Updated: Nov 8, 2021
One of the things you are going to have to get used to when you are starting a business, and indeed probably something you will have to navigate for a long time, in the beginning, is to get used to being a one-man-band.
I have been a one-man-band on all my business ventures, and apart from hiring the odd intern for a few months and using freelancers on an as-needed basis, I have had to manage alone. I do everything from creating this blog, the books, courses and podcast, to creating and maintaining the website, creating content for social media, design and creative in my fashion business, managing PR, finances, logistics and managing production and customer service... The list goes on. It is a long list!
Just like the name, one-man-band implies, it's just you boo. No boss. You are the boss. You are also all the employees. You are all the departments: HR, Marketing, Logistics, Finance, Strategy, Manufacturing and Creative. You are a very small company all by yourself and so, as well as doing the work by which you add value, the creative, the strategy and the vision, essentially the skill around which your business revolves, you also have to fulfil the other 'support' functions which are essential but often, in the normal course of business, are in the background and taken for granted.
The concept of a solopreneur is something that has become a common reality for many and it has become possible because we have the assistance of useful technology and are connected, through companies like Upwork, to a global community of professional freelancers. And there are many ways to leverage skills that you don't possess by collaborating with these people and piecing together what you need to keep your business going.
In a sense then, although you are alone, you never need to feel alone with your business or project. You always have access, through social media and other forms of community (of which, thankfully, there are many) to reach out to ask a question. But when all is said and done, when you are a one-man-band, you coordinate everything and you have to have your hands in everything.
In contrast with a company with employees that are responsible for their workstreams and have some accountability for not getting something done, when it's only you, everything is on you to sign off on, check, approve or finalise, even when you are asking someone else, or even paying them, to do it.
The key difference is that everything is centralised and comes to a central point - you. When you have a business, even when it's small, it's decentralised and so you can trust other people to handle their areas, in line with their specific expertise.
The problem with centralised business structures, just like with any centralised system, is that it is liable to bottlenecks. If I don't sign off, it doesn't move. If I don't move something myself, it doesn't move. If I don't have any new ideas or inspiration, well, no one else is filling in the blanks. I am liable to be the biggest delay and obstacle in my business.
But there are also benefits to being a centralised system and that is why so many people actually prefer this business structure, that of the solopreneur, compared to the traditional structure of building a business and then hiring a bunch of people to run it for you.
I remember just a decade ago, Shoreditch was the heart of startups and start-up culture. Everyone had a start-up and the typical trajectory was to have a concept, get a partner and then get funding to build a team with the dream of leveraging the people and all that lovely finance into millions of pounds and world domination. The dream didn't end up materialising for a lot of startups who found that, between funding rounds and hiring and firing employees, they never actually got started with anything!
In contrast, a new dream gaining traction now is that of the solopreneur, running a business that can be scaled up or down depending on needs and having the freedom and flexibility to work in a much less rigid way and maybe even combining some laptop surfing while travelling the world.
I am not here to replace one fake reality with another, because the truth is that being any kind of entrepreneur is difficult. But even though solopreneur-ing is a challenge and it can be difficult to keep all the balls in the air, I still believe it can work for certain types of business.
Managing people is difficult and time-consuming and costs money, which a lot of startups cannot afford even though they kid themselves they can. You should hire people when you have enough for them to do on a full-time basis and they will be able to add value in areas where you can't fill the need with skilled freelancers or agencies.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a perfect solution. I manage as a solopreneur pretty well but sometimes, like yesterday when I had a tech issue, I was nostalgic about the days when I had an IT desk guy on speed dial or someone to fix the photocopier or look into the finer points of VAT.
But as an entrepreneur, the most important skill you need is the ability to research and find information using your own initiative and have the determination to stick with things that are outside of your comfort zone ( and if all else fails, to Google It!). It can be frustrating sometimes, but one of the tests on whether you have this entrepreneurial spirit, or not, is whether you also find it invigorating to conquer new terrain and add to your skillset by overcoming new challenges.
In the next post on this topic, I will talk about the key support functions and what they mean in the context of a one-man-band so stay tuned, because there is a lot more to say!
Comment below and let me know what you think? Are you a solopreneur? What is your experience?
If you are interested in getting additional insight and support, I offer coaching and consultation services at the link below.