The Myth of Solo Entrepreneurship: A New Relationship with “The Hustle”

This is a topic that’s been on my mind for months. It’s time to call bull crap on solo entrepreneurship.

There’s no such thing. Business doesn’t happen in a bubble.

And hustling isn’t the path to a sustainable business. Hustle plays a part–I’ll get to that–but if your “success” is built squarely on the shoulders of your own hard work, you haven’t created a business, you’ve created a prison.

This post is in three parts:

  1. Why solo entrepreneurship is a myth
  2. What you need to do to transcend this myth
  3. And when hustle and nose-to-the-grindstone work really pays off

Why solo entrepreneurship is a myth

Solo entrepreneurship isn’t a myth because people are lying to you. It’s a myth because it’s not the whole truth. It’s out of context.

The context is that, in the Social Era, work doesn’t look like it used to. Value doesn’t even look like it used to. Instead work and value creation happen in and through the network. Co-creation is standard, relationship is capital, innovation is vocation.

Working “solo” is possible only because we’re working together. And because we have new ways of working together. When you concentrate on the “me-ness” of your work, you forget the “us-ness” of how we got here. Click to tweet.

When you’re fixated on the “solopreneurship” shiny object, instead of asking for help, delegating to the crowd, or just flat-out hiring the right people, you berate yourself and try to work harder.

Those that appear to be doing it on their own, those who appear to shine the light on themselves, are actually running organizations. Those organizations are loose, fluid, and largely motivated by social purpose, but they are organizations nonetheless. It’s worth bearing in mind.

These people also see their microbusinesses as lean & mean, not small. They might not even identify with the term “mircobusiness” because the vision they have for their impact is downright big. They see “micro” as a way to do more, not get by with less.

Efficiency is the name of the game, not sweat equity.

Finally, these entrepreneurs don’t equate themselves with their businesses. They are building something that will outlast them, reach people that they couldn’t reach on their own, and something that–gasp–has value outside the individual work that they do or the products they create. It’s a tricky thing this shift from seeing personality and individual strengths as an asset and not the product in and of itself. But it’s an important shift.

So while “solopreneurship” isn’t the only realm where hustle is the name of the game, it’s hard not to run a business where you are the sole idea generator, sole investor, and sole executive without an overwhelming amount of hustle. And that’s just not sustainable. It’s time to see your business and its team for its full breadth and depth.

What you need to do to transcend this myth

It isn’t that Founder’s Mojo, as Charlie Gilkey calls it, isn’t sustainable. It’s that your business will grow–and probably already has–beyond its ability to sustain itself solely on your mojo.

“Founder’s mojo is like an electric generator that can move around in a business. That generator can power anything within the business; in fact, it has powered everything in the business.

But there are only so many things the generator can power at once. As a business grows, there are more things that need juice than the generator can power simultaneously.”
Charlie Gilkey

So where do you put your effort and attention to transcend this and allow your business to grow? Put your effort and attention where your unique skills, talents, strengths, and passions are. Identify your Onlyness and use it.

The beauty is that, when you put your effort and attention into only the things that make you feel alive, masterful, and purpose-driven, it ceases to feel like much effort at all. You can move quickly from burnout (i.e. trying to use your Mojo or hustle to force things to work) to flow (i.e. getting more out of every ounce of energy you invest).

What systems do you need to have in place to make this happen? Here are my basics (this is largely what we cover during 10ThousandFeet which begins again in September):

  • A Social Business Model that is built to the strengths of both you and your customers and leverages the way you naturally relate to each other to facilitate co-creation
  • A clear Perspective on the world through your customers’ eyes that inspires your messaging, marketing, and product development (get the FREE Perspective Map tool here)
  • A system for Delegation to key contractors or employees and a rallying cry to motivate them
  • A Communication strategy that keeps your customers and prospects in the loop and moving toward your shared vision

These systems largely organize themselves around a message that, as Nilofer Merchant puts it, frees “work” from jobs. If you can distribute the work required to reach your goal to as broad of a base as possible, there’s less of you required to reach your goal.

