I studied business and finance in college, and like any optimistic kid from small-town America, I had my sights set on Wall Street. Bright lights, big city. A place where dreams are made and the lights inspire you — New York City.
Corporate America and working for “the man” — those were things that got me excited. That was until I realized that my heart was really in Vermont. While I didn’t end up in NYC, I did land a job working at a large national company as a financial controller.
I had it all — a great salary, expense account and an assistant. But it wasn’t enough. I was bored. I felt trapped. Working for the man wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I didn’t want the corporate credit card handed to me. I wanted to earn it.
I didn’t want to follow someone else’s established way of thinking. I wanted to make my own rules. I had been put into a tiny box, and I had a decision to make: climb the corporate ladder and hope to earn an equity stake 30 years down the road, or get out. I had a burning desire to do more, be more, create more and grow more. So, I quit.
And just like that, I was an entrepreneur (or unemployed, depending on how you want to look at it). I wasn’t pursuing any side hustles. I didn’t have a nest egg. I took a leap of faith and never looked back.
Being an entrepreneur is sexier than ever. In 2020 alone, there are 804,398 businesses less than a year old, up almost 34,000 from last year. Shark Tank has popularized the art of the pitch, everyone and their mother (literally) has a GoFundMe page for their latest project, and it’s easier than ever to become an Instagram influencer or TikTok personality.
There are a lot of ways to make money these days. I respect the hell out of anyone who has a vision for their life and is doing the hard work necessary to bring that vision to life. Let’s talk about the various paths you can take and what the differences are.
Who are solopreneurs?
Solopreneurs are the entrepreneurial sort who have decided to go at it alone. They have created their own business of one. Sure, they may contract out some work from time to time (like hire an accountant or graphic designer), but essentially, if work needs to be done and delivered, they are the ones who do it.
Real estate agents are a great example of solopreneurs! Other common examples of solopreneurs include network marketers, web designers, photographers and bloggers.
Who are entrepreneurs?
Most entrepreneurs are solopreneurs in the beginning. Yet, they have no intention of staying that way for long. I’m a good example of this. I started my real estate career, and less than three months later, I had hired an assistant and my first buyer’s agent. No longer a solopreneur, I was on my way to building my first business!
Entrepreneurs want to create something — not run it. They are not looking for a job, per se, unless that job is to hire great people, lead and create. Amazon, Keller Williams Realty, Uber, Airbnb, Morning Brew, Spanx and Berkshire Hathaway are all examples of solopreneurs who quickly transitioned into entrepreneurs and then grew from there.
Embarking on a journey to start a business is no small feat. Whether you have decided to build a solo business or are determined to hire and scale, both require a lot of sweat equity, focus and consistency, with the right mix of intensity at times, as well as a whole lot of grit, a tolerance for risk, and a healthy disregard for failure.
The main difference between solopreneurs and entrepreneurs? People
Let me give you an example: You’re a solopreneur real estate agent. You meet with clients, negotiate contracts, put up for-sale signs, lead generate for new clients, handle administration and marketing and show homes.
You control your schedule, create your unique brand and work with the clients you choose to work with. You work alone, and if you don’t show up to work, you don’t get paid.
An entrepreneur in real estate, on the other hand, owns a real estate team (large or small) or perhaps a brokerage. They lead the vision for the firm, hire agents to work with clients, hire someone to handle operations, marketing and administration, and may choose to open additional brokerages or teams in other areas.
They only work with clients if they really want to. They are removed from the day to day and only insert themselves into the business operations when and where they want to.
Solopreneurs are often the artists or athletes of the world (yes, even if you are a real estate agent — your career is your art!). They are the ones delivering a product or a service. They are the talent. Entrepreneurs are the owners of the sports team. They operate behind the scenes. They often don’t get credit for the team’s success, and they usually get blamed for the team’s failures. They support the talent.
Both paths are extremely fulfilling. You just need to decide which one is right for you and for the vision of why you wanted to embark on this entrepreneurial journey in the first place. So, are you a solopreneur or an entrepreneur?
Adam Hergenrother is the founder and CEO of Adam Hergenrother Companies, the author of The Founder & The Force Multiplier, and the host of the podcast, Business Meets Spirituality. Learn more about Adam’s holistic approach to business here.