What Is a Solo Entrepreneur?
A Solo Entrepreneur (Solo-E) is a professional who chooses to go into business by themselves (“go solo”), collaborate with others, grow their business without boundaries and, more than likely, without employees. The Solo Entrepreneur may also be called a free agent, freelancer, solopreneur, self employed, sole proprietor, or home based business owner (although not all Solo Entrepreneurs are home-based.) Other terms used by government agencies that count and classify solo entrepreneurs (like the U.S. Census Bureau) include: non-employer business, no-employee business, microbusiness (which usually means less than 5 employees), and SOHO (small office – home office).
Being a Solo Entrepreneur does not mean being isolated or being completely on your own. Solo business owners often collaborate with others and/or build alliances with other soloists according to their business needs. Although most solo entrepreneurs do not have traditional employees, some may have a handful of key employees to help support their day-to-day business needs or build the business in other ways. Many find creative ways to support themselves, for example, by using virtual assistants, freelance writers, marketing consultants, virtual bookkeepers, independent technical support consultants, etc.
What Are Typical Solo Entrepreneur Characteristics?
- A desire for the financial and creative freedom of entrepreneurship without the sacrifice of personal freedom.
- Seeing themselves as entrepreneurs with a vision, a personal drive, and a passion to fulfill their dreams.
- A deep longing to succeed in their chosen area of expertise and a joy for learning.
- Believing in themselves and being passionate about what they do.
- Being committed to their quest to be “solo.”
- Comfortable using technologies such as the Internet to promote their business, collaborate with others, and learn.
“The thousands of people starting home based businesses confirm my belief that a new breed of person is emerging on Earth. Such a person is of higher value doing self-created work instead of a job thought up by others. This person is both independent and committed to service, highly flexible, constantly learns, and gets better and better every year.”
Al Siebert, PhD.,
Where Do Solo Entrepreneurs Come From?
Many solo entrepreneurs come from the corporate world, while others enter the world of self employment as they change from a traditional-based small business with employees and management responsibilities to being an independent professional.
In a 1996 study, 66% of all people pushed into being solo (through downsizing or being fired), said they’d now rather be soloists than wage slaves. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were over 20 million single-person businesses in the US in 2005 — an increase of 2.7 million in just three years!
What Are The Social Changes Occurring That Are Supporting The Shift Toward Solo Entrepreneurship?
In the paper, The Swedish Solo-Entrepreneur – Extension and Characteristics, Eva-Britt Hult and Dick Ramström proposed three factors:
- A general change in attitudes toward individual choices in actions and life direction and away from working in large companies, climbing the corporate ladder in search of more money, and more employees.
- The spread of tools and techniques, including information technology developments, that enable many people to work together on projects, but not be confined to a formal organization.
- The increased volatility of the industrial sector in general, which leads to a quicker change in the fortunes, direction, and size of companies and makes it advantageous for companies to employ Solo Entrepreneurs with the right mix of talents at the right times.
Other Places To Read About The World of Solo Entrepreneurs:
Trading Places, Inc. magazine, November 1, 2002
Self-Employed Business Ownership Rates in the United States: 1979-2003, Robert W. Fairlie, University of California, Santa Cruz
Where Do Solo Entrepreneurs Do Their Work?
A solo business owner’s office may be considered unconventional as compared to an office in a corporate setting. Being self employed implies low overhead, and the office usually reflects that. It may be located in the solo business owner’s home or be a shared office, and it is used as needed. The conference or meeting room may be the corner coffee shop, a local bookstore, or a client’s office. I personally work with a laptop, in my favorite reclining chair, with a view of the trees in the backyard and often my dogs at my feet!
Solo Entrepreneurs often use other tools and services such as a laptop, mobile telephone, personal digital assistant, iPhone, and text messaging to support their business mobility needs.
What Drives The Solo Entrepreneur?
Daniel Pink, author of the best-selling book, “Free Agent Nation”, describes a revolution in how we work and live in the United States. According to Pink, four major factors are driving this new work ethic and propelling professionals to become Solo Entrepreneurs. These factors, which are listed below, are echoed in the 2000 Swedish study referenced above:
Freedom: the ability to exercise one’s will. (Pink; “Free Agent Nation”, 2001; p. 66) For self employed professionals one of the biggest complaints about their lives as a employees was that they disliked office politics. They felt imprisoned by all the games played in corporations.
By having freedom, solo entrepreneurs determine when they are going to work, with whom they want to work, and where and how they are going to work. They use their freewill to make business decisions. Solo business owners feel liberated and motivated by their new freedom.
Authenticity: People want to be themselves—not wear a “mask” at work to fit into the corporate culture and environment.
Traditional work environments tend to force people to fit into a mold, and individuality often is suppressed. People express discontent with not being able to be themselves at work.
Solo Entrepreneurs are able to allow their personalities, individuality, creativity, and uniqueness to shine, while being true to themselves and not having to “be someone else” in front of the boss or their peers.
Accountability: “putting one’s livelihood and reputation directly on the line.” (Pink; “Free Agent Nation”, 2001; p. 73)
Solo Entrepreneurs are on the front line of their businesses. There is no one to hide behind or any coattails to ride on. This means solo business owners are accountable for everything they do, including their business’ marketing, the quality of their work, delivering what they promise to their clients, the success of their business, etc. They accept these business challenges and reap the rewards and lessons learned along the way.
Self-Defined Success: the measures of success are being redefined by Solo Entrepreneurs.
For self employed business owners, money and the promise of a promotion to the next rung on the corporate ladder are no longer motivators or factors in defining what it is to be successful. Solo business owners use a different measuring stick to define their success. Money remains an important factor to many, because they have to pay for their bills–but it typically is not the primary measurement of success. Instead, success is following their heart’s desire (or calling), and operating a business based on their passions that makes enough money for the lifestyle they want.
Success may also mean having the freedom to choose the clients and the work they enjoy, the freedom to present their authentic selves in the work they do, the ability to integrate and balance their work with their life, the freedom to grow their business as they deem appropriate, and the list goes on. The criteria for success are self-defined by each solo business owner. In the 2000 Swedish study, one woman said, “My lifestyle is my big profit.”
What Are The Challenges Facing The Solo Entrepreneur?
Self employed business owners often have many challenges and demands on their time, self-confidence, finances, and other resources. These challenges include:
- Having a desire to be solo, with no idea of where to start or of what is possible.
- Working through the initial start-up phase and not giving in to the temptation or pressure to go back to a corporate job or other “safe” haven.
- Having skills, products, and/or services that are in demand, but little experience or knowledge of how to package, market, and sell.
- Understanding how to cohesively fit together the relationships and elements that are part of running a business.
- Determining how to create a unique and solid brand for their business that helps position their strengths.
- Having a desire for self employment, but not knowing how to build a support network.
- Developing ongoing personal leadership skills that help them connect in more meaningful ways.
- Finding a way to transition from doing “tasks” to managing and building their business.
- Figuring out they do not have to do everything themselves, and then learning how to find and build the right alliances, as well as initiating collaborative efforts to support their business.
- Recognizing they are not alone as they make the move into the self-employment market.
- Determining how to embrace their new career move and establish realistic and achievable goals.
In spite of these challenges, Solo Entrepreneurs find that the rewards are worth it! Being a self employed business owners is not so much a job, as a lifestyle. Soloists get to work when they want, doing the work they love, with people they enjoy working with. It’s a fantastic choice — one that we think more individuals will be making in the years to come.