t recommend you dump your commodity products or services in a knee jerk reaction, here is what you can do.

You can add new products or services to your portfolio, but be careful to make them none-commodities, you can:

  • Specialise – if you are a vet, offer dog dentistry.
  • Narrow Your Niche – if you are a graphical designer, focus in on the ebook cover niche
  • Make it uniquely you – productise your experience, think of 4 hour work week and Tim Ferris, only he can tell his personal story

My Example

Over at wpdude.com I do my fair share of commodity WordPress work, but I have a few key areas I specialise in.  Existing clients are more than happy with my commodity services because I aim to deliver with excellence, but I focus on bringing in new clients for my specialised services.

I have the number one position in google for a number of crucial none-commodity WordPress related keywords.  If you search for multi langauge WordPress. I’m there, if you search for particular types of hack recovery I’m there too.  These are very specialised offerings that I can charge a premium for, that’s how I avoid the race to the bottom on price.

At solopreneurial, this is my personal journey, what I have learned as a solopreneur over time, that is definitely not something that is a commodity it is uniquely me.

There are two examples, how can you do the same?

How Are You Going To De-Commoditise

Think about your current business, are you selling a commodity product based on price alone?  How can you stand out and offer a unique service.

Leave me a comment on how you think you can achieve this.

If you would like some advice on stopping commodity work, check out my consulting page

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Work On Your Business Not In It

There is really good business book called The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, it’s all about how we go about building small businesses and is well worth a read.

One line in it really stands out where Gerber says:

“Work on your business, not in it”

What he is saying that we (as business owners) should be focusing our time on building our business and not doing the technical work that our business requires.  He says hire people to work in your business and concentrate on working on your business to build it.

I agree with this sentiment, but, how as solopreneurs can we put this into practise, we want to stay small and lean, and without us, the solo doing the technical work there is no business.

I want to rephrase the statement for solopreneurs and tell you how I think this idea can work for you.

“Work on Your Business Most Of The Time And In It Some Of The Time”

I would urge all soloprneurs out there to look at their business closely to see if they can spend more time building, marketing and growing their business and reduce the amount of time the spend servicing customers and clients.

If you can re-engineer how you work you can greatly scale your business and income.

Look To Your Business Model

This is the first thing I would ask you to do is look at your business model.

If your business model is supplying your time on a one to one basis to clients as a consultant, copy writer,designer or developer, then you need to be working in your business 100% of the time to generate any income.  You will come against the barrier of time and you will plateau at some point.  Yes you can increase your rate but that is not a sustainable model eventually you will plateau and there is only so much rate increase that the market will shoulder.

I have this problem myself with wpdude.com and it is something I am actively working on.  I’ve reached capacity with wpdude.com, I cannot work more hours in that business  and as a result my income has plateaued.  I spend most of my time in my business, but I am very aware of this and I am working hard to redress the balance.

What I did was add another income stream in the form of wpownersclub.com a coaching and support environment.  Using the same audience I have built up with wpdude.com, I can marketed this new service, which is one to many and also has my expertise captures as a product that can be sold with no time investment from me.  I spend about two days a month working in that business  but it provides me with a recurring income stream.

The inner circle  here at neil-matthews.com will be a replica of this business model on a new topic solopreneurship  I will work in my business creating and delivering coaching webinars, BUT these are recorded and made available in the members area and then become products rather than 1-1 services.  The webinars are delivered one to many not one to one as consultancy.  I can then focus my time marketing myself building and audience and funneling them into the Inner Circle as my premium offering. A very scalable system I hope you would agree.

Income increases without too much extra work, and I can cut back on wpdude.com 1-1 services.

Another way to reduce time spent servicing clients is with a product/service hybrid.  Are there parts of what you do that can be productised?  For example if you are an SEO specialist and you get sites ranked well in Google, could you produce a training video which shows clients how to research their keywords?  Hand the video product over to the client, They could then present you with a list of the keywords they want to rank for, your product has done that part of the work, you now need to work in your business getting them the rankings they need.

 Automation & Reduction

Following up from the ideas I talked about in Kiss My A.R.S if you automate parts of your business you spend less time working in your business as you have a computer script working in your business on your behalf.

If you cut out the unnecessary fat from your business again you are not working in your enterprise on tasks that are no longer there.

This extra time allows you to work on building your business.

