Are You a Solopreneur at Heart?

"Solopreneur."

You've probably seen the word a few times on the Web. You may even have nodded sagely when someone told you she is one.

But what, exactly, is a solopreneur?

Is it like an entrepreneur, but without the imagination and flair? Or is it more like a freelancer, working for someone else but on your own terms?

Each has a different set of needs and skills. Each suits different personality types. Making the right choice could be the difference between success and personal fulfillment, or disappointment, frustration and even, perhaps, failure.

In this article, we'll examine the differences between the three, consider what it takes to be a successful solopreneur, look at some examples, check out whether you have what it takes, and look at how best to start your solopreneur journey.

Let's start at the beginning.

What Is a Solopreneur? — A Working Definition

Search for the word and you'll find a wide range of definitions of solopreneur floating around the internet.

Let's look at some of the main features of being a solopreneur.

First, what solopreneurs avoid:

  • The rat race: They don't want a corporate environment, or 9 to 5 job.
  • Managing people: They don't want the responsibility of employees to manage.
  • Location-dependence: They don't want to be tied to an office.

And here's what solopreneurs seek:

  • Freedom: Working from anywhere, on their own schedule.
  • Collaboration: Working solo — but not alone. Solopreneurs outsource and collaborate when they can't do everything their business needs.
  • Passive Income: Creating income that doesn't require face-to-face sales or trading time for money.

Surely the ultimate definition of "solopreneur," though, the real reason anyone chooses to go down this path, has to be this:

"Pursuing the "dream of owning your own business" really boils down to making sure that each day you get to wake up excited about that day. About all of its potential. You ought to love your business and what you do so much that you can't wait to get into it."
- Mike Allton

Is that your dream? Do you see yourself as a solopreneur?

Hold that thought while we look at what it means to be an entrepreneur.

What Is an Entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur may start off having the same desire as a solopreneur — the wish to gain freedom by starting a business.

But there are some differences:

  • Enjoy managing a team: Entrepreneurs can work alone to start, but with an eye toward growing large enough to build a team and become leaders.
  • Delegation: Confidently delegating tasks to a team they trust — not trying to do everything on their own.
  • Taking risks: Growing a business requires financial investment, which doesn't always pay off.
  • Active networking: Entrepreneurs are always seeking connection with people and businesses to help build their empire.

So perhaps the ultimate definition of "entrepreneur", is this:

"They are the ones forever craning their necks, addicted to "looking around corners" and "changing the world." They — not lenders — are the real money multipliers: the ones who turn $1 of capital into $2, then $2 into $10, and $10 into $100."
- Forbes.com

What do you think now? Are you more of an entrepreneur than a solopreneur? 

But wait... You've no doubt heard the term "freelancer." Could that be you?

What Is a Freelancer?

The impetus to become a freelancer may be triggered by very similar feelings and thoughts as a solopreneur or entrepreneur: that wish for freedom from the world full-time employment; to be able to work from anywhere; to be able to pick and choose working times.

But, unlike solopreneurs, freelancers:

  • Are self-employed: They offer services to clients — working to other people's requirements and deadlines.
  • Work on contract: Whether to an agency or an individual business. In fact, solopreneurs hire freelancers to accomplish their business goals.
  • Use a specific skill set: Freelancers offer a particular service using specific skills — for example, social media management. Solopreneurs build a business based on their passion for a particular niche, not on a skill set.

So, although some of the same freedoms apply, the work of freelancers is dictated by others. 

"The next generation of freelancers will build and maintain multiple work and marketing channels: online talent platforms, partnerships, long-term contracts, side gigs like teaching, etc. Firms within firms will grow on platforms as freelancers band together by common interest or economic opportunity."
- Forbes.com

Solopreneur, entrepreneur, freelancer. Which are you? Does it matter? 

It does. It matters because it's your life. The definition of each carries with it different responsibilities, different obligations. Different opportunities — and risks.

Let's narrow it down.

Let's assume you don't want to work for someone else, even on contract. So freelancer is out.

Let's assume you don't — yet — have the financial means to hire a team. Or that you don't want to.

So let's look at what it means to be a solopreneur.

Being a Solopreneur: Pros and Cons

It's not all unicorns and rainbows. 

Life as a solopreneur is not about sitting in your PJs all day, stroking the dog as you fetch another cup of coffee from the stove in the commercial breaks of your favorite soap.

Or rather, life as a successful solopreneur is not like that.

It's important to recognize the negatives. So let's deal with the monsters and thunderstorms of solopreneur life first.

Disadvantages of Being a Solopreneur

Remember those ridiculously awesome office parties that went down in the annals of company history? The #TGIF after-work trips to the local bar? Or passing the time at the water cooler discussing the merits (or not) of the recently appointed CEO?

