Advice For Solopreneurs From a Solopreneur
with Dennis Geelen, Founder Zero In
Dennis Geelen found his second personality since starting his consulting firm, Zero In, by sharing his journey and advice for solopreneurs. He shares how his consulting firm works to assist businesses with “indifference” and important tips for solopreneurs in starting their businesses.
Notes from the Show
Zero In is the name of Dennis Geelens solo owned consulting firm that he founded in 2018. Since then he has shared his journey and found success in sharing advice on solopreneurship. Dennis is also the author of two books The Zero In Formula as well as his latest, Accidental Solopreneur.
Dennis has great advice on something we discuss often on the podcast and almost every business owner struggles with: finding your niche. When he started ZeroIn, he did not know where he would find success right away but he used three questions to “zero in” on his niche. What am I passionate about? What do I have the skills and experience to do? Where is the market and the need? Dennis found overlaps in these three areas and tried and tested the options to find success.
Zero In Consulting works with medium-sized businesses to fix their indifferences. Dennis explains this has major challenges with passion in clients, employees, and sometimes both. With his solopreneurship coaching, Dennis offers a course “The Solopreneur Playbook: 6 Steps to FREEDOM” (we are offering a 50% off promo code for our listeners). He explains the meaning behind these steps, like Step 3: Refine Your Offer. This means stop trading your time for money and develop a proprietary process and sell it at a fixed rate, just like he himself does with his playbook course.
You can find out more about Zero In online, as well as check out The Solopreneur Playbook course and Dennis’s journey of solopreneurship.
The three questions you need to ask to find your niche.
How to stop trading your time for money in solopreneurship.
Advice on solopreneurship.
Advice for consultants in an economically unstable environment.
Mentioned in this Episode:
The Solopreneur Playbook: 6 Steps to FREEDOM Use Promo Code: p9u7tbu
Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:36
Welcome back, everybody. Today my guest is Dennis Geelen, who is a an author of two books, the accidental solopreneur. And zero in Formula. He is He is the founder of zero in consulting firm. And he also coaches solopreneurs through their road to growing a business. And I'm very excited to have you here, Dennis. Welcome.
Dennis Geelen 1:05
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, Susan, this is great.
Susan Tatum 1:06
So you have such a great story about how you got where you are. But let give us just a few minutes about what you are doing right now. Because you're doing two very different things. In my opinion. Tell us about that.
Dennis Geelen 1:20
We were talking right before the show how I almost have split personality at the moment. But yeah, so zero in is my consulting practice, I started just over four years ago, I work with medium sized businesses, and for what I call, helping them solve indifference. So when I'm talking to different business owners, I tell them like, Listen, you have two, two real problems that you really need to be focusing on at the end of the day, you either have indifferent customers, so something's not resonating, your branding, your marketing, your customer experience, something is not speaking to your ideal customer. And you're just an option out there. So they're indifferent. And you need to make them passionate customers of your brand, your product, your service. The other problem you have with indifference is internally, with your employees. You have indifferent employees, when you haven't designed the workplace, the culture in such a way that people are passionate about coming to work each day, it's just a job. Both of those are extreme challenges and issues you need to solve if you want to be a thriving business long term. So that's, that's the one half of my my personality is the zero in consulting that I do. The other half is, since I started zero in four years ago, I've been journaling online. My journey, I've been very open about all the things I'm trying what's working, what's failing, all the mistakes I've made, when I'm doing I share the results. And people have really resonated with that. And zero in is just me, it's a solopreneur consulting practice. And with everything the world has been through in the last few years, a lot of people are starting to get that itch. Hey, maybe that's a route for me. And I've noticed in the last year, so a lot of people starting to reach out saying, Hey, I love what you're doing. In the beginning, it was, hey, I love what you're doing. Can you help my business through zero in, and then it started to become a lot more. Hey, I love what you're doing. I'd like to do what you're doing. Can you help me? Can I pick your brain? What do you think of this idea? And I started having a lot more individuals reach out saying, you know, does this sound good? Should I do this? Should I do that? And I decided, okay, maybe another half of my personality here is helping other solopreneurs. So that's where the latest book and the latest course comes into play.
