This post was originally featured on AEA365, the daily blog of the American Evaluation Association during the Independent Consulting week.

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In my evaluation work, I wear many hats, often balancing multiple roles each day: consultant, coach, collaborator, writer, designer, advocate. Right now the hat I am most proud of is solopreneur. In 2021, I took the leap to move to full-time solopreneurship and run my own business. This is something I had been dreaming about and planning for years. So in true evaluator fashion, I spoke to colleagues – both new and experienced – during the planning process to hear about their work in the field.

Lessons Learned:

  • Articulate your values. The piece of advice that I have heard most often by solopreneurs, consultants, and business owners is to know your values. Understanding what motivates and inspires our work keeps us grounded. Our values shape our contracts and serve as a guiding factor when choosing projects and partnerships. For example, if a core value is collaboration, you will likely want to incorporate more time for community engagement, participatory methods, and feedback into your scope of work and budget.
  • Honor your no. We live in a society that thrives on a scarcity mindset. We are encouraged to fear limited resources and subscribe to a hustle culture mentality. It is easy to feel pressure to say yes to all of the things – yes to contracts, yes to clients, yes to meetings, yes to extra deliverables. Boundaries are hard and necessary. It is ok to say no.
  • Prioritize yourself. We have all heard the recommendations for self care like exercising and taking time off. Prioritizing yourself goes beyond that. Recognize your needs and wants, and craft your schedule and business around these factors. Perhaps you want to work 4 days a week or 4 hours a day. Maybe you want to take 2 months off every summer. These things are possible, they just take planning. Your business doesn’t have to look like someone else’s.
  • Negotiate on quality not cost. There will always be someone offering your services for less money than you. Instead of immediately reducing the proposed budget, consider how you can offer a higher quality product or service. For example, you might reduce the scope of work to have fewer but more detailed deliverables.
  • Hire a coach. We do not have to build our businesses alone. Whether you need help articulating your values, having difficult conversations, setting boundaries, saying no, developing a business plan, or creating a marketing campaign, there is a coach for you.

Rad Resources:

  • Dare to Lead. This book by Brene Brown offers a research-based approach to authentic and courageous leadership, including an exercise in identifying and organizing your values. (Be extra rad by buying local and supporting your neighborhood bookstore.)
  • Company of One. This book by Paul Jarvis challenges the notion that bigger is better in business. Jarvis offers strategies for staying small and feeling fulfilled while also maintaining your cash flow.
  • Small Business Association. The Small Business Association offers networking, mentoring, training, and funding for small businesses. Find your local chapter to get connected with a coach who can guide you in your planning.
  • Independent Consulting Topic Chats. The AEA Independent Consulting TIG is currently offering weekly virtual chats. You can find an archive of the discussions online or sign up to attend an upcoming event.