But I’m Happy Baking Pies

In the E-Myth Revisited a fictional business is portrayed that bakes pies, and the story unfolds about how the business owner extricates herself from the daily technical work of baking pies.  There is an argument that if you are happy baking pies then why would you not want to be baking pies all day long?

What I am suggesting to you here is that  if you add new income streams into your solo business that don’t require you to work in your business you can grow beyond your current availability limit.  You also have the ability to earn income when you are not working in your business (if you are on vacation or ill) and perhaps even cut back on your billable hours and de-stress a little, spend time with the kids and enjoy that business owner lifestyle your envisaged.

I wrote about this more in my post the Asset Snowball Effect.

Build a business not a job, because if you have a job as a solopreneur, your line manager is always a real bastard to you :)

Action Point

Hark me all dynamic and motivating.  I want you to spend ten minutes thinking about an activity that would allow you to spend more time working on your business and less in it, write about it in the comments below and I will act as your accountability partner.

The Inner Circle Coming To A Computer Near You Next Week

I’m launching the inner circle next week to a select band of founder members, join my email list if you would like advanced notice of what it’s all about.

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The Wrong Business Model

Sorry it’s been quiet around here for a few weeks.  The reason for that is a business decision I took several years ago.

I want to write a post that I ask you to take something to heart, and that is, that if you choose the wrong business model when you start your solo enterprise, you may regret it further down the line.

Sensible business model selection from the get-go can save you lots of headaches once your business has grown.

My project here at Solopreneurial.com has slipped because I have chosen the wrong business model for scale and growth in other areas of my business.

There is only you in a solo enterprise so if you attention is all going in one direction, you can only do that one thing.

Why I’ve Chosen The Wrong Business Model

Over at wpdude.com I run a 1-1 services business.  I supply WordPress technical support to my clients, but the take away point here is that if you sell your attention in a 1-1 scenario, that’s all you can do, your attention does not scale, you only have so much, and if you have sold 100% of your attention, you cannot get anything else done.  That’s why there has been no content at Solopreneurial.

You cannot develop your business, you cannot make plans to scale all of your time is gone.  You are firefighting for your clients and you have no energy to put into business development.

When you run a service business such as consulting, coaching, web development, graphical design … the list goes on, you are stuck on a tread mill selling your attention to make income – this is not a good business model once your business grows and your service becomes popular you very quickly become fully booked.

You may think I’m whining because I’ve got a popular business and that is good, but there are downsides to 1-1 and they are:

  • When you do not work, you do not earn.  There is no passive income.
  • I’m at 100% capacity,  my income has plateaued and I have no time to build other income streams
  • You are on a treadmill of finding and courting clients.
  • You can encounter cashflow issues if clients decide to pay late or not pay at all.
  • It’s not a business that you can sell except to someone with exactly the same skills as you.
  • The QA side of your work means clients come back for more of you attention after the job is done.
  • The only way I can scale my current model is to take on people, I’ve said I don’t want to do that here in the past, and I’ve looked into the idea over at wpdude with little enthusiasm.  Is this really the way I want to move that business forward?

Developing Passive Income Streams

I’ve known about this problem for quite some time and I have made a couple of false starts on creating a passive income stream.  I built the WP Owners Club, my membership site.

Guess what I’d built another time burden on myself, if I was not constantly building new content I could not serve my membership,  another poor business model. I was running around like a headless chicken serving tech support clients, I needed to take at least 2-3 days out of my schedule per month to build membership content and deliver it as a live webinar more attention gone.  I had no time for anything other than that.

Business Planning Session

This week I took a day off of client work (something I suggest you do and will be writing about soon) to sit down and have a good old business planning session.
Photo Credit: wbaiv via Compfight cc

It was great, I took a big step back and looked at the business.  I got to look at it from 10,000 feet and see where it is not working.  I got a chance to plan what I want to build rather than the one I’m fire fighting with at the moment due to demand from clients (which is a great thing, but it’s leaving me frazzled).  Here are my take away points from my session:

