Terri: Robert, I’ve known you for over a decade, but you were a solo entrepreneur long before I met you. Can you tell us a little about you – how you came to be a solo entrepreneur, what you did before you went “Flying Solo”?
Robert: I’ve been working as a soloist since the late 1980s following a career in the marketing industry in London. As part of a midlife adventure, I relocated to Sydney, Australia, meeting and marrying my wife Jane a couple of years later and welcoming our son to planet earth in 2000. It was always my ambition to simplify my working life and do work that really fulfilled me, while having plenty of time to enjoy my new family.
With my first business in Australia, I helped creative groups helping determine their positioning, business structure and so on. Soon after – mid 1990s – I was introduced to this new-fangled thing called ‘coaching’. Coincidentally CoachU, a large US coach training organisation, were running their first international training in Sydney. I attended and transitioned from working in a consultative role, to an increasingly ‘coaching’ role with my clients.
At the same time ABC TV was researching a documentary on new industries and through a delightful dose of serendipity, chose me to represent coaching. For a few days I had a TV crew in my office (my garden shed!) and following my clients. Once the show aired, my tiny business exploded into a large coaching business and frankly I wasn’t looking for such rapid growth!
Terri: You’ve had quite the adventure as a solo entrepreneur! What makes you love working solo?
Robert: To me, loving my work means having the freedom to work where I want, with who I want and being able to enjoy relaxed, balanced days. What this new torrent of customers did show me was where my niche and passion truly lay. With those going it alone in business…soloists. I promptly registered ‘flying solo’ as a business name and began to establish myself as ‘the solo business expert’.
It may sound corny, but once you find your true calling opportunities find you. I was quickly offered a regular column in The Telegraph, a book publishing deal and invitations to speak at conferences and events. Clearly I was onto something!
This was the age of the ‘portal’ and so I started publishing my articles and those of some close colleagues and the rest is history.
Terri: You’ve certainly been inspiration to us here at Solo-E! Tell us about the Flying Solo community you’ve grown in Australia.
Robert: Membership has just topped 100,000 and we are growing at the rate of some 50+ Australian businesses a day.
Flying Solo has evolved to become the largest and liveliest small business community in the southern hemisphere and we publish content every day; host the nation’s most popular small business discussion forums; stage online and off-line events, broadcast podcasts and of course I still pop pop around the country presenting to small business groups and conferences.
Terri: I appreciate the opportunity you gave me to preview the course – it’s fabulous 🙂 So comprehensive and easy to work through the bite-sized lessons.
When you first started as a solo entrepreneur, what was your biggest challenge? What would you do differently now?
Robert: Surprisingly (for me anyway!) my biggest challenge was building a steady stream of a ideal clients. A marketing man with a marketing problem!
What I would do differently now is spend more time at the outset developing a profile of my ideal client and have the courage to speak directly to them with no fear that I was missing out on opportunities from other places. Too often I see solo entrepreneurs diluting their message to appeal to wider audience. I realise now, that it’s far better to be truly heard by a few, than ignored by thousands!
Terri: You have so much insight into the solo entrepreneur community – from those just thinking about starting, to those who’ve been in business, well, as long as you have 😉 What do you find are the most common challenges?
Robert: At Flying Solo we research our community every couple of years and publish the findings in a comprehensive report. This report not only allows me to answer such questions with total confidence, it also determines our editorial stance and indeed guides all our activities.
Ever since we first run this research I can tell you that the key challenges are finding clients (and the revenue this creates), handling overwhelm (trying to do everything) and managing time (avoiding distractions and focusing on priorities).
With our Work your way course, we delve into these areas in great detail and over the years the solutions we have amassed are many and varied!
Terri: I certainly see those same challenges, and I love the thought that there is more than one way to approach them!
In Australia, what kind of support is available for solo and micro business owners? (For example in Sweden, when you get laid off, you can use your unemployment pay either to help while looking for a job – OR to start your own business! I wish we had that in the US lol.)
Robert: Whilst we do not have a system comparable to that in Sweden, there are a number of local and federal Government initiatives that offer advice and guidance to new businesses. However, many of these are fairly dry, unexciting and uninspiring – more factual processes, than the steps that really resonate with passionate, entrepreneurial people. And this is why we exist…to fill this cavernous gap.
Terri: That sounds similar to what I found in the US – support more geared to small businesses with employees than self-funded solo entrepreneurs.
Finally, do you have any advice for our young, fresh-out-of-college (or even younger) aspiring solo entrepreneurs?
Robert: Build a clear picture of how you’d like your future workstyle and lifestyle to look and feel. Keep it in front of you. As your views change, change your picture. Use this ‘vision’ as a measure and guide to your decision-making. Always ask yourself questions like: Will this action take me closer to my vision? Will working with this person take me closer? Will I learn helpful things from this that will help my vision? And be prepared to invest in your personal and professional development. What comes out, can only be as good as what goes in.
Terri: Thank you, Robert! A pleasure as always 🙂
Pick Robert’s brain in his new course, Work your way – The complete guide to going it alone in business!
© Copyright 2017 Robert Gerrish