On Oct. 1, I’ll have officially been a small business owner and solo digital marketing and PR consultant for two years. Hard to believe. That went fast. Really fast. And, in those two years, I’ve learned a TON. I’ve had incredible opportunities to work with smart people. I’ve had a lot of fun. And, I’ve definitely made a lot of mistakes. And, I’m looking forward to making a lot more in the years ahead (and learning from them, and putting those learnings to good use–both for me, and my clients).
But, along the way, I’ve made some observations. And, I’ve noticed a few things about what I’ve found gratifying about the solo/small business lifestyle. And, what I’ve found challenging. Wanted to chat just a bit about that today because I know a number of people who are either in the solo bucket along with me, or are seriously considering it in the months/years ahead.
First the pros…
Flexibility. Without question, one of the biggest upsides for me. With two kids this is a necessity for me. I walk my son to school each day and pick him up. And, I’m basically offline between 5-8 every day to hang out with my family. But that also means the workday doesn’t end at 5 p.m. I’m frequently online at night and during many weekends. No surprise, but worth calling out. No banker hours with this job.
Wearing PUMAs. When you work for yourself there is no dress code. At least on days when I don’t have client meetings. You’ll frequently find me in my PUMAs and jeans/shorts on those days. On the days when I do have client meetings, it’s jeans and a jacket or a suit. But, it’s nice to take it down a notch most days. And, for someone who’s bike commuting more, that’s also a big factor.
You can always say “no.” When you work for someone else, you’re never in control. Might seem like you are, but you’re not. You’re at the mercy of those making the decisions. Whether that’s the CEO, the president of the business owner. On the solo side you make those calls. For better or for worse. Let me just say this–you learn real quick how to say the word “no.”
Creative freedom. Maybe one of the biggest reasons I love this lifestyle. I love the complete freedom (and pressure, mind you) to problem solve on your own. To find creative solutions to client (and business) issues. In essence, you do a lot of “hacking.” You either love that or you don’t. If you don’t, this isn’t the job for you.
Lack of human interaction. On days when I don’t have client meetings, it’s not uncommon for me not to speak to another living soul face-to-face during the entire workday. That doesn’t happen on the corporate/agency side. But in this line of work, it happens more than you’d like to think. So, you need to think of ways around that–schedule coffee meet-ups, work in coffee shops/co-working spots (both of which I do) and have lunch with friends/colleagues often. Find human contact. Essential.
Few sounding boards. Big drawback–and you need to find a way around this one, too. Since you don’t have colleagues to chat with and bounce ideas off at the water cooler or in meetings, you need to find people who are willing to listen and help. Could be another local solo (thinking of creating a local group for this very reason, much like my friend Dave Kostik did a few years ago). Whatever the case, you need to find your sounding boards.
You can’t escape the admin work. There are ways around this (hiring a virtual assistant is a way I know some go), but there’s a certain amount of admin work you’re just not going to escape. Come to terms with that. Don’t be too big for your britches. And just accept that it comes with the territory.
Lack of legitimacy. Noticed this specifically at conferences and events. You may make more than what a brand manager at Target makes (just theoretical here), but that person has a serious advantage on you in the legitimacy department. Get that person on a panel on a stage and everyone is listening. The solo consultant who’s been in business for 15 years? Not nearly as much. It’s a role you have to be comfortable with. You need to be sure of yourself, because you’re not going to get a lot of pats on the back in this line of work. And, there’s no corporate ladder to climb.
Downturns. A friend reminded me of this at the MN Blogger Conference last weekend, and it’s a huge point. There will be downturns in your business. Years when times are going to be pretty lean. So start saving now. And, remember, when times are tough, your ego takes a hit, too. So, start getting tougher. You’re going to need it at some point down the road. And lastly, learn to adapt to the market. If you don’t, your business most certainly will die (at some point).
So, those are my pros and cons. If you’re a solo, I’d love to hear your additions to this list.