The role of solopreneurs in the Future of Work – observations from a non-solopreneur
What role will solopreneurs play in shaping the Future of Work, and how will they disrupt traditional employment structures?
In The 6 Most Important Workplace Trends for 2030 and Beyond, I included New Working Models as one of the key trends, with solopreneurship having a special place within this category.
In the last few years, with the advent of the creator economy, the shock caused by the covid pandemic and the push for remote working enabled by technology, solopreneurship has been on the rise.
Traditional employment will not disappear, and other employment models will come to the fore, but solopreneurs will play an increasingly crucial role in the Future of Work.
What exactly is a solopreneur?
Solopreneur is a portmanteau formed by the words solo and entrepreneur.
As the word indicates, solopreneurs form a solo business, composed of one person. They are the only founder and the only employee in their one-person business. They might and often do partner with contractors and freelancers but don’t have other employees on their payroll.
Solopreneurs take all the risk of their business, make all the decisions, and do all the work (or most of it, if we subtract what they outsource to others).
New name, old concept?
Many argue that solopreneurship is a new name for an old concept: aren’t freelancers and contractors also one-person businesses?
They may have a point, but it depends on who you ask.
Some people make the distinction based on the size. Freelancers are contractors with a small customer base. Once they grow and scale this base, they’d become solopreneurs, as they would be seen as managing their own business.
I’m not sure I buy this distinction. A business is a business, regardless of its size, revenues or customer base.
Human beings like using new names for slightly different things, and now it is in vogue to call solopreneurs one-person businesses, but these businesses have always existed.
A digital business
However, another distinction is often made: solopreneurs are usually associated with online businesses.
A carpenter or a plumber could be, by the term’s definition, a solopreneur, but I haven’t seen this label applied to them. Graphic designers, content creators, and bloggers are more like it.
The internet, mobile connections and a society that is always on have facilitated the creation of the one-person internet business, also known as the solopreneur.
Solopreneurs and the Future of Work
Solopreneurship challenges the existing employment structures dating from the Industrial Revolution.
Together with the gig economy, the creator economy, the social media influencers’ business models and all the other new employment modes, it brings a new dimension to employment. In the Future of Work, there will be an increasingly varied and flexible array of employment models, and solopreneurship will be an essential part of it.
Solopreneurship has advantages, like flexibility, autonomy, and control over work-life balance.
Also, it allows its practitioners to cultivate their self-actualisation and live happier and more fulfilling lives. It is possible to pursue self-actualisation as an employee in a corporation (millions of people have found self-realisation working for others). Still, it is arguably easier to find it when working on a personal project and setting your own goals.
Solopreneurship is a newish phenomenon, and many predict it has yet to boom and explode. If true, it can potentially disrupt industries and create new job opportunities for many people.
That would be great, but beware, solopreneurs, not everything is as good as it looks.
Not everything is as pink-coloured as it seems in the solopreneur world.
Solopreneurship can be very challenging. Undertaking a business entails assuming a risk, sometimes a big one, and like any business, it can fail miserably.
As the saying goes, a monthly salary is one of the biggest addictions of modern life. There is a reason for it: it gives us security. When you work for another company, you have a monthly income assured, regardless of what you do (at least until the company fires you, which is always possible).
A solopreneur will always have the uncertainty of whether they will make enough money to satisfy their needs.
Also, the solopreneur’s life can be a lonely one. They often feel isolated, and they may lack the social interactions that other types of work can offer.
However, the most significant risk for a solopreneur is burnout, stress, and falling into the hustle culture trap. Many solopreneurs are extremely engaged with their project (which is great and to be expected), but this engagement may take a dangerous turn. They may want to be always connected, trying to squeeze the last ounce of productivity, and all their life may turn around their solopreneur business, forgetting all the other elements of a balanced life.
Many solopreneurs are convinced hustlers. I left my thoughts on the hustling culture clear in the Manifesto Against Hustling Culture.
Be a solopreneur, by all means, it’s great, but beware of burnout, financial risks, isolation and toxic hustle culture.
Towards a world of solopreneurs?
So, are we moving towards a world dominated by solopreneurs?
The short answer is “No”.
A world where everyone forms a one-person business might sound like a utopia for many, but it wouldn’t be sustainable. Big corporations exist for a reason, and they have many advantages over one-person businesses. There are many industries like manufacturing, hospitality, health care, etc., for which it makes sense to integrate collective efforts and scale up into organisations formed by many people.
If everybody is at home building digital businesses, who will deliver all the basic and essential services we all need?
Having said all that, the solopreneur phenomenon will only grow over time. Increasingly more businesses are digital, and many of our needs are now satisfied online, with services that often can be better served by a solopreneur.
An increasing part of the population sees the allure of being “your own boss”, so the number of solopreneurs will only go up.
Solopreneurs will be another integral part of the Future of Work. They will have a positive impact as they will challenge existing practices in many ossified sectors and industries, but not everything will be pink-coloured. Solopreneurship will bring new challenges.
Are you ready to be your own boss?