Listeners to Unemployable are no strangers to the idea that one person, armed with the internet, affordable technology, and a network of fellow unemployable people can do big things. So you won’t be surprised to hear that the number of one-person businesses earning a million dollars or more a year continues to rise.
These are real businesses. The days of anyone other than the most gullible believing in the “no work internet cash machine” are long over (thankfully). But this type of high-powered business is more achievable now than ever with the right level of commitment.
Today journalist Elaine Pofeldt joins us to share what her intensive research into the growing phenomenon means. The data and her interviews with solo entrepreneurs reveal some interesting things these lucrative lean businesses have in common.
The Show Notes
- Elaine Pofeldt
- The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business: Make Great Money. Work the Way You Like. Have the Life You Want.
- Rate/review Unemployable at Apple Podcasts
The Million-Dollar One-Person Business, with Elaine Pofeldt
Elaine Pofeldt: Hi, I’m Elaine Pofeldt. I’m a journalist and author of The Million‑Dollar, One‑Person Business. So, I am officially unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable. The show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one, and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our Free Profit Pillars Course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Listeners to Unemployable are no strangers to the idea that one person armed with the Internet, affordable technology and a network of fellow unemployable people can do big things.
So you won’t be surprised to hear that the number of one-person businesses earning a million dollars or more a year continues to rise. These are real businesses. The days of anyone, other than the most gullible, believing in the “no-work Internet cash machine” are long over, thankfully. But this type of high-powered business is more achievable now than ever with the right level of commitment.
Today, journalist Elaine Pofeldt joins us to share what her intensive research into the growing phenomenon means. The data in her interviews with solo entrepreneurs reveal some interesting things these lucrative lean businesses have in common.
Elaine, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here.
Elaine Pofeldt: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Brian. Thank you so much for inviting me.
How Are One-Person, Seven-Figure Businesses Trending?
Brian Clark: You have written a book, I think, that is not only very timely but very relevant to quite a few people, especially to Unemployable listeners. It’s all about this concept of a one-person business that can be in the seven figures. This is a trend that has been accelerating. I remember the first time I saw the statistics on the one-person, seven-figure business. You’re probably familiar with these annual statistics that come out.
Elaine Pofeldt: They came out yesterday, so I actually have the new ones. And they kept going up, yeah. The number is up 35.2% since 2011. Currently in the US, the number that are generating 1 million to 2.49 million in revenue is now at 36,161 in 2016. It was up 1.6% from 2015. Why are those numbers so old? Because the Census Bureau is always a couple of years behind when they’ve actually collected it. They’ve got to do the number crunching. These just came out yesterday.
It shows the continuing growth of high revenue businesses. There are other categories where we’ve seen growth as well, suggesting that more businesses in the six figures are poised to get into the seven figures, which is also really exciting because their numbers are greater.
Just to give you a little context, by the way, there are about 28 million small businesses in the United States, and about 23 million (you’ll have to fact check me on this, but it’s pretty close to 23 million) are non-employer businesses, meaning they don’t have any employees other than the people who own them. So, they could be a one-person business, most of them are. Or they could be a partnership, it could be like a husband and wife team or another type of family business. But there’s nobody on payroll who is not an owner.
In this category, there was growth in the category from 500,000 to 999,999 in 2016. And there were 264,140. That’s a pretty decent number. That’s up 2.3% since 2015 in the quarter of million to half a million dollar category. There was a 1% increase since last year, since the previous year rather. And then the ones breaking into six-figure revenue is also up 1%. So, there are 1.88 million in 2016. That’s a lot of people making a very good living in non-employer businesses. I think it’s very hopeful.
There are some that make even more than 2.5 million, but they’re more like the outliers. They were, for instance, a little over 2,000 firms that brought in 2.5-4.99 million. That’s also up about 1% since the year before.
But because they’re in areas, things like hedge funds and areas like that, I didn’t focus on them as much, because they’re not as accessible to the average person.
Brian Clark: Right. I do want to dig in with you, because you did a lot of research on this book and you’ve got great anecdotes, but also some insight into what makes these kinds of businesses work. But this is a topic that’s so fascinating to me because of my own path.
