The ”State of Solopreneurship”
The Internet presents unparalleled opportunity for individuals to build online businesses with freedom-creating, life-impacting results.
So goes the common wisdom. True or false? Consider…
- the low financial risk (compared to offline business)
- all the tools that have reduced technical barriers
- the appeal of doing business from home (or from anywhere on the globe)
- flexible hours, which can meet varying goals, schedules and pace
- the “personal touch” advantage of social media
- ease, low cost and flexibility (text, audio, visual) of communication
- the increasing number of hours spent online (e.g., social, mobile)
These online advantages make solopreneur success possible. Prior to the mid-1990’s, solo business opportunities were rare and local. Since then, opportunities abound online.
A multi-billion-dollar industry now caters to millions of “solos.” But how likely is a would-be solopreneur to succeed, and at what level? Do your chances live up to all the hype?
Consider the opposite ends of the spectrum of companies that market to solopreneurs…
- Scammy “Get Rich Quick” (GRQ) and “Make Money Online” (MMO) operators are masters at writing convincing copy that fools people that “this time it’s different — it’s easy!” It’s not.
- Super Bowls ads by billion dollar businesses such as Wix (sitebuilder) and GoDaddy (Web hosting) are more subtle as they over-inflate expectations…
GoDaddy — “The Internet loves what you’re doing. Build a site in under an hour.”
Wix — “To succeed in a disruptive world, Wix makes it easy to create your own stunning website.”
Designing a gorgeous website is indeed easy. But building a successful web-based business takes much more than “a stunning website.” It takes an entire step-by-step process, of which site design is merely part of one step.
And beware the false promises and tricks of the MMO operators (e.g., fake reviews). Many will bleed you dry if they can, all while you fail.
Sound all negative? It’s not!
The Internet truly is a unique window in history that enables the individual to build a profitable online business. But with so many companies chasing the solopreneur dollar, how do you figure out which ones deliver a product that helps you succeed?
Start by knowing what to avoid…
- First, ignore clever sales copy or a Super Bowl ad. If it was easy or as simple as claimed, everyone would already be rich.
- Second, look for verifiable proof of success such as this. Words can be misleading. But data, gathered with a valid process, cannot be faked.
This series of studies does exactly that. It takes the “pulse of solopreneurship” by ignoring the promises. These studies look past the words to deliver rigorously gathered numbers. Words can mislead, but numbers gathered by fair process are objective and verifiable.
We recently discovered how a competitor’s affiliates create fake reviews comparing it to SBI!. Solopreneurs, when searching for “Solo Build It! reviews,” found what seemed to be a common opinion — the same competitor was pronounced as the #1 recommendation by all.
Little did they know that those “reviews” were written after extensive training by the company and that the authors were earning substantial commissions on those sales. These affiliates were happy to take your money by misleading you to a product that delivered terrible results.
Wait, how did we know the product was terrible? After studying the product, we found it to be shallow, with some bad advice. Nor did the company offer any verifiable proof of success, such as we provide. Despite our proof, folks were believing those reviews (none of which provided proof, either) to be true.
How could we more precisely prove which product delivered more success? No company had ever claimed to deliver better results than SBI! — none do.
Solution? We performed a head-to-head study comparing our results to theirs. It detailed the full methodology, which allowed anyone to double-check our reported results by repeating it for themselves. (No one ever did.)
The results? SBI! was 33 times (33X) better at delivering high-traffic sites, while 87% of the other company’s sites were invisible (zero or near-zero traffic).
The lesson was clear. But this was merely the most blatant example…
Prospective solopreneurs are misled by sharp sales copy and snazzy ads. Worse, they’re misled by illegal, fake reviews. Our research led us to write the definitive series of articles about fake reviews. Learn to recognize them and protect yourself.
While fraudulent marketing is widespread in the Internet marketing world, you can be misled into buying just about anything (see this article on fake reviews about mattresses(!) by Fast Company).
So How Do You Protect Yourself?
Which product should you use to build a life-changing online business? How do you figure out the optimal process, let alone how to optimize each step? How do you avoid the scams? How do you avoid the products that aren’t scams, but which won’t deliver your goals?
Save yourself a great deal of trial-and-error time and money. Avoid false starts that can waste weeks, months, even years of your time. How?
Ignore the copy and claims. Check out the numbers. Look for hard data that supports the promises and claims.
