Aspiring solopreneurs are among the most ambitious people you can meet. Driven by a passion for their work and a thirst for success, solopreneurs may seek to become millionaires, celebrities or to simply enjoy the freedom of solopreneurship. Before diving into some key strategies of successful solopreneurs, let’s solidify what sets them apart from others.
Solopreneur vs. Entrepreneur
A solopreneur acts as a specific type of entrepreneur. But while an entrepreneur may hire W-2 designated employees, a solopreneur does not; Instead, they run their business single-handedly without a hired staff. That is, they work solo.
Solopreneur vs. Freelancer
Solopreneurs own and run their own business. Freelancers, on the other hand, act as hands for hire and do not work permanently for any single organization. In fact, many solopreneurs contract freelancers for specific projects such as bookkeeping, editing and design.
Define your niche and make it scalable.
Most successful businesses start within a well-defined niche. This goes tenfold for solopreneurs! Without major funding for advertising and production, you can’t buy your way into a market share. Personal talent, skill and drive are your biggest assets.
If you provide local goods or services, consider things that people need but lack in the community. If similar goods and services exist, try to find your own angle. Consider taking a Blue Ocean Strategy approach—don’t try to compete in an existing market, but create your own market with a unique product or service. That is, lead by creating your own niche where possible.
At every turn, build a scalable business and brand. Scalability refers to the ability to increase revenue without drastically increasing costs. A photography solopreneur may have the front end costs of certain cameras, lenses and even software. But if they grow from three clients to 10, or from weddings to graduation photography, the initial cost for the tools of the trade does not change. The money-smart solopreneur is a master of scalability, keeping costs low and business primed for growth.
Develop a business plan that defines goals.
A business plan serves multiple purposes. You may use it in seeking investment. A business plan helps you solidify your business approach not only in your own mind, but also in the minds of those you rely on.
A business plan also provides a road map. By setting objectives and goals, you have clear benchmarks to ascertain your success over time. Additionally, it helps you express your needs to other related figures such as freelancers. For instance, you might contract a web designer to create your online store, website, logo and other structure or collateral. Providing an executive summary of your business plan can help them greatly in determining audience and goals.
Emphasize your brand and make it personal and genuine.
As a solopreneur, you are a one-person show. Your product brand and your personal brand may be one and the same. Consider successful Instagrammers who are crushing the branding game. Likewise, YouTube and podcast celebrities need to let their personal identity shine in order to develop their brand and engage their audience. So do life coaches, yoga and meditation instructors, artists and party entertainers. In each case, the personality of the solopreneur is crucial to capturing and engaging an audience.
But even less public-facing solopreneurs need to acknowledge that they are, to a degree, a representative of their product. Dog walkers and groomers, writers, graphic artists, coders, mechanics, tutors and bookkeepers: in each case, the solopreneur must recognize that they can’t hide behind their product. Make your brand both personal and caring.
Are you a housesitter? What’s a personal story that conveys your sense of dependability? Are you a baker? Dig up that personal memory of when you were a small child helping your grandmother bake cookies for the first time. Don’t belabor the point, but be ready to weave your personal history and career identity into your messaging.
Quality of clients matters more than quantity of customers.
Your business will grow, and you will adapt to changing needs and technologies. But what won’t change is that you are a single human being with limited time. Unlike a large box corporation, the solopreneur’s job is not about getting the most clients. Rather, the solopreneur seeks the best clients.
Service related solopreneurs in particular often start by taking nearly any job, including low-paying gigs. It’s an opportunity to earn some income while honing skills and learning market demands. But over time, your experience and credentials will grow, and your client list will likely grow with it.
Solopreneurs have the luxury of narrowing their client list however or whenever they choose. One factor may include pay, but other factors can be more personal. Which jobs do you enjoy most? What clients are easiest to work with? Narrow down as needed based on your personal idea of success. If the decision-making seems too abstract, consider using some simple problem-solving tools to assist you.
Save time using CRM technologies.
Solopreneurs have the luxury of pursuing their passions and doing what they love most. But administrative work, sales and other aspects of any business come with the job too. Even if you enjoy these duties, you likely want to spend more time on actual, revenue-generating work. Reduce administrative duties early on by using digital CRM tools.
CRM (or Client Relationship Management) software and related digital tools can help you increase productivity, manage contacts, schedule meetings and more. And as a solopreneur, you don’t need to spend a fortune on high end software designed for large, complex organizations. Check out this list of free and affordable best business tools.
Seek solopreneur coaching.
Most solopreneurs don’t think of their business as a job—it’s a passion. It’s who they are. It’s what they read about, chat about and work into many aspects of their lives. As such, there’s never a shortage of seasoned solopreneurs to learn from.
Consider following solopreneurship topics in social media such as on Reddit. If you’re a photographer, take advantage of learning from your fellows online or in your community. Figures such as Michael O’Neal of The Solopreneur Hour provide great advice on YouTube and Apple podcast. Most solopreneurs love what they do, and the successful ones are usually more than happy to provide coaching both online and in-person.
Be ready to dispel solopreneur myths among colleagues and family.
Although I saved this for last, it’s in some ways the most important consideration for those getting started as a solopreneur.
Friends, famly, and colleagues will believe certain solopreneur myths.
Understand that some will assume that you are not serious. That what you do is just a hobby. That you are unemployed. That you don’t have responsibilities and deadlines. Literally, some people you love will assume you don’t work. That you have the free time to watch their kids, go shopping or simply chat on the phone for an hour in the morning. And maybe you have time for some of these things. But only you can determine that, no one else.
Avoid hurt feelings by deciding your terms and limits from the start. Whether you work 16 hours per day or for just a few hours of crunch-time in the morning, define your limits as early as possible. Express them to people in your life. Don’t let resentments build on either side by waiting too late to say, “No.” Express your business commitments early on to avoid hurt feelings later.
Photo by @gor_tanya/Twenty20