If You Want Your Business to Succeed, Don't Call Yourself a Solopreneur

I just want to go on record saying that the only thing worse than telling people you’re a solopreneur is believing it’s a good idea to be one.

Remember back in the day when you were in corporate as the senior manager of your department? Remember how you performed every duty inside and outside your job description and then washed up the dishes after the staff meeting? Remember how you were undervalued and underpaid, and even though you deserved a promotion, you didn’t get one because you were too busy over-delivering and dealing with office politics?

Oh yeah. That.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, now you’ve gone out on your own determined to focus on your passion, named your business, declared your specialty and identified your target market. You’ve also set a hourly rate based on the salary you had at the job you just left, and ta daa – you’re out there telling people you’re a solopreneur.

Not a business owner. Not an entrepreneur.

Solopreneur is one of those words that sounds cool and feels very 21st century, but causes a cascade of troubles both internal and external.

Internal troubles:

#1: When you call yourself a solopreneur, you run the risk of keeping your business in its infancy even when it’s not.

I have consulted many Jane Doe’s whose businesses are five or 10 years old for which they still continue to serve as the copywriter, marketer, web tech, journalist, social media team, designer, event planner, secretary, bookkeeper, dog walker, cook and maid.  In other words, they hinder the growth of their business by not valuing it and themselves enough to expand. Moreover, they fail to pay for services and help that would create more space and time for working IN their business at their highest level of service—because they believe they can’t afford it.

#2: When you call yourself a solopreneur, you are more likely to resist or miss opportunities to seek capital and grow a brand with services and products your market needs.

According to the American Express Open 2013 State of Women-Owned Business Report:

“… it is estimated that there are over 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating over $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 7.8 million people.

Between 1997 and 2013, when the number of businesses in the United States increased by 41%, the number of women-owned firms increased by 59%—a rate 1½ times the national average.

Despite the fact that the number of women-owned firms continues to grow at a rate exceeding the national average, and now accounts for 29% of all enterprises, women-owned firms only employ 6% of the country’s workforce and contribute just under 4% of business revenues—roughly the same share they contributed in 1997. “

My personal interpretation of why we're only contributing just under 4% of business revenues is that when women lean out because we want things like autonomy and control (doing anything to escape the cubicle), creating a kitchen table business seems like a really good idea--and sometimes we just stop right there and say "good enough."

And besides, maybe you don’t want all the headache that comes with seeking funding, employing people and creating an enterprise. Maybe you just want a thriving one-person show in your neck of the woods that makes you enough money to save, invest a little and put a child or two through college. Fair enough, but that might lead to another pile of bones.

External Trouble:

#1: When you call yourself a solopreneur, you say things like, “I work at home,” believing it to be an inspiring statement of self-empowerment and right livelihood.

In my experience (yes, I did all these things I’m writing about here), those statements tend to lead to behaviors that create judgment and confusion in the mind of your market. Like undercharging, or playing at the lower end of the food chain, networking with fear or ambivalence or not at all. Because of this, your potential buyers may not think of you as a brand or a player, and that perception may keep you from getting the kind of business you really want to nail.

#2: When you call yourself a solopreneur, you don’t charge what you’re worth and you tend to serve people who are at or below your economic reality.

As we’ve written about many times, you can’t do better than the market you serve. Further, your market value should not be based on what it takes to pay your bills, but the value of your services in the hands of your market. So if you’re thinking like a kitchen table business, and serving people who are at or below your economic reality, you may not even make your monthly expenses, let alone generate savings and college tuition.

You, my friend, are not a solopreneur. You’re an entrepreneur. A business owner. And just that shift in thinking may be the very thing that gets you to write that business plan and go to your bank (or your loaded cousin) for a small business loan and contribute to the engines of commerce. You won’t be a Jane Doe, but a Jane Dough.

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