At the end of 2005, I had businesses that were kind of people intensive, at least for me at that time. And I was kind of fed up. So my goal when I started Copyblogger in 2006 was to be a one-person business. Now, I didn’t know anything about the million-dollar part. I just wanted to make a living and not be entangled. My goal, and you mentioned this as one of your examples, was to do it through partnerships. Luckily, Copyblogger got so popular and built such a large audience that all my partnerships came to me through that audience.
So, 2007 with Tony Clark, we launch a business that becomes a seven-figure business by the end of the year. The next year, a new partner, a seven-figure business within a year.
Elaine Pofeldt: Wow, that’s awesome.
Brian Clark: 2009, another partner, same result.
We talked about this before we went on the air. I made a decision to merge all those companies together and go big and ended up with an eight-figure company, but a whole bunch of employees. And I don’t regret it one bit. I treasure those people. I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished. And yet, as the company gets more mature – we’re eight years into it now — and I start looking at what’s next, I guarantee you I want a one-person business again.
What Is the Mindset in Choosing to Go Solo?
Brian Clark: Tell me a little bit about the mindset and really the opportunities to choose the path you go on even though you start off solo.
Elaine Pofeldt: Well, I think you’re not alone in loving the simplicity, Brian, of the one-person business. It’s kind of a fantasy for a lot of people to make good money and not have all the responsibilities of having employees, although it sounds like you have a great situation there with a really fantastic team. I think there are moments in all of our lives when we crave simplicity and that’s what the one-person business can bring.
Businesses are across a variety of different industries, but they have certain common ways of operating that I noticed in interviewing more than 30 of them for the book, and now probably a good 50 or 55 of them since I started getting interested in this topic. They think more like scalable entrepreneurs, even though they are in one-person businesses and may not aspire to getting beyond one-person.
What that means is they have a focus on operations that you don’t see as often in one-person businesses. Many of them will use automation as much as they can to extend what they can do without hiring employees. They’re very focused on keeping costs down. Almost all one-person businesses are out of necessity, but they also want to achieve big and exponential results.
By automating certain things, whether it’s the shipping processes that they use or their QuickBooks or whatever it is, they free up time where they can focus more on the high-value activities of the business. One person in the book, Allen Walton, who runs a spy camera store, he’s one of the entrepreneurs who since the book came out has scaled. Now, I think he’s at six people, but he got to 1 million on his own. The way he was able to do that was he at first had all the inventory on his premises, and he was packing it all up himself and bringing it to the post office himself, and he realized this was very inefficient.
So he started using something called ShippingEasy, which automates a lot of the processes that are part of shipping, so that he could focus more on growing the business. He’s a great student of different business books to keep on learning. He has time to think about the bigger picture because he automates.
A lot of people say, “Oh, automation is not new.” It’s not new, but how many people really do it? When I look around me at the businesses I know, maybe they’ve automated one thing in their business. These people are really into it, and they make the time to get it all set up so that they can step away from some of this stuff.
Another thing that they take advantage of is the growth of the freelance economy. Years ago, we had The E-Myth that came out and told us we should delegate. This takes advantage of the fact that there are a lot of people out there, people like me – I’m a freelancer who loves having these freelance relationships. They don’t want to be employees. They like doing freelance projects for a good client. These entrepreneurs don’t try to do all the work of their business themselves. A lot of time they will have a freelancer who is doing their website for instance or doing their bookkeeping.
They may start small with just one, but they constantly look for ways to offload things to people who might be better at something than them or things they just don’t like to do. They don’t try to teach themselves how to do every single aspect of the business, because it’s just not efficient. If you’re an accountant, to teach yourself to be a web designer is not a good use of your time, unless you happen to just love web design and you want to go into that in the future.
The third thing is outsourcing, which is a little bit different than using freelancers. There are services out there, Fulfillment by Amazon would be a good example, but there are back office services too. One of my favorite stories from the book, Harry Ein is a dad from California. He sells swag. When you go to a conference and you get a t-shirt with the conference name on it or a name of a bank on your pen, that’s swag. He sells this to enterprise clients. And the way he’s been able to scale to 4 million in annual revenue with no employees is he uses an outsource service called iPROMOTEu, which is targeted to swag sellers. Who knew there would be such a service?
But they do things like his invoicing. So he’s not sitting there over the computer, he’s out meeting the clients and making sure they’re happy and doing the things that really drive business growth.
