Staying Solo: Ways to Remain Independent as an Entrepreneur
May 4, 2015 | Business and Careers
Some entrepreneurs set out to grow: build a team, gain market share, increase revenue, maybe cash in by selling their enterprise. Others strive not for growth, but independence.
There are many reasons to stay solo—keeping flexible hours, writing your own paycheck, calling all the shots—and there are many ways for sole proprietors to stay autonomous, profitable, and happy at work. The key is to know your personal and professional priorities, and use them to define the way you manage your business.
Be the Boss with a Backup Plan
Suppose you don’t want the hassles of managing a team, but you do want the satisfaction of growing a customer base. When business grows beyond the capacity of a single-person shop, one option is to bring in freelance reinforcement, but only when you need it.
Boston-based Kurt Selboe started ValVis IT Solutions in 2010 after “one too many post-layoff interviews.” Though his immediate objective was simply to earn a living, he discovered self-employment was a good fit for his personality and work ethic.
At first, work was sporadic. Rather than worry about having enough, he set conservative targets for income. Five years later, business is steady.
“I have a decent client base where the ebb and flow isn’t as extreme. When work is lean, I remind myself that it will pick up. It always does.”
In fact, sometimes business booms. Rather than hire employees, Selboe enlists outside support.
“I keep a loose confederation of IT experts I trust. Knowing others I can count on helps, even when I want to take a little vacation.”
Doing business this way works so well for Selboe, he plans to stay self-employed.
“In an industry that shows double-digit growth for the foreseeable future, why not?” he said. “Higher pay, a variety of work and co-workers, and the ability to move on when a project completes? Sounds good to me.”
Be Someone Else’s Backup Plan
If your need for flexibility outweighs your drive to grow business, you might choose to be the free agent others call when they need support.
This is the case for Peggy Lim, a Chicago-area PR professional whose family life demands that she keep a flexible schedule.
“My son, who has ADHD, struggles more when I have a ‘regular’ job,” said Lim. “I’ve tried returning to corporate roles. But I’d get halfway to work, then have to turn back because he wouldn’t go to or stay at school. Then, when he was home, he needed my full attention.”
But Lim can’t afford not to work. Her husband changed careers after a layoff and two years of unemployment. Though he’s working now, their finances took a hit.
“I’m glad we planned and saved when we were younger and had higher salaries,” said Lim. “We still put away a little each month, but right now we need my income for expenses.”
Lim’s monthly goal is to cover medical insurance and kids’ activities. To do so, she takes as many freelance assignments as possible, mostly writing. She keeps her days flexible—to run to school if needed—and frequently works nights.
“I’m the one who gets a call at 3:30 p.m. when a fellow entrepreneur realizes she can’t finish a project that’s due the next morning,” said Lim. “After the kids are in bed, I spend most of the night working. I may not get credit from the client, but I’m okay with the paycheck.”
Be a Collaborator Who Builds and Shares Business
Another approach is to establish a network where business referrals keep you, your colleagues, and your customers happy.
That’s how Carol Semrad of Chicago developed a thriving business that helps companies manage the people and leadership aspects of their operations.
When a project arises and Semrad’s slate is full, she doesn’t think of her options as “yes” or “no.”
Rather than turning down a client’s assignment, she’ll turn it over to someone else—either through collaboration or a referral to someone she and her client trust.
Semrad often shares business leads. “Referrals create more abundance for me. When I help clients and colleagues get what they want, they help me in return. The more I give, the more I get.”
Semrad’s generosity has been good for business.
“When I started 12 years ago, I didn’t know if I could make as much as I’d make working for someone,” said Semrad. Now, serving four to eight clients at once, her income surpasses what she could earn within one organization. “People are willing to pay for my expertise, and I have freedom to choose work I want to do and clients I want to support.”
Be the Free Agent You Need to Be
Self-employment can be exciting and lucrative, with ample opportunity to meet—and even exceed—your personal and professional goals. When you know what you want from your business and for your life, you can craft a solo career that works for you.