5 Lessons Learned After My First Year As Solopreneur

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While the family and I recover from getting back from our cross-country trip last night, please enjoy this contribution from my good blogging friend Shannon at Financially Blonde. If you’d like to contribute to Frugal Rules, please contact us.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a 13-year financial services veteran (similar to John) who left a job as a financial advisor with a large wealth management company last year to start my own business focused on helping people in their 20s and 30s get financially fit.

I was compelled to leave my firm after dozens of meetings with people I lovingly termed “pro bonos” or those who did not have the minimum assets ($250,000) to work with a financial advisor. Because I did not look like the traditional advisor (i.e. 50-year-old white male) I had a number of people reach out directly to me for financial advice and guidance; and I made a habit of talking to each and every pro bono who wanted to talk to me.

Over time, I found that helping those without money meant more to me than assisting those with money, so I developed my new business model and plan around what I enjoyed doing. Initially I assumed I would seek investors and start the company up big time and grow from there; however, after lots of advice and counsel, I decided to “bootstrap” my company for the first year or two and then determine if I wanted to take on partners or not. On July 16, 2013, I officially quit my job and became a solopreneur.

Like most new business owners, I learned A LOT of lessons over this past year, and I wanted to share a few of them with you today.

Lesson # 1 – Owning Your Own Business is Frightening


Despite the fact that many days I put on the brave face for my family, friends and clients, I secretly feel like a crazy person huddled in the fetal position in the corner sucking my thumb. After a 13-year career of consistent and large paychecks, the inconsistency of owning your own business can certainly play games with your mind. I had numerous days over this first year where nothing seemed to be going right, and the scary thing about nothing going right is that it means no money is coming in.

About six months into my first year, after a crying fest in the shower where I feared that I let my whole family down, I had pep talk with my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I assured myself that I had never failed anything in my life and that this would not be the first time. I told my reflection to give myself a break and keep moving forward because I believe in my business. I highly recommend the self-pep-talk the next time you get frightened by owning your own business.

Lesson # 2 – You Will Question Your Decision Frequently


I can’t tell you how many nights I have laid in bed and asked myself “Why?” Fortunately for me, I believe in signs from the universe, and I typically would not have to wait long for answers to my questions. Each new client I helped, every new opportunity I found, and every new friend that came my way as a result of this business were answers to my questions. In fact, I am frequently overwhelmed by the answers I get from the universe.

When you work hard and do the right thing for other people, truly spectacular things will happen in your life, and I am definitely proof of that reality. Don’t be afraid to question yourself; the process will not only keep you on your toes, but it will provide answers, insight and unimaginable encouragement.

Lesson # 3 – Beware of the Sharks


When you own your own business, everyone wants something from you. Some people and companies are better at disguising it than others. As a woman business owner, I think one of the worst examples of sharks out there are women business owner organizations, in particular is the National Association of Professional Women. They all promise numerous networking opportunities and ways to grow your business, but all they really do is take your money and send you lots of worthless emails.

Other sharks you need to avoid are professionals who claim to be helpful, but are really just looking at you for a paycheck. When you have to do everything yourself, it is easy to assume that you should just outsource a number of tasks thinking that the money you spend will save you money down the road, but sometimes all you have to save yourself from a shark bite is expend a little bit more energy. For me, I utilized an attorney friend for a number of tasks that I assumed and he convinced me I needed. In hindsight, I could have used LegalZoom or found many of the answers I needed online.

Lesson # 4 – No Matter How Much You Plan – You Will Be Surprised


Like any responsible new business owner, I spent many hours and days researching and developing my business plan for my new company. I created spreadsheets, ran numbers and had everything figured out. Until I met my second client and she needed something I had not planned for.

Instead of letting the situation become a wall, I made it a hurdle and I simply found a solution and leaped over that hurdle. The fact is that no matter how much you plan as a business owner, you will encounter curve balls. You need to be flexible so that you can take advantage of those curve balls rather than striking out when life throws them your way.

Business ownership has led me into situations that were not part of my plan. I have been blogging for almost a year now and love it so much that I refer to myself as a “blogger.” I am releasing my first published book this month about financial fitness. I now write for AOL Jobs about women in finance, and I have formed a partnership with a website that I love, Money Saving Pro. If you asked me about these opportunities a year ago, I would have laughed in your face, and now I can’t imagine not taking advantage of them.