You could see they have more of a strategic focus on growth than many entrepreneurs do. They don’t always start out that way. Sometimes they figure out the formula for what makes money and then they say, “Okay, well, now how do I take it to the next level?”
I’ll tell you one other thing I noticed about them. They don’t work all the time. It’s very, very easy in a one-person business to feel like you’ve got to work seven days a week, 24/7 to keep on growing the business yourself. They step away. I found they tend to have interests like meditation or running or something where their mind can relax from thinking about the business. They go to retreats, they go to business events, they get coaches to help them break through roadblocks. They do things to treat themselves as a precious resource, because they realize in a one-person business, you really are. If you’re not functioning well physically, your mind isn’t focused on the right things, the business will not grow.
I just saw this over and over again among them. They were often doing these three things — the outsourcing, freelancing and automation — all at the same time, plus some combination of the other things that I mentioned. When you put all those things together, it’s pretty powerful in terms of how it grows a business.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. The promise of these things have been coming for a long time. I remember when a young Dan Pink wrote his first book Free Agent Nation and I just happened to be one of the guys he interviewed at the time. So we’ve been looking forward to this talent network and it’s real now.
But also, the way you mentioned automation and systems, all the SaaS technology that’s been developed, this environment and then plus, of course, you mentioned the outsourcing firms. There are firms dedicated to providing what employees used to have to provide for a company that could effectively market whatever it was. Printful comes to mind. They do t-shirts, stickers, things like that. You can set up your own store. They handle printing, they handle fulfillment. You have to make the sales.
To a certain degree, we’re looking at these one-person organizations that have found access to a market of people who were interested in their stuff, and that’s kind of what it comes down to.
Are Any of These Businesses Making It Without Marketing on the Internet?
Brian Clark: Did you interview anyone in the book that wasn’t making extensive use of the Internet and, perhaps what we talk about all the time, content marketing to attract people, build audiences, and then of course, use that to fuel their business?
Elaine Pofeldt: You know what? That’s a really good question. I don’t think so. I think they’re pretty much all…
Brian Clark: It seems impossible for a one-person, right? But the Internet makes a lot, combined with…
Elaine Pofeldt: It makes all the difference. You know what? I just spoke with Iris Scott. I’ve been doing some panel discussions about the book and we did something at the Brooklyn Public Library about a week ago. I interviewed her, I would say, a year and a half ago for a Forbes article. She’s a fine arts painter who specializes in a finger painting technique that has become very popular. At the time, she was a six-figure business and she was using a site called UGallery, which was a marketplace basically for fine art.
They had actually been a competitor in a business plan competition that I ran for five years at Fortune Small Business Magazine. They have now been around for about 10 years, if memory serves me. They were almost ahead of their time when they came out, but now they’ve got this robust marketplace. And she was really benefiting from it as an artist.
I thought I had put together a panel of entrepreneurs who had not gotten to 1 million, because it was more focused on freelancing than getting to a million, like most of my panels. And it turned out she’s become a million-dollar, one-woman business. The way she has done it is by using social media.
She’s on Instagram and Facebook and she’s able to interact directly with her clients and get their feedback and what they’re interested in. She gets a lot of feedback on pricing, what’s the appropriate pricing for her fine arts paintings. And over time they keep on appreciating in value in terms of what she can charge. As an artist living in Brooklyn, she’s not a starving artist like so many fine arts painters. She’s living a very nice life, and is able to do it 100% of the time instead of having some type of draining day job, because she does use the Internet and does use social.
It’s a game changer. She does use galleries to sell some of her art as well, but think about this, she wouldn’t be able to really do this 15 years ago. That avenue would not even be possible for her, and she wouldn’t be able to get all the feedback that she gets. Of course, she’s got to respond to it, and that’s part of the message of the book — there’s not really a formula. I know there are a lot of books out there with a formula, and I’m giving some general guidelines like automation, freelancing, etc.
But all of these people are reacting in real time to market circumstances. They’re not expecting to follow five easy steps. They’re fully engaged in reading what’s going on in their market, in the interactions between them and their customers, and they act quickly to respond to it, and that’s part of it.