‘When a clear purpose is coupled with shared power, people can self-organize to reach a goal. In essence, Social Era organizations will finally act flat (and quite often this leads to speed) because they will actually be flat. The artifice of who is in or out of the organization will be less important than what work needs to get done by what talent and with what motivation.”
— Nilofer Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era

Look at Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga. Her business is built around a rallying cry that motivates her community to work for her. Her goal is to bring the power of yoga to every body. It’s a message that’s easy to understand and easy for her community to act on. It also motivates her team and guides her decision-making. A rallying cry like that creates opportunities without an overwhelming amount of hustle.

MailChimp is another great example. When they went freemium in 2009 with 100k users, their customer base grew exponentially to 1.2 million by 2012. While they employ marketers and pay for advertising, this growth was largely fueled by how excited their users are to talk about the service. Their belief that email marketing should be fun means they’re a fun referral to give. Beyond that, their commitment to continually bettering their platform means that they also motivate me based on excellence. Not only do I refer you all to them but I regularly teach how to use their service better.

Anna, MailChimp, and I need less effort to run our businesses because we understand how to leverage our message & strengths, the power of the network to take a role in “work,” and the importance of taking a real position of leadership in the world that you’ve created through your business.

When hustle and nose-to-the-grindstone work really pays off

After my last post on Playing a Different Money Game, Kelly Dahl wrote me with a question that was on many of your minds:

You mentioned that you aren’t “hustling” as much any more. Implicit in the way you mention this is that you did hustle, a lot, to get to the place you are today. How much hustle do you think is really necessary? I struggle so much with the hustle part. I’m not sure if I just need a swift kick in the ass to get over myself, or if I can hustle in my own way and still continue to build my business.

I stopped hustling constantly when my message became so clear, my purpose so organizing, and my process so reproducible that others were able to “work” on my behalf whether they were part of my organization or not. I didn’t need to spread the word about the You Economy because You did it for me. I didn’t need to prove the value of my process because others demonstrated that value for me.

I hustle–and I use the word the way my softball coaches used it–when I know where I’m going. I hustle to right field, home plate, or the pitcher’s mound. But I’m no long distance runner. I don’t hustle for fun.

For instance, I spent some time “hustling” this weekend when the spirit moved me enough to finish a new list incentive. I hustled a little more when I decided to go all in and start running Facebook more strategically from a Page instead of my profile. I hustled to finish The Art of Growth last year.

I generally don’t hustle for interviews. The requests come naturally because of the work I do and the message I espouse. I generally don’t hustle for sales. I’m direct and have learned how to communicate the value of what I do pretty clearly. I generally don’t hustle social media. If I’m inspired, I post and interact. In each of these cases, I lead with my strengths and passions so that the work feels more like play.

Hustle is an important of the growth of any business, though, as Kelly said. If you’re looking for specific ideas of where hustle will make the most difference in the early stages of a business, check out this post by Paul Graham.

As I was growing my business, I put hustle into exploring my message, clarifying my purpose, and systematizing my process. I spoke, I listened, I experimented, I tested. I had coffee conversations. I made beautiful mistakes by moving fast and furiously. But all that hustle led to having a message that others are excited to spread, a purpose others are excited to work toward, and a process that gets the job done over and over again. If the hustle you’re investing into your business supports similar goals, I say keep up the good work. If the hustle you’re expending on your business is scattershot, it’s time to reevaluate.

In the end, all this means my business is yours, not mine. It’s your excitement that makes the difference, not mine. I’m not a solo entrepreneur and this isn’t a business of one. It’s a business of tens of thousands. And no amount of hustle can overcome the power of those numbers.

Your customers co-own your success. Who do you want to be in business with?

When community invests in an idea, it also co-owns its success.
– Nilofer Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era

Your business is not yours alone. Welcome to the brave new world of co-creation and co-ownership. Here, individualism coexists with collectivism. Here, the results of your ambition rely on your ability to create the network that allows you to succeed.

So the question is: are you creating a customer network that is ready to co-create your vision?

There is a piece of “popular” business advice that asserts that “you should teach what you know to people who are a few steps behind you.”

For instance, if you’ve worked through a big personal transformation, you can become a life coach & help others through their own personal transformations. If you’re a blogger, you can help others set up their own blogs. If you write books, you can teach beginning authors how to get published.

Makers, keep reading, I’m not going to let you off the hook.