Our head-to-head study of the competitor’s web sites shocked us. Their clients were doing worse than we had guessed. We wondered how solopreneurs do, in general. So…
Why not apply the same objective, scientific studies (transparent and reproducible) to determine the overall status of solopreneurship?
Before going further… let’s clarify the meaning of the term “solopreneur.” Although it’s fairly intuitive, it includes many types of individuals with widely varying goals. So…
What Is a Solopreneur?
Paraphrasing from the Urban Dictionary, a solopreneur is…
An entrepreneur who works alone, ‘solo,’ running a business single-handedly. S/he might hire contractors on a project-by-project basis, but retains full responsibility for the running of the business.”
In short, they do it all, from sitebuilding to tax returns, from traffic- and brand-building to customer support. The term includes a wide range of individuals…
- Your “solo biz” can be as simple as a high traffic website that generates passive income by selling ads and products through affiliate programs.
- Your business may grow to the point where you require help, hiring paid contractors and/or employees to develop, market and support sales of your very own products.
Regardless of the ultimate size and income of your business, you’re a “solopreneur” if you want to start your very own online business, on your own. You may reach a point where you outgrow the “solo” mentality, but that discussion is a bit farther down.
When you create your own original content, you are in total control. You own the content you create. That content attracts new visitors who come to like and trust you (“PREselling“), which facilitates the final step, monetization (more info here). You own it all.
Who Do We Exclude From the Definition of “Solopreneurship?”
No matter what you do or how you do it (e.g., blogger or vlogger), you need traffic to drive sales. There are two ways to build traffic…
- Grow your traffic by creating your own content (e.g., text, image, video).
- “Buy” visitors from high-traffic, third-party platforms (e.g., eBay or etsy, Google or Facebook ads).
Which is better? The answer to that is easy if you want to own, and be in control of, your own business. Here’s why…
If you don’t own your own traffic, you’re at the mercy of third-party sites…
- You don’t really own your own business when an increase in fees by eBay or Amazon Stores cuts profits by 30%, or when non-financial rule changes makes it harder to do business.
- If you choose to depend on advertising, prices tend to increase. The day you stop paying for ads is the day traffic stops. You never really own your traffic.
On the other hand, if you create your own original content, you are in control. You own your site’s visitors, newsletter subscribers and followers (which grow organically)…
They are yours and it’s all free. Your audience becomes large enough to monetize in a variety of ways, from selling ads to selling your own products.
The downside is that it takes more work to create your own content, more time for traffic to build through organic search, supplemented by the brand-building efforts of social media. Results are quicker when traffic comes from targeted Google/Facebook/Bing ads…
Just give them your credit card, figure out the ad platform, click, and here comes some traffic. There’s one problem for solopreneurs, though…
Few people will buy a stick of gum from an individual they don’t know, let alone like and trust. But if you sell your own product and if it has a high enough margin and if folks will buy coming from an ad, buying ads is profitable…
But you will never be in control of your own destiny.
So, when discussing solopreneurs, we mean those who truly control their futures. You may use other ways to supplement traffic, but you don’t depend on them.
So dislocations by third parties cannot hurt you. You and only you own your business, so much so that it builds value beyond just the profits — you can sell it for an appreciable multiple of sales revenue.
That is why we suggest that you develop your own traffic. Develop original Content that OVERdelivers. The combination of site and social content builds Traffic — visitors who grow to like and trust you (your “Brand of One,” aka “PREselling”). Then you Monetize it.
We call the process C T P M. To summarize, Content builds targeted Traffic, which is PREsold into trusting your Brand of One. Finally, you Monetize this trusting audience.
Another Platform That We Exclude
There’s another legitimate way for individuals to earn income online. If you want to sell a service (e.g., editing or programming), Fiverr and other freelance platforms (that connect service providers with clients) can earn you some income.
This can be an excellent short-term solution if you have an in-demand skill and need to generate income quickly. Be aware, though…
You don’t actually build your own business this way. You are, once again, dependent on the platform. Any time you depend on the platform, you aren’t in control. You may earn income, but the business is as durable as the platform’s next major decision.
We exclude this type of “solo” effort since it is not a solo-entrepreneurial effort. You “merely” build a job for yourself. Being self-employed may be exactly what you need.
If you also have a solopreneurial itch, you can simultaneously build your own business, perhaps related to a niche connected to your service. Ultimately, you generate enough traffic to not only sell your service, but to build a business that offers that service to others.
