Starting a business is hard work and, more often than not, it’s a solo journey until you hit that magic milestone, of too much work, enough income and not enough hands.
According to Robert Gerrish, founder of Flying Solo, more than 70% of Australian small businesses are solo operators, and that number is only going to increase as more of us ditch our 9-5 jobs to pursue our passions.
And leading the charge are baby boomers, contributing to 34% of all new start-ups in the country.
That’s the good news. But the bad news is, more than 60% of all small businesses will “fail” within three years.
So how do we turn this figure around?
Recently we spoke to Robert Gerrish, founder of Flying Solo and author of The 1 Minute Commute, which promises to help you turn your skills into a business you love, be your boss and work from home.
Robert spent his early career as a marketing professional before moving to Australia to pursue “more meaningful work and a less stressful lifestyle”. He stumbled across his new career in the early 1990s, becoming the 2nd person in Australasia to achieve Professional Certified Coach accreditation from the International Coach Federation and achieving instant fame and success after starring on an ABC Four Corners segment about the new business coaching trend.
“Overnight I suddenly had a fantastic piece of exposure on ABC Four Corners, and my phone rang off the hook.
“I wasn’t prepared for that but if you had a heartbeat and credit card – I decided you were my perfect customer,” he said.
“Business went bonkers instantly and pretty soon after I realised it was unsustainable.
“I’d come to Australia for a lifestyle, but suddenly I’m working all day and all night, so I disconnected my phone and stopped working for a week. After that, I sorted my clients into two piles – the ones I liked and the ones I didn’t.”
“The ones I liked were all small business owners, so I registered the domain Flying Solo and set about creating resources to help them go it alone.”
Robert co-authored a best-selling book “Flying Solo – How to go it alone in Business” in 2005 and created the Flying Solo website community which now enjoys a membership of over 100,000 independent businesses and has been declared a site of “national significance” by the National Library of Australia. Robert sold the site in late 2017 and wrote his second book “The 1 Minute Commute”.
“This book is also about creating a solo business. This is my space – every book I write will be along the same themes,” Robert said.
“But it is a fresh look at how to do things. After meeting and working with over 100,000 solo businesses for the last ten years, I’ve gathered a lot of information about what works and what doesn’t.”
So how has business changed?
Robert says the fundamentals are still there but the pathways to get there are quite different.
“In 2005 we didn’t have the same opportunities in the same way to build our profile, but we also didn’t have the overwhelm and bright lights distracting us,” Robert said.
“There is much more pressure to stand out and be noticed, more pressure to find our place in the marketplace and find the people that want what we’re doing.”
Robert says in a world of digital media and consumption, the key to being successful is to become more focused, clearer and directed in our actions.
“Bear in mind the market I’m talking about are people running businesses as lifestyle businesses,” he said.
“The business exists simply to support the way someone lives and the fastest growing startup group in Australia are people my age – baby boomers.”
Robert’s top 5 tips for creating a successful lifestyle business..
- You’ve got to be clear exactly where you’re going.
This might sound vague, but the number of businesses that start with no real direction and by “accident” is phenomenal. A clear picture of where you’re heading is pivotal – including how many hours you want to work, who you want to work with and what solution you offer.
Quite often we create accidental businesses because we have a little bit of time on hands and some lovely friends say – you’re good at writing – next thing you know, you’re running a business that you didn’t want to do.
- Be clear what problems you solve.
Why should anyone give a damn about what you’re doing in business? If you take a good look at the businesses that don’t succeed, 42% failed because no one wanted what they were selling. So what is it you are doing that people want? This sounds incredibly basic, but we often don’t do enough actual research talking to people, potential customers. We might talk to a handful of people that think it’s a good idea, but we don’t quantify the size of the market.
- Be clear how you’re going to reach the people you want to get to
There is a beautiful phrase said in the 1960s by some advertising guru “don’t count the people you reach, reach the people that count.” What I see increasingly in lifestyle businesses is that we try and reach everyone. We get on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and try to be everywhere and everything to everyone. You end up spreading yourself too thin, so your choice is to be ignored by thousands or be heard by a few.
It’s very easy in small business at this stage in evolution to keep yourself busy. We can all be busy. The typical problem most of us have is that we need more clients but then when we look at our dairies to see how many new client meetings we have, there is nothing there. We’re like firefighters, answering emails and Facebook posts and not doing what we need to get more clients. To succeed, you need to focus on the priorities – the things that get your business to where you need to go,
- Look after yourself.
In business, we have to put ourselves first. We are no good if we don’t have the energy and positive mindset and mental ware withal to get up and do what we’re good at. When we get overwhelmed, we stop doing the things that bring us balance, and then we stop being the best we can be. For me walking is the thing that keeps me sane – I have to do it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be a nice human being.
What else does the 1 Minute Commute book cover?
Robert says that “without sounding like plonker” he hopes he has covered every aspect of starting and running a one-person business in his new book.
“Balance, marketing, focus and clarity, time management, finance – it’s all in there,” he said.
“I’ve written it in a way that is conversational – I quote 60/70 people and use lots of case studies.”
“If you’re overwhelmed you should read it if you’re not sure how to find clients, not sure how much to charge, how to charge more or you’re bombarded with opportunity you should read it.
“And if you don’t get a good hint as to how to solve your problem – write me a letter and I’ll give you your money back.”
Robert says he can’t wait to see his book appear in Vinnies, torn, tattered and written in.
“Nothing would please me more to see my book with pages ripped out, post-it notes all over it. It’s a how-to book. Not something you pick up and read cover from cover but something to use as a manual, write in it, scribble in it and if you know it all, then give it to someone else.”
What’s next for Robert?
“It’s funny how things work, for last 12 years I’ve had my head down running solo community but now I’ve successfully sold it, I’ve pulled my head up again, and I’m finding that everything is changing,” he said.
“The largest startup sector in Australia are older people so that will be my next book and there are lots of issues that are entirely different for that demographic. For example, I’ve got an 18-year-old son, so I know what intimidation looks like.
“He can do things so fast, see things fast and I can’t compete – I’m intimidated. So it’s almost like we need to do the opposite of go fast, we need to be more considered in what we do.”
Find out more about Robert and his new book at https://www.robertgerrish.com/