  • I want to build solopreneurial.com into a truly great resource for solopreneurs.  I love writing about this topic, I love helping people build their own one person business, and for that I need to build traction, and for that I need to commit more time to the project.  I’ve allocated much more time to this site.
  • I’m going to be creating solopreneur consulting packages rather than a woolly buy my time for an hour and see what happens offering, more on that soon.
  • I’m going to build information products to solve the common solopreneur problems.
  • I have a burning urge to create an online magazine here at Solopreneurial, but that’s still in the planning phase.
  • I’m going to limit the number of wpdude.com clients I take on.  I’m 100% guilty of booking myself solid to get the money, no more, I’m going to build time into my schedule for longer term passive projects  which scale in a better fashion.
  • I’m going to productise my top six technical support requests from wpdude.com and turn them into information products so my wpdude clients can still get my expertise but in a scalable manner.
  • I’ve stopped doing certain less profitable work, for example I used to do a maintenance package which involved me paying for software which cut into my hourly rate, I’ve dropped that work.  It looks like I’ve lost some clients through this but you cannot please everyone.  There will be some pain when you change your business.

I can still be profitable, but I’ve freed up more time, I will introduce more products, which will allow me to free up even more time (see the asset snowball effect for details) to work on my business not in it.

 Time To Re-Engineer or Engineer Correctly

If you are on the wrong business model, or are just starting out, I suggest you sit down and really think about your business.  How you will services scale, what happens when you become a success and people are demanding your attention.

Don’t get me wrong I think 1-1 services are great, they are an incredibly easy way to setup shop, all you need is paypal, a website and a sales page BUT I suggest you always keep in the back of your mind scaling and passive income streams, you attention will only go so far, you will hit a bottleneck and be consumed by building other peoples business not your own.

Listen to what people are asking you when you sell your services. If people will hire you to do a job, people will sure as hell pay money to learn how to do something, build products out of these ideas.

Build time into your schedule to build a business not just a job that makes you run around like a headless chicken.

You will thank me later.

The Beauty Of The Solopreneurial Enterprise

The beauty of being a one-(wo)man-band is that you can change course very easily,  there is no-one else to worry about so you can make dramatic about turns without considering anyone but yourself.

That’s what I have decided to do.  I’m building the business I want to run, not the one demanded of me.  After all you can have all the money you want but if you are not having fun pursing the projects and personal goals you the solopreneur have, what is the point?

Wrap Up

Have you built your business around a problematic business model?  Are you running up against bottlenecks and problems lets talk about it in the comments.

If you would like e consulting session about choosing the right business model, why not book my attention from my consulting page.

Image by crystalflickr

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One Man Multinational

I run a one man (read person if that term bugs you) multinational business, and we all can thanks to the leveling effect of the internet

Internet Has Brought People Together

The internet has brought people together like no other medium in the past, I can communicate with people across the planet at almost zero cost.  There are tools that allow me to provide services as if they were sitting next to me, and other tools to take payment in their local currency and deposit it in my bank account with almost no effort. In short the world is my market, I’m a multinational player not a local small business, and I think you should build your soloporeneurial empire in the same way so you can tap into a huge global audience not a small sheltered local one.

An Unusual Day

Let me tell you about an unusual day I had last week that sparked the idea for this post. I came to work in my home office in the UK, and my first task was to catch up with some emails to a client in Australia there is a small window when we are both online so I dealt with them as a priority so we could bat a couple of ideas back and forth before he turned in for the night. I took a 10am skype call from a client in Dubai, we had to juggle our times around his visit to the Mosque, but it worked out well, he gave me final instructions for a multilingual site we would be working on together. I went through my morning routine of sending out quotes to potential clients around the globe. Then I knuckled down and did some real work.  morning is my prime time, it is usually very quiet, but not today.  The majority of my work comes from the US. Early afternoon sees the east coast rise, and my inbox comes to life, I start shooting replies to queries, sending out invoice the usual day to day client interaction. As the afternoon wears on I can feel the rest of the states waking from their slumber, my last client interaction is from a Canadian on the Pacific coast. That evening I gave a webinar attended by people in multiple time zones, I always start my webinars by saying “Good morning, good afternoon or good evening depending upon your timezone”. I love the way my work seems to follow the sun throughout the day.

The Majority of My Clients Are International

The majority of my clients are not local to me in the UK, even though this could be beneficial to me.  I deliberately position myself as an international player. This allows me to tap into a huge global market, not just a local one. I don’t do local networking events (that leaves me cold) I’m  not hunting down local companies so I can physically pitch to them, rather I have a 24/7 website selling my wares to anyone who cares to call. When I run ads I target the english speaking world, where ever they may be.  I can and do service people where ever they may be, the internet has made global trade a very easy thing.

