Top Tips For Killing Your Business

I often write about how to create a business that supports you financially and that you love. But I’m feeling contrary today, because I’m inspired to offer my best advice for solopreneurs who aren’t interested in succeeding. If you want a business that doesn’t attract new clients, clients who are overly price-sensitive, or if all your marketing efforts are failing and if you want more of the same, then here are some tips for you, with tongue held firmly in cheek.

Be “nice to have” rather than “must have NOW”. Very few people will buy your services if you are nice to have because, frankly, there are lots of services out there that are nice to have… even some that are really really nice to have. Unless you are addressing one of your clients’ most pressing and urgent needs, you are going to be at the bottom of their priority list when it comes to allocating funds for projects.

Don’t bother learning about your clients. Every solopreneur thinks she understands her clients — often solopreneurs used to work with the people they now believe will become their clients. But unless you have conducted 8 or 10 successful Reality-Check Interviews, in which you find out what your clients really care about, you are basing your business on what are most likely incorrect assumptions.

Don’t ever fail. If you aren’t failing occasionally, you aren’t trying. The Silicon Valley mantra, Fail Fast, Fail Often, applies to solopreneurs as well. Expect to always have several marketing projects going, with the expectation that at least one of them will, after a full-out six-month effort, will not pan out. As long as you give each approach the time and resources to succeed and clear metrics on what you want to accomplish, you can try a wide range of approaches and learn from each of them.

Don’t blog or write a newsletter. Having a web site or LinkedIn profile isn’t enough to establish a relationship with your clients. Make sure you reach out to your community regularly with blog posts, updates on social media and a newsletter that delivers value to your readers. You have to earn your clients’ attention with content they care about.

Facebook? Forget it! You may think that Facebook is just for friends, but you are missing a big opportunity if you aren’t participating in that space. I am often surprised by the number of professional colleagues who like and comment on my Facebook posts; they may not be posting updates themselves, but they are out there reading what you post.

Focus on selling, not listening. Establishing a relationship with a client requires two-way communication, and that means more listening and less talking on your part. If your prospective client’s experience is only of you talking about your background and what you can do, the impression is that you are more interested in your own success than your client’s outcome.

Don’t have tangible metrics or goals. One of the dangers of being a one-person business is that it is easy to drift along, mistaking activity for results. Establish clear annual goals for your business that translate into success — revenue, number of new clients, percentage of repeat business, or whatever measurements help you gauge whether your business is on the right path.

Don’t push your comfort zone. For solopreneurs to succeed, we have to set ourselves apart from whatever solution our clients currently have, remembering that we are always competing with “good enough.” That means we need to discover what we can offer that no one else is doing in quite the same way, constantly updating our services to always meeting our clients’ most important needs today. That means constantly updating our services and developing new skills based on what our clients value most.

So, either follow these “tips” for failure, or consider how you can shift your approach to your business so that you are attracting clients who sustain you and with whom you enjoy working. And get your hands off that teddy bear!

Introvert’s Tips for Great Headshots

After having my Happy Hour Headshot, I thought back on what made it such a good experience, despite having arrived home from Australia less than 24 hours earlier and being someone who doesn’t enjoy getting her picture taken.
Let’s face it – some of us don’t naturally warm up and smile when a camera is pointed at us. That doesn’t mean we can’t take good headshots; we just have to approach the experience with a fresh attitude.

  • Look at the photographer and imagine she is a long-lost friend. You can’t help but smile – you are so happy to see her again.
  • Engage the photographer in conversation. Ask him or her what got them started in photography, or what their biggest challenge has been this year, or how they hope to change their business next year. Once you start chatting, you can relax.
  • Take a break after 15 minutes. Very few people can stay “on” for longer than that, and you need a few minutes to let yourself relax and go limp before starting another round of shooting.
  • When reviewing your shots, let the photographer make the first cut. It’s hard to look at lots of photos of yourself without obsessing about small imperfections, and a professional photographer can quickly identify the shots that best captured your genuine look.