Lesson # 5 – Stay True to Yourself


At the end of the day, when you own your own business, you have to stay true to yourself. There will be sharks and there will be opportunities and the best way that you can manage them all is by following your heart and doing what makes sense to you. For me, my goal in life is to be a voice for financial health and education. Every decision I make supports this goal.

Whenever I get scared or I question myself or I get attacked by a shark or find some new challenge, I think of my goal as a business owner and if I am staying true to it and to myself, then I can not only sleep well at night, but I feel good looking at myself in the mirror the next morning. Never compromise who you are or who you want to be for someone else. Owning your company is stressful enough and when you change yourself, you will enjoy what you do even less.


Do you have your own company? What lessons have you learned as a solopreneur? If you are still working a day job, do you have dreams of starting your own company someday? If so, what’s holding you back?


Shannon McLay is a financial planner who left a “traditional” financial services firm to start her own company, NextGen Financial, to help clients in their 20s and 30s get financially fit. Through her blog, Financially Blonde, her book, Train Your Way to Financial Fitness, and her partnership with Money Saving Pro, Shannon is committed to making financial fitness fun, easy and accessible for others.



Photo courtesy of: Lwp Kommunikáció

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Catherine says:

    Good for you for following your heart! Sounds like you’re really accomplishing some amazing things 😉

  • This is some great advice for future solopreneurs. I think one that is interesting is how you can plan and plan (and plan) and still end up running into things that you didn’t plan for. I’m huge on planning so this is something that I’ve run into with my side hustle and it can be frustrating. With that being said, it’s all a learning experience so I try to keep a positive attitude.

  • I have a full time job, but I will say with respect to blogging that the most surprising lesson I learned was how much work it actually is. I love to do it, but in terms of hours – that has been a huge shocker! Thankfully, my loved ones have adjusted accordingly.

  • I started blogging full-time last year and the uncertain income really is something to get used to. Even now, a year later, I really can’t comfortably tell you what I can “expect every month as income. I know I will make money every month, I just have no clue exactly how much. But with that said, I love doing what I am doing.

    • It is crazy to not know exactly what you will make in a given month and it takes a lot of getting used to. Whenever I have a great month, I never really celebrate, because I am sure a slow month is around the corner. Over the year, though, it works out, just not evenly like a full-time job.

  • Dave LaLonde says:

    My brother and I are business partners and we run Auto Credit Express which is to help people who have bad credit get into auto loans.

    It definitely did NOT start out that way at first. We were originally helping dealerships with the subprime industry and decided later on that customers should be our main focus. It’s amazing to see how a business can transform over the duration of 10 years. My best advice to anyone who is looking to start their own business is that you need to continue pushing because you never know how far you will go. Things will not go according to plan, and that’s okay because you never know what your business will transform into.

  • I always think it’s incredible how plans and dreams evolve- like your unexpected blog journey. Unfortunately, I find many people get so locked into an idea of what they think they should be doing to get what they want that they totally miss those exciting unexpected opportunities.

  • I love this post! It seems like most professional organizations are set up to take your money, waste your time, and send you a bunch of pointless emails. I’m glad I don’t work with the public! =)

  • Average Joe says:

    It’s funny how life and dreams change, isn’t it? I’ve owned my own company for a long time, and I wouldn’t imagine ever being able to “work for the man” again. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that planning is the most important task to have a successful day. I’m a doer, and too often I’ve spent a day “doing” stuff that really didn’t need to be done to get my end goal. No more. I spend a ton of time planning so that I take the right action, not a random one.

  • Shannon, awesome post. I learned all of these rules when I started a homeschool tutoring center in 2008. I spent so much time freaking out, and yet, it worked out wonderfully!! I think we stress out way too much about the unknown, and then looking back we see that it wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared it would be. 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing your story Shannon…you always seem so confident and successful that I never thought you were ever huddling in a fetal position, scared. But that’s often the case, most don’t see the hard work and stress in the background and just the brave face. You are an inspiring person and you’ve got a lot going on with the new book, the partnership with AOL, etc. Congrats! I’m not sure if I would have the stomach to become a solopreneur though… I definitely see myself curled up in a fetal position if things don’t go as planned.