There Are Downsides

Of course it’s not all shiny happy people, there are downsides. Paypal kicks me in the nuts with exchange rates every time I draw down cash (bastards). Timezone limitations. many of which are self impose mean many potentially lucrative 1-1 consulting gigs drift off because I cannot or will not take a call at 10pm. I’ve been at the pointy end of Xenophobia and short sighted people who accept quotes then later come back and say they found someone local.  WTF this goes both ways people, you don’t need to search for mediocre local talent, you can hire from the global community as easily as you can the local community.

Go Global

How can you make your business as a solopreneur more attractive to a global audience, answers in the comments section please, if this generates enough discussion I may upgrade this into a live Q & A session via webinar. Do you want more tips and techniques on selling your services and products globally or are you just looking for local clients, lets talk about this in the comments section.


If you are reading this before January 9th can I remind you of the webinar I am running entitled “Raising Your Rates” it’s a free sample of the work I will be doing with my inner circle members, I will teach you how I have been consistently raising my rates over the past 18 months without my client backlash. You can sign up for the webinar using the link below. https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/220797400 <– click to register Image by toasty
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Holiday Entitlement

I’ve just returned from a weeks holiday (read vacation if you are in the states) and it just got me thinking about the old holiday entitlement I used to get when I was employed and how I was allowed to use my entitlement.

Holiday Entitlement

Read that again, this is the number of holidays I am entitled to.  I’m  not sure if it’s the same setup where you live, but in the UK a salaried position comes with a number of none monetary benefits and one of them is a holiday entitlement.  Ususally you start with 20 days you can take in a year and it may increased as a long serving bonus.  We don’t get medical or dental packages  or even need one, we love our free national health service, it’s brilliant, but we do expect a holiday package.

So part of my pay and conditions was a certain number of days I could take out from the normal 9-5 and do my own thing.  Those days off are paid holiday.

Here is the rub, you have to jump through hoops to get the thing you are entitled to.

Book Your Holidays With Your Manager

I needed to book in my contractually agreed holidays with my managers to make sure my entitled time away from the company was agreeable to them.

If it is not agreeable with their plans (not my plans, their plans) they can reject my holiday request.

So the time I am entitled to can be denied to me.  I come to work for my salary and benefits not for the fun of it.

If they withheld salary for comapny reasons, there would be uproar, but the can mess with my time off.

Overworked Run Up

The days or weeks leading up to your holiday are fun filled, people realise you will be absent and they come a calling with all sorts of requests and demands.  These demands can probably wait but it doesn’t fit their personal agenda to wait till you return, it must be NOW!

As a result you are stressed to hell, overworked and drained.  A brilliant position to be in when you are leaving for time away with your family.

Two Weak Break

I heard this line in the Four Hour Work Week, you get your break and it’s over in a flash two weeks seems like too weak a time to be spending away from the corporate grind.

The overworked run up probably means you have dropped a couple of balls and there is always a nagging doubt in the back of your mind that you will get into trouble when your return.  Not a mindset conducive to sipping cocktails by the pool.

Shit Storm When You Return

When you get back from your break you are landed with a shit storm of requests and follow ups.  People know when you are due back and they come a calling.  The stress mounts and it’s as if you have not even been away.

You Need Time To Re-Charge

Even if you love the work you do, you need some down time, some time to recharge the old batteries.  A couple of days away from the grindstone with friends, a weeks holiday with the family or even a couple of days off to paint your stairway.

Work cannot be the centre of your life unless you want colleague only turning up to your funeral. ( and they are only there for a day off).

Your Time Belongs To Someone Else

When you work for someone other then yourself, you have sold your time 9-5, Monday to Friday and unless you want to lose your position you have to give that time willingly like a drone.  If they want to mess with your holiday plans they can, unless you say no.  If they want to mess with your weekends, they can until you say no.  It’s time to claim back that time and use it as you see fit not as a corporation sees fit.

It’s up to you to make the choice, if you take their money they own your time.  You are the only one that can change the game.  They are not, it’s not in their interest.  All they want is to move X units of widgets in as cheap and effective manner as possible.  You are a line on a spreadsheet that can be marked in red at will.