When you control the traffic, you control how big to grow that business! How big do you want to grow? That brings us to the next point…
What Distinguishes Solopreneurs From Entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs start with loftier visions and bigger goals. They often raise money through Venture Capitalists or angel investors at an early stage of development. They almost always start with a small team of 2-4 people.
For the purposes of this discussion, we also exclude “entrepreneurs” who start this way.
We focus, instead, on the solopreneur…
Solopreneurs have different values, such as freedom, control and work-life balance. Those values often determine the financial goal of the business. Consider, for example…
- the spouse who wants to stay at home to raise the children and still contribute to the family income.
- the individual who hates her “j-o-b” and wants greater control over life.
You’re a solopreneur if you want to start your own business, but you do not want the bother of managing people or being responsible to investors. You may not even want to deal with customers, preferring the lower returns of passive income.
Being “solo” limits the amount of time for growing the business, which in turn limits size and income. The “true” solopreneur happily accepts that tradeoff — staying small means “keep it simple.” This may raise a question (which we touched on earlier)…
Can a Solopreneur Grow Into an Entrepreneur?
Yes, indeed. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Most solopreneurs start with limited goals. Some surpass those goals. They may be content to “Keep it Simple-Solo” (“KISS”), in which case they will find a limit, largely determined by the amount of “solo time” they’re willing to put into the business.
For others, though, strong indications of solo success may waken “the business beast within.” They become inspired by goals of greater growth than originally foreseen. For that, they must develop a willingness to add staff, deal with customers, etc. — the logistics of a larger business.
You may not realize such high-level goals yet. But if and when you do, you’ll relish these business-building challenges. Take this big step, though, one little step at a time. Be sure of your path — not everyone wants to manage others, but if you do…
This change in mindset is “reverse entrepreneurialism.” As a solopreneur, you generate enough cash flow (e.g., $60,000-$200,000+) to bootstrap growth without raising capital from investors, which keeps you totally in control.
As you add more contractors (on an “as needed basis”), you’ll find a need for regular part- or full-time employees. They perform duties for which you have neither the time nor inclination, freeing you to focus on growing the business.
When does a solopreneur become an entrepreneur? It’s all in the size of the dream. Even with an employee or two, you may still consider yourself to be a solopreneur…
Solopreneurs become entrepreneurs when they “snap” into a “grow a big business” mindset, when they learn to hire well and build teams that work… when they learn to lead.
Few solopreneurs start with goals of this size, but it’s a viable option for the solopreneur who reaches a certain level of success and who discovers “the entrepreneur within.” Even should they remain solopreneurs, a business with 2 committed employees and strong monetization models can generate 7-figure incomes.
The more important point, though, is this. As long as you bring BAM 💥 to the table, and assuming your expectations and goals are appropriate to your desired work-life balance…
It’s all up to you!
By now, you may be wondering how likely success is. If so, perfect timing, because that’s the next topic. It’s going to bring us full circle to the “Status of Solopreneurship” studies…
The Illusion of Survivorship Bias
How often do solopreneurs succeed, and at what levels?
Of the tens of millions of would-be solopreneurs who have tried, are trying, or will try in the future, how many succeed? It’s less than you think. Over-optimistic expectations are due to the…
- illusions of “mass success” established by the solopreneur industry (we have covered this — see above, and insist on data, not words). We talked earlier about the massive industry geared to sell services, tools, advice, and so forth to solopreneurs. Don’t expect them to report low success rates.
- selection error introduced by survivorship bias.
Suppose a ship sinks. Five out of 100 passengers survive. When asked why they survived, all 5 were found to have prayed intensely to be saved. Is the conclusion that “prayer works?”
No, because only the survivors were surveyed. The odds are that the 95 on the bottom of the sea prayed just as hard. It’s just that no one surveyed them. Let’s translate that to our field…
The media writes about the few, but very visible, “survivors” — the winners. No one covers or sees the many, but invisible, failures.
We may read all about the glamor of being a superstar YouTuber or blogger. Millennials find Instagram stars and figure they can do the same. People follow successful bloggers and figure it looks easy.
If those bloggers write about Internet marketing or other topics related to online business-building, it’s all about how to succeed — yet more selection bias. There’s nothing wrong with that, except there’s a special kind of irony here…
Even the most highly successful pros who are ethical and create excellent content for would-be solopreneurs do not know how rarely the “silent majority” of their solopreneur visitors/followers succeed.
They, too, only tend to notice the sharpest followers, those who are doing well. They don’t notice those who are failing.
