What does Brenda, one of the top executive coaches in the world, have in common with Tai Ho, a veteran broadcaster and media consultant? What does Simone, human connection expert and bestselling author, have in common with Gabriel, who describes himself as a people musician and collaborative pianist? What does Adrian, a global HR Tech influencer, have in common with Irene, a home-based baker who creates the most luscious lava mooncakes?
The thread that binds them all is that each of them is a solopreneur - a mashup of "solo" and "entrepreneur" - right here in Singapore. Oxford Languages defines a solopreneur as "a person who sets up and runs a business of their own".
Regardless of age, education level, or domain expertise, a record number of professionals around the world are walking away from traditional employment arrangements to work independently. What started out as a mere trickle some years ago, is fast gaining momentum.
According to the Labour Force in Singapore report, which is released each year by the Ministry of Manpower, individuals who operate their own business or trade without employing any paid employees rose by 8 per cent, from 211,000 in June 2019 to 228,200 in June 2020.
After subtracting the 81,200 individuals who ply their trade as drivers, this represents 6.6 per cent of all employed residents. The report goes on to note that the vast majority of these individuals (84 per cent) were self-employed by choice, "mostly because they enjoyed the flexibility and freedom".
Accelerated by the pandemic, and enable by technology, it has never been more feasible - and enticing - to work anywhere, anytime, without the often-experienced overhang of corporate politics, petty co-workings and bad bosses.
Sure, it requires giving up that "secure" pay cheque. But how secure is it, really? Many solopreneurs decide they are better off controlling their own destiny.
So what does it take to succeed as a solopreneur? In my work with corporate "escapees" who have decided to reinvent themselves as solopreneurs, 6 factors stand out.
The more of a financial buffer you have, the easier it is to take the risk of striking out on your own. Before embarking on a solo journey, focus on becoming financially fit. Reining in your expenses will give you more flexibility in your business. The paradox is that the more conservative you are from a financial standpoint, the bigger the risks you can take from a career standpoint.
As a solopreneur, you no longer have the strength of a corporate brand behind you. You need to stand on your own reputation. Your customers and the public at large will judge you based on the quality of your output. So you need to demonstrate deep expertise, whether you are a tuition teacher, content creator, photographer, personal trainer, strategic adviser.
It often comes as a rude shock to solopreneurs that not only do they need to do great work, they need to be the chief evangelist for themselves. The harsh reality is that the phone doesn't ring on its own. You need to reach out to prospects to customers, by engaging with your network one-on-one, and by developing a strong personal brand via social media. Being known is also insufficient, people need to take out their wallets - be it for cupcakes or consulting.
The thing about a solo operation, is that you are not in charge of every single aspect of your business. Just the thought of it can be rather daunting! Which is why you need processes, systems, and tools that span the entire business management cycle.
Fortunately, what makes solopreneurship so viable these days is the widespread availability of user-friendly apps and affordable software-as-a-service solutions that can streamline everything from graphic design, to customer relationship management, to invoicing.
Solopreneurship, by definition, can be a lonely journey. You no longer have the option of stopping by a colleague's desk in the middle of the day to grab a coffee, let alone bounce ideas around.
This is precisely why it's critical to establish a robust support network. For example, you might decide to join a trade association, engage with a community of like-minded individuals, or identify partners that you can collaborate with.
As the business grows, even though solopreneurs have no desire to helm large, complex organisations, some start to build out small teams so that they can focus on what they do best. Don't go it alone! As odd as it may sound, solopreneurship is a team sport.
Flying solo can be extremely exhilarating, particularly when you know that your efforts have a direct line to the results you achieve. This is precisely why it can be difficult to know when to hit the "pause" button.
Remember that it's a marathon, and not a sprint. Take time out to yourself to rest and rejuvenate. Equally, be sure to invest time in self-improvement to ensure that your skills do not stagnate.
Is solopreneurship for everyone? Absolutely not. However, if you choose to pursue this path, remember the 6 S's to success: save, shine, sell, systems, support and self.
A version of this article was originally published in The Business Times on Apr 11, 2022.