Wednesday, 11 March 2020
Some of the largest businesses in the world began with one founder. We talk to three solo entrepreneurs about the pressures and rewards of going it alone.
The UK’s gig economy is booming. Not only are five million Brits now self-employed, two million of those are freelancers and the figure is rising.
Building a successful brand alone is no easy task, but there are plenty of enthusiastic entrepreneurs out there making it happen – Kate Tompsett, Kyle Harrison and Nadine Burzler are three proud ‘examples’.
Combine your passion with flexibility
It was a mix of pride in British-made products and previous retail experience that sparked Kate Tompsett into entrepreneurial action. She set up Happy & Glorious in 2012, selling design-led gifts from Kent to the world.
“I’d worked in independent retail before but decided in 2012 that it was time to branch out on my own,” she says. “It was the year of the London Olympics; there was a real buzz of happiness and optimism in the country, and I felt it was the perfect time to set up a business selling British-made gifts.”
The venture started slowly and frugally, allowing Tompsett to enjoy the excitement without feeling too much pressure. “I set up Happy & Glorious online with minimal outlay, so although it was exciting, it didn’t require courage as such,” she says. “I continued to work full-time elsewhere as the website grew, until the time was right to take the leap and go full-time with the business three years later.”
When that time came, Tompsett invested in a bricks-and-mortar store in Ashford with support from the government-funded Portas Pilot scheme, before moving to larger premises in nearby Cranbrook.
Asked what advice she’d give to someone on a similar journey, Tompsett suggests mixing passion with a little bit of flexibility. “If you love something enough, you will make time in your life to do it, even if it’s only for five minutes each day,” she says. “Have a plan, but don’t be afraid to be fluid; there is always more than one way to reach a goal.”
Believe in your plan and its potential
Handsome Fella is among a wave of retailers selling premium male grooming products, but one of the few being run by a solo entrepreneur. Kyle Harrison set up the company in early 2018 after enduring years of what he describes as “corporate frustration”.
After revising his business plan a couple of times, Harrison managed to secure the necessary funding from a start-up scheme to get things off the ground and hasn’t looked back since – although he admits there have been some demanding moments.
“Have a plan, but don’t be afraid to be fluid; there is always more than one way to reach a goal”
“Having 100% of the pressure is definitely stressful at times and requires a certain degree of inner strength, especially regarding stretching and managing your finances,” he says. “When you’re a solo entrepreneur, your business finances tend to be your personal finances, too. I think having a core belief in what you’re doing and its potential success in the future is necessary to make that pressure feel worth it.”
Support from those closest has also played a part in keeping the young entrepreneur on track. “My family and friends have been great,” he says. “And having my boyfriend around helps me on a personal level and therefore a professional level, too.”
Is there anything Harrison would do differently? “There are many things I wish I knew at the start, but I’m not sure it would have been possible without going through the experiences,” he says. “Personally, I wish I had a better understanding of business models and how to pick the one most suited to a new start-up with little budget.”
Create motivation-boosting strategies
The thought of being responsible for every aspect of a new business is enough to stop some people from even considering going solo, but for freelance web designer and content marketer Nadine Burzler, that pressure is one of the draws.
“The benefit for me in doing everything myself is learning the ins and outs of my business, always with the end-goal in mind,” she says. “It’s my goal to eventually outsource some of the work to trusted partners, as that will give me the opportunity to work on the projects I find most challenging and that bring the most value, but right now I love what I do.”
Business ownership comes with a lot of admin, and if you’re going to take all of it on yourself, you’ll need strategies to keep motivation high. “Get comfortable with doing the boring admin tasks, because they will quickly pile up if you ignore them,” Burzler says.
“I try to condition my brain to like it by playing music I love so that I’m subconsciously associating a good feeling with that boring task. Once I’ve stopped procrastinating and find myself midway through a task, a feeling of accomplishment takes over and the initial dread or boredom becomes a distant memory.”
Being fully involved in the admin side of things may have some unexpected benefits, too. “One task I don’t enjoy is accounting,” Burzler says. “But the positive side to doing it is that I know my numbers in real time. I know well in advance when I’m able to take a couple of days break, and when I really need to buckle up and look for work or new clients to fill my pipeline.”