Hey, this isn’t a bad idea. In fact, this is probably a decent way to get started serving others and making money doing it. You’ve honed in on a specific problem that you can solve and you’re willing to put a price tag on it. Sure, go for it.

But where will you go next?

Honest question.

You can keep serving these clients, incrementally increasing the sophistication of what you’re offering. As you solve new problems for yourself, you can turn those solutions into products and services.

It makes a lot of sense and it can work. Just like monetization.

But will you be satisfied?

I like a challenge. I love the thrill of unleashing my great work for clients who scare the pants off of me. My work gets better & better in environments of great uncertainty.

Having a client that challenges me doesn’t mean that my back is against a wall, it means that my eyes are open to the full array of possibilities before us both. I’m not relying on personal experience or a single formula for my success. It’s an opportunity ripe for never-tried-before ideas and mutual magic-making.

By honoring their experiences, their knowledge, and their trust in our work, we can create something brand new. Together.

I used to feel threatened by the brilliance of my clients. I worried that I failed them when they had an idea or a revelation that wasn’t directly prompted by …me. And then I realized that our very connection was what made that possible. When working with clients that challenge me, I don’t have to be the end-all-be-all in business strategy.

No, it’s my job to co-create the space for our mutual success.

I can be the catalyst. Our work together is the entry point. It isn’t confined to my knowledge & expertise; it’s open to collaboration.

When you & your clients are co-owners of collaborative success, you both are creating something more meaningful than livelihood or results. You are creating movements, future opportunities, and networked transformation. The effects are more wide-reaching, the value is more long-lasting. The possibly of up-ending the status quo is much greater.

But will I rise to the occasion?

Look, it’s easier to cultivate a social network of people who want to be like you. To do what you’ve done. To grasp a little piece of your success. But the rewards of creating network connections to those who are ready to co-own your success are vast.

It can be the difference between slogging by doing something that once thrilled you and forging a new path to a more lucrative future, both financially & meaningfully.

  • Are you cultivating a network of yes-people? Or are you gathering a select tribe of idea-challengers?
  • Are you going with what you know? Or are you seeking out opportunities for growth?
  • Are you seeking out reinforcement of your own experiences? Or are you creating a hub for shared intelligence?

“… attracting and seducing consumers with a relevant, helpful, and unique point of view works better than shoving more messages into the already loud marketplace.”
— Nilofer Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era

But how will I find these people?

Here’s a common exercise I do with clients who are ready to make this jump:

Look around your network right now. Make a list of 5 people with a “relevant, helpful, and unique point of view” who are connected to you in some (even tenuous) way who could benefit from your time, talent, and skills.

  • How would working for them be different than working with the clients or customers you currently have?
  • What conversations or projects would get their attention?
  • If you were working for/with them, what changes would you make to the day-to-day operations of your business?
  • What problems or desires would you be working on?
  • How would your message be different if it was crafted for them and not the mass market?

“Attracting and seducing” the clients that will take your business to the next level begins with everyday changes in behavior. If you don’t adjust your routines, expectations, and message to be especially for them before you attract them, you’ll never have the opportunity to co-create your next-level business with them.

The answers to the above questions are your first steps. Those answers will guide you towards making the changes today that will breed success tomorrow. Those answers will help you step into the attitude of success before it’s even created.

Essentially, you’re inviting your future customers to co-own your success before they’ve even invested in your world.

And that’s why those kind of customers are powerful. And why that’s the kind of people you want to be in business with.

— PS —

I wrote this post with service providers in mind. But product creators & makers, you don’t get off so easy. I see so many makers limiting their visions to a customer who doesn’t fully appreciate what they do. And it shows. What happens if you challenge yourself to create your product for a more challenging set of customers? What would need to change about how your make, market, and sell your creation? How could your product fulfill the ultimate fantasy of a very special network?

Are the customer you’re courting ready to co-own your success?

— PPS —

If this is the kind of leap you’re looking to take in your business before the end of the year, I invite you to join me, Adam King, and a small group of dedicated business owners for Make Your Mark. It’s a 12-week, intensive business coaching program designed to allow you take on challenging, satisfying work that creates loads of personal wealth.

And it’s the only opportunity to coach long-term with me with Fall. There are a limited number of spots on the team – and they’re going quickly! Click here to learn more.