Susan Tatum 3:45
So once we go back to when you were talking about the zero in the work that you do so and you're talking about the employees and the indifference, and this latest buzzword that I keep hearing, which I think is quiet quitting or something like that, you know what I'm talking about?
Dennis Geelen 4:00
Susan Tatum 4:01
that That's got to be a bit of indifference, isn't it?
Dennis Geelen 4:02
It's complete indifference. It's I'm here, but I'm not here, right? I'm showing up for the paycheck, I might physically be in front of the cute computer or physically in my cubicle. I'm not invested in this work. I'm not invested in this company. And I'm quietly quitting right is the is the term that they're using.
Susan Tatum 4:23
And that is culture related.
Dennis Geelen 4:26
I think there's a lot of factors. Just what's going on in the world in general is playing a huge part in that. But it is incumbent upon businesses and business leaders to do their part, to build a culture that doesn't make people want to quietly quit. There's all kinds of stuff you can and should be doing to really make it a place where people are passionate to come to work each day.
Susan Tatum 4:50
Okay, that makes sense. So, to go back to the solopreneur, you have a solopreneur playbook course as well. Right?
Dennis Geelen 5:00
Susan Tatum 5:01
So when we when you and I first met and we were talking you, I think you said you started in like 1919 like a year or so. Before the world
Dennis Geelen 5:11
It was 2018.
Susan Tatum 5:14
A really? Oh, 20 19 sorry, yeah
Dennis Geelen 5:16
I'm gonna say I'm not that old.
Susan Tatum 5:20
Dennis Geelen 5:21
2018 fall of 2018 is when I kind of kicked off Zero in.
Susan Tatum 5:25
And you were having a really good year when things when that when COVID hit and things sort of stopped on you for a little while?
Dennis Geelen 5:33
Yeah, well, I would say the first six months were not good at all. I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it, I was extremely naive, and just thought, you know, my 20 plus years in the corporate world has given me everything, I need to be able to be a solopreneur consultant, and I'll just throw up a website, I'll create a logo, and I'll announce that I'm now a consultant and the customers will come flying in. And then I soon realized how naive I was, and how much I didn't know about things like branding and marketing in sales. My background is all in strategy and operations and project management and customer experience. Well, I had no idea how to actually attract the right ideal clients and how to brand and market myself. So first six months were very rough. Once I kind of got that all figured out and understood the playbook I needed to actually go through things were really starting to click probably halfway through 2019. And a man I was really on a roll by the start of 2020. And then we all know what happened in March of that year. Right?
Susan Tatum 6:39
So what did you do? When? How did you come to realize that just putting up your website wasn't going to get people to you? Well, the fact that nobody was calling,
Dennis Geelen 6:49
yeah, nobody clicked on it. Nobody was calling nobody was reaching out. What I really realized was, I made a major mistake of just marketing myself as a generalist, I'm a business consultant, what's your problem? I'll help you solve it is a strategy? Is it project management? Is it operations? Is it culture? Is it you know, what do you need? What do you need? I'll fix it right? Thinking, the more problems I can appeal to, the more businesses I can help, the more in demand, I will be where, in fact, it works in reverse. The more specific you get about the challenge you solve, the more specific about who you solve that challenge for, the more in demand, you're going to be because now you're the expert. And people want the expert. And it took me a long time to get that conditioning through my head. But but but I might be leaving these other things on the table. Well, nobody wants me as a generalist, so I'm not leaving anything on the table. I need to appeal to somebody.
Susan Tatum 7:48
Thank you so much for saying that. And I just want to make it clear that I did not ask you to say that. That's, that's one of the things that I think consultants all expert all businesses that in my experience, business owners have have struggled with that very thing. Yeah. And it can be almost painful to try and focus. But certainly in my world, which is, which is outreach, getting, identifying who your ideal client isn't going after them. You have to be you have the tighter, like you said, the tighter that you focus, the better it's going to be. And the faster you realize that sure is hard to do.
