Solopreneurship is on the rise. Not to be confused the gig economy fueled by Uber, AirBnB, and other sharing platforms, solopreneurship is creating a business of value for a specific community as an individual or with other solopreneurs. It is building something from scratch that is unique to one’s own skillset and, to paraphrase Side Hustle author Chris Guillebeau, it is something you build yourself and something that you can unplug at any time. Free and low-cost tech tools are fast tracking people to create side hustles and money-making hobbies in ways that previous generations could only imagine: Buy a web domain for a few dollars, use a free layout to start a website, plug in a pay-as-you-sell app, and you have a online storefront ready for business within minutes.

There is one common problem that sinks up-and-coming solopreneurs: An over-emphasis on Plan B and an underdeveloped Plan A. Keep in mind that the options we have are relatively new: The web storage available for free from Dropbox, Box, and other startups, would have cost tens of thousands of dollars just two decades ago; Self-published books now released within 24 hours of being finished required lots of investment and time as recently as a decade ago; and the more than 200 startups crossed or maintained the billion-dollar value threshold last year, many of which were started by one or two solopreneurs, is comparable to the number of startups doing the same within the previous five years combined. It is unprecedented, perhaps to the point where it is still difficult for new solopreneurs to believe that they, too, will actually prosper in their endeavor.

Unfortunately, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: Solopreneurs often do not put systems in place for long-term success and, if they do have a short-term win, they are often ill-equipped to capitalize on it. My biggest venture into solopreneurship, with two fellow solopreneurs, was launching the 2014 meet-for-hugs app Cuddlr. The app was an immediate hit, going to #1 on app stores around the world and getting more than 100,000 users in the first week. We did not expect the volume of users nor the amount of press (we would be featured on the major late-night and early-morning talk shows and, later, in the New York Times and the front page of the Wall Street Journal). Fortunately, we did have a strategy - albeit based on much smaller success! - and were able to modify it through our eventual acquisition the following summer.

If we did not have any long-term strategy for success, then our team would have fallen apart at the first sign of incredible growth. In doing talks and in coaching up-and-coming solopreneurs, I find this same contradiction: We say we want remarkable success, but are woefully unprepared to receive it.

There are three definitive ways to create long-term, sustainable growth as a solopreneur.

Build passive income streams: Self-sustaining products and services should be a high priority for anyone looking to start their independent hustle. The financial Achilles heel for many solopreneurs is that more time is spent trying to make money than establishing where one is going. Taking the time to make passive income streams creating an infinite opportunity to bring value to customers while building financial stability.

“Passive income streams” has been flashed around a lot recently, but the ways to create them have been around forever. A book or an album is a passive income stream because, once it is made, people can purchase it without you having to do additional work. The same could be said for modern items like online websites (which are essentially self-serve storefronts), paid apps, and even affiliate programs that pay a portion of a completed sale if the buyer comes through a link you provided.

Ask your audience what they want: A sure-fire way to create sustainable success is to tap into and ask your community if what you’re delivering actually serves their needs. Solopreneurship often comes from a place of passion: You may like knitting, so you start selling hats online. To have a strong business, though, the communication has to be two-way: Your audience may be burnt out on hats, but may absolutely love to buy scarves and gloves right now. Imagine the frustration of learning this after you spent months of time and capital making an inventory of hats! I’ve seen it, and it is not pretty.

Instead, take small risks - little bets, as Little Bets author Peter Sims calls them - and get feedback from your target community. Not only does this create a wonderful dialog, but your customers often tell you what product or service they need next. They are creating your product roadmap - and your key to long-term success.

Identify with your outcome, not your craft: Solopreneurs can often struggle with identity, as many of us come from a different field. My own background is journalism and, going from journalist to author to entrepreneur to coach, each pivot required focusing less on the medium and more on the message. It is wise to focus on one question: What outcome do you want to have for your customer?

If you are a public speaker and you or your audience is increasingly not able to connect in person, then your priority may shift to having a more robust online video channel, a regular webinar for members only, or a more robust social media presence. It is easier and smarter to add and adapt a new tool in your toolkit rather than focusing on short-term comfort.

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Published on: Mar 30, 2018