    • Ha!! So I have you fooled! 🙂 I am mostly a confident person, Andrew, or I never would have hatched this crazy scheme to begin with. I am confident, though, because I hate failure and as long as I can work hard, I will make something happen. That being said, I definitely have my moments and my hubby has had a front row seat to those. I typically don’t like to indulge in them for long, though, because they don’t help me, they only waste time I could be using to make something happen.

  • Awesome tips! It’s scary to think about going solo, but it’s also exciting at the same time 🙂

  • Michelle says:

    Love this post. Being a solopreneur is amazing, but it is also tough work. I haven’t regretted my decision at all yet, but sometimes the unstable income does get to me. There are often weeks that go by where hardly any income comes in and that can be scary.

  • I have been a solopreneur for over two years and yes it can be downright scary! But like you Shannon, I just told myself that I have no choice but to succeed and I’m so glad I listened to myself. Keep up the amazing work 🙂

  • Great lessons, Shannon. And ones that I have definitely gone through as well. There will always be naysayers (and sometimes the naysayer is yourself) but like you, I’ve always prided myself on succeeded. So when those moments of doubt creep in, I do my best to quash them. And it’s amazing what good things appear when we open ourselves to them.

  • dojo says:

    5 years since getting more serious about my own business: you will have good and bad months; you need to save money; keep updated with the latest trends; provide the best service you can;

    It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t give my current lifestyle for anything 😀

  • Yup all great lessons! I’ve run into sharks, but not quite those kinds of sharks. The ones I’ve come across “promise more work” if you take a super low paying job, or “it will look great on your reel.” I feel bad when people fall for that one. Congrats on one year! BTW I think failing is totally OK! I actually think it’s important, so it’s best not to fear failing.

    • I know! I fell for some sharks, but I also avoided a bunch and I hate to think about all of the people who were fooled by them. We have enough struggles running a business ourselves to have to fend off the sharks. And I totally agree about failing. Our best lessons are during those difficult times.

  • Kim says:

    I can certainly second that there are tons of sharks out there, and most of them are just like you mentioned. I love strong ladies who are entrepreneurs. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Pauline says:

    Good for you for taking the leap! What I’ve learned in going solo is you can’t do everything yourself. Hiring tasks out can free up time so you can focus on being good at, and it can even save you money having someone who really knows their stuff, like a good accountant helping you get tax credits you didn’t know about.

  • Owning your own business is terrifying. All the decisions and risk are on your shoulders. But you get so much freedom to structure your own life and your own work. It is always a trade off.

  • Whoa! I had no idea about the business organizations — I would have never guessed that they would be on the predatory side. There’s definitely a lot that I’m learning as a solopreneur and a LOT more than I still have to figure out 🙂 It’s well worth the journey, experience, and adventure, though. I’m so excited that you’re celebrating a year of solopreneurship and success. I don’t know of many people who deserve it more than you do, Shannon!

  • Going solo is a great risk for each and everyone. I can see that is has been a rough road for the first year. We will learn from our mistakes and trials and that will help us not just to do better, but also motivate us to perform better.

  • Poor Student says:

    I can imagine how it was even more frightening for you since you had a stable career before you jumped into entrepreneurship. My career goal is to have my own company, so I learned a lot from this article about the things I might encounter later 🙂 (Although you said there will always be surprises).

  • One of my business school professors told me that a the downside of becoming your own boss is that you’ll never be able to work for anyone else again. I guess that’s only a downside if you choose to see it that way!

  • Great post Shannon! I didn’t realize it had only been a year since you started your biz. That’s amazing and I’m glad you enjoying self employment crazy as it can be sometimes!

  • You give me lots to think about, Shannon. I think I could be good at helping people with their finances, but I don’t yet see being able to make a business of it. I think if I start out on a volunteer basis and see where that leads, maybe I will get more confident and see opportunities. You are a great motivator! 😀

  • Simon E. says:

    The income unpredictability is what gets me every time. There are people depending on you and you don’t want to let them down.
    Solopreneurship certainly requires a healthy dose of adaptability and optimism, otherwise one might sink.

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