What Is a Solo Entrepreneur, and How Many and Where Are They?
A Solo Entrepreneur (Solo-E) is a professional who chooses to go into business for him/herself (“go solo”), collaborates with others, grows his/her 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.)
The U.S. Census Bureau refers to them as non-employer businesses and states that there were 23 million as of 2013 (up from 20 million in 2005).
The Freelancers Union records a count of 55 million “freelancers” in the U.S.A. (up from 53 million in 2014) – an astounding 35% of the US workforce. They include independent contractors, diversified workers (multiple sources including traditional jobs and freelance work), moonlighters, freelance business owners and temporary workers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has a count of 1.8 million solo and micro businesses, making up over 70% of the total small business sector.
I count them all as Solo Entrepreneurs!
None of these definitions points to a business lifestyle that means being isolated or being completely on your own. Solo business owners often collaborate with others and 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 their business in other ways. Many find creative ways to support various aspects of the business, by “hiring” contractors including virtual assistants (VAs), freelance copywriters, marketing consultants, virtual bookkeepers and independent technical support consultants, etc.
To avoid isolation, many solo entrepreneurs vary the place where they work, so 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 one’s 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!
What Are the Characteristics of a Solo Entrepreneur?
- A desire for the financial and creative freedom of entrepreneurship without the sacrifice of personal freedom.
- Seeing oneself as an entrepreneur with a vision, a personal drive, and a passion to .
- A deep longing to succeed in one’s chosen area of expertise and a joy for learning.
- Believing in oneself and being passionate about what he/she does.
- Being committed to the quest of being “solo.”
- Being comfortable using technologies such as the Internet to promote business, collaborate with others, and learn.
What Drives Solo Entrepreneurs?
(Data from Upwork/Freelancers Union)
We are driven by a desire for control over our lives – our time, what we do and how we do it. In a word, freedom.
The top 3 reasons there are so many solo entrepreneurs/freelancers:
- To be their own boss. (Of course.)
- To have work schedule flexibility.
- To have work location flexibility,
None of these desires are new – but the numbers, and the strength of the impetus, continues to grow. 64% of freelancers chose to be solo (up from 53% in 2014). 50% wouldn’t go back to a “J.O.B.” even if it paid well! A majority who left a full-time job to freelance made more money in the first year than they did working in their previous job. As a group, freelancers see a bright future – 46% of those working as full-time freelancers raised their rates in 2016 and 54% plan to in 2017.
Daniel Pink, author of the best-selling book, “Free Agent Nation” (2002), described 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:
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. Solo entrepreneurs use their freewill to make business decisions.
Freelancers 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, and the success of their business. 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.
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 may include:
- The desire to go solo, with no idea of where to start or of what is possible.
- Having skills, products, and/or services that are in demand, but little experience or knowledge of how to package, price, market, and sell or run a business.
- Having a desire for self employment, but not knowing how to build a support network.
- 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.
- Dealing with the realities of an unpredictable income.
In spite of these challenges, Solo Entrepreneurs find that the rewards are worth it! Being a self employed business owner 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.