What is the makeup of a Solopreneur?


Being a solopreneur is great, but it has its share of challenges.

The definition of a solopreneur is someone who starts and runs a business on their own. Being a solopreneur is a choice, and often driven by the desire to have more freedom, unlimited income and work-life balance. It is what many call a “lifestyle” business. The difference between a solopreneur and an entrepreneur (and all of the other “preneurs”) is that the solo operates on their own with the full responsibility and weight of the business’s success riding on their decisions, finances and effort. It’s up to the solopreneur to operate, fund and guide the business. Entrepreneurs may work similarly, but their goals are different; they develop exit strategies that involve eventual buy-out.

Being a solopreneur is not easy. It can be lonely. It can be frustrating. It can be overwhelming. Every aspect of running a business falls squarely on the shoulders of the solo. From business strategy to marketing and sales and getting the work done, the solo is challenged with having a working knowledge in virtually every aspect of business. However, the solo is not likely to be an MBA or expert in launching and running a business. Rarely do solos have a skillset that encompasses everything from accounting to operations to taxes to legal and so on.

On the other hand, being a solo is the most satisfying, freeing and lucrative experience anyone can have in life. Solos typically do work they love—what they excel at, are naturally interested in and hold their biggest strengths. Because they’re doing what they love, they can do it for hours, weeks, even years without tiring. What tires them, however, is having to wear all of the hats that are required to run a business.

Another good (or not so good, depending on how you look at it) thing about solo work is that solos are just that: solo. They work alone. Sure, at some point they may hire virtual assistants, independent contractors or outsource, but in the end, the buck stops with the solo. Solos have to work especially hard to stay connected, relevant and involved so they don’t experience loneliness or depression and backslide in their capacity to consistently offer value.

Because of the low barrier to entry, many people are choosing the solo route because they don’t want to build a large enterprise. It also fits better into the new gig economy where many businesses are turning to avoid the hassle of employees and reduce costs to attract, retain and cultivate a temperamental workforce. Solos want a lifestyle business after coming up through traditional employment working for companies or corporations to earn their skins. They turn to solo work after tiring of the politics or glass ceilings ingrained within the corporate world or they’ve been laid off and can’t find suitable new employment.

When they come out of the corporate world into the solo world, many bring solid networks with them they can leverage to get their start. They thrash around and, out of desperation, give their work and time away to get gigs. They’ll learn hard lessons and make a lot of mistakes because no one taught them how to start and run a business. They get a lot of input from the peanut gallery (both online and off) and try to make sense of what they need to do to be successful.

Solos quickly realize the reality of competition, visibility and how difficult it is to land contracts to get their business rolling. They have the attitude, “I am an expert and am really great at what I do, shouldn’t that be enough?” when they go out on their own. But they discover through trial and error that they need to figure out their marketing, sales, target market, products and services as well as their positioning to make it rain. Eventually, after milking their network or other outreach efforts, they’ll get some early wins and decide a year or two into it that this is what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

They’re hooked on being a solo and can’t even fathom going back to work for a paycheck again.

After the first year or two, they start to realize that they are on a rollercoaster. The highs are when they get a new client and get to deposit a decent-sized check in the bank. The lows are when they lose a client or have a dry spell and the phone stops ringing. They find it hard to strike a balance between a steady flow of new work and their ability to get it done. Sometimes marketing falls behind, sometimes their relationship building falls behind, sometimes their awareness falls behind while they are busy doing the work for the clients they have.

When they slow down or stop lead nurturing and rainmaking, their pipeline dries up and they find themselves in a desperate situation. They may fall into a panic and make poor decisions by wasting money on outsourcing ineffective marketing because they don’t know how to buy marketing services and they don’t have a marketing strategy. They end up getting burned because their investment in ineffective marketing did not yield the return they expected and become discouraged about their ability to successfully market their work. They’ll revert back to relying on their network and the haphazard ways of marketing they did in the past.

