The Macmillian dictionary definition of a Solopreneur is:
“a business owner who works and runs their business alone”.
For me, that’s not quite accurate… tons of entrepreneurs work alone… So perhaps a more accurate definition of a Solopreneur is:
“a business owner who works and runs their business alone, with no intention to expand beyond a state manageable by themselves.”
For me, the difference between the entrepreneur and the solopreneur may come down to one thing: Financial ambition.
I am a Solopreneur and I do turn down opportunities to expand. I refuse to hire on anything other than zero hour contracts, I don’t take on projects that require financing. I operate in low risk industries because I value my life more than I value my work.
But we get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at my beginning.
I was 28 years old, and a qualified Chartered Accountant. I worked for a massive company in the video games division. I was well paid, ($65k+benefits). I loved the team I worked within and I got free games.
I was happy, but like most of you, I wanted more. I wanted to be the decision maker, I wanted more money and I wanted more direct reports.
Then came my lucky break – my wife had an affair, and on the same day I found out I quit my job following a tempestuous argument with my boss. My wife and I had just moved house and the mortgage payment was due in 2 weeks.
This was lucky because it landed me on my backside and offered me an opportunity to build a life from the ground up, without compromise exactly as I wanted it.
I googled “How to make money”
Ergh. Never a good plan.
It doesn’t take too many links before you come across ‘Internet Marketing’, and the “How I made $4,248 in just one day creating websites” commercials.
I confess to spending my first $23 as a self-employed individual on one of these scams. Naturally I didn’t make a bean, but I did decide that marketing online was going to be my thing.
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Whilst this is an article about lifestyle – I’m sure the big question of ‘but what did you do?’ is forefront in your mind. So here’s my simple strategy from day one.
I looked for anything that relied on marketing that isn’t yet served by big businesses. I found two common characteristics:
- The subject matter is unproven – it’s an idea that could take off, or could flop. Think Uber.
- It’s Unethical – Larger businesses don’t want to touch it, it’s messy, unethical and you wouldn’t tell your parents about it. Think ‘legal highs’.
All my niches are unethical. The completion will often be rushed, and weak. The margins are normally very high. The first niche was to act as a reseller for fake Twitter, Instagram and Facebook followers. I took £30 from a customer, and paid a supplier £1 for the service. I did this thousands of times. I still do it.
But this article isn’t about a business, it’s about a lifestyle.
Most people don’t have a healthy balance between work and life. Do you spend more time than you’d like at work? Less time with friends and family? What do you love to do that work gets in the way of?
Holiday leave for most people in the UK (I’m a Brit) is around 22 workdays days a year. That’s 6% of the whole year to have fun. That doesn’t seem like a healthy balance to me, and the UK isn’t even that bad.
Then you have entrepreneurs – the beating heart of an economy. In the early years it’s not uncommon to work 60 hour weeks as standard. 60 hours a week! Give me my corner desk and accountant job back please!
Now, as a solopreneur I choose how many hours a week I want to work. Sure, I don’t make as much money as a successful entrepreneur, but what good is all that money if you’re stuck in an office most of the year?
I’m in charge of all my own projects and I can quickly hire people to take over certain aspects if I want more time off without too much hassle. Hiring others reduces my bottom line, but to me life is more than just money, it’s about seeing the world, meeting new people and experiencing new things.
Lower overheads – I have no physical premises, staff or tangible products. I only need 3 things to run my businesses, a laptop, an Internet connection and a very strong cup of coffee.
If I need to hire staff, I use sites such as Freelancer or Guru and post an ad to find the right candidate. I don’t need to offer them a legally binding contract or fill in any complicated paperwork.
Setting your goals
When I first started out I calculated how much money I needed to live. It was £1,522 a month, which included paying a mortgage, paying off debts and eating healthily.
So my life plan became:
“Never work more than 30 hours a week. No more Stress. See the World. Earn £1,522 per month”
Even in those very early days I never worked more than 30 hours a week. I started gardening (at 28) and I read an awful lot of Shakespeare. I spent time with my Dad and learned how to upgrade radiators, how to change an alternator on a car.
A new girlfriend and I decided we might like to travel, so we moved to Thailand for a few months. When you live like a local you can further lower your financial requirements, I decided to further reduce the number of hours I worked, while simultaneously increasing ‘me time’ to focus on the things I enjoy most.
The goal of a solopreneur should be to work to live rather than live to work. Having a healthy balance of work and play has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities that I never knew existed.
Freedom– Finally we hit the jackpot. Freedom is why solopreneurs do what we do.
Becoming a solopreneur has given me the power to do anything I want. I can hop on a plane to South America without a second thought or without having to fill in a holiday form to be allowed time off work. I don’t need to arrange cover and I have no meetings to attend.
I needn’t worry if I will get time off work or find someone to cover my shift to attend a friends wedding, or any other worries that come with a regular job, or running a regular start-up.
I love travelling and being a solopreneur allows me to earn money to sustain my lifestyle anywhere in the world. Since my lucky break I’d seen more of my world on my 30th birthday than many will see in their life. Making snowmen in Moscow, washing elephants in Kenya, teaching English in China, Kayaking in the Amazon – and so much more.
If you start a business and your goal is to maximise profit – you are swapping the 9-5 for certain 12 hour days and a more stressful lifestyle. You do not need to maximise profits – focus on your life, focus on your family and focus on your happiness.
I’m Evangelical about it: Money is not your goal. Lifestyle is your goal. Don’t envy billionaires for their money, envy them for their freedom. A solopreneur is straight up about enjoying life, with business being a fun side project. Wine and dine your children, not venture capitalists.
I know it sounds conceited, I know it sounds cliché, I know it sounds like I’m climbing on a high horse and telling you you’re doing it wrong… But I’m writing this from a treehouse in Borneo, watching the sunset. My girlfriend got attacked by a monkey on a beach today – it was trying to steal our fruit. I chased it away with a handful of shells and when it’s mother came we escaped to the sea.
I’ll never be a millionaire, but I know I’m a success.
By Steve Stretton, currently promoting a Social Media Management blog over at Socialwatch.co. You can hurl abuse to @strettonmr on Twitter.