2021 was an interesting year for many of us. Globally, the new COVID variants are dragging the reopening of - pretty much - everything. Politically, the tension between the global powerhouses (US vs. China) left us wondering if we are entering the sequel of the Cold War. Economically, the ever-ongoing pandemic is still haunting many offline businesses, millions of which were forced to shut down.
Nevertheless, 2021 was a fantastic year, to say the least, for many solopreneurs and creators.
The number of solopreneurs increases under economic uncertainty (... and yes! 2020 and 2021 ranked two of the most unpredictable years in history). People are afraid of layoffs and furlough (the vocabulary I never knew existed and am now all familiar with thanks to COVID). So people are either (1) forced to or (2) are actively looking for opportunities to monetize their talents and knowledge. As a former full-time solopreneur myself who made ~$500,000, I know the feeling of both 'excitement' and 'fear' when one starts her/his own business: 'I'm my own boss', 'I manage my own time'. YES! The years of experience in your field give you competitive leverage making you stand out from the crowd. You have a solid network and reputation. Your friends are congratulating you on your new journey and are even willing to help you. Your mind is filled with excitement and hopefulness with just a tiny amount of fear UNTIL...
... you realize how hard it is to make money as a solopreneur...
If you're one of those famous YouTubers with 1M+ subscribers with exotic thumbnail images, you would be lucky to make ~$60,000/year from the ads. That's 0.07% of all YouTubers out there. The rest? You would happily scream in disbelief if you make $10,000 from the ads. No wonder why one of the biggest beauty YouTube creators who starred on a highly-rated Netflix dating show was revealed to have bought counterfeits of luxury brands simply because she couldn't afford the authentic, even with millions of subscribers.
If you're a career coach, you would be lucky to make $50,000 per year. That's if you have a strong business. For a vast majority, it's common that you would go weeks and sometimes months without a single paid coaching session.
If you're one of those inspiring fitness coaches with famed big-box gyms as your pedigree, good luck trying to sell even 10 tickets at $15 each for your online fitness session. Although the survey says the average is $46,000 per year for an online fitness trainer, the real 'average-joe' online fitness trainer would be lucky to make $20,000 per year.
So why is it so hard?
Well, it's a dumb question. Starting your own business is hard. Inherently. It always has been. Launching your own business RIGHT is harder. Making meaningful money from it when you don't really have any personal branding? That's very, very hard (unless your last name is Kardashian or Trump).
Then, should we all give up the notion of starting our own business as solopreneurs? ABSOLUTELY
Absolutely not unless...
- You are 100% content with someone telling you what to do for the rest of your career.
- You are 100% confident that there won't be anything that will threaten your job security in the future. Ever. No COVID-20. Or 21. Or 22.
- You are 100% comfortable with the idea that you've never started anything from scratch career-wise and you will have no regrets on your deathbed.
Yes, solopreneurship is hard. But it's also a lot more rewarding and fulfilling if you manage to unlock it. Trust me. Once you get the taste of career independence, you would never want to go back to corporate life (That was one of the main reasons why I left ~$500K on the table when I left my last corporate job as a software engineer at one of the most well-paid and reputable tech firms in Silicon Valley. I felt like a wild lion trapped in the zoo).
My co-founder, David, and I are former solopreneurs and we've made nearly ~$900,000 as independent business owners. We are not particularly business-savvy, nor great salespeople. We are just a couple of knowledge workers who figured out how to make money as solopreneurs after trials and errors. And after talking with ~300 solopreneurs, freelancers, and creators since 2021 who have made anywhere between $0 and $30,000 per month, we've found common traits and some of the best practices for successful solopreneurs.
Solopreneurship commandment #1: Go niche and unique
The best solopreneurs target a very specific and narrow audience with unique services. Oftentimes, the services they sell are also aligned with their own personas.
For example, we have a customer/user whose outstanding interpersonal and communication skills led her to a mental and relationship therapist. Normally, the 'newbies' would just shoot for everyone everywhere, like 'Mental stress relief counseling. $270 per hour on Zoom'. If you're thinking "I will just read some books on mental stress on my Kindle or watch a bunch of Dr. Phil", you're with the 99% of the crowd. Instead, as a savvy marketer herself, what she did was to offer counseling that maximizes the confidence of middle-aged women with mental distress or trauma, especially those struggling with the domestic relationship with their partners. It is commonly known that the divorce rate and domestic abuse have increased significantly during the pandemic as everyone is staying home and unwillingly puts up with each other constantly 24/7. One of her therapy sessions was creatively named 'Goddess Health Activation'. With the right storytelling and as a middle-aged woman herself, she's one of the highest earners as a therapist by any standards.
Another example is an online fitness trainer who's also one of our customers. Initially, she would go 'Online stretching session', '15-minute workout' which can hardly be a differentiator. After talking with us, she switched her target audience to female professionals in their 20s/30s spending many hours a day sitting in front of a computer. Many of the 'beauty-conscious' demographic was complaining about the so-called 'turtle-neck' - visually unappealing (by their standards) semi-permanent posture syndrome. After making the adjustment, she went from $0 to thousands of dollars.
So what do successful solopreneurs have in common?
- They narrow their audience down to factors like gender, age, profession, location, and industry. The more narrow the audience is, the better.
- The target audience is often aligned with the solopreneur's own personas in terms of age and often their personal experiences.
- The services they offer are not easily discoverable or self-educated. When it comes down to paid services, people pay a premium for scarcity, not ubiquity.
One way to find a target audience is to find their 'carbon copies' of the past to offer services to. If you're the 1st generation immigrant who came to the states at the age of 30 (from a non-English country) as a marketer but somehow managed to climb up the corporate ladder, offer 'How a tech marketer can excel in a product launch presentation despite having thick English accents', not 'How to become a successful executive in marketing'. Yes, there's a lot smaller number of marketers who need the former. But when they need it, they desperately need it and are much more willing to pay for it.
So Solopreneur Commandment #1: Go niche and unique.
The next blog will cover Solopreneur Commandment #2: Get the conversion right.
#freelancer #solopreneur #creator
written by Kisang Pak, co-founder @ Ceeya
Ceeya helps solopreneurs and freelancers make more money. Ceeya closely works with each of its users to launch and grow their business. If you're one of the (prospect) solopreneurs, visit https://home.ceeya.io and leave your email to launch and accelerate your solopreneur business.