Don’t we all dream of having full control over our professional destinies? No more relying on others to help us along, no more needing to collaborate with colleagues, and no more compromising our preferences or watering down our styles. Just the work and the relentless pursuit of goals, knowing that the successes we achieve are entirely ours to own. This is the motivation behind modern solopreneurship.
Whether they have a grand design that they can only fulfill with 100% control, or they’re simply burned out on playing the convoluted games inherent to conventional business structures, they decide to work alone whenever possible. It may be somewhat stubborn, but it’s quite a romantic way to live.
Idealism aside, though, the markets don’t generally reward courage or commendable resolve. They reward broad, consistent, professional effort — something that’s exceptionally challenging for solopreneurs to achieve. Given that building a business isn’t easy for talented teams, it’s hardly surprising that it’s such a daunting task for just one person.
Does that make solopreneurs naive fools? Are they assuredly doomed? In a word, no: a solopreneur can achieve great things. It’s merely harder and requires different ingredients than those needed for regular business success.
In this piece, we’re going to look at some of the secrets of this solo success. What matters for a solopreneur? What must they do — and what must they be — to truly make it? Let’s take a closer look, laying out what will set you apart when you’re pursuing your business journey:
1. Having unyielding resiliency
Business is never forgiving. It’ll knock you down over and over again, persistently finding fresh ways to dent your ego and make you doubt your prospects. When you’re working as part of a team, you at least get to derive some comfort from not being alone in feeling uncertain, and (most importantly) share the burden of getting results.
As a solopreneur, though, you don’t get to maintain a neat differentiation between yourself and your business. You are your business, and no matter how equanimous and dispassionate you aim to be when receiving criticism, you’re going to feel personally attacked to some extent.
This is enough to break many people, irrevocably destroying their interest in being a solopreneur. It drives them to return to a standard working setup with no comparable pressure and the comfort of being able to maintain a healthy distance from their career demands.
If you’re going to stay the course, you must have rock-solid self-belief, the fierce level of determination demonstrated by all great achievers, and the ability to deal with rejection and keep moving. Do everything you can to maintain your motivation, whether it’s having a daily motivational quote or reminding yourself of where you started. It’s a tough task, yes, but anyone who said that the solopreneur life would be easy was trying to sell you something.
2. Establishing a support system
Working alone is one thing, but feeling alone is another thing entirely. We all need support from the people in our lives. We need to be reassured when we’re feeling low, given distractions from the daily grind, and motivated by those we care about to keep battling to succeed. It bears considering that loneliness is on the rise, and entrepreneurs are shockingly vulnerable.
And then there’s the matter of getting valuable advice — why struggle to come up with your solutions when you can turn to someone who’s already been in your shoes? Furthermore, however creative you may be, your ideas will get stale if you live inside your head for too long. You’ll struggle to assess your ideas with any degree of objectivity. You’ll get excited about an idea, run with it, then realize far too late that it was never realistic.
Just as you must build up a strong set of contacts to get ahead in business (even if you’re working alone), you have every reason to lean on friends and family members for emotional support, as well as pick out some mentors to guide you over the bumps in the road. If you can’t find any such mentors, it’s OK — even if you’re just using a friend as a sounding board to force you to make a case for your plans, it’ll still help you view things from a clearer perspective.
3. Staying mentally and physically healthy
Being a solopreneur means subjecting yourself to a brutal workload at times. The occasional bout of outsourcing can help, but since you’re the brand, you need to be at the helm continually. This is intensely draining and can exhaust you (eventually driving you to the point of burnout) if you’re not extremely careful with how you manage your lifestyle. You must be kind to yourself.
Think about the popular perception of startup culture—late nights, early mornings, indulgent networking events, and vast quantities of pizza and fried foods. When you’re working extremely hard, it only seems fair that you reward yourself with foods that make you happy, right? And while you might worry about being considered a glutton when working as part of a team, flying solo gives you ample opportunity to eat whatever you like.
Combine the stress and dietary disaster with the lack of exercise and sleep that tends to result from having such a busy schedule, and you have a recipe for illness and mediocre performance. Even a small hit to your mental health can damage the quality of your work, knock your confidence, and leave you miserable — and you can’t afford to be out of commission for long.
So set a firm schedule with the goal of protecting your health and stick to it as a matter of urgency. Have some kind of dietary plan to ensure that you don’t over-indulge or pass up much-needed nutrients. Get regular and varied exercise. Remember that mobile ecosystems are packed with health and fitness apps that can help you solidify your habits, so if you struggle to get by through sheer willpower, look for ways to make things easier.
4. Building a strong personal brand
Making a name for yourself is essential if you’re going to bring in business without a team behind you, and personal branding is an area that’s particularly strong for solopreneurs. Company brands have the advantage of applying regardless of the specific people making up the staff, but a personal brand can be more impactful, particularly when concerning the expertise.
Look at it this way: when you read a post-produced by the team at a well-respected company, you don’t know if it was written by the CEO or an intern with minimal knowledge. But when you read a post from an expert solopreneur, you have their name behind it. Might it have been ghostwritten? Sure, that’s a possibility — but you know they’re at the very least willing to be directly credited for it, suggesting they stand behind the content.
