Don't Be a Solopreneur. Do This Instead.
If you go with a broad definition of self-employed consultants, contractors, and freelancers, about a third of the American workforce is made up of soloproneurs. For some of you, that might be a reasonable option. But if you dream of having a fulfilling career and achieving financial security, solopreneurship is not the way to get there.
Let’s start with the good news, if you can call it that. For construction and landscape workers, housekeepers, fitness trainers, hairdressers, musicians, and a fairly broad range of mostly blue-collar occupations, freelancing has long been the norm. It's not great, but it is what it is, for better or worse.
Besides, if you have no real marketable or professional skills and are having trouble finding a decent job, it’s never been easier to go it alone. There are all sorts of free or inexpensive Web-based services to help you find work and help customers find you.
If the alternative is flipping burgers at McDonald's or working for Walmart, solopreneurship may be the lesser of two evils. But, for everyone else, I’m afraid that's the end of the good news.
The problem – at least the big hairy one – is that minimal skills and low barriers to entry by definition mean massive competition and low pay. That’s just the way it is. Not only that, the work is mostly inconsistent. In all likelihood, you’ll barely skate by making ends meet. And you’ll never get ahead.
Look, I know a lot of you are trying to make a go of it as content creators, Web developers, social media marketers, cause marketers, life coaches, bloggers, writers, or as some tedious part of the sharing economy, but with rare exception, that’s no way to make a living if you’ve got high hopes for the future.
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As for those of you who call yourselves entrepreneurs or CEOs of small businesses when, in reality, it’s just you and some other self-employed people putting your names and pictures on each other’s websites to make it look like you’ve got a real company, take it from me: you’re not fooling anyone but yourself.
Truth is, going through life as a solopreneur with a website and an ebook writing content for clicks, doing services for beans, or faking it until you make it is a pretty lousy way to go through life. Frankly, it’s sad, especially if you’re young and have your whole life ahead of you as so many of you do.
Instead of slugging it out in the dog-eat-dog solopreneur world, I have a better idea.
Let's just assume for the sake of argument that your goal is to develop a marketable expertise and become someone you can look back on and be proud of someday. To reach your highest potential by doing fulfilling work that makes a real difference for consumers or businesses. To make a lot of money over the long haul so you’ll someday achieve financial security.
If that’s what you want, and I sincerely hope it is, you essentially have two options.
I’m not saying you should go this route, but if you really have your heart set on being an entrepreneur at this point in your life, then here’s what you’ve got to do. Find something you love doing, work your tail off getting really good at it, and develop and market a product or service that customers really want.
Just focus on doing that and nothing else. If you can’t do it alone, find a partner or two with complementary skill-sets. If you come up with a good enough idea and there’s strong demand, you’ll be able to raise capital and recruit talented employees to join the company. Keep growing the business and turn your vision into reality.
If your business fails, learn from it and try again until you get it right. Either that or throw in the towel, at least for now, in favor of option 2: Get a degree in an area that interests you – hopefully something marketable – and get a job in your field. It’s not a crime to build a career working for others, you know.
You might end up learning the ropes at a great company and getting into the startup world, as I did. Eventually, you’ll develop an expertise doing something you love. You’ll be exposed to all sorts of new opportunities and develop a solid network. And who knows, maybe someday you’ll found and build a great company.
Either of those options will provide a framework that will enable you to achieve your professional goals over the long haul. The rest is up to you. But unless you’re the rare exception, going the solopreneur route is just another way of biding your time, taking the path of least resistance, and following the crowd to nowhere good.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.