Paul Jarvis

Solopreneurism is a myth

I feel like I have to clear something up here.

It’s been on my mind for a while and I worry that the ideas I share in my articles haven’t specifically touched on it, or maybe just not touched on it enough.

I don’t believe in the word solopreneur—a common word in the niche I’m in, it’s a contrived word for a person who works for themselves. Worse, I think believing you need to be a solopreneur is a harmful mindset to have.

The reason I need to clear this up is because I can see how folks would think the guy who wrote Company of One (note: I wrote it last year, but it comes out early next year) would think a one-person business is best. I can see how people would think the guy who’s constantly talking about not wanting to grow a business, or not seeing growth as a useful tool to his business might think solo is the way to go. But the point of my book, of everything I write about and even how I feel isn’t that the “one” part should be literal.

Solopreneurism, as a mindset, is a myth. A big, multi-faceted one.

First of all, every business needs customers. Even if you work for yourself, you need other people to trade you their money for whatever you’re giving them. Typically, you need more than a few of them as well. While they’re not employees of your business, they should completely shape how your business operates, what it offers, and how much it makes. Your business exists to serve them (for money), and it would make exactly $0 without them.

Second–and this is where the biggest myth lies–it’s difficult for any one person to do all the things, be an expert at all the things, and find time to actually get all the things done. It seems stressful to hold the belief that because you work for yourself, you should work by yourself. My own business, where I’m the only employee, operates because I have a handful of freelancers I pay on the regular to help with everything from SEO, to copyediting, to podcast engineering, to legal and accounting. I also partner up with other folks who own and run separate businesses to create things that are more than the sum of our expertise and skills. My business only works well because I surround myself with smart and talented people I can work with.

The idea that one single person can be an expert at and accomplish everything is ridiculous. I know almost zero about accounting and legal structures, but that’s why I pay an accountant and lawyer.

You don’t have to know everything to start a business. That’s why people hire each other. We all need help and there’s no shame or problem with that, even if you want to continue to operate as a tiny business.

Third, it’s sometimes super lonely to work for yourself. Even as a super, duper introvert—I feel the weight of sitting by myself in my home office every day. That’s why I make an effort to do things with other people. I grab coffee with local friends once a month or so. I Skype with other folks who run online businesses, without a business reason to do so, just to connect. I’m even in a sci-fi book club with other tech nerds who run businesses. Whether we like it or not, humans are social creatures so I can’t see it being mentally beneficial to hole away in solitude forever (long periods of time—totally though). When we aren’t given the community of coworkers, we have to make our own.

Other people make us better.

In life, in business, in everything. This doesn’t mean we should hire lots of them as full-time employees to fuel the “grow until we’re profitable” mentality. But it does mean that we have to actually work at not being completely “solo” because it’ll only hurt our business if we have the hubris to believe that we can do everything ourselves just because we work for ourselves.

Going it alone is more difficult, more lonely and probably even more costly. So don’t believe anyone who tells you they’re a solopreneur—like unicorns, Canada, or literal solopreneurs. And moreover, don’t believe anyone who tells you that you have to be one in order to have a small business.

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