Dennis Geelen 8:31
Well, if I take a step back for a second, and I look at the consulting industry, I'm one in a million choices out there. So the more I build myself as a generalist, the less desirable I am, for, you know, all these choices that there needs to be a reason. And one of the first reasons is you're the expert at x and I go through this in the playbook as well. But that is step one of the playbook is is be the expert, Define Your Niche. And even then you're still one in a 100,000 instead of one and a million now now you still need to build credibility, right? Why you instead of the other person that has picked that specific niche, right.
Susan Tatum 9:11
So once you go through Dennis, when you are trying to figure out where it was that you were going to focus what was it you were going to be the expert at?
Dennis Geelen 9:19
Yeah, I kind of looked at a few different things. A my experience, obviously, I need to be able to deliver. Now I did have a very vast experience because of you know, the different roles I've had in the corporate world. So then it became, well which of those things are my most passionate about? And if you can visualize a Venn diagram here that I'm I'm building through my words then the other thing was, Okay, where is there a market and a need. And then when I overlap those three things, what is sitting in the middle, which of those things is really, you know, standing out to me, there's a market. I'm passionate about it. And I've got the skill set and the experience to do it. And it still was a couple of different answers there. So then I just tested them out. I tried pitching things, I tried putting through some offerings, I tried talking to different businesses, just to see what was resonating the most. And through trial and error and iteration. Okay, it was it was the customer experience and employee experience, stuff that that really stood out,
Susan Tatum 10:22
you know, and that you just articulated a step that I see a lot of people skipping, and that is test and talk to people and see what the market is telling you that someone told me there's a big difference in what people need and what they'll pay for. And you got to figure that out.
Dennis Geelen 10:40
Yeah, well, exactly what No, no customer no business, right. So if people aren't willing to pay you for your services, either it's not enough in demand, or they don't have the budget. So you're targeting the wrong people, or you're not selling it good enough. But it's a very iterative process to sift through all that.
Susan Tatum 10:59
So you figured it out? And then and then what was the answer? Do you do you mind sharing it? So you focused? And then what did you do to to open the floodgates?
Dennis Geelen 11:09
So the playbook you want me to go through the the kind of six step playbook I ended up developing and realizing the path I should have been on. And by the way, in the beginning, I really felt overwhelmed with all this because I felt like there was three paths I could take, figure it all out on my own. Which means okay, it's gonna be a ton of time, and effort invested. But not shelling out a lot of dollars. But this could take forever, right? A lot of trial and error and a lot of mistakes. So that's option one. Option two is Okay, start diving into all the material that's out there. Well, how many millions of books and YouTube videos and articles and blogs are there on all this stuff? And even still, how do you sift through all that? And option three was, okay, hire hire a coach or a mentor that that's been there. But who is that? And how much is that going to cost? And, and have, they really done exactly what I'm doing. So I kind of ended up fumbling through all three of those different scenarios before I figured things out. And the playbook I came up with was six steps, really to kind of get to where you need to be going. So step one, we already talked about, which was niche down and be the expert. And there's a process to do that. And we've kind of talked through a little bit. The next one, and I think I kind of alluded to is, is step two is build credibility, just because you're the expert. And they see you as Oh, there's there's a person that solves that challenge that we're having, is that the right person? Maybe they found five of you. Now they have to decide which of those five, so they're going to be looking at your credibility. What testimonials do you have? What other businesses have you worked with? What kind of results have they gotten? And in the beginning, that can be very daunting, because you probably haven't worked with anybody. Right? Or very few. So
Susan Tatum 12:56
well, if you but if you followed what you said earlier about if that one of your circles on your Venn diagram is what do I have experience in?
Dennis Geelen 13:04
Susan Tatum 13:05
then you may not have had clients, but you've done the work.
