#42: Tips from My First Solo Business Retreat of 2020

On today’s show, I’m going to report on what I did during my most recent solo business retreat and my lessons learned.

Some of you already know I love taking a solo business retreat about once a quarter—or at minimum, twice a year. A solo business retreat is just you, away from your regular workspace—even in that means just heading to another room in your home—and taking a half day, entire day or even two days to step back. It’s a time to think big and to work ON your business, not just IN your business.

In episode 3, I talk about how to host your own solo business retreat—what you need, where you can go to do it, what to think about.

Two episodes ago, episode 40, I gave tips and hopefully some inspiration for things that would work well during a solo business retreat—how you could evaluate the past year of your business and then analyze what you needed to do differently this year.

I also mentioned in that episode that I was going to host my first solo business retreat outside my city. It was in Chicago last week, and it was amazing.  

I started by making a list of all my clients and how much I made from each one of them last year. Then, I marked which ones were likely one-offs because they were one-time projects from the client’s perspective and which ones were one-offs because I didn’t want to work with that client anymore. The good news is that only two were ones I didn’t want to work with anymore—in one case, it was a one-off project, and in the other I think the client felt the same way I did. So, I didn’t have to fire any clients!

My calculations also confirmed what I already knew from past years: My primary anchor client is about 48% of my net income each year. That’s a lot. That security also comes with cautions: What if that client suddenly lets me go or kills our project? The challenge is that because the workload for this client is like a part-time job, I can’t take on a lot of other big anchor clients.

So, I’ve tried to prepare myself for losing this client, though I hope that never happens. First, it helps just that I’m aware of it. Knowing that relying on one client for 48% of your income is a gamble is the first step. You don’t want to be blindsided if the client goes away.

I’ve also been working to build up my savings to provide a cushion, and I continue to market and stay in touch with past clients. It’s important to always be marketing. It can take months or even years in some cases to get a project from a potential client. Waiting until you need the work will not likely pay off—plus, it can make you desperate. You might take on low-paying clients or clients who don’t treat you well.

After calculating where my money came from last year, I made a short list of the clients I really loved who I wanted to work with more. Some of these were newer clients that have started off great, and I want to keep that momentum going. Others are longer-time clients that I need to reach out to more.

I also had one client where my editor left last year. So, I quickly looked up the new person’s contact information so I could email them a letter of introduction.

The next part of my business retreat was to make a list of my successes, failures and challenges from last year.

My successes included two regular clients that I worked with substantially more last year. Other successes were two new regular clients and my podcast launch.

Failures included a client who was really difficult to work with. Another was not keeping up with my business receipts in a timely manner.

On the list of challenges I added batching, the idea of doing like work all at once and saving time from switching tasks. I’m still working on doing a better job of batching.

Another challenge was taking on projects that are not in my sweet spot. I should have said no. In fact, I’ve dubbed 2020 as the year of saying no, particularly saying “no” to volunteering so much in my industry. I love helping other freelancers build their businesses—that’s why I do this podcast—and I also love helping out in my industries. But I need to be careful what I say “yes” to because it can eat into the time I should be focused on paid work or my personal life. It often leads to me feeling overwhelmed and stressed. So, I’m being really picky about this year.

One thing that has been harder to say “no” to are coffee dates or email requests. I have had some well-intended friends or acquaintances email me and connect me with a connection of theirs. Usually they say something like “my friend wants to become a freelancer. Can you give her some tips?” First, I would prefer the person I know to ask me first, not assume or pass of the person off to me.

Second, those types of questions are vague and broad. And third, I don’t have time to help every stranger who wants a personal list of what they should do to become successful. So, I’m still figuring out how best to say “no” to those requests without feeling rude.

My retreat wrapped up with me making a list of the healthy work habits I want to implement this year. Then, I made a list of the systems I could create to make those happen. I talk about habits and how you need a system to make them actually stick in last week’s episode, episode 41.

At the end of my retreat, I had dinner with my friend and fellow writer Megy Karydes. Megy was a guest on episode 10, and she reminded me how regimented she is in sticking with her systems each day. Megy knows—to the penny—how much she needs to earn each DAY. And, she keeps diligent track of it. I was inspired to try to do better tracking of my income goals. I will likely break down my monthly goals into weekly goals to track.

I hope to tie this into time tracking—which Megy is also quite diligent about—because when I do time tracking it helps me stay on task and be more efficient. Plus, I gather important data about how long certain types of projects take so that I know how to charge for them.

Biz Bite: Create an end-of-the-day routine.

The Bookshelf: “The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom


Episode #3 of Deliberate Freelancer: Host a Solo Business Retreat

Episode #40 of Deliberate Freelancer: Reflect, Analyze and Plan Now for the New Year

Episode #41 of Deliberate Freelancer: How to Create and Stick to Habits—the Backbone of Your Life and Business

Episode #19 of Deliberate Freelancer: Visualize Your Perfect Work Day—Then Create It

Episode #10 of Deliberate Freelancer: Think Like a Marketer to Grow Your Business, with Megy Karydes

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