Solopreneurs and the digital economy

There are many weird ideas out there on what a solopreneur looks like. For example, the Times Of India believes that this is basically freelancing in the digital sphere. The Solopreneur Institute sees it as “An entrepreneur who prefers the freedom to run a business without any w-2 employees.

With all these definitions out there, it sounds like this is another buzzword that people use to impress others. This is not helped by the word itself. The word solopreneur is made up of two words: solo (implying doing things alone) and entrepreneur (referring to building businesses and systems). Entrepreneurs tend to excel in creating systems and building multiple businesses, but normally have employees or onboarding business partners in the process of growing and scaling.

Solopreneurs tend to build a business by themselves – solo. Many solopreneurs want to be self-sufficient, in control or the proud owner of their own company and financial future. A plethora of online tools and opportunities allow them to flourish doing things solo.

You might think it’s another word for freelancer – which it’s not.

Solopreneur vs freelancer

Freelancers work in a business. Solopreneurs work on a business.

Freelancers and solopreneurs are different. A freelancer tends to work for other companies, selling their time either per project or per hour. Freelancers want to spread their risk of a single source of income by working for multiple companies, as well as have the freedom to decide which companies they want to work for.

Solopreneurs on the other hand focus on building their own business that can run without them being present. They focus on perfecting systems that will allow them to be in control of their time and money – and work on their business when they feel like it.

The Solopreneur Business

A solopreneur is usually (not always) a digital entrepreneur who leverages automation, work flexibility, and creativity to develop ultra-lean business models. 

Four Week MBA

I love the way that the Four Week MBA explains the business model of a solopreneur. The core is running a lean business by bootstrapping it. This forces the solopreneur to focus on what is actually working and important. As the business evolves, the business processes are optimised and automated as much as possible to free up time and resources. This in turn will create opportunities to scale, grow or evolve into other businesses – or just stay as is and bring in revenue without a large amount of effort.

The digital Solopreneur

The solopreneur business can come in many shapes and forms, but it’s generally easier to build a business in the digital sphere, as it’s easier to grow, scale or pivot. As a digital solopreneur, your aim stays the same. You want to be able to automate as much as you can and earn passive income. To do this, you can leverage short term and long term opportunities.

Short term opportunities for Solopreneurs

Some opportunities allow you to earn money without a lot of effort. This includes affiliate marketing where you can resell an existing product such as an e-book, course or other content without having to create it yourself. Though there might be many more opportunities in the US such as Amazon’s affiliate programme and higher ad revenue for PPC banner ads on a website, there are definitely still opportunities in South Africa with Gumroad.

Long term opportunities

Solopreneurs are often software developers or digital specialists that identify online opportunities or small niches. They often create either a set of automated processes (e.g. membership sites), web applications or mobile apps to solve this problem. This is often sold as software as a service or a subscription. As their involvement is minimal, they are able to either work on enhancements or a new project.

Some time ago, I came across a very interesting South African company. Their software allowed you to create an online store on your own domain. It assists you in sourcing your products from Amazon and reselling them at a markup. When a sale is made, it would automatically place the order on Amazon and mark it as a ‘gift’ to avoid the invoice being sent with the product.

Apart from this example, there are other opportunities such as using Zapier to automate tasks and integrations. You can also resell courses over a longer period on membership sites and/or other video course sites.

How to become a Solopreneur?

Though it might sound easy to become a solopreneur, there are some challenges that you need to overcome. The biggest is what you will be doing. You will need to have an idea that you can run with that targets a specific niche. As you bootstrap your idea, you need to connect to the right market and maybe learn marketing and other skills along the way.

For me, the biggest key to becoming a solopreneur is starting. Many people don’t start, so they don’t evolve into becoming who they want to become.

Software and tools often used by solopreneurs

As mentioned, it’s easier for software developers and digital specialists to transition to solopreneurs. In this section, I would not like to discuss C#, Flutter or other technologies that will enable you to become a software developer. I would rather focus on tools that can be used by digital specialists to build an automated online business

  • Zapier – this allows you to connect different web applications with each other. For example, if a new user is created in an invoice your one system (such as Sage), it can automatically create the user in you Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).
  • WordPress is an excellent platform to start your blog or membership site or ecommerce site. Combining this with Woocomerce and a membership plugin such as Buddypress can make it a very powerful tool!

Conclusion

Solopreneurs are like entrepreneurs – they start businesses and are very interested in systems. They, however, like to build their businesses alone and automate them as much as possible so that it frees up their time.

If you want to become a solopreneur, you will need to find a niche or idea and grow it into a business. Remember – being a solopreneur doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes use other experts to set up or build something. It just means that you are in control and those people only help you for a short time.

Happy investing!

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