Are solopreneur businesses the same as startups?

by Michele on February 20, 2013

Solopreneur vs. Startup

Solopreneur vs. Startup

When people ask me what I do, I respond in different ways but I always include the word “solopreneur” or the phrase “one-person business.”  A common response I receive is “You mean startups?”  Even though I get this question a lot, it always throws me because to me startups are a very different type of business than a solopreneur business.  So different in fact, that I’m not usually sure how to answer this question.  The answer could be a book, or at least an essay, and it’s hard to spell out just how different these two types of businesses are in casual conversation.  Needless to say, I don’t think I’ve done a good job answering this one.

Technically, every business is a “startup” at some point when they are first getting started.  In common, modern use though a “startup” is usually a business that is seeking to grow and make big revenues either for the founders or in order to be sold.  While possible, it is rare to find a startup that runs with just one person for long.  Usually one of the first steps is to add at least one other person.  In contrast, solopreneur businesses are by definition one-person businesses.  They may have some outsourced help such as a virtual assistant (VA), web designer, programmer, business coach, etc. but the business is primarily about selling the products, services or knowledge or one person.  Because the business is so closely linked to one person, the solopreneur usually isn’t looking to sell or take on investors like startups are.

I finally got clear on why these two types of business are so closely linked for most people when I was recently talking to someone who is part of a 4-person startup.  When I told him who I work with, he asked me “One person businesses?  But don’t they eventually need to add a second person?”  The whole source of confusion, and the idea I wasn’t seeing, was that many people are unfamiliar with the entire model of building a sustainable, one-person business with the intention of staying solo forever.  People do have long-term solopreneur businesses – I talked to a service professional recently who has been a solopreneur for 50 years!  Whether you eventually add some help or not, you can still be a solopreneur and it can be successful, sustainable and satisfying.  In fact, about 3/4 of businesses in the US have no employees!

So, if you love the idea of a solopreneur business, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not a viable business model.  It’s not inevitable that you have to add employees.  Oh, and when you get the same question over and over don’t wait to figure out what you aren’t seeing.

Tel me about your solopreneur business or the one you want in the comments.

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