Who is a solopreneur? And who coined the name ‘solopreneur”? It is clearly an amalgam of two words “solo” and “entrepreneur”, but who decided to mesh these words together remains a mystery. On the face of it, the word “solopreneur” reflects those who would like to be entrepreneurs, but also be the “lone hand” in their businesses. This much is the truth about them.
But the rest of the perceptions that most of us have about solopreneurs is not always correct, say industry insiders. For instance, we may think solopreneurs are people with very small businesses; they work from home with a small website; they are introverts; they are awkward about marketing or networking; they prefer to be more online than offline in maintaining contact with others; they may often be the products of failed careers; they may be non-conformists cocking a snook at the 9-to-5 working brigade …and so on. All these kinds of notions are simply an unfair slotting of solopreneurs into a stereotype that many solopreneurs don’t really fit. So let’s see who is not a solopreneur, to really understand who is a solopreneur!
A solopreneur is not necessarily an introvert.
Introversion and extroversion have nothing to do with one who is a solopreneur.
Psychologists now believe that the real difference between introverts and extroverts is not about their attitudes and preferences – or indeed, their psychological traits. The truth, it seems, is that their energies ebb and flow differently under different circumstances. Extroverts gets energized more when they are in the company of others. That is why they seek company more often. On the other hand, introverts feel more energized when they are alone. And that is why they seek to be quietly alone more often.
Wanting to be “left alone” may not be what solopreneurs want, and therefore they should not be immediately bracketed as people who prefer introversion.
It could be that they perform best when they are without distractions, or that there are other business conditions that they don’t like, which makes them prefer being the lone-hands working on their businesses. For example, it could be that they don’t like doing too many administrative tasks as opposed to creative tasks – and therefore having others in the business to manage feels like a drain of time away from what they’d rather be doing. The need for being “solo” is not the opposite of the need to be “in company”.
A solopreneur is not necessarily averse to marketing.
One who is a solopreneur may have his own methods of doing this happily.
There are at least seventeen or eighteen different methods of business marketing and networking. Some of these range from passive methods like distributing print material or making a website available. At the other end of the spectrum, you can have active marketing and networking methods, that can take the form of attending seminars and conferences, taking meetings with potential clients and so on. The decision on which methods of marketing to use for any business must depend on both factors: what suits the comfort levels of the business owner (the solopreneur) and what suits the comfort levels of the prospective customers.
A lot of people starting out with a business always assume that if you have to get and hold business, you have to place a higher priority on what the customer prefers as the method of contact, and you have to put your own comfort second. But, a lot of solopreneurs are now finding that unless they also see to their own comfort levels, they cannot sustain the marketing activity.
For instance, an advertising consultant I met recently (a solopreneur) had weeded out three of her most paying clients and taken a huge risk with some entirely new small ones. Since this doesn’t often happen, the rest of us in our consulting gang were curious to know why she had “sabotaged her business” in this fashion. Her explanation was that the three big clients were paying large monies, for sure, but also eating up her time miserably. They insisted on endless, tire-kicker, face-to-face meetings at the drop of a hat, and this was not always the most profitable way to service the account – considering she was a solopreneur with no other staff. Time came when a ruthless ROI study showed her that the costs of keeping the clients (including financial costs and personal wear-and-tear) were far more than the clients’ business or her time were worth. Had the clients agreed to do important meetings in person and the rest via Skype, perhaps, the business relationship could have been saved. But the clients were intractable – and saw “beck-and-call” availability as part of the servicing of the business.
The moral of this story is that marketing and networking can be done in many ways, and the solopreneur has to be careful what to promise, judging by the comfort levels of both, the solopreneur and the customers. But in all this, the old perspectives of “customer servicing” have to go. To want to give as much priority to oneself as to one’s customers is not a sin to be disdained in business. It’s the very basis on which a solopreneur can maintain sanity!
A solopreneur is not necessarily anti-employee.
Outsourcing freelancers may work better for the one who is a solopreneur.
There is a very interesting saying in the business world, that “You can have as many managers as you need, provided you have a manager to manage the managers!” Handling people – starting with hiring them, training them, getting work out of them, and finally paying them – is a tedious exercise, but large organizations factor this in as a necessary pain, and therefore get in as many people as they can by streamlining their people-management systems as best as they can. Part of the tedium in handling people is handling the money matters of these people.