Going solo can be an emotional experience because solos are not selling a widget—they are selling themselves. If a client isn’t happy, they take it personally. If a client doesn’t give them enough praise, they take it personally. If a prospect doesn’t easily say “Yes,” and buy right away, they take it personally. Managing the emotional side of being a solo is an ongoing job that requires insight, objectivity and self-care.

Solos promise one thing, but have a tendency to overdeliver. Because they don’t have hard boundaries on their engagements or clear work processes they are challenged to define scopes in proper detail and fall into the trap of doing more than they promise. They also want to be liked, appreciated and valued for their expertise and their ability to deliver. They want to “lock that client in,” by giving them a great experience and great solution. They work very hard to please their clients and earn their loyalty. They are committed and respect the relationship and will do whatever it takes to keep the relationship in tact and viable, especially if they like working with the client.

Solos can be too married to their approach or training. They can be so anchored in “this is the right way/only way to do it,” that conflict can arise between them and their client on the most effective way to get results. The seasoned solo will be able to listen to what their client needs and cater their approach to drive the results the client wants. They realize that the approach or process they use is a best-practice tool that gets the job done and the client’s the outcomes they want. They understand that it’s a method to achieve an outcome they’ve refined through practice and experience.

Solos are not naturally fearful. They are hard workers, ambitious and have a high degree of self-motivation. However, when they focus on their troubles, such as dipping income, client snafu or dried up pipeline, they can become fearful, discouraged and even depressed if they focus negatively over an extended period of time. This doesn’t serve the solo because they need to stay “up” in order to attract quality clients and efficiently get their work done.

Solos lack objectivity. They are so close to their work, clients and expertise (“this is the way to do it,”) that they often miss opportunities for improvement or innovation. They are often unnecessarily influenced by competitors or the media (for example, when making statements about the good/bad economy) which can serve to dampen their outlook on their own business or positively inspire them to new ideas for products and services or ways they can add more value to their clients.

Solos are the “face” of their business, which can help their positioning but can also add effort to the work they are doing in the business. It increases their exposure and puts them on “stage” where they are judged by critics or copycat competitors. However, it also teaches them courage, confidence and thickens their skin over time. Putting themselves out there is a growth experience for them which serves to enrich their capability as well as their bank account.

Solos spend a good amount of time shoring themselves up with personal growth and education or vocational training to keep their skills sharp. They often have an “inner strength” that is grounded in some form of spiritual philosophy or belief, enabling them to tap a resource they trust and rely upon for their inspiration and stamina. Their set of beliefs are also the catalyst that drive who they are, how they conduct themselves and how they manage their relationships in their business and life.

Because there is so much latitude in running a business, solos often fail to develop and stick to a strategic plan. If they don’t see success indicators (which are typically poorly identified up front because they didn’t take the time to build a solid strategy), they abandon the direction and start something completely new. This behavior can be somewhat beneficial because it helps refine what the business is about over time and can isolate a niche more precisely, However, it can rapidly deplete the business’s momentum with a “stop, shift, restart” behavior that is confusing to the solo’s audience and makes the solo feel like they aren’t making progress or achieving any marked success in their business.

Solos can be distracted by shiny objects. This is most noticeable in their marketing efforts. Instead of committing to consistent, planned marketing tactics, they bounce around and try different things hoping for a better outcome. To a degree this is can be helpful in finding the most effective implementation for their marketing, however, they eventually realize (hopefully) that marketing is a multi-media, multi-channel effort that should be tied together with a solid brand and driven by a clear strategy. Solos can also be distracted by competitors who appear to be successful on the outside. They copy the perceived model to varying degrees in the hopes they will achieve the same success when in fact they are not taking the time to develop their own unique platform and model. This perpetuates a “follower” mentality, not a leader mentality which leaves them always trying to change or adjust to achieve the results they want.

What are your thoughts?

Does reading this confirm your self-diagnosed solopreneurship? What’s missing? What has changed in your business or life that’s sharable? Tell me your story.

SolopreneurshipTerry Pappy