As a digital nomad I’ve worked with startups from Estonia and the United States in the Operations field. Throughout the years I had to manage my own team, plan cross-team projects and analyze customer expectations. Naturally, I had to collaborate with product managers a lot, which helped me realize that they must have a comprehensive knowledge of both the business, as well as customers, in order to be effective in their role.
As I was interested in the topic, I decided to take a course from Udemy on becoming a product Manager and nowadays I see myself following some of those learnings in my daily life, and how I manage my business, and you should as well!
A product manager is a person who strives to understand what customers need and translates those needs into actionable objectives to improve the product. This means that people in this role need to ask the right questions, focus on what matters, think about the future, and are not afraid of failing.
I think that this sounds very similar to the role of a solopreneur/freelancer, don’t you?
As a one-person team, we solopreneurs are constantly struggling with blockers such as productivity runts, poor time-management skills, and, worst of all, the fear of taking on a new project. 😱
So let’s look at what we can learn from a product management mindset today so you can empower your business moving forward.
PM Tip #1: Ask the right questions
If you are starting a new fairly long-term project like a website redesign or a rebranding project, you should always ask lots of questions. Try to understand the problem that this new project will be solving for your client or your client’s client, and map out possible solutions.
Product managers like to create user stories to understand users’ pain points and tasks-to-be-done, with the following framework:
As a [type of person], I want to [do something], so that I can [achieve a goal].
Let’s say client X (from Xolo) wants a new landing page design by next week. In this case, you should start by asking the client questions such as:
- Who are you targeting with this redesign?
- What is your value proposition?
- What are your clients currently saying about you?
You can always add these questions in the brief you normally send to clients. Keep their answers in mind when describing the end user’s pain points with a user story like:
As a [solopreneur], I want to [avoid spending my time on accounting], so that [I can invest my energy into developing my skills and getting more clients for my own business].
Are you starting to get some ideas on how to connect with the target audience of the website?
Framing your thought process around the value that the end-user would appreciate always helps to do your job better. Because if you don’t “connect” with the end-user, it doesn’t matter how pretty the website is or how closely you followed the client’s requests — the client will still be unhappy. Website redesign is never just about design. People always have business goals to achieve so try to understand those goals better before accepting the gig.
A few other questions to ask a client before moving forward:
- What kind of outcome do you want to achieve with the new page?
- What specifically did not work with the old design?
- Why is there a need for change?
Try to understand what is your client’s success criteria. This way you can better plan your workload and ideally avoid a million iterations to achieve the best possible outcome.
PM Tip #2: Take your prioritization process to the next level
Due to the nature of freelancing, we are constantly working on different projects — and with new clients — and there is a natural tendency for our schedules to either be overwhelmingly full of to-dos or completely empty, as it can be hard to know where to start (for me, its the latter).
Product managers use a tool that helps them efficiently prioritize their time, and focus on what matters. It’s called The Eisenhower Matrix.
With this thought process, you should try to organize your projects and tasks in a way that you have an overview of what is urgent and important so you can tackle them first. Tasks that are not as urgent can be scheduled for later.
At the same time, you should also know what is urgent but not important for you to invest your precious time into. That way you can delegate it to someone else.
For example, as a solopreneur, I need to take care of my business expenses and make sure my taxes are in order. But this task isn’t necessarily “important” for me because it doesn’t help me to find new clients or focus on personal growth. So, in a way, expenses are always urgent and needs to be done but they’re also not something I would like to spend my time doing. This is where Xolo Go or Xolo Leap can help you manage your business entity without you having to worry about monotonous business admin. By delegating the handling of business expenses to the capable hands at Xolo, that leaves more time to focus on your hustle instead! 🧑💻
Finally, through this type of mindset, you should think about what to delete from the to-do list. That means tasks that take you off-course, or that simply do not contribute anything to what you are trying to achieve.
We’ve created a graph to help you better visualize the idea:
PM Tip #3: Set quarterly goals
As a freelancer/solopreneur you should have long-term goals for your business. Let’s call them your vision. But when you think about your future achievements, it’s important to plan how you’ll get there!
To help with this, product managers like to use a goal-setting framework called Objectives and Key Results. OKRs are a great tool to help you focus and stay on track.
But how does it work? 🤔
You write OKRs at the beginning of every quarter by defining a qualitative objective (“What do I want to achieve?”) and quantitative key results (“How will I know if I’m getting there?”).
Here is how John Doerr (ex-Google) suggests writing OKRs:
I want to [objective] as measured by [key results].
Example: I want to become a superstar at email marketing as measured by kr1: achieve a 7% click-through rate in all of my emails + kr2: complete 3 email marketing courses + kr3: achieve 300 subscribers with my newsletter.
By following the OKR method you can do simple weekly or bi-weekly reviews of what you’ve achieved and track your progress in a more efficient way. To track progress on your OKRs, you can use a free OKR software like Weekdone (free for 1-3 users), a template for a digital whiteboard on Miro, or try to adapt project management tools like Trello or Asana.
PM Tip #4: Learn from your mistakes
Product managers are always tinkering with new ideas, and these experiments can bring new insights… or bring you to a dead end. Due to the experimental nature of the job, product managers fail a lot, sometimes daily, but understand and accept that it’s a necessary process to learn and iterate as many times as needed — in order to come to a successful conclusion.
If you think about it, there’s no such thing as failure, only a huge variety of different opportunities to learn!
So PMs are not afraid of failing and they understand that every project, feature, or product starts out of something that is inherently broken and is molded by failure.
So when you deliver a project and your client is not happy with it, or when you are banging your head against a wall because you are not achieving your goals, try to take a breather and look at it from the perspective of a product manager.
Learn why something failed. Figure out what you need to do to avoid the same result in the future. Then find a way you can improve. This is a surefire way of making sure that your efforts continue to guide you positively in your path as a freelancer.
PM Tip #5: Enjoy the ride
As freelancers, we have the opportunity to express our creativity, skills, and technical knowledge on our terms. This level of freedom is unique to our situation but at the same time, the lack of structure can be a little frustrating!
My best advice is to take it one step at a time. Follow your passions, grow your business, meet new people, and have fun doing it. Your solopreneur path shouldn’t be a sprint, but a marathon that empowers you for the rest of your life. 🏃♀️
Jorge is a digital nomad from Portugal with experience in the startup world, remote working, and Chinese technology. He worked previously at Wise and Deel and is currently a remote graduate student at SOAS University of London. In his free time, you can find him learning new languages or planning his next destination, be it a restaurant or a new city in a different corner of the world. Jorge uses Xolo Leap so his business can travel the world along with him.