By building your brand, you can start turning your marketing process from active to passive. You can make yourself an established authority in your field, driving people to seek you out when they need some assistance or a full consultation.
Top solopreneurs can have busy schedules stemming from nothing more than sharing their wisdom. Speaking engagements, coaching courses, media interviews… all easily monetized, and all markedly easier than the typical business grind.
5. Arming yourself with the right tools
Living the solopreneur life means never needing to ask permission from others when making business decisions, but it doesn’t mean doing every single thing from scratch. If it did, the only solopreneurs in existence would have such limited scope that they’d barely be in business at all. The only way to achieve your potential is to use any and all productivity tools at your disposal.
For every area of value in the entrepreneurial world, there are numerous tools (many allowing sophisticated automation) that can save you time, money, and effort. Let’s run through some:
- In time management, timing tools like Pomodoro apps can boost your efficiency. In contrast, scheduling tools such as Calendly can help you handle your personal and professional appointments without interfering with your workload.
- In marketing, your options are almost boundless. There are social media apps like Buffer’s social media publishing tool that can help you stay active with your followers without committing too much time to it. There are email marketing tools capable of extensive automation that can help you sell more to previous customers (many are free for limited use). There are free photo editors like Pixlr X, making it possible to create great visuals without investing in enterprise-grade tools like Photoshop.
- In ecommerce, you can vastly speed things along using intuitive setup tools like WYSIWYG store builders, bring in countless free plugins to extend your store without spending anything extra, and use a well-supported automation tool like IFTTT to create complex sequences of actions. Throw in some accounting tools for keeping track of everything from expenses to stock levels, and you have a fantastic set of options to help just one person run a store at scale.
I’ve left countless options unmentioned, of course, because there are just so many that I don’t have the time or space. It should suffice to say that any task that doesn’t need to be handled manually can likely be achieved using an app or system that’s already on the market. Your time is the most valuable thing you have, so don’t waste it.
6. Learning something new every day
To some extent, people who didn’t go through formal education hold an edge when it comes to working as solopreneurs. Why? Because those who did go to college can get stuck on the classic notion of getting education out of the way before moving on to the working world. Having completed their studies, they view those chapters of their lives as closed.
Someone who didn’t go to college, though, has no framework for their learning. They simply view it as a part of the working world, having been picking up new skills throughout their journey, and imagine (very smartly) that they’ll never stop learning.
If you’re going to work as a solopreneur and stay competitive (often facing off against large companies), then you need to keep your skills updated. You won’t have the typical option of hiring a fresh-faced graduate to understand the zeitgeist on your behalf. You’ll need to make a habit of confronting new concepts and technologies, letting go of outdated knowledge and clearing space to fill with whatever’s relevant now.
7. Remaining highly adaptable
Developing new skills is great, but can you stick to your preferred field? A doctor only needs to keep up with the latest innovations in the medical world, since they do a very specific job, but you’re unlikely to be so fortunate. This is because large parts of the business world are prone to a sudden and dramatic change in the internet age.
Take AI, for instance. What do you know about it today? Probably not much — to most, it’s still a vague concept, something more associated with science-fiction than practical reality. But the AI industry is growing at a rapid clip, and it’s going to both destroy and create countless jobs in the coming years. Knowing how to deploy machine learning will soon be a vital skill.
And then there’s the court of public opinion. As a solopreneur, you’ll need to be making money, which means making sales (whether you’re selling products or services), and you’ll stand the best chance of convincing people if you understand what they want and expect — something that can be radically different from one month to the next.
Seemingly overnight, a new social network could appear and become immensely popular. You could lag behind, or you could jump on it immediately, taking advantage of the hype to further your brand interests. If you can commit to a great deal of operational flexibility, staying ready and willing to pivot, you’ll never fall behind the curve.
These are just some of the things that deserve priority attention from anyone aiming to be a hit solopreneur. There are plenty more, of course — more than could be fit in an article ten times the size of this one — but this is a great starting point. Ready to take full control of your professional destiny? Make sure you get it right.
About the author
Kayleigh Alexandra is the lead writer at MicroStartups, a website dedicated to helping charities and microbusinesses. After years of working in the sustainability, marketing, and creative industries, Kayleigh now loves to devote her time to supporting other businesses to grow and thrive. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @getmicrostarted for the latest news, tips, and advice for startups and solopreneurs.
Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Trent Szmolnik. The photos that are part of the article body (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have been prepared by Akson, Brooke Cagle, Mimi Thian, Wes Hicks, and You X Ventures, in this order. The author’s image has been provided by Kayleigh Alexandra and is owned by herself.
Source: Mark Hayes (Shopify) / Tania Diggory (Guardian) / Daniel Bubnis (Greatist) / Joshua Kittle (TechAcute) / Daniel Bennett (TechAcute) / Christopher Isak (TechAcute) / Mohit Tater (Entrepreneurship Life) / Will Knight (MIT Technology Review)