It’s one thing to be held back from pursuing your dreams because of some very real risks and a sincere fear of the unknown. It’s another thing altogether to be held back by false assumptions.
How myths start is a topic for another day, but I think a good deal of misinformation is spread, if not created, by those who need to reconcile their own fears with some sort of external validation. And so the narrative changes from, “I’m afraid to do this because”, to “No reasonable person would do this because”. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
But that’s just one perspective. Gathering more perspectives can allow you to see something you were missing before. Everyone has the power to write their own story. And if you’re writing your own story, wouldn’t you want to be the hero?
It’s important to be realistic when considering whether solopreneurship is right for you. Leave your rose-colored glasses on the desk and take a clear look around you. Just don’t forget that also means having enough perspective to rise above the naysayers and fearmongers.
These are some of the more common ideas about solopreneurship that I’ve heard, but have never really experienced in my career as a solo.
1. Solopreneurs don’t make enough money
Not all solopreneurs fit the ‘starving artist’ category, though some probably do. And of course how much money is “enough” differs by geographic location, personal needs, and lifestyle choices. But that much is true whether you’re self-employed or other-employed.
One thing I know for sure – a salary is an earning cap. Even with an annual increase, and taking into account performance bonuses, there is a set maximum amount of money that you can earn every year.
As a solopreneur, your earning potential isn’t predetermined. As long as you continue to generate value, you continue to make money.
2. Solopreneurs are always desperate for work
Nope. I suppose if you’re perptually lazy and a committed procrastinator, this will indeed become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But many of the solos that I know end up referring work to trusted colleagues, because they have more than they can handle.
Now, that’s not going to be the case when you first start out. But once you’re established, and if you’re engaged in your business, you can build a customer base and can have consistent work year over year.
3. Solopreneurs go through long stretches of unemeployment
Maybe? I have no idea. For example, in the last 12 years, I’ve had two dry spells. One where I decided to take a couple of months off and just enjoy the summer. The second was self-imposed as well, when I decided to devote all of my energy into building a software startup company. During that time, my solo business took a backseat.
Aside from these two exceptions, I’ve always had consistent streams of income. The volume of that income fluctuated of course; some months are extremely busy, others are a bit leaner. But I’ve always been able to cover my expenses.
4. Solopreneurs are sales and marketing experts
I suppose there are solopreneurs out there who definitely fall into this group, especially those solos who are experienced marketeters who have transitioned into a solo career advising other solos how to market their own businesses.
But for many of us, sales and marketing are parts of the job that were completely new and uncomfortable for us when we launched our solo careers. We learn as we go, and we improve as we grow.
I’m still very much a novice in this area, and I’m constantly looking for learning opportunities and ways to improve my skills. Luckily, customer satisfaction and referrals still count for a lot in business!
5. Solopreneurs are just getting by until they can find a ‘real’ job
None of the solos I know, myself included, would give it up by choice.
Going back to a life spent working for someone else just isn’t a scenario I can even imagine at this point in time. Maybe that will change in the future? But at this point, being a solopreneur isn’t just what I do; it’s who I am.
And that may very well have been the tipping point. When I first started working for myself, for the first few years, I did wonder whether I could continue to make a living like this, or whether I would be better off – safer, more secure – returning to the fold and working for a large corporation.
I never pulled the trigger, because every time it crossed my mind, what inevitably followed was a flood of memories recalling everything that I hated about that world. The amount of conformity required; the micro-management; the politics; the biases; having my work hours dictated by someone else; not having a choice in work assignments; being at the mercy of corporate quarterly targets that I had zero influence on; and the cubicle farms. Rows and columns of tiny gray boxes stuffed with human captives for 8+ hours a day. Ugh.
So as scared as I was of the future, I couldn’t bring myself to return to the past.
And then, as happens, time meandered on. Two years turned into four years which turned into six years. And by the time I hit that 5-6 year mark, I started to realize that I wasn’t just “lucky”. Yes, luck sometimes played a part. But to be successfully self-employed for that long meant that I was also capable of pulling off this solopreneurship stuff. Imagine my surprise! Introverted, a complete lack of sales skills, no safety net, and yet I was able to find customers and generate income.
I slowly started to realize that I was actually good at my job. And my job was my business. And my business was completely integrated with my life.
Being a solopreneur isn’t my 9-5 job. It’s who I am.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.