I think if you get locked in to just doing things the same way every day, you’re going to stay small in terms of revenue. It’s really paying attention to where are the opportunities and jumping on them quickly and experimenting a lot that will help.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. From my perspective, anything that offers a formula is probably something you might want to run away from…
Elaine Pofeldt: I agree, I agree.
Brian Clark: Because there are fundamentals, but there are not formulas. That’s misleading to people and I think it leads to a lot of heartbreak.
Elaine Pofeldt: I think so too. I think it’s very dangerous to think that you can find it. And there are people that are very forceful, let’s say, they’ve got it down. But think about anything that’s worth doing in life, is there a formula for it? No, there’s no formula for being a good parent. There’s no formula for being a good volunteer in a nonprofit organization.
All these things that matter to people, there’s no formula and the same is true. Your business is what you spend your life in. It involves real people in real time. So, you might have some general ways that you operate or core values, your general techniques you try to apply like automation, but you can’t do it the same way from business to business.
How to Be a Student of Your Business
Elaine Pofeldt: In fact, that’s another thing that I found that these entrepreneurs had in common, and the others that I’ve interviewed since then. They are real students of their business. Camille and Ben Arneberg run a business called Willow & Everett. They’re a couple that lives in Austin, Texas. They sell party accessories, things like mugs and pictures and things like that. They love to entertain on Amazon.
They started the business while she was a corporate employee. She worked in social sustainability, and he was in the military. He was parachuting out of airplanes, that sort of thing. They’re very athletic. She’s also a personal trainer, and they said, “Let’s try to do a business that taps into our shared interests in sports and being fit.”
They started out selling running compression sleeves, which are those bands that go around your arm and hold things, but it didn’t do well. So, they thought, “Okay, well, what have we learned from this?” Instead of just folding up, they wound up taking $5,000 of their own money and invested. They thought, “Well, we love entertaining and we think we have a good eye for the types of things people would buy at a reasonable price.”
They invested in inventory and it was like a horse race. They got, I think it was like five to seven items from a private label manufacturer, and they put them up on Amazon and they saw which ones sold. They discounted the ones that didn’t sell well and put that money back into the business. The ones that did sell, they doubled down on. And they built a really great business.
Now they have three businesses. They have another one that makes these mats that help people avoid blood clots while standing at standup desks. They raised the money for that on Kickstarter, and they do some consulting. They’ve also gotten into the area of cold brew. They’ve come up with an accessory for cold brew.
I remember Ben saying to me that they would spend $5,000 on a college course, so they kind of look at that $5,000 as that. Even if they lost all the money, they would have learned a lot. I think that’s the attitude you have to go into, where you’re a little bit of a risk taker. You don’t have to take crazy risks to start a one-person business, the way someone does when they’re really raising venture capital and really trying to build something gigantic. But you do have to be willing to take some risks and some people aren’t. They think they can start a business without risk and it’s just not possible.
Brian Clark: Well, the risk is the basis. You gave the example of a college course. Education generally costs money, and finding out what people are willing to buy is a perfect education for this type of business. It’s one of the early steps of understanding what people want as opposed to, “Oh, I’m going to make this thing and hope someone buys it,” which is a recipe for disaster.
What Kind of Business Could an Average Person Start to Become a One-Person, Million-Dollar Company?
Brian Clark: I wanted to talk a little bit, following up on what you’ve been saying. You have a chapter in the book that talks about what kind of business could you start that allow you to be a one-person, million-dollar company. Did you find any commonalities there maybe that we haven’t talked about? And also, what role did the individual’s sense of purpose or passion or playing to their strengths? Was that something that you saw over and over again?
Elaine Pofeldt: There were a number of areas where the businesses tended to be concentrated. I looked at the census statistics with some subjectivity based on all of the interviews I had done and thought about, “Okay, which were the businesses that would be most accessible to a lot of people that don’t require very specialized talents or training?” On the very high end, they were people who were like actors and actresses who make over $5 million a year in a one-person business, but not everybody has the talent to be a successful actor. So, I eliminated those.
Some of the categories that I think are most promising for the average person — one of them is e-commerce. I see a lot of very high revenue businesses in that area. They also can have high overhead, because they do things like Facebook Advertising, which can sort of run away with you. I don’t know if you’ve done it, but you have to really keep an eye on your spending with that.
