Do you like hot dogs? Yeah, me too.
And even though they’re not healthy (I’m not even sure they count as food), I admit to indulging in one every now and then. My favorite spot? Snappy Dogs, an occasionally mobile hot dog stand located in the rear of a supermarket parking lot about half a mile from my office.
Here’s what they are not:
Open very much. They’re closed in the winter (December – March). They’re closed on Sundays. They’re closed in bad weather. Even on the days when they’re open, they’re closed 20 out of 24 hours.
Five star. Want stuff on your dog? There’s relish, onions, chutney, mayo and Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce (whatever that is) in the buckets at the end of the counter. Feel free to help yourself. Want to sit while you eat? Be my guest – choose from either one of the two picnic tables or sit on the hood of your car.
Overflowing with choice. They sell 8 varieties of hot dog. Period. Sounds pretty limiting (I know…). I mean, what about the people who don’t like hot dogs? Or who want a nice place to sit? Or who want more flexibility in terms of what time they show up or what they eat? Doesn’t this hyper-narrow focus prevent them from being successful? I don’t think so.
In fact, I think it’s exactly the opposite: Their willingness to flagrantly cater to a particular market with a particular offering is the primary reason they’ve done well and why on any given day (except Sunday) you’ll find business people, students, moms with kids, contractors, cops and other assorted town residents waiting in line for a Snappy Dog.
Which brings me to you, my “afraid-to-reveal-that-you-work-by-yourself” solopreneur friend. Instead of highlighting the fact that you are a one-man or one-woman band, you hide it:
You have colleagues listed on your website who don’t really work there, so that your company appears bigger.
You disguise (or obfuscate, for those studying for their SATs) the fact that your office is in your house.
You talk and write in terms of “we” even though the only time there are two people in your office is when you happen to walk past the mirror.
But that’s necessary, isn’t it? After all, aren’t there companies who don’t want to work with solopreneurs? Absolutely. Just as there are people who don’t want to eat a hot dog while sitting on the hood of a car. But there’s a serious the problem with that line of thinking.
First, you don’t need much to succeed. How many clients can you possibly serve in a year … 20, 30, maybe 100 at the outside? Whatever your particular number, it’s a teeny tiny fraction of the potential market for your services. You can afford to have many people ignore you (provided just a select few don’t).
Stop Pretending to Be What You’re Not
When you narrow your focus, you rise to the top (hot dog lovers in my town have but one option); when you stay broad, you fall back into the anonymous pack.
Second, you’re giving up a key competitive advantage. It’s true that when you hire a solopreneur you run a greater risk (since the project relies solely on them) of the entire project falling apart. That’s one reason why many companies choose to stay away from people like us.
On the other hand, when a company hires a solopreneur, you’re guaranteed the person you hired is also the person doing the work. Many companies prefer that certainty. Which is better? Neither – it depends on how your prospective client views the world.
But either way, pretending to be something you’re not – even if it gets you hired initially – is problematic. The people who prefer working with “a company” will ultimately be disappointed (they’ll figure it out); whereas the people who prefer to work with whomever they hire may very well walk right by (because you “look” too big) and go off and hire someone else.
Here’s the bottom line.
When it comes to company size, big isn’t better, it’s just different. And so is small. So, if you’re wondering how you should present yourself as an early-stage startup founder, the answer is easy: Take a look around. Then make sure that what you say, what you write and every bit of information you put out there reflects the unique and wonderful reality of what it’s like to work with you. Picnic tables optional.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Michael Katz is a Boston-based marketing consultant and founder of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in developing email newsletters for professional service firms. He is the author of three books, and has published over 350 issues of “The Likeable Expert Gazette,” a twice-monthly email newsletter with 6,500 passionate subscribers in over 40 countries around the world. Specialties: niche marketing, e-mail newsletters, newsletters, authentic marketing, solo professional, professional services marketing . Connect with @MichaelJKatz on Twitter.