Startup Commandments for One-Person Service Providers

Straight from Moses’ mouth


Offering professional services of any kind is not as easy as it might seem.

Provided you have the skills to get started, the ordeal of a services business is not without its own set of thorns. You can call your one-person operation anything you like, but it’s a business.

While you may or may not leverage, grow a team, and run it like a typical organization, it’s still a business and it’s going to be just as hard as it is to run any other business. If you are a service provider or any kind, here are some startup commandments for you:

Depend on Marketing for Life

Make marketing yourself and putting the whole machinery to work on getting clients the first task, every day, for the rest of your life. It’s hard to survive on your own. As if that wasn’t enough, the pain of thought that you don’t know where your next paycheck comes from is unbearable.

Why bear such pain when there’s a simple solution for it? As long as you plug the sales machinery or the marketing magic to your business, you’ll continue to get clients by the sheer magic of numbers.

For every 10 clients you talk to, you’ll at least be able to sell your services to one. Follow up with 4 others and you’ll have an impressive pipeline in months.

You can choose to work with clients you like and ignore those you think wouldn’t be a good fit. It’s called the power of abundance. Who says you have to go hungry?

Don’t Go Cheap on Investments; Go Smart

Let’s assume that you provide web development, web design, and graphic design services. Owning a website to showcase your portfolio, subscribing to Adobe Creative Cloud, and subscribing to a project management tool could then be necessary investments.

Every type of business requires such mandatory investments. Don’t skimp on them.

You could, however, be smart about where and how you invest your money. Bootstrap as much as you can. Sign up for free trials before investing in tools or products. Ignore large time and money investments for starters. For example, make it a point to dig through reviews and compare services before you finalize one, such as Who Is Hosting This for web hosting, PCMag for tech hardware, or simply the BBB for other service providers!

Use free tools — widely available — online for all aspects of your business operations. When the time comes for you to go for a paid version of a much-needed tool, you’ll just know.

Think of Differentiation

Most businesses fall into the “me too” pit. Doing exactly what your competition does doesn’t do you any good. So, you might ask?

“I am a one-person business. What else can I do to provide value on top of my services?”

Good question. You are a one-person business so you can take the decision right away. As for the second-part of the question, here’s how you can provide value:

Be incredibly good at what you do: No excuses or exceptions. You are expected to provide services or sell certain goods and that’s the heart of your business. Learn additional skills and make you address your “skill and expertise” part of the equation. I like what Ty Kiisel wrote on Forbes — being the best is indeed possible.

Work hard and be honest: By being honest, I mean that you wouldn’t accept payments that you didn’t work for. You wouldn’t fool clients and take advantage of the fact that they don’t know things you do.

Offer them an unconditional, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee: It takes guts and ripe honesty to do this for services (because of effort and time involved). Yet, they are an incredibly effective way to prove your worth, credibility, and confidence to your clients. Let them keep the results of your service if any, such as website mockups, blog posts, or other such completed work.

Communicate promptly, and often: Even if your clients don’t, you will. Time zones could be a problem so factor that in. Keep a running document on work status and share it with clients. Provide reports or other work-related feedback (for services like analytics management, paid campaign management, social media services, and marketing).

Never miss deadlines or go back on any promise: Over a certain time-period of your work on projects, you’ll occasionally miss deadlines for legitimate reasons such as ill health or unintended external issues. Apart from anything that important, there’s nothing worse that missing deadlines or going back on promises you made to your clients.

Don’t work for money: It’s disgusting to let the client think all you do is to work for money. It might be a natural thing to do but it’s unnatural to make clients believe that it’s the “money” that’s on your mind. As Lori Wagoner says on Get Entrepreneurial, guts and intent come first. For instance, avoid asking for invoices too often. Sure, it’s your right to get paid but play out the requests in time intervals.

Work Like NO Other

Here is the biggest problem self-employed professionals, one-person business owners and freelancers face: your earning is limited to the work you produce in the time you have during the day. You can’t make more unless you have more time (which is limited to 24 hours) or when you can charge more (which is unlikely to be too frequent).

To ensure maximum pay every month – assuming a fixed per-hour fee or per project value – your dependence on your own productivity is extreme. For you, every hour counts simply because it pays.

Work, hence, is a never-ending requirement for service providers.

You’ll do better when you offer services to take up work you love doing so that the long-hours don’t count. Pick up clients that you’d love to work with (refer to marketing tip above to ensure you are in a position to choose who you work with) and work hard.

For self-employed professionals and small business owners, there are no vacations, holidays, and weekend getaways. National holidays don’t count, and going sick is a serious liability. You do have the choice to do what you want but not without planning ahead.