You can see the shots I selected from my HappyHourHeadshot session here.

photo from

Happy Hour Headshot – solopreneur profile

I recently saw a blurb for a Denver photographer, Jennifer Buhl, who had an unusual pitch. If you need a professional, hip, affordable headshot in a convenient, urban location with a former paparazza, check out Now making Coloradoans look like celebrities!

Sure, I get new headshots every 5 or 6 years, and they generally look pretty standard – me in business attire against a neutral background. But I have come to realize that many consultants’ web sites now have multiple photos of the principals. Now I see shots of the person in action – teaching a workshop, inspiring a group of people, or just looking a little less formal and posed.

The premise behind Happy Hour Headshot is that you meet Jennifer at a downtown restaurant, she spends 15 minutes shooting you outdoors, then you two sit down with a drink, review your photos, and select the one(s) you want. She does light editing and you get your shots in a couple of weeks. The cost is $85 for the shoot and one photo; additional photos are available at a discounted rate. It’s an unusual model, and the session had a very different vibe from the usual headshot experience – fast-paced, fun and relaxed, rather than an hour of “Now turn your head an inch to the right. Now smile. OK, and again…”

So I signed up for a headshot (great experience, and I wound up with five photos I really like!) and also had a chance to chat with Jennifer to find out more about her approach to her business.

One of her challenges, of course, is that anyone with a camera can call herself a photographer, regardless of their actual skill in capturing a subject’s essence. Jennifer’s bread-and-butter work had been creating baby and family portraits at Jennifer Buhl Photography, but after five years she found that she was getting push-back on her professional rates when families would compare her price to part-timers and hobbyists who just want to make enough money to pay for their avocation. She also missed the fast pace of a paparazza, and was looking for a way to expand her business into other areas.

She launched Happy Hour Headshot earlier this year, and enjoys the accelerated pace of taking just 15 minutes to catch people looking their best. As she was talking with her clients, she found that many are solopreneurs and small business owners, and she realized that they were likely to need to improve the visual content on their web sites and social media pages. She launched Buhl Business Photography to provide the more in-depth photography required by companies beyond headshots of their employees.

As Jennifer told me during our shoot, “Everything is visual now. People realize that their workplace has to look genuine on their web site; their work product or process has to look good. My job is to visually convey what it’s like to work with the company, to reflect who the business is. If you’re a small business, you need to look solid in your collateral, but you don’t have a $100,000 budget for commercial photography. That’s where I come in. I really enjoy going into, say, an orthodontist’s office, see how it’s run, talk with the staff, then photograph them doing their jobs. The end result is a set of photos that show the authentic company.”

I was struck by the evolution in Jennifer’s business, in a profession in which she is competing with many others who charge far less for a different level of service. She could have continued spending her time trying to convince families that a great shoot was worth $900, or she could expand her business into new areas that played to her strengths and interests.

She gets to do what she likes and finds stimulating, she has a more flexible schedule, and she is working with clients who see her as a business expense rather than a luxury purchase, so she is able to price her services fairly. Her experience as a paparazza taught her how to get high-quality images in a short period of time, so she can set herself apart as offering a very different headshot experience.

Her biggest challenge right now is efficiently getting the word out about Happy Hour Headshot. I heard about her through her participation in a Boulder-based network of media women, and we met for our shot at Galvanize, a local co-working office full of start-ups, both settings in which she successfully promotes her service. She is also considering marketing through LivingSocial and through local Meetups.

What ideas do you have for Jennifer to get the word out about her Happy Hour Headshot business? Post in the comments section below.

Short ‘n’ Sweet SWOT
Happy Hour Headshot

Strengths: fast-paced experience, unique photos, modest price, work she enjoys, business is word-of-mouth-friendly

Weaknesses: clients want to linger over the photo selection process, managing client expectations regarding editing

Opportunities: connect with local groups for efficient marketing, expansion of business photography

Threats: difficult to scale while retaining Jennifer’s unique style