Dennis Geelen 13:07
Yes, yeah. So whatever you can draw on, to start to build up that credibility. And even if you have to do some discounted work, or even free work in the beginning a little bit just to get some more experience and get some testimonials, a lot of networking. So you get your name out there, so people get to know who you are. But you got to build that credibility. Now people start to see you as a credible expert when you put those two things together. But step three is how are you packaging and refining your offer? And a lot of mistakes I see solopreneurs, especially consultants make and I did the same was just sell my time by the hour in the beginning. Right. Okay, well, it's so much per hour, well, how many hours is it gonna take? Well, it depends. You know, there's all these different factors. And when you try and sell yourself like that, the first thing the client sees is, oh, my goodness, this could be 10 hours, this could be 40 hours, this could be 100 hours. And how do I know if it took 100 hours that Dennis couldn't have actually done it in 60?, right, and you don't want your potential client even have that mindset. So what you need to do is develop some sort of proprietary process or methodology or system and sell it at a fixed price. Example, here's my six step solopreneur playbook. You want to learn it? Here's the course. Or here's, here's what it looks like to work with me, it's this cost, we're gonna go through these six steps. This is the six, six steps to solopreneurs. Success, that's a lot different than saying, Hey, you want to book a call with me? It's 200 bucks an hour. And well, how many calls? Is it going to take? Depends, right, But if I'm selling a six step playbook at this price, that is a whole different mind shift for your potential client now. So what's your proprietary process? What's your six steps? What is your methodology? And how do you sell that at a fixed price? That is huge. And that's an iterative process as well trying to figure out what that offer is and how to price it. So those are the first three steps. And then step four is learning to sell. Just because you're a credible expert with a good offer, doesn't mean you're going to be good at attracting and closing your ideal client and being good at nurturing those relationships and selling the benefits of what it is that you do. And being comfortable in those conversations. That's a whole other thing that as a solopreneur. You either have to get really good at or outsource to somebody who else else who is good at it. And in the beginning, likely you're not in a position to outsource that, right. So learning to sell is step four. Now I tell people, those first four steps are all iterative. All of them, you're constantly testing and tweaking until you finally get to, here's my niche, here's my credibility, here's my offer. And here's how I sell it. That could take months. And that was me, like I said, In the beginning, it took a long time to get to that point before things were clicking.
Susan Tatum 16:02
Well, then the market changes, and you gotta
Dennis Geelen 16:04
Yeah, exactly. So you're probably never done iterating. But you at least get to a point where you're comfortable with saying, Here's what I do, here's what I do. Here's who I do it for. And here's and here's how I do it. Yeah, right. That's your elevator pitch at the end, but it's really those four steps that get you there. Now, a lot of solopreneurs can stop there, I've got an amazing package, it sells at a price point where, you know, I'm attracting high paying clients. And that's great, I'm done. That's all I need. I just sell, you know, so many of those a month or a year. And that's the lifestyle I want. And I'm great. But if you want to take it further, there are two other steps to the playbook that I recommend. And step five is build an audience. So whether that's through a podcast, which you're very familiar with, or newsletter, or maybe you've got a YouTube channel, or maybe you build up a Twitter audience, or Instagram or LinkedIn, or whatever, but commit to a channel, and build an audience, where people see you and know you as that credible expert. And they're, they're following what you're saying. Because you're you're giving value, and you're giving out information that is helping them on their journey. And once you start to build a big enough audience, that leads you to step six, which is now you can create other income streams from that audience. books, courses, cheat sheets, maybe you can sell sponsorship to your newsletter or your podcast. Because you've built this credible expertise in this offering, you can now build an audience. And now you can have other passive income streams because of that audience.
Susan Tatum 17:46
So I'm, I'm really glad to hear you put it in that order. Dennis because what, where I see a lot of solo consultants and new consultants and small firms and not even the new ones. But they put that I'm going to call it marketing. They put that audience building first.
Dennis Geelen 18:06
Susan Tatum 18:07
And they wait. And they wait. And they wait for something to happen. And it takes years. You know, unless you've hit on something that is really hot, and nobody's doing it. It's gonna take a while.
Dennis Geelen 18:19
Yeah, needle in a haystack, though.