Never Having To Ask For Time Off Again

The point of this rant – working for yourself as a solopreneur means you never have to ask for time off again.  You never have to jump through anyone else’s hoops only the ones you set for yourself.

If you design your business wisely as I will be showing you hear at solopreneurial.com you can even pack up your business in your suitcase and take it with you.

This is a rallying call to step away from the stifling corporate world and strike out on your own.

Do You Want Take Time Off When You Want?

Stick with me, join the mailing list and I’ll give you tips and techniques how to build your own solo business.  Check out the inner circle for premium training or book a coaching session.

What Got You As An Employee?

What else has rubbed you up the wrong way as an employee?  Anwers in the comments below.

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Give Them What They Want Not What YOU Think They Want

If you are planning to launch a new product, service, coaching program, software service or physical product the best way to do this is to give them what they want, not what you think they want.

The Sound Of Crickets Chirping

If you launch what you think they want without the input from your potential customers first, you are likely to be greeted by the sound of crickets chirping when you launch.  Zero or few sales and a lot of time down the drain.

It could be the greatest offering ever, but if it does not touch on the problems your people have, they will never get what you are trying to do.

You may spend hundreds of hours building that membership site or writing your e-book only to find that it does scratch the itch that your people have.

If you want to hit the correct nerve every time, get feed back from your people BEFORE you go and create your thing.

Remember my core lesson, time is THE most important limiting factor as a solopreneur, if you spend lots of  time on a project that no-one buys that is time you will never get that time back, time that could have been spent in billable activities.

It’s All About Them

If you are creating a product you need to get into the mindset that it is all about them, not that it is all about you and what you can do for them.

You may think you have a great idea (and you probably do) but if it is not packaged in a way people want to consume it then it is a none starter.

Even if you still give them your original idea, it is packaged in a way that you tailored for them you have made it about your people not about you.

Makes It Easier To Sell

Say you have an e-book in mind, and you have the rough idea for the content, if you go to your audience and say I’m going to write an e-book about marketing your widgeting business, what are your problems?  They come back to you with their issues, your audience is telling your their problem they are also inadvertently telling you what to put in your sales copy.

If  lots of people say “I have difficultly showing photos of my widgets” then you can write “I will show you how to display crisp widget images on your website” in your sales copy.  You are on their wavelength already.

This is not sleazy underhand internet marketing, this is solving people’s real problems and packaging them in such a way that they understand how you can help them.

How Do You Give Them What They Want?

Ask them, simple as that.  Send out a survey or an email asking what their problems are.  Take time to analyse the responses and then go back to your people, saying this is what you said, I think you want X from me is that correct.

Again responses should come back if you are on the right track take the next step.

Announce you are going to create product or service X and ask for early adopters to buy your thing at a discount.  This is the litmus test, if they buy, your service or product is a go-er.

Six Step Process To Pre-Sell Your Thing

  1. Ask your people in a survey, email or blog post
  2. Analyse the response looking for patterns
  3. Go back to your people with your findings seeking confirmation
  4. Create an outline of your offering (not the real offering)
  5. Pre-sell your offering at a discount
  6. Create your thing and ship to your people.

The presell is an important step, people may happily say yes I want this, I need this help, but until they click add to cart you don’t know if  your offering is profitable or not.

I Need Feedback

You guessed it, this is more than just a blog post I want your feedback on the direction I need to take with this site.  I’m building a community of solopreneurs with my free blog posts and I will be building a members only platform in the inner circle.  Can you please take a moment to complete the survey at the bottom of the post

What I Will Do With This Information

I’ll use your feedback to tailor my blog posts and how I offer the inner circle coaching program.  This is step one of the six step process I’ve discovered to create products and services,  I’ll publish the other steps in future blog posts.

Oh Yeah, One More Thing

You’ve probably noticed I’ve changed the name of this site from neil-matthews.com to solopreneurial.com.  I was reading a great e-book called the Renaissance Business and part of what Emilie Wapnick was saying is that personal branding is great, but if your name is not associated with a  field i.e. solopreneurship it can cause confusion with first time visitors.  So I’ve gone for soloprenarial while I’m building this new business.

Being a solo is great for agile changes like this.

Wrap Up

Here is stage one of the finding what your people need process, stage two will come soon once I get your feedback together.
Image by timparkinson