Professional services. There are a lot of people that are former corporate lawyers, accountants, etc., that go out on their own and they do quite well for themselves, because they might have a following already among clients. They just put up the shingle and as long as they can run a good business, they can do quite well.
Personal services is another one. You’ll have people like nutritionists, personal trainers. A lot of times, they have a system that they sell. Maybe they train other people to do what they do, so they might have licensees under them, who are using their teachings with their own clients and appreciate the flow of clients. Sometimes those folks will use informational marketing, which is a whole other category unto itself. Selling something like a nutrition plan or fitness plan online for $100 or something like that to reach the people that can’t afford their one-on-one services.
Informational marketing though could be used by professional services, businesses too. You could have, for instance, an attorney who’s a specialist in an area of credit card law that has just changed and they do a webinar. Actually, I had to attend a webinar exactly like that not long ago. I think I had to pay $300. It was for a story I was writing and there were 600 people on that webinar. It was actually two attorneys in a room, so when you subtract what that webinar costs them to produce, they made a good amount of money from that.
Another area is real estate, which is something that a lot of people can do on the side. One of my favorite stories from the book is Cory Binsfield, who is a financial planner who lives in Duluth, Minnesota. Years ago, he was working in San Francisco. He was stuck on the Golden Gate Bridge in traffic and he said to himself, “I’m in the most beautiful city, but I am stuck in traffic. I can’t enjoy it. And it’s like this every single day. I’m going back to my hometown of Duluth, Minnesota.”
So, he went back and he bought his first rental property. He’s now in his 50’s, but this was about 20 years ago. He didn’t have that much capital to invest. He reinvested the money he brought in from the rent from that, and he amassed 116 different properties. And that became his million-dollar, one-person business. He’s now consulting with other people who are making purchases, where he’s advising them on, “Would this help you to achieve your financial goals?” Owning that many properties, and mostly small properties too – they were like duplexes for the most part, and just smaller residential properties in a college area — he’s done fantastic.
He’s got a nice paperless operation. He’s super-efficient. A lot of them are very efficiency-minded people. I think maybe that’s a trait that they have that gives them an edge. They just do things neatly and efficiently.
What Role Does a Sense of Purpose and Passion Play?
Elaine Pofeldt: In terms of passion, there’s definitely a lot of passion in the businesses. A lot of times the business came from a need that the person themselves experienced.
So, when entrepreneur Sol Orwell in the book…He runs Examine.com, do you know him?
Brian Clark: Yeah, I’m friends with Sol.
Elaine Pofeldt: Oh, okay, great. He started the business, because he was trying to lose weight. Examine.com publishes reports on nutritional supplements, and he felt like there weren’t a lot of good reports like this. Half of them were bogus. “I’m going to hire professionals who are nutritional researchers to write about them in a factual way.” And the business did quite well.
Meghan Telpner, I don’t know if you know her, she’s a nutritionist also in Toronto. She had Crohn’s disease. She went on a trip to Africa in her early 20’s, became very ill. She was working in a stressful advertising career, and she was determined not to go on a lot of medication. She wanted to heal herself. So she started studying nutrition. She actually went back to school to become a nutritionist, left the advertising career behind and started a site called Meghantelpner.com, where she blogged about nutrition.
This kind of built her a following. She blogged every day for years on end, and she finally started The Academy of Culinary Nutrition, where she trains other people who want to cook healthier or who are nutritionists online, and it became a school. And so, that came out of a passion for wellness and health.
I think it’s very, very common. Not every business is like that. I mean, some people just have a passion for business. I think with some of the e-commerce stores, it’s like that, where people might have multiple passions like Ben and Camille. I know she is a fine arts painter on the side. She didn’t turn that into a business. Their passion for entertaining feeds into Willow & Everett, but I’m sure they could go in a lot of different directions. And I think most people could. We don’t really have one interest in life.
How Did These People Make It Happen?
Brian Clark: No, that’s absolutely true. So, okay, you have a great idea, you have the passion one way or another or a sense of purpose that’s going to provide that motivation when things get going tough. But what have you found when it comes down to execution where we know it all makes or breaks. How did these people tend to make it happen? Is it very individualistic in their stories or do you again see commonalities there? You mentioned efficiency. I think that makes a lot of sense.