Susan Tatum 18:21
Right. Yeah. So in the in order to get to the learning how to sell you, you need somebody to sell to.
Dennis Geelen 18:31
Susan Tatum 18:32
So in your world, where did those people come from?
Dennis Geelen 18:34
So it started off and this was tricky as well. It started off with my existing connections. Now, I say that was tricky, because in the beginning, I had just left the corporate world. Nobody knew me as a consultant. They knew me as a director of Project Management they knew me as a director of customer experience, they knew me as a Director of Professional Services. They didn't know me as a consultant that was going to come in and work with their leadership team. So it still took a while even when I reached out to some of those contacts, they're like, Oh, you're doing consulting now, how could you help us like, you know, we worked with you before when you were one of our clients. So, but so it did take some while. And again, it was really refining that offering, refining the challenge that I solve, and the benefits of solving that challenge and who's having those challenges. And really, it was a lot of conversations and a lot of networking, leveraging my existing network, either. They were a potential customer, or they knew a potential customer, in order to get my first few consulting clients, and then it was leveraging them, and testimonials and referrals to have it snowballed from there.
Susan Tatum 19:44
So you these were people that you knew well enough to get a call with.
Dennis Geelen 19:47
Yeah, that I mean, anybody who's ever done cold selling, will tell you that's That's the worst part. So even if there's a trace of warmth, there, if there's an existing relationship where there's already a little bit of trust, it makes a world of difference.
Susan Tatum 20:01
And it's good practice for when you are talking with with people that you don't know.
Dennis Geelen 20:05
Yeah. And it's a numbers game to like, at the end of the day, not everybody's your ideal client, even if you think they are, or even if they are, they might not be ready to buy what you're selling right now. Maybe they are six months from now, but not now. So the more you reach out to you, the more conversations you have, the higher the likelihood you have of of nurturing one of those into a potential client.
Susan Tatum 20:25
Well, and I would say that I mean, that's that is that's very important. I think one of the biggest mistakes that is made and in sales, and it's fundamental to the way sales works is focusing on only on people that are ready to buy right now. And that's such a small percentage of the market and you miss all of these other people, that would be fabulous clients, if they knew they had the problem, or they knew that you could help them solve this.
Dennis Geelen 20:50
In my case, I'm not selling a commodity, right. So it's not an impulse buy. The the sales cycle is longer, you have to build relationships, you got to build trust. And they have to come to a point where their organization sees this as enough of a challenge that, okay, we need to do something about it. That is not happening the day you pick up the phone and have that first phone call with them. Right? That's, that could be 6,9,12 months from now. So you got to plant those seeds. You got to build those relationships.
Susan Tatum 21:20
Yeah, right. relationships and trust is is so important. And what we do I mean, we're, we're selling air, basically. And, yeah, people have to believe in us and like us, and you know, it works. It works in reverse, too. I realized I reached a point in my career where I'm not I don't want to work with people that I don't want to work with.
Dennis Geelen 21:39
Susan Tatum 21:40
not gonna do it.
Dennis Geelen 21:41
Yeah, it's not worth it.
Susan Tatum 21:41
It's a nice place to be. Well so we are talking here on September 13 2022. I got that year right. You know, the economy is a little bit iffy. The news continues to not be great. What advice do you have for folks out there may consult cuz I think consulting can go either way. Consult there have been, there have been times when people just stopped hiring consultants. But there is also I believe, a great reason to hire consultants, so many reasons to hire consultants. Yeah. So what do you advise solopreneurs to do?
