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Work For Yourself Without Starting A Business: Welcome To The Era Of The Solopreneur

Career

I have a confession: I've never really enjoyed working for other people.


Why? Well, for starters, I'm selfish. If there's a final bite of shared dessert on the plate, I'll eat it. If I go even one day without hitting the gym, I'm resentful. Once the coffee is made, I pour myself a cup of coffee before I offer it to my husband. I hoard time the way others hoard possessions. I'm selfish with my thoughts. I like to be alone. Sometimes, I stick my daughter in front of a cartoon just so I can hear myself think.

Because here's the thing: How I control my time determines how I live my life. I want to spend it providing for my family, sure. But I also want to make sure I'm doing what I really want to be doing—the type of work that has me bounding out of bed excited, not exhausted.

And for me, that kind of passion has never been found in an office. As I hurtled through college, collecting a writing degree, a valedictorian stamp, a publishing deal, and a ton of freelance projects, I realized I didn't want to work for anyone else.

But I also wasn't interested in starting a business either. So, what's out there for those who don't necessarily want to die in a 9 to 5 under the thumb of a boss, but also don't have the desire to open a brick-and-mortar store, worry about growing a company to such monstrous proportions that you need teams, insurance, office space, and employees?

Enter the life of the solopreneur.

Entrepreneurial in spirit, the solopreneur focuses on his or her art, makes money from it, but doesn't necessarily depend on others to grow her business. You can collaborate with people. You can work on other people's projects. But when it comes to your own craft or business, it's all about Y-O-U. You are the brand. You are the product.

While I dabbled in content management and editorial roles, penning four published nonfiction books, blogging, becoming a trainer, co-owning a gym, etc., I realized that all I'd ever wanted to do was to write books. Not nonfiction books, novels.

Because I am someone who loves urgency, I finally felt the push. I was ready to take every skill I'd collected from my odd jobs and pour them into doing the very thing I'd always wanted to do. I finally got clear. Not about what I wanted, but by answering one simple question: If I could do anything in the world every single day, what would excite me the most? We all have those “activities" we succumb to where time stalls, you feel that you are living on purpose, and you literally can't wait to tell whoever is within earshot about what you're working on. Because it's not really happiness we're after, it's excitement. And writing novels, despite the solitude it requires and all the work it takes, is the most excitement I've ever felt.

You have to find your own excitement, whether that's in the office, on a yoga mat, helping other people, or traveling the world. And when you find it? Act on it immediately. (Trust me, there's never the perfect time. The perfect time is the moment you decide to take the risk.)

When I finally thought of the right idea last year, I immediately quit the two extra jobs I was working and decided to use the last two months of a corporate contract to write an entire novel.

Because I believed in myself and gave myself the space to create, I wrote it in just four weeks.

I then secured a literary agent. The book was sent out to editors, got into a bidding war, went to book auction, and landed me a two-book deal with St. Martin's Press, one of the largest publishing houses in the country.

I did my due diligence. And then I got it done.

Now, the real work begins. Finding the right publicity team. Repositioning myself as a novelist and not a Jill of all trades, which, let's face it, as kick ass women today, we have all become.

Because I am still a mother. I am still a wife. I am still a director of content for a branding agency. I am still a ghostwriter for clients' blogs. I am still open for opportunities, but at the end of the day, my new path is about focusing on doing one thing really well. It's about putting all of my energy into being a novelist and not getting distracted with all of the other sideline projects, money woes, and opportunities that are dangling within reach.

Being a solopreneur is about keeping your focus. What is the real goal you are trying to reach? Define it. What happens when you reach your own personal pinnacle of success? What happens if you don't?

What comes next?

In an age where community is key, there is magic to being a solopreneur. This doesn't mean you're a selfish byiatch. It doesn't mean you can't someday help others generate jobs or even join forces with a pro you admire and respect. It just means you are focused on your own initiatives, your own goals, and not the minutiae of everything that goes into keeping a corporation alive.

Is that selfish? Or is that the stuff dreams are made of? I'm forging my own way to find out.

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Fresh Voices

My Unfiltered Struggle of Introducing a Product to a Neglected Market

Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses

Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.


I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".

Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.

I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.

I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.

The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony

The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.

I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.

I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.

I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke

I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".

It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.

I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.

From Paper to Digital

We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.

The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.

I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.

I second guessed myself all the time.

A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.

I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.