Running a Business Solo

entrepreneurship and innovation courses Insight Academy


February 20, 2020


A lot of people want to get on and just make a thing happen. You might have one of those “wakes up in the middle of the night and solve the world’s problems” moments. Or it slowly comes to you while trapped in a small office pod in a big company. No matter how it happens, the adventure might call us all – start a business. You might be wanting to just get on with and not worry about finding a co-founder or getting a team together. Why would I want to share my million-dollar idea anyway?

Here are my three tips for running a start-up solo

  1. Learn to dance to your own beat

There are two things to dancing to your own beat – timing and motivation.

We have all heard the early bird catches the worm. It is also true the night owl gets its dinner. The point is to accept that you might be better at getting things done at different times. This is the idea of chronotypes. In practice, it means finding out what time you naturally have the energy to get things done. The best way to get a sense of when it works to do this is by having a go with the flow day. Do what you want to do without a schedule. Note down the kinds of things that you did, when you did them and how you felt. With this in hand, you will have a sense of roughly what works well for you. Like all things, it can take some trial and error. Transfer these categories to your work. The same details focus to really read a book is needed to work through financial records. Designing your website is creative just like working on your Instagrams. Having brunch with friends is social like meeting with clients can start out. Take a greater sense of self into your work.

Motivation requires alignment. You need to move past external rewards. You are not going to have the long-term drive required for a start-up if you are only motivated by money, fame, or Facebook likes. If you deep down believe what you are doing is important, you will do it. This has been covered by the Japanese concept of Ikagai, and Simon Sinek asking you to explore your why. Most research has been poured into the 3C model that I think should really be the 3H model. This is a structured set of self-questioning focused on 3 domains. One is asking what is at hand – what can you do. Another is what is in your heart – what do you want to do. And the third is about what is in your head – what must be done. If you only do what is at hand you will lack direction. Following the heart may lead to falling into gluttony for cake or other obsessions. A cold logical approach can make you stressed and lack meaning. Doing things that satisfy all three leads you to be deeply driven to do what needs to be done.

With energy and motivation, you will be dancing to your own beat and getting lots done. It is not enough to simply do lots when running a business. You also need to work smarter.

2. Generally, be excellent

It seems odd and tough to be an ‘expert generalist’. This is not a know-it-all but rather a know-how-all. It is someone who knows how to go about this in an effective and efficient way. To do this learn constantly, give endlessly, and iterate forever in a structured way.

With the motivation and energy cultivated by dancing to your own beat, you can point that to learning constantly. Set aside time and realise it is the same as any skill. If you want to get big muscles to go to a gym regularly, constantly eat properly and repeat those steps again and again. If you want to build a business, go to a great business school (online or offline), consume extra ideas anywhere you can, and do it again and again.

You also get by giving more than you give. Apply your ideas as much as you can and wherever you can. Find low-risk trials for new ideas. You have picked up skills on marketing – why not offer it for free to someone who cannot afford marketing support. The same applies to any other skill. Then apply it to your business. And repeat this again and again as you develop new ideas.

Lastly get really good at taking criticism. Understand bias is real and cannot be conquered. So as long as someone is tackling your ideas, outputs or concepts then take it onboard. As you push forward be critical of the advice and understand not all insights are equal. For example, if you want feedback on business planning to consider if they have built a business like yours or worked with something similar. Also do not passively expect advice – actively hunt meaningful feedback. Also do not forget the idea that feedback is a word that means to nourish your mind by putting the new ideas into the old way of thinking; feed it back. You can grow your garden on the compost of the old plants.

Following this advice, you are now a learning machine putting ideas into action and iterating powerfully. There is still something missing.

3. Connect to create more and more

All things good are things made through connection. We often do not take time to nourish and celebrate the complex links between things. This point might be to remind you to keep doing one and two. Or to leverage the connections you make through learning. Or it could be to outsource the effort. All good points but the best point is to not do any of this alone.

Some things are great to do solo. Meditation, books, a meal and much more. This can even be healthy to take some self-time. To pull back so you can launch further. This is the idea of being totally healthy – mentally, socially and physically. The World Health Organisation recommends this as the best definition of health.

Some things are not possible to keep doing solo. Cooking for one soon is no fun. Equally, you eventually will want to share your business development. Build a trust constellation around you from the beginning. This a group of people that help you trust yourself more. Some are the people that invite you in to think more deeply or act better. Some are emotional support when things keep not going great. Some give you a sense of self and others a sense you never had before.

Simple tips to get started on this include talking to your family about what you, being radically honest about what you do, and getting into a co-working space. This looks like having those fun but odd chats with mum about what you do (my mom thinks I am a teacher). Since becoming CEO I have had to spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off people to work out what I actually do. I go to networking events and play with different descriptions of activities, alternate priority sets and get really honest with strangers about where I am professionally struggling. In my coworking space, I always lunch between 12 and 1 pm. This is not some sort of ingrained schoolyard habit but rather a chance to have accidental awesome chats with others about work, life, sci-fi and all of the other life bits.

Finally, be brave to get the help you need without force. Know your constellation of support and know who you can trust to say ‘I am not okay’, ‘I really need…’, or ‘I am taking a break’. Do it without force to not pull others in unfair ways. But do it with conviction – you need this then get it. Realise it is incredibly tough to hold all the words that make up your life. Be brave and seek professional help knowing you do not want to be another statistic. Also, be brave and trust yourself to get to the other side and get back into it. The point of this is to trust yourself to trust others. Do it in your time and with all the resources you can get. It is never worth selling your sanity for a million-dollar idea.

Useful links to help you if you’re under the stress and pressure of running a business solo:


Study Melbourne


Launch Victoria

Startup Victoria


Sam Shlansky is the CEO of Marco Polo Project, a company that is in a mission to create intercultural spaces where globally connected people learn and explore collectively. Sam also has a bachelor degree in Arts from Monash University and is the winner of the Victoria Multicultural Awards for Excellence. You can find him on LinkedIn as Sam Shlansky

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