And the major media don’t write about the hundreds of invisible failures for every startup that they cover. They cover the successful ones, such as this story from Forbes or this article on “Million Dollar One-Person Businesses.” Interesting stories, but…
“Selection bias of survivors” results in a skewed expectation of success.
You, though, if you’re serious about starting an online business, will be investing a significant amount of time and energy. You deserve a better idea of what your chances are. Most people can’t figure it out on their own. Given the right tools and process, though, we’ve learned that it’s amazing what “everyday people” can accomplish online.
What Is the Solopreneur Success Rate?
It’s lower than we thought. How low?
We’ll get to that in the studies. And those studies also contain good news…
There are things you can do, many of them basic, to increase your chances of reaching your goals.
We publish these studies for 2 reasons…
1 ) to give you, the would-be solopreneur, the ability to make the best decision for you, based on actual data (and not false promises)
2 ) to encourage “the solopreneur industry” to care more about client success — reduce the preventable causes of failure and increase the rate of success.
If you measure the rates and levels of success, you can introduce programs to improve those levels. So…
Do you sell a core product to solopreneurs, one that can spell the difference between success and failure? If so, and if your marketing materials suggest success, you owe prospective clients…
- the information and tools that they need to succeed
- verifiable proof that you matter, that you do deliver increased levels of solo success.
The goals of would-be solopreneurs are too important to continue current marketing practices. For instance, affiliates who continue to hurt people with their fake reviews.
It’s bad enough to write reviews that push the second-best car, sound systems, or smart phone — whatever pays the most. Choosing #2 is not nearly as life-impacting as being tricked into choosing an inferior online business product that prevents the life-impacting change that people are ready to work for.
Solopreneurs are independence-seeking individuals, good people with important personal goals. They may be just starting out and innocent, or they may be as cynical as it gets (if they’ve been burned too many times). But they all share one common trait…
They all share the desire for the life-impacting results of building their very own online business success. Honor that.
Why Do These Studies? We’re Realistic…
Do we expect immoral affiliates of smaller companies, or multinational companies (who place “shareholder value” first) to change their practices because of this post? Sadly, of course not.
In fact, only one fake-review-writing affiliate of the other company had the conscience to remove his review when we pointed all the affiliates to our study that SBI! is 33X better. The logic was rigorous and its conclusions are verifiable. No one has re-done the study to contradict its truth. Yet only one affiliate took down the inferior recommendations (proven to hurt your chance of success).
Nor do we expect the “BigCo’s” to change, at least not until enough would-be solopreneurs insist upon seeing verifiable track records. Failing that, folks get led to products that are sub-optimal, at best.
These studies are therefore primarily meant to help you make smart decisions on the basis of data. Making the right first decision (which product to use) is the best way to maximize your chance of online success.
So here is how the “State of Solopreneurship” proceeds. Each study slices solopreneurship differently because each product is different. For example, how do folks using GoDaddy do? What about Wix? WordPress? And so forth.
By examining major products such as these, we get multiple sets of results for solopreneurs who use different types of products. GoDaddy, Wix, and WordPress appeal primarily to solopreneurs who are attracted to each for different reasons, largely marketing-driven instead of needs- and results-driven.
How well do solopreneurs do with each? How big is the difference in results? Over time, the studies will have covered such a high percent of solopreneurs that UNbiased and clear conclusions will emerge.
Completing this ground-breaking effort will take many studies, each of which involves a great deal of work…
- develop an algorithm to filter a fair solopreneur selection out of millions of sites.
- review 500 sites (out of 10,000 filtered sites) manually to verify the algorithm
- present the results, organizing the data into various levels of success
- draw conclusions about which product makes the most sense for you.
Since 1997, our only focus has been solopreneur success. The upcoming studies provide an analysis that’s long overdue. Together, they provide strong perspective and direction for solopreneurs who have yet to succeed online, or to would-be solopreneurs who decide to go for it and try to grab this brass ring.
We hope that this will become an invaluable resource to help you get off to the best start possible. Or, if you have tried and failed up to now, we hope you use this to find a better route. You’ll see that success is possible. A large part of it is choosing the right tools upfront.
Let the chips fall where they may.
Just like our original study that proved SBI! is 33X better than a product promoted by fake affiliate reviews, we could not fake the upcoming studies, even if we wanted to.
SBI! is not the best product for every solopreneur online. The data from the studies will point you to the best products for you to use.