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Your Framework

for a Simple, Sustainable Service Business

By Maggie Patterson

All opinions in this post are my opinions and mine alone.

You can view our full disclaimer here.

Have you ever been told you’re playing small? Or that for you to have a legit business you need a team? Or that you must have a mindset issue if you’re not wanting to constantly grow your business?

I definitely have, and in this episode, we’re having a heart-to-heart about the idea that “staying solo” means you’re playing small because nothing could be further from the truth.

Listen Now To This Essay On The BS-Free Service Business Show

Today, I want to introduce you to something I’ve worked on behind the scenes since the start of the year.

It’s a framework, an approach I’m calling Staying Solo™.

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While I work with agency owners, most of my clients and community are solo business owners. Something I’ve heard time and time again is that the reality is that many of these business owners don’t want to grow an agency. They don’t want to scale. They don’t want to grow a million-dollar business.

They’re simply not interested.

I relate strongly to this group of business owners, as I’ve been figuring out what’s enough for me. I was one of these business owners for my first 10+ years freelancing, and I deeply understand their motivation (and desire) to stay solo.

When I started my agency in 2016, I knew I wanted to run my business differently than I had been, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t motivated greatly by the promise of making more money….and, yes, scaling. I remember a meeting in Kentucky with my then business partner in a Panera Bread where we mapped out a plan to get to 7-figures within 24 months.

For me, it was less about the money and more about my ego. I wanted to prove I could do it. (And let’s be real, I’ve done a lot of work around not having to prove anything to anyone because no one cares!)

Within the first few months of building the agency, we knew that was NOT what we wanted to do. Especially as our lives, well, they were life-like, and neither of us wanted to go on that rollercoaster ride. So we built a solid agency with the means to support both of us, along with two full-time employees and a lineup of freelancers.

Since then, there have been multiple iterations to my agency, but today, I’m most committed to it being simple and sustainable. We have the scrappy heart of “staying solo” at the core as if it’s not simple or sustainable; I don’t want it in my business or life.

Reality Check: What Online Business Teaches Us

Then there’s the reality of the online business world we operate in.

If you’re an established business owner, there’s not much for you, particularly if you don’t want to grow an agency or “scale” with coaching, courses, or programs.

And if you don’t want to do those things, you’re accused of playing small, not living up to your potential, or having a mindset issue.

None of which is valid. But those messages are inescapable in the online ecosystem.

Instead of making these service business owners with proven, viable businesses feel like they’re doing it wrong or playing small, I want to support them in the best possible way.

No more acting like anyone is playing small.

If you choose to stay solo, you’re being strategically small.

It’s a choice based on how you want to run your business and what matters to you.

Because, let’s be real, the pursuit of endless growth is driving far too many business owners into the ground, especially here in 2023.

My goal with Staying Solo is to give you the foundation you need to help you build a service business that works for you as a team of one. One that serves you. One that lasts.

BS Myths That We’re All Completely OVER

Remember when I mentioned “playing small” a moment ago? So much of that is tied to these BS myths about service businesses that push and prod people into believing things that aren’t true.

These myths, which I’ll discuss in a second, can mess with solo service business owners’ heads. It makes them feel less than, that they’re weird or wrong, and all kinds of other things.

We need to remember that these myths exist as a way to sell you the next big thing. It’s so you believe you’re missing a secret to success or have to sign up for a high-ticket program to succeed.

None of it is true. NONE OF IT.

There’s always nuance in these things, but if you look carefully at people who say these things about service businesses, especially solo ones, you’ll notice they’re selling to you. Plus, they often pivoted from offering services to teaching or coaching, so they’re seriously out of touch with what’s happening in the current market.

Just a few of the pervasive myths about service businesses that are total and complete bullshit include:

Myth: Your Income is Capped.

Reality: Solo business owners have many options to increase their revenue, from pricing to selling strategy to serving different clientele.

Myth: You Need a Team, or You’ll Burn Out.

Reality: Burnout isn’t inevitable as a solo business owner. Having a team is not an insurance policy, so that you won’t burn out.

Myth: You Have to Invest Big Bucks to Be in the Room.

Reality: While you need support as you grow a business, you don’t need to pay $25k to be in a program or community.