Elaine Pofeldt: They’re very disciplined people in general. I noticed that when I’ve interviewed people who have gotten to a million in one-person businesses, often they had an athletic background or if they didn’t, they just were very disciplined and able to keep coming back to the business every single day.
I think there’s this sort of myth of you just lay on your couch in your pajamas, have automatic money coming in. But it’s baloney. Nobody really, I mean, I’m sure there are some exceptions, but for the most part, the people that..
Brian Clark: No, not really.
Elaine Pofeldt: Maybe not. As a reporter, sometimes you can become more…
Brian Clark: I mean, it is a business, like you mentioned at the beginning, where you do have some time for meditation, fitness, family — all the stuff that makes for a good life. But that doesn’t mean you don’t work. You just don’t work in an environment that requires facetime and sucks the life out of you.
Elaine Pofeldt: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right about that. They might only work a few hours a day, but they know what they’re going to do with those hours. They’re not just sitting there answering emails. That’s what I noticed. They’re quite focused about what they’re going to do, even about their personal commitments. Like Laszlo Nadler who runs a business called Tools4Wisdom. He designs and sells planners or daybooks on Amazon. He has Daddy-Daughter Day and he sticks with it. And I call him to make appointments, he’s like, “Oh, that’s Daddy-Daughter Day, but I could do it at X PM.”
I think that they’re very intentional about how they use their time, which is a lesson we can all take. It’s easy to let other people take over your calendar, but they do have a lot of focus and discipline.
I think that’s something if you really do want to get to one million in revenue and you don’t feel like you have a lot of self-discipline, you probably have to put some structures in place to motivate you. It might be a coach or an accountability partner, like a friend who keeps you honest, because to be in any one-person business, you have to be self-motivated or you won’t succeed. Because it’s so easy – your neighbor knocks at the door and they get you into a long conversation. Next thing you know, it’s 2:00. That can happen if you’re not like, “I have to get this done today.” You can have a nice conversation, but it’s 30 minutes, it’s not for two hours. You have to be kind of like that or you won’t have a business at all.
To really get to a million, you’re also willing to be making some time to think about strategy and growth, and “Are things working?” and setting goals. What is your quarterly goal for the business? You’re not going to find the ones that are under six figures generally thinking that way. The businesses that get over six figures start to have a more strategic focus. The ones that get to a million are thinking very much like scalable entrepreneurs, because they are scaling revenue and creating an opportunity for themselves to scale beyond if they want to.
That was something you and I had chatted about offline, Brian. With a lot of these businesses, they get to a fork in the road. They can either keep it as a nice boutique business where they make a lot of revenue and have a really great lifestyle, or they can keep the lifestyle and grow the revenue by hiring employees. A lot of times I think they don’t know until they get to that point which way they’ll go. But then they have to make a choice, “Do I want to scale in the traditional way?”
The point of the book is if you run a great, little, ultra-lean, high-revenue, high-profit business, you’ll have that choice. You’re not going to be on the treadmill of scrambling from project to project like a lot of freelancers are. And if you’re in that scramble, you can learn from these entrepreneurs about how to get out of it, step back and fit your business to how you really want your life to be.
It’s an ongoing process. It’s not like you just press reset and then tomorrow, all of a sudden, you’re at seven figures and your lifestyle is perfect. You’ve got to make a concerted effort to get it that way. But once you get it in place, it’s pretty nice.
The Key of Thinking More
Brian Clark: Yep, and I always say the key to growth is not working more, it’s thinking more. You need to make time for yourself to consider strategy, to consider vision, to consider where you want to go. I think this type of environment is where you allow that to happen, as long as you understand that you have to provide and carve out that space for yourself as the owner of the business.
Elaine Pofeldt: You’re right about that, Brian. It’s funny that you said that, because as a writer, I think it’s very clear when you’re having trouble writing something, it’s usually a thinking problem, it’s not a writing problem. When someone says, “I want to write a book, but I don’t know…”
Brian Clark: Absolutely.
Elaine Pofeldt: Sitting down and trying to write it when you don’t have an idea of what it’s going to be about isn’t going to get you anywhere. You’ve got to do that hard thinking, which is agonizing at times. I mean, strategy can be agonizing I think. Some people are just naturally gifted at strategy and it just comes to them, and they’re Elon Musk or somebody like that. But for most people, it’s hard. It’s very hard.