Compared to having employees, however, hiring freelancers and consultants has major benefits. You can pay partially when assignments begin and then make the rest of the payment commensurate on quality of work delivered, so the risk of poor work is negated. You can hire when budget allows or else find ways to do the work yourself or later, so that you can guard your business against running itself into the ground financially. There will be no commitments unless there is a budget. To solopreneurs all these are really big benefits, and not to be sneezed at.
The flip side to outsourcing versus hiring is that it takes time and patience to find the right people, and to make sure you can give them enough business to be loyal to your priorities. You don’t want slippery freelancers who run AWOL to the newest or highest paying clients leaving your jobs as second priority. You need to build relationships where both you and your vendor/freelancer/outsource-worker feel bound to make some level of commitment to each other, without frequent temptation to stray to “greener pastures”.
The point to note here is that solopreneurs may not have a negative trait about shrinking from hiring employees. They may actually have a positive trait about feeling more confident of building relationships with vendors. They may not see hired employees as needed to secure business loyalty.
A solopreneur is not necessarily averse to paychecks.
One who is a solopreneur could also be a contracted consultant.
Another popular misonception of solopreneurs is that they may be people who hate the standard 9-to-5 careers (non-conformists), or that they may have failed at careers (losers), and therefore may be seeking refuge in an online solopreneur business. This a very debilitating kind of “script” for a solopreneur to start believing in. It leads to a “victim mindset” that may not be true. When society at large buys into this script it can be hard work for a solopreneur to be explaining his or her motivations. For example, at one seminar I accidentally overheard one solopreneur asking another: “You too are planning to become a solopreneur? So what happened at work?”
The interesting part is the answer that the other solopreneur gave. He said with confidence: “Nothing happened at work. I’m still contracted to that company as a consultant, but I’m technically my own boss now. There’s a lot of good that has come of this change. They are having to look at me with fresh eyes now because they are in competition with other firms for my services, whereas earlier I was in competition with other people to be employed by them.”
This little conversation packs a big moral. Solopreneurs don’t have to always seem as if eking out pennies from website monetization or other little pocket money. Solopreneurs may not dislike working for large organizations. They can still be consultant-solopreneurs. They may just prefer to be employed but off-payroll … with an autonomy in ownership of their own time and intellectual assets, and with the ability to be a competitive entity.
A solopreneur is not necessarily against scaling.
One who is a solopreneur, earning in millions, may have a really big-sized business.
Please don’t ever make the mistake of associating the word ‘small” with “solo”. There are some mind-boggling statistics in an article in Forbes Magazine titled “The Rise Of The Million Dollar, One-Person Business” that can shatter any illusions you have on this topic. Read on …
“The U.S. Census Bureau’s recently released annual report on “non-employer” businesses found that there were 22.5 million “nonemployer firms” in 2011. They had average revenues of $44,000. That’s in the ballpark of the average annual wage in the U.S. of $45,790, though, of course, any overhead the owners must pay comes out of their revenue. But for some of these one-man or one-woman shops, running a microbusiness is very lucrative. If you’re thinking about going into business for yourself, and worry about how you’ll pay the bills or support your dependents, you may find these statistics about non-employer firms inspiring.
- 1.6 million owners rang up sales in the the $100,000 to $249,999 range (up from 1.5 million in 2010)
- 484, 479 had sales from $250,000 to $499,999 (up from 453,694 in 2010)
- 209,415 had sales between $500,000 to $999,999 (up from 198,755 in 2010)
- 26,744 had sales between $1 million and $2.49 million (up from 24,945 in 2010)
- 1,723 had sales between $2.5 million and $4.99 million (up from 1,618 in 2010)
- 368 had sales of $5 million or more (down from 442 in 2010)
As you’ll see, the numbers of nonemployer firms in most of these categories are rising, and there was a significant bump in those breaking the $1 million mark.”
What this goes to show is that solopreneurs too believe in scaling up their businesses, but they may choose to grow “lean and tall” and not “wide with branches”.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of aspiring digital solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us in the comments field below this post.
This is Article 1 in our “Contented Solopreneur Guide 1: Are you ready to be a solopreneur?”