When I received my business degree from Ryerson in 1982, I had no desire to start my own business. I chose a secure future in corporate Canada and became a human cog in Toronto’s real estate industry. My life changed drastically in the 1990s when my husband was transferred to the United States. Once I could legally work, I was very pregnant and excited to start a solo business as a freelance writer.
Almost three decades later, I remain happily self-employed. Here are six lessons I’ve learned about surviving — and thriving — in a one-person business:
- Consider your personality. Knowing if you’re an introvert or an extrovert can help you market your business in a way that you find comfortable. Introverts are people who enjoy spending time alone and need some element of solitude to recharge their energy. Extroverts love being around people and become energized in group situations. As an introvert, I’ve learned to avoid large networking events because they make me feel overwhelmed and exhausted. An extrovert, on the other hand, can happily attend multiple networking events in a day and still have energy left over. If your primary source of leads is large-group networking, you’ll thrive if you’re an extrovert.
- Play to your strengths. One of the benefits of running a solo business is that you can do what works for you. As a self-employed writer for more than 20 years, I am very comfortable writing emails, blog posts, and books. I am less comfortable being on video and am an absolutely terrible photographer. I know I’d be miserable creating pictures for Instagram or making videos for TikTok. I’ve played to my strength by selecting social media platforms (such as Facebook and LinkedIn) that don’t rely on fancy images to catch people’s attention.
- Be ready to learn. Much of running a solo business is outside your area of expertise. In addition to doing the work you’ve trained for, you’re creating proposals, scheduling appointments, following up on orders, collecting payments, managing a website, posting to social media, and much more. Adopt the attitude that you can figure things out. Then make good use of tutorials, seminars, and online courses (including those offered by Alumni Relations at Ryerson University) to fill in your knowledge gaps.
- Manage your time. Being self-employed means that you have no boss telling you where or when to work. It’s easy to waste time scrolling through social media, watching Netflix, or doing household chores instead of building your business. I recommend choosing regular hours — whether it’s during the day or after the kids go to bed — and sticking to them. I’m also a big fan of setting daily goals. Many solo business owners use the Pomodoro Technique (working for 25 minutes followed by take a five-minute break) to stay focused.
- Ask for help. Solo business owners do not have employees, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t hire help. In the last month, I’ve hired independent contractors to create a voiceover for my podcast, migrate my website to a new host, do keyword research for Search Engine Optimization, and lay out a book. These are all specific skills that I have no desire (or need) to learn. You can also hire independent contractors on a regular basis to write your newsletter or monitor issues on your website. (To find independent contractors, ask colleagues for recommendations or hire someone from Fiverr or Upwork).
- Schedule time off. I haven’t met a single solo business owner who feels their work is ever finished. There is always more to do. Time off will help your mood and prevent burnout. It will also force you to create systems and procedures that will improve the health of your business. Pull out your calendar and schedule at least one day off per week, in addition to occasional long weekends and at least one week-long vacation.
Sue Allen Clayton, Business ’82, is the founder of the Solopreneur Academy and author of Solopreneur Success: How to Plan, Create and Run a One-Person Business. Sue lives on Long Island, NY with her husband, self-employed daughter, two rescue dogs, and an embarrassingly large collection of books and quilt fabric.
Image credit: Fabian Irsara