Brian Clark: Whether it’s for writing or whether it’s for the broader business, that’s my favorite part of the job. Maybe that’s why I’m such an advocate for it. If I didn’t do that, this would be a disaster, because we would just be flying by the seat of our pants. The writing analogy is really good, because if you want to write something really bad, then don’t think about it beforehand. See how that works out for you.
Elaine Pofeldt: Well, it’s true. If you can’t explain simply what this thing is about — I know this as a freelancer, because basically as a freelance writer for the last almost 11 years, every single project I do is on commission. I have to pitch an editor. If they have no attention span, they’re so busy, they’re being bombarded with pitches, if my pitch isn’t clear in one sentence or the one minute I get on the phone with them, they’re not even going to pay attention. I can’t come back to them and say, “Oh, wait a minute. I thought about it some more, and would this work?”
They don’t have time for that. They’re overworked. And then when I turn it in, if it’s not clear, they’re going to kill the story. They don’t have time to sit there and work with me like in the old days of nurturing the writer and all that stuff. We live in too fast a world now.
It’s the same with the business. If what you’re selling to someone isn’t clear and the value isn’t clear, they’re not going to buy it, and they’re not going to come back to you when you’ve gotten it better in three weeks. You’ve got to think about it ahead of time. Then once you do though, the beauty is how things fall into place. Once you’re really clear and once you’ve differentiated yourself — I mean, that’s what I think these folks have done too is a great job of being different as a small player, because it’s tough out there.
If you’re up against Amazon, these are e-commerce stores, how are they getting to 3.5 or 4 million as a one-person business in the world of Amazon? Well, sometimes, they live on Amazon and have their own sites separately, so they’re making the most of the situation.
David Shirley, a business broker in the book, talked to me about how your individuality is your best asset as a one-person business, because you could totally geek out on something. Maybe you like ceramic garden gnomes (that was one example) and you create a little store around that on the Internet and you’re the leading expert on these gnomes. You’re going to do better than any big company that tries to crowd in on that, because you’re so passionate about it, you know all the little nuances. You can talk the same language as your customers who geek out on it equally. And you’ll have a real advantage.
But if you don’t really figure out what’s different about yourself and where you can amplify it, you’re going to miss out on the real strength of being a one-person business, which is that texture of being a real person that people want that. Especially today, everybody is so sick of interacting on social media and texting and everything else. We all need these things, they’re valuable tools, but we want real, and you’re real as a one-person business.
Brian Clark: That’s true. Different is better than better and find your people. I think these are two important concepts to remember here. The Million‑Dollar, One‑Person Business is the name of the book. If you’re interested in this, I highly encourage you to pick this up. I think it’s great on its own, but it’ll also be a great companion reading to our friend Paul Jarvis’ book coming out, A Company of One.
Where Can We Find You?
Brian Clark: Elaine, you also have your own business. Why don’t we tell people where to find you?
Elaine Pofeldt: Sure, they can find me either through the site for the book, themilliondollaronepersonbusiness.com. It’s all spelled out in words, not numbers. There’s a Contact Me box there. I’m on social media, on Twitter and LinkedIn under my name. Or at my website, ElainePofeldt.com. I’m not going to spell that out phonetically. You’ll have it in the show notes.
Brian Clark: Yeah, we’ll put it in the show notes.
Elaine Pofeldt: It’s hard to spell, so you can look it up. I do welcome people to write to me. I have heard from so many wonderful people since the book came out. I love hearing entrepreneur stories and writing about them. I’m a journalist. I write about the one-person business for Forbes and a number of other publications. I cover entrepreneurship.
Even if you’re not one-person, there’s probably some publication I write for that covers entrepreneurship in general that you might fit into. So, do write to me. Keep in touch and let me know what your challenges are. Because as a writer, I always like to try to be a solution to some of those challenges.
Brian Clark: Elaine, thank you so much for your time today. This has been a fun and fascinating conversation.
Everyone, if you’re currently freelancing and you’re trying to find a more scalable model and yet you still kind of like just being you in your network of fellow freelancers, consultants, technology, automation, it’s never been more doable. There are a lot of great ideas in this book. It may just be the catalyst you need to come up with the idea that works for you.
In any regard, remember, keep going.