Myth: You Need to Stop Trading Time for Dollars.

Reality: Work is trading time for dollars, any way you slice it. And let’s be real; these celeb entrepreneurs are working their booties off and exploiting their teams to make bank.

Myth: You Need to Follow XYZ Formula.

Reality: There’s no one way to build your business; not every approach will work for you. This is why I’m a huge fan of personalization, individualization and recognizing that we’re all unique in how we approach our businesses.

Myth: Your Mindset is Holding You Back.

Reality: Not everything is a mindset issue. Seriously. These people are out here preying on us by telling us we’re not good enough. No more of that, thank you very much.

Thank you to everyone on Threads who shared the myths they’ve encountered with me.

As business owners, we must look past the hype and believe we know what’s best for us regarding our business. That’s not to say we don’t need certain foundations in place, but rather that it’s time for us to reject the status quo that pushes us to grow our businesses continuously.

FACTS: Most Businesses are Solo Businesses

Within the online business space, there’s one final myth that I’ve encountered repeatedly. There’s a misguided idea that if you’re running a solo business, you’re not a “real” business.

80% of businesses in the U.S. are solo proprietors. Staying solo is hardly a radical choice when it is the majority of business owners, yet solo business owners are treated as though they’re failing.

This is exactly why we need Staying Solo. Over the last two to three years, I’ve recognized that solo business owners need a way to acknowledge the need for foundational elements and the flexibility to decide what a simple and sustainable business looks like for them.

I've been talking about much of what’s now the Staying Solo Framework for years, but this encapsulates it in an easy-to-understand and remember format.

In the upcoming episodes of the podcast, we’ll be diving into each of the six pillars of Staying Solo in more detail, but I want to share each with you quickly.

BS-Free Business Staying Solo Framework

Salary: Getting You Paid

You started a business to make money, so your salary should be the cornerstone of your business. In this context, I’m referring to setting a personal salary goal and using that to plan your finances, pricing, expenses and more.

Too many business solo business owners are underpaid (or not paid at all) as they fall into the trap of overinvesting in the business or pricing their services too low.

Space: Creating Capacity

For you to stay solo (and not drive yourself into the ground), you need space. Space comes in many forms, including working on the business and not just in it, as well as time away from the business.

Learning to manage your space is an essential skill as your time and your emotional and energetic capacity are limited.

Strategy: Breaking the Income Ceiling

Often, a solo business owner’s biggest challenge is hitting an income ceiling. While pricing is a factor in making more money, strategy is our most powerful lever.

Strategy refers to both selling strategy to your clients (so you can command more cash and position yourself as a true expert) and your overall business strategy.

Support: Gathering Your Squad

Being a solo business owner doesn’t mean you’re going it alone. You support your clients, but you need support too.

Support comes in many forms from professionals that support you in your business (or life), coaching or consulting, and a community of people who get it.

Systems: Ditching Busywork

As a team of one, you need ways to maximize your time and cut the busy work. Simple systems (that you actually use) that support you with your marketing, sales and service are essential.

The key is not creating complexity and complication and sticking to your must-have steps, tools and templates.

Seasons: Planning Practically

A big reason you started a business is flexibility, yet it’s easy to work too much and get trapped in a cycle of hustling when you’re solo.

Seasons are about adjusting to the natural cycles in your business, not arbitrary dates on a calendar with a realistic planning process that works for you, not against you.

Staying Solo: Doing it Your Way

I can’t wait to dig into the six pillars of Staying Solo in more detail in the coming weeks, but I hope you’re as excited about this as I am. This feels like much of my work is coming together, but a giant eff you to all the myths I talk about and the general hot mess of online business.

In many ways, I’m glad this finally came together (finally) in 2023, as we’re at a specific moment in time where more people need to hear this than ever. I don’t mean this in an egotistical, “I’m the messenger and savior” way, but rather, the market is shifting quickly.

Changes are happening between the economy, AI technology threatening creative work, far too many business owners thinking they need to be brands or creators….and the ongoing shenanigans of online business.

All of which I’m here for. And my goal is to help you build a business that works for you as a solo business owner.

So screw the status quo of online business. We’re staying solo and doing this our way.