Solopreneurship is growing in popularity. The solo entrepreneur is someone who raises and runs a business single-handedly, making all the decisions, calling all the shots, and playing the entire game alone.
In the age of highly specialized work, offshore contracts, global connectivity, and Internet-driven money-making potentials, the solopreneur is here to stay. It's not all fun and games, though.
Savvy as these solopreneurs are, the very nature of their work has opened them up to a massive risk.
They run the risk of killing their business and bearing the entire burden.
The High Stakes of Solopreneurship
At first glance, solopreneurship seems like a low-risk way to launch a business. Most of the time, solopreneurs bootstrap their operation, requiring little to no funding.
Often, solopreneurs can launch a business at a low cost. They hire inexpensive contract work, for one. Doing this eliminates the high cost of employee attraction and retention as a factor. Yet another benefit of the lone wolf approach is that solopreneurs don't require a costly lease on an office suite. The list could go on, but the overall understanding is that the initial costs are low.
Don't let this mislead you, however. The slim startup costs mask significant underlying concerns.
What are these concerns?
Risk 1: Full financial responsibility for failure.
When a business goes under, someone has to pay. Even though a solopreneur launches on a shoestring budget, they are ultimately responsible for the entire operation.
There is more at risk than just startup costs. There are the legal liabilities brought on by poor or discontinued work, for one. These liabilities can produce enormous costs that can embroil the solopreneur in years of difficulty.
The best way to overcome this risk is to fully incorporate your business either as an LLC or a corporation. Doing so provides personal protection in case things go bottom up.
Risk 2: Burning out means the business is over.
Entrepreneurial burnout is real.
I've felt it, fought it, and figured out ways to get around it.
When you're going at it solo, burnout can happen a lot faster. In part, this is because you don't have a cofounder or colleagues to lean on for support. If you do burn out, nobody is there to pick up the pieces.
My advice? Recruit a support team. You can still opt for the solopreneur life, but maintain regular contact with other solopreneurs who are slugging it out in the battle for success. Gain inspiration from others on whom you can lean if you need to.
Risk 3: Personal isolation.
If you've worked as an entrepreneur for a day in your life, you've probably felt the chilling sense of isolation.
Participants in the Fastlane Forum, a community mostly consisting of entrepreneurs and business owners, asked this question: "[Is] an entrepreneur's biggest weakness... isolation?"
It very well may be.
Isolation is one of those seeping weaknesses that debilitates you by degrees. Over time, it can have you craving the companionship of a cubicle space or a shared office.
Brian Hamilton, writing for Fox Business, explained,
"There is a sense of isolation that is really profound. ... When you start a business, you are truly on your own. If you're lucky, you may have a partner or a co-founder, but that's it."
One of the Fastlane members wrote this:
"Last night I was pondering why so many people in the world are so focused on accomplishing a goal solo. Human beings were never meant to act as solo units. ... So why is it that the majority of entrepreneurs such as ourselves try to tackle one of the most difficult Challenge of becoming wealthy solo or by only using a few local contacts?"
It's a good question, and one that every solopreneur should think about.
The reason people form companies is to produce something greater than themselves. It's undeniable that we can do more with others than we can in isolation.
Does this mean you should return to labor in the corporate grind? Not at all. But it could mean that you enlist others to join you on your entrepreneurial adventure.
Risk 4: Lack of outside influence.
The less time we spend with others, the more our social skills deteriorate.
For the solopreneur, this can be a noticeable shortcoming. As the Oatmeal colorfully explains, working from home produces "the horrible degradation of social skills."
Worse than becoming socially awkward, however, is the loss of outside influence. When you spend your days and weeks thinking your own thoughts, coming up with your own strategies, plans, and theories, you lose the brainstorming power that can be achieved in groups.
When cofounders hang out, they're doing more than swapping stories and whiling the time away. They can experience an explosion of ideas, inspiration, and outside-the-box thinking that is simply not possible by themselves.
Unless solopreneurs can get connected to a solid network of people, they risk closing themselves up to outside influence.
Risk 5: No accountability.
Business accountability is important. I've built up several multi-million-dollar businesses, but I've done it with the accountability of co-founders, partners, friends, and mentors.
When you work solo, no one notices if you decide to show up to work, to work hard, to call that client, or to sign that contract.
Some business advice hinges on the wisdom that you must "hold yourself accountable." But self-accountability is a difficult thing to do whole-heartedly. There is a lot of self-guilt involved, and we don't like to do that to ourselves.
Everyone benefits from external accountability, even if it's just a friend making sure you're not spiraling into discouragement or cruising towards burnout.
Entrepreneurs thrive when they can check up on each other, ask about business, or simply find out if things are progressing.
So, what should you do?
Should you give up now? Is it time to throw in the towel on solopreneurship?
Grueling as it is, solopreneurship does have its success stories. It is possible to push past the negativity, dodge the risks, and come out on top.
You can still embrace all the glories of solopreneurship without succumbing to its perils. How? By aligning yourself with as many strong and positive people as possible.
There will be those who try to discourage you and drown your business. As entrepreneur Jonathan Long writes, "the majority of negativity will come from individuals who have never been in your shoes and can't comprehend what you are doing."
Instead, listen to people who understand what you're doing, share your passion, and are ready to encourage you along the way. Hire a coach. Find a mentor. Hang out with like-minded friends.
You can succeed as a solopreneur, but you'll probably succeed better and faster with people to encourage you along the way.
What is your perspective on solopreneurship?