Gone. You'll be a sad and lonely figure, propping up the bar, drinking "solo." Successful solopreneurs enjoy working alone. Can you manage without coworkers?

Remember the support of colleagues when you needed to get the company newsletter out — and your kids needed you at their sports day at the same time?

Gone. There's no one to help with your newsletter deadline now. Can your inner solopreneur handle the pressure?

Remember the times when you needed to tell someone about the great feedback you just had from a client? When you celebrated an important milestone? When you needed to check out a critical decision? 

Gone. As a solopreneur, you're on your own with all of it. Can you take the mental strain?

And remember the regular monthly paychecks? The ones that covered you when you were sick, or when you wanted to take a vacation? The ones that paid for your home improvements, or your children's summer camps?

Gone. Passive income is great — when it comes. But the inconsistency is nerve-wracking. On your own as a solopreneur, can you deal with the uncertainty? And deal with it not just for you, but for your family?

Let's not get too gloomy. Because there are massive, real-life advantages to being a solopreneur — as long as the characteristics fit your personality and suit the way you want to work.

The Un-Unicorn Side of Solopreneurship: Real-Life Advantages

Remember the times when what you really wanted to do was get back to that project you were working on — but your colleagues dragged you out on the town?

Gone. As a solopreneur, you get to decide what you do, when. 

Remember the days of needing to make critical decisions, only to be held back by colleagues disagreeing, wanting more time, being unavailable, or unable to make a decision to save their lives?

Gone. As a solopreneur, you're making decisions for yourself, by yourself. It may be scary sometimes. You may even find yourself procrastinating. But never again will you feel utterly frustrated at a "decision-making by committee" culture.

Remember having a vision of where the company could go, only to be thwarted by a manager who didn't listen — or worse, who took that idea, presented it as his own, and got a hefty bonus for it?

Gone. As a solopreneur, it's your business. Got a fun idea, but not sure where it might go? It's your vision. You decide where it's going. Yes, you take the consequences if it goes wrong. And you also take the adrenaline hit when it goes right.

And remember feeling you were working your butt off, only to look at your paycheck and think "how much?" — or rather "how little?"

Gone. As a solopreneur, you work for yourself. You have minimal overheads. You get out, in satisfaction and in financial reward, relative to the work you put in. 

You're a solopreneur. The only person you answer to is yourself.

Successful Solopreneurs: Is There Such a Thing?

You bet there is.

Most Solo Build It! members (SBIers) call themselves solopreneurs. And Solo Build It! (SBI!) has more successful solopreneurs than any other platform. We have studies to prove it.

But studies are not what most people want to see. What you want to see, I'll bet, are real people, with real stories.

Successful Solopreneurs Tobias and Stephanie

Real people like Tobias and Stephanie, who say: "It's been almost two years since either of us has set foot in an office, and it feels great!"

Successful Solopreneur Gerhild ''Oma'' Fulson

Real people like Gerhild Fulson, known to her raving fans as "Oma," whose love of cooking combined with her German heritage turned her solopreneur

Successful Solopreneur Ashley Cotter-Cairns

And solopreneurs who became entrepreneurs. People like Ashley Cotter-Cairns, whose passion for comics turned into a $1.4 million entrepreneurial business. He now employs a team of seven, with Ash as the leading light (or super-power, as he prefers to call it!).

Successful Solopreneur Carl ''Disney Dad'' Trent

Or solopreneur-turned-entrepreneur Carl Trent, aka "Disney Dad," whose love for Disney took him from a solopreneur with a lifelong passion for everything Disney, to an entrepreneur employing around 50 staff.

Is there such a thing as a successful solopreneur? Yes, there is.
But it doesn't happen for everyone, and it doesn't happen overnight.

Becoming a Solopreneur: Is It for You?

Reading about the solopreneur successes above, or any of the others on our blog, you may already have decided that's what you are — or that's who you want to be.

So let's summarize the common characteristics, and see whether you fit the profile.

A solopreneur...

  • Doesn't want a 9 to 5 lifestyle. She's prepared to take the roller-coaster of risks in return for the thrill of the adventure.
  • Likes her time to be her own. She's prepared to spend it working rather than binge-watching "Say Yes to the Dress" or "The Bachelor."
  • Is both a control freak and a perfectionist. She will delegate, but prefers to do all the work and make all the decisions.
  • Holds herself accountable. She accepts responsibility, is prepared to learn from mistakes, and is willing to change direction where necessary.
  • Knows that success doesn't happen overnight. It takes commitment, patience and perseverance in the face of some setbacks and hardships.
  • Is excited at the prospect of embracing her inner workaholic — and knows where to draw the line.

Does that sound like you? If you can tick more than half those boxes, there's only one thing for it.

You need to say hello to the solopreneur in you.