Dennis Geelen 22:21
Well, the first thing I would suggest anybody who is even thinking about doing this now, it doesn't just have to be consultants. I mean, I work with solopreneurs, who are copywriters, or ghost writers, or digital marketers, or fitness instructors, or anybody that's got some sort of solo side hustle business is started as a side hustle. I wasn't in that position. My story is I was laid off for the first time in my life at at 43. And decided to bet on myself. Now I had a severance package, and I had some time so I was blessed with that opportunity. But what I advise everybody to do is try this as a side hustle first, try and iterate and figure out what your niche would be. How would you build credibility? What would you offer and how would you sell it? And do that on the side? Because, like, I found out my secure nine to five corporate job wasn't as secure as I thought it was. And things can change. Like you said, the economy changes, market changes. You know, organizations downsize and now somebody who thought that they were irreplaceable is suddenly on the sidelines. Right? now, but if you started as a side hustle, you can learn, you can grow, you can go through that whole iterative process without the pressure of knowing you have to make some money off this right away. Which is a huge mistake a lot of people make, like, in my case, yes, I had a severance package, but I still had this internal feeling like, Man, I gotta, I gotta start getting some clients, I gotta start getting some money in here. And when you have that mindset, it changes everything in a bad way. You start being salesy, instead of building relationships, you start chasing money, instead of trying to serve and help people. And I had to step back and go, Oh, hold on a second, this is a marathon, not a sprint, I need to plant the seeds, I need to do this properly. So if you're doing it as a side hustle, it's way easier to have that mentality, and learn and grow. And then eventually, maybe if you do get laid off, now you've got something already started. Or if you see it growing into something that's really working, you can yourself not quietly quit, but take the steps to, you know, maybe I'll take this full time and ramped down my corporate job and transition into this. So that would be my biggest advice is try this as a side hustle. Even if it doesn't take off, you learn and grow so much by starting your own business. I mean, I'm a whole different human than I was four years ago, just because of the process I've gone through in a good way.
Susan Tatum 24:52
And think of all the things you've learned sales marketing.
Dennis Geelen 24:56
Susan Tatum 24:57
Yeah. Well, Dennis, thank you so much for for being here and sharing all that information with us. And I, I know your accidental solopreneurs is now out and available, I thought it was not going to be available till tomorrow. So I'm ordering my copy when we get off this call. And people that want to follow up with you, what's the best way to do that.
Dennis Geelen 25:17
So my my website where I talk about all the solopreneur stuff is Dennisgeelen.me that's where you can find out a little more about me. But what I've done through zero in that's where if you want to have coaching calls with me, you can find out about that where you can find links to the book, and the online course. And by the way, the book and the course, similar but different. So the book is told in a parable. And the reason is because I really wanted the book to show people what does it feel like to leave corporate and start your own thing? Because there's a whole inner journey you go through there, right? All the anxiety, all the fears, the naysayers, the supporters, the highs, the lows, the twists, the turns, I really wanted a book that showed people be prepared for this. There's there's beyond the playbook and the steps you have to take, you got to be ready for the inner journey you're gonna go through. So the accidental solopreneur takes people through that journey. And then the course the solopreneur playbook takes them through those six steps we've talked about and really dives in along with a workbook on how do you iterate and nail these things for yourself on your journey.
Susan Tatum 26:25
All right, so and then what about for the zero in formulas that or is it zero in....
Dennis Geelen 26:31
yep the zero in formula was my my previous book, that one you can find if you go to the zero in website zero-in.ca You can see everything I offer there through zero in the consulting the the books, the online courses there as well.
Susan Tatum 26:48
Okay, Thank you. You mentioned before that you would provide a a discount on your course for the listeners of the show, we'll put that in the show notes.
Dennis Geelen 26:57
Yeah, anybody that is wanting to either try this as a side hustle or has already maybe started and want some more direction. Like I said, for me, I felt like there was these three overwhelming options. And I just wanted to give somebody at a price point that was a no brainer. Here's the steps. Here's how you do it. I wish this is the course that was available for me four years ago. So that's what I created. And for anybody listening to the podcast, the course normally sells for $75 US But in the show notes we're going to we're going to give a link to the course and a promo code where you can get it at a further 50% off so no excuses if you really want to learn and dive in and do this. It Oh, grab the course grab it at 50% off and there you go.
Susan Tatum 27:44
How could you not go for that one? All right. Thank you, Dennis. Have a great rest of your day.
Dennis Geelen 27:49
Yeah, thanks so much, Susan. Bye bye