Entrepreneurs that have nobody on the payroll are probably the biggest class of businesses in the world, so if that’s you, you won’t be alone! But such startups are very particular to you. They tend to be a strong expression of individual characteristics, like gender, age, culture, or simply the way you like to express yourself.
A former graduate student of mine, for example is both a woman and someone is is devoted to helping solopreneurs. Claire Wheeler and her website, Rework, are devoted to creatives, changemakers and community-based businesses.
Many of these special businesses have no employees, normally by intention. Nonemployer startups form 80% of all small business in the United States. They come in many shapes and sizes and the ‘sector’ is fast growing as more and more people discover that they want to become business founders, rather than employees themselves.
There were 23.0 million businesses without paid employees, or nonemployer businesses, in the United States in 2013, up 4.4 million from 2003 and 269,705, or 1.2 percent, from 2012, according to the US Census Bureau. They are organized in different kinds of ways.
Don’t be fooled, though. I know many people who start out on their own, but if their business scales, even without intent, then they suddenly find themselves wanting or needing to take on staff. When they don’t chances are high that they’ll take on part-timers, or contract out things like bookkeeping, marketing, web design, and many take on advisers, either paid or volunteer.
So chances are high that the individual who starts alone, won’t be isolated. If they are, they probably won’t be in business long. Some who found a solo business that grows will add capacity by outsourcing, using part-timers, sub-contracting and forming partnerships to maintain their bigger business without payroll.
Few are those who are totally self-sufficient in all aspects of business. It’s interesting that many individuals who describe themselves as ‘having a business’, do not earn enough to be supporting themselves on it without other sources of income. Many people who have a shop on Etsy are really ‘hobby sellers’ and do it for the fun and it’s nice to have a little revenue, at least enough to pay for the supplies you need to enjoy your art, craft or hobby.
Who Makes a Living?
On the other hand there are many that do make a living from their one-man-bands. Think of the professional people like lawyers or accountants. That’s because they charge high enough fees and there’s a market for their services. Other categories include those making very specialist items which command high prices–like bespoke craftsman furniture, or restorers of vintage cars, or collector potters.
However, it is more and more possible in this flat world to make a go of having a one-person business. You can buy products and services at prices that don’t break the bank. With many apps and do-it-yourself internet-based offerings, you can make your business look like a fully staffed operation without any people on the payroll.
Here are some categories, where you may find help–follow the links to read more:
- Creative Economy: the arts and economics can be a really successful mix;
- Solopreneurs–people who are determined to work on their own, for whatever reason;
- Startups by Seniors–people who now find time and space to be doing what they want;
- Craft Business–craftspeople who are motivated to make money, not just working their hobby;
- Maker Community–single or small run production, using 3-D printing and other new tools.
There are many pages of Startup Owl that anyone interested in starting a business without employees will find helpful. Do not be daunted by seeming jargon: words like Value Proposition or Business Model. I know many startups that began with both those concepts. The Value Proposition simply describes the special value that you are going to provide your customers. Simply described, maybe, but hellish difficult to do, so the page with that name may help you a lot. Business Model has nothing to do with crafting. It’s a convenient and concise way of decreeing how you will actually make money from the business you have in mind. Have fun digging in the Startup Owl’s garden!