Small is the new big. In his new book, Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business, Paul Jarvis shows you how you can grow your business by getting better, not bigger. A must-read for freelance copywriters and other solopreneurs.
I had my fair share of corporate life. Never say never, but I don’t think I’m returning to that again any time soon. Although there are definitely advantages to working as an employee, I have the feeling that all of my corporate experiences have led me to my current job as a B2B copywriter, copywriting consultant and trainer.
I’m a one-man band, which means I work on my own terms, choose the clients I love to work with and start new projects without asking anyone’s permission. And, very important for me as an introvert, I have my own workspace. I have solemnly sworn never to work in a landscape office again.
I’m not saying that freelance life is all nice and dandy. I sometimes work long hours, deadlines are always looming, and being on your own can be lonely, even as a hardcore introvert like myself.
And then there’s another thing that happens when people notice you are starting to achieve a bit of success. Especially in peak periods, when you might have to turn down the occasional after-work drink, or when people notice that you are already fully booked for several weeks, you are starting to get questions like:
- When will you hire your first employee?
- Wouldn’t it be better to start an agency?
- Aren’t you ready for your own rented office?
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with all the above, I like being on my own and I like being small and flexible.
The idea of expansion and growth seems to be so ingrained in our minds, that we no longer question it.
But that feels awkward with a lot of people. There is this idea that working alone can only be the start of something bigger. This idea of expansion and growth seems to be so ingrained in our minds, that we no longer question it. Growth seems to be the only way to stay alive.
But is it? Is it always necessary to turn into something bigger? As a freelance copywriter, it’s a question I have been asking myself a lot.
In his book Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business, author Paul Jarvis discusses the idea of having a fulfilling career without always chasing growth. According to Jarvis, more isn’t always better. Business owners also have the option to stay small, and at the same time become smarter, more efficient and more resilient.
I like that idea a lot. In fact, this book offers a refreshing view on entrepreneurship, for one thing because it’s an interesting alternative for the tiresome idea of growth hacking your way to success.
In his book Jarvis provides many examples of people and companies who have stayed small on purpose, still enjoy the freedom of working on the projects they love, and make good profit with that too. The author is soloist himself. Jarvis dropped out of college, worked briefly as an in-house web designer and started freelancing shortly after that. For Jarvis, freelancing offers him the flexibility to enjoy his personal life and go hiking.
Jarvis discusses a number of very interesting ideas that can help you to stay successful as a solo-entrepreneur. Although there’s a lot more to the book than I describe here, these are some of the ideas that really grabbed me.
Passion is a side-effect of mastery
An idea that is often regurgitated on the internet is ‘follow your passion’.
It’s a sexy idea, because it’s so damn simple. You will read it in lifestyle blogs or in blogs about freelancing. And you probably heard it in many cheesy Hollywood productions too.
‘Follow your passion’ tells you that you should have a passion, or at least you should discover it. The only thing you need is the courage to follow your passion, and your working life will be fantastic. You will always do enjoyable work when you follow your dream.
For Jarvis, 'follow your passion' is bad business advice.
But for Jarvis, ‘follow your passion’ is bad business advice. It’s an unrealistic idea that leads people to believe they can do anything, but very often that will leave them with a big disillusion.
Not everyone has a passion that can be turned into a job. How much I love to play the guitar in a band with my friends, I’m never going to make a career out of that. Instead, true passion comes after hard work, as a side-effect of mastery, says Jarvis.
In other words: choose a profession, become very good in what you do, and ultimately you will find enjoyment in that. It’s an idea that Jarvis borrowed from Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.
In my days as an in-house copywriter, I discovered that I actually had a knack for writing and storytelling. But it’s only something I learned after doing it for many years. In the years that followed, I honed my craft and learned by doing. And the funny thing is, the more I wrote, the more I felt I still had to learn. It never stops.
My take-away: As a solopreneur, motivation comes with ups and downs. One thing that helps me to stay passionate is to getter better at my craft. There’s always something you don’t know or something you can get better at. Learning new things helps you serve your customers better, which in turn results in higher job satisfaction.
When companies buy from a one-man band like mine, they also base their buying decision on personality. They need to know you, like you, and trust you. If you work alone, you play in a different league than larger scale companies. You don’t have as many resources as they have and you probably are more expensive. But what your bigger competitor does not have is your personality.
This is how Jarvis articulates it: ‘Personality, the authentic you that traditional business has taught you to suppress under the guise of professionalism can be your biggest edge over the competition when you’re a company of one. Everything can be replicated, except your personality.’
Don't be the vanilla, be the pistachio ice cream of your market.
How can your personality generate attention for your business? By developing fascination, an intense captivation and focus on a person or a business, says Jarvis. You have to unlearn being boring. Don’t be vanilla, be the pistachio ice cream of your market.
My take-away: If you want to succeed as a company of one, you can’t be afraid of unveiling a little bit of yourself. Your personality is your competitive advantage. So, show up and speak up. I must admit, this is not easy for me. But consider this blog post a step in the right direction.
Customer happiness is the new marketing
I have been visiting the same hairdresser for years. Never changed in more than 15 years. Why? I feel comfortable with the guy, he knows what kind of haircut I like, he knows I’m not the most experimental kind of person (when it comes to haircuts anyway) and – very important – he knows that I don’t like gossip. That’s what I call customer intimacy.
This is an example of what Jarvis discusses in his book: ‘Treating customers well, as if they’re your one and only customer, drives value to your bottom line.’
Again, customer intimacy is a competitive advantage of solopreneurs: ‘If your customers feel that you are taking care of them, then they’ll stick around and they’ll tell others. This is the precise way in which companies of one can compete with behemoths in their market – by outsupporting them.’
My take-away: Making your customers happy should always be your number one concern. As a company of one, we are always worried about how we are going to find new customers. But we often forget the marketing value of good work. Spending time and effort on your existing customers will lead to more value.
Teach everything you know
To stand out and build an audience as a company of one, you have to out-teach and outshare the competition, not outscale them, says Jarvis.
Again, it’s a simple idea: focus on what your audience needs to learn and then teach them that, through free content and paid digital products.
By building on the relationship with your audience that sees you as a teacher, you will be perceived as a domain expert. Another benefit of teaching your audience is that you can show your audience the benefits of what you’re selling.
Take-away: Publishing valuable content remains important to your business. Whether it’s free or paid content, showing that you are the expert on a certain topic pays off in the long run. For me, this means putting out blog content, working on my email newsletter and offering in-house and online training.
Get better, not bigger
There’s nothing wrong with staying small. In his book Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business, Paul Jarvis shows that there are other routes to success than going for traditional growth. A company of one finds its true north by working toward being better, not bigger.
If you are a freelance copywriter and you are thinking about growing your business, I definitely recommend this book to you. Paul Jarvis does not really provide a ready-to-use roadmap for building your solo business, but if you are looking for inspiration and ways to build a fulfilling career as a solopreneur, then this book is for you.